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My son is already becoming my caretaker—and it’s both heartbreaking and inspiring

I once admitted to a physical therapist that when my pain was really bad, I didn’t do my stretches. I just couldn’t make myself get down on the floor and stretch, because when the pain was intense, I knew I would have a hard time getting back up off the floor.


“Just as long as you do something. Don’t give into it completely and stay in bed all day,” he said.

“I have a young son at home. It’s not even an option,” I told him.

I was lucky. The process of becoming a parent was easy for me. I got pregnant soon after we started trying. I felt healthy and strong, never hindered by morning sickness. I didn’t alter my activities at all, and in fact, continued to teach my fourth grade class until two days before my son was born. We got to the hospital at about 3:30 p.m., and at 9:48 p.m., our son, Ryan, made his entrance into this world.

My body was a wonder. A literal powerhouse that had successfully sheltered and grown a new life. My body had done everything it was supposed to do. But that was then.

Now, this same body is betraying me and attacking itself. When my son was 3 years old, I was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease called Undifferentiated Connective Tissue Disease.

Now I deal with daily pain and fatigue in my legs. There is no cure. There are only medications to try and manage the symptoms.

Like most autoimmune diseases, mine is unpredictable. Pain one day doesn’t necessarily translate into pain the next day. Likewise, a day that starts off well can change in a moment. I never really know when it will feel as if a vice is squeezing my left leg, or when it will feel as if an elephant has sat down on my legs or when it will feel as if I am being slowed down by invisible shackles that are wrapped around my legs. I just know that, at some point, it will happen.

But this also means that my greatest blessing, my 9-year-old son, is also my biggest complication. I don’t rest like I should in my attempt to be an actively engaged mother. Almost daily, we play together outside—handball, hide-and-seek and two-player versions of kickball and basketball. I sit on our living room floor to help my son with large puzzles. We go on “dates” to the Natural History Museum, the Aquarium of the Pacific the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

I do these things even though I hurt. Even though these activities intensify my pain. I do these things while I can, because no one really knows the course this disease will take over time.

The other day at the playground, I watched my son run over to the swings and climb on. I sat on a bench and watched as he pumped his legs back and forth, getting higher and higher. When he tired, I watched his legs stop pumping, I watched his swinging slow down, I watched him stretch his legs out and jump off. All without any help from me.

He moved onto the jungle gym, but I continued staring at the swings. I looked back and forth between the baby swing and the swing my son had just used. And it was those swings that really brought home for me the ways in which my support of Ryan has changed. Ryan used to swing on those same baby swings, gently being pushed back and forth. He got older, and loved to go higher, to be pushed “to the moon,” but still within the confines and relative security of that baby swing. When he got too big for those swings, we transitioned to the “big kid” swings, but even then he still needed me to lift him up and sit him down, to push him, to teach him how to pump his legs so he could soar higher.

Now, I support my son in different ways. I support his personality, his likes, his curiosities. I sit and watch YouTube videos of Blake Griffin’s top 10 dunks because my son likes basketball, especially the Los Angeles Clippers. My son and I read books about sharks because he’s interested in these creatures that lived during the time of dinosaurs.

I do these things not because I necessarily want to, but because he does. And I support him.

I know that my son’s increasing independence is a good thing; it’s age-appropriate. But, what does it mean that at the same time, I’m increasingly becoming dependent on him and his support of me?

The older Ryan gets, the more he understands that I have physical limitations. He knows that my legs are often hurting, that my legs aren’t as strong as they used to be and that there are certain things I cannot do—like take the 15-minute walk to the nearby basketball court.

Each week, my son and I go grocery shopping. He doesn’t fit in the top spot of the cart anymore. Now, he’s often pushing the cart for me. Putting the avocados in the plastic bag. Reaching for the can of soup that is on a bottom shelf. He might not know it, but he’s supporting me as I once supported him. He’s doing things for me, making things easier for me.

No matter how I feel, no matter what I can or cannot do, I will always be Ryan’s mother. That doesn’t change. The way I mother, the activities in which I participate, may change though.

