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In the weeks leading up to the holiday season, I flip through aspirational magazines peering at magnificent mantles and imagine dry needles in my Turkish rug.


Instead of immersing myself in the gorgeous garland, I picture myself on hands and knees trying to pick the pine bits out of the pile. It is not pretty.

I set a row of pillar candles on the sideboard to bring seasonal warmth into our dining room. As I look at the pillar candles balanced on gilded plates I see the pool of wax gathering beside and beneath them. I remember the time I lit my living room on fire with a similar set up for a holiday party and realize I never learn.

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I wrap Hanukkah gifts in environmentally friendly brown paper and tie the burlap bows tight. I personalize each package and line them up under the tree. I know what will happen over the next eight days. Despite my careful labeling the boys will barrel into the bunch and jumble the packages as they tumble over each other.

As they open their gifts I will concentrate on smoothing out the brown paper for future art projects. I know by the end of the evening I will pitch the whole wrinkled ripped wrapping making my efforts moot. It is likely that whatever they unwrap will end up in the bathtub. Even the booklights.

When the festival of lights ends the celebration continues.

It is time turn from the menorah to the tree. We turn on the Christmas music and mull cider on the stove. The fire crackles. We tilt the tree left and right, right and left and spin it around in search of its good side. One boy thinks every side is best. The other wonders if a conical prism can have a side. Steve wonders if the tree is a conical prism. I conjure up a conical prison.

As I unfold protective tissue I remember the time the dog knocked over the tree trying to drink from the dish that held half water and half his own pee. That was a particularly un-merry morning, slicing my finger on shards of vintage ornaments. I see their absence in the empty slots in the divided cardboard box. I appreciate that I have a few less pieces to place.

My younger son’s face turns to mine. The lights from the tree cast him in gold. He holds a foam ornament from pre-school, one I always try to get to the back of the tree in one hand. He points with his other hand to the same empty spots that I celebrated moments before. “What happened to these?”

In a wave I remember him as a tiny toddler, crying over a broken crayon as if the world was about to end. I saw his face exactly at the moment that he learned that life was not perfect, that not everything could be repaired. The reality of mortality was clutched in his plump hand. I remember his tear streaked face as he thrust the crayon bits at me with one fisted hand and the tape with another. It was a sad moment for both of us.

I realized there was one thing I could repair…my attitude. This was not a broken crayon moment. The world was not about to end. So I pushed aside the inevitable problems of the prickly pine and focused on my family.

I told my son the story of the dog and the pee tree as we laughed at, rather than lamented our loss. Engulfed in the sound of his enjoyment I realized that things did not have to be perfect to be precious. After we finished the tree with the foam ornament front and center, we took on the rest of the decorating together.

We filled birch buckets with evergreen boughs and he told me tales of holidays past. He remembered the fire at the holiday party and shared his version of the story. He had been the one to discover the fire and alert me. He had gotten guests out of the room safely and opened the french doors to the porch to allow the smoke to exit. I hadn’t realized what a hero he had been.

He talked about the time we had collected pine cones from our lakeside lot and spray painted them gold. He remembered the sticky sap on his fingers that held the color and made him look like he had golden freckles for the entire winter. We giggled over the time our fluffy cat stormed past the menorah and caught his tail on fire. He ran from us as we tried to put him out. After the original scare it was ridiculous to look at his charred hair, which the cat licked and licked with pride probably wishing that damn oil had only lasted one night.

Looking further back at holiday hi jinx he finally admitted to sneaking downstairs and opening every single gift while we slept upstairs the Christmas he was four. For many years he had blamed the dog. He figured this conversation was a good time to come clean. He seemed to know I would enjoy his antics.

His last story was about the January night that we burned our tree in our outdoor fire pit. I remembered the race to undecorate its branches before ornaments were scorched. As the three guys in the family marched the tree to its final glorious blaze I frantically pulled the last golden pine cones from its branches. He remembered the flames leaping as high as the sky, the sound of the popping pine needles, and how he had run to the house to fetch me to see the spectacle. He found me miserably vacuuming up leftover shreds of paper and bits of tree.

