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Like so many young gymnasts and their families, my daughter and I will be on a first-name basis with the U.S. Gymnastics team — Aly and Gabby, Madison, Simone (!) and Laurie.

We’ll be awed by their powerful, beautiful skills. My daughter soon begins her third year on the YMCA’s gymnastics team. I’ll watch and wonder how elite athletes handle their nerves when the spotlight’s so bright, the stakes so high.

One freakishly warm winter day my daughter, Saskia, had a gymnastics meet. While it was a record-warm winter day in New England, her feet were cold. Icy cold. “I don’t want to go to the meet!” she cried. I corralled us into the van, anyway. She wasn’t in her uniform.

“Your team needs you,” I reminded her.

“Who cares?” she shot back. “I’m not going.”

We pulled onto the highway.

She wasn’t a newbie. A second year teammate, her legs had gotten straighter during performances and she remembered to salute when she completed a routine or vault. The first year’s level one meets had been fewer and smaller.

At level two, the stakes were raised a notch. Maybe that increased pressure was just enough for the enterprise to feel different. She liked to perform in exhibitions, she liked to dangle upside down, and to hang out at practices with her friends. She harbored no Olympic dreams.

I found a parking space in the crowded, slushy lot. “I’m not competing,” she protested. We waited in a dank hallway for her group to be ushered into the gymnasium. There I handed both leotard and girl to her coach. “Tears,” I explained to the coach. “Resistance.”

“No problem,” her coach replied. “I’ve got this.”

“Thank you,” I said. “Good luck.” I blew my gymnast a kiss. “Have fun,” I called out.

Other team parents affirmed I’d done my part to get her into the arms – firm, good-humored, and loving ones – of her coaches.

I don’t harbor Olympic dreams, either. Four hours a week of practice is plenty. Olympic hopefuls practice — just practice — about 30 hours a week. That’s a number you’ll probably hear a bunch when commentators in Rio need to fill up airspace.

My older kids weren’t on teams like this at eight years old (well, not ever). But when Saskia was invited to try out for the team, I wholly endorsed the idea that she channel her considerable physical energies. Translation: tire her out, please! These coaches were wonderful teachers she trusted. I admire how they nurture friendships and team spirit, the gym feels warm and affirming, not mean-spirited or body-shaming or negative.

Competitions – and nerves – weren’t my area of expertise. Unsure what might have triggered her sudden strike, I truly believed what I’d said to her that morning — she was on a team and she had a responsibility to represent that team. So, a bit anxiously, I waited.

A few minutes later, uniform on, she warmed up with her teammates. By then, she was grinning. Everyone stood for the national anthem. Soon thereafter, she giggled with her friends, watched them compete, and she competed as well. She had a great time. She beamed during the endless medal ceremony. Problem – whatever it was – solved.

Not so fast. “I want to quit!” became a teary, pre-meet refrain. Again and again, I trotted out the “teammates depend upon you” line. At meets, her angst dissipated, she looked like a happy gymnast, regardless of how she placed or performed. In fact, she paid little attention to that.

Her scores qualified her for state and regional championships. States was an easy drive from home. Regionals, though, happened over two hours away at eight in the morning. If she’d been reticent about regular meets, how would she fare before larger championships, with two judges per event, and more competitors? I braced myself.

At states, she pulled off some of her year’s best performances. She bobbled, too. Afterwards, medals clanging in her large blue gymnastics bag, she wore a big smile. “I realized that I love meets,” she announced. “And I realized that I was scared of beam but actually, beam’s my favorite event.”

Overnight, she cartwheeled everywhere, and was as likely to be upside down as right-side up. She began to practice handstands constantly.

Regionals were even bigger than states. We stayed overnight in a hotel. Early morning, the breakfast lobby filled with girls and hairspray and ribbons and hairstyling moms. We barely managed a high ponytail.

In the meet, she performed steadily. Aside from beam, no performance was her best ever. On beam, though, she did beautifully and earned her personal best score for the year, coming in fifth. She was thrilled.

Meanwhile, I’ve learned a lot.

