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My Wrinkly Stomach Won’t Stop Me From Rocking This Bikini

“Is that what my stomach is going to look like after I have two kids?" my sister asks.


If anyone else had asked me the same question, I'd probably cry, but I know she's curious, not cruel. She's staring at my belly, wide-eyed. I am wearing a bikini and we are about to head to the pool in her backyard. We've just celebrated my second child's first birthday and my sister is very pregnant with her second. A few pounds of baby weight linger around my waist, but that's not what my sister is referring to.

My stomach has never been flat. It was softer than the rest of me even before I had kids, when I was running marathons, doing Ironmans, and cycling over mountain passes. But since having babies, the skin around my navel is wrinkly. It reminds me of an elephant's ear.

“I don't know what your stomach will look like after you have this baby." I tell her. “But this is how mine looks after two kids."

I'd like to tell you I was wearing a bikini that day because it was clean and it was at the top of my swimsuit pile, but that wouldn't be true. The truth is, when I choose a bikini over a one piece, there's a lot to it.

Kids watch what you do not what you say

I don't think there's a parent in the world who would argue with this. It may be one of the bleakest realities of parenthood. Our kids are watching, even (or maybe especially) when we think they're not. They're like little scientists wearing noise-canceling headphones so they can focus on watching what you do without being distracted by your words. When I wear a two-piece, I'm showing my daughters you can be comfortable in your body even if you don't have washboard abs and a thigh gap.

Fake it 'til you make it is a real thing

I am comfortable with my body – most of the time. Some days I'm just not feeling so hot. It could be I've gained a couple pounds (which, in my mind, has propelled me from a size four to a size 44 overnight). Maybe I've skipped a workout or two, or I'm feeling guilty and bloated because of last night's ice cream. Taking off my cover-up to reveal a bikini is a lot like jumping into a cold pool. It's uncomfortable at first, but once you get used to it, it's lovely. I've never been one to sit back and stay in my comfort zone. There's a lot to be said for faking it 'til you make it. While I'm not 100 percent happy with my body every minute of every day, the more often I wear a two-piece, the easier it becomes.

I already have a bikini body

The media (e.g. people who want to sell us stuff) is trying to brainwash us into thinking our bodies aren't good enough (so they can sell us stuff to fix our problem). I'm not buying it. The idea that your body is only ready to hit the beach in a bikini once it looks a certain way is no more grounded in reality than your toddler's imaginary friend. My body is, by definition, ready to wear a bikini when I put a bikini on it. Period. No one decides if I deserve to wear a bikini but me.

Dolls

Television, movies, and magazines aren't the only ones selling our kids a specific, unattainable brand of beauty. Most of us can look no farther than our daughters' bedrooms to find a stash of miniature versions of women whose real-life figures would be impossible without cosmetic surgery – and lots of it. Not only that, but according to figures from Rehabs.com they'd be physically unable to hold their heads up or walk, given the unreasonable length and girth of their necks and their absurdly tiny feet.

I could ban sexualized dolls (Barbies, Bratz, and all the others) from our home, but that wouldn't make it impossible for my kids to find them at friends' houses. Beside, I think depriving my kids of a certain toy or doll would only enhance the allure. Thankfully, my daughters (ages three and five) still think I am the most beautiful girl in the world. For now Barbie doesn't have anything on me – except maybe an astronaut suit.

My stomach deserves to see the sun

It stretched so hard each time I was pregnant I thought my skin would split…then it would stretch some more. Sometimes I look at my stomach and marvel that it looks as good as it does. When I see pictures of myself about to burst during each of my pregnancies, I think it would be totally reasonable if the skin of my stomach hung down to at least mid-thigh. Miraculously, it's still closely connected to my belly. If anything were going to make me believe in God, this is it.

Hiding my stomach from the sun and the breeze would be like blaming the victim. It has done so much for me. The least I can do in return is let it catch a few rays. Like most women approaching 40 who have had children, my body shows signs of wear. When you live in a culture that expects women to look perfect and in a city where having babies is no excuse for not “getting your body back," wearing a bikini is a lot more complicated than revealing a patch of wrinkly skin around my navel.

Who said motherhood doesn't come with a manual?

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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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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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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!

My Instagram feed has been full of pictures of friends that their kids to the beach. I get it, I like the beach a lot. But the forest and the mountains are my real loves.

The way the damp leaves smell in the morning. The peace of walking underneath a canopy of trees. The sound of firewood crackling at night. Sigh, heaven.

I also grew up camping with my family and have done some intense hiking, backpacking and search and rescue. So it's kind of in my blood—I wear my frostbite scars with honor.

So I couldn't wait to get my future kids out into nature (minus the frostbite). I had visions of us hiking to a stream, swimming and splashing all day, then cooking a big meal over a campfire as we sing songs and laugh.

Then, I actually became a parent. Of three kids, actually, all of whom are still very young… and a dog… and a husband who doesn't really like camping.

Despite the realization that it wouldn't be exactly as I planned, this summer we finally decided to take our first camping trip as a family.

Here is what I learned:

1. Set the bar low

I had to remind myself over and over again that this trip would not live up to my expectations. I know this sounds like a bummer way to start a trip, but it really helped. I have the tendency to over-plan and get really (really) excited about things. This is not a bad quality, but it can lend itself to disappointment when things don't go as hoped. I didn't want us to leave the trip feeling like it was a failure in any way.

This trip was a success, and a big moment for our family, no matter how it turned out.

Instead of forcing activities or memories, I forced myself to just… be. Not expecting the trip to be magical opened us up to appreciate the unexpected moments of magic as they occurred naturally, without being forced.

This got harder, of course, when our car got stuck in the mud (true story), and we had to wait three hours for AAA to arrive. But when our kids talk about the camping trip now they still squeal with delight as they recount the story of the tow truck coming. You're welcome (I guess)?

2. We made it really easy

I put my camping ego aside, and we took a lot of shortcuts on this first trip. We didn't stay in a tent but rented a barebones cabin instead. For dinner, we ordered a pizza. And we let the kids play on our phones for a little bit in the evening.

Those things didn't make for a truly authentic experience, but goodness, they really helped. I have started to realize that there is no shame in making things easy, especially when you have little kids. And they didn't know any different. As far as they are concerned, we hiked the Appalachian Trail and gathered all our own food from the earth.

This was a lazy camping trip, for sure—and that was exactly what we needed.

3. I over-prepped for safety so I could calm down

I have hiked and camped in the White Mountains of New Hampshire in February—this was not that. At any given moment on our trip, an ambulance could have easily reached us, and we were only a few minutes away from a hospital at any point. But it made me feel much better to know that we were safe and ready for anything that should happen.

We bought a first aid kit, a survival kit, too many flashlights and bottled water. I was really big on everyone wearing good footwear and teaching them how to walk carefully on uneven terrain.

We also used the opportunity to teach about other areas, like water safety. Rita Goldberg of the British Swim School recommends "[teaching kids] to avoid water hazards and to not approach a fountain, river, pool or lake without an adult's supervision and permission."

We also incorporated their "Water Watcher" program, which assigns a "badge of responsibility" to one adult at all times, who maintains a constant watch over the kids while they are near water.

These easy steps, that we decided on ahead of time, made me feel much more relaxed, and therefore better able to enjoy our time.

This trip took some emotional adjustments on my part. It wasn't glamorous, or particularly exciting. But that was exactly what it needed to be. Emily Glover wrote that "by getting away from the distractions of home and focusing on each other...we're reminded of what really matters."

We found that in the woods—together.

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