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I have 4 kids—and this is the most important thing I've learned about parenting

Someone asked me recently what it's like to have four kids, and I paused.

what is it like to have four kids

Every evening when I leave work, I see the same tired woman standing on the corner outside my building waiting to cross the street with her four little kids. It's a busy street always, but even more so at rush hour. There are no sidewalks and no convenient place for the five of them to wait safely.

She holds onto the ones she can, and they hold onto the ones she can't. They make an island together—a cluster of little bodies in winter hats and boots not more than two feet away from the traffic zooming past.

Eventually, the flow of cars will break enough for them to make a run for it, and run they do, still holding onto each other, the cluster now a chain, little legs pumping as the woman rounds up the rear, waving and yelling.

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I'm fascinated by this woman and her family. I sit there in my car and wonder where she's coming from and where she's going. I'm anxious for her, even though she seems to have it together. I love how all five of them cling to each other, making a whole that is safer than the sum of its parts.

And even though I need to get myself home to my own four babes, often I'll wait, not pulling out of the parking lot until they've safely made it across. If I didn't, I would lay in bed at night and worry: Had they made it? Were they still waiting? Were they safe?

Someone asked me recently what it's like to have four kids, and I paused. Answers flew through my head, and none of them felt exactly right. I could say I hadn't slept soundly in more than a decade, how the fatigue is a tangible thing that sits between my shoulder blades, how on the worst days I can feel the weight pulling me downward.

I could talk about big-family-math—how one kid plus two kids plus one more somehow equals the noise level of 100 kids. I could say how I sometimes pull into my driveway after work and feel lost, my naturally quiet self begging me to sit in the car for just one more 90s hip-hop song before conjuring up the energy to face the evening.

But I didn't say any of that, because that's not the whole truth. It's not even the good part of the truth.

Instead I told the story of the woman on the corner.

I talked about how this woman needs to get those babies safely from one side of the road to the other, and so she just does it. I talked about how she has only two hands for four kids, so she's had to teach them to hold onto each other, and that the result is almost magical—the way they do it together, all serious with the responsibility of it, protective and fierce as they pull each other across the road to safety.

Because that, more than anything else, is what it's like to have four kids. There's only one of me, only my two hands and my two feet and my one checkbook and my one measure of patience, but there are four of them.

Pretty quickly into this parenting thing, I realized there was no way I could do all of the things myself. There was just too much. I want to hold all four of them, draw each of them close and keep each of them safe. But there isn't enough space in my arms.

So I've taught them to guide each other. If I hold the ones I can, and they hold the ones they can, we can all stay connected and we can all make it across the road, or the through the evening, and maybe even into adulthood.

Because this much is certain: the only way we are making it across this thing is together.

The next day when I left work, the woman and her family were there on the corner again. I smiled at her. “We're the same, you and me," I tried to say with my face, and I waved.

She met my eyes for a second, but she couldn't let go of the hands she held to wave back, otherwise the chain would have broken. I waited for them to cross just the same.

When I pulled in my driveway a few minutes later, I didn't linger there even for a moment. It was lonely in my car, and my own foursome was waiting for me inside.

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    The one thing your family needs to practice gratitude

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    I think I can speak for well, basically everyone on planet earth when I say things have been a bit stressful lately. Juggling virtual school, work and the weight of worry about all the things, it's increasingly difficult to take even a moment to be grateful and positive these days. It's far easier to fall into a grump cycle, nagging my kids for all the things they didn't do (after being asked nine times), snapping at their bickering and never really acknowledging the good stuff.

    But the truth is, gratitude and appreciation is the kind of medicine we need now more than ever—and not just because the season is upon us. For one thing, practicing gratitude is a scientifically proven way to boost our happiness, health and relationships. More importantly, we need to ensure we're cultivating it in our children even when things are challenging. Especially when things are challenging.

    I'm ready to crank the thankfulness up a few dozen notches and reboot our family's gratitude game so we can usher out 2020 on a fresh note. So, I've called in some reinforcements.

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    14 Toys that will keep your kids entertained inside *and* outside

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    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.

    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.

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    Detective set

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    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

    Sand play set

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    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

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    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

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    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.

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    Vintage scooter balance bike

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    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.

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    Wooden rocking pegasus

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    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.

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    Croquet set

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    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.

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    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.

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    Wooden bulldozer toy

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    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.

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    Pull-along hippo

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    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

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    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.

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    Balance board

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    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

    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.

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    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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    [Editor's note: Motherly is committed to covering all relevant presidential candidate plans as we approach the 2020 election. We are making efforts to get information from all candidates. Motherly does not endorse any political party or candidate. We stand with and for mothers and advocate for solutions that will reduce maternal stress and benefit women, families and the country. This essay reflects the views of one mother—we invite you to also read As a mother, I'm voting for Joe Biden.]

    Confession #1: I didn't vote for Trump the first time.

    Confession #2: I'm old enough to remember what our country went through during the sexual scandal of President Clinton. So in 2016, in the spirit of not repeating history (coupled with a multitude of other reasons why I was not a Hilary fan), I couldn't vote for Clinton. But, it also didn't seem right to vote for a self-proclaimed "p***y-grabbing" Tweet-assailer. I was told he was the epitome of all that is evil in the world and would be the reason for the premature ending of the world. Ultimately, I voted Independent.

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    But the 2016 election nevertheless served as a significant turning point for me as it was for many others. I felt the need to dig deeper.

    Let's back up. Had I read the 2016 Republican Platform before casting my ballot? Sadly, no. But as Maya Angelou wrote—and as I now regularly tell my kids—"When you know better you do better." So this year, I decided I would do better; to delve into learning what each candidate believes in, why they do and what the best and worst possible outcomes are.

    Have I now read the 2020 platforms of both candidates (Republican and Democrat) this time around? You better believe it.

    Moms want to leave a better world behind for our kids. I do, and I bet you do, too. I believe the Trump-Pence administration will continue to do exactly that. They stand for the parts of American culture that has set America apart from every other country of the world: the American Dream; American exceptionalism; that the Declaration of Independence affirms the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for all; that government must be limited in its power; that we as Americans seek friendship with all nations, but we also recognize that evil exists in this world, and we will defend against it; that freedom is an essential ingredient in every area of our lives.

    Regardless of where you stand on the political spectrum, I hope you'll read this with an open mind. I also hope that the Biden supporters reading this who have somewhere along the line conflated all Republicans to be racist-climate-change-denying-xenophobes, will feel the twinge of some ice melt between our parties, however small.

    I'll go first with an olive branch: The Democrat Party for this election did an impressively thorough job outlining solutions to end homelessness. Will Democratic and Republican mayors and governors take the ball and run? I would love to see that happen. Further, I believe there are countless ideals the Democratic party stands behind that, in theory, sound absolutely amazing: free college and free health care. Played out, I see these things chipping away at other peoples' freedoms, but I agree that in a "perfect world" we could both give away things for free and keep our cherished freedom.

    But I digress; back to why I'm voting for our president. In the spirit of four more years, here are four reasons why as a mom, I am voting for Donald Trump.

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