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Spending four days visiting my father-in-law at his assisted living residence in D.C. was not exactly the Spring Break I had envisioned.


Fidgeting on the plane ride next to my even-more-antsy children, I figured the “Break” part of the trip would surely be missing from the things we’re all generally trying to escape: stress, fatigue, sadness, guilt.

Turns out the “Spring” part would be missing as well, since 30-degree weather with rain and snow was the gloomy forecast for the week. Instead of parked with a fruity drink on a beach somewhere, I’d be taking shelter from the cold, sharpening my listening and empathy skills for a man in need of a little warmth, too.

Several years ago, my father-in-law fell and broke his hip, and at just 75 years old, could no longer care for his basic living needs on his own. He now lives in a two-room unit of a lovely, albeit “depressing” and “lonely,” high-rise with 100+ other seniors, most of whom are far worse off than he. While his long-term memory seems to be intact, his short-term memory, along with some nutrition and mobility issues, prove to be a challenge. There are times he can’t recall a doctor’s visit from just a couple of days before.

My kids have been to his residence enough to know the drill by now. And though they are temporarily distracted by puppies and cookies in the lobby, the sights and smells of old age are hard to ignore. Residents gaze out with a faraway look from oversized armchairs, or sleep hunched over in wheelchairs parked in the café. Those who are alert stare down my youngsters with wide eyes and even wider grins, overjoyed to see the beauty and promise of youth in their midst.

A yearly visit to this place, I realize, is the least I can do. I’m one step removed from the decision-making and caretaking that my husband and in-laws are doing their best to manage. I see how they, like so many other families, often give more than they sometimes have to ensure his continual care and comfort. And I know I couldn’t do a better job.

But I found on this trip that one small thing I can do is take the time to listen. To sit in presence with a man who is sometimes depressed, often lonely, and always eager to talk — and listen with an open heart.

Listen to the tales of his youth that he loves to tell, and re-tell, as if they happened just yesterday. Especially the one about the beloved summer camp he attended with a fine group of young boys from all over the world, each hand-selected to live with and learn from one another, and from their native cultures.

Or give an understanding nod about the latest drama in the building. Like his run-in with the lady down the hall when he went on his daily walk to reach out to someone new and encourage others to do the same. “Who cares about anyone else?!” she snapped at him.

Or just to sit and hold his hand when he tells us that he’s lonely.

I think sometimes we have a tendency, consciously or not, to dismiss the worn-out tales, these weary revelations of heartbreak and burden, as a part of growing old. We exchange knowing glances as we listen to our elders rattle off the same stories over and over. We snicker at their silly expressions, and roll our eyes at the neverending complaints. Oh geez, here Grandma goes again. Someone get her a scotch (or take it away). Things that really, for all of us, at one time or another, are just a part of living.

But the thing about our Dad and Granddad is that he’s just not that easy to dismiss. Thankfully, this loving, witty, and unconditional parent has not entered a clinical state of dementia, but pivots back and forth between crystal clarity and general fogginess.

I’ll tell him about a story I’m writing, and he’ll fire back a dead-on insight that blows me away, followed by a sweet sentiment about having me for a daughter and gratitude for all the blessings we share. You are as much a part of me as anyone here, he tells me.

And in the next breath, he’s back to how they took away his blanket, and he had to hunt it down from the laundry room on his own because no one in the place really gives a damn. But I keep listening.

He wants to talk about his work as a philosophy professor and author. He proudly recounts a piece of his writing and tells us, “That’s not me who did that, or wrote that. That’s my grandfather. And his father before him. I feel like the luckiest man in the world. I really do.”

He apologizes for his “craziness” as he collects old photographs from his room, many of which we’ve seen before. He wants to show us our heritage, and tell us more stories. It’s important, he says, that we know where we come from.


A nurse arrives to dispense his daily medication. He introduces us, then asks her to give the kids a fist bump. She throws her head back, letting out a deep chuckle as if she’s used to these sorts of silly requests from him, and kindly extends her fist. The mood in the room is lighter as we watch her gently place the many pills, one-by-one, on his tongue. In between, he feels compelled to give us bits of nurse trivia – her beautiful name, where she’s from, and some of the little jokes between them. We laugh, and take notice.