And I have to give myself permission to know that it’s okay. Taking care of myself is sometimes in conflict with taking care of my son. Like most mothers, I put my child first. And so I push, do too much and play when I should rest.

Because I want to. Because I feel I should be able to. Because I feel my son deserves it.

And he does. But he also deserves a mother who doesn’t push herself to tears. A mother who knows that there are many ways to show her son her love. By letting my son see my vulnerability and weakness, I’m hoping that he’s learning life skills involving patience and understanding. I’m hoping that my son will grow up truly understanding that things are not always what they appear to be on the outside. Just because I may look OK on the outside, doesn’t mean I’m feeling OK on the inside.

It’s somewhat funny how watching my son play at the playground can really bring home certain lessons for me. For instance, I’m recognizing that a seesaw doesn’t need to operate in the same way that the scales of justice do. With a seesaw, both sides don’t need to be equal. In fact, when they are, the seesaw isn’t really as much fun. To truly experience a seesaw, one side does get higher than the other, but this allows both parties to participate. You need both people to make the seesaw work.

Earlier in my son’s life, our seesaw was tipped. I was supporting him. Our seesaw is now moving a lot more now; some days he may be supporting me more than others. But all days, we’re riding it together, making it work together, supporting each other so we don’t fall off.

Who said motherhood doesn't come with a manual?

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We've had some struggles, you and me. In my teens, we were just getting to know each other. It was a rocky road at times, like when people referred to you as "big boned." I was learning how to properly fuel you by giving you the right foods. How to be active, to keep you strong and in good shape. I wish I knew then what I do now about you and what a true blessing you are. But that's something that has come with the gift of motherhood.

In my 20's, we became more well-acquainted. I knew how to care for you. After I got engaged, we worked so hard together to get into "wedding shape." And, looking back now, I totally took that six pack—okay, four pack—for granted. (But I have the pictures to prove it.)

Now that I'm in my 30's (how did my 30's happen so fast, btw?) with two kids, I'm coming to terms with my new postpartum body.

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If there are two things a mama is guaranteed to love, it's Target plus adorable and functional baby products. Target's exclusive baby brand Cloud Island has been a favorite destination for cute and affordable baby clothing and décor for nearly two years and because of that success, they're now expanding into baby essentials. 🙌

The new collection features 30 affordable products starting at $0.99 and going up to $21.99 with most items priced under $10—that's about 30-40% less expensive than other products in the market. Mamas can now enjoy adding diapers, wipes, feeding products and toiletries to their cart alongside clothing and accessories from a brand they already know and love.


The best part? The Target team has ensured that the affordability factor doesn't cut down on durability by working with hundreds of parents to create and test the collection. The wipes are ultra-thick and made with 99% water and plant-based ingredients, while the toiletries are dermatologist-approved. With a Tri-Wrap fold, the diapers offer 12-hour leak protection and a snug fit so parents don't have to sacrifice safety or functionality.

So when can you start shopping? Starting on January 20, customers can shop the collection across all stores and online. We can't wait to see how this beloved brand expands in the future.

Motherly is your daily #momlife manual; we are here to help you easily find the best, most beautiful products for your life that actually work. We share what we love—and we may receive a commission if you choose to buy. You've got this.

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Many people experience the "winter blues," which are often worst in northern climates from November to March, when people have less access to sunlight, the outdoors and their communities. Another 4% develops Seasonal Affective Disorder, which is a form of clinical depression that often requires formal treatment.

If you have the winter blues, you may feel “blah," sad, tired, anxious or be in a worse mood than usual. You may struggle with overeating, loss of libido, work or sleep issues. But fear not—it is possible to find your joy in the winter, mama.

Here are eight ways to feel better:

1. Take a walk

Research has shown that walking on your lunch break just three times per week can reduce tension, relax you and improve your enthusiasm. If you are working from 9 to 5, the only window you have to access natural sunlight may be your lunch hour, so head outside for a 20 minute brisk but energizing walk!

If you are home, bundle up with your kids midday—when the weather is often warmest—and play in the snow, go for a short walk, play soccer, race each other, or do something else to burn energy and keep you all warm. If you dress for the weather, you'll all feel refreshed after some fresh air.

