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My six-year-old son could hardly wait to get home from the skate park the other day to tell me about the treasure he found. “Mom, mom, you have to see this. I found a rock that said ‘have fun skating’ and they painted a big heart on it. It was the coolest thing I have ever seen.” 

Figuring it was probably painted by someone who got bored watching their boyfriend or girlfriend try to ollie and kick-flip their skateboard yet one more time, I dismissed this little round symbol of hope as just another rock. Little did I know that the rock with a special heart on it was placed there intentionally and the smile and excitement it brought my son was exactly the point of this contagious movement.

Kitsap Rocks” was created by a small group of women who had an idea to do art projects with homeschooled students that benefited the community. “We thought it would be a great avenue for our kids to make art on rocks and beautify our community,” said Cathy Tomko, co-founder.

The women exchanged Facebook messages back and forth about other groups, like Port Angeles Rocks. One comment of, “Hey, we can do this here?” followed by, “Maybe we could create this together,” was all it took. Kitsap Rocks Facebook page was born as a result of a few creative women with a desire to make their community better and now has over 2300 members.

It has quickly become a place where people can post their latest creations, show off the rocks they have found and also give hints about where to find hidden ones. Other members are finding inspiration just in the Facebook posts: “This is the happiest place on Facebook…You all ROCK!”

Connie Quatermass, another co-founder, recently shared with me the reasons behind her passion for Kitsap Rocks. “What I love about this project is that it encourages creativity, gets people outside, creates connections with others, is a great family activity and it’s for all ages from toddlers to senior citizens. And most of all, it’s about being creative, doing something positive, and sharing joy with others.”

With messages such as: “Take the first step – the rest is easy,” “Let go,” “Dream,” and “You’re worth it,” it’s no wonder that the feeling of hope and kindness is inspiring so many people to get out and capture this synergistic energy. Just like Pokémon Go has taken over the world, Kitsap Rocks has taken over the community of Kitsap County (and word is spreading fast). 

It seems like the residents of Kitsap County have found the secret ingredient that Pokémon Go is missing: spreading kindness and hope while interacting with the natural world is what we all really need right now.

And spreading kindness and hope is touching so many lives. Quatermass shared a few of her favorite stories with me that seemed to really resonate with her. “A gentleman was on his way to a cardiologist appointment when he found a rock by one of our young Kitsap Rock artists. It had a heart painted on it. He said he’s fighting cancer and needed to get his heart checked before moving forward with treatment. At the appointment, he received good news about his heart and says he’s going to be carrying the heart rock in his pocket throughout his treatments.”

She went on to say that “it amazes me how this simple project can have such profound effects. As we create art rocks, we gift them into the universe, and then the universe seems to use them sometimes to be found by the right person at the right time. People can see them as a sign or answer to something in their life. Or simply to brighten their day.”

This very simple idea of spreading a bit of happiness has turned a fairly large community into a tight knit place of absolute kindness and inspiration. People are organizing painting parties with family and friends and even inviting other members; it’s creating community.

Families, Boys and Girls clubs, community groups, nursing homes; you name it, they are out there designing, hiding, and finding rocks. The Facebook posts are addicting as pictures with #kitsaprocks are being posted every couple of minutes along with hints and clues about where to look. Captions that read: “these can be found at Jackson Park and Horseshoe Lake” and, “My kids rehid two rocks in Bremerton where your teeth get cleaned (off Perry Ave),” make hunting for rocks feel like an exhilarating game of hide-and-seek.

Kitsap Rocks has motivated other communities to start their own group of rock artists and Quatermass and Tomko have shared many of their tips for getting started.

Community rock groups are easily set up on Facebook. Make them public and keep the guidelines simple (no rock hiding in national parks, state parks, private property, cemeteries, etc). Let the group grow naturally.

Appoint quality administrators for the group. As the group grows, it’s helpful to have more than one admin and they need to be positive and encouraging. To keep spam off the group page, admins must check out the member “join group” requests. Tip: it pays to be extra careful when screening prospective members.

Be mindful of the environment. Painted rocks should always be sealed and you never want the art rocks to be seen as litter, so don’t use glued-on additions (sequins, stickers, feathers, yarn, etc.).

Basic info: paint colorful pictures on rocks and add a message, then hide the rock for others to find. When you find a rock of your own, you can either keep it or rehide it.

Get involved with community groups. Kitsap Rocks has partnered with several organizations, like the YWCA, to help promote the organization’s message. These community partnerships are one of the reasons behind the success of the group.

When I set out to write this piece, I simply wanted to find out what these painted rocks were all about. What I didn’t expect to discover were the many stories of hope and inspiration; like a rock with a painted heart found at just the right moment and a message of “let go” discovered by a woman who really needed to see those two words.

“The beautiful part of this project is creating and gifting art to someone who might need a smile, a positive message, or just something to get their mind off what is going on in their lives. That’s my favorite story; making someone’s day when they need it the most,” says Tomko.

I’m sure most people would agree that our world is a whole lot better because of the women behind Kitsap Rocks and the thousands of people who have become a part of this inspiring movement. Together, they have shown us that these simple rocks of hope can empower a community to spread a little bit of love, happiness, and kindness. Something we all could definitely use a lot more of!

Who said motherhood doesn't come with a manual?

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I had big plans to be a "good mom" this summer. There were going to be chore charts, reading goals, daily letter writing practice, and cursive classes. There would be no screen time until the beds were made, and planned activities for each day of the week.

Today was the first day of summer vacation and our scheduled beach day. But here's what we did instead: Lounged in our pj's until 11 am, baked the girl's pick, chocolate chip cookie brownies, started an art project we never finished, then moved to the pool.

