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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.

Without camps and back-to-school plans still TBD, the cries of "I'm bored!" seem to be ringing louder than ever this summer. And if you're anything like me, by August, I'm fresh out of boxes to check on my "Fun Concierge" hit list. It's also the point of diminishing returns on investing in summer-only toys.

With that in mind, we've rounded up some of our favorite wooden toys that are not only built to last but will easily make the transition from outdoor to indoor play.

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

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

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

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

We independently select and share the products we love—and may receive a commission if you choose to buy. You've got this.

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5 brilliant products that encourage toddler independence

Help your little one help themselves.

One of our main goals as mothers is to encourage our children to learn, grow and play. They start out as our tiny, adorable babies who need us for everything, and somehow, before you know it, they grow into toddlers with ideas and opinions and desires of their own.

You may be hearing a lot more of "I do it!" or maybe they're pushing your hand away as a signal to let you know, I don't need your help, Mama. That's okay. They're just telling you they're ready for more independence. They want to be in charge of their bodies, and any little bit of control their lives and abilities allow.

So, instead of challenging your toddler's desire for autonomy, we found five of our favorite products to help encourage independence—and eliminate frustration in the process.

EKOBO Bamboo 4-piece kid set

EKOBO bamboo 4-piece kid set

This colorful set includes a plate, cup, bowl and spoon and is just right for your child's meal experience. Keep them in an easy-to-reach cabinet so they'll feel encouraged (and excited!) to get their own place setting each time they eat.

$25

Puj PhillUp hangable kids cups

Puj PhillUp hangable kids cups

Before you know it, your little one will be asking (okay, maybe demanding) to fill their own water cups. This amazing 4-pack of cups attaches directly to the fridge (or any glass, metal, tile or fiberglass surface) making it easier for your child to grab a cup themselves. Just be sure a water pitcher or dispenser is nearby, and—boom!—one task off your plate.

$29

Wise Elk puzzle tower blocks

Wise Elk puzzle tower blocks

These beautiful blocks, made from sustainably-sourced wood and water-based, non-toxic, lead-free paint, will keep your little one focused on their creation while they're also busy working on their fine-motor skills. The puzzle design will encourage patience as your kiddo creates their own building, fitting one block in after the next.

$18

Lorena Canals basket

Lorena Canals Basket

This *gorgeous* braided cotton basket is the perfect, accessible home for their blocks (and whatever else you want to hide away!) so your kiddo can grab them (and clean them up) whenever their heart desires.

$29

BABYBJÖRN step stool

BABYBJ\u00d6RN Step Stool

Your kiddo might be ready to take on the world, but they might need an extra boost to do so—cue, a step stool! An easy-to-move lightweight stool is the must-have confidence-boosting tool you need in your home so your growing tot can reach, well... the world.

$20

We independently select and share the products we love—and may receive a commission if you choose to buy. You've got this.

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This viral post about the 4th trimester is exactly what new mamas need right now

"We are alone. Together. You are surrounded all the other mothers who are navigating this tender time in isolation. You are held by all of us who have walked the path before you and who know how much you must be hurting. You are wrapped in the warm embrace of mama earth, as she too settles into this time of slowness and healing."

Artist and teacher Catie Atkinson at Spirit y Sol recently shared a beautiful drawing of a new mom crying on a couch—leaking breasts, newborn baby, pile of laundry and what we can only assume is cold coffee, included. Everything about the image is so real and raw to me—from the soft stomach to the nursing bra and the juxtaposition of the happy wallpaper to the palpable vulnerability of the mother—I can almost feel the couch underneath me. I can feel the exhaustion deep in this woman's bones.

My heart feels the ache of loneliness right alongside hers. Because I remember. I remember the confusion and uncertainty and love and messy beauty of the fourth trimester so well. After all, it's etched in our minds and bodies forever.

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