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It’s eight pm on a Saturday night. I’m in the middle of moving from central Pennsylvania to my hometown of Buffalo, New York. The move is part of some big, mid-life changes, and on this particular night, I’m by myself in Buffalo. So I call a friend from high school.


“Hey, Lily,” I say, hopeful she’s free.

“Hey!” she replies.

“I’m sorry I haven’t called,” I admit, ashamed that it’s taken me several months to return her offer to get together. “The house is still a mess. We’ve finished the kids’ rooms, but the rest of the place is still a construction zone.” I ramble before she can get in another word. “Anyhow, I’m in town tonight. Do you wanna go out?”

“Tonight?” She sounds surprised by the thought.

“Yeah. It’s just me, so I thought you and I could hang out.” I kick some of the tile floor I’d been demolishing.

“I’m already in my pajamas.” Lily laughs, and then pauses briefly. “Yeah, that would be great! Hold on. Let me ask Scott if he can watch the boys.”

I hear the lightness in her voice  – the excitement about the sheer novelty of doing something without the husband and kids. It’s the same feeling I had when I dialed her number.

Somehow in the past two decades, I’ve grown from a scared but hopeful college kid to a wife, mother, and woman with multiple careers. Responsibility dangles around my neck like a choker, and the simple act of getting together with an old friend seems almost selfish. I change into nicer clothes, and delight in the guilty pleasure.

Lily and I meet at Trattoria Aroma. With its brick interior, open-wood beams, and candles on every table, it’s a decidedly adult place. Lily looks more beautiful than ever, and I wonder – not for the first time – about the benefits of aging. At least that’s what I focus on because this year we both hit the big 4-0.

“I remember when my mom turned 40,” Lily tells me. “It wasn’t pretty.”

“I remember when my mom turned 40, too,” I respond. “She and my dad had already divorced by then, so we went to lunch at the Eagle House with a bunch of women.” Truthfully, I don’t remember much of it, just that it was a big deal. My mom dressed up and all the women fussed over her and gave her presents. Now that I’m approaching 40, it feels like an even bigger deal. Our cultural fixation on an older woman’s appearance, relevance, and role in society makes me anxious.

My husband jokes that once I hit 40, it will be like I flip a switch and nobody will find me attractive or intriguing anymore. He’s teasing, of course, but there’s a twinge of fear that it’s true. Amy Schumer explored ageism toward women in her famous “Last F**kable Day” sketch, a piece widely shared among my friends, women who found the piece both funny and frightening.

The hyper-sexualized view of women in our society makes me wonder how life will change after this birthday. For so long, I’ve been focused on my family’s needs, and this milestone is forcing me to evaluate myself and my life choices with a focus that is like headlights that finally got the dirt washed off.

I confide to Lily, “I’m freaked out.”

Lily works in a doctor’s office, and she tells me she’s been paying attention to all of the older women patients who look and feel good. “I ask them what they do to take care of themselves.”

I expect some advice about cutting sugar, exercise, or balancing work and home. Something I could totally do to stay sane and fit and fresh.

Lily takes a sip of her wine. “Yoga.”

I groan. “Uggh, I can’t stand yoga. I feel like I’m going to fall asleep every time I try it.” I wonder if I’m not mindful enough or mature enough to appreciate it. I think of another friend who is a few years older who’s been practicing yoga, and her skin has taken on a youthful glow. Maybe there is something about the relaxation benefit.

My knees have started to ache when I run, and sometimes just when I get out of bed in the morning. One of these days they’re going to give out, and I suppose that’ll be the day I start yoga. Lily tells me that she takes classes. It’s possible that’s the reason she looks so good, but it has to be more than that.

When we were kids, Lily was heavy with thick glasses. Now she’s an accomplished professional, lithe, and wears contacts. She radiates confidence. She’s calm, collected, and kind, and she seems genuinely happy with who she is and who she has become.

Perhaps the best thing for me about getting older is that I’m starting to be comfortable in my skin too. I’ve softened in more ways than one. Parts of my body are not as taut as they once were, but as my body has loosened so has my mind. Self-doubt has begun to ebb away.