It's so easy to be pressured by things we see on social. Ways to challenge our kids and enrich their summer. But let's be real—we're all tired. Tired of chores, tired of schedules and places to be, tired of pressure, and tired of unrealistic expectations.

So instead of a schedule, we're doing nothing this summer. Literally NOTHING.

No camps. No classes, and no curriculums.

Instead, we're going to see where each day takes us. I've dubbed this the "Summer of Me," so workouts and clean eating are a priority for me. And also giving our girls the freedom to pick what they want to do.

We may go to a local pool and check out the swimming programs. And we join the local YMCA. But whatever we do—it will be low key.

It will include family time, too much TV, a few trips, lots of sunshine, some new roller skates, water balloons, plenty of boredom, rest, relaxation, and reading. (Because mama likes to read!)

So if you haven't figured out what you're doing this summer, you're not alone. And guess what? It's OKAY! Your kids will be fine and so will you.

Originally posted on Kristen Hewitt's blog. Check out her post on 30 ways to have fun doing almost nothing this summer.

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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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When we consider all the skills our kids will need to succeed in the future, what comes to mind? Perhaps creativity, tech skills, or an excellent understanding of math might be at the top of many parents' lists. Social-emotional skills, like empathy, compassion, or the ability to understand another person's viewpoint may not be the ones you thought of right away, but deep down you know they matter.

We've all had those co-workers who didn't know how to listen to our ideas or friends who couldn't compromise with others. We know that in the work world and in our personal life, emotional skills are key to developing and maintaining healthy relationships.

If you are the parent of a toddler, you know that young children are inherently self-centered. It's not some faulty aspect of their character or a misstep of parenting skills. Young children simply do not have the brain maturity to consider another person's perspective or needs just yet—their brain physically is not ready to handle that kind of mental work.

However, child development research shows us that we can do a few things along the developmental path to help foster social-emotional skills in our kids. With a little help from us, our kids' brains can develop with meaningful connections that tune them into the feelings of others.

Here's how:

1. Treat others how you want your kids to treat others.

How we talk to our kids becomes their internal dialogue. We know from research that this goes for emotional skills as well. A recent study showed that when parents talk to their kids more about how other people might be feeling, the kids had better perspective-taking abilities—the ability to see a situation from another person's point of view.

This, of course, is the basis of many emotional skills, especially empathy. Just by talking about another person's feelings, kids begin to develop those crucial brain connections that help them develop empathy.

It's worth pointing out that very young children under ages 3-4 do not have the brain maturity to really understand another person's perspective. They lack a crucial skill that psychologists call Theory of Mind, meaning they can't understand the mind of another person.

However, our urgings and thoughtful phrasing to point out how another person might be feeling can only help them down this developmental path. Then, once their little brain matures, they will be in the habit of hearing and understanding the feelings of others.

2. Model positive emotional behavior in daily life.

It's probably not surprising to learn that how we react to our kids' feelings influences their emotional development. When your child gets upset, do you get angry or ruffled by their big emotions? We are all human, of course, so sometimes our kids' emotions are the exact triggers that fuel our big feelings, too. However, if we can remain the calm in the emotional storm for our kids, their development will benefit. Through modeling emotional regulation, over time our kids will learn how to self-regulate as well.

One study, in fact, showed that toddlers whose parents exhibited anger or over-reacted to tantrums were likely to have more tantrums and negative emotionality by the end of the study. However, the opposite dynamic can happen, too. Parents who model firm, but calm emotional regulation help their kids learn these skills as well.

3. Don’t be afraid to show your emotions.

Many times, we feel that one of our main jobs as a parent is to protect our children from the big, often overwhelming emotions of adults. For instance, we try not to break down crying or become red-faced with anger in front of our kids. It just feels too big for them to handle and perhaps not developmentally appropriate.

As they mature, however, older kids are able to handle a bit more discussion and expression of honest emotions. Have you noticed that kids usually pick up on the fact that you are upset even if you try to hide it? Kids are naturally curious and, many times, very sensitive to the emotional tenor at home. If they are developmentally ready, this can be a good time to have more discussions about emotions and how to handle them.

For example, my 9-year-old is playing a lot of baseball this summer and always wants me to pitch to him so he can practice batting. Now, I am not a very skilled player so my pitches often go off course or are too weak. He had gotten in the habit of correcting my pitching or (more likely) complaining about it every time we played.

After repeated experiences with this, I was not only annoyed but it also sort of hurt my feelings—so I finally told him how I felt. Guess what? His behavior at practice time changed dramatically! The mere fact of him realizing that his mom has feelings too really made him think about his words more carefully.

These types of interaction can become part of your "emotion coaching." It may sound silly but it can make a big impact for kids, especially as they grow older and are more able to really understand the emotional lesson. On some level, it's nice that our kids think we are superheroes, but it's also crucial that they understand that we are still human, with real feelings.

The magic of helping our kids develop empathy doesn't happen in well-planned lessons or elaborate activities. The real magic happens in the small, simple interactions and discussions we have with our kids each day.

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Sometimes it can feel like you never get a minute to even finish a thought—let alone a to-do list. When your day is packed with caretaking, your own needs get pushed back. So when you finally get to lie down at the end of the day, all those thoughts are waiting for you. While we haven't figured out the secret to keeping you from over-analyzing every.single.thing. (sorry, mama!), we do believe you must carve out time for you. Because that rest is just as important—and you've certainly earned it.

XO,

#TeamMotherly

PS: We spoke to Jessica Alba and she gave us the lowdown on why she stopped breastfeeding, and Nordstrom is having their anniversary sale until August 5th. Here's everything we want!

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