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Debate Club: Is There a Place for Gore in Halloween Lawn Displays?

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More guts, more gory 

by: Phaea Crede

While there absolutely are some Halloween decorations that go too far when it comes to graphic gore, I love décor that walks the razor edge between just “scary” and “gloriously gross.” 

Halloween is the one time of year that children are encouraged to break the rules. Instead of the normal bath-and-books routine, they’re allowed to play outside in the streets of their neighborhood long after bedtime. Instead of being polite, they get to transform into animals, heroes, and monsters. Instead of avoiding strangers, they can march right onto their porches, shamelessly ring the doorbell, and rudely demand candy. Literally, our kids get to take candy from strangers. And eating too many sweets? That’s not just tolerated; it’s a must.

Halloween is a night for kids to run wild – in a totally safe and protected way.

Fear, in its most basic form, is an emotion that keep humans alive. When something scares us, our deep-down lizard brains scream out, “run!” or, “fight!” This “threat response system,” Margee Kerr Ph. D. says in her article “Why We Love to Be Scared,” “…triggers a chemical cascade meant to help us survive: adrenaline, endorphins, dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin, among others, flood our bodies and brains during (and for a while after) a scary situation.”

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Interestingly, a lot of these chemicals are also present when humans feel joy and excitement. It’s exhilarating to be scared! But only if we know in our hearts (and lizard brains) that we are totally and completely safe. Over-the-top Halloween displays – especially those that don’t hold back on the scares – are the perfect way to experience the thrill of fear with mom ready at any second to whisk us away if need be.

In polite society, reveling in blood, guts, and gore is seriously frowned upon (thank goodness). But we humans are also fascinated by it. Gruesome Halloween decorations give us permission to safely explore that fascination. Obviously fake but disturbingly gory lawn scenes allow adults and children alike to honor our naturally inquisitive nature: “Oh, THAT’S what happens when you decapitate someone. Huh.”

But the freaky and scientifically accurate “dude being electrocuted” diorama the neighbor throws up every year also gives us the chance to tap into a delicious adrenaline rush while patting ourselves on the back for being brave enough to face something really, really scary. Maybe standing up to extreme Halloween décor is good for a kid’s self-esteem!

Thinking back to myself as a tween – a truly frightening age for any kid – helping to create gory and bloody decorations was extremely therapeutic. Just being a young girl scared the crap out of me on a daily basis, so hanging a bloody leg or two on the front porch seemed tame in comparison, not to mention hilarious. Life was scary in a vague, uncomfortable way. A bloody leg was scary in a direct bone-jutting-out-in-your-face way. A bloody leg gave me something to hang on to, a chance to playfully scream while getting some real pent up screams out. It worked because I knew I was safe.

I’ve noticed that my tiny children love to scream, too. In play-fear or excitement, screaming feels good. I’m constantly telling my son and daughter to stop screaming or the neighbors will call the police. On Halloween, thank goodness, my kids can make all the noise they want and not only will our neighbors not call the cops, they’ll encourage the screams with their lawn full of gory, blood-soaked decorations. Go ahead, kids! Scream as loud and long as you want to! 

On the flip side, when a child is freaked out by the bloody murder scene next door, we as parents have a great opportunity to show that we honor their feelings of fear, which we know are designed to be life-saving. “Yes, Timmy,” we can say, “I hear that you are scared of the fake person whose intestines are splayed all over the Flibertson/Malick’s yard. And that is totally and completely a valid way to feel. In fact, I feel the same way. Now let’s hug and go get some cookies.”

That’s what I call a bloody good time. 

Gory Halloween displays have no place in a family neighborhood

by: Julia Pelly

Earlier this week, as I took an evening stroll with my preschooler, we chatted about his day. He talked about playing with trains during his time in the early class at school, how he helped a friend go down the slide on the playground, and how he hoped we could have a Popsicle after dinner. And then, as his hand clasped mine and his little eyes peaked upwards, his tiny voice asked, “Mommy, how do heads get off bodies? And why do they hang in trees?”

He was, of course, referencing the plastic, bodiless heads hanging from my neighbor’s oak trees. Though his eyes were trained upward on the swinging heads mine quickly found the amputated and bloody arms and legs scattered across the lawn, and headless bodies covered in blood tucked behind the newly raised gravestones.

As I shooed my son quickly away from the lawn in question, explaining that the heads in the trees weren’t real, I silently cursed the decorating neighbors and wondered why they couldn’t simply keep their Halloween decor PG.

