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If you are one of those adults whose response to falling leaves, sweater weather, and hot cider is panic rather than pleasure, this column is for you.

Whether you celebrate Maulidur Rasul, Fritters Day, St. Nicholas Day, Human Rights’ Day, Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Ugly Sweater Day, Constitution Day, Hanukkah, Chanukah, Chocolate Covered Anything Day (December 16th: this is real, look it up), December Solstice, Advent Days, Christmas, Kwanzaa, Dhanu Sankranti, Boxing Day, St. Stephen’s Day, or Festivus, holiday shopping cannot be far off.

While choosing an appropriate gift for Letter-Writing Day (December 7th) is obvious, most other gift selections are not so straightforward. Making appropriate selections as well as achieving the ‘wow’ factor for the child or children in your life can be daunting.


Drawing on years of personal success and abject failures, I have put together a guideline – a conspectus, if you will – that will hopefully alleviate your anxiety. If you learn from my gift-giving mistakes, then at least some good will have come from them.

When making a selection, first ask yourself:

1 | How many lose-able pieces are there, and what is my pain threshold should I step barefoot on them in the middle of the night?

I have found this simple question to be a real game changer (pun intended). Some games just do not survive missing pieces.

While we have found that a certain 18-inch fashion doll’s handbag can adequately stand in for a particular medical procedure game’s “water on the knee” bucket, we are usually not so lucky. My family owns several versions of a certain ‘rat catcher’ game, all unplayable, because we keep losing the same piece over and over again.


“Caveat emptor” on this one. Otherwise, know that you will be sifting through your vacuum cleaner bag several times during the kids’ holiday break.

2 | How long will a round of play take?

For reasons unbeknownst to me, the small fry seem to love to engage me in play. Consequently, I have become a master at covert moves that end the game in a merciful 20 minutes. My overconfidence recently entangled me in a card game we shall call (for fear of copyright issues) Slumbering Princesses.

The game appeared to be straightforward and simple enough for a young child to play, as demonstrated by the four-year-old dragging me over to play. Charming in its concept and bright artwork, the object was to ‘wake up’ the slumbering princess cards with various potion and magic wand cards while compiling enough princess points to reach a specific tally and thus end the game.

I thought I understood. I thought I was a contender, but it seemed that every time I was about to win, the lispy voice of a four-year-old would advise me of a heretofore unknown rule:

“No, I have double threes, so your princess has to go back to sleep.”

“No, my Knight killed your dragon. You go back to the start.”

“No, the Cat Princess can’t be in the same group as the Dog Princess or they fight!”

Needless to say, our game only ended when we were, mercifully, called to dinner.


Stick with the classics, the ones where you can easily manipulate the rules.

3 | Beware of games or toys that promote unnecessary competition

A little competition is not necessarily a bad thing, but who needs to aggrandize the spirit of rivalry in a family of Type A personalities? This is an ongoing issue in our family.

I distinctly recall a camping trip during which my husband, who had thrown in the towel early and escaped to his sleeping bag, had to later arise and broker detente in a game of Monopoly that had gotten out of hand. He was certain our “discussion” was disturbing the campers in an adjoining site.


There isn’t one really, except that I don’t care if you are the race car. Putting money in Free Parking is not in the rule book!

4 | Does the toy enforce a sexual stereotype?

When my children were small, I was concerned about stereotyping. I wanted to resist social generalizations and instead cultivate my sons’ nurturing abilities and my daughters’ strengths and independence.

Our first two children were girls. With daughter number one, I conscientiously surrounded her with traditional male-oriented toys and even opted, when she was a toddler, for gender-neutral clothes. It worked! She is strong! She is self-determining! She is assertive!

She is so assertive, in fact, that she had no qualms about insisting (once she could talk sufficiently) that what she really, really, really wanted was a toy ironing board and lots of frilly dresses. She gave us no peace until her room was frothy with pink and lace.

As for her sister, a delicate and petite child, she cried whenever we combed her hair, refused anything pink, shunned all things even slightly domestic, and used dolls as punching bags.

Next came my son. As my husband often traveled for work, our son entered a predominantly female household – so much so that upon receiving a toy shaving kit from his grandparents, he immediately raised his pant leg and pretended to shave his leg.

