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I had one of those days yesterday, the kind that left me with a kink in my neck that prevents me from looking up from my beat-up Uggs. The kind of day that prevents me from looking up at all. Yesterday, I cried on the playground of my son’s preschool. It’s been a decade or two since I let it all out in the midst of flying balls and staring children, but let me tell you, it is still just as embarrassing.


It was only for a second. I reeled it back in as quickly as it escaped, but it lasted just long enough for me to reveal my ugly-cry face to my son’s preschool teacher. She was probably having a hard enough time already as she was coming to me to talk about my autistic son’s behaviors in a general education class.

Why is my autistic son in a general education classroom? Well, I could argue it’s for inclusion or exposure, but the truth is that I fought to keep him in the general education system because it just felt right to me, as his mom, at the time.

When Henry was not talking at all at two years old, our pediatrician suggested preschool. Get him around some other kids and the words will come, the doctor advised. Give it three months.

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That’s what we did. I was so nervous putting him in preschool before he could ask for water, or even for me, but he needed something. So did I: I needed a break.

Three months came and went and, while Henry adjusted to nap-time and separation anxiety in a “typical” way, the words did not come. Instead of lessening my fears, preschool exposed new ones I had yet to discover. Still no words came. When I came to pick Henry up each day, he was always playing happily and he was also always playing alone. Maybe he was playing in close proximity to other children, but he was never playing with them.

It was like a seam in the universe was stitched between my boy and this world. While I was made aware of Henry’s solitary nature, I was always comforted by the teachers and preschool director, who patiently reminded me that some children take longer to adjust than others. We waited, and a year went by.

Within that year, we got our answer: autism. It all added up. It was a hard pill to swallow, but it also made sense. In a way, the diagnosis was preferable to the potential diagnosis. Either way, I’d be worrying, but at least now I knew why.

We did speech therapy and child development class and requested an IEP meeting with the school district. They offered us a special ed preschool program where Henry would receive speech and occupational therapy weekly and be amongst his “peers.” The school within our residence district happened to be the best program in the county. With high hopes, my mom and I went to take a tour.

We walked into each classroom with smiles on our faces, eager to hear about the different activities, but I couldn’t help notice all the self-directed children engaged in self-directed play right next to one another. When the tour came to an end, we thanked the teachers and walked to the car in silence. Opening the car door, I plopped myself into my mom’s passenger seat and began to cry.

“I don’t think I can send him here, Mom.”

She looked at me and said, “Oh honey, I’m so glad to hear you say that.”

It was my gut, my heart, and my disregard for pragmatics that led me to keep Henry at his general education preschool. At that time, the child advocate who represented us told me straight up, “I think you’re making a mistake.” I respected his honesty, but I told him that my child needs the world. He needs the world to stay with him. He needs the world to continue playing around him, circling him, while he pauses for a moment.

The world needs to be there when he wakes up. If it’s not, he may think that he’s alone and go back inside his mind to hibernate for another year. Another valuable year. I told our advocate that my son may be bullied in the general education system, but that may be better than being ignored, isolated, segregated, separated, numb, disenfranchised. I didn’t want him to be a bystander.

Maybe pain is a part of real life, and he deserves to live a real life and learn from it, as we all must. He deserves the chance to grow, thicken his skin, show others how wrong they are about him. It wouldn’t be easy, but it would be worth it. My heart knew what felt right to me as a mom. So we kept him in general education and his amazing private preschool was happy to have him stay, no questions asked.

The director of the program even shared with me that she has family members with autism and that, in her experience, social progress is the key that unlocks the doors to both speech and sensory issues. I agreed that in order for Henry to learn to speak, he needed to be spoken to, constantly, by everyone around him. That’s exactly what general education could give him that special education could not.

My child advocate strongly disagreed. “It’s not better to be bullied as a child, ever.” It was hard and painful logic to refute. I did not refute it, I just followed my heart. It’s all that I’ve done since I started on this path, and I’ve tripped and fallen plenty of times along the way, and that’s okay. However, I cannot afford to take my child down with me when I hit the pavement.