I’ve always loved Halloween. As a kid I thought about my costume all year, planning and changing my mind again and again as I looked forward to the thrill of trick-or-treating. As a teenager and in college I scoped out haunted houses and haunted hikes in the woods (the scarier and gorier the better!) and headed to bonfires or parties on the big night.

And now, in parenthood, I look forward to the thrill of letting my little boy choose a costume (a kitty cat this year) and experience the door-to-door joy of gathering more candy and treats that he’ll ever possibly be able to eat.

I also love watching his anticipation and excitement build as the pumpkin patches pop up across town and the decorations appear in front yards. The decorations I’m referring to include scarecrows and jack-o-lanterns, hay bales and miniature ghosts. I’m not talking about the goriest of displays that seem to be common in today’s suburban neighborhoods. While it may make me the lamest mom on the block, I think displaying something scary and gory in a family neighborhood is simply inconsiderate.

I understand that Halloween is supposed to be scary, that scaring and getting scared is part of the thrill, but a family neighborhood simply isn’t the place for the scariest or goriest decorations. When gore is on display in a neighborhood it can’t be avoided. Little ones driving to preschool or walking or biking in the evening must pass these displays and feel the feelings they inspire.

There’s a time and place for everything and if chopped up bodies and bloodied zombies are part of your Halloween fun, there are all kinds of places (preschooler-free zones) where you can indulge in your terrifying fun. Haunted houses, warped trails, and escape rooms all offer scary thrills without passing the fear on to little ones.

The thing about preschoolers is that they’re just figuring out the world and very often can’t tell reality from fantasy. They wonderfully believe in fairies and Santa Clause and the Easter Bunny and would never think to question you when you tell them that their stuffed animals play together when they go to school.

Most parents would never let their little ones watch “The Shining.” It’s a terrifying movie and adults know their little one won’t understand that it’s not real. But when forced to walk next to a gory display the same feelings are being evoked for the child and telling them that it’s not real won’t erase their big feelings.

While scary is a big part of Halloween, fun should be a bigger part. When little ones are scared simply walking around their neighborhood, the fun is lost.

Even if a preschooler isn’t inherently scared by a gory display, exposure to violence (real or plastic) desensitizes them and makes the blood and gore seem normal. It also makes them more likely to act out what they see. While a bad Halloween display won’t turn your tot into a serial killer, continued exposure may make them more likely to pretend to chop off their friend’s arms or legs in a very ungentle manner.

So, this season, as you pull out the decorations and dust off the candy bowl I ask, beg, and plead for you to think of the preschoolers before you adorn your lawn with decorations better fit for a haunted mansion. Keep it light, keep it fun, and don’t ruin a little kid’s Halloween with a gory display.   

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As mamas, we naturally become the magic-makers for our families. We sing the songs that make the waits seem shorter, dispense the kisses that help boo-boos hurt less, carry the seemingly bottomless bags of treasures, and find ways to turn even the most hum-drum days into something memorable.

Sometimes it's on a family vacation or when exploring a new locale, but often it's in our own backyards or living rooms. Here are 12 ways to create magical moments with kids no matter where your adventures take you.


1. Keep it simple

Mary Poppins may be practically perfect in every way, but―trust us―your most magical memories don't require perfection. Spend the morning building blanket forts or break out the cookie cutters to serve their sandwich in a fun shape and you'll quickly learn that, for kids, the most magical moments are often the simplest.

2. Get on their level

Sometimes creating a memorable moment can be as easy as getting down on the floor and playing with your children. So don't be afraid to get on your hands and knees, to swing from the monkey bars, or turn watching your favorite movie into an ultimate snuggle sesh.

3. Reimagine the ordinary

As Mary says, "the cover is not the book." Teach your child to see the world beyond initial impressions by encouraging them to imagine a whole new world as you play―a world where the laundry basket can be a pirate ship or a pile of blankets can be a castle.

4. Get a little messy

Stomp in muddy puddles. Break out the finger paint. Bake a cake and don't worry about frosting drips on the counter. The messes will wait, mama. For now, let your children―and yourself―live in these moments that will all too soon become favorite memories.

5. Throw out the plan

The best-laid plans...are rarely the most exciting. And often the most magical moments happen by accident. So let go of the plan, embrace the unexpected, and remember that your child doesn't care if the day goes according to the schedule.

