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


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.”

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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Unstructured play is play without predetermined rules of the game. There are no organized teams, uniforms, coaches or trainers. It is spontaneous, often made-up on the spot, and changeable as the day goes on. It is the kind of play you see when puppies chase each other around a yard in endless circles or a group of kids play for hours in a fort they created out of old packing boxes.

Unstructured play is fun—no question about it—but research also tells us that it is critically important for the development of children's bodies and brains.

One of the best ways to encourage unstructured play in young children is by providing open-ended toys, or toys that can be used multiple ways. People Toy Company knows all about that. Since 1977, they've created toys and products designed to naturally encourage developmental milestones—but to kids, it all just feels like play.

Here are five reasons why unstructured play is crucial for your children—

1. It changes brain structure in important ways

In a recent interview on NPR's Morning Edition, Sergio Pellis, Ph.D., an expert on the neuroscience of play noted that play actually changes the structure of the developing brain in important ways, strengthening the connections of the neurons (nerve cells) in the prefrontal cortex, the area of the brain considered to be the executive control center responsible for solving problems, making plans and regulating emotions.

Because unstructured play involves trying out different strategies without particular goals or serious consequences, children and other animals get to practice different activities during play and see what happens. When Dr. Pellis compared rats who played as pups with rats that did not, he found that although the play-deprived rats could perform the same actions, the play-experienced rats were able to react to their circumstances in a more flexible, fluid and swift fashion.

Their brains seemed more "plastic" and better able to rewire as they encountered new experiences.

Hod Lipson, a computer scientist at Cornell sums it up by saying the gift of play is that it teaches us how to deal with the unexpected—a critically important skill in today's uncertain world.

2. Play activates the entire neocortex

We now know that gene expression (whether a gene is active or not) is affected by many different things in our lives, including our environment and the activities we participate in. Jaak Panksepp, Ph.D., a Professor at the University of Washington studied play in rats earning him the nickname of the "rat tickler."

He found that even a half hour of play affected the activity of many different genes and activated the outer part of the rats' brains known as the neocortex, the area of the brain used in higher functions such as thinking, language and spatial reasoning. We don't know for sure that this happens in humans, but some researchers believe that it probably does.

3. It teaches children to have positive interaction with others

It used to be thought that animal play was simply practice so that they could become more effective hunters. However, Dr. Panksepp's study of play in rats led him to the conclusion that play served an entirely different function: teaching young animals how to interact with others in positive ways. He believed that play helps build pro-social brains.

4. Children who play are often better students

The social skills acquired through play may help children become better students. Research has found that the best predictor of academic performance in the eighth grade was a child's social skills in the third grade. Dr. Pellis notes that "countries where they actually have more recess tend to have higher academic performance than countries where recess is less."

5. Unstructured play gets kids moving

We all worry that our kids are getting too little physical activity as they spend large chunks of their time glued to their electronic devices with only their thumbs getting any exercise. Unstructured play, whether running around in the yard, climbing trees or playing on commercial play structures in schools or public parks, means moving the whole body around.

Physical activity helps children maintain a healthy weight and combats the development of Type 2 diabetes—a condition all too common in American children—by increasing the body's sensitivity to the hormone insulin.

It is tempting in today's busy world for parents and kids to fill every minute of their day with structured activities—ranging from Spanish classes before school to soccer and basketball practice after and a full range of special classes and camps on the weekends and summer vacation. We don't remember to carve out time for unstructured play, time for kids to get together with absolutely nothing planned and no particular goals in mind except having fun.

The growing body of research on the benefits of unstructured play suggests that perhaps we should rethink our priorities.

Not sure where to get started? Here are four People Toy Company products that encourage hours of unstructured play.

1. People Blocks Zoo Animals

These colorful, magnetic building blocks are perfect for encouraging unstructured play in children one year and beyond. The small pieces fit easily in the hands of smaller children, and older children will love creating their own shapes and designs with the magnetic pieces.

People Blocks Zoo Animals 17 Piece Set, People Toy Company, $34.99

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This article was sponsored by People Toy Company. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

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Hey mama at the end of your pregnancy

So you feel approximately 86 weeks pregnant, everything is swollen to 14 times its original size, and no matter what you do, You. Can. Not. Sleep. Comfortably. Ever.