He dragged me outside, taking the vacuum hose with us. He tossed his brother one end of the hose and they stood together aiming their imaginary firefighting gear. It had been years since they had pretended to be firefighters, but this epic sight had brought them back to the age of magic.

Not me. I had wondered why so many of our memories included flames and inched back inside to return to the work of undecorating.

This year was different. I could see it as he did. The golden glow of the seasons was reflected in his reflections. Mishaps and ripped gifts, broken ornaments, and the dog in the figurative dog house were the stories that made up our holidays. The work and the play were woven together. The fact that the decorating and undecorating were never done was exactly the point. The mess of it was the best.

Which we might use to burn down another tree. And talk about it for years to come.

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When it comes to holiday gifts, we know what you really want, mama. A full night's sleep. Privacy in the bathroom. The opportunity to eat your dinner while it's still hot. Time to wash—and dry!—your hair. A complete wardrobe refresh.


While we can't help with everything on your list (we're still trying to figure out how to get some extra zzz's ourselves), here are 14 gift ideas that'll make you look, if not feel, like a whole new woman. Even when you're sleep deprived.

Gap Cable-Knit Turtleneck Sweater

When winter hits, one of our go-to outfits will be this tunic-length sweater and a pair of leggings. Warm and everyday-friendly, we can get behind that.

$69.95

Gap Cigarette Jeans

These high-waisted straight-leg jeans have secret smoothing panels to hide any lumps and bumps (because really, we've all got 'em).

$79.95

Tiny Tags Gold Skinny Bar Necklace

Whether engraved with a child's name or date of birth, this personalized necklace will become your go-to piece of everyday jewelry.

$135.00

Gap Brushed Pointelle Crew

This wear-with-anything soft pink sweater with delicate eyelet details can be dressed up for work or dressed down for weekend time with the family. Versatility for the win!

$79.95

Gap Flannel Pajama Set

For mamas who sleep warm, this PJ set offers the best of both worlds: cozy flannel and comfy shorts. Plus, it comes with a coordinating eye mask for a blissed-out slumber.

$69.95

Spafinder Gift Card

You can't give the gift of relaxation, per say, but you can give a gift certificate for a massage or spa service, and that's close enough!

$50.00

Gap Stripe Long Sleeve Crewneck

This featherweight long-sleeve tee is the perfect layering piece under hoodies, cardigans, and blazers.

$29.95

Gap Chenille Smartphone Gloves

Gone are the days of removing toasty gloves before accessing our touchscreen devices—thank goodness!

$9.95

Ember Temperature Control Smart Mug

Make multiple trips to the microwave a thing of the past with a app-controlled smart mug that'll keep your coffee or tea at the exact temperature you prefer for up to an hour.

$79.95

Gap Flannel Shirt

Our new favorite flannel boasts an easy-to-wear drapey fit and a flattering curved shirttail hem.

$59.95

Gap Sherpa-Lined Denim Jacket

Stay warm while looking cool in this iconic jean jacket, featuring teddy bear-soft fleece lining and a trendy oversized fit.

$98.00

Gap Crazy Stripe Scarf

Practical and stylish, this cozy scarf adds a pop of color—well, colors—to any winter ensemble.

$39.95

Nixplay Seed Frame

This digital picture frame is perfect for mamas who stay up late scrolling through their phone's photo album to glimpse their kiddos being adorable. By sending them to this smart frame to view throughout the day, you can get a few extra minutes of sleep at night!

$165.00

Gap Crewneck Sweater

Busy mamas will appreciate that this supersoft, super versatile Merino wool sweater is machine washable.

$59.95

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

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Can you believe it's already time to start decorating for the holidays? And this year, Target is making it easier than ever to create inviting holiday spaces that are still neat, organized and clutter-free. Whether your style is whimsical, traditional or rustic, there are plenty of neutral creams, frosty whites and touches of evergreen that will take you through the holidays and well into the new year with style.

