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As a tutor in writing and literacy for children, I learn so many valuable lessons from my students. Lessons like: paint the sky violet with pink hearts, ask how things work, and fall in love with the small things often.


For the last year, I’ve been sharpening pencils for an eight-year-old girl, Lilly, who fills her journal pages with scathing reviews of sad, soggy cafeteria food, stream-of-conscious rants about her younger brother giving her the finger when adults aren’t looking, bossy girlfriends, and how having to do everything grownups tell you to do is just, like, totally unfair. When we began working together, she was frustrated when I asked her to write fiction.

“Name three things that you can’t live without,” I prompted.

“I don’t know,” she replied

“What do you want to be when you grow up?” I tried.

“Nothing.”

“What if a unicorn could fly you to school every day?” I asked, trying to get her attention.

“That could never happen.”

I surmised that her imagination may take a backseat to her rigorous extra-curricular schedule of piano lessons, soccer practice, gymnastics, and academic tutors. She rarely just plays outside or visits the children’s park steps away from her house.

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While a lack of time may limit her daydreaming, Lilly is also an inherently a pragmatic person and, like me, she enjoys writing about the real. I stopped asking her to write about what she couldn’t see and focused on her feelings and real-life experiences – culinary delights, complicated friendships, and familial highs and lows. I cued up videos about Amelia Earhart, Rosa Parks, and Marie Curie and assigned her writing prompts involving inventions, discoveries, and top-secret cases. Anything that has a key or code is fascinating to her. She loves secrets and knowing the truth about things.

Last week, I asked her if she knew how our mail system worked.

“Planes,” she replied, rolling her eyes at me.

I pressed on. “What about before airplanes and trains?”

She shrugged her shoulders as I adjusted the volume of an animated film about the Pony Express. Afterwards, I gave her two options: write about delivering mail in the 1800s or choose a person to send a letter to and describe how it will be delivered to them today. She put her head down, pressed a number two pencil into the lined paper and stopped after the first sentence.

“Do you need help?” I asked.

“Why do I have to pretend to write a letter? Can’t I just write it instead?”

I squeezed the hand of my little memoirist. “Good idea. Write the real letter.”

I used to scribble down my own story alongside her and, at the end of the hour, we’d read them to each other. Since the school year started, we’d shifted focus to the editing process: penmanship, grammar, and spelling errors. I stopped writing and waited to correct her mistakes. As she was writing her letter, I was unconsciously doodling tulips on a piece of paper. Lilly looked down at my paper, flipped over my drawing, and patted the stark white sheet of paper. Write your letter, that pat said.

I nodded, wrote two words, and laid my pencil down to rest. I could’ve chosen anyone in the world, real or imagined, but these days, the only name my right hand will write is Dad. I knew that I couldn’t carry on without crying and, while I’d written and shared several essays about his recent passing in writing classes and at readings around the city, none of them were addressed to him. I looked at the glitter clips holding Lilly’s braided bun in place and remembered how my Dad weaved Goody barrettes into my hair and told me that everyone should see my pretty face. My eyes caught the edge of Lilly’s journal; she was writing about her dad too.

The pencil became a heavy weight to lift off the industrial wooden desk we worked from as I angled the leaden point onto the page and traced over the letters.

Dear Dad.

Lilly looked over her shoulder at my page, then respectfully gave me my space as I’d taught her to do.

Dear Dad,

The pencil negotiated the emptiness of the paper, creating loops and lines that were intrinsically intertwined. The soft “a” needed a straight “t” to be understood. Consonants and vowels spilled onto the page like a sudden rainstorm that left as soon as it came. I had no idea what my story was about. I frantically swallowed tears while racing through strategies to avoid sharing my letter with Lilly. Adults are not supposed to cry, especially tutors hired to teach verb-tense agreements, using the five senses, and how to be an awesome grammar girl. I checked my phone for the time. We had 10 minutes left for sharing.

“Let’s hear your story,” I said.

During our sessions, we’d worked on projecting our voices, pausing at the end of each sentence, and reading with intention and emotion. Our voice tells its own story, I’ve told her.

That night, she spoke uncharacteristically clear and loud. There was an urgency in her voice. A determination to be heard, for her needs to be met.

