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Let’s talk about being a father when you’re in public safety – whether it’s Police, Fire, or EMS. I’m a father of three (soon to be four) beautiful little girls. Some of you that know me personally understand just how much those little girls run my life. So you should know that when I proudly proclaim, “I am the king of the house,” it only applies if my wife and daughters aren’t there. Once they get home, I’m more of a court jester.


That said, every day I’m on shift I get up, strap on my tough guy fireman uniform, get in my tough guy fireman vehicle, and go to my tough guy fireman station. And while I’m there I usually do tough guy fireman stuff like saving orphans and kittens and orphaned kittens. And respond to emails (actually a pretty daunting task).

I’ve been doing all of this tough guy fireman stuff since before my kids were born. When my wife told me she was pregnant with our first child, one of the first thoughts I had was, “this child is going to be able to tell all the other kids that her dad is a tough fireman. Nobody is going to mess with her.” I took pride in the fact that when it came time for the kids to bring us to school for “show-off-your-parents-and-their-cool-jobs” day, my child would be the envy of the other kids because her dad was an awesome tough guy fireman.

Now that we’ve gotten all that BS out of the way, let me tell you about the time a “tough” fireman was reduced to a slobbering, sniveling mess in the arms of his then-two-year-old daughter.

It was early 2012. I was riding seat (in-charge for you donut-eaters) with two other firefighters assigned to my apparatus. I was at the end of what would be an 18-month stretch of terrible calls. Every First Responder has a call that they can never forget. It’s part of the job. Most of the time it’s a specific, stressful incident that can often make you question why you started down this road of a thankless, underpaid career. These kinds of calls are (thankfully) usually few and far between. The worst of them involve children. Again, these calls are rare, yet profound.

I had made five in 18 months. Five pediatric fatalities. All of them under three years of age. I had racked up a career’s worth of crappy incidents in an 18-month period. I was mentally at the breaking point and on the verge of burnout but did nothing about it because I was a tough guy fireman. At no point during those 18 months did I seek out professional counseling or even peer support, because that’s not something tough guy firemen do. We clean the blood from our boots and get back on the truck. We don’t whine about our feelings. We get over it. Right? Right??

I might’ve been a tough guy fireman, but man was I a dummy.

Then, the incident that finally tipped the scales occurred. It was a clear, crisp morning. We were doing what firemen do best – making sure the recliners couldn’t escape. The station alert opened up and let us know that we were going to yet another motor vehicle accident. We climbed up into the apparatus and started heading for the dispatched address. Nobody in the pumper was too excited because, duh, we’re tough guy firemen. We do this stuff all the time.

I had just finished putting us enroute over the radio when we heard the voice of an unusually stressed dispatcher. The additional information now stated that the simple motor vehicle accident we were responding to was, in fact, an auto versus pedestrian. And the pedestrian on the receiving end of said auto was a little girl.

The stress level inside that pumper went from stoner college dropout to bomb disposal technician in a matter of seconds. The mental rolodex of all the tough guy fireman stuff I was supposed to do started flipping at a high rate of speed in my head. Stay calm. Give orders. Follow your training. Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.

Then we arrived on scene and my brain lit the rolodex on fire, threw it on the ground, and pissed on the ashes. The scene was utter chaos. There were people everywhere. Residents near the incident, hearing the commotion, flooded out of their houses to see what was going on. And the strangest part was that there was no centralization to the mob. Everybody was wandering around, many of them shouting or crying or just in a state of confusion. There were so many people that it actually took a brief second for us to figure out where the patient was.

Then we saw her. She looked like she could have been sleeping. In that moment, my brain decided to cooperate. It picked the rolodex back up off the ground, dusted it off, and directed me to go to work. I won’t go into too much detail other than to tell you that from the point we got to the patient, until we handed off care to the hospital, the men and women I was with at that scene performed flawlessly. Everybody knew what to do and was performing tasks that needed to be done before anybody had to ask them to do it. Every life-saving measure was exhausted trying to save this little girl’s life.

Unfortunately, our efforts could not overcome her injuries. This happens. It had happened. This pediatric fatality was now number six in an 18-month period. I fully expected to deal with this one like I had dealt with all the other ones. We would go back to the station. Everybody would retreat to their corners of the building. The rest of the shift would be quiet, with nobody wanting to admit just how much we were affected. We would get off in the morning, still not having acknowledged the gravity of what had happened. Then we would come back to work the next shift like nothing had happened and get ready for the next one. That’s how tough guy firemen handle it. That’s just “what we do”.

Hey, look! There’s that big dummy I’ve been talking about.

During that incident, I rode to the hospital in the back of the ambulance to assist with the life-saving efforts. The Deputy Chief for the department drove his Tahoe to the hospital to pick me up and bring me back to the scene so that I could be reunited with my crew. I had been through this same routine before. Chief picks me up, brings me back to the scene, we stay there until we get released by DPS, go back to the station, and so on.

