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Flaming Gobs of Goo: What My Son’s Campout Taught Me About Fear and Freedom

My family believes in old-fashioned summers. We limit TV and electronics, but we indulge in junk food, late-night swims, sleeping in, and long, lazy days around the pool. We don’t usually take advantage of nearby amusement parks or water parks, but we do take advantage of nearby lakes and rivers. Our summers are a fun combination of wild and relaxed.


When my brother and his sons come from Washington, D.C. to visit us on our Arkansas farm, my desire to relax is sometimes at odds with our boys’ desire to be wild. With four boys, ages 10-13, between us and 100 acres of pasture, woods, and riverfront to roam, there’s never a shortage of things for the boys to do.

This year they wanted to go camping on the river – alone.

Talk about your old fashioned summer! Four cousins fishing, catching crawdads, roasting marshmallows! What an experience! What a treat! What an adventure!

What a terrifying idea!

On the one hand, the river is less than a quarter mile from our house, and the water isn’t deep this time of year. It’s not like we would be sending the boys into the untamed Outback.

On the other hand, I’ve read “Lord of the Flies.”

Yet, I wasn’t nearly as worried about some sort of dystopian feud as I was about things like wild animals and snakes. Our farm is only a couple of miles from town, but it’s still the prowling ground for coyotes, bobcats, and various poisonous snakes like cottonmouths – which come out at night to feed in and along the river.

Still, I took some comfort in the knowledge that an open campfire would likely deter most wild animals.

Of course, the problem with an open campfire is that it is, in fact, a fire – in the open. I envisioned a session of good-natured roughhousing landing one or more boys smack in the middle of the open flames. I pictured a stray spark landing on a sleeping bag and setting the tent on fire.

Naturally, when you have a campfire you have s’mores. Sharps sticks! Flaming gobs of goo! I toyed with the idea of insisting on nothing but flashlights and cold ham and cheese sandwiches, but then I remembered the coyotes.

Besides, everyone knows that half the fun of camping is camp food: S’mores, roasting hot dogs, waking up early to cook bacon and eggs over the fire.

Okay. So now we’ve got wild animals, open fire, flaming gobs of goo…and salmonella and listeria. Seriously, what are the odds that four unsupervised boys will cook everything thoroughly and wash their hands after handling raw meat and eggs? And where will they wash their hands? In the river? Where the snakes are? Snakes and other bacteria capable of making them sick!

My fears were mounting. And speaking of fear, what if one of the boys got scared? What if they all got scared? I imagined each of them spending a miserable night huddled in terror in his sleeping bag just praying for daylight because he was too embarrassed to admit his fear to the other boys.

What if one of the boys is too afraid to get up and go pee in the night? Or what if he’s not afraid and goes out in the dark alone and wanders too far from the protective, yet dangerous, campfire and encounters a hungry coyote? Or a bear? We could have bears. We’ve never seen a bear here, but that doesn’t mean they don’t exist. I’ve never seen salmonella, but that’s definitely a thing.

Let’s see, that’s wild animals, snakes, fire, flaming gobs of goo, foodborne illness, deadly bacteria, night terrors and bears…

My fear was running wild now, and my determination to provide my son and his cousins with an old fashioned, free-range summer was dissolving.

But I have another fear. I have a fear of raising children who grow up to be fearful adults. I fight my tendency toward fear and worry every single day. Sometimes it’s a battle I lose. Before they leave the house, I pepper my kids with dire warnings about seatbelts and strangers and driving too fast. I’m relentless in my warnings about germs and sunburns. I remind. I caution. I put the fear in them.

Other days I’m better. I let my teenagers leave the house with nothing more than a quick kiss on the cheek and a “Have fun!” I don’t always remind them to wash their hands. And I don’t freak out when I catch them eating raw cookie dough.

Sometimes my struggle against fear is three steps forward and two steps back. This summer, when my son and my nephews asked to go camping alone, my brother and I took a step forward.

The boys were incredible. They made a list. The packed their cooler. They gathered their gear – forgetting toothbrushes but remembering Band-Aids. They organized and reorganized. They checked and double-checked. They were responsible and efficient.

