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Picture a lush lawn, lined with perfectly pruned topiaries, bookended by fountains, and a grand white mansion beaming from behind a chauffeur’s drive. You can just imagine yourself reclining on the parlor’s divan, the wind rippling your billowing white frock as you sip a gin rickey.


Now consider you’re there with your three-year-old. Think you wouldn’t dare take a sticky-fingered preschooler anywhere near a gilded estate? Think again.

From Winterthur in Delaware to Hearst Castle in California, the American countryside is dotted with lavish country houses and gardens, once homes and playgrounds for the wealthiest of the wealthy. And many of these châteaux welcome families with programming specifically for children, even as young as toddlers.

So skip your everyday playground and soak up some history at one of these. Whether you’re looking for a spring getaway or planning a summer trip, you, too, can enjoy the sporting life (or at least pretend to) at the bowling alley or swimming pool of a regal abode and be borne back into a time of leisure.

Biltmore Estate (Asheville, North Carolina)

George Washington Vanderbilt, a grandson of industrialist and philanthropist Cornelius “The Commodore” Vanderbilt, opened this breathtaking 8,000-acre estate in the Blue Ridge Mountains to friends and family in 1895. With a colossal, 250-room French Renaissance-style château, it welcomes over one million tourists each year.

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It now includes Antler Hill Village, complete with the Pisgah Playground and Farm, where kids can pet farmyard animals, explore and climb antique tractors, and take part in daily crafts, like churning butter or weaving baskets. At the Antler Hill Village Winery, kids can even try a grape juice flight.

Stay directly on the property at the family-friendly Village Hotel in Antler Hill Village and let the Outdoor Adventure Center outfit your family with bikes or set up fly fishing lessons and carriage rides. At the Biltmore House, kids can listen to an audio tour (geared towards ages five and up) narrated by the Vanderbilts’ Saint Bernard Cedric.

Says Allison, Indiana resident and mom of an 11-year-old, “Our daughter loved it and was able to learn different things than we did.”

We love seeing families enjoy #ChristmasAtBiltmore in all her winter glory. ⠀ ⠀

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The Breakers (Newport, Rhode Island)

Another grandson of Cornelius “The Commodore” Vanderbilt, Cornelius Vanderbilt II, whose family’s fortune came from steamships and the New York Central Railroad, built this ornate 70-room Italian Renaissance-style palazzo as his summer home.

The Preservation Society offers a Family Tour specifically targeted to children ages eight to 12. The house itself acts as the narrator, bragging all about its special features (look for dolphins under the staircase and dragons in the great hall).

Ca d’Zan (Sarasota, Florida)

Like an Italian palazzo on a Venetian canal, the 36,000 square-foot stucco and terra cotta Ca d’Zan, once home to John and Mabel Ringling, the circus king and his wife, overlooks Sarasota Bay.

Completed in 1926, Ca d’Zan fell into disrepair after John Ringling’s death in 1936, so much so that it was used as the location for Miss Havisham’s decrepit mansion in the 1996 film Great Expectations. But it underwent a $15 million renovation, completed in 2002.

The estate grounds are also home to the Museum of Art and the Ringling Museum of the American Circus (note that admission to Ca d’Zan is separate). Check out Thursday night Art-Making in the Visitor’s Pavilion, ROAR! (Ringling Order of Art Readers) storytimes for toddlers and preschoolers in the Education Center, and Stroller Tours, one-hour interactive tours for infants and caregivers, at the Museum of Art.

Stop by the David F. Bolger Playspace, a playground complete with hand-powered fountains. At the Circus Museum, kids can practice walking a wire and learn clown makeup artistry or play “I Spy” at the world’s largest circus model.

Hearst Castle (San Simeon, California)

There’s no denying the grandeur of this hilltop estate, a four-hour drive south from San Francisco. With 165 rooms and 123 acres of gardens, this “Enchanted Hill” retreat was the vision of William Randolph Hearst, the name behind Hearst Magazines and a media tycoon who, at one time, owned more than two dozen newspapers nationwide.

