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Palms sweating. Fingers tightly wrapped around my tray containing the daily special: broccoli and cheese dippers, a carton of slightly souring milk, a fruit cup, and my English notebook. The knot in my stomach tightening as I enter the cafeteria. Will there be a spot at an empty table? Will I strike up a conversation and sit with someone today?


High school. Freshman year. Life sucked.

Pimples. Puberty. Hormones. As a teen girl, I was a mess. I wasn’t overly good at sports. I was tall, so I was picked for teams, but easily fell over my own two feet which made it hard to hang with the jocks. I was book smart and made good grades, but not enough to be cool among the geeks. I was afraid of authority, I didn’t take many risks, and doing anything illegal upset me more than I cared to admit, so I didn’t fit into the alternative crowd. I slowly compiled a small group of friends, whom I grew to love dearly, as they loved me for who I was, whoever that was.

As I aged my group of friends grew slightly, but I learned that I always seemed better at keeping mainly to myself. My introverted nature thrived and I found myself most at ease when working on building my family. My relationship with my now-husband strengthened as we grew together, and the stress of maintaining outside relationships dwindled my group of girlfriends significantly. I was a working woman with a large family life to juggle – some great friends I made regular visits with, and the acquaintances I often caught up with for drinks, began to fade. Some friends were having children, which I found hard to relate to. Others, waiting like me, became more involved in their careers. We all became busy, and our friendships slowly became  less intense. In my late 20s I admittedly became the most introverted in my life – and I was happy.

Then I had my first child. (Holy hell, how do people do this alone?! I give some serious props to you single parents out there.) Somehow, in the blur that had then become reality, I added a second babe, as if that was what I was supposed to do. Two kids in 17 months lead to a lot of staring in the mirror wondering what had become of me. Having my husband along for the ride kept me floating above water, but I was in desperate need of those friends I had let slip away.

The problem was, once you get your life to where you want it to be – totally comfortable in your reclusive reality of home life with your career on hold to raise your babes – there was just quiet. A deafening silence, only interrupted by the milk-driven screams of your new best friends.

Gone were the girls’ nights, the collective complaining as the wine poured. I needed someone with milk (hopefully) on their shirt, toys in their pockets, and bags under their eyes who would understand why I put my cold coffee in the microwave three times before ultimately forgetting where I put it. Where was the person in my life that could sing the Paw Patrol theme song and who knew Rubble and Rocky were not terrain terms? Why could no one else understand the bargaining power of some Goldfish crackers?

One thing became abundantly clear: my introverted lifestyle needed to be seriously made over, and my only chance at surviving these childhood years would come in the form of a cross-body-bag-wearing, sleep deprived, carrier of small humans: another mom.

Making new friends is not easy. It’s flashbacks of high school. It’s bringing your lunch to the table and hoping someone is willing to chat with you. A positive note is that most moms will chat to any adult that comes within earshot. However, commonalities often end after the small talk. You usually discuss kids, feeding styles, and sleep patterns … maybe toss in a question about the hubster or two, and then it’s the silence that sneaks back in. You struggle to remember the part of you that isn’t a mom or a wife, and you forget that there is more to you to discuss.

The attempts are difficult at first. Connecting with a woman like you is nearly impossible, especially since you aren’t sure who you is anymore. Does she wear yoga pants in public? Does she raise her voice too often, and feed her guilty feelings with candy bars? Will there be a woman at story-time today who also stepped on a Lego while getting her toddler wrangled and lost her mind waiting for him to dress himself for the fifth time … or will you see a gal with makeup on and her hair done and long to know how she does it? Could she be the one to help you find the you hiding inside?

The park days become auditions where you try to size up the other ladies to see who just might be a good fit. At play dates you overdress and pretend to have your shit together to see if she might be the one. As if struggling with your tiny humans wasn’t enough, now you need to slut yourself out to find the gal who’s going to make it somehow all seem okay.

You keep looking though. She’s out there. Just like that one true friend you had in high school. Just like a unicorn riding on a rainbow. That elusive four-leaf clover. If you kiss enough frogs you will be rewarded. And when it happens, it’s like fireworks on the Fourth of July. Time stops and a theme song begins to play in the background of your life. That’s when the wooing begins.

Ultimately, with a little pushing and a little convincing yourself that it’s worth it – that you are worth it – you will find that lady who will welcome you in and your whole life will be different. You won’t worry so much about the makeup you didn’t put on, or the beds that aren’t made, or the snot you can’t seem to keep off the sleeve of their shirts. No longer will you sit and cry in the bathroom quietly (well, maybe you still will when someone eats your last hidden cookie), but you’ll have a gal to call, and she’ll drown your mommy woes in a box of wine.

You’ll have a gaggle that will be knee-deep in crap with you, and if they aren’t suffering as you are at that moment in time, they have been or will be, and they know it. She will be an ear to listen, and a heart to heal. If for nothing else a true mom friend will tell you when to take the sweats off and paint the town red with your hubster – she’ll even throw in babysitting so you can.

It’s simple to get lost in the person you were and the dreams you had. To watch the worlds of others and wish you could just get yourself together. You can easily feel hostage to the tiny manipulators that slowly suck away parts of you. As a mom, I was forgetting that I was a wife, a sister, a friend. As a mom, I was at a loss to be anything else. And, that’s why a mom friend is critical. She is the woman who reminds you that there is someone inside that frazzled exterior who is so much more than what she sees.

If I am honest, I still prefer my nights quietly sitting on the couch, binge-watching TV or nose deep in a good fiction. Putting pants that button on to go out, even for a glass of wine with my friends, sometimes feels like too much. Ignoring invites and staying in our jammies is optimal. But then I remember how much better I feel as soon as I see her.

