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This is a submission in our monthly contest. November’s theme is Gratitude. Enter your own here!


One year ago, I existed in an pre-autism diagnosis ulterior universe. I had a two-year-old son who had only said “ball” and “hi” a handful of times, and a newborn baby. I knew that my eldest, Henry, was a “late-talker.” I just didn’t know why, yet. I knew that I was seriously struggling as a mother; I just didn’t know why, yet. I had so many unanswered questions. When too many unknowns land in my lap in the same moment, I always find myself looking up to the sky, and asking, “Is anyone there? Can anyone help me?” Despite 10 years of Catholic school, I do not consider myself to be religious at all, and neither would anyone else. But this upward gaze seems to be an instinctive act of desperation that I engage in when the weight of the unanswered questions becomes too heavy for me to carry.

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Henry was also struggling, and with more than just his speech development. Both of us were adjusting to life with a new baby, and our transition processes were far from graceful. In an attempt to spend some quality one-on-one time with him, I took him to McDonald’s while my mom cared for the baby. Upon entering, I was immediately dismayed to see another mother and her twin toddler sons playing in the back play area. The mom was quietly eating her salad while watching her sons play. Why was I so antisocial with other moms? Would I have to chat with her? I didn’t want to try to explain why my son was not responding to her twin boys of the same age when they inevitably attempt to interact with him. I was tired of explaining. I didn’t have the answer. Constantly attempting to explain something that you don’t understand is exhausting.

I was tense as Henry approached the entrance to a maze of plastic tubes that wrapped and wound across the entire room. I wanted him to play, engage, and have fun. But I did not want him to get stuck, get anxious, claustrophobic, or cornered by the other children. I just had a 10-pound baby; I could NOT fit up there. But I let him go, as all parents must do at points throughout their journeys. But I watched him like a hawk. I envied the other mother, sitting there, eating her salad. She was so relaxed, and she eats healthy too. My envy slowly grew into a resentful inner dialogue. This woman has no idea. Must be nice.

But then something happened. One of her sons became upset. My gaze shifted from the snooty mom and her salad to the twin boys. While one was playing nicely in the ball house, the other was suddenly upset as he investigated the rooms tables and benches. The mom went to her upset son, comforted him, and after a moment came back to sit down. She turned toward me, looked me straight in the eye, and said, “He is autistic.” That was it. No apology offered, yet she spoke with all the warmth in the world. With three words, my snooty competitor just became my new hero.

I was not yet in a position to even suggest in return that my son was potentially autistic. Had the possibility occurred to me? Yes. But I hadn’t been offered any medical advice pointing toward that conclusion. To the contrary, I had been told that Henry “looked fine” by medical professionals. And while I knew that an autism diagnosis was possible, I was not emotionally ready to verbalize my concern, especially to a stranger. But deep down, I knew.

With our mom guards down, we chatted nicely for a few short minutes until her husband called. He wouldn’t be on time to get the kids and she wasn’t prepared to have them there for more than a few minutes. She hung up, stressed and upset. I knew the feeling. It was perfect timing for a poopy diaper. And she was out of diapers. I gave her a few and a pack of wipes before gathering our things and heading home. She was so grateful. And so was I, I just didn’t know why yet.

I continued to think about our interaction throughout the next few days, weeks, months. What was it about her that stuck with me? Should my son be diagnosed as autistic, would I ever be as comfortable, confident, and unapologetic as she was about it? Would I be able to straddle that fine line between honesty and defensiveness? Would I exude grace and dignity as a mother to an autistic child? Will I ever start ordering salad? The questions were endless; they still are.

A year has passed, and this mother’s words have stuck with me. “He is autistic.” I have stumbled many times over the phrase since my son’s diagnosis. It’s been a rough year, and not just because of my son’s diagnosis. Adjusting to two kids, my husband’s work injury, quitting my job to be available for speech, occupational, and behavior therapies. That’s my new job. And I’m okay with it, but it doesn’t pay the bills.