I tripped yesterday, like a child on a playground. This time, I wasn’t a child. I was a mother. A broken-hearted mother overcome with a hundred different emotions in one moment. As I listened to my son’s teacher gently break down for me that he’s struggling and that she’s struggling with him, so many feelings showed up. Initially, it was good-ol’-fashioned embarrassment. I know I don’t need to (nor should I) feel embarrassed over my son’s disability, but sometimes, I just do.

I was sad that this day had come, the one I hadn’t wanted to acknowledge as it lingered off ahead somewhere on the distant horizon of the future. This was the day my child advocate was trying to protect us from. While Henry wasn’t being kicked out of his general education preschool (he wasn’t even in trouble) this day now stood as a pillar along the rocky road I’ve been walking. It was a marker in time, a reminder, a reality check.

My son’s teacher wanted to know if there was anything she could do to help calm Henry down when he gets upset. She is the kindest soul and loves my son, and she just wants to help him, but I could see that she’s tired. I recognized that look of defeat. It’s the one you get where you’ve tried everything and it makes no difference at all. It was like looking in the mirror. She merely asked what I do at home when Henry gets upset and the ugly-cry face unleashed itself.

Her intentions were pure, and I’m so grateful that she came to me. I knew as soon as she began to speak that this conversation was different than the ones she has with other parents, because my son is different. There it is: cue the face. As if this returned realization was not enough to sufficiently and publicly upset me, there was still another layer of reality that I had to confront.

I didn’t have the answer to her question. I froze as if I’d just been called on in geography class while passing notes. Was this a trick question? Why couldn’t I answer it? It was a very straightforward inquiry. Yet I stared back at her with a vacuous expression and, like my son, I struggled to find the words I needed in that moment.

I couldn’t find them because they weren’t there. I don’t know how to calm my son down when he “melts down.” I try to comfort, love, and support him. I try to reprimand, discipline, and explain to him. I try to ignore, detach, and disengage. I try everything. To no avail.

I fail. I get pushed and kicked. I tear up, hold in, let go, and still, my son remains end-of-the-world level upset. It is defeating. It’s exhausting. It makes you want to give up.

What I didn’t have the composure to say to her in that moment is that I’ve spent the last three months of my life fighting tooth and nail to get my son behavioral therapy. I was too proud to tell her that we’d lost our health insurance over the summer. I was too emotional to explain that as certain behaviors have escalated, my family’s resources have dissipated like sand running through a child’s fingers. Instead, I just said, “It’s been hard,” and she understood.

I am left now with an emotional string tied around my index finger. It’s a conscious reminder of the changing tide, and of the knowledge that not a single one of us can predict or control it. No one can tell me what is right or what is best for my son. No one can tell me if it’s fair to his teacher or the other children to keep him there and for how long. At least not yet. Only time will tell.

It took Henry one year of general education preschool to begin speaking. It took him one year to make a friend. Not just a child who plays near him or alongside him, but a friend. An adorable little girl who is always by his side when I arrive to pick him up. His first friend, his first words, what are they worth? Are they worth risking potential bullying? Are they worth extra stress on his teachers? I don’t know. Only time will tell.

Yesterday, I cried on the playground. Today my neck is frozen in a downward position. Even though it hurts, I must keep looking up. Life is marked with pain, regardless of the road you take. It’s a patient beacon that waits for us like rest stops along the highway of life, summoning us to pause for a moment to recall that we’re all lost travelers being led by unreliable navigation systems that are constantly rerouting.

While I have more work to do, more tears in store, and (God-forbid) more ugly cry faces waiting to be unleashed, there is no right or wrong answer. There is only my heart and his to navigate daily, until and if the time arrives to nudge our hearts in a new direction.

Yesterday was a hard day, but it’s not the end of the road. I know that I must continue on and that as long as I am looking up, I will see the signs that time will mark for me along this journey. While it may hurt at times, the pain is worth every detour, rest stop, and pothole. It’s worth every tear on the playground. It’s life, and it’ll be waiting patiently, next to me, when my son pauses to look up.