Older kids may enjoy playing “I Spy” with a junior ranger activity book, available at any ticket window or from the Visitor Services Office. Keep in mind that strollers are not permitted at Hearst Castle due to the number of stairs and terraces, but child-carrier backpacks and front-packs are allowed. The Visitor Services Office even has these available on loan for no additional charge on a first-come, first-serve basis.

 

Lilly House (Indianapolis, Indiana)

This 22-room Indianapolis mansion, part of Newfields, a Place for Nature and the Arts, was once home to J. K. Lilly Jr., a businessman, collector, and philanthropist whose grandfather, Colonel Eli Lilly, founded the pharmaceutical firm Eli Lilly and Company in 1876 in the city.

Wander the Ravine and Formal Gardens on this 26-acre estate, then check out the “sensitive” Mimosa plant, whose leaves curl when touched, at the Greenhouse. During the summer, grab a glass of Riesling and a soft pretzel at the Beer Garden before heading over the Waller Bridge to the Virginia Fairbanks Art & Nature Park, which encompasses 100 acres adjacent to the Lilly House.

Pittock Mansion (Portland, Oregon)

On 46 acres, this French Renaissance-style château was the home of the late Henry Pittock, owner of The Oregonian newspaper, and his wife, Georgiana. Along with eight family members, they moved into their mansion in 1914. The last family members moved out of the estate in 1958, and the mansion fell into disrepair until Portlanders launched a grassroots campaign to save it.

The City of Portland purchased it in 1964, repaired it, and opened it to the public in 1965. Children under six are admitted free, and they can check out hands-on features of the permanent exhibit, like vintage stereoscopes, a popular home entertainment in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

In March, the Pittock Mansion hosts “Day Camp for Kids: Life in 1914,” where children ages eight to 12 can experience what life was like 100 years ago through hands-on activities.

Reynolda House (Winston-Salem, North Carolina)

Who wouldn’t want to splash in a mansion’s historic indoor swimming pool? That’s exactly what kids attending Summer Adventure camps at the Reynolda House can do.

This former home of Richard Joshua Reynolds, founder of the R. J. Reynolds Tobacco Company, is now a 33,619-square-foot American art museum with a collection including works by Georgia O’Keefe and Grant Wood. Each summer, it welcomes around 200 students to attend art and creative writing day camps.

When Reynolds moved his family into the mansion in 1917, the estate, which totals more than 1,000 acres, also included a nearby village for farm supervisors, workers, and their families. Known today as Reynolda Village, it is full of restaurants and shops – a short walk from the Reynolda House and a perfect place to grab lunch during your visit.

In addition to hosting summer camps, the Reynolda House presents Reynolda Read-Aloud storytimes on select dates and, for preschoolers and their caregivers, Mornings at the Museum, which encourages kids to explore Reynolda through hands-on activities.

Shelburne Farms (Shelburne, Vermont)

What was once the 19th-century country home of Dr. William Seward and Lila Vanderbilt Webb is now a three-season inn and restaurant on the 1,400-acre Shelburne Farms – a working farm, forest, and National Historic Landmark.

Swim in nearby Lake Champlain and, from mid-May through mid-October, visit the Farmyard, where kids can milk a cow, watch the Chicken Parade, collect eggs, and check out the Miniature Sicilian Donkeys.

Each fall, Shelburne Farms hosts an annual Harvest Festival with children’s activities, music, and horse-drawn hayrides, and the McClure Education Center also presents craft workshops for kids. Shelburne Farms boasts more than 10 miles of walking trails, which are open year-round, weather permitting.

Stan Hywet (Akron, Ohio)

From April through December, this former estate of F. A. Seiberling, co-founder of The Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company, welcomes the public to tour its 65-room 1915 Tudor Revival Manor House and 70-acre landscape.

“We’re a very family friendly historic house museum and garden, and on any given day, there’s plenty to do for children,” says Donna Spiegler, Communications Manager at Stan Hywet Hall & Gardens. Children ages five and under are free and won’t want to miss the Playgarden (open through mid-October), a 5,000-square-foot, interactive outdoor play area with activities that represent aspects of the estate.

The Tudor Revival Playhouse, for instance, is inspired by the estate’s Carriage House and includes a spiral slide and marble chase. The Bowling Lawn represents the bowling alleys in the basement of the Seiberlings’ Manor House and on the lawn outside the West Terrace.

