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When I was six-years-old, four six-inch tall stuffed toys arrived with a bubbling hot, deep-dish pie from the new Pizza Hut that opened within walking distance of our house in New Jersey.

“They were just $1.99 with a medium pie,” said my mother, and I grabbed all four, before reaching for an onion- and pepper-topped slice. These were brightly colored Disney toys – with tags that marked them “Made Especially for Pizza Hut” – golden Pooh, pink Piglet, steel-gray Eeyore, orange Tigger. I held them, two by two, in my small greasy hands, while I picked off the toppings and then the cheese. I dropped red tomato sauce into my lap and onto Piglet’s left ear. Crumbs landed inside Pooh’s red t-shirt.

I was so excited to have new toys and I was sure that my old toys would be ecstatic to have new companions. I cleaned a space on my desk for my four new friends. Beside them, I placed a plush-covered mechanical beagle and a porcelain doll. I climbed into my pink gingham canopy bed and shut my eyes tight. Like most children, I thought that my dolls and teddy bears came alive after I went to sleep.


I didn’t read the original  “Winnie-the-Pooh” by A. A. Milne  until several years later, when I was nearly 10 years old. My elementary school language arts teacher handed me a copy. I was a shy child who often found herself lost in the pages of a book, even on the playground. Up until then, I had been reading fabricated Pooh stories in books like “Disney’s Story-A-Day for Every Day of the Year: Winter” or “Disney’s Story-A-Day for Every Day of the Year: Autumn.”

The night that my teacher gave me the book, I put Pooh, Piglet, Eeyore, and Tigger on my pillow and read to them: “Once upon a time, a very long time ago now, about last Friday, Winnie-The-Pooh lived in a forest all by himself under the name of Sanders….” I didn’t want to put the book down and, when my mother took it out of my hands at bedtime, I woke up early and finished it while eating my breakfast.

In the modified Disney versions I had been reading, Christopher Robin and his friends didn’t get into the escapades I was reading about in Milne’s stories. Now when my Pooh and Piglet played together at night, they recreated their adventures in the Hundred Acre Woods in my own house: Pooh got into a tight place as he attempted to exit Rabbit’s house; Eeyore lost his tail and Pooh found it; Piglet met a Heffalump.

In the “real” Winnie-the-Pooh, Ernest H. Shepard’s black and white “decorations” showed a shirtless Pooh, so I snuck into my mother’s bedroom, took her sewing scissors, and eagerly cut off the apple-red shirt that my Pooh wore. At 10, I surely knew that my toys were inanimate objects, but just as my classmates continued to believe in Santa Claus or the Tooth Fairy while on the cusp of puberty, I clung to my bookish fantasies.

My classroom’s copy of “Winnie-the-Pooh” – its cover a faded orange, several of the pages torn, and some pencil marks around the poems – became mine for the rest of the school year. I renewed it every week for months, carefully printing my name on the index card in the back. On the last day of the school year, I reluctantly gave the book back to my teacher. I owned few books: my immigrant parents could not afford many. I wanted a copy of my own.

That summer, we went to India and I carried Pooh and his friends in my backpack with me. My mother made me leave them there at my grandmother’s house, so I could play with them “when we resettled in India” (which we still haven’t done). I was devastated. My toys would be so far away! Would they miss me? I wondered. When we came back to New Jersey that August, the beagle and the doll looked lonely, so I put a few other toys near them – a purple and white teddy bear that played “Auld Lang Syne” when you squeezed its tummy and a blue-eyed baby doll tucked inside a multicolored quilt.


As I grew up, I learned more about my childhood friends. I read more about Milne, his son Christopher Robin, and Christopher Robin’s real stuffed toys that inspired the books’ cast of characters. I visited them, one high school summer, at The New York Public Library – Winnie-the-Pooh, solemn, without a honey pot; Piglet with his face slightly smashed in (“where a dog had bitten him,” according to Christopher Milne); Tigger, sober and sedentary; Kanga, without Roo (who was apparently lost somewhere in Sussex); and Eeyore, the way I imagined he might be, quiet and pensive, looking at his front hoof. I finally bought a paperback  boxed set of all of A.A. Milne’s Pooh collection  and put it on the top shelf of my bookcase.

This summer, I pulled that boxed set off my shelf, as I spent the season in my parents’ house in New Jersey with my four-year-old daughter. Each night, she and I snuggled under the covers and read a chapter of “Winnie-the-Pooh” and, then, “The House at Pooh Corner.”