For instance, so much about raising humans can be counterintuitive. In this case, the big meet isn’t necessarily harder than the smaller. And we have to be willing to be surprised.

For both of us, the most important lesson is: it doesn’t matter whether you win or lose. It really is how you play the game.

Who said motherhood doesn't come with a manual?

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When a baby is born, for many families, the vacations stop. And while it can be intimidating to get out and just go with a little one in tow, with the right preparation, family vacations can be a rewarding, memorable experience for everyone.

All it takes to make your next adventure a success is a little planning―and a great, grab-and-go carrier like a BABYBJÖRN Baby Carrier One Air. Simply pop your little one into the breathable mesh carrier, secure the straps, and you're ready to take on your destination like a pro―all while providing a fresh perspective for your baby or toddler (it's suitable for children up to age three!).

Next, pick your destination. Thanks to easy-to-access beaches, a host of incredible museums, and a variety of outdoor and indoor activities, Chicago is a popular vacation hot spot for families year-round.

Not sure where to start? Leyla Tran, Chicago native and blogger behind Second City Mom, filled us in on her favorite kid-friendly spots around the Windy City.


DO

Leyla Tran, with her husband and twins at Chicago's Garfield Park Conservatory in front of one of her favorite features.

Chicago Children's Museum
Sure, you'll have to battle a throng of tourists to get through Navy Pier most times of year, but it's worth it to reach this gem. From a dinosaur dig to arts and crafts areas, there's something to satisfy every interest at the Children's Museum. Plus, you can face baby out in the BABYBJÖRN Baby Carrier One Air so there will be plenty to hold their attention while they ride along! Check the museum's calendar to find out what special events and exhibits are open during your visit.

Garfield Park Conservatory
If you're visiting during the colder months, the Garfield Park Conservatory is the city's largest botanical conservatory. It's a great place to explore, play, and learn indoors during the Midwestern winter months. To get around hassle-free, check the stroller and take in the sights hands-free with the Baby Carrier One Air. You can carry bigger babies on your back starting at 12 months old. "My favorite thing at the conservatory may not be all the plants but the mosaic fountain in the Horticulture Hall, which was gifted to the city of Chicago from sister city, Casablanca," Tran says.

The Sod Room
Speaking of indoor activities, The Sod Room is another great indoor playspace located in the South Loop neighborhood where the design, toys, and activities are all put together with the Earth in mind. "The play space teaches kids to be creative to reuse things and the importance of being eco-friendly," Tran says. "There are so many different events for parents, caregivers, and kids to enjoy throughout the week such as baby yoga and music concert."

Galt Baby

While you probably won't get to do as much shopping on the Miracle Mile as you might without littles in tow, you should try to squeeze in a visit to Galt Baby for any must-haves. From travel gear (like the Carrier One!) to replacement sippy cups should yours get lost (the horror!), Galt Baby has you covered on the go.

SEE

Leyla Tran with her family in front of the iconic Cloudgate at Millennium Park.

Millennium Park

A trip to Chicago isn't really complete until you've taken a family selfie at the Bean. And while you're there, take advantage of the cultural events, exhibitions, and landscape design (hello, wide open spaces for toddlers to run!). Many events are free, so be sure to visit the park's website to find out what's on the calendar. "Although it is a tourist destination, we love it as locals because there is so much to do here from summer concerts to fun kids events," Tran says. "From the iconic Cloudgate (AKA, the Bean) to Crown Fountain to the Lurie Garden, there's something for everyone in our family. Our six-year-old son loves Crown Fountain, with the changing faces on the LED screens waiting for the water to spray out."

Harold Washington Library

The Harold Washington Library is a book worm's dream, no matter your age. Explore the Children's Library, which is broken up into "neighborhoods" based on age with an interactive puppet stage, STEAM-based activities, a digital media center, and more. Parents will love the indoor Winter Garden (with free wifi!) and taking in the local art throughout the library. Let your little one fall asleep in the Baby Carrier One Air while you enjoy the interior architecture—quietly.