So, with hot dogs, a box of fireworks, and a BB gun, the boys, followed by our dogs, set off for the river.

I was calm (on the outside) and encouraging. Bravely, I waved goodbye, half hoping that the heat or the mosquitos would drive them back home before dark.

In the end, it was the snakes that did it. Three hours into the campout we got a frantic call from my son. (We’re not so old-fashioned as to insist he leave his phone at home!) Between his sobs, we learned that our beloved dog Rufus had been bitten by a cottonmouth and was lying motionless in the weeds along the riverbank. We were there in a flash. My husband rushed Rufus to the vet while my brother and I tried to calm and comfort the boys.

It was touch and go for a bit, but Rufus pulled through. And I was assured that I’m not crazy after all. Of course, I’m not happy about the encounter with a poisonous snake, but there is something gratifying about the knowledge that not all of my fears are neurotic. Some things really are scary.

I guess in that way camping is a lot like parenting. There are dangers but if we pitch our tents, light our fires, and stick together, there’s a good chance we will have the time of our lives.

Despite my wild imagination, maybe I’ve even managed to communicate this idea of fun over fear to my kids. My son and my nephews are already planning their next adventure. And me? I’ll just be praying, putting on a brave face, and making sure there are plenty of marshmallows on hand for flaming gobs of goo.

Who said motherhood doesn't come with a manual?

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Rachel McAdams didn't talk publicly about her pregnancy or her birth story. There are some things this working mama wants to keep to herself, but the fact that she needs to pump at work isn't one of them.

McAdams was recently doing a photo shoot with photographer Claire Rothstein of Girls Girls Girls magazine when she needed to take a pump break. Wearing Versace and a neck full of diamonds McAdmans did what mamas all over the world do every day, and Rothstein snapped a pic that is now going viral.

In an Instagram post, Rothstein explains that she and McAdams had a "mutual appreciation disagreement about who's idea it was to take this picture," but the photographer says she remembers it being McAdams' idea, "which makes me love her even more."

In her caption of the amazing photograph, Rothstein writes: "Breastfeeding is the most normal thing in the world and I can't for the life of me imagine why or how it is ever frowned upon or scared of."

The photographer added that she wanted to put the image out there to change perceptions about breastfeeding, pumping, and working motherhood.

McAdams decision to normalize pumping through this glamorous image is especially cool when you consider that she's not really a social media person, and spends a lot of days in much less glam attire.

She recently arrived for her first interview since welcoming her son in the spring wearing a grey shirt, baggy pants and sneakers, reportedly telling the interviewer (Helena de Bertodano for The Sunday Times U.K.), "I don't even know what I'm wearing today. The shoes are held together with glue. Isn't that sad? I need to get a life."

"I have clothes on and that's a good thing," McAdams told Bertodano during that chat. Her attire for that newspaper interview was a world away from the clothes she wore for the Girls Girls Girls shoot.

During her Sunday Times interview McAdams declined to discuss her son's name or birthdate.

"I want to keep his life private, even if mine isn't," she explained. "But I'm having more fun being a mum than I've ever had. Everything about it is interesting and exciting and inspiring to me. Even the tough days — there's something delightful about them."

Most of us will never look the way McAdams does in this photo while we're pumping, but we can totally understand that sometimes, motherhood means you're wearing sweats and sometimes it means you're pumping in your work clothes (even if for most of us, that doesn't mean Versace).

McAdams may be keeping some parts of her motherhood experience private, but by showing the world this part of her day, she's normalizing something that desperately needs normalizing.

Some mamas pump, and the world needs to know (and accommodate) that.

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To my children,

It's the New Year, and I have been doing a lot of thinking. I want to say, with all of my heart and all of my soul, that I am sorry. I want apologize for anything (and everything) I have said or done that made you feel less-than or sad or small.

I regret, so deeply, the hurt I delivered through harsh words or sideways glances, for steely eyes you didn't deserve and sarcastic replies you didn't understand. I'm sorry for being upset when I should have been more understanding, for resorting to frustration when I should have found more patience, for pulling away when I should have drawn near.

