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Despite Our Fears, We Need to Restore the Unity We Felt After 9/11

The sun shone strongly through the windows of my classroom on a typical Tuesday, distributing unwelcome late-summer heat over my students. It was just the second week of school, but it felt like a continuation of the year prior in some ways as I had moved up along with my students after our first year together at Kenmore Middle School.

Within a matter of seven hours, we would be bonded in trauma, as the school day ended in eerie silence. No planes passed overhead, hardly a car on the road, and most people shuttered in their homes, glued to their televisions and computers.

Ask any American about September 11th, and the overwhelming majority can tell you exactly where they were, how they heard the news, maybe even what they were wearing, and to what extent their life and the lives of their loved ones were affected.

I am no exception to this. I was leaving the library wearing one of my more professional outfits of a blouse and slacks along with a pair of platform sandals which my students always referred to as my Frankenstein shoes. As I passed the checkout desk, Mrs. Stump, our head media specialist, turned from the television strapped to the library cart and calmly stated, “A plane just crashed into the World Trade Center.”

“Was it an accident?” I asked.

“That was the second one,” she said quietly, yet insistently.

I was incapable of appreciating just how devastating this really was. I did not consider the sheer magnitude of casualties and certain death. The World Trade Center towers were up 100 or so stories. Planes were big. This was not something small or recoverable. But I was young and distracted, and so I merely nodded and continued out of the library, shifting focus toward my third period class.

That didn’t last long.

The timeline here is hazy in my recollection, but at some point that hour, a third plane crashed into the Pentagon, less than five miles from us. Later, some would recall hearing rumbles caused by the low-flying aircraft as it approached its target. Loudspeaker announcements were made. Every television turned on. Parents began arriving at school to scoop up their children, while other students sat in panic because their mothers or fathers worked at the Pentagon or the airlines. 

I was 25-years-old and responsible for keeping an agitated herd of seventh graders calm, all the while wondering if my own friends and family members were safe. Cell phone calls weren’t going through, thanks to a lack of necessary cell towers to handle such a catastrophe. I watched my colleagues valiantly stuff their own emotions way down as we all distracted ourselves with helping our students. I saw more than a few pre-teens holding on for emotional dear life, understandably terrified. One particular teacher heroically organized the dismissal procedure, not knowing if her husband who worked at the Pentagon was alive or dead.

After the last student had been claimed, the teachers and staff followed closely behind, anxious to get home to our own people. By that time, no planes were left in the air. No more would be weaponized, at least on that day. It was a small comfort.

There was no school the next day. I’m pretty sure the entire world, save the first responders digging through the rubble and searching for signs of life at both the Pentagon and the World Trade Center, had hit a giant pause button, desperately searching for rewind and praying to erase the previous 24 hours.

As school resumed, the world knew that the attacks had been orchestrated by Al Qaeda and carried out by several of its members. And soon we would learn that the attackers lived in an apartment complex a few doors up from our school and attended the same mosque as several of our students. Many students were recent arrivals to the United States and worried about the status of their visas. Would they be forced to leave? Would their asylum status be revoked? Not being born in a country that supports religious freedom, many expressed concern that their house of worship would be closed or that they would no longer be permitted to practice their faith. Even those families in our community who were from parts of the world other than the Middle East were concerned about their ability to stay in the U.S.

Our school grew closer that year as we mourned together. While some students did lose family friends, all parents and other family were safe. We grieved the losses of our community, the loss of security, and we learned from each other: teachers, staff, students. Adults and children. Citizens, veterans, undocumented immigrants, Muslims, Christians, Jews.

Two months later during Ramadan, a group of Muslim students spent their lunch hour in my classroom fasting and praying. Not once did their classmates criticize them or mock them for their beliefs. No one told them to go back to their country. These middle schoolers modeled the ideal response to tragedy and did not allow fear to dictate their treatment of their friends. We were a microcosm of the outside world, and while not perfect, we were a model worth emulating.

That was 16 years ago. My then-students are now older than I was on 9/11. They are teachers, doctors, lawyers, mothers, fathers. I keep up with them on social media, impressed by the men and women they’ve become while realizing how quickly time passes. Just one year after we watched planes fly into buildings together, we spent a month ducking and weaving our way into the school building, afraid of being shot by the DC Snipers. When they graduated high school, some chose to attend Virginia Tech, in spite of the fact that, months prior, a student had shot and killed dozens of people. To say they are survivors is an understatement.

