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Living close to my sister made such a huge difference when I became a mom

Watching my kids play with her kids—and the bond they share—makes me so proud. They fight and argue like siblings, but they also light up when they see each other and laugh so hard whenever they're together.

Living close to my sister made such a huge difference when I became a mom

If you asked my 12-year-old self where I'd live when I grew up, I'd say without hesitation: "Long Island. Duh." I was going to live where I grew up, by my family and friends and it would all be great. That was my home.

Then when it came time to decide on where to go for college, I chose the one my older sister went to which was five hours away from Long Island in Massachusetts. Then I met my husband there. Then we decided it made sense to live there after we graduated. Then Massachusetts slowly became my new home.

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I miss living near my parents, one of my other sisters and her family and my childhood best friends, but I also got a lot of beautiful gifts out of moving. One of the best ones? Raising my three children near my older sister who has three children of her own—all similar ages.

We live about seven minutes away from one another—she actually used to live around the block from me and I was close to devastated when she added six more minutes onto my commute to her house. (How dare she!)

I have rushed over to her in record time when her son had an accident and she needed my help. She has rushed over here when I've locked myself (and my kids) out of our house. I have filled her freezer with crock pot meals when she was expecting her third baby. She has stopped by with surprise coffees to check in on me on rough days.

We've gone to yoga classes together and play places with the kids when we've all needed to get out of the house. We've met at the park to power through the afternoon together and we've braved the movie theater multiple times with all six kids (typically with the help of our other sister who lives in the area, thank goodness!). We've walked into town with our broods for doughnuts at the local coffee shop and we've signed our kids up for the same music classes and swim classes and gingerbread house making classes...

My sister is a lactation counselor and was there for me tremendously in those first few weeks of trying to figure out how to breastfeed. She was so calm and patient and her knowledge was invaluable. In fact, she was actually at two out of three of my births (my second baby came quickly and my sister was home with her own newborn—so I'll excuse it) acting, basically, as my doula. She was the maid of honor at my wedding, and she was my first best friend. There's nothing she hasn't been there for.

Her mother-in-law who lives nearby has become another grandma to my children. My kids are obsessed with my brother-in-law and scream "UNCLE MATT! UNCLE MATT!" when they see him. My sister's sister-in-law (you following?) has become like an aunt to my kiddos and her daughter, like another cousin. We're beyond lucky to be so involved in my sister's life, but her extended family has become ours too, and that's another gift I'm so grateful for.

I'm at the point where I don't think I could do this without her and her husband and their kids. Watching my kids play with her kids—and the bond they share—makes me so proud. They fight and argue like siblings, but they also light up when they see each other and laugh so hard whenever they're together. My youngest is the baby of the cousin crew in Massachusetts and they treat her like a queen. They protect her, coddle her and love on her like nothing else. It's the sweetest.

I have to say—I definitely wasn't thinking about breastfeeding babies and/or the sheer frustration of getting locked out of my house with three kids in the car when I was a 23-year-old trying to find a cool, affordable apartment in the area. So moving near my sister in order to raise our kiddos together was not really on my mind when I decided to move—but I'm glad it's something that I benefit from now because of a decision I made then.

Being deep in the trenches of motherhood with someone who knows me so well has been a privilege. I remember days as a new mom where I'd drive over just so that I could sit there and cry with someone. That made me feel less alone during days with my newborn which often felt very lonely. She always knew (and still knows!) what to say to make me feel better.

I know this isn't the case for everyone. I know I am lucky. Having family nearby while raising children is a blessing—and one I don't take lightly.

To my sister—we may not have known what our motherhood journey would look like when we were younger, but I'm so glad this is how it has turned out.

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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

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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

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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

Wooden doll stroller

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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

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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.

$40

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

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

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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

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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.

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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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Motherly editors’ 7 favorite hacks for organizing their diaper bags

Make frantically fishing around for a diaper a thing of the past!

As any parent knows, the term "diaper bag" only scratches the surface. In reality, this catchall holds so much more: a change of clothes, bottles, snacks, wipes and probably about a dozen more essential items.

Which makes finding the exact item you need, when you need it (read: A diaper when you're in public with a blowout on your hands) kind of tricky.

That's why organization is the name of the game when it comes to outings with your littles. We pooled the Motherly team of editors to learn some favorite hacks for organizing diaper bags. Here are our top tips.

1. Divide and conquer with small bags

Here's a tip we heard more than a few times: Use smaller storage bags to organize your stuff. Not only is this helpful for keeping related items together, but it can also help keep things from floating around in the expanse of the larger diaper bag. These bags don't have to be anything particularly fancy: an unused toiletry bag, pencil case or even plastic baggies will work.

2. Have an emergency changing kit

When you're dealing with a diaper blowout situation, it's not the time to go searching for a pack of wipes. Instead, assemble an emergency changing kit ahead of time by bundling a change of baby clothes, a fresh diaper, plenty of wipes and hand sanitizer in a bag you can quickly grab. We're partial to pop-top wipes that don't dry out or get dirty inside the diaper bag.

3. Simplify bottle prep

Organization isn't just being able to find what you need, but also having what you need. For formula-feeding on the go, keep an extra bottle with the formula you need measured out along with water to mix it up. You never know when your outing will take longer than expected—especially with a baby in the mix!

4. Get resealable snacks

When getting out with toddlers and older kids, snacks are the key to success. Still, it isn't fun to constantly dig crumbs out of the bottom of your diaper bag. Our editors love pouches with resealable caps and snacks that come in their own sealable containers. Travel-sized snacks like freeze-dried fruit crisps or meal-ready pouches can get an unfair reputation for being more expensive, but that isn't the case with the budget-friendly Comforts line.

5. Keep a carabiner on your keychain

You'll think a lot about what your child needs for an outing, but you can't forget this must-have: your keys. Add a carabiner to your keychain so you can hook them onto a loop inside your diaper bag. Trust us when we say it's a much better option than dumping out the bag's contents on your front step to find your house key!

6. Bundle your essentials

If your diaper bag doubles as your purse (and we bet it does) you're going to want easy access to your essentials, too. Dedicate a smaller storage bag of your diaper bag to items like your phone, wallet and lip balm. Then, when you're ready to transfer your items to a real purse, you don't have to look for them individually.

7. Keep wipes in an outer compartment

Baby wipes aren't just for diaper changes: They're also great for cleaning up messy faces, wiping off smudges, touching up your makeup and more. Since you'll be reaching for them time and time again, keep a container of sensitive baby wipes in an easily accessible outer compartment of your bag.

Another great tip? Shop the Comforts line on www.comfortsforbaby.com to find premium baby products for a fraction of competitors' prices. Or, follow @comfortsforbaby for more information!

This article was sponsored by The Kroger Co. Thank you for supporting the brands that supporting Motherly and mamas.

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Becoming a mother has been life-changing. It's been hard, tiring, gratifying, beautiful, challenging, scary and a thousand other things that only a parent would ever understand.

It is these life-changing experiences that have inspired me to draw my everyday life as a stay at home mom. Whether it's the mundane tasks like doing laundry or the exciting moments of James', my baby boy's, first steps, I want to put it down on paper so that I can better cherish these fleeting moments that are often overlooked.

Being a stay-at-home-mom can be incredibly lonely. I like to think that by drawing life's simple moments, I can connect with other mothers and help them feel less alone. By doing this, I feel less alone, too. It's a win-win situation and I have been able to connect with many lovely parents and fellow parent-illustrators through my Instagram account.

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