In High School, when I stood with my tray in hand scanning the cafeteria, there was always a feeling of comfort that would settle in when I spied my group of closest friends. The ones I didn’t need to pretend to feel a part of. The ones who loved me and encouraged me to be me – and when I wasn’t, they would remind me of who that was.

Although the road back to this same feeling can be long and bumpy, there is no greater comfort than that found in a mom friend. Making friends in any facet of life is a trialing experience. Putting yourself out there is  terrifying. But for the sake of my sanity and for the pure enjoyment of learning that the woman in the mirror is more than what she has become, it is essential.

You can do it.

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Summer heat has a way of making the house feel smaller, more congested, with less room for the air to circulate. And there's nothing like the heat to make me want to strip down, cool off and lighten my load. So, motivation in three digits, now that school is back in, it's time to do a purge.

Forget the spring clean—who has time for that? Those last few months of the school year are busier than the first. And summer's warm weather entices our family outdoors on the weekends, which doesn't leave much time for re-organizing.

So, I seize the opportunity when my kids are back in school to enter my zone.

I love throwing open every closet and cupboard door, pulling out anything and everything that doesn't fit our bodies or our lives. Each joyless item purged peels off another oppressive layer of "not me" or "not us."

Stuff can obscure what really makes us feel light, capable and competent.

Stuff can stem the flow of what makes our lives work.

With my kids back in school, I am energized, motivated by the thought that I have the space to be in my head with no interruptions. No refereeing. No snacks. No naps… I am tossing. I am folding. I am stacking. I am organizing. I don't worry about having to stop. The neat-freak in me is having a field day.

Passing bedroom doors, ajar and flashing their naughty bits of chaos at me, it's more than I can handle in terms of temptation. I have to be careful, though, because I can get on a roll. Taking to my kids' rooms I tread carefully, always aware that what I think is junk can actually be their treasure.

But I usually have a good sense for what has been abandoned or invisible in plain sight for the lack of movement or the accumulation of dust. Anything that fits the description gets relegated to a box in the garage where it is on standby—in case its absence is noticed and a meltdown has ensued. Crisis averted. Either way, it's a victory.

Oh, it's quiet. So, so quiet. And I can think it all through…

Do we really need all this stuff?

Will my son really notice if I toss all this stuff?

Will my daughter be heartbroken if I donate all this stuff?

Will I really miss this dress I wore three years ago that barely fit my waist then and had me holding in my tummy all night, and that I for sure cannot zip today?

Can we live without it all? All. This. Stuff?

The fall purge always gets me wondering, where in the world does all this stuff come from? So with the beginning of the school year upon us, I vow to create a new mindset to evaluate everything that enters my home from now on, so that there will be so much less stuff.

I vow to really think about objects before they enter my home…

…to evaluate what is really useful,

...to consider when it would be useful,

...to imagine where it would be useful,

...to remember why it may be useful,

…to decide how to use it in more than one way,

... so that all this stuff won't get in the way of what really matters—time and attention for my kids and our lives as a new year reveals more layers of the real stuff—what my kids are made of.

Bring it on.

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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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For many years, Serena Williams seemed as perfect as a person could be. But now, Serena is a mom. She's imperfect and she's being honest about that and we're so grateful.

On the cover of TIME, Williams owns her imperfection, and in doing so, she gives mothers around the world permission to be as real as she is being.

"Nothing about me right now is perfect," she told TIME. "But I'm perfectly Serena."

The interview sheds light on Williams' recovery from her traumatic birth experience, and how her mental health has been impacted by the challenges she's faced in going from a medical emergency to new motherhood and back to the tennis court all within one year.

"Some days, I cry. I'm really sad. I've had meltdowns. It's been a really tough 11 months," she said.

It would have been easy for Williams to keep her struggles to herself over the last year. She didn't have to tell the world about her life-threatening birth experience, her decision to stop breastfeeding, her maternal mental health, how she missed her daughter's first steps, or any of it. But she did share these experiences, and in doing so she started incredibly powerful conversations on a national stage.

After Serena lost at Wimbledon this summer, she told the mothers watching around the world that she was playing for them. "And I tried," she said through tears. "I look forward to continuing to be back out here and doing what I do best."

In the TIME cover story, what happened before that match, where Williams lost to Angelique Kerber was revealed. TIME reports that Williams checked her phone about 10 minutes before the match, and learned, via Instagram, that the man convicted of fatally shooting her sister Yetunde Price, in 2003 is out on parole.

"I couldn't shake it out of my mind," Serena says. "It was hard because all I think about is her kids," she says. She was playing for all the mothers out there, but she had a specific mother on her mind during that historic match.

Williams' performance at Wimbledon wasn't perfect, and neither is she, as she clearly states on the cover of time. But motherhood isn't perfect either. It's okay to admit that. Thanks, Serena, for showing us how.

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There are some mornings where I wake up and I'm ready for the day. My alarm goes off and I pop out of bed and hum along as I make breakfast before my son wakes up. But then there are days where I just want 10 more minutes to sleep in. Or breakfast feels impossible to make because all our time has run out. Or I just feel overwhelmed and unprepared.

Those are the mornings I stare at the fridge and think, Can someone else just make breakfast, please?

Enter: make-ahead breakfasts. We spoke to the geniuses at Pinterest and they shared their top 10 pins all around this beautiful, planned-ahead treat. Here they are.

(You're welcome, future self.)

1. Make-ahead breakfast enchiladas

www.pinterest.com

Created by Bellyful

I'd make these for dinner, too.

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