Kids can pick up Explorer Backpacks, filled with tools like binoculars and bug collectors to use for a day in the Playgarden. Or, they can explore the gardens and grounds by following clues on a Quest! to locate a hidden treasure box.

Vizcaya (Miami, Florida)

When the main house of this Biscayne Bay estate opened in 1916, the owner, James Deering, hosted a party complete with gondolas and cannons. Deering, a bachelor and retired millionaire whose doctors recommended sunshine and a warm climate to assuage his pernicious anemia, built Vizcaya as his subtropical vacation home. His family’s wealth came from a woolen mill, land investments in the western United States, and the Deering Harvester Company, a farm equipment manufacturer.

A nearby village, completed in 1922, supplied the house with everything from fresh flowers and fruit to milk and eggs. The house is now a museum with 34 decorated rooms showcasing more than 2,500 art objects and furnishings and draws more than 200,000 visitors each year.

Children can listen to the 1917 Welte Philharmonic Pipe Organ on weekdays from 4-4:30 p.m., look for iguanas and butterflies in the formal gardens and rockland hammock, navigate the Maze Garden, or look for the “monsters” decorating the swimming pool.

Winterthur (Winterthur, Delaware)

Pronounced “winter-tour,” this 175-room childhood home of collector and horticulturist Henry Francis du Pont (1880-1969) is now a museum of American Decorative Arts with a 60-acre naturalistic garden.

Pick up an Activity Backpack and visit the Tulip Tree House and the Faerie Cottage in the Enchanted Woods, a magical children’s garden set on three acres of the Winterthur Garden. In the Touch-It Room, a playspace designed with a colonial-era kitchen, a 1750s parlor, and an 1830s general store, kids of all ages can learn about early American life through playing with tea sets, kitchenware, clothes, and toys.

For preschoolers, Winterthur also offers Wee Ones at Winterthur once a week (March through November), which includes storytime, a visit to the galleries, and a craft. For toddlers, Squeaky Wheels introduces toddlers and their caregivers to the estate with strolls through the galleries and into the garden. Don’t miss Truck and Tractor Day, a fall highlight.

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There are certain moments of parenthood that stay with us forever. The ones that feel a little extra special than the rest. The ones that we always remember, even as time moves forward.

The first day of school will always be one of the most powerful of these experiences.

I love thinking back to my own excitement going through it as a child—the smell of the changing seasons, how excited I was about the new trendy outfit I picked out. And now, I get the joy of watching my children go through the same right of passage.

Keep the memory of this time close with these 10 pictures that you must take on the first day of school so you can remember it forever, mama:

1. Getting on the school bus.

Is there anything more iconic than a school bus when it comes to the first day of school? If your little one is taking the bus, snap a photo of them posed in front of the school bus, walking onto it for the first time, or waving at you through the window as they head off to new adventure.

2. Their feet (and new shoes!)

Getting a new pair of shoes is the quintessential task to prepare for a new school year. These are the shoes that will support them as they learn, play and thrive. Capture the sentimental power of this milestone by taking photos of their shoes. You can get a closeup of your child's feet, or even show them standing next to their previous years of first-day-of-school shoes to show just how much they've grown. If you have multiple children, don't forget to get group shoe photos as well!

3. Posing with their backpack.

Backpacks are a matter of pride for kids so be sure to commemorate the one your child has chosen for the year. Want to get creative? Snap a picture of the backpack leaning against the front door, and then on your child's back as they head out the door.

4. Standing next to a tree or your front door.

Find a place where you can consistently take a photo year after year—a tree, your front door, the school signage—and showcase how much your child is growing by documenting the change each September.

5. Holding a 'first day of school' sign.

Add words to your photo by having your child pose with or next to a sign. Whether it's a creative DIY masterpiece or a simple printout you find online that details their favorites from that year, the beautiful sentiment will be remembered for a lifetime.

6. With their graduating class shirt.

When your child starts school, get a custom-designed shirt with the year your child will graduate high school, or design one yourself with fabric paint (in an 18-year-old size). Have them wear the shirt each year so you can watch them grow into it—and themselves!