“Dear Dad, I miss you soooooo much!!!! When are you going to visit me? I hope that you will be here soon and we can go to the movies together. I learned that it will take eight or 10 days for you to get this letter, but it used to take a month with the Pony Express. Now they have airplanes and postmen. I was a bumblebee for Halloween and Jake was a pirate. So can you be here soon? Love, your daughter (who hasn’t seen you in a long, long, long time).”

I knew that her dad lived in London and visited a few times a year. I’ve picked up on the ways that his absence has shaped her personality. She’s guarded, but sometimes she forgets herself, slipping an arm around mine or resting her head on my shoulder while we read books to each other. She’s not overly sentimental, but she’s intensely thoughtful. She’s taught me the difference between the two.

“Read me yours,” she prompted me.

I inhaled. “Not today. Why don’t you design a stamp and envelope to send your letter with?” I tried, hoping to distract her.

If there’s something Lilly could do all day, it’s art projects. No matter how many times I’ve reminded her that I’m her writing tutor, she still begs me to let her draw and make things. I allow her to sketch pictures to accompany her stories; sometimes we make books or writing wands or mobiles. But that day, she ignored my question, gently removed the tear-stained paper from my hands, and read my letter aloud:

“Dear Dad,” she started as she swung her head back like an adult. “I was thinking of the time you bought me a kid’s bed that you swore was a full-sized mattress. You came to visit me because there was a train strike and called dibs on my bed. I listened to you tossing and turning from the pull-out couch followed by a loud thud as you fell off the stupid mattress.”

She paused. “Wait, why did he buy you a kid’s bed? Didn’t he know that you were a grown up?”

My irises sunk to the bottom of two wishing wells. “I guess not.”

She cocked her head and returned to the page.

“We laughed uncontrollably as the moon threw a spotlight on the wooden floor of my tiny West Village apartment, not just because the bed was ridiculous, but because we were both so stubborn.

“What’s ‘stubborn’?”

“When you really want to have things your way,” I supplied.

“Okay.” She continued. “We dress in rough leather jackets to hide our eggshell hearts.” She looked at me again. “How is a heart like an egg?”

“It means that our hearts are fragile and can be broken.” I knew that this was something she’d ask me about weeks from now. When we think that kids don’t understand or are aren’t listening, they are turning our words over in their minds like a song.

“You forgot to write ‘The End,’” she reminded me.

The end. Everything that I’d stuffed inside me found its way outside of me. I coaxed heaving sounds down my windpipe and wiped my face on my sweater as she put her tiny arm around my shoulders.

“It’s okay, Marnie,” she told me.

I cried even harder.

“You miss him a lot…I miss my dad too.” She hesitated. “Then, your dad… he died?”

“Yes, but he was very old.” I regained my composure, reminding myself that I was there to do a job. Not just to teach, but to be the adult for her. “You know, he’s an angel now, so I don’t have to write him letters. I can talk to him anytime.” I didn’t believe this, but it sounded good, I thought.   

She considered this. “I think that you should still write him letters.”

“Where do I send them?” I was asking myself, but I said the words aloud.

For years, I’d written letters to my dad that I’d never sent, especially during the times when, like Lilly, I felt like I wasn’t being seen or heard by him. I wanted to be the most important person in his life. But unlike Lilly’s father, my dad was a constant in my childhood. He was my best friend, my protector, my first date, my superhero. When I grew up, we drifted apart. I spent years trying to find a way back to him, but before I could figure it out, his heart gave out. Mine carried on, aching for the dad I knew that he was capable of being.

During that writing session, my eight-year-old first grade reader gave me the answer on how to speak to my father again.

“Just put it in the mailbox. They’ll know how to deliver it to him.”

Maybe it was that simple. If I write the words and address it to him, the words will find him.    

Who said motherhood doesn't come with a manual?

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Did you hear that? That was the sound of Nordstrom and Maisonette making all your kid's summer wardrobe dreams come true.

Nordstrom partnered with Maisonette to create the perfect in-store pop-up shop from May 24th-June 23rd, featuring some of our favorite baby and kids brands, like Pehr, Zestt Organics, Lali and more. (Trust us, these items are going to take your Instagram feed to the next level of cuteness. 😍) Items range from $15 to $200, so there's something for every budget.