The interesting capitalization tripped me up at first as I read aloud, but by the time I was on page four, I was back in love with the simple, natural, and affectionate bear, as was my daughter. I realized I must have set all of Pooh’s Poetry and Hums to made-up music as a child because they came rushing back to me as I read on.

The first movie my gentle and sensitive child ever sat through was  Disney’s “The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh”  and she recognized many of the books’ plot points from the film.

“I know that story, Mama!” she said, as she drifted off to sleep.

“Sort of,” I said. “But this version is better.”

For those few weeks, we talked about Pooh over bowls of oatmeal in the morning, and whistled “Sing ho! for Piglet (PIGLET) ho!” during bath time. I told her that Winnie-the-Pooh and his friends recently went back on display at NYPL after more than a year of repairs, and that my Disney Pooh, Piglet, Tigger, and Eeyore still reside in my grandmother’s steel cupboard along with the frilly frocks, Enid Blyton books, and colored pencils of my childhood.

When I was 10 years old, I never understood why Eeyore becomes so annoyed with Piglet when they come across a letter “A” made out of  three sticks arranged on the ground: “Not O, A,” said Eeyore severely. “Can’t you hear, or do you think you have more education than Christopher Robin?” And I didn’t know what Christopher Robin meant when he said, “I’m not going to do Nothing anymore… They don’t let you.” 

But now I understand. While reading these beloved books to my daughter, I gathered what I missed – that here was a story of a peaceful animal kingdom ruled by a single benevolent being, an Eden interrupted by a Tree of Knowledge.

My child is not far off from starting kindergarten, and she’s already learning how to “not do Nothing anymore” in preschool. Soon, she will no longer refer to her stuffed toys as her “friends,” as she does now, and I once did. One of the joys of raising a very young child, for me, lies in indulging her and my pleasure of make-believe.

My observations are hardly profound. Generations of parents before me have come to understand that the proverbial days are long, but the years are short. Still, I can’t help but feel that catch in my throat, especially as she begins to become curious and asks about weightier subjects, like the vastness of the universe as she looks into her telescope or about her paternal grandfather’s Parkinson’s Disease as she plays hide-and-seek with him.

I have no desire to hide her away in Paradise, for I believe that every caregiver’s task is to prepare at child to fly. And so it is, once again, Milne’s words that bring me comfort: “But wherever they go, and whatever happens to them on the way, in that enchanted place on the top of the Forest, a little boy and his Bear will always be playing.”

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Unstructured play is play without predetermined rules of the game. There are no organized teams, uniforms, coaches or trainers. It is spontaneous, often made-up on the spot, and changeable as the day goes on. It is the kind of play you see when puppies chase each other around a yard in endless circles or a group of kids play for hours in a fort they created out of old packing boxes.

Unstructured play is fun—no question about it—but research also tells us that it is critically important for the development of children's bodies and brains.

One of the best ways to encourage unstructured play in young children is by providing open-ended toys, or toys that can be used multiple ways. People Toy Company knows all about that. Since 1977, they've created toys and products designed to naturally encourage developmental milestones—but to kids, it all just feels like play.

Here are five reasons why unstructured play is crucial for your children—

1. It changes brain structure in important ways

In a recent interview on NPR's Morning Edition, Sergio Pellis, Ph.D., an expert on the neuroscience of play noted that play actually changes the structure of the developing brain in important ways, strengthening the connections of the neurons (nerve cells) in the prefrontal cortex, the area of the brain considered to be the executive control center responsible for solving problems, making plans and regulating emotions.

Because unstructured play involves trying out different strategies without particular goals or serious consequences, children and other animals get to practice different activities during play and see what happens. When Dr. Pellis compared rats who played as pups with rats that did not, he found that although the play-deprived rats could perform the same actions, the play-experienced rats were able to react to their circumstances in a more flexible, fluid and swift fashion.

Their brains seemed more "plastic" and better able to rewire as they encountered new experiences.

Hod Lipson, a computer scientist at Cornell sums it up by saying the gift of play is that it teaches us how to deal with the unexpected—a critically important skill in today's uncertain world.

2. Play activates the entire neocortex

We now know that gene expression (whether a gene is active or not) is affected by many different things in our lives, including our environment and the activities we participate in. Jaak Panksepp, Ph.D., a Professor at the University of Washington studied play in rats earning him the nickname of the "rat tickler."