This holiday also marks the 3-year anniversary of the launch of Joanna Gaines' Hearth & Hand with Magnolia line. The collection features nearly 300 new pieces from gifting and décor to entertaining. Oh, and this season they have faux Christmas trees!

Ready to create your own modern winter wonderland at home? Grab our favorite minimalist piece:

Joy wire Christmas wreath

Joy wire Christmas wreath

The word "Joy" isn't a holiday classic for nothing—it's sure to bring lots of smiles and laughs to any home. And when it's atop the garland in this festive wreath, it's an instant pick-me-up. Plus, for an extra twist: This comes pre-strung with white LED bulbs for a little light to brighten dark spaces.

$45

Mini cable-knit stocking

Mini cable-knit stocking

This stocking brings simplistic holiday cheer to just about any living space. This mini size is perfect for little ones or if you just want stockings that don't take up too much space.

$4

Faux white pine garland

Faux white pine garland

Bring the outdoors indoors with a garland that can be framed around your door. Or add holiday spirit to your table runner with a garland centerpiece. We love how realistic this one looks for such an affordable price.

$24.99

Whitewash advent calendar

Whitewash advent calendar

Let's be honest, advent calendars are nice, but some have gone a bit overboard in how complicated they are. But not this one. The cutout shape of a tree features rows of numbers, while a roaming wreath moves the countdown along. Simple, yet chic.

$20

Round tree skirt

Round tree skirt

No tree is complete without a beautiful tree skirt. This striped one is a must-have for a farmhouse-inspired atmosphere. Even better if you want a splash of rustic charm that matches your other holiday décor.

$39.99

Mini marquee star wall sign

Mini marquee star wall sign

Brighten up your living room with this attention-grabbing statement piece. Hang the star sign on your entryway wall to help welcome guests, or place it on your mantel, shelf or end table alongside other accents to add touches of holiday cheer in a minimalist way.

$8

Ceramic house decorative figurine

Ceramic house decorative figurine

This tiny house with windows, door and a chimney lends realistic, whimsical appeal, but the solid ceramic design allows it to be used from season to season. Place a small light inside to light up your mantle when standard candles won't suffice.

$8

Wood garland

Wood garland

Sometimes less is more! Upgrade your staircase or tree with this simplistic wooded garland. Pair with fresh cedar and grapevine twigs to create a striking focal point on your home.

$12.99

Joy wall decor

Joy wall decor

Create holiday cheer in a small way by adding holiday wall art that sparks a bit of joy.

For a refined look, the decor offers a hardwood frame and the sawtooth back allows for easy display on tiny spaces that need a touch of holiday spirit.

$9.99

Stocking holder

Stocking holder

Minimalists will rejoice for this multi-tasking stocking holder—acting as both festive signage and a holder for multiple stockings. It's simple, charming and will look great on your mantle for years to come.

$29.99
Holiday Shopping Guides

Madison Vining, mama of six, recently posted an honest message that went viral on Instagram. In it she described how we can't really have the full picture of someone's life just by what they post on social media. It's little fragments of their life, which probably leave out the really good moments when people decide to put the phone down to be present, and also the really bad moments they don't want documented.

The post, which has almost 12,000 likes and hundreds of comments, received a lot of praise from other parents thanking her for hitting the nail on the head.

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The post reads:

"Instagram stories. Let's talk.

If someone uses the maximum amount of stories allowed in a day (all the teeny tiny dots) guess what? All together, it totals less than an hour of their 24-hour day. Does that surprise you? It's true. It's a peek of 1/24th of their day. Furthermore, it's probably the calmest parts. After all, when was the last time you got into a fight with your husband and thought "Hang on, let me insta-story this!" or had your hands full of screaming babies and thought "Hang on... let me try and hold a phone, too!"

I really want to challenge you.

Before you look at her life and become jealous: you likely did not see her raise her voice as she struggled through schoolwork with her kids, or her picking up trash after the dog ripped it up and dragged it all over the driveway, or her doctor give her a terrifying diagnosis, or her son's preschool teacher call and say he's been a problem... Again. Or her crying because she hates her body and hasn't felt like herself in so long. Or her going to bed each day feeling guilty and like she didn't do enough for everyone. Or her husband being out of work. Or her dad who walked out on her as a kid and it still hurts. Or her burning dinner and yelling a swear word in front of her kids.