Pop-In@Nordstrom x Maisonette

Maisonette has long been a go-to for some of the best children's products from around the world, whether it's tastefully designed outfits, adorable accessories, or handmade toys we actually don't mind seeing sprawled across the living room rug. Now their whimsical, colorful aesthetic will be available at Nordstrom.

The pop-in shops will be featured in nine Nordstrom locations: Costa Mesa, CA; Los Angeles, CA; Chicago, IL; Austin, TX; Dallas, TX; Bellevue, WA; Seattle, WA; Toronto, ON; and Vancouver, BC.

Don't live nearby? Don't stress! Mamas all across the U.S. and Canada will be able to access the pop-in merchandise online at nordstrom.com/pop

But don't delay―these heirloom-quality pieces will only be available at Nordstrom during the pop-in's run, and then they'll be over faster than your spring break vacation. Happy shopping! 🛍

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

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Ayesha Curry has a beautiful family. Her girls, 6-year-old Riley and 3-year-old Ryan, are so smart and adorable and youngest, 10-month-old Canon, is a beautiful, growing baby boy.

He's so cute it practically hurts to look at his sweet little face. So Curry was understandably shocked when an Instagram commenter suggested that Canon (again, he is 10 months old) should go on a diet.

Seriously.

The whole thing started when Curry posted a photo taken after her husband, NBA star Steph Curry, won the Western Conference finals with the Golden State Warriors. The group shot shows Curry holding Canon surrounded by friends and family. The problematic comments began when someone asked the mom of three if she was pregnant again.

That question is not cool. It's not okay to comment on a woman's body like that, even if she is in the public eye. Curry recently told Working Mother that she's had times since becoming a mom when she's been depressed about her body, and struggled with her reflection as she's gone from being an NBA player's wife to a successful woman who is landing magazine covers for her own work.

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"I'm not thin; I'm 170 pounds on a good day. It's been a journey for me, and that's why I want my girls to understand who they are—and to love it."

Despite this, Curry took the pregnancy speculation in stride, replying with "LOL" and stating she is absolutely not pregnant.

"My 30-lb. son is just breaking my back in every photo," she wrote.

That's when the comments about Canon came.

"30 at 10 months?? Sheesh," wrote one user.

"30?!?!? He's bigger than my 19-month-old nephew," another commented.

"Maybe portion control his food a little bit," replied another Instagram user in a comment that got Curry's attention.

While she had responded to the inappropriate speculation about her own body with grace, she was not about to take baby body shaming and unsolicited parenting advice from an internet stranger.

"Excuse you? No. Just no," she wrote.

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No is right. It is never okay to presume a woman is pregnant and it is never okay to comment on a baby's weight. Plus, Canon is adorable just the way he is!

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, every baby grows at their own rate, but usually by their first birthday, the average child triples their birth weight. What's important isn't measuring your child against any chart, but that they continue to grow at the same pace they set in the first eight months of their life, the AAP notes.

Many moms can relate to Curry's situation here. People (sometimes well-meaning) seem to think it's okay to comment on baby's weight, but it absolutely isn't. Every baby is different and growing at their own speed, and no one knows what is best for their baby like their mom and dad do so strangers on the internet or even relatives at a family dinner need to keep those comments to themselves.

No one should be judging Canon's weight or Curry's parenting. Canon is 30 pounds of cuteness and his mother knows exactly how and what to feed him.

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When I was pregnant with my first daughter, I attended a party where I ate the better portion of a wheel of Brie cheese. If you've ever had a baby, are thinking of having a baby, or know someone who's had a baby, then you might know that soft cheeses are strictly forbidden when you're expecting—according to most Western doctors, at least. (It's a pasteurization thing. Raw milk ups your chance of ingesting harmful bacteria.)

But what can I tell you? The notion that cheese can be dangerous just seemed ridiculous to me, especially given that when my mom was pregnant with me, they expected I'd be born with a brandy in one hand and a cigarette in the other.

I ate the Brie.

An hour or so later, though, when my stomach started to hurt, I became hysterical: Oh, no. Something is wrong with my baby! What have I done?

I called my doctor, a lovely, sane man who would go on to deliver all four of my children. He listened and then very patiently explained to me that my baby and I were fine. What I had, he told me, was a case of mother's guilt.