One Sunday when he was about four and we were attending church, he sat on the end of the bench and pulled out two Ninja action figures he’d smuggled inside in his pocket. The Ninjas were soon fighting, sound effects – loud sound effects – included.

I shushed him, then shushed him again, and again. Finally, I took the toys away and replaced them with a coloring book and crayons. Before too long (accompanied by the same sound effects), two of the crayons were fighting.

Eventually, the crayons were taken away, and he was left with just the book. Disruption started up a third time…with two little pieces of paper.


Don’t waste time worrying about stereotyping. Just support your child’s individual personality and interests. I had to learn that I wasn’t creating their personalities, but rather guiding them in their discovery of who they already were.

5 | Are you buying it for you or your child?

Initially, this may seem easy to answer – obvious, really – as the packaging usually lists a suggested age-range. But my own spouse once neglected to carefully consider this issue and has thus been responsible for a toy that lives forever in family lore.

We were planning my oldest daughter’s eighth birthday when he, accusing me of being overly cautious with my selections and “hogging all the fun,” insisted that he shop for her gifts.

(This very statement – as well as having personally experienced grave disappointment with what he called “fun” gifts – should have been sufficient warning to me, but I was young and hopeful and in love, so I chose to have blind faith in him.)

I say blind faith because he kept the details of her main gift a secret until the big reveal segment of her party. To my surprise, he really came through. He brought out a big beautiful box tied up with a sparkly pink bow and there, with all her little friends gathered around, she unwrapped it to reveal…a life-sized plastic zombie head.

It came with a one-year supply of red punch that could be pumped through its plastic veins, as well as candy eyes, taffy sinew, and edible skin to mold into warts and open sores, each piece designed for hours and hours of gooey fun.

Our daughter (who was still ensconced in her ruffles-and-pink phase) was horrified, as were many of her friends. Their giggles turned to squeals as they pumped the red juice through its pulsating arteries. My daughter tried valiantly to hide her disappointment.

My husband saved the situation by then pulling out a second gift (the real gift, ha-ha) of a friendship bracelet loom kit, nail polish, and CDs of the girls’ favorite tween Idol. He then spent the next few hours playing with the Zombie Head with our other daughter and sons, which was, I think, his plan all along.


Don’t trust the packaging. Also, when in doubt, don’t trust your spouse. As for Zombie Head, I, too, was creeped out by him. He always seemed to be staring at me through his bulging candy eyes. I tried hiding him in closets, covering him with beach towels, etc., until at last he mysteriously got “lost.”

6 | Does this toy require a parent to play? What is the noise level?

Another tricky situation. I’m all for family togetherness, and storytime is sacrosanct, but if little Timmy wants to say goodnight to that moon 10 times in a row, I say he best learn to read.

As for noise level, anything can be played at high volume, but some items are just obvious. The year my mother gave the kids a drum set comes to mind.


Either invest in quality earplugs, or know your limits and try not to buy anything you aren’t willing to play or read out loud a million times.

7 | If more than one child is involved, maintain the appearance of fairness

We learned this valuable lesson on Christmas Eve. It was well after midnight and we were busy setting out gifts when we realized, much to our horror, that one son had been severely shortchanged.

Obviously too late to run out and buy anything, we did our best to redistribute items from the other kids, but we’d downsized that year and hadn’t bought many gifts in the first place, so there was little ‘give’, so-to-speak.

Out of desperation, I searched the toy closet, found a rarely used toy and, saints-be-praised, a nearly-new board game to wrap up for him. The next morning, as our happy little guy showed us his gifts, he commented, “I think Santa made a mistake because we already have these toys.”

What could we do? What would you do? We had no other option than to ‘Gaslight’ our own child by insisting he was mistaken, and that if he didn’t believe us, he should go check the toy closet. Brutal.


Keep a master list, even if you don’t think you need one…especially if you don’t think you need one.

By now you might be thinking, “Okay, I’ve read your guideline, but what of most value have you learned and wish to pass along?”

I have learned that, while specific gifts might be (and usually are) forgotten, what is remembered and carried into adulthood are the feelings of that moment. No matter the holiday, the family structure, or the wealth, a child recalls her sense of belonging and of being valued. A child remembers the laughs, the tears, the traditions, and mostly the people.

