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To the stranger who asked if my son was a boy because of his long hair

If boys were boys and girls were girls and there were none of the beautiful spectra of individuality that I'd come to recognize and appreciate in my own life.

To the stranger who asked if my son was a boy because of his long hair

The other day we had a family night out. The street in front of our house was filled with outdoor games and music, familiar faces and some new ones too. A woman I didn't recognize approached my husband and me, smiling pleasantly.

When she got close she looked at my 3-year-old son next to us and said, "Is this a boy or what?"

I looked down at him, with his long, golden hair and then back at the woman.

Is this a boy or what?

I didn't say the first thing that came to mind, which was that at 3 years old he was mostly or what these days. Sometimes he'd wake up a puppy dog. Other times a space explorer. There were days he said he had superpowers—super speed and super sneakiness specifically—and other days he said he was fine "just being himself."

But she didn't mean that kind of or what did she?

It made me think about my dad. How he was almost 83 years old and a real Walt Whitman type of guy. A writer for most of his life, he lived two states away on a small piece of land on the edge of the sandhills, preferring the company of coyotes and crickets to actual people. We didn't get to see each other much anymore, except for sporadic facetime calls. But since my son was born I felt more connected to him than ever.

You see, my son bared an uncanny resemblance to his grandfather. It was in how they stood. How they walked. How they sat and considered the world. But most notably, it was in their hair. They both had the same long, wild locks except that one was silver and the other gold.

That was really what her "or what" was about. It was about the curiosity of a boy with long hair.

I remember when I was in labor at the hospital, I was pushing with my legs up in the air. The nurse in the room walked by the edge of the bed and happened to glance over. Almost immediately she exclaimed. "Oh, look at that hair!" She said.

"That what?!" I grunted back, confused.

"Your baby has a full head of blonde hair! It's a very old fashioned thing. We just don't see it anymore. Do you want a mirror?"

I looked at my husband and laughed as all the color drained from his face. I was sure it all had to be some sort of birth-induced fever dream.

"No," I replied, gritting my teeth for the next round of pushing. "No, I'm good."

It was about an hour later that he was born and I realized it hadn't been a dream—not at all. The nurse had been right. When she handed him to me and I carefully unwrapped his blankets so his skin was on mine, all I could do was look down and marvel at the beautiful, thick mat of yellow hair on his head.

I wish I could say from that moment on I had some sort of crunchy awareness about how important his hair was, but honestly, I didn't. When he was about 2 years old, I'd grown weary of the arduous bath time rinse-lather-repeat routine and I scheduled him a haircut.

The day of the appointment, we walked into the brightly colored kid's themed salon and I sat him on one of the chairs. The stylist put on the cape and as she began to snip, I could see the terror rise in his face. He didn't want this.

I leaned in close and held onto his shaking body as he screamed, trying desperately to comfort him. It wasn't the same sort of scream he used when I accidentally brought him the yellow spoon instead of the blue spoon at dinner. Or the scream he used when we shut off cartoons in the afternoon and told him it was nap time. It was a different scream. A primal one. An inexorably sad one.

The appointment only lasted 15 minutes but it broke both of us. He sat in his car seat, slumped over, heartbroken. I tried to hold up a mirror and smile—fain excitement to show that it was all going to be ok but he only shook his head. "It not me, mama."

At 2 years old, he couldn't verbalize it, but his hair was part of his identity as much as his legs or arms or eyes. And from that point on I knew that if it was ever going to change, it had to be his own decision.

By the time he had turned three his hair had grown shaggy and long again, dipping down past his shoulders. Sometimes I'd still ask—mostly out of curiosity—if he'd consider getting it trimmed. "Oh no, Mama. I love my hair like this," was the usual answer.

"Sounds good," was my only reply.

Was I reading far too much into a simple question? Did this woman standing in the street in front of me—this unfamiliar neighbor—have good intentions and simply want to make small talk? Or was she the kind of person who thought that the world was an easier place to understand if everyone had a little box to fit in? If boys were boys and girls were girls and there were none of the beautiful spectra of individuality that I'd come to recognize and appreciate in my own life.

I thought about all of these things and felt a sudden sadness for her and how small her world must be. Regardless of intention, it was a curious, trivial thing to bring up when there were so many better things to discuss.

Is this a boy or what?

I smiled.

"You know?" I replied. "He is a boy or what." And with that I kindly nodded and turned, walking hand in hand with my son over to the bubble machine.

A very important letter for new mamas

Listen, mom-guilt is a dirty liar. Yes, it's your job to fill your little human's needs, but you matter too. Don't forget to take care of yourself. Hang out with friends, take a drive blaring 90's hip hop or shower without interruptions—trust me, you'll be a better person (and mom) because of it.

Dear new mom,

You will shave again someday. Today is not that day.

Set expectations low, my friend, and set your partner's lower—at least where body hair and overall hygiene are concerned.

That conversation could go something like this: “From now on let's not consider shaving a “standard," but more like a gift that happens on birthdays and the first day of summer."

Voila, you are a gift-giving genius. You know what else is a gift? Shaving the inch and a half of skin that is between your skinny jeans and your boots. You're welcome world.

You will not be perfect at parenting.

Boom.

I have yet to meet a perfect mother, but when I do, she's going to be a tiger who is insanely good at making up songs. (Daniel Tiger's mom, we salute you.)

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Life

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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It's science: Why your baby stops crying when you stand up

A fascinating study explains why.

When your baby is crying, it feels nearly instinctual to stand up to rock, sway and soothe them. That's because standing up to calm babies is instinctual—driven by centuries of positive feedback from calmed babies, researchers have found.

"Infants under 6 months of age carried by a walking mother immediately stopped voluntary movement and crying and exhibited a rapid heart rate decrease, compared with holding by a sitting mother," say authors of a 2013 study published in Current Biology.

Even more striking: This coordinated set of actions—the mother standing and the baby calming—is observed in other mammal species, too. Using pharmacologic and genetic interventions with mice, the authors say, "We identified strikingly similar responses in mouse pups as defined by immobility and diminished ultrasonic vocalizations and heart rate."

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