"Let me tell you," he said, "it starts the minute you conceive that baby and it will not stop until the day you die."

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Truer words have never been spoken.

As aden + anais, our then-fledgling baby-goods company, continued to grow by leaps and bounds, so too did the size of my family. And though I'd always been a working mom, even before I started my company, the struggle to manage work and family life did not get any easier.

Once while I was out of town on business, my husband decided to take the girls out for ice cream. He stepped up to the counter, flanked by four little girls, giggling and chattering and ogling the display case. The cashier looked down at them, looked back at my husband, and in a small voice asked, "Do they have a mother?"

My husband took it in stride: "Of course, mate. She's just traveling for business."

But when he recounted the story to me later, instead of scoffing at this person's ridiculous question, it was like someone reached into my chest and ripped out my still-beating heart.

Once again, I wasn't there. Once again, I had been away from my girls because of the business. It should go without saying the obvious and insidious double-standard at work here: I have never once been asked, on the days when I'm out and about alone with the girls if they have a father.

Women share a common anguish over juggling their responsibilities. No amount of starry-eyed optimism over the things that women can accomplish in the business world will soothe the guilt of the mom who feels she should be in two places at once: at home, with her children, and at work, doing what earns her a paycheck and what she (hopefully) finds meaningful.

Each of these—children and work—can feel like a calling, we can feel devoted to both. But which one takes precedence moment to moment? What is the cost to our children when we give our career priority in a given moment? These are questions all parents grapple with on a daily basis, even if unconsciously.

Mommy guilt shows up in different ways for different women. It can show up at the grocery store when our kid starts screaming in aisle seven and we think we should have it all under control.

It shows up when we work nights or weekends to finish that project—the one we worked so hard to land—which takes precious time away from them.

It shows up when we don't know how to make the changes they need or we lack the emotional energy to do so.

It's there when the "perfect birthday party" doesn't go as planned and ends in tears and tantrums.

It shows up when we don't have the space to be emotionally available to them, because, well, stuff happens.

For many of us, it starts at pregnancy with pressure to give birth vaginally like some heroic warrior goddess, surrounded by candles and people chanting.

It starts with the phrase "breast is best," which brings with it a heavy load of guilt for those who physically can't produce milk (I couldn't, despite trying for months), or have to return to a workplace with no lactation rooms, or simply prefer not to breastfeed.

It's there when we crave time to ourselves but feel as though we should be giving time to our families because to do otherwise is considered selfish.

Instead of seeing the conundrum for what it is—a Chinese finger trap which keeps us struggling instead of accepting our reality—we strive to do it all. We think we can be a superhero mom and superhero career woman all the time, every day. Not surprisingly, this leads to an incredible amount of burnout.

What I struggled with most, especially trying to juggle a full-time job, growing a side business, and raising an expanding family, is the societal belief that working moms are somehow failing because we choose work, rather than to be with our kids day in and day out.

Women are up against commonly held beliefs that we don't want to work, that we value our careers less than men do, and that huge swaths of us will ultimately leave our jobs to care for our homes and children. (I would guess that every mother reading this was asked at least once during her pregnancy whether she would be returning to work after she gave birth.) The fact that we've had children is often given as the reason that so few women have snagged boardroom or C-suite spots.

The judgment about women's career choices probably won't stop anytime soon. Most of us would say our choice to work is not, in fact, a choice. Most of us either need to work to support ourselves and our families, or we need to work to feel fulfilled.

Was it a choice to work, or to start my business? Not so much. Working was not only financially important to my family, but it was important to me. When I moved from Australia to New York and initially couldn't work for lack of an appropriate visa, I learned that I could not be idle for long without suffering the consequences of lethargy, depression and a total lack of interest in life.

My career is fulfilling, and I'm convinced I would be a terrible mother if I were a full-time stay-at-home mom. Even though I once had to use my whole salary to pay for quality childcare, investing in my career has always been worth it.

Excerpted from What It Takes: How I Built a $100 Million Business Against the Odds by Raegan Moya-Jones with permission of Portfolio, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. Copyright © Raegan Moya-Jones, 2019.