Yeah, you don't see all the bad.

But you know what? Before you look at her life and become critical, know that you didn't see her singing worship music and taking extra time as she changed her baby's diaper. You didn't see her driving all the way to recycle center when the trash would have been easier. You didn't see her close her laptop, close her eyes, and stop to pray for someone she doesn't know. You didn't see her tell her daughter, "Just keep killing them with kindness, baby" as she sobbed in her arms about a bully. You didn't see her give up "me time" to prioritize date night with her husband. You didn't see her take her oldest to lunch. You didn't see her anonymous donation.

You don't see a lot of the beautiful things that happen in her life and in her heart, because they're sacred and the first thought that pops into her mind isn't, "I should grab my phone right now."

You don't see it all. Be kind to one another."

Thank you for saying what many think, mama.

Life

Do you feel it?

That little spark ✨ in the air that only comes around this time of year is starting to buzz and pop around us. There's nothing quite like the joy and excitement that comes with counting down to the holidays—especially with your kids who think last Christmas was forever ago.

And what better way to count down to Christmas than with an Advent calendar? We've rounded up our favorites that you can use year after year, mama.

House advent calendar

It's perfectly neutral to go with any type of holiday decor, but is made to bring a spark of magic and fun as your kids rush each morning to find out what's inside the tiny drawers.

$55.30

Advent calendar wreath

This has to be the most unique advent calendar we've ever seen. We love everything about it: The simple metal hoop, the greenery and the 24 kraft boxes that can be filled with goodies for both adults and kids. It's so pretty, we might even leave it up past Christmas!

$35

Countdown to Christmas advent calendar

We love that you can fill this one with your own treats that can change as your kids grow. And it doesn't have to be sweets. It can be filled with stickers, little toys, handmade goodies and more.

$38

Modern farmhouse Christmas countdown

No treats required for this simple, beautiful sign.

$34.95

Metal advent calendar

This sleek metal sign comes with 25 small muslin bags and 30 cards you can tuck into each one. The cards have an activity or kind gesture you and your kids can do to celebrate the season.

$40

Ernie and Irene llama advent calendar

Add a touch of whimsy and coziness with this sweet calendar featuring a knit llama.

$128

DIY advent calendar kit

For the crafty mamas in the group, this sweet kit has everything you and your family need to create your advent calendar together. Once you've assembled all the houses, you can fill it with whatever treats your family will love.

$36

Customizable advent calendar

This sweet and modern fabric calendar can be customized with your family name or cherished holiday phrase. It also comes with a set of 24 activity cards you can pop into each pocket.

$107

Clever Creations traditional wooden Christmas advent calendar

Clever Creations Traditional Wooden Christmas Advent Calendar

This beautiful calendar is a showpiece. It lights up to create a cozy and festive scene.

$43

Light-up stacking house glitter advent calendar

Enjoy a tower of pre-lit cottages that will light up your home each day leading up to Christmas.

$149

My Kindness advent calendar

My Kindness Advent Calendar

The holidays are all about giving—and that doesn't stop with just material items. We can give in the form of kindness every single day, and this calendar helps us do just that.

$75

Blue and gray Christmas socks advent calendar garland

We love the twist on a traditional calendar with this sweet garland of 24 stockings.

$29.69

Motherly is your daily #momlife manual; we are here to help you easily find the best, most beautiful products for your life that actually work. We share what we love—and we may receive a commission if you choose to buy. You've got this.

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Even though I'm almost halfway through my pregnancy, I still don't trust that I'm pregnant. Some people might feel this way in the beginning of theirs (at least for a little while); shocked into disbelief that some very specific cells in our bodies can become babies. But I have a hard time believing because of my bump. Or rather, because I don't appear to have one at all.