Pro tip: Choose a simple color scheme and design that would be easy to recreate if necessary—if your child ends up skipping or repeating a year of school and their graduation date shifts, you can have a new shirt made that can be easily swapped for the original.

7. Post with sidewalk chalk.

Sidewalk chalk never goes out of style and has such a nostalgic quality to it. Let your child draw or write something that represents the start of school, like the date or their teacher, and then have them pose next to (or on top of) their work.

8. In their classroom.

From first letters learned to complicated math concepts mastered, your child's classroom is where the real magic of school happens. Take a few pictures of the space where they'll be spending their time. They will love remembering what everything looked like on the first day, from the decorations on the wall to your child's cubby, locker or desk.

9. With their teacher.

If classrooms are where the magic happens, teachers are the magicians. We wish we remembered every single teach we had, but the truth is that over time, memories fade. Be sure to snap a photo of your child posing with their teacher on the first day of school.

10. With you!

We spend so much time thinking about our children's experience on the first day of school, we forget about the people who have done so much to get them there—us! This is a really big day for you too, mama, so get in that photo! You and your child will treasure it forever.

This article is sponsored by Rack Room Shoes. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

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The author of Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, Angela Duckworth is an example of the kind of character she seeks to foster in the next generation. As the founder and CEO of the Character Lab, a nonprofit dedicated to children's character development, as a professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, and as a mom, Duckworth is trying to teach parents to let their kids struggle and that success is a long game.

According to Duckworth, grit is "this combination of passion and perseverance over really long periods. So it's loving what you do and working really hard at it for a very long time."

During the latest episode of The Motherly Podcast, Sponsored by Prudential, Duckworth tells Motherly co-founder Liz Tenety, "One could argue that motherhood requires more grit than anything else because it is such a stamina sport and the grind doesn't always feel like it's working."

As Duckworth explains, mothers can model grit every day by persevering in the face of challenging parenting moments, but we can also instill grit in our children, even very young kids, by encouraging them not to give up. It is so easy to tie a child's shoes for them when we're running late, but if we take a moment to stop and let them work through that challenge on their own we are being gritty and encouraging it.

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"You let them struggle and you don't solve their problems for them too early," Duckworth tells Tenety, recalling a time when one of her daughters was struggling to open a box of raisins. "When she gave up and like walked away thinking that's too hard, I did worry about her long-term grit. I was like, oh my gosh my daughter's been defeated by a box of SunMaid raisins. But the important thing is that when you see your child struggle, let them struggle a little longer than maybe is comfortable for some of us."

By not rushing to open the box of raisins for her daughter, Duckworth taught her an important lesson in perseverance: If you want something you have to keep working at it yourself because you can't assume people will do things for you. This can be hard for parents because we often want to rush in and fix things for our kids, but Duckworth suggests we force ourselves to wait a beat and give our kids a chance before coming to the rescue.

"If you solve their problems guess what? They will not figure out how to solve their own problems if you make life a frictionless path. Then don't be surprised when they are not very resilient," she explains.

When we don't do everything for our kids they learn that they are capable, and we're cultivating a growth mindset. When we let our kids struggle and persevere, we're teaching them that the ability to get back up and overcome challenges is more important than talent—we're teaching them grit.

To hear more from Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, author Angela Duckworth about grit and growth, listen to The Motherly Podcast, sponsored by Prudential, for the full interview.

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News

Relocating is one of the most stressful life changes families will experience, even more so when you add kids into the mix. Packing boxes and getting everything ready for your move with toddlers around can seem like an impossible task. You know the scene: You're trying to pack clothing and lift heavy boxes, but they want to play and see everything that's going on. But packing doesn't have to be a chore, mama.

Try these playful interventions whenever you're struggling to keep your little one entertained.

1. Create special time.

Believe it or not, children want to help us. When they feel disconnected to us their behavior can go off-track. That whining, moaning, tantrumming toddler is sending out a red flag that says, ''Help! I need connection!''

So before spending a day packing boxes, be proactive and connect with your child. Set a timer for 10-15 minutes, and tell your child it's their special time and they can choose whatever they'd like to do with you. As you play, shower your child with attention, so their cup is filled. This helps them to internalize a sense of connection to you, so they are less likely to demand it in challenging ways and get in the way when you need to focus.