For the first time, I’m regularly wearing my hair down, and I finally like my curls. I’m no longer that worried about how people will judge me. I’ve lived long enough to know that people will judge no matter what, so I might as well embrace myself for who I am and go after I want; no one else is going to understand me more or advocate better. Though yoga’s not for me, supportive friends and family make me grateful to be alive, and the career I’m pursuing feels exactly like what I’m meant to be doing. It’s a little frightening, but exhilarating too.

Sitting across from Lily, I feel my old high school self inside me even as I know I’ve become so much more.

Lily and I close the place down at 11 pm. The wood-fired oven lets out its last breath of the night and our waitress brings the bill. “I got it,” Lily says.

I thank her, tell her I’ll pay the next time, and return home energized.

In my new office, the crown molding is almost finished. I take books out of boxes and shelve them. “The Monster at the End of this Book” and “Rosa” go with the kids’ books. My husband’s album of baseball cards and his dissertation go on a shelf for him. To motivate and remind me of what’s important, “Daring Greatly” cuddles up to “Next Life Might Be Kinder” behind my desk.

With my history and future surrounding me, I’m content.

Who said motherhood doesn't come with a manual?

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Rachel McAdams didn't talk publicly about her pregnancy or her birth story. There are some things this working mama wants to keep to herself, but the fact that she needs to pump at work isn't one of them.

McAdams was recently doing a photo shoot with photographer Claire Rothstein of Girls Girls Girls magazine when she needed to take a pump break. Wearing Versace and a neck full of diamonds McAdmans did what mamas all over the world do every day, and Rothstein snapped a pic that is now going viral.

In an Instagram post, Rothstein explains that she and McAdams had a "mutual appreciation disagreement about who's idea it was to take this picture," but the photographer says she remembers it being McAdams' idea, "which makes me love her even more."

In her caption of the amazing photograph, Rothstein writes: "Breastfeeding is the most normal thing in the world and I can't for the life of me imagine why or how it is ever frowned upon or scared of."

The photographer added that she wanted to put the image out there to change perceptions about breastfeeding, pumping, and working motherhood.

McAdams decision to normalize pumping through this glamorous image is especially cool when you consider that she's not really a social media person, and spends a lot of days in much less glam attire.

She recently arrived for her first interview since welcoming her son in the spring wearing a grey shirt, baggy pants and sneakers, reportedly telling the interviewer (Helena de Bertodano for The Sunday Times U.K.), "I don't even know what I'm wearing today. The shoes are held together with glue. Isn't that sad? I need to get a life."

"I have clothes on and that's a good thing," McAdams told Bertodano during that chat. Her attire for that newspaper interview was a world away from the clothes she wore for the Girls Girls Girls shoot.

During her Sunday Times interview McAdams declined to discuss her son's name or birthdate.

"I want to keep his life private, even if mine isn't," she explained. "But I'm having more fun being a mum than I've ever had. Everything about it is interesting and exciting and inspiring to me. Even the tough days — there's something delightful about them."

Most of us will never look the way McAdams does in this photo while we're pumping, but we can totally understand that sometimes, motherhood means you're wearing sweats and sometimes it means you're pumping in your work clothes (even if for most of us, that doesn't mean Versace).

McAdams may be keeping some parts of her motherhood experience private, but by showing the world this part of her day, she's normalizing something that desperately needs normalizing.

Some mamas pump, and the world needs to know (and accommodate) that.

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To my children,

It's the New Year, and I have been doing a lot of thinking. I want to say, with all of my heart and all of my soul, that I am sorry. I want apologize for anything (and everything) I have said or done that made you feel less-than or sad or small.

I regret, so deeply, the hurt I delivered through harsh words or sideways glances, for steely eyes you didn't deserve and sarcastic replies you didn't understand. I'm sorry for being upset when I should have been more understanding, for resorting to frustration when I should have found more patience, for pulling away when I should have drawn near.

