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This is a submission in our monthly contest. December’s theme is Growth. Enter your own here!


When I first saw the topic for Parent Co.’s December writing contest, I quite literally threw my hands in the air, scoffed aloud, and closed my laptop. Of course, I promptly reopened it to do what I always do in times of trouble; I Googled it. “Growth: development, maturation, growing, germination, sprouting; blooming…” The words glared off the bright screen into my tired eyes and made the dark surrounding of my rarely quiet living room seem just a shade or two darker. I closed my laptop again. What did I know of growth? As I fought the sleep that I so desperately look forward to each evening, my thoughts drifted back to my first conscious memory of growing.

When I was seven years old, I suddenly began waking up in the middle of the night with excruciating pain in both of my legs. My tiny unshaven legs throbbed from calf to thigh with a type of pain that I had never experienced. Night after night, I would wake up sobbing and my mother would come into my room to comfort me and wrap my legs with steaming hot towels. After what a felt like a few weeks (but more likely was just a few very long nights) of waking to this excruciating leg pain, my mom took me to the pediatrician to confirm that which she had suspected all along. I was having growing pains. Eat more dairy and take a daily vitamin. Needless to say, my desperate pleas for a second opinion went unrequited.

Growing pains? I certainly thought not. How could it be? I had been growing my entire life and it had never hurt before. I didn’t buy it. It was too obvious; too cliché. Surely, I was very ill and not a soul in this world cared enough to take a closer look at what was truly ailing me before it would inevitably be too late. But, miraculously, over the next few weeks, the aching in my legs dulled and the memory of what it felt like to grow faded until it was an indiscernible and unremarkable moment in time.

While admittedly naive and embarrassingly precocious, my own seven-year-old logic remains sound 25 years later. I had been growing for seven years, yet I had never experienced the slightest awareness of it. Not one muscle twinge or tummy ache had ever been attributed to growth. So why, when my legs had stretched far longer and grown far thinner in past years, was I so suddenly and abruptly made painfully aware of my body’s struggle against its own to desire to change? It was a good question for a seven-year-old girl; it remains a good question for a 33-year-old woman.

As I sat in the darkness, still temporarily blinded from growth’s blaring definition into my optic nerve and its recently revived memory fading once again back into the surrounding darkness, I still did not know why sometimes it hurts to grow while other times it does not.

As 2017 comes to a close and I look back at this year, I see that precocious seven-year-old girl on the ground with two scraped knees. She has fallen down. The few short moments that she’s been on the ground feel like a lifetime. Her shock and pain have quickly shifted to embarrassment and self-loathing. She mistakes the help that she is being offered for mockery and condescendence. Surrounded by people who love her, she feels alone. But she is just shaken up; she took a very rough fall and briefly lost sight of the fact that she is just fine. It’s not too late in the day for her to get back up, with the help of others, forgive her clumsy self and anyone who might have accidentally gotten in her way. As I sat in the darkness, I could see her stubbornly refusing to get back up again.

I spent 2017 angry on the ground, wondering whether I tripped or if someone pushed me and how the hell I was going to take them down in return. But I didn’t take anyone down; I just kept myself there for almost an entire year. Time and time again, I pushed away familiar hands that reached out to help me. Hands that had fed, bathed, and clothed me. Hands that had wrapped my throbbing tiny unshaven legs in steaming hot towels night after night and that had never asked a single thing in return from me. I refused their help because my pain had somehow convinced me that someone or something had to be to blame for it. I was still subscribing to that same futile concept that pain can be explained; that growth can be understood.

The scuffs and scrapes that I accumulated in 2017 will undoubtedly leave me with scars. And while I may be sore for a while, I am finally ready to admit that no one is responsible for the pain that I have and will experience in this lifetime; I very well may never understand why sometimes, some years, it hurts to grow, while others it does not. The pain that I confronted this year will not be resolved with a daily vitamin or increased calcium intake. I can’t Google it and instantly understand it. But I am weary of waiting for understanding. It’s not too late in the day to reach out to the tired hands that always linger nearby in times of trouble. It’s not too late to let them pull me back up, dust me off, and tightly wrap me in their tired love. It’s never too late in the year to get back up after falling from grace. And even if you don’t understand it, it’s never too late to grow from pain.