To quote A.A. Milne, something I have read a million times, “Sometimes, said Pooh, the smallest things take up the most room in your heart.”

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As the saying goes, "failing to prepare is preparing to fail," and that seriously applies to parenting. With no fewer than one dozen items to wrangle before walking out the door on an ordinary errand, mamas have plenty on their mind. That is why one of the very best gifts you can give the mamas in your life this year is to reduce her mental load with some gear she can depend on when she's out and about.

Although it may be impossible to guarantee completely smooth outings with kids in tow, here are the items we rely on for making getting out of the house less of a chore.

1. Bugaboo Bee 5 stroller

This stroller is a dream come true for any mama on the go. (Meaning: All of us!) Lightweight, compact and easy to maneuver with just one hand, this is made for navigating busy sidewalks with ease—or just fitting in the trunk without a major wrestling match. It's designed for little passengers to love just as much, too, with a bassinet option for newborn riders that can be easily swapped with a comfy, reclining seat that can face forward or backward for bigger kids.


2. Bugaboo wheel board

This wheel board will let big brother or sister easily hitch a ride on the stroller if their little legs aren't quite up for a full walk. We love the smart details that went into the design, including a slightly offset position so Mom or Dad can walk without bumping their legs. And because toddlers have strong opinions of their own, it's brilliant that the wheel board allows them to sit or stand.


3. Nuby Keepeez cup strap

If you know a little one gearing up for the major leagues with a killer throwing arm, this is a must-have so parents aren't buying new sippy cups on a weekly basis. Perfect for tethering to high chairs, strollers, car seats and shopping carts, it allows Mama to feel confident she'll return home with everything she left with in the first place.


4. Bugaboo footmuff

For those mamas who live anywhere where the temps regularly dip below 40 degrees Fahrenheit in the winter, this ultra-soft, comfortable footmuff is a lifesaver. Made with water-repellant microfleece, it keeps little ones dry and cozy—whether there is melting snow, a good drizzle or simply a spilled sippy cup.


5. Bugaboo stroller organizer

Because we know #mombrain is no joke, we are all for products that will help us stay organized—especially when out and about. With multiple zipper pockets, a sleek design and velcro straps that help it easily convert to a handbag when stepping away from the stroller, it helps keep essentials from spare diapers to the car keys within reach.


6. Bugaboo Turtle car seat

It may be called a car seat, but we love that this one is specifically designed to securely click into a stroller frame, too. (Meaning there is no need to wake up a sleeping baby for a car-to-stroller transfer!) More reasons to love it are the lightweight design, UPF 50+ sun protection shade and Merino wool inlay, meaning it's baby and mama friendly.


7. Chicco QuickSeat hook-on chair

This hook-on baby chair will almost certainly earn a spot on your most-used list. Perfect for dining out or simply giving your baby a space to sit, it's portable and beyond easy to install. (Plus, it's a great alternative to those questionably clean high chairs at many restaurants!)


8. Bugaboo stroller cup holder

Chasing after kids when out and about can work up a thirst, just like neighborhood strolls in the chillier months can get, well, chilly. So we love that this cup holder will help mama keep something for herself to drink close at hand. Designed to accommodate bottles of all sizes and easy to click onto any compatible stroller, it's a perfect stocking stuffer.


9. Bugaboo soft wool blanket

Fair warning with this luxe stroller blanket: It's so cozy that you might want to buy another one for yourself! Made with Merino wool that helps it stand up to any elements parents might encounter during an outing, it will help baby stay warm during the winter and cool enough as the temps start to pick up.


10. Munchkin silicone placemats

Made to roll and stow in a diaper bag, these silicone placemats will make dining out a (relatively) less messy experience. With raised edges that will help contain spills and a grippy bottom, they will stay in place on tables so that parents might be able to enjoy their own meals, too.


11. Bugaboo Breezy seat liner

Designed to keep baby warm when it's cool and cool when it's warm, this seat liner will minimize fusses during all seasons—which is one of the very best gifts you can give a mama. Because accidents of all types can happen on the go, we also love that this seat liner is reversible! With a number of colors, it's also a fun way to help a stroller to stand out at the playground.


12. OXO Tot Handy stroller hook

If you ever catch yourself thinking it would be nice to have another hand, these stroller clips are the next-best solution for when you are out and about. Perfect for lugging a bag or anchoring a cup, you'll want a set for every stroller you own.