But this time felt … different. I remember pulling back up to the scene. My Deputy Chief (who was well aware of my recent history with pediatric incidents) put his Tahoe in park, looked over at me and asked, “what do you want to do?”

I blinked for a second, not understanding what he was asking me. Then, it clicked.

He’s asking you if you’re okay to get back on the truck, you tough guy dummy.

In that moment, I realized I had absolutely no desire to get back on the apparatus with my crew. For the first time in my career as a firefighter, I honestly did not want to wash the blood from my boots and get back on the truck. I would like to say I was alarmed by this realization, but I actually wasn’t feeling much of anything at that moment. Looking back at it now, this tough guy fireman was in shock. That’s the best way to describe it. I felt … nothing.

I looked back at him for a moment, then looked forward, past the windshield to where the rest of my crew stood among the flashing lights and scene tape. Before I realized I was speaking, my face hole formed and spoke the words, “I want to go home.” My Deputy Chief, understanding what needed to happen, silently put the truck in reverse, turned around, and started heading back to the station.

As I left the station, I called my wife. I told her that there was a bad call at work and that I was heading home. Then I realized how bad that sounded and had to reassure her that I wasn’t hurt or anything, it was just a bad call and I no longer wanted to be there. Then I realized how strange that sounded and said to hell with it, I’ll explain it when you get home. She feigned understanding and told me since I was getting home early (about 18 hours early), our daughter would be super excited if I surprised her at daycare and picked her up. So I did. Still in a state of semi-shock, I picked our daughter up from daycare and brought her home.

Our daughter neither understood nor particularly cared why there was a break in protocol and daddy was picking her up. I had freed her from that hellish prison of juice, cookies, and nap time. She could finally return to the barbie doll saga that she had started to play out in our living room the day before.

So that’s what she did. As soon as we walked in the front door of our house, she bolted towards her toy box, retrieved the plastic main characters of her imagined world and began to play. I walked to “my chair” (a leather recliner that had the same texture as a well-used football – every dad should have one) and sat down. I sat there, staring at my two-year-old daughter, but actually looking past her into … nothing.

Most people know this as the “thousand-yard stare.” I sat in my chair, staring off into space, reflecting on the day’s events. At that moment, I felt locked in my own head. I relived that incident a hundred times as I sat there. I felt alone, angry, sad, worthless, inadequate, untrained, and a multitude of other feelings all at the same time.

I didn’t notice my daughter had stopped playing and was staring back at me until she stood and began to walk towards me. I then realized the sadness and despair that she must have seen on my face. This was something she had never seen before. I was the tough guy dad fireman. I didn’t get sad. I was the tough dummy. I mean tough fireman dummy. I mean tough guy fireman.

In that moment, my two-year-old daughter realized that her tough guy fireman dad was hurting. She put her barbies down, walked over to me, climbed up on my lap, and put her head down on my chest. She put her hand right over my heart and began to pat me, like I had done for her so many nights when I was trying to get her to go to sleep. Then she started to whisper, in the sweet voice that could only come from a two-year-old little girl, “Shhhh. It’s ok daddy.” And she kept repeating that over and over as she patted my chest. Never raising her head. Never squirming to go back and play. In that place in time, in that moment, she was taking care of her daddy.

My face started leaking. Slowly at first, then more gradually until I was full-on ugly crying. All of the mental anguish that had been building for the past 18 months had come to a head that day. I sat in my chair, my little girl in my lap, her taking care of me as if she had done it a hundred times before.

That’s when I realized something about fathers in general and, more specifically, those of us in public safety positions. It’s okay for your kids to think you’re an invincible superhero. But don’t go believing that crap yourself. Ask for help when you need it. Knock off all the bravado crap and take charge of your well-being. Because if it gets to the point that you’re slobbering and crying like a baby in the arms of your two-year-old, maybe you’re past due for some support.

I sought out peer support. I talked with those who have been through what I have. I learned techniques to handle some of the more difficult aspects of this job. That way, I can be the superhero they need me to be, when they need me to be.

One of my favorite quotes is about kids looking up to their parents. It simply states:

“They want to be just like you. Be worth being.”

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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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Mamas have a hard time carving out time for themselves. Our families almost always take priority, meaning things like skincare can easily fall by the wayside. Even though studies have shown the benefits of caring for ourselves also benefit our babies benefit our babies, it often feels just one more task to add to our to-do list.

Fortunately, it's possible to skip extensive routines and start small. If you have just five minutes (or more!) to spare for yourself this week, try these self-care products you can sneak during nap time or after you finally get the little ones down for the night.

