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A month or so ago, it was my turn to put my older son to bed. When we got to the end of the routine, the part where I would tell his brain what kind of dreams it would have and then sing a song with him, he furrowed his brow and feigned tears, demanding his dad do it instead.


When I asked why, he took a breath, then delivered the punch: “Because…Daddy is the best. And you’re not.”

If there is anything I have learned in almost four years of taking care of a small human, it is that parenting can both inflate the ego and then, often seconds later, squash it like a blueberry underfoot.

Because I am a human, albeit a supposedly large and mature one, I bit back tears. Yes, I know he shouldn’t be punished for his feelings or his preferences or the standard issue manipulations associated with this particular developmental leap, however devastating to me all that was. I know my nearly four-year-old kid shouldn’t have to tiptoe around me and my emotions. I know he loves me and thinks I’m the best sometimes, too. (He does, I swear he does.)

But. I couldn’t hide the shock. And I couldn’t hide that I felt like he was actually onto something, that he’d found out what I’d suspected long before I became a parent – that I’m not, in fact, the best.

Since Daddy was putting my son’s brother to bed, I forged onward with a phlegmy and therefore poignant version of “Monday, Monday” – the song he asked for and sung none of with me – then slunk off to take an inventory of exactly why I sucked. (I was running on about five hours of sleep that week, so my brain will appalled me with its resourcefulness.)

To begin, I wasn’t fun with him, was I? I was always reminding my son about all the annoying things, like wearing his hat and cleaning up his toys and eating at least one bite of his breakfast and being gentle with his baby brother, while I whisper-screeched, “THAT’S HIS HEAD CAN YOU OKAY YEAH NO STOP OKAY THAT’S GOOD THANK YOU YOU’RE GREAT WAIT YOU’RE HURTING HIM!”

Come to think of it, I was often with said brother, nursing him, camped out on the couch, talking sweetly to him and not reminding him to do anything. No wonder my older son hated me! I’d been myopic and distracted and thoughtless!

No wonder children in general didn’t gravitate toward me! No wonder I’d been caught looking morose and despondent in family photos for years! No wonder school dances were always a nightmare! My entire life had been an exercise in masking my own melancholy.

I wasn’t fun! I wasn’t the best at all! I was actually maybe THE WORST.

As I questioned all 34 years of my life so far, spiraling with worry like a human fidget spinner, it occurred to me that maybe I was really only good for babies, a decent feeder with reasonably strong arms. In the first couple years of my son’s life, I gave him everything he needed – food, company, goofy storytelling voices, a sympathetic ear, shoulder, back, and hand.

“Isn’t Daddy the best?” I’d tell him. I’d tell him how great his grandparents were, too, his aunts and uncles, encouraging the diffusion of his love while blithely receiving the bulk of it.

Now, thanks to all that cheerleading, I watch from a distance that feels oceanic as my husband entertains him with fart jokes and pratfalls, as his grandparents and aunts and uncles bequeath him all the toys and trinkets he wants, are liberal with the treats, and he, in turn, basks in their adoration.

That night, it felt like there were only so many parts in the play of my son’s life. I’d somehow realized that, for months now, I’d been playing the bad guy (listed in program as: SNAPPY NAG). It felt like there was no space for me to be anything but.

So the next day I called my mom. And my mom told me to, of all things, just enjoy it. He’s giving you an excuse to relax, she said to me. It’s not your job to be his best friend, she reminded me.

My mom didn’t tell me that my son didn’t really mean what he’d said, because she wasn’t worried about that. She told me, instead, that this would pass. She told me to chill. She told me that someday – maybe that very night or the next week or the next year or…well, sometime – he would appreciate who I was. He would love who I was.

Just be you, she said. You’re very lovable, she said.

Listening to my mom tell me these things, listening to her not freak out, listening to her tell me it was fine and I was fine, I saw that she was doing exactly what I needed to do with my son. When had I called her last? Had it been a week, maybe? More? But there she was, when I needed her, calmly assuring me that I was doing a good job.

I could wait it out, too. I could agree with my son, that yeah, his dad is the best, especially at bedtime when I’ve got nothing left. I could do what I’ve done forever and be funny about my pain, groaning about how I am the worst, I’m a real monster, a MOMMY MONSTER, and crack him up.

I could, when he asks for his dad, make a cartoon exit, flinging myself out the door like Road Runner, cracking myself up. I could go snuggle up with my new son and try to live inside of time as it passes stealthily through the moments we spend bathing ourselves in regret.

I could re-cast myself. I could be fun again, my own kind of fun, my own kind of best.

A couple weeks ago, when I wasn’t thinking about it, my husband reported that, as they embarked for school that morning, our son told him he wished I was taking him. When my husband asked why, he said, as if it was obvious, “Because I like her.”

I like her, 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 the 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, it's 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. Crisis averted. Either way, it's a victory.

Oh, it's quiet. So, so quiet. And I can think it all 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?

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 that 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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