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

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It's so interesting how the popularity of baby names ebb and flow over time. Think about the most popular names when you were growing up—chances are, you probably don't see too many new babies being given those monikers in 2019. Khaleesi overtook Brittany in terms of popularity, for example.

But if you're noticing that names like Charlotte, Henry and Amelia seem to appear in a lot of your friends' birth announcements, you're onto something: These are three of the most popular names from 2019. has released a list of the top baby names of this year, and you may find a few of them (but not necessarily all of them!) a little surprising. 2018's biggest boy name, Atticus, dropped off the top 10 list. Also missing from this list? Sophia, the beautiful female name that has dominated on a global scale in previous years.


But some names have held their popularity: Liam, Owen, Olivia and Violet are a few of the names that trended both last year and this year.


































The top name for baby boys probably won't come as a surprise to most. It's Liam, which has been a consistent powerhouse for a few years now. It's easy to see why—Liam is one of those names that everyone just loves. With that being said, if you're hoping to avoid giving your child a very common name, you may want to cross this one off the list, along with Oliver and Theodore (these were the top three boys' names). And if you're expecting a girl, forget about Charlotte, Amelia and Violet, which took the three top spots.

"It seems there is definitely a royal influence to baby names this year," says founder and CEO, Jennifer Moss. "Both Liam and Charlotte are linked directly to the British Royal Family. Liam is a shorter version of the name William, like the Duke of Cambridge, and Charlotte is the name of his daughter."

Classic names that have always been incredibly popular are expected to become less common as well. "For 2020 and beyond we see some traditional Biblical names like David, Michael, and Luke dropping off the top 100. This is almost unprecedented," says Moss. "Those are being replaced with more unique Biblical names like Josiah, Gabriel, and Elijah."

Expect lots of nods to nature and flowers to become more popular in common years, with names like Violet, Iris, Juniper, Rose, Daisy and Dahlia gaining speed. Want to see how your child's name stacks up? Check out the full list of 2019's top baby names at


In a culture full of consumerism and competition, it can be difficult to remember to feel grateful and not stressed when preparing the "perfect" holidays for our kids. After all, we create the magic. But how often do we stop to think about what is really good in our lives? Probably not often, mama. Days are spent worrying about what we have to do next, what we haven't done yet, what we did do, but not well—especially during the holidays.

This stress can make us tense and anxious. Our bodies think we are in flight or flight and our nervous system kicks into overdrive, releasing adrenaline and cortisol to ensure we can deal with this stress. Adrenaline increases our heart rate, elevates our blood pressure and boosts our energy and cortisol, the stress hormone, increases blood sugar and enhances our brain's use of all that energy. This response is all well and good if we are really in danger, but too much for too long can weaken our immune system, affect our digestive system and weight, impair our reproductive systems, and may lead to heart problems.


This natural alarm system also communicates with the parts of our brain that control mood and motivation—a sure formula for no fun when combined with the pressure of creating the perfect holidays.

Instead of feeling burdened, what if we choose to be grateful for all we have to do? We get to shop. We get to wrap. We get to decorate.

Psychologists say that we can switch or replace one thought with another. It takes practice—like all good things do—but taking a moment to switch from I have to, to, I get to, can make all the difference.

Research at UCLA's Mindfulness Awareness Research Center found that having an attitude of gratitude can actually alter the molecular structure of our brain, making us healthier and happier. And the effects of practicing gratitude are long-lasting. In a study out of University of California, Berkeley, nearly 300 adults participated in an experiment that involved writing gratitude letters and reported significantly better mental health for up to 12 weeks after the writing exercise ended.

Need more reason to practice a little more gratitude? A study at the University of Southern California found that our brain is full of the love hormone, oxytocin, when we experience gratitude, which may account for those positive effects of being thankful has on our relationships, well-being and mental health. Bonus: The beneficial effects are likely to be amplified with more gratitude, producing a positive feedback loop that serves to create more gratitude.

Bottom line: By switching our perspective from "I have to" to "I get to," we can change our perception and affect positive changes in our lives. What a great thing to model for our littles during the holidays—and always.