2. Embrace light

Research suggests that a full-spectrum light box or lamp, which mimics sunlight, can significantly improve the symptoms of the winter blues and has a similar effect to an antidepressant. Bright light at a certain time every day activates a part of the brain that can help restore normal circadian rhythms. While light treatment may not be beneficial for everyone (such as people who have bipolar disorder), it may be a beneficial tool for some.

3. Plan a winter trip

It may be helpful to plan a getaway for January or February. Plan to take it very easy, as one research study found that passive vacation activities, including relaxing, "savoring," and sleeping had greater effects on health and well-being than other activities. Engaging in passive activities on vacation also makes it more likely that your health and well-being will remain improved for a longer duration after you go back to work.

Don't overschedule your trip. Relax at a beach, a pool, or a cabin instead of waiting in long roller coaster lines or visiting packed museums. Consider visiting or traveling with family to help with child care, build quiet time into your vacation routine, and build in a day of rest, recovery, and laundry catch-up when you return.

4. Give in to being cozy

Sometimes people mistake the natural slowness of winter as a problem within themselves. By making a concerted effort to savor the slowness, rest and retreat that complement winter, you can see your reduction in activity as a natural and needed phase.

Research suggests that naps help you release stress. Other research suggests that when your brain has time to rest, be idle, and daydream, you are better able to engage in "active, internally focused psychosocial mental processing," which is important for socioemotional health.

Make a "cozy basket" filled with your favorite DVDs, bubble bath or Epsom salts, lemon balm tea (which is great for “blues,") or chamomile tea (which is calming and comforting), citrus oils (which are good for boosting mood), a blanket or a favorite book or two. If you start to feel the blues, treat yourself.

If your child is napping or having quiet time in the early afternoon, rest for a full 30 minutes instead of racing around doing chores. If you're at work, keep a few mood-boosting items (like lavender spray, tea, lotion, or upbeat music) nearby and work them into your day. If you can't use them at work, claim the first 30 minutes after your kids are asleep to nurture yourself and re-energize before you tackle dishes, laundry, or other chores.

5. See your friends

Because of the complex demands of modern life, it can be hard to see or keep up with friends or family. The winter can make it even harder. While you interact with your kids throughout the day, human interaction with other adults (not just through social media!) can act as a protective layer to keep the winter blues at bay.

Plan a monthly dinner with friends, go on a monthly date night if you have a partner, go to a book club, get a drink after work with a coworker, visit a friend on Sunday nights, or plan get-togethers with extended family. Research suggests that social interactions are significantly related to well-being.

Realize that given most families' packed schedules, you may need to consistently take the lead in bringing people together. Your friends will probably thank you, too.

6. Get (at least) 10 minutes of fresh air

A number of research studies have shown positive effects of nature on well-being, including mental restoration, immune health, and memory. It works wonders for your mood to get outside in winter, even if it's just for 10 minutes 2 to 3 times per week. You might walk, snowshoe, shovel, go sledding or go ice-skating. If you can't get outside, you might try these specific yoga poses for the winter blues.

7. Add a ritual

Adding a ritual to your winter, such as movie night, game night, hot chocolate after playing outside, homemade soup on Sundays, or visiting with a different friend every Saturday morning for breakfast, can add beauty and flow to the seemingly long months of winter. Research has suggested that family rituals and traditions, such as Sunday dinner, provide times for togetherness and strengthening relationships.

8. Talk to a professional

Counseling, which helps you identify the connections between your thoughts, feelings and behaviors, can be extremely helpful for the winter blues (especially when you are also experiencing anxiety or stress). A counselor can assist you with identifying and honoring feelings, replacing negative messages with positive ones, or shifting behaviors. A counselor may also help you indulge into winter as a time of retreat, slowness, planning, and reflecting. You may choose to use the winter to get clear on what you'd like to manifest in spring.

The opposite of the winter blues is not the absence of the winter blues—it's taking great pleasure in the unique contribution of a time of cold, darkness, retreat, planning, reflecting, being cozy and hibernating. Nurturing yourself and your relationships can help you move toward winter joy.

Weary mama,

You are incredibly strong. You are so very capable.

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