Sleep is an illusion at this point. It's a distant memory, and now you lie awake at night dreaming about it, as one irrelevant thought after another chases itself infuriatingly through your restless mind.

You can't even toss and turn—if only you were nimble enough for such luxuries!

But have faith—one day very soon (though you probably can't imagine it right now)— you will sleep comfortably again. One day soon, heartburn will be a thing of the past and you will no longer need the giant box of TUMS you keep within arm's reach.

One day soon you may even be able to make it through the night without needing to pee—but if you do need to go, you'll be able to spring up lithely and skip to the bathroom if you want to... rather than lying there having that agonizing debate with yourself about whether or not the relief on your bladder will outweigh the Herculean effort of getting up and walking there.

One day soon you'll be able to relinquish that enormous maternity pillow that takes up 45% of the bed and acts as an intruder in the night—a barrier between you and the husband who used to sleep with an arm around you. That's if he's even still there and hasn't decamped to the guest room to escape your snoring. (I know... we don't like to talk about it but don't worry mama—the snoring will stop one day soon, too!)

Very soon you will have your baby sleeping next to you instead of attempting amateur acrobatics inside you, using your womb as their dance floor and your bladder as their trampoline the moment you lie down to rest. One day your body will be your own again and, believe it or not, you will fall asleep the moment your head hits the pillow, the sweet snuffles of your newborn the only sound that will fill the room.

One day soon your mind won't need to play tricks on you in the dark of the night. Because you will know that your baby is exactly where they're supposed to be.

You won't have to wonder what kind of mother you're going to be and if you're up to the task—because you'll be right there in the thick of it, up to the task in every single way—surprising yourself with the strength you'll find as if from nowhere, and doing your best for that beautiful little bundle every moment of the day and night.

Yes mama, it's the truth: one day—very soon—you will sleep comfortably again.

But here's the other truth: you'll never again sleep the sleep of your past. You may never again sleep soundly.

This is something you can't imagine right now—because if you could, it would be overwhelming. Mama—everything is about to change, the stakes will be higher, and although your body will be your own again, your heart will always—always and forever—be elsewhere.

You will be more in love than you ever imagined.

You will find yourself tuned into that little person more than you ever believed possible. When he's hungry you'll respond, when he cries from reflux you'll feel his pain, and when he's wet you'll change him no matter how exhausted you are.

When she needs soothing for no reason other than that she's been attached to you for the last nine months, you'll walk as you bounce her up and down. When her tiny fingers close reflexively around yours you'll ache with the perfection of her.

This is the eternal truth of motherhood. Your body is returned to you but everything else is given away, gladly, forever. And it's hard to explain. I think that's because on some level—it's magic.

But for now, mama, prop yourself up on cushions. Be thankful for that maternity pillow. Drink plenty of water but not in the two hours before bed. Sleep on the side closest to the bathroom. Read a book that's not about babies when you can't switch off your mind.

Breathe. And wait for the magic. It's coming any day now...✨

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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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So you want that Instagram-worthy nursery, but safety is a top priority? It's totally possible to have both. Fortunately, more and more brands have stepped up to provide fashion-forward furniture and décor that keep people and the environment out of harm.

Here are four ways to create a safe and stylish nursery for baby.

1. Sleep on it.

With the crib "bare is best," meaning a baby should sleep alone (no pillows, bumpers, or toys) leaving only three pieces to consider; the crib, crib mattress and crib sheet.

That doesn't mean you won't have any fun picking out those three items. However, if you're on a budget we do suggest saving on the actual crib and splurging on a healthier choice for the mattress and crib sheets. Your baby will be spending 8-12 hours a day coming in contact with those elements, so these are two places to be mindful. Plus, you can get a safe crib at every price point and every style.

Beyond being organic, check that the product you are considering is GOTS certified organic. Going with a premium 100% organic product made GOTS certified means there is nothing touching your child's skin except a safe, comfy and breathable material.

Check out the Naturepedic Organic Crib Mattress collection, the entire finished mattress is GOTS certified organic. It provides firm support and has an organic cotton filling and quilted exterior made without common allergens, flame retardant chemicals or any other questionable materials.

Next, cover the organic mattress with an equally safe, as well as stylish crib sheet. We love the photo-worthy designs by Rookie Humans like Love Blooms in organic cotton; RH Baby&Child's collection of chic prints like the organic Linen ABC design; and how fun is the whimsical Organic Milk and Cookies print made of organic flannel by Crate&Kids?


