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A few weeks ago, I looked out the kitchen window into our scruffy backyard, littered with toys and bicycles. And I saw my 5-year-old son, deeply immersed in his endeavor, taping rectangles of cardboard to his feet with miles and miles of masking tape. (I long ago gave up on keeping him from the tape—and the scissors, despite more than one hair-cutting incident.)

He explained to me that he was making "Ant Smashers." He had a snack sitting on the patio, and the Ant Smashers™ allowed him to protect his picnic from the encroaching insect population. (Yes, it is rather violent, but anybody who has a boy like mine understands that some level of violence just comes with the territory.)


He had requested that daddy cut these same cardboard rectangles earlier in the day to be wings for his cardboard box airplane. Completely his design and his idea. And it really did look like an airplane, by golly, one just his size.

As he demonstrated the Ant Smashers™ for me, I wondered: if he had been inexpensive camps and programs all summer, would he have had the chance to create them?

Because our summer was really pretty boring. We did take a vacation to the beach, which was exciting, but only because somebody else was paying for the lodgings. (Thanks Grandma!) We had family visiting for a while, and three boys ages 7 and under is not boring, especially as they've all learned to pummel each other while no one is looking. (See what I mean about violence?)

We went to the pool a few times, the library a few times. We didn't make it to the zoo till August. But mostly he puttered around the yard, played with the hose, had friends over, found toads and bugs and locust shells and cool rocks, shimmied up the door frames, attempted to dismantle the house, and, admittedly, had way too much screen time.

In other words, the same kind of summers I had as a kid.

We didn't have as many playdates as I'd like (read: a chance for parents to chat and ignore their children) because so many of his friends were signed up for cool camps all summer. Zoo camp, nature camp, horseback riding camp, science camp, gymnastics camp, swimming lessons, etc. etc.

And Lord knows I understand why. My oldest went to many summer camps when I worked full-time, and when Grandmas weren't available. It's wonderful for kids to see exciting new things, interact with other kids, and have new experiences.

And parents can become so overwhelmed over the summer dealing with their kids all day every day. He did go to a small Parks + Rec camp for a bit and those precious few hours were quite possibly the only thing that saved my sanity. He drove me crazy many days, and I would have been more than happy to send him off to Zoo Camp.

And he would be over the moon happy to go to a zoo camp. But the zoo is over an hour away. And it was just not in the budget this summer. And some days, I have felt really, really guilty about that.

Guilty that he's not getting the opportunities other kids are getting.

Guilty that he's missing out on the whiz-bang entertainment.

Guilty that he has to spend a boring old summer with boring old mom.

But if he had been at an exciting all-day camp that day, would he have ever created his Ant Smashers™? If he didn't have time to be bored, would he discover so much about the world around him? Would he be interested in cool rocks and bugs and the toad that lives in our bushes (whom we've dubbed "Dennis Hopper")?

Because they are not as exciting as manta rays and cheetahs, that's for sure. But they are part of HIS own world, right in his backyard. If he is constantly entertained with amazing animals or cool science experiments or brain-building activities—all conceived of and supervised by adults—how will he ever appreciate the wonder that is already all around him? How will he ever learn to find that wonder on his own?

When I hear some parents say, "my kids aren't very good at entertaining themselves," I can't help but wonder if have they had a chance to learn how to do that.

Please don't misunderstand me: parenting is a tough job, and we all have to find what works for us. If it works for your family to have a summer full of exciting camps and jam-packed weekends, that is great. And I know it's a luxury to even have the option of letting my son putter at home, because I work from home. Parents who work full-time outside the home don't have that freedom, I know.

I'm just saying that we should not feel GUILTY about having a "boring" summer. About not signing up our kids for every extracurricular activity. We are giving them the gift of play.

And study after study shows that that's exactly what kids need most. Not flash cards, not spelling drills, not teaching more difficult material that is developmentally inappropriate, and certainly NOT more standardized tests.

They need free, unsupervised play, in which they create the games, they make up the rules, they decide things for themselves, they work out problems amongst themselves without adults swooping in and "fixing" everything for them. (As long as it doesn't get violent—or, in the case of my son and his cousins, as long as there is no profuse bleeding.)

And so we see story after story of schools (many in other countries, unfortunately) extending recess, reducing homework, and increasing free play. And the results are universally positive. Play is truly the work of childhood. Play is what builds intelligence, resilience, creativity, communication skills.