There were the times when you needed more from me, when you asked for more, and I simply couldn't provide. There were the moments when you wanted less of me, needed less from me, and I couldn't—or perhaps I just wouldn't—back away.

I start every day with a hope, a hope that I will be better than the day before.

Sometimes I succeed, but many times, I fail. Every so often, I fail in spectacular fashion. I think about all the times when I wasn't gentle enough or kind enough or attentive enough to you, about all the moments when I was too quick to anger and not quick enough to forgive.

You don't need me to tell you that I'm not perfect. Lord knows, you know far too well.

But I will say it to you, because I think it helps to hear me say it: I am not perfect. I make mistakes. I am human. I have flaws and cracks and blemishes; they are a part of me, just as they are a part of you.

Sometimes, my dear ones, my mistakes are small—like forgetting to pack your lunch or mixing up the dates for Tot Shabbat, or picking you up an hour late from a play date or accidentally switching your piano primer with your brother's, or sending a snack I know you dislike because I didn't have time to go grocery shopping and have no other food in the refrigerator. But sometimes, they aren't so minor.

Sometimes, my mistakes have to do with the way I've behaved, and the words I have said, and the way I have said them. For those times, and for all the times I failed to support you the way I should, or help you in the way you deserve, and love you in the best way I can, I am sorry.

I wish I didn't make so many mistakes. I'm a perfectionist at heart, but when it comes to parenting, there's still so much I haven't mastered. Even after almost a decade of doing this day in and day out, I still feel like a novice in so many regards and as green as I did on day one.

Precious ones, I've come to realize, no matter how hard I try, that I just can't get it right all of the time. I hope you can forgive my failings.

The older I get, the more I realize that life is a jumble of hits and misses. As many times as we try and succeed, we also try and fail. As much as we hope to do right, we often end up doing wrong. It is the story of the human condition—this mix of losses and gains, triumphs and defeats. It's all very messy (think sloppy joes and pancakes dripping with syrup kind of messy), and yet, it's all we know.

My darling ones, I want nothing more than to do right by you and be the best mother I can be for you. I want to love you unconditionally, support you unreservedly, and be present unambiguously.

In the New Year, I resolve to do better for you, to be better with you, and to act as if God is watching. You mean the world to me. You are everything to me. I love you, always and forever.

All my love,

Mommy


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People often say that having a second child doesn't much add to the workload of parenting. There's no steep learning curve: You already know how to make a bottle, install a car seat and when to call the pediatrician. And you're already doing laundry, making lunches and supervising bath time—so throwing a second kid in the tub isn't a big deal.

Except that it is. Having a second child doesn't just mean attaching a second seat to your stroller. Adding a whole new person to your family is more complicated than that, and it's okay to say that it is hard.

A new study out of Australia disputes the popular idea that after making the transition from people to parents, making the jump from one child to two is easy. The researchers found that having a second child puts a lot of pressure on parents' time and their mental health, and mothers bear the brunt of the burden.

When looking at heterosexual couples, the researchers found that before a first child is born both partners feel equal amounts of "time pressure," but once the child is born, that pressure grows, more so for mothers than fathers.

Basically, parents feel psychological stress when they feel they don't have enough time to do all they need to. One baby makes both parents feel more stress, but mom's increase is more than dad's. When a second baby comes, that time pressure doubles for both parents, and since mom already had more than dad, there's now a gulf between them.

The researchers behind this study—Leah Ruppanner, Francisco Perales and Janeen Baxter—say that after a first child is born, a mother's mental health improves, but after a second child, it declines.

Writing for The Conversation, the trio explains:

"Second children intensify mothers' feelings of time pressure. We showed that if mothers did not have such intense time pressures following second children, their mental health would actually improve with motherhood. Fathers get a mental health boost with their first child, but also see their mental health decline with the second child. But, unlike mothers, fathers' mental health plateaus over time. Clearly, fathers aren't facing the same chronic time pressure as mothers over the long-term."

The researchers say that even when mothers reduce their work time, the time pressure is still there and that "mothers cannot shoulder the time demands of children alone."

