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This morning, I watched through the kitchen window as my four and five-year-old deftly built a bridge over a sea of lava. They laid long planks across the bubbling fire, nudging them together until they were lined up perfectly, side by side. Then, they worked together to haul some large stumps into place at each end, pinning the planks into place.

The bridge was only about two feet off the ground, but still I found myself holding my breath as my older son urged his little brother to “Try it out, see if it works!”

Little brother, always game, leapt onto the bridge dramatically and traversed it with comical gesticulation and wide eyes as he narrated his dangerous crossing of the lava below. Then, midway through his successful passage, he jumped from the bridge, plummeting to the lava below.


“Nooooooooooo,” he cried, flailing on the ground as his brother, ever the hero, laughed and kicked mulch on him.

The lava game has been going on for almost a month now. For kids whose normal attention span is not one second longer than an episode of Octonauts, that’s some pretty serious staying power.

Of course, it may have something to do with the LAVA CROSSING PLAY SET – BONUS EDITION that I spent a fortune on at Christmas, but, just kidding, no – they don’t play with anything they got for Christmas anymore. That stuff is so six months ago.

Nope, the lava game is the product of stuff most people would consider junk, and it has taken over our backyard with the materials being used again and again in a hundred different ways. The lava game is a product of our Backyard Revolution, and I highly encourage you to get onboard.

Last summer, I reached my breaking point. Our yard, which is already on the small size and completely fenced, was overrun with plastic. It had started with a little plastic climber that I’d bought secondhand for my oldest when he was around a year.

The next summer, as he got a little older, we added a big plastic playhouse with two stories, supposedly built to look like a treehouse. Soon, a red ladybug sandbox followed, along with a giant plastic tugboat that arrived when my oldest turned four and asked for “a tugboat just like daddy drives.”

Add to that chaos an assortment of toy trucks, tiny lawnmowers, and plastic gardening tools more commonly used as weapons, and before we knew it, we were living in a sea of plastic. We had accumulated nearly every yard toy known to modern children.

Yet still, the boys were bored.

We’re all for outings and adventure, but I am a full-time, work-from-home-mom, so keeping the kids engaged and content in the yard where I can see them is a workplace essential for me. In my naivety, I had greeted their boredom with shiny new things to keep them occupied. What do kids like to play with, after all, if not a brand new toy?

Each new piece of backyard play equipment was greeted with initial excitement and quickly became the center of attention. The boys would fight over it, clamor over it, and regale me with sickeningly sweet compliments about how I’m the best mom EVER.

Then, just as quickly, each became old news. The climber gathered fallen leaves that rotted into a slimy film at the top of the slide. The playhouse sheltered cobwebs and slugs. The tugboat gathered rainwater and became an ecosystem of its own, breeding mosquitos at every opportunity. The yard was littered with discarded, plastic debris.

Something had to give, so we began a project lovingly referred to as Operation Plastic Eradication.

We emptied the yard of plastic junk and replaced it all with raw materials. The area that once housed the climber and playhouse is now our nature playground. There are logs, sticks, bricks, rocks, ropes, wood chips, and hay bales. We rigged up a few pulleys and a rope ladder from the fence. We added slabs of slate and fresh wood chips. A few blocks of solid oak paired with a jar of nails and a small hammer rounded out the space.

Part lumberyard, part fairyland, part scrapyard, it was a hit when we set the kids loose.

All kids have a deep need to feel accomplished at the end of the day. My boys feel accomplished when they set their minds to a task and work toward its completion. In the natural playground, they move rocks, build structures, tie ropes, and clear debris – both together and independently.

In their minds, they are doing something much more than simply playing. They are working, imitating the real-world work they see around them. To move a log, they may try three or four techniques before they get it right. They build pathways, experimenting with different surfaces and distances. They “plant trees” by digging holes and burying stumps in them. They engineer bridges over lava and skyscrapers made of stones.

They “work” tirelessly at play. Without the context provided by their previous toys, their options now are as endless as their imaginations.

The natural playground is the only playground you need. Still not convinced? Here are a few facts to get you thinking:

1 | When natural elements, such as logs and rocks, are incorporated into a play space, children are more active in their play and stay engaged for nearly twice as long.

2 | Children who play on a natural playscape are more likely to engage in inquiry and observation-based play.

3 | Open-ended, loose materials, such as sticks, stones, sand, and plant materials inspire more creative play in young children than does fixed playground equipment.

Ready to get started? Building your own natural playscape is more simple than you might think.

First, choose a space in your yard. Ideally, it should have a combination of open space with a few natural features already present, such as a tree or some hearty bushes. Remember that whatever exists within this space will likely become a play piece, so it’s best to locate it away from fragile plants (e.g. your heirloom rose garden).