Who said motherhood doesn't come with a manual?

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I honestly can't remember how I used to organize and share baby photos before I started using FamilyAlbum. (What am I saying? I could never keep all those pictures organized!) Like most mamas, I often found myself with a smartphone full of photos and videos I didn't know what to do with. My husband and I live states away from our respective families, and we worried about the safety of posting our children's photos on other platforms.

Then we found FamilyAlbum.

FamilyAlbum is the only family-first photo sharing app that safely files photos and videos by date taken in easy-to-navigate digital albums. From documenting a pregnancy to capturing the magical moments of childhood, the app makes sharing memories with your family simple and safe. And it provides free, unlimited storage—meaning you can snap and snap and snap to your heart's delight without ever being forced to choose which close-up of your newborn's tiny little nose you want to keep.

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And, truly, the app is a much-needed solution for mamas with out-of-state family. Parents can share all their favorite memories with friends and relatives safely within the app without worrying about spamming acquaintances with every adorable baby yawn the way you might on a social network or a long text thread. (Did I mention I have a thing for baby yawn videos? I regret nothing 😍) It's safe because your album is only visible to the people you share it with. The app will even notify album members when new photos have been posted so they can comment on their favorite moments and we can preserve their reactions forever. It's also easy for my husband and I to share our photos and videos. All of our memories are organized in one place, and we never have to miss out on seeing each other's best shots.

And because #mombrain is real, I especially appreciate how much work FamilyAlbum takes off my plate. From automatically organizing photos and videos by month and labeling them by age (so I can skip doing the math in my head to figure out if my daughter was five or six months when she started sitting up) to remembering what I upload and preventing me from uploading the same photo four times, the app makes it easy to keep all my memories tidy—even when life feels anything but.

FamilyAlbum will quickly become your family's solution for sharing moments, like when you're sending a video to the grandma across the country. Grandparents need only tap open the app to get a peek into what is going on with our girls every day. When my sister sends her nieces a present, the app has become where I can share photos and video of the girls opening their gifts so she never feels like she's missing a thing. The app will even automatically create paper photo books of your favorite shots that you can purchase every month so you can hold on to the memories forever (or to share with the great-grandma who has trouble with her smartphone 😉). Plus, you can update the books with favorite photos or create your own from scratch. No matter what, the app keeps your photos and videos safe, even if your phone is lost or damaged.

But what I love most about FamilyAlbum is that it's family-first. Unlike other photo sharing platforms, it was designed with mamas (and their relatives!) in mind, creating a safe, simple space to share our favorite moments with our favorite people. And that not only helps us keep in touch—it helps us all feel a little bit closer.

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This year marks FamilyAlbum's 4th anniversary! Click here to celebrate and learn more about their "Share your #FamilyAlbumTime" special promotion running until March 31, 2019.

For some celebrities, pregnancy is a time to retreat from the public eye and be more strategic about what they share online. They guard their personal lives a little closer, and their social media presence gets a little more curated.

But when Amy Schumer announced her pregnancy in October, she didn't stop sharing. We saw—and heard, in some of her more graphic Insta stories—just how hard this pregnancy and the resulting hyperemesis (an extreme form of morning sickness) have been on Schumer.

Schumer's humor has always been real, and her new Netflix special, Growing, is one of the realest descriptions of pregnancy I've ever seen on my TV.

As a mom who didn't glow as much as I groaned through my pregnancy, I laughed so hard I cried. And as a mom of a child diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, I cried tears of relief.

In one hour Amy Schumer simultaneously made me feel seen and helped me see a happy future for my son, and I can't thank her enough.

[Warning, light spoilers ahead]

Amy Schumer: Growing | Official Trailer [HD] | Netflix www.youtube.com


The Netflix description for this special describes it as "both raunchy and sincere" and that's totally accurate. If you've seen Schumer's previous Netflix special, you know you can't watch this until the kids are in bed.