He found that even a half hour of play affected the activity of many different genes and activated the outer part of the rats' brains known as the neocortex, the area of the brain used in higher functions such as thinking, language and spatial reasoning. We don't know for sure that this happens in humans, but some researchers believe that it probably does.

3. It teaches children to have positive interaction with others

It used to be thought that animal play was simply practice so that they could become more effective hunters. However, Dr. Panksepp's study of play in rats led him to the conclusion that play served an entirely different function: teaching young animals how to interact with others in positive ways. He believed that play helps build pro-social brains.

4. Children who play are often better students

The social skills acquired through play may help children become better students. Research has found that the best predictor of academic performance in the eighth grade was a child's social skills in the third grade. Dr. Pellis notes that "countries where they actually have more recess tend to have higher academic performance than countries where recess is less."

5. Unstructured play gets kids moving

We all worry that our kids are getting too little physical activity as they spend large chunks of their time glued to their electronic devices with only their thumbs getting any exercise. Unstructured play, whether running around in the yard, climbing trees or playing on commercial play structures in schools or public parks, means moving the whole body around.

Physical activity helps children maintain a healthy weight and combats the development of Type 2 diabetes—a condition all too common in American children—by increasing the body's sensitivity to the hormone insulin.

It is tempting in today's busy world for parents and kids to fill every minute of their day with structured activities—ranging from Spanish classes before school to soccer and basketball practice after and a full range of special classes and camps on the weekends and summer vacation. We don't remember to carve out time for unstructured play, time for kids to get together with absolutely nothing planned and no particular goals in mind except having fun.

The growing body of research on the benefits of unstructured play suggests that perhaps we should rethink our priorities.

Not sure where to get started? Here are four People Toy Company products that encourage hours of unstructured play.

1. People Blocks Zoo Animals

These colorful, magnetic building blocks are perfect for encouraging unstructured play in children one year and beyond. The small pieces fit easily in the hands of smaller children, and older children will love creating their own shapes and designs with the magnetic pieces.

People Blocks Zoo Animals 17 Piece Set, People Toy Company, $34.99


This article was sponsored by People Toy Company. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

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So many parents wish there was a way we could add more hours to the day. Unfortunately, we're stuck with just 24 of them, but we can try to make the most of the time we've got. One way more and more working mamas are maximizing the time we do have is by cutting out the commute and working from home.

It can add an hour or two back to your day, and (depending on your hours and circumstances) it can even make childcare arrangements easier. And with more big companies offering legit remote opportunities, it's easier than ever for parents to find these opportunities. As Motherly recently reported, Amazon is on a bit of a remote hiring spree ahead of the holiday season, and it's not the only one.

Williams-Sonoma is currently seeking Seasonal Customer Service Associates to work from home. It is looking for remote workers in Cincinnati, Cleveland, Phoenix, Reno, Tulsa, and near Raleigh, Columbus, Braselton, and Oklahoma City.

These work-from-home positions are part of Williams-Sonoma's plan to hire about 3,500 associates for its Customer Care Centers. The company says a "significant portion of positions" for the Customer Care Centers will be work-from-home. They're looking for remote workers who live no more than an hour and a half away from one of the Customer Care Centers as "on occasion our Work From Home associates must come to the Care Center for meetings and training with advanced notice," the company notes in the job postings.

The positions are very similar to what Amazon is looking for: Basically customer service reps who can take inbound calls to help shoppers with orders, returns and issues with finding products or deliveries of products. Williams-Sonoma is looking for people who can work 30 - 50 hours per week, and the pay is listed at $12 per hour.

Another perk is a 40% discount on most merchandise, which great because the Williams-Sonoma umbrella includes brands like Pottery Barn and West Elm as well.

Sounds like this could be a great gig for a mama with customer service skills and a high-speed internet connection.

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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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Plenty of modern motherhood paraphernalia was made to be seen—think breastfeeding pillows that seamlessly blend into living room decor or diaper bags that look like stylish purses. The breast pump though, usually isn't on that list.

It's traditionally been used in the privacy of our homes and hotel rooms in the best case scenarios, and in storage closets and restrooms in the worst circumstances. For a product that is very often used by mothers because they need to be in public spaces (like work and school), the breast pump lives a very private life.

Thankfully, some high profile moms are changing that by posting their pump pics on Instagram. These influential mamas aren't gonna hide while they pump, and may change the way the world (and product designers) see this necessary accessory.