Since 9/11, the world has changed irrevocably. Although still the most destructive act of terror, many others have occurred both abroad and in the United States. Wars have resulted. Post-traumatic stress disorder runs rampant in our soldiers returning from the Middle East. An entire generation is now entering high school having never known the excitement of meeting a loved one at the arrivals gate of an airport or even attending schools with unlocked doors. By age five, our children know how to hide from a gunman. We sit in our churches, our mosques, our temples, and our meeting houses, wondering what the best course of action would be if someone bursts through the doors shooting at us. We go to the movie theater with escape plans.

We have been holding our collective breath for 16 years, and the lack of oxygen is causing significant damage. No longer united through our grief, we are lashing out at one another in fear. So few seem interested in finding common ground.  

And now, a presidential candidate is cheered for suggesting the answer to all of our woes is a giant wall and mass deportation. I think of my students on that day 16 years ago, their terrified faces indistinguishable from the terrified faces of their citizen classmates. I think of all they endured and what they’ve accomplished; the ways in which they’ve made this country their home, and how America is better for their presence and contributions.

Yes, much has happened in these 16 years to cause these fears and doubts. But in order to return to the unity we felt following the unthinkable, we must cast them aside. As the sixteenth anniversary of that day arrives, I vow to do my part. I will try to understand “the other” instead of disregarding him. I will listen instead of react. I will breathe deeply, and I hope you will, too.

Who said motherhood doesn't come with a manual?

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Just because new moms aren't hitting the gym doesn't mean they aren't doing one of the most demanding workouts of all: It takes about 20 calories to produce one ounce of milk. So, with babies who down ounces upon ounces each day, that means breastfeeding mothers can easily burn hundreds of calories almost literally in their sleep.

All that hard work can result in quite an appetite, which can have new moms reaching for whatever is most convenient. But convenience doesn't have to come at the cost of good nutrition, taste and lactation-boosting powers—as proven by the delicious Booby Boons Lactation Cookies from Stork and Dove.

"Nourishing your body is just as important now as it was when you were pregnant. Not only are you recovering from pregnancy and birth, you are making milk to sustain your baby—and all the thousands of other things you do for them every single day," says Diana Spalding, Motherly's Birth Expert, midwife and pediatric nurse. "You are working so hard, mama. You deserve to fuel your body with the best—and it doesn't hurt when the best also happens to be delicious."

Here's why these little cookies are such lactation powerhouses:


The natural goodness of oats does so much more than make for tasty cookies. Considered to be a top galactagogue—or a substance that helps boost milk supply—oats are rich in iron, fiber and protein. Because low iron can reduce milk supply, mixing a scoop of oats into lactation cookies is a tasty way to give your body the boost it may need.

Nutritional yeast

For generations, nutritional yeast has been a remedy suggests to mamas looking to boost their milk supply. And for good reason: With protein, phytoestrogen and B12 found in fortified versions, nutritional yeast can provide nutrients to stimulate milk supply—while also offering a boost of energy.

Flax meal

Rich in Omega-3 fatty acids, flaxseed is good for the brain health of mothers and babies. Not to mention that with a nice nutty taste and great protein profile, they make nice additions to lactation cookies by helping you stay full longer.

Chia seeds

When it comes to lactation cookies and promoting brain development, varied sources of Omega-3 fatty acids are so helpful—and chia seeds deliver there. Found in some of the Booby Boons Lactation Cookies, chia seeds also deliver protein, calcium and magnesium.


Few things can take a toll on milk supply like when you're under the weather. Booby Boons+ Lactation Cookies provide a probiotic boost, keeping your immune system up and digestive health in check for better production—and a healthier-feeling mama.

Bonus: A sense of relaxation and ease is clinically proven to aid in milk production.

Even better, the cookies are wheat-, soy- and preservative-free! So grab a cookie, take a moment for yourself and boost that supply. Grab your cookies HERE or at Target and other fine retailers.

This article was sponsored by Stork and Dove. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

[Editor's note: This story is a letter from a woman to her husband. While this is one example of one type of relationship, we understand, appreciate and celebrate that relationships come in all forms and configurations.]

To my husband,

We met when I was 22. We started building a life together. We became each other's best friend, cheerleader, guidance counselor, and shelter from the storm. We laughed together, cried together, and stood up in front of all the people who matter to us and vowed to stay together until one of us dies.

We said the words without irony or hesitation, knowing that while we weren't perfect, the problems we could face in life would never be enough to break us.

And babe, I had no clue what our future held. But I knew I wanted to experience it only with you.

Then we got pregnant! And when our son was born, I marveled at the fact that we made a person. You and me. It honestly still blows my mind even five years later.

I'd heard women say things like, I fell in love with my husband all over again once I saw him as a daddy. I love watching you be a daddy, too—but just like becoming a mother has been transformative for me, becoming a father has been transformative for you, too. And it has taken us some time to get to know the new versions of ourselves.