If you're a minimalist and prefer crisp, classic white, we highly-recommend a zippered sheet. The unique secure fit means it can't slip or be pulled off by baby who could get wrapped up in the loose material. We love the Quickzip organic cotton—and it's also chemical free.

2. Wall-to-wall—from wallpapers to paints.

Paint is our favorite way to transform the nursery whether that is a fresh coat of clean white or a do-it-yourself mural. The one important thing to look for is that the paint is Zero or Low VOC. VOC stands for, Volatile Organic Compounds and are often found in paints, some of which may have short and long-term adverse health effects. We highly recommend Colorhouse paint for their commitment to healthier and sustainable products for people and the plant with superior coverage.

Now if you have your eye on one of those gorgeous, trending wallpaper designs, be sure and check the product description to ensure it's made with non-toxic materials. A favorite brand of ours that checks all the boxes for style, safety and variety are the PVC-free products from Anewall. Their popular designs are printed with non-toxic latex inks that are free of nickel and other chemical pollutants.

3. Safely clean up messes.

The nursery is a place where messes happen. From spit-up to blowouts, there can be lots of things to keep clean. That's why we love products that make mom's life easier and safer for baby.

Being able to keep your flooring looking good and bacteria free is essential. Two of our go-to washable rug brands are Kroma Carpets and Lorena Canal. Between these two companies, they offer tons of on-trend designs from a cozy little cloud shape for tummy time or a larger area rug that covers and protects your knees and your hardwoods.

If you don't want a traditional fiber rug, maybe due to allergies, but still want a stylish option for a cushy place for you and babe to play, there are some really stellar options out there. Both Ruggish and Little Nomad playmats answer the call from style-conscious moms everywhere. These brands offer beautiful, on-trend designs that are manufactured responsibly with non-toxic materials.

4. Big furniture + products.

Not only do small items and décor pieces provide health conscious, designer options, but you'll also find plenty of safe styles for larger furniture and fixtures. Important, because these are the items you and your child will come in contact with daily and possibly keep around for years to come.

Brands like Oeuf and IKEA have been leading the way in non-toxic, sustainable and environmentally manufactured products. That's because they are regulated by European environmental standards that are higher than those in the United States. They also list various important and specific manufacturing details on each product's buy-page so you can easily determine what works for your home goals.

Designing a stylish nursery doesn't mean you have to skimp on safety. Make sure to do your research and read product descriptions to find the best options for you and baby. Happy decorating, mama!

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We're supposed to be the ones comforting them, but sometimes, our children are the ones comforting us. If you've ever had a bad day at work and found your stress melting away when you got to sit down with your little one, you have something in common with Serena Williams.

In a new interview with Mamamia, Williams explains that after losing to Naomi Osaka in the U.S. Open, it was her 1-year-old daughter, Olympia, who kissed her better.

"I got in the car, and Olympia was in the car. It was so weird, and she started giving me kisses, she never gives me kisses. She doesn't even know to give kisses, and she just grabbed me, and I was like this little baby is so smart. It's just hard to be too down when you have a little one… when you have someone to take care of," Williams told Mia Freedman for an upcoming episode of the podcast, No Filter.

"Like I have to take care of this person, and I have to do this type of stuff, it puts everything in perspective," Williams explains.

This isn't the first time Williams has talked about how motherhood has changed her perspective. Before she had Olympia her career was first. But now that she's a mom, Williams is trying to take care of all of Olympia's needs, but also recognizes that she can't ignore her own.

"I'm working on it," she told TIME. "I never understood women before, when they put themselves in second or third place. And it's so easy to do. It's so easy to do."

It is easy to do. According to a recent survey by REDBOOK and HealthyWomen (a non-profit dedicated to providing women with health information), 45% of women over 30 do not make time for their own health, and a recent study revealed that when women have time off from work, we're often spending it watching our kids or doing chores around the house.

In short, we're always making sure our children's needs are met. We're good at that. But sometimes, when they make sure our needs are met (like Olympia did with those kisses) they remind us of what really matters.

When you're a parent, your worth isn't defined by how clean your laundry is, how many promotions you get at work, or (at least in William's case) Grand Slams. Sometimes, it's found in kisses from a toddler.

Your baby loves you, mama. So you should love yourself, too.


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