Who said motherhood doesn't come with a manual?

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I was walking in Target the other day talking to my sons, who are two and three, about getting Mama a birthday card. "Which one should we get for Mama?" I asked. They wanted the $7 cat one that sang "I'm too sexy for my hair," of course. As we laughed about the different cards, a woman walked by and patted my arm. "They are so lucky to have you." I smiled and thought, how nice. Only a few aisles later did I realize she may have thought I was their nanny, not their mom...

I look nothing like my kids. They are blond-haired and blue-eyed—they have the most perfect blue eyes that they got from my wife, who was the one who carried our children. I am Colombian, and my 5-foot-nothing stature is more Oompa Loompa than Barbie.

As a girl, young woman, and even early into adulthood I never had the urge to have children. When I was in first or second grade teachers would ask, "What do you want to be when you grow up?" and a bunch of girls would answer, "a mommy." I answered, "a banker."

Times have changed and when I grew up I no longer wanted to be a banker and I surprised myself in the fact that I did want kids. And I am so happy I married someone who not only wanted kids too but who also wanted to be the one to carry them.

Our kids have her last name. She did the work for those nine plus months—she deserves that. And honestly, it's not important to me that they don't have my last name, and I don't feel any less connected to them because I didn't carry them in my womb. What counts is that we are a family.

I was adopted at two months old. I look like my Italian mom and absolutely nothing like my English dad. From a young age, I always knew I wasn't biologically their child, but in every single other way, I still am their kid. (They joke that their offspring wouldn't be as cute or as athletic, and I joke back but they'd probably be smarter and taller.)

Our never-ending love, our respect, our gifts of compassion, and the fact that we're always there for each other—these are the treasures that make us a family. Not anything biological. So that has taught me a lot about how to raise my kids with the all of those same treasures that also include politeness, honesty, the gift of laughter, and always doing your best.

I didn't give birth to my boys, but I am there to calm them in the middle of the night because of an accident, nosebleed, or scary dream.

I didn't give birth to my boys, but the diaper changes are real. (Trust me.)

I didn't give birth to my boys, but I read to them, dance with them, and laugh with them—every day.

I didn't give birth to my boys, but somehow, one of my boys has a matching birthmark in the same place as I do and our little inside joke is that we high-five them together.

I didn't give birth to my boys, but both of them smile the same way I do…total full teeth smile.

I didn't give birth to my boys, but they call me "Mom," and I've never loved two human beings more.

But being one of two moms definitely makes for some interesting and funny stories. We got rid of our crib a few months ago and when someone found out she asked, "But what if there's—ya know—an accident?" I told her that one of the many joys of being a lesbian is that there will not be any "accidents" in our future.

Or the time right after my wife had our first baby when I was in the hospital bed with our son while my wife went to a new parent class. (I told her we should do one before the baby actually came, but a lesson I've learned is that one should definitely choose their battles wisely with their pregnant wife.) I was in the bed, holding my son and the nurse came in and said, "Time to get your vitals" and so, I had some explaining to do.

Or the time we went to do our taxes. The woman said, "Okay, which one of you wants to go first?" My wife replied, "We are married. We'd like to do it all together." The woman looked at us for a few seconds and said, "Oh, I've never done this before." I looked at her and said, "You've never done a married couple's taxes before?" She shrugged and said, "Not like this."

So how does all of this make me feel? It makes me feel human. Sometimes people judge, sometimes people do not take enough time to ask questions, sometimes people assume. These stories make me understand that I am blessed, confident, and my biggest struggle with my kids—besides too long of a bedtime routine right now—is that I sometimes have to explain a little more. I know this is teaching them to do the opposite of what is sometimes done to us—to take time to ask questions, be patient, be curious and be polite.

So sure, having two moms does make for some funny stories at times, but it also provides us the opportunity to raise our kids well and show society that we, as women, are capable. Our family is two moms—a mom and a mama—and our two precious boys who make up this team. We smother our kids with all the snuggles in the world, and they will forever be mama's boys, which we could not be happier about.

The funny stories keep us laughing, but they also do something much more serious, much more important. They remind us that gay people, not too long ago, did not have the luxury of being on a child's birth certificate together, or filing taxes jointly. They remind me to be humble, unassuming and, most of all, grateful. I am grateful that my friends and family have all accepted us as we are, a loving couple who wants to be happy and raise kind, healthy boys.