I thought the bump would be a big part of my pregnancy and I'm bummed it's not. I assumed it would knight me into the world of impending motherhood, where you hold a funeral for all the clothes you will never fit into again; where the other people in your yoga class think you're being lazy but they don't realize you have to modify the poses so you don't squish the baby; and where you believe (unreasonably) that your dog will calm down on walks because he senses you're suddenly much more afraid of falling.

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Even without it, I do get a lot of reminders that I'm pregnant: My nipples itch constantly. I need to use the bathroom every 30 minutes (sometimes 20!). I just started getting heartburn, which I've never had before. My hobbies are picking fights with my husband, going to sleep at 8pm and not knowing what to eat for lunch because nothing is appetizing. Today I did, however, put salt on a half sour pickle.

But I'm still skeptical because my body hasn't changed. If you saw me on the street today, you would not be able to tell I'm expecting a boy in April.

I've coveted the baby bump ever since I experienced a miscarriage earlier this year. With that pregnancy, I had no symptoms at all (no nausea, no stomach twinges, no breast pain, no nothing), which I thought was a little weird, but I assumed everything would be fine. Then after the doctor confirmed I miscarried at six weeks, it made sense why I didn't feel anything.

When I found out I was pregnant this time, I was obsessed with what and how I felt and I interpreted every tiny disruption from the norm as an assurance the baby was still in there and okay. This helped ease my anxiety for a while.

A second failed pregnancy felt imminent when friends and acquaintances began remarking that I was "not showing" or "hardly showing." It seemed that while I had accumulated many pieces of pregnancy that I didn't have before, I was still missing the most universally accepted indicator I was doing a good job supporting the growth of a healthy baby: The bump.

But since I don't have it, it feels like I'm already a bad mother. It feels like my body is gaslighting me. Am I even really pregnant if there's no bump to indicate I am? It's easy to explain the symptoms away without one, as if they are caused by other factors like the weather or doing too much physical activity or just being in my 30s. It's feels like my body is betraying me. After all I've been through, my body can't (or won't) do the biggest thing that would reassure me this pregnancy is going to work out? What other mischief is it capable of?

The longed baby bump arrives at different times during pregnancy for different people and I know there are no benefits to comparing my pregnancy to anyone else's. The best thing for my health (and therefore the health of the baby) is to try and remain as calm as possible. There's no evidence to suggest anything's wrong with the baby. All my blood tests come back normal, as do all the routine screens for things like spina bifida and trisomies.

But once you doubt your body for the first time, it's very easy to do it again. From there, it's not long until you're doubting each individual piece of yourself. In addition to struggling with the fact that I don't have a bump, I also worry about my motherly intuition—that special sauce that will get me through the toughest parts of having a newborn. It would be nice if I could simply acquire it before the birth, like the baby bottles or the baby bathtub or any of the other numerous items on our baby shower registry.

Friends and family say it doesn't happen that way—it shows up after birth. This doesn't seem right! It feels like I need to have these instincts before the baby arrives. They all say, "It's hard to believe, but you'll be fine. Once the baby is here, that's when your instincts kick in. It's almost like you wake up one morning and you know enough to get through the coming days." This may be acceptable to other people, but I find it hard to believe because I have only ever been uncomfortable around infants.

I don't want my child to doubt himself the way I doubt myself. I would like him to be confident in his skills, his knowledge, in who he is as a person. I also know that in order for him to be this way, I have to show him how.

So for the next five months, I'm going to practice trusting myself. I'm going to trust my body -- that it will do what I expect it to do, which is help my baby develop and grow until he can be born. Even if it doesn't look like the bodies of any other pregnant people I see, I will believe it is working in my favor. Even if it is not as obvious that I am pregnant as I think it should be.

I'm also not going to worry I don't know enough to have a baby. I'm sure someone will say to me soon, no one knows enough to have a baby before they have a baby. Until they say it, I'm going to say it to myself. I will say it to myself when I am in the shower and when I am loading the dishwasher and when I am looking for something to watch on Netflix and when I am reading a book that I am not sure if I'm enjoying. And I will say it to pregnant women when they see I have a baby and ask for advice.

I will trust that I am going to be a good mother, for him.

Life
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