2. Host a packing party.

Put on some music and make packing fun! Give your child their own box, and allow them some freedom to pack their own toys themselves—even if you go back and rearrange things later. Don't seal all the boxes so they still have access to toys to play with. And remember that they're bound to get distracted and start playing with every. single. toy. they pack away. Make sure they're occupied so you can continue packing.

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3. Try giggle parenting.

Giggle parenting is when you get a child to laugh to ease the tension. If you notice your child getting bored, or frustrated, giggle parenting can ease tensions, and give your child mini doses of connection to help their behavior stay on track.

For example, maybe you playfully say, ''I really need to pack this big object,'' then you attempt to place your child in a box and exclaim, ''oh no, that's not an object, that's [insert child's name!]'' Or pick up a dirty sock and say with a playfully inviting tone, ''I really don't want this sock to be packed'' and put it on the floor. Cue your child trying to pack the smelly sock, and you can act playfully annoyed, and retrieve it from the box. Repeat as the long as the giggles keep coming,

It's the perfect antidote to situations where they feel powerless and out of control. Spending 5-10 minutes being playful at various intervals throughout the day can help shift the feeling that something big is happening.

4. Pack with a puppet.

Although toddlers don't always listen well, you will probably find that they are much more likely to respond to a plush toy or puppet. So use a puppet to ask them to pack in a silly voice that gets them laughing. Or have a naughty puppet who removes items from boxes, while you act playfully frustrated. After a few laughs to release tension, your toddler will be more able to listen to you about what needs to be done, or will be more likely to play independently.

5. Use reverse psychology.

Good old-fashioned reverse psychology works wonders when trying to distract little ones. Say to your child in a playful way that you'd really like them to leave their toys on the floor, and not pack them. Then leave the room. They are bound to take this as an opportunity to pack things up, and you can pretend to be upset that they didn't listen.

6. Turn packing into a race.

Older toddlers love to win so why not set up challenges to get them moving and competing? Have a race to see who can pack five things the fastest. Make it a close call but let them win, and act playfully disappointed when you lose. You could also try setting a timer to see how many things can be packed in 5 minutes or how long it can take to pack a whole box.

7. Practice pretend play.

Use a trolley or a toy stroller to act as a delivery service. Ask your child to bring you items to pack. Pretend play gives them a sense of purpose, and a fun, novel way to be involved.

8. Take a break outside.

At some point during a full day of packing or moving, get outside, even if it's just for ten minutes. Have a playful game of chase in your yard, or go to a local park. This can really help shift grumpy moods.

9. Stop for tantrums.

At some point during the day, tears and tantrums may come up. You may be tempted to stop tantrums, but this is counterproductive as it may just postpone the upset. Crying is a healing process for children, a natural way to release stress and tension, so the best thing you can do is listen and empathize. Be the lighthouse guiding your child out of the stormy seas of their emotions, and when they recover they will feel well-connected to you, and be much more willing to help in the process.

10. Remember to relax.

Do something for yourself, mama. Order takeout. End your day with snuggles and bedtime stories. Packing and moving with toddlers can be one of the most challenging jobs you can do, so well, done, you did it.

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Learn + Play

Brooklyn based stay-at-home dad Mike Julianelle, also known as Dad and Buried online, shared a brutally honest post on Instagram recently that has gone viral. In it he describes how being a stay-at-home parent is really hard, especially during the summer when the kids need to stay entertained in the long hot days in the city.

The post also goes into something that struck a chord with many stay-at-home parents: not having a choice. Many of the over 500 comments the photo has received touch upon how stressful and draining being the parent at home with the kids all day can be.

The post reads:

"It's day two of my summer as a stay-at-home dad and I've already lost it on my kids.

Actually, I lost it at day 1.5. I'm not cut out for this.

I knew it 6 years ago when I did it for the first time, I knew it a month ago when it was looming again, I knew it yesterday when things were going well, and I definitely knew it today when I yelled at my 8yo and carried him to another room because he wouldn't stop complaining about something he actually wanted to do.