Adding a second child to the family isn't just a matter of throwing a few more socks in the laundry: It means a schedule that is already stretched is now filling up with twice as many appointments, twice as many school functions. Mothers only have 24 hours in the day, and as much as we wish we could add a couple extra hours per child, we can't.

Time simply can't change to help us, but society can. As the researchers noted, when time pressure is removed, motherhood actually improves mental health.

We love our lives, we love our kids, we love parenting, but there is only so much of our day to go around.

Ruppanner, Perales and Baxter suggest that if society were to help mothers out more, our mental health (and therefore our children's wellbeing as well) would improve even after two or three kids. "Collectivising childcare – for example, through school buses, lunch programs and flexible work policies that allow fathers' involvement – may help improve maternal mental health," the researchers explain, adding that "it is in the national interest to reduce stressors so that mothers, children and families can thrive."

Whether you're talking about Australia or America, that last bit is so true, but this research proves that the myth about second-time parenthood isn't. Even if you already have the skills and the hand-me-downs, having a second child isn't as easy as it is sometimes made out to be.

We can love our children and our lives and still admit when things aren't easy.

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We know life gets a little (okay, a lot) busy around this time of year so if you haven't crossed off everyone on your Christmas list just yet, here's your reminder that you've still got time. Fortunately, that Amazon Prime membership of yours comes in handy... especially for the holidays.

Here are some of the best last-minute gifts to get on Amazon. Also, that extra couple of dollars for gift wrapping is *so* worth it if it's available. 😉

1. Tape Activity Book

So your little can create just about anywhere—on the go, in the car or hanging out at home.

Melissa & Doug Tape Activity Book, $6.47

BUY

2. Instant Pot

Mama, meet your new best friend. 4.5 stars with nearly 30K reviews.

Instant Pot 8-qt, $89.95

BUY

3. Silicone Teething Mitt

Offer relief to your teething one with a mitt that stays in place.

Itzy Ritzy Silicone Teething Mitt, $8.99

BUY

4. Roomba

Give the gift of never having to manually vacuum again.

iRobot Roomba 690, $279.00

BUY

5. Magnetic Tiles

These are always a favorite for kids of all ages. Build endless possibilities and work on fine motor skills—win-win!

Magnetic Tiles Building Blocks Set, $31.99

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6. DryBar Triple Sec

Perfect addition to mama's stocking, or paired with a salon or blowout gift card. Adds *so* much texture and volume.

DryBar Triple Sec 3-in-1, $35.99

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7. Plush Animated Bunny

Plays peek-a-boo and sings for baby.

Animated Plush Stuffed Animal, $32.97

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8. 23andMe

Learn everything you want to know about your family history, where you came from, and even information about your genetics.

23andMe DNA Test, $67.99

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9. Boon Bath Pipes

Make bath time more fun. They suction to the wall and can be played with individually or altogether in a chain.

Boon Building Bath Pipes, $14.99

BUY

10. HP Sprocket Portable Photo Printer

For printing all of those adorable Instagram moments—and for getting *all* of the photos off your phone.

HP Sprocket Portable Photo Printer, $99.95

BUY

11. Board Blocks

Kids can sort, learn colors and shapes, and work on their hand-eye coordination.

Wooden Educational Geometric Board Block, $6.39

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12. Ring Doorbell + Echo Dot

A great bundle for the techie in your life.

Ring Doorbell 2 and Echo Dot, $169.00

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13. Pai Technology Circuit Conductor

For the little who wants to learn to code, this offers endless learning fun.

Pai Technology Circuit Conductor Learning Kit, $69.99

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14. Kindle Paperwhite, Audible + Headphones Bundle

Bookworms will love this bundle. Enjoy a new Kindle Paperwhite, wireless bluetooth stereo headphones, and 3 month free trial for Audible for new users.

Kindle Paperwhite Bundle, $139.00

BUY

15. Wooden Grocery Store

We love this imaginative play grocery store, complete with a beeping scanner and hand-cranked conveyor belt.

Melissa & Doug Freestanding Wooden Fresh Mart Grocery Store, $179.99

BUY

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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