6. Take it outside

There's never a wrong time of year to make magic outside. Take a stroll through a spring rainstorm, catch the first winter snowflakes on your tongue, or camp out under a meteor shower this summer. Mother Nature is a natural at creating experiences you'll both remember forever.

7. Share your childhood memories

Chances are if you found it magical as a child, then your kids will too. Introduce your favorite books and movies (pro tip: Plan a double feature with an original like Mary Poppins followed with the sequel, Mary Poppins Returns!) or book a trip to your favorite family vacation spot from the past. You could even try to recreate photos from your old childhood with your kids so you can hang on to the memory forever.

8. Just add music

Even when you're doing something as humdrum as prepping dinner or tidying up the living room, a little music has a way of upping the fun factor. Tell Alexa to cue up your favorite station for a spontaneous family dance party or use your child's favorite movie soundtrack for a quick game of "Clean and Freeze" to pick up toys at the end of the day.

9. Say "yes"

Sometimes it can feel like you're constantly telling your child "no." While it's not possible to grant every request (sorry, kiddo, still can't let you drive the car!), plan a "yes" day for a little extra magic. That means every (reasonable) request gets an affirmative response for 24 hours. Trust us―they'll never forget it.

10. Let them take the lead

A day planned by your kid―can you imagine that? Instead of trying to plan what you think will lead to the best memories, put your kid in the driver's seat by letting them make the itinerary. If you have more than one child, break up the planning so one gets to pick the activity while the other chooses your lunch menu. You just might end up with a day you never expected.

11. Ask more questions

Odds are, your child might not remember every activity you plan―but they will remember the moments you made them feel special. By focusing the conversation on your little one―their likes, dislikes, goals, or even just craziest dreams―you teach them that their perspective matters and that you are their biggest fan.

12. Turn a bad day around

Not every magical moment will start from something good. But the days where things don't go to plan can often turn out to be the greatest memories, especially when you find a way to turn even a negative experience into a positive memory. So don't get discouraged if you wake up to rain clouds on your beach day or drop the eggs on the floor before breakfast―take a cue from Mary Poppins and find a way to turn the whole day a little "turtle."

Mary Poppins Returns available now on Digital & out on Blue-ray March 19! Let the magic begin in your house with a night where everything is possible—even the impossible ✨

After a pregnancy that is best described as uncomfortable, Jessica Simpson is finally done "Jess-tating" and is now a mama of three.

Baby Birdie Mae Johnson joined siblings Ace and Maxwell on Tuesday, March 19, Simpson announced via Instagram.

Simpson's third child weighed in at 10 pounds, 13 ounces.

Birdie's name is no surprise to Jessica's Instagram followers, who saw numerous references to the name in her baby shower photos and IG stories in the last few weeks.

The name Birdie isn't in the top 1000 baby names according to the Social Security Administration, but It has been seeing a resurgence in recent years, according to experts.

"Birdie feels like a sassy but sweet, down-to-earth yet unusual name," Pamela Redmond Satran of Nameberry told Town and Country back in 2017. "It's also just old enough to be right on time."

At this moment in time, Simpson and her husband, former NFL player Eric Johnson, are probably busy counting little fingers and toes , which is great news because it means Simpson's toes can finally deflate. She's had a terrible time with swollen feet during this pregnancy, and was also hospitalized multiple times due to bronchitis in her final trimester.

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We're so glad to see Simpson's little Birdie has finally arrived!

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Spring is officially here and if you're looking for a way to celebrate the change in the season, why not treat the kids to some ice cream, mama?

DQ locations across the country (but not the ones in malls) are giving away free small vanilla cones today, March 20! So pack up the kids and get to a DQ near you.

And if you can't make it today, from March 21 through March 31, DQ's got a deal where small cones will be just 50 cents (but you have to download the DQ mobile app to claim that one).

Another chain, Pennsylvania-based Rita's Italian Ice is also dishing up freebies today, so if DQ's not your thing you can grab a free cup of Italian ice instead.

We're so excited that ice cream season is here and snowsuit season is behind us. Just a few short weeks and the kids will be jumping through the sprinklers.

Welcome back, spring. We've missed you!

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The woman who basically single-handedly taught the world to embrace vulnerability and imperfection is coming to Netflix and we cannot wait to binge whatever Brené Brown's special will serve up because we'll probably be better people after watching it.