There were the times when you needed more from me, when you asked for more, and I simply couldn't provide. There were the moments when you wanted less of me, needed less from me, and I couldn't—or perhaps I just wouldn't—back away.

I start every day with a hope, a hope that I will be better than the day before.

Sometimes I succeed, but many times, I fail. Every so often, I fail in spectacular fashion. I think about all the times when I wasn't gentle enough or kind enough or attentive enough to you, about all the moments when I was too quick to anger and not quick enough to forgive.

You don't need me to tell you that I'm not perfect. Lord knows, you know far too well.

But I will say it to you, because I think it helps to hear me say it: I am not perfect. I make mistakes. I am human. I have flaws and cracks and blemishes; they are a part of me, just as they are a part of you.

Sometimes, my dear ones, my mistakes are small—like forgetting to pack your lunch or mixing up the dates for Tot Shabbat, or picking you up an hour late from a play date or accidentally switching your piano primer with your brother's, or sending a snack I know you dislike because I didn't have time to go grocery shopping and have no other food in the refrigerator. But sometimes, they aren't so minor.

Sometimes, my mistakes have to do with the way I've behaved, and the words I have said, and the way I have said them. For those times, and for all the times I failed to support you the way I should, or help you in the way you deserve, and love you in the best way I can, I am sorry.

I wish I didn't make so many mistakes. I'm a perfectionist at heart, but when it comes to parenting, there's still so much I haven't mastered. Even after almost a decade of doing this day in and day out, I still feel like a novice in so many regards and as green as I did on day one.

Precious ones, I've come to realize, no matter how hard I try, that I just can't get it right all of the time. I hope you can forgive my failings.

The older I get, the more I realize that life is a jumble of hits and misses. As many times as we try and succeed, we also try and fail. As much as we hope to do right, we often end up doing wrong. It is the story of the human condition—this mix of losses and gains, triumphs and defeats. It's all very messy (think sloppy joes and pancakes dripping with syrup kind of messy), and yet, it's all we know.

My darling ones, I want nothing more than to do right by you and be the best mother I can be for you. I want to love you unconditionally, support you unreservedly, and be present unambiguously.

In the New Year, I resolve to do better for you, to be better with you, and to act as if God is watching. You mean the world to me. You are everything to me. I love you, always and forever.

All my love,

Mommy


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People often say that having a second child doesn't much add to the workload of parenting. There's no steep learning curve: You already know how to make a bottle, install a car seat and when to call the pediatrician. And you're already doing laundry, making lunches and supervising bath time—so throwing a second kid in the tub isn't a big deal.

Except that it is. Having a second child doesn't just mean attaching a second seat to your stroller. Adding a whole new person to your family is more complicated than that, and it's okay to say that it is hard.

A new study out of Australia disputes the popular idea that after making the transition from people to parents, making the jump from one child to two is easy. The researchers found that having a second child puts a lot of pressure on parents' time and their mental health, and mothers bear the brunt of the burden.

When looking at heterosexual couples, the researchers found that before a first child is born both partners feel equal amounts of "time pressure," but once the child is born, that pressure grows, more so for mothers than fathers.

Basically, parents feel psychological stress when they feel they don't have enough time to do all they need to. One baby makes both parents feel more stress, but mom's increase is more than dad's. When a second baby comes, that time pressure doubles for both parents, and since mom already had more than dad, there's now a gulf between them.

The researchers behind this study—Leah Ruppanner, Francisco Perales and Janeen Baxter—say that after a first child is born, a mother's mental health improves, but after a second child, it declines.

Writing for The Conversation, the trio explains:

"Second children intensify mothers' feelings of time pressure. We showed that if mothers did not have such intense time pressures following second children, their mental health would actually improve with motherhood. Fathers get a mental health boost with their first child, but also see their mental health decline with the second child. But, unlike mothers, fathers' mental health plateaus over time. Clearly, fathers aren't facing the same chronic time pressure as mothers over the long-term."

The researchers say that even when mothers reduce their work time, the time pressure is still there and that "mothers cannot shoulder the time demands of children alone."