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In Growing Schumer proves that pregnancy didn't make her a different person or take the curse words out of her vocabulary. She is who she is, she just happens to be becoming a mom, too.

And becoming a mom has not been easy. Schumer's description of yeast infections, and vomiting and hemorrhoids and all the parts of pregnancy that nobody puts on a felt letter board gave me flashbacks and validation.

In Growing, Schumer is saying that it's okay not to love being pregnant and that it doesn't mean you don't love that baby growing inside you. It's a message more women need to hear because it's hard to see photo after photo of smiling mamas sporting cute bumps and wonder if you're the only woman who doesn't love feeling someone sit on your bladder.

That feeling (the emotional one, not the bladder one) made me feel alone in my pregnancy, but it's been three years since I wondered if there was something wrong with me. These days, I'm more worried about whether my son, who is now a preschooler, will grow up to think there's something wrong with him.

As the mother of a kid on the spectrum, I gasped when Schumer explained that her husband, Chris Fischer, is too. I sobbed when she described some of her husband's quirks, because I see them everyday in my son.

I don't want to spoil the special too much, but let me tell you this: In revealing that her husband, the father of her future child, is on the spectrum, Schumer gave me so much hope.

I'm so grateful that Schumer (and Fischer, who must be on board with this) shared that bit of info because sitting there in front of my TV all the versions of my son's future that got erased when we got our ASD diagnosis came flooding back.

I could see him as a grown man, and he wasn't alone. He was falling in love with a partner like Schumer. He was becoming a father like Fischer. He was happy (and different, in the way Schumer describes her husband) but he wasn't alone.

Schumer's trademark raunch isn't for everybody, but her authenticity and vulnerability sure is for me. For 60 minutes I watched a woman stand alone on a stage and I felt less alone.

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Over the years, switching to nontoxic products has become a popular trend. But, as moms ourselves, we understand how overwhelming it can be to consider a lifestyle change. We founded Branch Basics with the idea that simple swaps in your cleaning closet could be the jumpstart to living chemical-free.

For many people, the swap has been influenced by various headlines. One study compared cleaning your home with conventional products to smoking an entire pack of cigarettes every day. Additionally, the EPA has reported that indoor air quality is actually worse than outdoor air quality.

With every reason to make the swap, here is a beginner's guide to non-toxic home cleaning. We call this process our Clean Sweep with just three simple steps.

1. Review

Pull out all of the cleaners (and pesticides) you currently have in your home. Yes, even the dusty ones deep in the back of the cabinet! Once you have these out, review them for red flag words, like "caution, warning or danger."

Cleaning companies are not required by law to list their ingredients, so any cleaners that are not transparent about their ingredients should be taken out of your home. Remove anything with parfum or fragrance, as the word fragrance represents a fragrance recipe that may have never been tested for safety. (Pro tip: You can use essential oils to make scents you like.)

Other common ingredients to avoid are:

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  • Perchloroethylene or "PERC"
  • Quarternary Ammonium Compounds, or "QUATS"
  • 2-Butoxyethanol
  • EPA registered pesticides like Chlorine
  • Methylisothiazolinone "MIT"
  • Benzisothiazolinone "BIT"
  • Any of the Isothiazolinone family
  • Ethoxylated Alcohols

Finally, toss your dryer sheets and fabric softeners if they're loaded with carcinogens such as dichlorobenzene and benzyl acetate, respiratory irritants such as chloroform and benzyl alcohol, neurotoxins like linalool and ethanol, and endocrine disruptors such as phenoxyethanol and phthalates.

For any ingredient you are unsure of or don't recognize, the internet has great resources like the Environmental Working Group's (EWG) Guide to Healthy Cleaning, where you can look up health ratings from 1-10 (1 being the safest to 10 being the most toxic).

Another excellent tool is the Think Dirty® app, an easy way to evaluate ingredients in your beauty, personal care and household products. Just scan the product barcode and it will give you easy-to-understand info on the product and its ingredients. We recommend that household products have ingredients rated A on EWG's Guide to Healthy Cleaning or a zero on Think Dirty.