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I don't want to be a stay-at-home parent. I don't want to have to find ways to fill my kids' days all summer. I don't want to plan, I don't want to pack stuff, I don't want to herd them places, I don't want to go places.

I don't have the temperament, I don't have the patience, I don't have the interest.

I also don't have a choice.

Circumstances being what they are, and summer being what it is, someone has to stay home with my kids all day. Mom and Buried has done it for years, and now she's working and I'm not, so I'm back in the saddle. Reluctance (and unsuitability) aside, I have no choice but to get better at it.

They don't need to know how stressed I am, they don't deserve a dad who's grumpy and frustrated before the day has even begun, and most of all, they don't deserve a boring summer.

Summer is sacred. And it's usually Mom and Buried's territory. But it's on me now.

No, we might not be able to send them to camp or take them on fancy trips, but that doesn't mean there aren't things to do. And it's on me to do them. More than that, it's on me to do them with a smile on my face. Or at least without constantly yelling at them.

So far, things aren't going so great. But there's nowhere to go but up!

This is one of the primary challenges of parenting. Not letting your grownup stress impact your kids' childhood innocence. We all have struggles, and sometimes the toll they take is going to manifest itself, often in ways you don't even realize.

I guess the good news is: I do realize it. Which makes it even more crucial that I manage it, and do whatever I can to prevent my kids from catching on.

I've gotta fake it until *they* make it. But what else is new?"

Shout out to this SAHD for his honest, and to all the stay-at-home parents for the hard work they do, all day, everyday.

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Life

The sound of my youngest son's wailing filled the air. It was a meltdown of epic proportions. As his screeches pierced my ears and my eyes rested on his angry face, a thought flashed into my mind: I wonder if I will ever reach a sweet spot in parenting.

I like to imagine that somewhere in my future is a magical age where the daily demands of parenting lessen and I will finally have it (mostly) all figured out. It seems I have been waiting for and wishing for this "easy" time since the first few weeks of motherhood.

When my oldest was a newborn and I was fumbling my way through sleep-deprivation, I just knew as soon as he started sleeping through the night, then motherhood would be so much easier.

When he finally did master sleeping longer stretches, he figured out how to roll over. He would roll one way and get stuck. I would flip him back, and he would be good for about five minutes and then get stuck again. I just knew as soon as he was able to roll back over the other way, then motherhood would be so much easier.

After months of nursing, and then pumping, and then bottle-feeding, I just knew that once he was eating solid foods, motherhood would be so much easier because he would sleep better, and I wouldn't have the enormous mountain of pump parts and bottles to clean each night.

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Then he started to eat solid foods, and meal times were so messy and I quickly grew tired of constantly cleaning his highchair and the floor and the wall. I just knew once he could eat on his own, then motherhood would be so much easier.

I carried him everywhere because he couldn't yet crawl, and my arms and back would ache. I just knew that once he could crawl motherhood would be so much easier.

And then he did start to crawl, and suddenly nothing was off-limits. I just knew once he was older and I wouldn't have to worry about him falling down the stairs or jamming a toy into a light socket, then motherhood would be so much easier.

Then he started to walk, then run, and I worried about him running away from me in the store, running into a parking lot, or tripping on his wobbly legs and doing a faceplant into the sidewalk. I just knew that when he was older and better able to listen and communicate, motherhood would be so much easier.

Then he started to talk and protest, and have very strong opinions about everything and the meltdowns began. I just knew as soon as we were done with this age, motherhood would be so much easier.

As my sons have grown, each stage has brought new joys, but also new challenges. Some aspects of parenting have become easier, and others have become harder.

So does this parenting "sweet spot" I have conjured up in my mind even exist?

Do I just have to be patient and it will arrive one day out of the blue when my sons reach a certain age or I gain the perfect amount of parenting wisdom?

I kept thinking about this as my son calmed down and pressed his tired little body into my own. I gazed down onto his tear-streaked cheeks. I brushed the wispy strands of his hair with my fingertips. I paused at that moment to really soak him up as he cuddled on my lap. I let the tension of the previous minutes fade away.

And a new thought entered my mind. "I'm already in a sweet spot, right here and now. I don't need to wait for one."

Parenthood will probably never be "easy." But it is pretty sweet, nonetheless.

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Life
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