It drops on April 19 and is called Brené Brown: The Call to Courage. If it has even a fraction of the impact of her books or the viral Ted talk that made her a household name, it's going to be life and culture changing.

Announcing the special on Instagram Brown says she "cannot believe" she's about to be "breaking some boundaries over at Netflix" with the 77-minute special.

Netflix describes the special as a discussion of "what it takes to choose courage over comfort in a culture defined by scarcity, fear and uncertainty" and it sounds exactly like what we need right now.

April 19 is still pretty far away though, so if you need some of Brown's wisdom now, check out her books on Amazon or watch (or rewatch) the 2010 Ted Talk that put her—and our culture's relationship with vulnerability and shame—in the national spotlight.

The power of vulnerability | Brené Brown

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If Marie Kondo's Netflix show got people tidying up, Brown's Netflix special is sure to be the catalyst for some courageous choices this spring.

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My husband and I recently had a date night that included being away from our son overnight for the first time since he was born three years ago (but don't let your heads run away with a fantasy—we literally slept because we were exhausted #thisiswhatwecallfunnow). It was a combination of a late night work event, a feeling that we had to do something just for the two of us, and simple convenience. It would have taken hours to get home from the end of a very long day when we could just check into a hotel overnight and get home early the next day.

But before that night, I fretted about what to do. How would childcare work? No one besides me or my husband has put our son to bed, and we have never not been there when he wakes up in the morning.

Enter: Grandma.

I knew if there was any chance of this being successful, the only person that could pull it off is one of my son's favorite people—his grandmother. Grammy cakes. Gramma. We rely so much on these extended support systems to give us comfort and confidence as parents and put our kids at ease. Technically, we could parent without their support, but I'm so glad we don't have to.

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So as we walked out the door, leaving Grandma with my son for one night, I realized how lucky we are that she gets it...

She gets it because she always comes bearing delicious snacks. And usually a small toy or crayons in her bag for just the right moment when it's needed.

She gets it because she comes with all of the warmth and love of his parents but none of the baggage. None of the first time parent jitters and all of the understanding that most kids just have simple needs: to eat, play and sleep.

She gets it because she understands what I need too. The reassurance that my baby will be safe. And cared for.

She gets it because she's been in my shoes before. Decades ago, she was a nervous new mama too and felt the same worries. She's been exactly where we are.

She gets it because she shoos us away as we nervously say goodbye, calling out cheerfully, "Have fun, I've got this." And I know that she does.

She gets it because she will get down on the floor with him to play Legos—even though sometimes it's a little difficult to get back up.

She gets it because she will fumble around with our AppleTV—so different from her remote at home—to find him just the right video on Youtube that he's looking for.

She gets it because she diligently takes notes when we go through the multi-step bedtime routine that we've elaborately concocted, passing no judgment, and promising that she'll follow along as best as she can.

She gets it because she'll break the routine and lay next to him in bed when my son gets upset, singing softly in his ear until she sees his eyelids droop heavy and finally fall asleep.

She gets it because she'll text us to let us know when he's fallen asleep because she knows we'll be wondering.

She gets it because just like our son trusts us as his mom and dad, Grandma is his safe space. My son feels at ease with her—and that relaxes me, too.

She gets it because when we come home from our "big night out" the house will be clean. Our toddler's play table that always has some sort of sticky jelly residue on it will be spotless. The dishwasher empty. (Side note: She is my hero.)

She gets it because she shows up whenever we ask. Even when it means having to rearrange her schedule. Even when it means she has to sleep in our home instead of her own.

She gets it because even though she has her own life, she makes sure to be as involved in ours as she can. But that doesn't mean she gives unsolicited advice. It means that she's there. She comes to us or lets us come to her. Whenever we need her.

She gets it because she takes care of us, too. She's there to chat with at the end of a long day. To commiserate on how hard motherhood and working and life can be, but to also gently remind me, "These are the best days."

After every time Grandma comes over, she always leaves a family that feels so content. Fulfilled by her presence. The caretaking and nourishment (mental and food-wise) and warmth that accompanies her.

We know this is a privilege. We know we're beyond lucky that she is present and wants to be involved and gets it. We know that sometimes life doesn't work out like this and sometimes Grandma lives far away or is no longer here, or just doesn't get it. So we hold on. And appreciate every moment.

As Grandma leaves, I hug her tight and tell her, "I can't thank you enough. We couldn't have done this without you." Because we can't. And we wouldn't want to.

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