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Everyone in our locality called her Maa (the Hindi word for mother). Of her twelve grandchildren, my 85-year-old grandmother loved me the most, much to the envy of my cousins. Being her favorite grandchild, only I was permitted entry to her private domain. This space primarily included a small store room within her bedroom at our ancestral home in Saharanpur, a sleepy town of Uttar Pradesh state in India. She spent hours in her tiny and dim storeroom, shifting stuff from one rusted box to another or arranging items in small potlis and then adjusting them in her trunk. When her hands weren’t touching and re-touching all of her little things, she sat for hours at sandhya bela (early evening) and meditated.

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I loved being around Maa. Her wrinkled face narrated millions of stories, hardships and happiness in equal measure. She’d lost her mother at a tender age, got married at 16, and, after her husband died of a long illness, was married off to his younger brother. She gave birth to nine children, out of which six survived, and her eldest son died at the age of thirty. So, in a way, Maa was familiar with deaths of loved ones.

Beyond these sad stories, Maa had several interesting tales too, like when she once swallowed a fly and could feel it fluttering in her stomach, so she decided to vomit it up and, as she did, the fly emerged out of her mouth and flew away! Maa had never flown in an airplane so I booked her a ticket from Delhi to Amritsar. She was very excited about it and, when I asked her about her first flying experience, she said, “It felt like I was flying like a bird!”

Her presence made me feel secure, and through her I became quite attached to our time-honored rituals and family customs. Because she was the oldest of our family, she had a dictatorial say in most matters and imposed her rules on practically everyone.

Many of these rules – no slippers in the kitchen, no pooping after bath, and, if you do, you’ll have to bathe again, no eggs (let alone liquor), bath first breakfast later – were a pain for us. Still, we obeyed. No one could say no to Maa.

At the age of 85, she woke every morning at four a.m. and bathed in fresh water. She finished her chores alone and chose to wash her light cotton sarees by hand rather than machine. There were many times when the sound of her chanting shlokas at five a.m. interfered with our sleep, but she was sure of what she was doing.

“It’s important to keep moving, I do not want to die ill,” she would say as she bent to pick fresh flowers for temple each morning.

I was her favorite, which meant she easily forgave my occasional minor transgressions. After I ate chicken for the first time, I worried what Maa might say. The worry soon became too much, and I confessed. While she showed contempt at my deteriorating eating habits, she still let me  sleep beside her in her woven cot. Well, first she made me bathe, do a puja, and promise not to eat chicken again (a promise I’ve since broken), but then she let me rest beside her.

On every trip I made outside India, I made sure to bring her a souvenir. The best of all was a fabric bag I had bought for her from Dubai that she loved because it was full of pockets. Everyone loves pockets, and Maa was no exception. She kept separate spots for her medicine, money, padis (wooden slippers that she wore and that were too sacred to be taken to the bathroom or outside the house), photos of her guruji, and her lucky charm silver bracelet.

The day before my departure to work in far off South India, she prepared her staple aam-chutney – a healthy Indian version of mango jam – just for me. I marked time with her aam-chutney. One jar lasted me months. When the jam ran dry, I knew it was time for me to visit home and get another jar from her seasoned hands.

After marriage, I moved to the remote islands of Andamans (aka Kala Pani) and Maa worried about me incessantly. When Britishers invaded India in the early twentieth century, they built the Cellular Jail in Andamans for prisoners. The jail’s architecture was unique in that it had seven wings stretched out from a central point, and it was also surrounded by the dark blue Arabian sea on three sides. The deep sea waters are the namesake of Kala Pani, which means “black water” in Hindi. Maa thought my bureaucrat husband was being punished for something and that’s why we were posted there.

I only saw her once after my wedding. She looked weak and fragile and constantly talked about her death. She had strong premonitions that she was going to die soon. On the day I left, she hugged me as tightly as her little arms would allow and wept. Her last words to me were, “I don’t know if I will see you again.”

I knew. She knew. We both knew that that was the last thing I’d hear her say.

On an October afternoon uncharacteristically bleak for the Andamans, I got the call from Dad that Maa was critically ill. Before I could book my tickets, she was gone.

For days I was emotionally shattered. Devastated. I couldn’t even hold my one-year-old daughter, and I didn’t speak a word to my husband. I blamed him for bringing me to Andamans. I should have been there with Maa on her last day.

Grief overwhelmed me. I took what little energy I had and spent it on trying to make Maa proud. I stopped eating meat and tried to follow her daily routine. But she was strong, perhaps stronger than me. Her routine was harder than it looked and I could only maintain it for a few days.

For many years I didn’t dare to visit our ancestral home in Saharanpur because I knew I couldn’t bear the thought of not finding Maa in that huge, palatial space. She was as much a part of that home as the walls and roof. For five years I avoided Saharanpur, deliberately skipping several family functions and gatherings. I couldn’t imagine entering her bedroom and store room without her.

My cousin’s wedding was in a month’s time and I was planning to skip that too. As far as I was concerned, Saharanpur ceased to exist after Maa’s death. My grandfather rang and expressed his desire to see me there. My aunt suggested that visiting once would make me feel lighter. Mom reminded me of our family customs, but I wasn’t to be swayed.

A week before the wedding, Maa appeared in my dreams,  sitting on her small woven cot in the same room in the same, familiar way. Shocked to see her alive, I asked her what was she doing here. She replied, “I have come here to attend the wedding. It is the last wedding of our home to take place in my house,” and she disappeared with a smile.

It was a sign. I agreed to visit Saharanpur.

The moment I reached there, all the memories of her were conjured up in my head. I went to her room that still smelled the same. The walls rustled with her voice. The store room was still and silent as if Maa was meditating there.

I knelt down and cried. In the last five years, it was the first time I visited her bed and reminisced of the times we had spent together. As I shed tears in her room, I felt lighter. I felt her around me.

Inside her store room, something caught my eye. It was the same fabric bag that I had bought her in Dubai. I brought the bag home with me as her souvenir to me.

Yesterday, while cleaning the house, I pulled out the bag and rummaged through its pockets. I found Maa’s lucky charm silver bracelet. To some, it may just look like an old, nothing-special, plain bracelet, but to me, it was my moksha. My Maa.

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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.)

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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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