Adding a second child to the family isn't just a matter of throwing a few more socks in the laundry: It means a schedule that is already stretched is now filling up with twice as many appointments, twice as many school functions. Mothers only have 24 hours in the day, and as much as we wish we could add a couple extra hours per child, we can't.

Time simply can't change to help us, but society can. As the researchers noted, when time pressure is removed, motherhood actually improves mental health.

We love our lives, we love our kids, we love parenting, but there is only so much of our day to go around.

Ruppanner, Perales and Baxter suggest that if society were to help mothers out more, our mental health (and therefore our children's wellbeing as well) would improve even after two or three kids. "Collectivising childcare – for example, through school buses, lunch programs and flexible work policies that allow fathers' involvement – may help improve maternal mental health," the researchers explain, adding that "it is in the national interest to reduce stressors so that mothers, children and families can thrive."

Whether you're talking about Australia or America, that last bit is so true, but this research proves that the myth about second-time parenthood isn't. Even if you already have the skills and the hand-me-downs, having a second child isn't as easy as it is sometimes made out to be.

We can love our children and our lives and still admit when things aren't easy.

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We know life gets a little (okay, a lot) busy around this time of year so if you haven't crossed off everyone on your Christmas list just yet, here's your reminder that you've still got time. Fortunately, that Amazon Prime membership of yours comes in handy... especially for the holidays.

Here are some of the best last-minute gifts to get on Amazon. Also, that extra couple of dollars for gift wrapping is *so* worth it if it's available. 😉

1. Tape Activity Book

So your little can create just about anywhere—on the go, in the car or hanging out at home.

Melissa & Doug Tape Activity Book, $6.47

BUY

2. Instant Pot

Mama, meet your new best friend. 4.5 stars with nearly 30K reviews.

Instant Pot 8-qt, $89.95

BUY

3. Silicone Teething Mitt

Offer relief to your teething one with a mitt that stays in place.

Itzy Ritzy Silicone Teething Mitt, $8.99

BUY

4. Roomba

Give the gift of never having to manually vacuum again.

iRobot Roomba 690, $279.00

BUY

5. Magnetic Tiles

These are always a favorite for kids of all ages. Build endless possibilities and work on fine motor skills—win-win!

Magnetic Tiles Building Blocks Set, $31.99

BUY

6. DryBar Triple Sec

Perfect addition to mama's stocking, or paired with a salon or blowout gift card. Adds *so* much texture and volume.

DryBar Triple Sec 3-in-1, $35.99

BUY

7. Plush Animated Bunny

Plays peek-a-boo and sings for baby.

Animated Plush Stuffed Animal, $32.97

BUY

8. 23andMe

Learn everything you want to know about your family history, where you came from, and even information about your genetics.

23andMe DNA Test, $67.99

BUY

9. Boon Bath Pipes

Make bath time more fun. They suction to the wall and can be played with individually or altogether in a chain.

Boon Building Bath Pipes, $14.99

BUY

10. HP Sprocket Portable Photo Printer

For printing all of those adorable Instagram moments—and for getting *all* of the photos off your phone.

HP Sprocket Portable Photo Printer, $99.95

BUY

11. Board Blocks

Kids can sort, learn colors and shapes, and work on their hand-eye coordination.

Wooden Educational Geometric Board Block, $6.39

BUY

12. Ring Doorbell + Echo Dot

A great bundle for the techie in your life.

Ring Doorbell 2 and Echo Dot, $169.00

BUY

13. Pai Technology Circuit Conductor

For the little who wants to learn to code, this offers endless learning fun.

Pai Technology Circuit Conductor Learning Kit, $69.99

BUY

14. Kindle Paperwhite, Audible + Headphones Bundle

Bookworms will love this bundle. Enjoy a new Kindle Paperwhite, wireless bluetooth stereo headphones, and 3 month free trial for Audible for new users.

Kindle Paperwhite Bundle, $139.00

BUY

15. Wooden Grocery Store

We love this imaginative play grocery store, complete with a beeping scanner and hand-cranked conveyor belt.

Melissa & Doug Freestanding Wooden Fresh Mart Grocery Store, $179.99

BUY

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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