Seasonal festivals

From holiday markets to beerfests to parades, there are seasonal activities to take advantage of year-round in Chicago―and many are free! Check the city's calendar during your trip to find out what's available. With so many wearing options on the Baby Carrier One, little ones from newborn to 3 years can stay close while you stroll, sip, or shop. Partner it with the Cover for Baby Carrier and baby will stay warm in all seasons.

EAT

Little Beans Cafe

All the best family vacations start off with a little caffeination. We love Little Beans Cafe because it doubles as an indoor playground for kids, meaning parents get to enjoy a good cup of coffee while kids get to play and learn. "We've had so many fun playdates here with our first child that we're looking forward to more playdates with the twins," Tran says. "It's a great place for new moms to meet during the week."

Giordano's
If you go to Chicago and don't eat deep dish pizza, did you ever really go? Don't take the chance. Book a table at Giordano's and indulge in a slice of Chicago's finest slice. Besides, how often is the local delicacy something you don't have to beg your kids to eat?


Making the time for travel is one of the greatest gifts you can give your family―and yourself. And thanks to BabyBjörn, now everyone can come along for the ride.

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

There's so much noise.

All. The. Time.

It feels like it's 24 hours, 7 days a week.

There's whining, crying, chatting, banging, tapping, scratching, singing, buzzing, yelling, snoring, crunching, schlopping, chewing, slurping, stomping, clapping, singing, laughing.

There's sound machines with crashing waves coming at me around every corner. There's a baby (doll) crying, and then my real baby crying. There's toys going off even when no one is playing with them.

There's requests, questions, demands, negotiations, plans, adventures, stories, performances—at all times.

There's ringing phones, alarms going off, voicemails, television theme songs (Daniel Tiger, I'm looking at you), Moana and Sing soundtracks playing. There's random loud videos playing when you're scrolling through Facebook and think you have your phone on silent.

I even hear things when there's nothing to be heard. Like the baby crying when I'm in the shower and she's sleeping. Like a bang from someone falling when everyone is fine. Like Imagine Dragon's 'Thunder' when it's not even on but it's stuck in my head because my daughter has requested to play it over and over and over.

At times, it makes me feel like I am going crazy. Like my brain doesn't work because I can't think clearly because the noise is all-encompassing.

This noise, paired with the never-ending, running-forever list of things to do in my head is one of the areas of motherhood that is hard for me. Really, really hard. It triggers my anxiety more than anything else does.

Sometimes, I just want to sit in silence. Alone. Not listening to anything or anyone.

Sometimes, I just want to hear myself think.

Sometimes, I just want the whining to stop.

Sometimes, I just want the brain fog to go away and never come back.

But what I've realized is that this is part of motherhood. Of my journey. Because, I have three children and it's never going to be quiet.

I need to get used to the noise, embrace the noise and know when I need to step back and take a break from the noise.

And I am used to the noise on some level.

I function fairly well on a daily basis getting work done and to-do lists checked off and taking care of my (loud, but wonderful) children. When all of the noise is overwhelming me, I've gotten into the habit of taking deep breaths and focusing on my task at hand.

It's not perfect, but it's something.

And I can definitely embrace the noise—especially the lovely noises of childhood.

Because when I think about it—is there anything better than hearing my 4-year-old belt out 'Thunder'?

Is there anything better than hearing my 2-year-old giggle uncontrollably?

Is there anything better than hearing the coos of my 3-month-old?

Is there anything better than hearing one of my daughters say "I love you, Mama"? Or "See you later, alligator"?

Is there anything better than hearing cheers from my kids to celebrate their siblings' accomplishment? ("Lucy went potty! Yay!")

Is there anything better than hearing your preschooler say "sh-sh-shhhhh" over and over to soothe her newborn sister like she sees her parents doing?

No, nothing is better. Not even silence.

But there will be days when it feels like it's too much. And I just want to say—

It's okay.

It's okay to want to sit in silence.

It's okay to look forward to the quiet that nighttime offers.

It's okay to admit to ourselves that sometimes the noise is too much.