My son started kindergarten the other day. And even though I know all of the facts about the importance of play, I still worry: did I do enough for him? Did I read to him enough? Should I have been drilling him on writing the ABCs all summer? Should I have sent him to more educational camps?

But lucky us, the kindergarten at our little small town elementary school is completely organized around play. They meet and exceed all of the required standards, and kids learn what they need to learn and more; but they achieve this almost entirely through play. My son has already come home with his own little invention, bursting with stories of all of his classmates' creations. He was mad he couldn't go to kindergarten all weekend.

He will learn to write all of his ABCs in due time. But he only gets this one shot at childhood. And I'm glad he's been able to experience it on his own terms. Zoo camp can wait till next year.

Originally posted on The Wild Word.

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As a former beauty editor, I pride myself in housing the best skincare products in my bathroom. Walk in and you're sure to be greeted with purifying masks, micellar water, retinol ceramide capsules and Vitamin C serums. What can I say? Old habits die hard. But when I had my son, I was hesitant to use products on him. I wanted to keep his baby-soft skin for as long as possible, without tainting it with harsh chemicals.

Eventually, I acquiesced and began using leading brands on his sensitive skin. I immediately regretted it. His skin became dry and itchy and regardless of what I used on him, it never seemed to get better. I found myself asking, "Why don't beauty brands care about baby skin as much as they care about adult skin?"

When I had my daughter in May, I knew I had to take a different approach for her skin. Instead of using popular brands that are loaded with petroleum and parabens, I opted for cleaner products. These days I'm all about skincare that contains super-fruits (like pomegranate sterols, which are brimming with antioxidants) and sulfate-free cleansers that contain glycolipids that won't over-dry her skin. And, so far, Pipette gets it right.

What's in it

At first glance, the collection of shampoo, wipes, balm, oil and lotion looks like your typical baby line—I swear cute colors and a clean look gets me everytime—but there's one major difference: All products are environmentally friendly and cruelty-free, with ingredients derived from plants or nontoxic synthetic sources. Also, at the core of Pipette's formula is squalane, which is basically a powerhouse moisturizing ingredient that babies make in utero that helps protect their skin for the first few hours after birth. And, thanks to research, we know that squalane isn't an irritant, and is best for those with sensitive skin. Finally, a brand really considered my baby's dry skin.

Off the bat, I was most interested in the baby balm because let's be honest, can you ever have too much protection down there? After applying, I noticed it quickly absorbed into her delicate skin. No rash. No irritation. No annoyed baby. Mama was happy. It's also worth noting there wasn't any white residue left on her bottom that usually requires several wipes to remove.

Why it's different

I love that Pipette doesn't smell like an artificial baby—you, know that powdery, musky note that never actually smells like a newborn. It's fragrance free, which means I can continue to smell my daughter's natural scent that's seriously out of this world. I also enjoy that the products are lightweight, making her skin (and my fingers) feel super smooth and soft even hours after application.

The bottom line

Caring for a baby's sensitive skin isn't easy. There's so much to think about, but Pipette makes it easier for mamas who don't want to compromise on safety or sustainability. I'm obsessed, and I plan to start using the entire collection on my toddler as well. What can I say, old habits indeed die hard.

This article was sponsored by Pipette. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

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Military families give up so much for their country, particularly when they have small children at home. Those of us who have never witnessed this kind of sacrifice first-hand could use a reminder of it once in a while, which is just one of the reasons we're so happy to see the beautiful photoshoot Mary Chevalier arranged for her husband's return home from Afghanistan.

The photoshoot was extra special because while James Chevalier was serving a nine-month deployment, Mary gave birth to their second son, Caspian.

Getting ready to meet Dad

"During the laboring and birthing process of Caspian, I was surrounded by family, but that did not fill the void of not having my husband by my side," Mary told InsideEdition.com. "He was able to video chat during the labor and birth, but for both of us, it was not enough."

While James had yet to meet Caspian, their 3-year-old son, Gage, missed his dad a whole lot, so this homecoming was going to be a big deal for him too. That's why Mary arranged for her wedding photographer, Brittany Watson, to be with them for their reunion in Atlanta.

Gage was so happy to see his Dad 

"[He] had no idea he was going to be getting to see his daddy that day," Watson wrote on Facebook. "The family met at the Southeastern Railway Museum for Gage to go on a special train ride... little did he know, he'd be doing it with daddy!"

Watson did a beautiful job capturing the high emotions of every single family member, from Gage's surprise, to the delight on baby Caspian's face. It's no wonder her Facebook post went viral last week.