2. Remove

If you find products that have toxic chemicals in them, remove them from your home. If you aren't ready to part with some of your products, put them in an airtight Sterilite container in your garage or backyard. This simple act of removal will improve your air quality immediately.

3. Replace

Now it's time to streamline. Do some research and find items that are plant-based or otherwise naturally-based. Branch Basics offers a variety of nontoxic alternatives to popular household products, like laundry detergent and bathroom cleaner. The Honest Company created safe baby and beauty products. And Beautycounter provides safer skin care and cosmetics. You can even scour the internet for resources for homemade alternatives, too. If it feels overwhelming, start with your most-used products and work your way down the list.

Switching to nontoxic cleaning supplies is one of the easiest ways to start creating a healthier home and there's so much information out there that can walk you through what should and shouldn't be in your products. Simple swaps can make a big difference for your family.

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You know that you want to raise your children differently than how you were raised—with compassion and connection, instead of punishment and reward. Except the only thing is, friends and extended family just don't seem to get your parenting choices.

You can feel their spoken and unspoken judgments, and it's really putting you on edge, but you don't want to have uncomfortable conversations or tension. So what do you do, mama?

Here are 10 positive phrases you can say to family and friends who just don't seem to get your parenting.

1. "I appreciate how much you care about our kids, but I'm really happy with how we're doing it."

This response finds the common ground. Both of you care deeply about your children, and that's the main thing to acknowledge. It sets a limit and lets the other person know you are not looking for help and advice, but appreciate their intention.

2. "I've thought and read a lot about parenting and I'm really happy with what I've learned."

Parenting nowadays can look pretty different from how it was in previous generations, and there are so many resources giving contradictory advice. A friend or relative may make the mistaken assumption that you are doing it all wrong simply because it's not how they did it, or are doing it. This response lets them know you have made a thoughtful choice.

Gently pointing out that you have read and thought about their parenting style may surprise them. Perhaps your confident response may even make them curious about what you have read, and why you decided it's the right way for you to parent.

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3. "We've tried different methods, and this is what works best for us."

Let your friend or relative know that you aren't looking for advice, you've tried different styles of parenting and are content with what you're doing.

4. "We find that they're more responsive when we set limits gently."

If you are taking the more peaceful route, then you'll find that it's pretty common for parents to mistake gentle parenting with permissive parenting. Pointing out that you are setting limits, even if they look a little different, can be reassuring to a relative who thinks you are not in control.

5. "I've noticed that if we listen to the crying rather than distracting or ignoring them, then they let out their feelings and are less likely to be upset later."

A lot of people have a huge misunderstanding about crying. They think of it as a negative that needs to be stopped instead of as a healthy and healing way to express emotions. This is a simple way to tell them that there is a purpose in allowing feelings, and it's actually better in the long run for your family.

6. "Every family is different, but this is what works best for us."

Parenting differences can often bring up strong feelings between friends because one person may assume you are judging them and think that what they're doing is wrong. Acknowledging that every family is different is a peacemaker. It shows that choosing a different path doesn't mean you are judging or critical of others, and you get that everyone makes different choices.

7. "Kids are so different. This is how my child responds best."

Everyone is the best expert on their family and what their children need. Nobody on the outside looking in can tell you how to parent. This phrase lets the other person know that what you are doing is based on what your understanding of what your child needs and ensures they won't need an explanation.

8. "Don't worry, I can handle this!"

If a friend or family member wants to step in and parent for you, this is a polite way of saying "no thanks."' A lot of people aren't comfortable around big emotions so perhaps they see your child crying and want to give them a lollipop to cheer them up.

This phrase gently lets them know they don't need to fix or solve the situation. It can be reassuring to them that despite the wild emotions of your child (or their challenging behavior), that you are feeling calm and under control.

9. "Thanks for your advice. I'll give it some thought."

This is a conversation closer. It lets the person know they've been heard and you aren't just dismissing what they say. But it also ends the debate, so it's perfect to use with someone you know will never understand what you're doing.