In the future—later today or in a few years—I am hopeful that more and more people will see us as a family. There are so many different types of families out there, and we all deserve to be validated and seen. We are so fortunate that so many people already do recognize us as a family and hopefully, it will get easier and easier over time and the stories will become less and less frequent.

Maybe, just maybe, Target lady knew I was their mom, and not their nanny. Maybe she saw the love and pride in my eyes, the casual banter in the bright red cart, and the fact that I am confident in who I am to my boys—their mom.

After all, we are a family bonded by love and all the other treasures that have been passed down from our parents. Because relationships are not just blood…it's all of the other stuff that makes us a family.

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It may sound hard to believe (or perhaps obvious 😉), but with an infant and toddler in tow, I'm thinking of making the move from the city to the 'burbs. Living in the heart of New York City was at one time exciting, invigorating and extremely convenient.

But now? Well, it has become un-accommodating, brash and expensive (well more expensive). And I find myself browsing real estate sites and dreaming of a house with a big yard. Although unimaginable before kids, with two kids, the pull of the suburbs is real. I still think NYC is the best in the world, but the more I analyze logistics to schools to safety... I'm leaning toward the 'burbs.

Here's why.

1. Schools! Schools! Schools!

This has got to be the number one reason most people leave the city. The stress and money to get into good schools in the city is a lot. We just went through the first step—preschool applications—including an interview and reference letters.

I had to stretch my creative muscles to illustrate the brilliance of my 2-year-old: "He can successfully build sandcastles, his Lego structures have the foundation of an aspiring architect" or should I just go with, "He doesn't hit!?" It's become close to a part-time job. All this aside, my child did get in (#mombrag), but now I just have to come to terms with the astronomical price tag.

But the 'burbs? The burbs of New York have some of the best schools in the country. You may pay for it via your property taxes, but when you have more than one kid, the economics just make sense.

2. Logistics

The struggle that is the double stroller. I love the history of New York, but as one of the oldest cities in America, it can be a real nightmare for strollers. Small doors, steps and tight passages result in the fact that we can't go into many places.

When I had my single stroller, although it took some work, I figured out which stores were stroller friendly. However, once I upgraded to the double stroller, my world became too small. The huge wheels barely fit through the doors and I get the side eye from my favorite coffee shop for bringing in such a monstrosity. And it's a lucky day if you manage to have an elevator on either end of your trip when you're riding the subway.

In the 'burbs, I dream of leaving the double stroller at home and upgrading to the spacious minivan. I look forward to those gigantic parking lots where I will be able to walk the grocery cart up to my car! Oh, the luxury!

3. Sports!

Did I mention I have active kiddos? As they get older, the confines of a city apartment incite an unbearable case of cabin fever. New York City has some lovely parks but unfortunately, the patches of grass at Madison Square Park just aren't cutting it anymore.

The suburbs promise full-size football and soccer fields, public tennis courts that you don't have to wait an hour for and numerous sports teams to participate in. I think sports should be a part of any childhood and I don't want my kids to miss out. (Another 'burbs bonus: There is something so magical about opening the back door and telling your kids to go play outside!)

4. Space

The toys are creeping into every crevice of the apartment and nothing is sacred. I just can't wait to send my kids to the basement with all of their favorite things. In addition, our house in the 'burbs would have a guest bedroom! It would be nice to entertain my family (aka free babysitters) without subjecting them to the blow-up mattress on the floor.

5. Noise

After a couple of months in the city, the noise of the police cars, fire trucks and ambulances just fade in the distance, but now with kids, every noise is accentuated. My toddler points out all of them while demanding an explanation "Is that a fire truck, mommy? What is it doing?"

I also feel the need to cover up my little one's ears, lest he wake up from our hard-earned nap time. I'd much rather be explaining the noise of birds and crickets to my kids rather than the loud noises of emergency vehicles.

6. The people

I love my fellow New Yorkers who are driven, worldly and tell it like it is. I know it has changed the Canadian in me to be a little more blunt. However, part of this New Yorker attitude doesn't mesh so well with kids.