And it's normal.

Our brains can only handle so much at one time. So, be gentle on yourself, mama. I know I'm trying.

I am learning to recognize when I need to step back and take a break from the noise.

I stay up late sometimes to enjoy the quiet—to listen to my thoughts.

I wake up early sometimes—to meditate and look inward.

I plan "me time" outside of the house—to spend time with myself and decide on choosing noise or not.

I hop in the shower when my husband gets home—to hand over the noise for a while and enjoy only the sound of rushing water.

There are moments of motherhood that challenge me—mind, body and soul. The constant noise is one of them. But these challenges will never beat me. I love being my children's mother too much.

So on the days when the noise is taking over, know that you're not alone. And know that peace and quiet is potentially just a shower away.


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This past year, I was diagnosed with depression. I was fighting what I believed to be a stubborn case of PPD. I thought things would get better as my baby grew, when I wasn't postpartum anymore. I was in denial, not receiving any kind of help, and definitely not getting any better.

Finally, I sought out help from a doctor and was diagnosed with clinical depression and am now receiving treatment. Part of this treatment involved visiting with a therapist for the first time in my life in hopes of combating the powerful force of negativity that has insidiously planted itself inside my mind.

I learned something significant in that meeting: that my thoughts were caused by something that was physically going wrong inside of my brain. Deep down, I believed I had been allowing the darkness—that it, too, was my fault. I found hope in that meeting, the hope of rewiring my brain.

I now know there are steps I can take to change how I think, to find the true me again. That is why I am going to take better care of myself this year. In fact, that's the only resolution I care to make.

My therapist advised me to do an exercise that's proven difficult for me. I literally have positive affirmations about myself taped to my bathroom mirror. My sarcastic side really fights this. I envision that I'm wearing a colorful collared shirt or sweater combination (a la Stuart Smalley) as I repeat these mantras to myself. The truth is they're a powerful counterbalance to the way I normally think about who I am.

Most people struggle with this at one time or another. I think we could all benefit from practicing a little self-love.

So for this year, I resolve not to make any resolutions about losing weight. I am at a healthy weight, and although I would love to re-lose the 10 pounds I lost when I began depression medication, I will instead resolve to replace the negative thoughts I have about my body with healthy ones.

My critical observations regarding my body began very early for me, as they do for most women. It may take some time, but I'm going to work on appreciating my body for what it can do, instead of worrying about how it appears to others.

I resolve to be the best mom I can be. And that is only possible when I work on taking better care of myself. For many years, I've devoted myself completely to my children, believing it was best for them. But you can't pull water from an empty well, and this past year my well went dry.

I resolve to take more breaks, indulge in some mental health days, and spend more quality time with my family.

Society is hard on mothers, so I'm going to pull a Taylor Swift, and "shake it off." I will ignore the negative commentators who feel compelled to troll my writings. I will look to the positive instead of dwelling on the negative.

I will support and seek to uplift other mothers. We should be each other's biggest fans, not harshest critics. I will stand up for those who are belittled, judged, or misunderstood.

I resolve to let go of past mistakes and less than perfect parenting moments. I will seek to learn from the past instead of dwelling on it. I will work on treating myself with more kindness, moving forward in hopes that my three boys will learn from my example and speak kindly toward themselves.

I will continue my treatment—even the daily affirmations—and be patient with my progress.

So here's to a new year and a new way of thinking, to not giving up, and to practicing kindness that begins from within.

One of the best—or worst—parts of the holiday season is taking our littles to get their pictures with Santa. Some kids relish in those few minutes of telling Santa Claus exactly what they want under their tree, while others are terrified and hate every second of it. Either way, it usually makes for some adorable photos to look back on over the years.

We asked #TeamMotherly to share their best Santa pics. With nearly 700 responses, it was hard to pare down our favorites. Here are some that we adored.

1. Pure happiness

—Aimee R.

2. A magical look

—Jen L.

3. Everyone is a bit unsure...

—Holly H.

4. The cutest elves

—Julia V.