1. Gail Simmons 

Top Chef's Gail Simmons looked amazing on the red carpet at the 2018 Emmys, but a few days after the award show the cookbook author, television host and new mama gave the world a sneak peek into her backstage experience. It wasn't all glam for Gail, who brought her pump and hands-free bra along on the big night.

We're thankful to these women for showing that breast pumps belong in public and in our Instagram feeds.

[Update, September 21, 2018: This post was originally published on May 31, 2018, but has been updated to include a recent Instagram post by Gail Simmons.]

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I was feeling off the other day. Something wasn't right, and I couldn't seem to put my finger on it or kick it for that matter. As the day progressed, it didn't get much better. It was a typical day for us, with the usual 2-year-old meltdowns and chaos that happens when you have two babies close in age.

Nothing was out of the norm, but I just wasn't feeling completely like myself. And right after getting my daughters to bed, when I was alone with my thoughts, the feelings intensified. Through the silence, I heard a soft and familiar voice criticizing my mothering, telling me "You don't do anything right." "You are failing your kids."

My anxiety was attacking me, knowing I am weakest on my own. But I knew what I needed to do. So I took out my phone and dialed, listening to the ringing on the other end.

Waiting for the person who always comforts me.

Who always makes everything better.

Who has the magic words when it comes to calming my soul.

"Hi." She answered the phone.

"Hi Mom," I said, as my voice cracked. I can mask my pain for everyone—but her.

"Everything is going to be okay," she reassured me from over the phone as I broke down to her. I hung up feeling so much better. Because—truly—there is nothing in this entire world like a mother's reassurance. I know that not everyone has this kind of relationship with her mother. That, I am indeed one of the lucky ones—but we can all hope to become this for our own children.

And you, mama, contract that magic right when you give birth.

This magic doesn't make you perfect and all-knowing. No, you don't have all the answers. No one has that. You just need to be you—your sweet baby's mama. That title comes with that last push or lift out of the womb. It could also come if your baby is handed over through adoption or surrogacy.

It doesn't matter the means, the magic comes the second your baby is placed into your arms. It comes with a force so strong it leaves a mark on your heart. It transforms you into a mother. You are enough just by being that person who opens her arms and accepts this baby as yours forever.

Your soft-skinned newborn is placed on your chest, shrieking, tears dripping down her cheeks and onto her pout. The little muscles in her chin trembling with such force, her face is on the verge of turning bright red. Then you cuddle her close and feed her. "Everything is going to be okay." She finds peace in the warmth of your body, her skin on your skin.

There is nothing like a mother's reassurance.

When your baby becomes a toddler, and he falls and gets his first scrape, screaming, because it's a new kind of painful sensation—an open wound. "Everything is going to be okay," you say to slow his tears and scoop him up into your arms. You clean that scratch out and apply Neosporin.

You put a Band-Aid on, sealed with a kiss, and wipe away his tears. You will always be there to pick him up when he falls—literally, now...and figuratively, in the future when he is grown.

There is nothing like a mother's reassurance.

When she goes to her first day of preschool, and you have to separate from each other. She cries as you hold your tears back, as you assure her, "Everything is going to be okay. Mommy always comes back." And of course, you do, and you hold onto those words yourself—repeating them to stay strong.

Because when you are together, everything is right again. You let her go because it's the right thing to do.

There is nothing like a mother's reassurance.

When he gets his heart broken for the first time, he will feel like the only person that truly knew him has abandoned him. He'll feel as if he will never find that again. He may not have the proper coping mechanisms yet to deal with that level of pain.

He comes to you in tears over losing the love of his life. You comfort him and assure him "Everything is going to be okay." Because you know this as fact because he is the love of your life. And, one day, if he has a child—he will feel the same way.

There is nothing like a mother's reassurance.

When life kicks her in the rear-end. When she is struggling to find her place in this wild world, feeling so alone. When she needs support. She doesn't ask you directly, but your mom intuition whispers to you, pulling on that mark on your heart, and so—you make the call.

"Everything is going to be okay," you say into the phone. The sky won't fall and Chicken Little will not witness the world ending because she can't figure it all out right this second. Finding her place in this world will take time, but it will happen. Right now, and for always, you are her safe place, her landing pad.

One day our babies may have babies of their own. When they are sad they will say, "Everything is going to be okay."

They will know that sometimes all our children need is reassurance from us—their safe place. Their soul-soother. Their heart.

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