I've been honked at to hurry up while I try to strap in my two kids in at the car park or have gotten an audible sigh from the hostess for bringing my kids to our local restaurant. Kids take a little more time and patience and that time is money to a lot of folks.

I love you New York, but I am ready to make the move.

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Leadership is often misunderstood with being bold, arrogant, self-centered or wanting attention. However, that's very far from the truth.

So, who is a leader? And why would you want your child to become one?

A true leader is someone who:

  • is confident about who they really are because they know themselves,
  • inspires others with his/her gifts and talents because they recognize them,
  • is trusted because they can trust themselves,
  • can express themselves to the world easily and effortlessly because they don't feel afraid to do this,
  • celebrates other people for their talents and leads/ inspires/ listens/ guides/ people to share their gifts with the world,
  • is ready to make a change to the world no matter how small or big,
  • and leads a happy and fulfilling life that is true to their nature.

The reality is that a leader is actually someone very positive and highly evolved as a human being. Why wouldn't we want to nurture our children's leadership mindset then? We all most certainly should if we really want to help our children reach their full potential.

Here are some ways creative play nurtures the leadership mindset

  1. Creative play allows your child to express themselves they way they like and prefer in the very moment.
  2. Your child can explore their inner gifts, talents and preferences, experiment with them and deciding how they can make best use of them in the real world.
  3. Creative exploration opens up the whole world of possibilities which your child can flexibly test, reflect on and improve until they are satisfied with the final result.
  4. While creating, your child develops great confidence in their own skills and talents.
  5. Creative play allows plenty of space for celebration of your child's own individuality.

Every play is creative when it's child-led. Children create all the time and creative play is not restricted to arts and crafts only—it goes far beyond that. Construction is creative, discussion is creative, dancing is creative, gardening is creative, role-play is creative, the possibilities are endless.

To really nurture your child's leadership mindset, any creative experience must always be child-led. Otherwise the creativity aspect will most likely be controlled, restricted and shaped towards a certain direction or agenda-driven.

Child-led means that your child is the author of the experience—they can take it wherever they want it and however they want it. This also means that you, as a parent, are a facilitator of that experience, offering child-friendly and safe space and access to tools and resources, but you don't impose any structure, outcome or result.

You allow your child to experience whatever they wish and need at that moment. And by doing this we show them that we trust them, that we celebrate who they are, and that whatever they offer to the world is wonderful and it doesn't need to be changed or modified to our liking.

Originally published on National Born Leaders.

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Caesar salad should not be on the menu this Thanksgiving, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

Romaine lettuce has been linked to an E. coli outbreak that has seen 32 people in 11 states fall ill. More than a dozen people have been hospitalized.

"Consumers who have any type of romaine lettuce in their home should not eat it and should throw it away, even if some of it was eaten and no one has gotten sick," the CDC notes on its website.

There have also been cases in Canada—15 in Quebec and 3 in Ontario. The Public Health Agency of Canada says people in those provinces should avoid eating romaine lettuce and salad mixes containing romaine lettuce until more is known about the outbreak.

Officials on both sides of the border agree this outbreak is linked to a previous outbreak in 2017.

According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, genetic analysis of the E. coli strain indicates this outbreak isn't linked to the one that occurred back in the spring of 2018 but is related to an epidemic in the fall of 2017.

"Genetic analysis of the E. coli O157:H7 strains tested to date from patients in this current outbreak are similar to strains of E. coli O157:H7 associated with a previous outbreak from the Fall of 2017 that also affected consumers in both Canada and the U.S." the FDA notes on its website.

FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb says the agency is taking steps to "get ahead of this emerging outbreak to reduce risk to consumers; help people protect themselves and families from foodborne illness outbreak, especially ahead of Thanksgiving meals."

"This isn't the first romaine outbreak we've seen in recent past," Gottlieb said in a statement posted to Twitter. "We're taking steps to identify root causes of these events and to prevent future outbreaks. We're committed to working with partners to implement additional safety practices to prevent outbreaks from occurring."

The FDA is asking the food industry to help it contain the outbreak by voluntarily withdrawing romaine products from the market and withholding distribution until the source of the outbreak is identified.

Bottom line: If you've got romaine in the fridge, toss it, mama.

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