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In recent months there has been a growing awareness about the tragedy of maternal health care in America, specifically how much more dangerous it is for black women to become mothers. Black women are 3 to 4 times more likely than white women to die during or right after pregnancy than white mothers and racism and the implicit bias of health care providers allows this to happen.

This week, Sen. Kamala Harris reintroduced the Maternal Care Access and Reducing Emergencies (CARE) Act to address this issue."The health status and the well-being of Black mothers should concern everyone," she wrote on Twitter. "I re-introduced my Maternal CARE Act to ensure women are listened to in our health care system."

Implicit bias is basically the ways in which we stereotype people, even unconsciously, and how these stereotypes impact our actions. When it comes to maternal health care, the implicit bias of providers can mean black mothers' concerns go unheard, even when they're paying for the best medical care money can buy.

This is happening to moms at all income levels and is something that Serena Williams has been very open about, and even Beyonce felt the effects of.

According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, "implicit bias may affect the way obstetrician–gynecologists counsel patients about treatment options such as contraception, vaginal birth after cesarean delivery, and the management of fibroids."

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Harris's Maternal Care Access and Reducing Emergencies (CARE) Act would create grants to ensure black mothers have access to maternal care and that healthcare providers are trained to avoid the kind of bias that results in black moms losing their lives, and babies losing their mothers.

Harris has seen this in her own state, where black women make up 5% of the pregnant population, but 21% of the pregnancy-related deaths. California's Dignity in Pregnancy and Childbirth Act is seeking to change that on the state level, and Harris is hoping to do the same on a national level by passing her federal act (and winning the Democratic primary).

Her future in the Presidential race remains to be seen, but with Maternal Care Access and Reducing Emergencies (CARE) Act she's trying to ensure that black mothers are seen and no longer overlooked in America's healthcare system.

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We've said it here at Motherly many times: The majority of moms just don't feel like society supports them. Our 2019 State of Motherhood survey found a whopping 85% of mothers feel this way, up from 74% last year.

We've wondered if anyone is listening, but the race for the Democratic primary proves many politicians are.

This week Kirsten Gillibrand, a mom of two herself, announced her new economic policy platform known as the Family Bill of Rights.

In a Medium post published Wednesday, Gillibrand explained that she believes Americans have the right to a safe and healthy pregnancy, the right to give birth or adopt a child, the right to personally care for those children in their infancy and access health care for them, the right to a safe and affordable nursery, and the right to affordable child care and early education before kindergarten.

She's proposing a lot here. Like Senator Elizabeth Warren before her, Gillibrand points out that the "U.S. has the highest rate of pregnancy-related deaths in the industrialized world, and black women are 3–4 times more likely to die during or after childbirth than white women."

Like Warren, she plans to make America a safer place to give birth. She also plans to "require insurance companies to cover treatments like IVF" to make sure that reproductive medicine isn't out of reach for families. She wants to make sure all families, regardless of sexual orientation, race or income level can welcome a child.

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That's why one of her promises is to ensure taxpayer-funded adoption agencies can't discriminate against potential parents, and why she plans to "provide a tax credit to ensure that a family's ability to adopt and provide a stable home for a child isn't dependent on their wealth."

That tax credit would help parents who are adopting older children, and Gillibrand's plan for safe and affordable nurseries would help parents who are coming home with newborns. She plans to provide baby boxes that contain a small mattress and can be used as a safe sleep surface but will also be packed with "diapers, swaddle blankets, and onesies."

And of course, like so many politicians in America right now, she's got a plan for paid family leave, but she's also tackling children's health care in the same breath. "It's past time we create a national paid family and medical leave insurance program, so that everyone can take the time they need to be with their loved ones without having to worry about how they'll pay the bills. And I would ensure that every child has the right to health care, by making the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) universal," she explains.

From there, Gillibrand is committing to universal pre-K and an expansion of the Child and Dependent Care tax credit to help families with the cost of childcare.

With more than 20 competitors running against her and a poll numbers suggesting she's nowhere near the lead, many may not take Gillibrand's announcement seriously. There are a lot of promises in her Family Bill of Rights, but that fact alone reminds us just how much American families are missing right now.

Time will tell how far Gillibrand will get on this platform, but we hope other politicians (in both parties) are listening. Because she was listening to us. And she's got our attention.

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