10. "I guess this must look a little different to how you were parented?"

This might not always be appropriate, but if the timing seems right it can open up a discussion about the roots of why the other person might feel the way they do about parenting. Sharing stories about how you were parented can help both come to an understanding that everyone chooses their own parenting path based on their own complex histories, and personal choices.

It also gives the other person a chance to express how they feel about their own childhood, which can help them feel heard, and more relaxed and flexible in their attitude to how you are parenting.

Plus one more that isn't a phrase: Just listen.

Sometimes, no response is needed. Often when people give advice or have strong feelings towards other people's parenting, it's because they feel a sense of responsibility. Perhaps your children's big emotions triggered memories from their childhood, and how they would have been treated if they acted out or expressed themselves.

In those moments, their unheard feelings get ignited and they respond from their own sense of hurt. It can be helpful just to listen to them, to accept that their reaction has nothing to do with you and your parenting, but is about their own history.

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Motherhood is a journey with highs so high so you'll remember them forever, and lows so low you'll curse the day away. I'm still navigating these uncharted waters and just when I feel like the sea has steadied, the water turns choppy again.

My days are filled with uncertainty as we discover more about what's beneath this sweet boy of mine. I know he is smart, strong, passionately curious, compassionate and spirited. What I'm still learning, though, are the differences that make him unique. It's difficult to describe what it's like to be a parent of a spirited child. The answer depends on the day, the task, the weather—the answer is always changing.

Our days ebb and flow, like waves of the ocean. They swell with enjoyment and eagerness and then naturally fade through periodic episodes of misunderstanding and confusion. Attachment and connection, followed by detachment and disconnection. Up and down, back and forth, give and take, push and pull.

My strong-willed child keeps me on my toes, but when I'm able to lift the hood, I can really see what's going on in with his engine. His spirited nature has brought brightness to my life. He is a child of high standards, but is an absolute delight. He is sweet and generous, creative and bright.

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Here are the joys I've learned from parenting a spirited child:

1. His curiosity is a good thing and it reminds me to slow down.

He's always interested in how things work and asks a lot of questions—oftentimes, he tries to figure it out on his own. His senses are keen, and his observations are imaginative and rich. Our five-minute walk to school quickly stretches to 15.

On our way, he'll notice the grasshopper sitting alone on a single branch and the intricate spiderweb laced in the bush nearby. He notices the beautiful colors of the flowers and the leaves changing in the fall.

He'll look up at the sky and see a heart-shaped cloud and hear the distant sound of a siren. He'll notice when one of my shirt buttons is unbuttoned and the single strand of hair on my sleeve. His mind never stops because he is always seeking out knowledge and gathering the data in his mind.

2. His compassion for others and empathy for his friends is admirable.

When he feels, he feels hard. When he expresses love for his baby brother, I'll catch him gently patting his back and giving him a soft embrace, followed up with a kiss and a whisper saying, "I love you."

He once saw his friend fall off her tricycle on the playground and quickly jumped off his and rushed over to make sure she was okay. Every ounce of his body and soul is poured out in those moments. The intense, passionate emotions add depth to my life and make me want to be a better person.

3. He never gives up.

He is determined, tenacious, and will not take "no" for an answer. And if we do say "no," he'll find another way to get a "yes." He's not intimidated by adults or peers and is confident in who he is and what he can do.

At soccer practice, he is the first in line to practice short drills and will run himself ragged until he scores a goal. During our morning school routine, he is the master of negotiation and can somehow convince me he's too full to eat the banana on his plate but not too full to finish off the glass of orange juice.

He is strong-willed and headstrong, qualities I know will serve him well in the future. He wants to learn on his own and test his own limits.

Parenting a spirited child is hard, but it's also rewarding. While it may be a frustrating and exhausting endeavor, I take comfort in knowing that he will grow up to be a leader.

He will be resilient and passionate, focused and unafraid to speak his mind. I don't want him to blend, I want him to shine. I want him to march through life, and not just add to the noise. I want him to love his spirit always, in all ways.

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