One day we go to visit and find he’s not in his room. “He’s making the rounds,” an employee tells us with a smile. Suddenly he appears at the door with a neighbor woman from one floor down. (He reveals to us later that she’s 99, though by her mobility and spunky personality, she appears a good 20 years younger.) He asks his grandkids to give her a hug. My seven-year-old willingly obliges, while my 10-year-old politely declines with a nervous look my way.

I give her an understanding wink, knowing that it’s just her Granddad’s way of connecting. He’s showing empathy for an elderly neighbor who has no family of her own, other than a nephew who lives 90 miles away, by offering to share his grandchild’s sweet embrace. Like a band-aid for the loneliness he feels so acutely on his own skin. Ever the giver in the midst of his own suffering.

So I sit back, and settle in to listen some more.

And somewhere between feeling sorry for myself that I’m not basking in the sun somewhere, and feeling adored by this gentle, generous man who has adopted me as his own, I see that our aging parents are not just a part of life that we are required to bear and usher through as best we can.

They are the reflection of an older version of ourselves – parents, people, who just want to know that their life has meant something. That there’s still time to share what they’ve discovered, and to leave something behind. And to know that we ducklings have been paying attention, and have learned a thing or two.

And though it’s not always easy, and sometimes painful, something as simple as a bent ear can provide a different kind of break — one we both really needed.

As we leave to make our way to the airport, my father-in-law says to his granddaughter, “You know we are connected, the two of us. I am you, and you are me.”

And then another fist bump.

Sometimes I think when we exchange those little glances and giggles about our dear old loved ones — even when they show us glimpses of brilliance — that the joke is really on us. Maybe when we reach the age of “old,” in between the crazy babbling and the far-off stares, we know exactly what we’re doing, and what we’re teaching. And one day, we know, our kids and grandkids will figure it out, too.


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Summer heat has a way of making the house feel smaller, more congested, with less room for the air to circulate. And there's nothing like heat to make me want to strip down, cool off and lighten my load. So, motivation in three digits, now that school is back in, it's time to do a purge.

Forget the spring clean—who has time for that? Those last few months of the school year are busier than the first. And summer's warm weather entices our family outdoors on the weekends which doesn't leave much time for re-organizing.

So, I seize the opportunity when my kids are back in school to enter my zone.

I love throwing open every closet and cupboard door, pulling out anything and everything that doesn't fit our bodies or our lives. Each joyless item purged peels off another oppressive layer of "not me" or "not us."

Stuff can obscure what really makes us feel light, capable and competent. Stuff can stem the flow of what makes our lives work.

With my kids back in school, I am energized, motivated by the thought that I have the space to be in my head with no interruptions. No refereeing. No snacks. No naps… I am tossing. I am folding. I am stacking. I am organizing. I don't worry about having to stop. The neat-freak in me is having a field day.

Passing bedroom doors, ajar and flashing their naughty bits of chaos at me, is more than I can handle in terms of temptation. I have to be careful, though, because I can get on a roll. Taking to my kids' rooms I tread carefully, always aware that what I think is junk can actually be their treasure.

But I usually have a good sense for what has been abandoned or invisible in plain sight for the lack of movement or the accumulation of dust. Anything that fits the description gets relegated to a box in the garage where it is on standby in case its absence is noticed and a meltdown has ensued so the crisis can be averted. Either way, it's a victory.

Oh, it's quiet. So, so quiet. And I can think it through…

Do we really need all this stuff?

Will my son really notice if I toss all this stuff?

Will my daughter be heartbroken if I donate all this stuff?

Will I really miss this dress I wore three years ago that barely fit my waist then and had me holding in my tummy all night, and that I for sure cannot zip today?

Can we live without it all? All. This. Stuff?

For me, the fall purge always gets me wondering, where in the world does all this stuff come from? So with the beginning of the school year upon us, I vow to create a new mindset to evaluate everything that enters my home from now on, so there will be so much less stuff.

I vow to really think about objects before they enter my home…

…to evaluate what is really useful,

...to consider when it would be useful,

...to imagine where it would be useful,

...to remember why it may be useful,

…to decide how to use it in more than one way,

... so that all this stuff won't get in the way of what really matters—time and attention for my kids and our lives as a new year reveals more layers of the real stuff—what my kids are made of.