We worked together—mostly on the same team—and have shared so many beautiful lessons and experiences together. Everything is new when you're a first-time parent! And this new dynamic of three definitely threw us for a loop—I wasn't used to sharing your attention with someone else, and I wasn't used to sharing my attention with someone other than you.

It took a few years to hit our stride. I think maybe we never had big things to disagree on before we became parents. It threw me off to be anything but harmonious with you. But just like we said we would on that gorgeous September wedding day, we found our way back. We stayed on each other's team.

And then I got pregnant again.

We were planning a huge life change already— moving across the country to start anew, restart your business and make a new future. I didn't have an easy pregnancy this time. And generally, for many reasons, life seemed harder than ever.

Our daughter was born and it didn't take long for postpartum depression to steal me away, for far longer than I should have allowed it to. I was scared to get the help I needed and I let it get the best of me. I'm truly sorry for that. I'm mostly sorry that I sometimes let it get the best of us.

It's easy to love a partner when it's just the two of you. Our priorities were never tested then—you were at the top of my to-do list, and I was at the top of yours. But—funny thing—this whole parenting thing seemed to make life a little more complex. And when your kids are little, and completely dependent upon you, there are many days when there just isn't much left over for anything or anyone else.

Babe, we're in it right now. Really in it. These are the parenting trenches. The baby years. These years can make or break us. And can I be so bold as to say: I think they're making us.

They're making us learn how to communicate better. How to find common ground when we disagree about real stuff, like the ways we want to raise our children. We're invested in not only the outcome but the short term effect. We're a team.

They're making us think about the future. Not just the fun stuff, but the difficult stuff like estate planning, life insurance, and college funds for the kids. They're making us challenge ourselves to provide our children with comfort and opportunities. We've always worked hard but the stakes have never been this high.

You know I'm the optimist, the dreamer, while you consider yourself the realist—but I think we can agree on this: going through some of the tough stuff with you by my side has shown me that we are stronger than the tough stuff. We can get through it. We can get through anything. As long as we hold on to each other.

Motherhood transformed me. Fatherhood transformed you. And having kids completely transformed our marriage. We'll never be who we were on our wedding day again.

Time marches forward—only forward. I miss the carefree version of "us", but I love this version even more. Because we know what we're made of now, and in so many ways we didn't before.

I'm sure that in our lifetime, many more obstacles will arise that will transform our marriage. But I've never been more confident that whatever may be, we'll find a way through it—together.

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Baking Christmas cookies together is a family tradition for many, but the Centers for Disease Control is warning parents that if your recipe contains raw flour or raw eggs, you really shouldn't sneak a bite before it is cooked, and neither should your kids.

The CDC is warning people not to eat raw cookie dough, cake mix or bread as we head into prime baking season.

The agency acknowledges the appeal of a spoonful of chocolate chip goodness but asks that we "steer clear of this temptation—eating or tasting unbaked products that are intended to be cooked, such as dough or batter, can make you sick."

Salmonella from raw eggs is, of course, a concern, and so is the raw flour. According to the CDC, flour needs to be cooked in order to kill germs like E.Coli. That's why the CDC is asking parents to "say no to raw dough," not just for eating but even for playing with.

"Children can get sick from handling or eating raw dough used for crafts or play clay, too," the CDC posted on its website.

On the Food and Drug Administration's website, that agency advises that "even though there are websites devoted to 'flour crafts,' don't give your kids raw dough or baking mixes that contain flour to play with." Health Canada also states that raw flour should not be used in children's play-dough.

The warnings follow a 2016 E.coli outbreak linked to contaminated raw flour. Dozens of people got sick that year, and a post-outbreak report notes that "state investigators identified three ill children who had been exposed to raw flour at restaurants in Maryland, Virginia, and Texas. Restaurant staff had given them raw dough to play with while they waited for their food to be served."

The CDC worries that with flour's long shelf life, products recalled during the 2016 outbreak may still be in people's pantries (although the CDC notes that any raw flour—recalled or otherwise—should not be consumed).

If your kids do have flour-based play dough, don't worry.

Some parents are still choosing to use flour-based craft dough to make Christmas ornaments or other crafts this holiday season and are reducing the risks by A) making sure the kids aren't eating their art, and B) thoroughly washing little hands, work surfaces, and utensils when the dough play is over.

Other parents are choosing other types of craft clay over flour-based dough.

During the 2016 outbreak, the FDA called for Americans to abstain from raw cookie dough, an approach Slate called "unrealistic and alarmist," noting that "the vast, vast majority of people who consume or touch uncooked flour do not contract E. coli or any other infection."

