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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.

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.    

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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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I can vividly remember the last time I remember feeling truly rested. I was on vacation with my family, and my dad and I had started a tradition of going to sleep at 10 p.m., then waking up at 10 a.m. to go for a run. After five days of twelve hours of sleep a night, I remember actually pausing and thinking, "I am truly not at all tired right now!"

That was probably 15 years ago.

Of course, being tired pre-kids and being tired post-kids are two entirely different beasts. Pre-kids, tiredness was almost a badge of pride. It meant you had stayed up late dancing with friends or at a concert with your boyfriend. It meant you had woken up early to hit a spin class before gliding into work, hair still damp from your shower, for a morning meeting. Being tired meant you were generally killing it at life—and I was still young enough that, with a little concealer, I could look like it.

Tired post-kids is a whole other animal.

Tired post-kids means you probably still went to bed at a reasonable hour, but you're still exhausted. Maybe you even slept in past sunrise... but you're still exhausted. You may not have worked out in weeks... but you're still exhausted. And staying out late dancing with your girlfriends? (I mean... is that real life? Was it ever?) Nope, didn't do that. But—you guessed it!—you're still exhausted.

Sometimes I look at my husband and say, "I think if I could sleep for about five days, then I would feel rested again."

But considering the average new mom loses almost two months of sleep in her child's first year of life, even that is probably a low estimate of what I really need.

Because being a mom is exhausting.

It's exhausting always putting someone else's needs above your own. I often find myself actually giving my daughter the food off my plate (because, when you're two, mom's meal must be better even if you're eating the exact same thing).

Or I'll sacrifice sneaking my own nap to lie uncomfortably with her on the couch because it means she sleeps an extra 30 minutes.

Or I'll carry her up and down flights of stairs she is perfectly capable of scaling on her own because, well, she's tired or it's just quicker than nagging her to hurry up all the time.

I often end the day bone-tired, shocked at the physical exertion of just keeping this little person alive.

It's exhausting remembering all the things. The mental load of motherhood is so real, and sometimes I'm not sure it won't crush me.

I schedule and remember the doctor appointments, keep the fridge stocked and plan the meals, notice when my husband is low on white shirts and wash and fold the laundry, add the playdates and the date nights to the calendar, and add any assortment of to-dos to my day because, well, I'm the parent at home, so I must have time, right?

And when I drop one of the thousand balls I'm juggling, I writhe under the guilt of failing at my responsibility.

It's exhausting not getting enough sleep. The sleep gap doesn't end after baby's first year.

Studies have shown that parents lose as much as six months of sleep in their child's first two years of life. That sounds unbelievable at first...but I completely believe it.

Because sometimes I stay up later than I should just to get a few minutes of "me" time. Because sometimes my sleep-trained daughter still wakes up in the middle of the night with a nightmare or because she's sick or for no real reason at all and needs me to soothe her back to sleep.

Because sometimes I'm so busy trying to keep it all together mentally that I don't know how to turn my own brain off to get to sleep. And because sometimes (almost always) my daughter wakes up earlier than I would like her to and the day starts over before I'm ready.

It's exhausting maintaining any other relationship while being a mom. I try not to neglect my marriage. I try not to neglect my friendships. I try to make time for friendly interaction with my coworkers. I try to be there for my congregation. I try to keep all these connections alive and nurtured, but the fact is that some days my nurture is completely used up.

It's exhausting doing all of the above while being pregnant. Okay, this one might not resonate for every mom, but we all know being pregnant is hard. Being pregnant with a toddler? I'm shocked it's not yet an Olympic event. (I'm not sure if we'd all get gold medals or just all fall asleep at the starting gun.)

Most days, I'm so tired and busy I honestly forget that I am pregnant, only to be reminded at the end of the day when I finally collapse on the couch and the little one in my uterus wakes up to remind me. My body is doing amazing things, sure—and I have the exhaustion to show for it.

Of course, I know that this is just an exhausting season of life. One day, one not-so-far-off day, my children will be a bit more grown and be able to get their own breakfast in the morning. One day, they'll actually want to sleep in, and I'll be the one opening their curtains in the morning to start the day (maybe before they're really ready).