Bring it on.

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In the moments after we give birth, we desperately want to hear our baby cry. In the middle of the night a few months later it's no longer exactly music to our ears, but those cries aren't just telling us that baby needs a night feeding: They're also giving us a hint at what our children may sound like as kindergarteners, and adults.

New research published in the journal Biology Letters suggests the pitch of a 4-month-old's cry predicts the pitch they'll use to ask for more cookies at age five and maybe even later on as adults.

The study saw 2 to 5-month olds recorded while crying. Five years later, the researchers hit record again and chatted with the now speaking children. Their findings, combined with previous work on the subject, suggest it's possible to figure out what a baby's voice will sound like later in life, and that the pitch of our adult voices may be traceable back to the time we spend in utero. Further studies are needed, but scientists are very interested in how factors before birth can impact decades later.

"In utero, you have a lot of different things that can alter and impact your life — not only as a baby, but also at an adult stage," one of the authors of the study, Nicolas Mathevon, told the New York Times.

The New York Times also spoke with Carolyn Hodges, an assistant professor of anthropology at Boston University who was not involved in the study. According to Hodges, while voice pitch may not seem like a big deal, it impacts how we perceive people in very real ways.

Voice pitch is a factor in how attractive we think people are, how trustworthy. But why we find certain pitches more or less appealing isn't known. "There aren't many studies that address these questions, so that makes this research especially intriguing," Hodges said, adding that it "suggests that individual differences in voice pitch may have their origins very, very early in development."

So the pitch of that midnight cry may have been determined months ago, and it may determine part of your child's future, too. There are still so many things we don't know, but as parents we do know one thing: Our babies cries (as much as we don't want to hear them all the time) really are something special.

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For many years, Serena Williams seemed as perfect as a person could be. But now, Serena is a mom. She's imperfect and she's being honest about that and we're so grateful.

On the cover of TIME, Williams owns her imperfection, and in doing so, she gives mothers around the world permission to be as real as she is being.

"Nothing about me right now is perfect," she told TIME. "But I'm perfectly Serena."

The interview sheds light on Williams' recovery from her traumatic birth experience, and how her mental health has been impacted by the challenges she's faced in going from a medical emergency to new motherhood and back to the tennis court all within one year.

"Some days, I cry. I'm really sad. I've had meltdowns. It's been a really tough 11 months," she said.

It would have been easy for Williams to keep her struggles to herself over the last year. She didn't have to tell the world about her life-threatening birth experience, her decision to stop breastfeeding, her maternal mental health, how she missed her daughter's first steps, or any of it. But she did share these experiences, and in doing so she started incredibly powerful conversations on a national stage.

After Serena lost at Wimbledon this summer, she told the mothers watching around the world that she was playing for them. "And I tried," she said through tears. "I look forward to continuing to be back out here and doing what I do best."

In the TIME cover story, what happened before that match, where Williams lost to Angelique Kerber was revealed. TIME reports that Williams checked her phone about 10 minutes before the match, and learned, via Instagram, that the man convicted of fatally shooting her sister Yetunde Price, in 2003 is out on parole.

"I couldn't shake it out of my mind," Serena says. "It was hard because all I think about is her kids," she says. She was playing for all the mothers out there, but she had a specific mother on her mind during that historic match.

Williams' performance at Wimbledon wasn't perfect, and neither is she, as she clearly states on the cover of time. But motherhood isn't perfect either. It's okay to admit that. Thanks, Serena, for showing us how.

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There are some mornings where I wake up and I'm ready for the day. My alarm goes off and I pop out of bed and hum along as I make breakfast before my son wakes up. But then there are days where I just want 10 more minutes to sleep in. Or breakfast feels impossible to make because all our time has run out. Or I just feel overwhelmed and unprepared.

Those are the mornings I stare at the fridge and think, Can someone else just make breakfast, please?

Enter: make-ahead breakfasts. We spoke to the geniuses at Pinterest and they shared their top 10 pins all around this beautiful, planned-ahead treat. Here they are.

(You're welcome, future self.)

1. Make-ahead breakfast enchiladas

www.pinterest.com

Created by Bellyful

I'd make these for dinner, too.

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