Two years ago, 63 Americans were made sick by E. coli infections linked to raw flour, according to the CDC. We don't know exactly how many Americans ate a spoonful of cookie dough or played with homemade play dough that year, but we do know that more than 319 million Americans did not get sick because of raw flour.

Are there risks associated with handling and consuming raw flour? Yes, absolutely, but it's not something to panic over.

Bottom line: Don't let your kids eat raw dough when they're helping you bake cookies for Santa, and be mindful of raw flour when choosing crafts for kids.

(And if you have just got to get your raw cookie dough fix, the CDC notes that cookie dough flavored ice cream is totally safe as it "contains dough that has been treated to kill harmful bacteria." Sounds like mama's getting Ben & Jerry's tonight.)

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Twinkling lights are everywhere I look, and the magic of the holiday season is filling our house. The kids are growing more excited each day anticipating Santa's arrival and gifts are accumulating, ready to be wrapped in beautiful paper and bows.

Elf and The Grinch have been playing on repeat and the nativity scene has found a safe spot among our decorations. It's one of the busiest times of the year and it can be hard to catch your breath in the hustle and bustle of it all.

But then something stops you.

Maybe it's a pang in your heart or a memory of someone dearly missed. Maybe it's a familiar feeling of emptiness—of wanting this person to be a part of this magical, joy-filled time of year.

It's so easy to forget that many people are struck with sadness around the holidays and are longing for someone who's missing from their lives. We give and give to our families and friends and communities this time of year—food for dinners, and toys for less-fortunate children—but people don't always realize that another type of giving is needed.

The gift of comfort.

Because someone who is missing their mother, father, brother, sister, child, friend or spouse needs your connection and warmth. They need a reminder of their loved one is not forgotten, and maybe above all—just needs a hug.

Family traditions are wonderful and cherished, but they can also feel incomplete when someone is missing.

For me, I love the holidays, and watching my kids experience all the joys this season has to offer truly fills my heart. Yet, not a Christmas goes by that I don't think about what Kendrick (my first child lost at 2 months old) would have thought of this time of year.

Would he have loved hot cocoa like his sister and brothers? Would he have gotten into all the ornaments on the tree as a toddler? What toys would he have asked Santa for? What Christmas wishes would he have made for others?

I am left to wonder these things without answer. And even though I fully embrace this time of year and relish the holidays, I can't help but miss him.

I wanted to share my story as a reminder that even though your holiday cup may be filled with joy, someone you know may be wrestling with sadness. With all the merry and bright and cups of cheer, it's important to be mindful of this and to treat people with extra care. Reach out to someone you know who has lost someone, and let them know you're thinking of them. It won't go unnoticed.

Many of us have dealt with loss at some point in our lives, and we've learned to carry these special people in our hearts so that they are always with us. But missing someone never goes away. There are so many experiences in our lives we wish we could just snap our fingers and have them right by our sides—the holidays being one of those.

So as you check off your shopping lists, make your donations, trim your tree, or light your menorah—please don't forget to show care to those who may be hurting a little this holiday season.

They're certainly in a position where they could buy every item on their kids' Christmas lists, but Mila Kunis and Ashton Kutcher aren't planning on piling up the presents under the Christmas tree this year.

"So far, our tradition is no presents for the kids," Kunis said in an interview with Entertainment Tonight. Mom to 4-year-old daughter, Wyatt, and 2-year-old son Dmitri, Kunis says she and Kutcher are determined to not raise entitled kids—and are learning from the mistakes of Christmases past.

“We've told our parents, 'We're begging you: If you have to give her something, pick one gift,'" Kunis said. “'Otherwise, we'd like to take a charitable donation, to the Children's Hospital or a pet... Whatever you want.' That's our new tradition."

The minimalist Christmas that Kunis and Kutcher embrace makes sense on a lot of levels: It teaches kids how to be more mindful consumers, removes the emphasis on material goods... And saves you from those chaotic trips to the mall.

Going without presents doesn't mean going without

Putting a halt on presents these upcoming holidays is one way to reinforce what the season is really about: Spending quality time together as families and cherishing what we already have. But "no presents" doesn't mean "no fun," either.

Some of our favorite non-material gift suggestions include:

  • Experiences
  • Lessons
  • College contributions
  • Coupon booklets
  • Piggy bank donations
  • Gifts for others

Or you could take a cue from Kunis and Kutcher without going all the way: Maybe you only focus on one or two quality gifts. Or pass on anything that will likely get discarded to the bottom of the toy box before next year's holidays.

Think of Christmas gifts for kids kind of like eggnog: A little goes a long way.

[Originally published October 11, 2017]

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