Next, purge the plastic. We gave away, tossed, or sold most of our yard toys. We kept a few standby favorites, like the Tonka trucks and soccer balls, and sourced a large deck box to store them in when not in use.

Add fill if necessary. If your area is already grassy, that’s a great start. Ours was not, so we put down wood chips to pad falls and provide some natural definition to the space.

Source natural materials. Most of these can be found locally, and you might already have some. Our playscape includes:

  • Short, large diameter logs and longer, small diameter logs from trees we had cleared
  • Sticks gathered from the woods
  • Old bricks
  • Large stones found around the yard and neighborhood
  • Shells from the beach and leftover shellfish (just rinse and leave in the sun until clean)
  • Lumber scraps from our barn and from disassembled bed slats
  • Ropes
  • Pulleys
  • Cross sections of a cedar trunk
  • Slate stepping stones leftover from a patio we had removed.

Locate the materials so that they are visible and accessible. Don’t stack all your materials in a corner where the kids will have to dig through a pile of bricks to discover the ropes and pulleys. Instead, spread out the materials so your kids can see them all at once and easily choose which to use at any given time.

Finally, set the kids loose and put your feet up. They may be too busy exploring, creating, and working to thank you, but the ensuing silence should be thanks enough.

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As a former beauty editor, I pride myself in housing the best skincare products in my bathroom. Walk in and you're sure to be greeted with purifying masks, micellar water, retinol ceramide capsules and Vitamin C serums. What can I say? Old habits die hard. But when I had my son, I was hesitant to use products on him. I wanted to keep his baby-soft skin for as long as possible, without tainting it with harsh chemicals.

Eventually, I acquiesced and began using leading brands on his sensitive skin. I immediately regretted it. His skin became dry and itchy and regardless of what I used on him, it never seemed to get better. I found myself asking, "Why don't beauty brands care about baby skin as much as they care about adult skin?"

When I had my daughter in May, I knew I had to take a different approach for her skin. Instead of using popular brands that are loaded with petroleum and parabens, I opted for cleaner products. These days I'm all about skincare that contains super-fruits (like pomegranate sterols, which are brimming with antioxidants) and sulfate-free cleansers that contain glycolipids that won't over-dry her skin. And, so far, Pipette gets it right.

What's in it

At first glance, the collection of shampoo, wipes, balm, oil and lotion looks like your typical baby line—I swear cute colors and a clean look gets me everytime—but there's one major difference: All products are environmentally friendly and cruelty-free, with ingredients derived from plants or nontoxic synthetic sources. Also, at the core of Pipette's formula is squalane, which is basically a powerhouse moisturizing ingredient that babies make in utero that helps protect their skin for the first few hours after birth. And, thanks to research, we know that squalane isn't an irritant, and is best for those with sensitive skin. Finally, a brand really considered my baby's dry skin.

Off the bat, I was most interested in the baby balm because let's be honest, can you ever have too much protection down there? After applying, I noticed it quickly absorbed into her delicate skin. No rash. No irritation. No annoyed baby. Mama was happy. It's also worth noting there wasn't any white residue left on her bottom that usually requires several wipes to remove.

Why it's different

I love that Pipette doesn't smell like an artificial baby—you, know that powdery, musky note that never actually smells like a newborn. It's fragrance free, which means I can continue to smell my daughter's natural scent that's seriously out of this world. I also enjoy that the products are lightweight, making her skin (and my fingers) feel super smooth and soft even hours after application.

The bottom line

Caring for a baby's sensitive skin isn't easy. There's so much to think about, but Pipette makes it easier for mamas who don't want to compromise on safety or sustainability. I'm obsessed, and I plan to start using the entire collection on my toddler as well. What can I say, old habits indeed die hard.

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

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Military families give up so much for their country, particularly when they have small children at home. Those of us who have never witnessed this kind of sacrifice first-hand could use a reminder of it once in a while, which is just one of the reasons we're so happy to see the beautiful photoshoot Mary Chevalier arranged for her husband's return home from Afghanistan.

The photoshoot was extra special because while James Chevalier was serving a nine-month deployment, Mary gave birth to their second son, Caspian.

Getting ready to meet Dad

"During the laboring and birthing process of Caspian, I was surrounded by family, but that did not fill the void of not having my husband by my side," Mary told InsideEdition.com. "He was able to video chat during the labor and birth, but for both of us, it was not enough."

While James had yet to meet Caspian, their 3-year-old son, Gage, missed his dad a whole lot, so this homecoming was going to be a big deal for him too. That's why Mary arranged for her wedding photographer, Brittany Watson, to be with them for their reunion in Atlanta.

Gage was so happy to see his Dad 

"[He] had no idea he was going to be getting to see his daddy that day," Watson wrote on Facebook. "The family met at the Southeastern Railway Museum for Gage to go on a special train ride... little did he know, he'd be doing it with daddy!"