One day, they'll always walk up and down the stairs themselves and will stop stealing my food and I'll be able to nap without making sure they are asleep or with a sitter. One day, they won't need me to remember all the things.

And the really wild part? Just thinking about that day makes me miss these days, just a bit.

So, yes, I'm tired. I'm always tired. But I'm grateful too. Grateful I get to have these days. Grateful I get to have this life.

But also really grateful for those days I get to nap, too.

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For the first couple years of a child's life, their feet grow so rapidly that they typically need a new shoe size every two to three months (so, no, you're not imagining how many shoes you've been buying lately!).

Fortunately, things tend to slow down as they start walking and hit school age. Even so, it's important to make sure they're wearing the right size for maximum comfort and healthy development.

That's why we teamed up with the experts at Rack Room Shoes for tips on helping the whole family get back to school on the right foot.

1. Get professionally fitted at least once a year.

We love online shopping as much as anyone, but for the health of your child's feet, it's worth it to make at least an annual trip to a store to get them properly sized on a Brannock Device (yep, those old-school sizers you remember as a kid are still the most reliable indicators of foot length and width!). Back to school is a great time to plan a visit to a store with trained associates who can help ensure your little one is getting the right fit.

2. Remember not all feet (or shoes) are created equally.

Most babies have naturally pudgier feet that thin out as they get older, and many kids need a wider or narrower shoe than their peers. Visiting a store and speaking with a trained associate can help you gauge which shoe brand will best suit your child. Once you have that benchmark, shopping online will be easier.

3. Get good closure.

Shoe closure, that is. Nowadays, there's a variety of ways to fasten kids shoes, from slip-ons to velcro to elastic laces. Provide your child with a few options to find the closure that works best for you both.

4. Watch for tell-tale signs your child has outgrown their shoes.

Children will often be the last ones to tell you their favorite shoes are uncomfortable. If your child is tripping or walking funny, it may be time to size up.

5. Try the push-down toe method.

Think your kid has outgrown their kicks? Push down on the toe of their shoe with your thumb to see how much wiggle room they have. The ideal size is to have about half a thumb's width between the tip of the toe and the end of the shoe. (That space equates to about half a size.)

6. Pick a style they'll want to put on. (Here are some of our favorites!)

Most moms know the struggle of getting kids out the door in the morning—the right pair of shoes can help cut down on the (literal) foot-dragging. Opt for a fun style (consider shopping for their favorite color or a light-up design) that they'll be begging to wear every day. (But feel free to buy a second pair that's more your style too!)

You'll love that they're classic converse. They'll love the peek of pink.

Converse Girls Maddie, $44

BUY

7. Don't forget the sneakers.

Whether they're running through the recess or racing in P.E., school-age children need a pair of well-fitting, durable sneakers. Be sure to get them professionally fitted to ensure nothing slows them down on the playground.

8. Understand the size breakdowns.

Expert retailers like Rack Room Shoes break up sizing by Baby, Toddler, Little Kid, and Big Kid to make it easier to find the right section for your child. For boys, there's no size break between kids shoes and men's shoes. Girls, though, can cross over into women's shoes from size 4 (in girls) on—a girl's size 4 is a women's size 5.5 or 6.

Looking for more advice? Step into a Rack Room Shoes store near you or shop online. With a "Buy One, Get One 50% off" policy, you can make sure the whole family will put their best foot forward this back-to-school season. (We had to!)

Who knew Amazon had so many dreamy nursery must-haves? Maybe you have a friend or family member about to have a baby or you're preparing for your new bundle of joy—either way, you can save tons on grabbing some essentials on Prime Day.

We've rounded up our favorite nursery items from basics, like cribs and changing tables, to the essentials you never knew you needed (hint: lots of storage!).

1. 6-drawer dresser

This gorgeous dresser has plenty of space for baby's clothing and accessories—and will transition seamlessly to a big kid room one day. Even better? The top is large enough to be used as a changing table. The shade of white is great for any gender, too!

Dresser, Amazon, $239.99 ($329.99)

BUY HERE

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