As part of my training to become a Montessori teacher, there was a big emphasis on building relationships with the children. When a child walked into the classroom, we would get down on their level, shake their hand and make eye contact (if they were open to this) and say something like, "I'm so happy you're here today."

This is because Montessori focuses on the whole child, including their physical and emotional well being, and also because it is much easier for a child to succeed academically if they feel comfortable and connected in the classroom.

So amidst the busyness of life, how can we make sure we're showing our kids enough affection? How can we make sure they feel our love when we're racing around being mamas?

Try these phrases and adjust them to fit your own style and family so your precious little one doesn't get lost in the shuffle:

1. "I'm happy to see you."

When I became a mom, I said this every morning in the classroom and made it a part of my morning greeting to my children each day. It can be hard not to start the day on a grumpy note when young children wake up (SO) early, but it's important to let them know that we're happy to be here with them, taking care of them, each and every day.


2. "Let's snuggle."

Maybe you set the alarm just five minutes earlier every day and build in a little snuggle time when you wake your child up for school. Or maybe that sounds horrible and you opt for a Saturday morning weekly family snuggle party instead.

Whatever works best for your family, find a way to include regular opportunities to relax and snuggle together even as your child gets older. Some children need more physical affection than others, so make sure to follow your child's lead.

3. "I love that you are so generous."

One part of my Montessori training that really stuck with me is acknowledging "qualities of greatness." This is a strategy that can be particularly effective with a child who seeks negative attention. Catch them when they are doing something right, no matter how small it is, and make a big deal about it.

Does your child always take toys from their younger sibling, but then you catch them in the act of sharing a favorite book? Let them know that you see it. Say something like "I love seeing you be so generous with your sister! You are a really giving person."

This lets our children know that we see them as good people, and it also helps shape their perception of themselves.

You can extrapolate a quality of greatness from almost anything.

Your child put their own shoes on? "I love that you're so independent!"

They picked up their Legos without you asking? "You sure are conscientious!"

Find a way to give them a meaningful compliment and it will stick with them.

4. "Do you want to know one of my favorite things about you?"

Especially if you have more than one child, it's important to let them know that you love them for who they are, uniquely. The more specific the compliment you offer them, the more it will mean to them.

"You're a good boy" doesn't really mean much but "I love that you take good care of your things" is specific enough to matter.

5. "Come sit with me."

Sometimes affection looks like a big bear hug and kind words and sometimes it's simply a quiet moment together. Especially for young children, it's not always clear what their love language is, but quality time together is always important to our children.

It's easy to put a lot of pressure on yourself and think "quality time" has to be a special one on one date to an unforgettable place, but it can be as simple as a few cozy minutes together on the couch.

6. "Is there anything you want to chat about?"

I often ask my 3-year-old this at bedtime (well really after bedtime, when he's called me back into his room for "one last song"). He usually doesn't come up with anything in particular at this point, but it's important to me that he knows I'm there to listen.

I imagine that one day he'll surprise me with an answer that gives me a little window into his heart, but even if he doesn't, what matters is that he knows he can talk to me and that I always have time for him.

7. "You give the best hugs."

One day when I was in my Montessori classroom, a little 3-year-old girl walked up to me and randomly gave me a hug. As she walked away I heard her to say to herself, "I give the best hugs," and it brought the biggest smile to my face.

I am sure her parents tell her this all the time. There is a big difference between "Do you need a hug?" (which is also a great thing to say) and "You give the best hugs!"

Let your child know that you're hugging them not just because they want to be close to you, but because you want to be close to them, and value and treasure their affection.

8. "Did you get my note?"

I'm not entirely sure why, but one of my earliest and most clear memories from my young childhood is of receiving notes in my lunchbox at daycare from my mom. I couldn't even read yet, but it meant the world to me to have a little note from my mom in the middle of the day.

It doesn't need to be every day, but writing little love notes to your child lets them know you're thinking about them.

9. "What would you like to do together?"

Try letting your child lead the way in choosing what to do with your quality time on occasion. Even if it's only for 30 minutes, they will get the idea that you want to spend time with them doing what they want to do. Showing interest in your child's hobbies, even if you have little interest in them yourself, pays off over time because you learn so much about what your child is thinking and feeling through watching them play.

10. "I love you no matter what."