Watson did a beautiful job capturing the high emotions of every single family member, from Gage's surprise, to the delight on baby Caspian's face. It's no wonder her Facebook post went viral last week.

"Caspian is natural, a very happy baby, but both James and I felt like Caspian knew who his father was almost immediately," Mary told Inside Edition. "He was easily comforted by me husband right off the bat and seemed to have an instant connection. It was very emotional."

The moment this dad had been waiting for 

If we're sobbing just looking at the photos, we can't even imagine what it was like in real life.

"We are all so blessed and take so much for granted," Watson wrote. "I cannot contain the joy I feel in my heart when I look at these images, and I hope you feel it too!"

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During both of my pregnancies, I was under the care of an amazing midwife. Every time I went to her office for check-ups, I was mesmerized by the wall of photos participating in what may be the most painfully magical moment of a woman's life: giving birth. But there was a painting that always drew my attention: a woman dressed in orange, holding her newborn baby with a face that could be described as clueless. The line above the canvas read, "Now what?"

I felt like the woman in the painting as I kissed my mother goodbye when my daughter was born. She came from my native Colombia to stay with us for three months. When she left, I realized that my husband had been working as usual during those first 90 days of our new life. My baby was born on a Friday and on Monday he was back at the office. (No parental leave policy for him.)


Now what? I thought. The quote "It takes a village to raise a child" suddenly started to hit home, literally.

After a few years in Miami, I had some friends, but it truly didn't feel like I had a village. Some were not mothers yet, most of them worked full-time and others didn't live close by. My nomad life left my best friends spread out in different places in the world. I found myself signing up for "mommy and me" classes in search of new mothers, immigrants like me, alone like me.

It seemed like a utopian dream to think about when my grandmothers became mothers. Both of them had 6 and 10 children and they were able to stay sane (or maybe not? I don't know). But at least they had family around—people cooking, offering help. There was a sense of community.

My mother and father grew up in "the village." Big families with so many children that the older siblings ended up taking care of the little ones; aunts were like second mothers and neighbors became family.

When I was about to give birth to my second baby, my sister had just had her baby girl back in Colombia. Once, she called me crying because her maternity leave was almost over. My parents live close to her, so that was a bonus. Hiring a nanny back there is more affordable. But even seeing the positive aspects of it, I wished I could have been there for her, to be each other's village.

The younger me didn't realize that when I took a plane to leave my country in search of new experiences 19 years ago, I was giving up the chance to have my loved ones close by when I became a mother. And when I say close by, I mean as in no planes involved.

It hasn't been easy, but after two kids and plenty of mommy and me classes and random conversations that became true connections, I can say I have a mini-village, a small collection of solitudes coming together to lean on each other. But for some reason, it doesn't truly feel like one of those described in the old books where women gathered to knit while breastfeeding and all the children become like siblings.

Life gets in the way, and everyone gets sucked into their own worlds. In the absence of a true village, we feel the pressure to be and do everything that once was done by a group of people. We often lose perspective of priorities because we are taking care of everything at the same time. Starting to feel sick causes anxiety and even fear because it means so many things need to happen in order for mom—especially if single—to lay down and recover while the children are taken care of. And when the children get sick, that could mean losing money for a working mother or father, because the truth is that most corporations are not designed to nurture families.

In the absence of that model of a village I long for, we tend to rely on social media to have a sense of community and feel supported. We may feel that since we are capable of doing so much—working and stay at home moms equally—perhaps we don't need help. Or quite the opposite: mom guilt kicks in and feelings of not being enough torment our night sleep. Depression and anxiety can enter the picture and just thinking about the amount of energy and time that takes to create true connections, we may often curl up in our little cocoon with our children and partners—if they are present—when they come home.

Now what? was my thought this week while driving back and forth to the pediatrician with my sick son. I can't get the virus, I have to be strong, my daughter can't get ill, my husband needs to be healthy for his work trip next week, we all need to be well for my son's fifth birthday. And so, it goes on. I texted one of my mom friends just to rant. She rants back because her son is also sick. She sent me a heart and an "I'm here if you need to talk."

I am grateful to have talked to her at that random postpartum circle when I first became a mother. She's a Latina immigrant like me and feels exactly like me. I will do it more, get out of my comfort zone and have—sometimes—awkward conversations so I can keep growing my own little village.

It may not look like the one I'd imagined, but still may allow me to be vulnerable even through a text message.

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Halloween is around the corner, but if you are like me you are still trying to figure out what to dress your family (especially the little ones), so here are some cute ideas inspired by famous characters. There's something for everyone—from cartoon lovers to ideas for the entire family!

Here are some adorable character costumes for your family:

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