5. A sweet encounter

—Rosanne S.

6. A little bit of drama

—Besty P.

7. Santa cuddles each year, please

—Chelsey S.

8. Mama said she cried after she took a good look at him 😂

—Chantille B.

9. Third time isn't always the charm

—Gina M.

10. Playing in the snow

—Liz T.

11. SO much excitement

—Ieena S.

12. Nope

—Melissa H.

13. She definitely made the 'nice' list

—Janesa N.

14. Mama, no!

—Jenny S.

15. One mama's heart grew by three sizes this year

—Melanie R.

16. Two loved this, two hated it

—Rose E.

17. This baby was happier than Santa

—Angelica A.

18. A precious encounter

—Stacy B.

19. "I'm only here for the cookie." 🍪

—Laura R.

20. Two Santas are better than one

—Menakshi S.

The temperatures are dropping and that can only mean one thing. Whether we like it or not, winter's cold chilly months are upon us. As a born-and-raised Alaskan, and mama of three, I've got a lot of cold weather experience under my belt, and staying inside half the year just isn't an option for us. As my husband likes to say, "There's no bad weather, just bad gear."

Here are some of my favorite picks to keep your family toasty warm this winter.


1. Bear bunting

This sherpa bear bunting wins winter wear MVP for being a comfy snowsuit for your littlest babe, or base-layer under another snowsuit for the chilliest of winter outings. Bonus: your baby bear will never look cuter!

Sherpa Hooded Bunting, Carter's, $15.20

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2. Patagonia Capilene base-layers

Speaking of base-layers, for any prolonged winter activity outside in the cold, it's best to layer up to create air pockets of warmth. These moisture wicking base-layers are a family favorite.

Baby Capilene Bottoms, Back Country, $29.00

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3. Arctix Kids limitless overall bib

These adjustable snow pants keep kids warm and the bib style keeps snow from going down the back of their pants. Bonus: the price is excellent for the quality and they can grow with your child. The Velcro strap also makes bathroom breaks for kids so much easier.

Arctix Kids Limitless Overall Bib, Amazon, $14.99-$49.99

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4. Hooded frost-free long jacket

Keep your little one warm and stylish in this long puffer jacket. Great for everyday outings.

Hooded Frost-Free Long Jacket, Old Navy, $35.00

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5. Patagonia reversible jacket

This jacket is windproof, waterproof and the built-in hood means one less piece of gear to worry about (or one more layer for your little one's head). It's a best buy if you live with cold winter temperatures for many months of the year and still love to get outside to play. It also stays in great condition for hand-me-downs to your next kid.

Reversible Down Sweater Hoodie, Nordstrom, $119.00

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6. Under Armour Decatur water repellent jacket

Made of waterproof fabric and lined with great insulation, kids will no doubt stay warm—and dry—in this. It features plenty of pockets, too, so mama doesn't always have to hold onto their items. We love that the UGrow system allows sleeves to grow a couple inches.

UA Decatur Water Repellent Jacket, Nordstrom, $155.00

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7. Stonz mittens

Ever tried to keep gloves on a 1-year-old? It's a tough task, but these gloves make it a breeze with a wide opening and two adjustable toggles for a snug fit they can't pull off! Warm and waterproof, and come in sizes from infant to big kids.

Stonz Mittz, Amazon, $39.99

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8. Sorel toot pack boot

Keep their little toes warm with these cozy boots from Sorel. With insulated uppers and waterproof bottoms their feet are sure to stay warm. They're well constructed and hold up over time, making them a great hand-me-down option for your family.

Sorel Kids' Yoot Boot, Amazon, $48.73-$175.63

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9. Stonz baby boots

These Stonz stay-on-baby booties do just as their name says and stay on their feet. No more searching for one boot in the grocery store parking lot!

Stonz Three Season Stay-On Baby Booties, Amazon, $29.99-$50.29

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Motherly is your daily #momlife manual; we are here to help you easily find the best, most beautiful products for your life that actually work. We share what we love—and we may receive a commission if you choose to buy. You've got this.

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