It's easy to show your child that you love them when they're being fun and adorable, but it's a bit harder when they're getting in trouble at school or yelling at you. Even, and especially, amidst the tantrums and notes from the teacher, make sure to let them know that your love for them is unconditional.

At the end of the day, you have to find a way to show your love that feels natural to you. Experiment with different types of affection and you will be able to tell what resonates the most with your child.

Maybe you're a snuggler and they're not, maybe you're not big on compliments but they crave your words of affirmation. That's okay. Just becoming a little more aware of how you show your affection will help you make sure your child is really feeling the love you send them each day.

Learn + Play

We can't lie to you—the idea of matching family holiday pajamas gets us all sorts of giddy inside. They're the perfect early holiday present for kids to wear on Christmas morning and the best excuse to wear loungewear all day long.

So snuggle up next to the fire 🔥, grab some hot chocolate ☕, and get ready to rock these comfy, cozy matching PJs this holiday season. Shop our favorite looks below!

1. Hearth & Hand with Magnolia

matching family pajamas target

Matching family PJs designed by one of our fave design couple powerhouses Chip & Joanna Gaines? Yes, please. Even the family dog can get in on the fun. Starting at $9.99.


2. Hanna Andersson Deer Collection

hanna andersson pajamas

Iconic brand Hanna Andersson pretty much wrote the book on matching family PJs, and we could not love them more. There are so many Insta-worthy styles to choose from, you're going to have trouble choosing just one. Plus, they're on sale right now! Prices start at $28 for kids.


3. Feliz Navidad Collection

feliz navidad matching pajamas

However you say Merry Christmas, celebrate in style with this gorgeous green set. Prices start at $8.39.


4. Sleepyheads Holiday

matching pajamas

Made for lounging, Sleepyheads' pajamas have the cutest polar bear designs. These would make the most adorable Christmas morning pictures! Infant pajamas start at $16.99.


5. Hanukkah

hanukkah family pajamas

You don't need to celebrate Christmas to get in on the matching family pajama game! We love these coordinating Hanukkah PJs to kick off the Festival of Lights. And, yes, there's a matching piece for your pup! Pieces for your little ones start at $10.49.


6. Wondershop Winter Wonderland

matching family pajamas

Nothing adds to the magic of the holidays like mama and a little winter wonderland. How gorgeous are these colors? Prices start at $8.39.


7. Harry Potter

harry potter matching family pajamas

Add a little extra magic to the holidays with this Harry Potter set. Mischief managed by mama, of course. Prices start at just $9.09.


8. PajamaGram Snowfall Plaid Set

matching family pajamas

These comfy plaid snowflake-filled PJs will keep everyone nice and warm this season. The snowflake theme isn't holiday specific and can be worn all winter long! Prices start at $29.99


9. Plaid Collection

matching family pajamas plaid

The perfect pair for your holiday Instagram photo. Prices starting at $8.39.


10. Gray Striped Collection

gray striped matching pajamas

If you're not into the holiday colors, or want sets that work outside of the season, we love this minimalist gray striped set. Perfect for cozy days all year long. Prices start at $8.39, mama.


11. Jammies for Your Families

khols matching family pajamas

How fun are these festive fairisle prints? There's something everyone in your family will love. Prices start at $19.99.


12. Hanna Andersson Stripes Collection

hanna andersson stripe family pajamas

For a classic look, these stripes would be adorable on any family. And, we can't resist that elf hat for your littlest family members. Prices start at $20.

13. Burt's Bees Baby Family Jammies

matching family pajamas burts bees

Made of 100% organic cotton, you won't believe how soft these jammies are. Plus, they're breathable so if you're the type of overheat at night, these are a great option. Prices start at $16.95.


14. SleepytimePjs Fleece Deer Plaid

matching family pajamas

You can never go wrong with buffalo plaid and this set doesn't disappoint. The baseball tees offer a more modern look and the deer head is such an adorable touch. Prices start at $6.99.


15. Frozen Pajamas Collection

matching family frozen pajamas

If you prefer to have a little Disney on your Christmas morning, we love the classic look of these pajamas. The cold won't bother anyone in this set. Prices start at $9.09.


16. Red Buffalo Check Collection

buffalo check family pajamas

There's nothing more classic than buffalo check during the holidays. This one even has nightgowns available! Prices start at $8.39.


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