If you only have 5 minutes: Remove your makeup

One of the most important ways to care for your skin at the end of the day is removing your makeup. Start with a cleansing towelette to easily wipe away even stubborn mascara and eyeliner so you can go to bed with a clean slate.

Neutrogena Makeup Remover Cleansing Towelettes, Amazon, 2-pk $8.97

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If you have 10 minutes (or more): Use a jade facial roller

After cleansing, use this jade roller to gently massage your face to boost collagen, flush out toxins and improve circulation in your skin.

Jade Facial Roller, Amazon, $11.99

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Motherly is your daily #momlife manual; we are here to help you easily find the best, most beautiful products for your life that actually work. We share what we love—and we may receive a commission if you choose to buy. You've got this.

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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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Chrissy Teigen has been very open about the ways pregnancy has changed her body. Mom to 2-year-old Luna and 4-month-old Miles, Teigen—a former swimsuit model—has famously embraced her postpartum body (stretchies and all), while noting that she's still, at times, insecure about it, but she's not ashamed.

That's why, when a man on Twitter commented on a photo of Teigen's red carpet look for the Emmy's to ask the whole wide world (and Teigen herself, he tagged her) if she was pregnant again, Teigen was quick to shut down the shamer.

"I'm asking this with the utmost respectful [sic], but is @chrissyteigen pregnant again?" The man wrote.

"I just had a baby but thank you for being soooo respectful," Teigen replied (from the Emmys).


Fellow moms were quick to jump to Teigen's defense. Many pointed out that Teigen actually looks incredible for any human, let alone one who is four months postpartum. Other mamas were quick to chime in with stories about their own lingering baby bumps.

For a lot of women, our bodies are different after having a baby. Sometimes that means we're a little rounder in the middle than we used to be. It happens to almost everyone, even red carpet-walking A-listers, like Teigen and actress Jennifer Garner, who once told Ellen Degeneres that she would have a bump forever.

"I am not pregnant, but I have had three kids and there is a bump," Garner explained in 2014, after paparazzi photographs fueled speculation that she and Ben Affleck were expecting a fourth child. "Forever and ever, not another baby. Just a bump like a camel. But just in reverse," Garner jokes.

Like Garner, Teigen dealt with the pregnancy question with a sense of humor, but she shouldn't have had to defend her body from the Emmys. As many, many Twitter users pointed out to the man who asked, it's never cool to ask a woman if she is pregnant.

It's not polite to ask, and it's no one's business whether a woman's bump is a pregnancy, some fabric, a burrito, a weird shadow or (as in Teigen's case) basically a figment of someone's imagination.

A lot of mamas online last night chimed in to say that while Teigen's stomach doesn't look like it did in her Sports Illustrated days, it still looks pretty freaking amazing.

Yes, after two kids, Chrissy Teigen doesn't look like a swimsuit model. But she shouldn't have to. She's not a swimsuit model anymore. She is a cookbook author with her own Target line and she hosts a hilarious TV show. She's also a mother. She is so much more than her midsection.

"Honestly, I don't ever have to be in a swimsuit again," she recently told Women's Health. "Since I was 20 years old, I had this weight in my mind that I am, or that I'm supposed to be. I've been so used to that number for 10 years now. And then I started realizing it was a swimsuit-model weight. There's a very big difference between wanting to be that kind of fit and wanting to be happy-fit."

Teigen is happy with her body, and we're happy she spent Emmy night educating the internet about respecting women.

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As parents, we often put a lot of pressure on ourselves to make sure our babies' brains are developing as quickly as possible. But the irony is, for many years the best way our little ones can learn and grow is through play. In fact, research has shown that reading stories, playing simple games, and engaging with toys is one of the best ways to boost baby's brain development for years to come.

It's those kind of findings that fuels the work at People Toy Company, a Japanese-based toy company that believes in encouraging the natural development of children through research-backed toys. Every toy in their line is developed to make playtime engaging for parents and children alike while helping little ones achieve developmental milestones through play.

Here are 10 of our favorite toys for engaging little minds and encouraging motor development from baby's first weeks and beyond.

TOYS TO STIMULATE LITTLE BRAINS BEFORE 6 MONTHS

1. Mochi Double Pendant Necklace (newborn on)

It's a fact of life that babies love to explore their world with their mouths. Save your jewelry by swapping in this teething necklace made from rice. Babies will love the easy-to-hold shape and textured design—you'll love the neutral color palette that goes with any outfit.

Mochi Double Pendant Necklace, Amazon, $15.99

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TOYS TO STIMULATE LITTLE BRAINS AFTER 6 MONTHS

1. Magic Reflection Ball (6 month)

Encourage independent play from six months on with this constantly changing reflection ball. Use the suction cup to attach it to different smooth surfaces to encourage pulling up and standing later on.

People Magic Reflection Ball, Amazon, $8.99

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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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