"Caspian is natural, a very happy baby, but both James and I felt like Caspian knew who his father was almost immediately," Mary told Inside Edition. "He was easily comforted by me husband right off the bat and seemed to have an instant connection. It was very emotional."

The moment this dad had been waiting for 

If we're sobbing just looking at the photos, we can't even imagine what it was like in real life.

"We are all so blessed and take so much for granted," Watson wrote. "I cannot contain the joy I feel in my heart when I look at these images, and I hope you feel it too!"

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During both of my pregnancies, I was under the care of an amazing midwife. Every time I went to her office for check-ups, I was mesmerized by the wall of photos participating in what may be the most painfully magical moment of a woman's life: giving birth. But there was a painting that always drew my attention: a woman dressed in orange, holding her newborn baby with a face that could be described as clueless. The line above the canvas read, "Now what?"

I felt like the woman in the painting as I kissed my mother goodbye when my daughter was born. She came from my native Colombia to stay with us for three months. When she left, I realized that my husband had been working as usual during those first 90 days of our new life. My baby was born on a Friday and on Monday he was back at the office. (No parental leave policy for him.)


Now what? I thought. The quote "It takes a village to raise a child" suddenly started to hit home, literally.

After a few years in Miami, I had some friends, but it truly didn't feel like I had a village. Some were not mothers yet, most of them worked full-time and others didn't live close by. My nomad life left my best friends spread out in different places in the world. I found myself signing up for "mommy and me" classes in search of new mothers, immigrants like me, alone like me.

It seemed like a utopian dream to think about when my grandmothers became mothers. Both of them had 6 and 10 children and they were able to stay sane (or maybe not? I don't know). But at least they had family around—people cooking, offering help. There was a sense of community.

My mother and father grew up in "the village." Big families with so many children that the older siblings ended up taking care of the little ones; aunts were like second mothers and neighbors became family.

When I was about to give birth to my second baby, my sister had just had her baby girl back in Colombia. Once, she called me crying because her maternity leave was almost over. My parents live close to her, so that was a bonus. Hiring a nanny back there is more affordable. But even seeing the positive aspects of it, I wished I could have been there for her, to be each other's village.

The younger me didn't realize that when I took a plane to leave my country in search of new experiences 19 years ago, I was giving up the chance to have my loved ones close by when I became a mother. And when I say close by, I mean as in no planes involved.

It hasn't been easy, but after two kids and plenty of mommy and me classes and random conversations that became true connections, I can say I have a mini-village, a small collection of solitudes coming together to lean on each other. But for some reason, it doesn't truly feel like one of those described in the old books where women gathered to knit while breastfeeding and all the children become like siblings.

Life gets in the way, and everyone gets sucked into their own worlds. In the absence of a true village, we feel the pressure to be and do everything that once was done by a group of people. We often lose perspective of priorities because we are taking care of everything at the same time. Starting to feel sick causes anxiety and even fear because it means so many things need to happen in order for mom—especially if single—to lay down and recover while the children are taken care of. And when the children get sick, that could mean losing money for a working mother or father, because the truth is that most corporations are not designed to nurture families.

In the absence of that model of a village I long for, we tend to rely on social media to have a sense of community and feel supported. We may feel that since we are capable of doing so much—working and stay at home moms equally—perhaps we don't need help. Or quite the opposite: mom guilt kicks in and feelings of not being enough torment our night sleep. Depression and anxiety can enter the picture and just thinking about the amount of energy and time that takes to create true connections, we may often curl up in our little cocoon with our children and partners—if they are present—when they come home.

Now what? was my thought this week while driving back and forth to the pediatrician with my sick son. I can't get the virus, I have to be strong, my daughter can't get ill, my husband needs to be healthy for his work trip next week, we all need to be well for my son's fifth birthday. And so, it goes on. I texted one of my mom friends just to rant. She rants back because her son is also sick. She sent me a heart and an "I'm here if you need to talk."

I am grateful to have talked to her at that random postpartum circle when I first became a mother. She's a Latina immigrant like me and feels exactly like me. I will do it more, get out of my comfort zone and have—sometimes—awkward conversations so I can keep growing my own little village.

It may not look like the one I'd imagined, but still may allow me to be vulnerable even through a text message.

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Halloween is around the corner, but if you are like me you are still trying to figure out what to dress your family (especially the little ones), so here are some cute ideas inspired by famous characters. There's something for everyone—from cartoon lovers to ideas for the entire family!

Here are some adorable character costumes for your family:

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