So I got together with my girlfriend, who is also a special needs mama, to wallow in the trials and tribulations of our current circumstances and watch the kids find innovative and new ways to endanger themselves in a child-friendly environment. That’s right, McDonald’s folks. I might sound like a huge Big Mac fan, but the real motivations behind our dining preference are quite simple; saving money, and keeping it easy. I’m not going to pay $12 to go somewhere and leave 15 minutes later, especially when I’m broke.

We had recently missed my friend’s son’s birthday party because both of my boys were sick, so I brought along the birthday present to our playdate. As I parked the car I took a deep breath and looked back at the two eager boys behind me. I had a battle to choose; leave the gift in the car and deal with a meltdown now, or bring it with us inside and deal with a meltdown in 10 minutes. While neither option seemed ideal, I knew that leaving the gift in the car would hopefully result in a shorter meltdown than bringing it inside would. So, I threw my wallet into the diaper bag and began to unload both kids from the car. Mind you, neither of my children can be on foot without at least holding my hand for safety. Especially considering that we were in a busy parking lot in a strip mall outside of McDonald’s.

We didn’t get very far. Henry was pissed. I thought if I could just get him inside McDonald’s, get him some fries and to the play area, we would be alright. With a 35-pound one-year-old on my hip, and the diaper bag on my shoulder, I tried to get Henry to hold my hand and walk the 20 feet across traffic toward the entrance. It was not happening. These are the moments that I literally stare up at the sky and ask, “What’s the punchline God? What am I missing? What do you want me to do here?” My now underweight, stressed out, 110-pound self threw Henry up onto my other hip, and step by step, I carried the 75-pound load toward the swinging doors. It was so close; it was so, so far away.

I made it through the line of cars pulling into the parking lot and as I went to open the door with my not-so-free hand, Henry blew. He was not going in there without that present. He was not going in there at all. Mcdonald’s was packed. I couldn’t believe my eyes. Summer was over and it was a weekday! I looked up from the mayhem in my arms, Henry resisting the sensory overload that waited inside, and James shifting the weight of his upper body towards the swinging doors, eager to go inside, and saw the same one hundred faces I had seen one hundred times before; blank, not judging, not sympathetic, just blank. I thought, “How can NONE of these people be running over to help me right now? ” I looked at them in desperation. Embarrassed, tired, physically about to keel over. But I couldn’t give up. I had two boys that would run into traffic if for even a moment I accepted defeat. So I fought harder.

As I stood in the doorway, with the eyes of a hundred blank stares burning into the back of my head, I put the boys down and held them both as I tried to comfort Henry. The staring didn’t help. Neither did the lights or the loud noises vibrating through the now closed doors. I would have to head back toward the car. I didn’t know if I physically had the strength for the journey. I begun to look upward with desperation yet again, when the double doors swung open, and I tried to inch all three of us out of the way. It was a older man, and he wasn’t just passing by. He came out to help me.

The second he paused to offer us assistance, I lost the grasp of my one year old’s hand and we were still in a busy parking lot. Henry squirmed and while pointing to James, I shouted to the man, “Do you have him?” In an instant he swooped him up and helped me herd them both inside. We made it. I turned to the man, and as I thanked him, I noticed his tattered clothing and stubbly beard. He was homeless. And he was the only person out of literally a hundred people who came to help me. I cry as I write this knowing that he very well could have saved my son’s life. I thanked him profusely, gathered myself, and headed to the back play area to meet my girlfriend and her son, who were unaware of the chaos that ensued just moments before.

My friend and I had our usual chaotic lunch, spent tracking the kids and barely getting a word in edgewise, and after we were beat and the kids were beginning to spiral we headed out. I didn’t see the man who had helped us, and with the journey to the car ahead, I had to remain focused. I said goodbye to our friends and loaded the kids in the car. I looked up to the sky with relief and whispered an internal thank you, when out of nowhere the man who had helped us approached me. He wasn’t there to ask for money, and I didn’t have any cash to give him. I only had my maxed-out credit cards. But I would thank him again, profusely; it was all that I could do in that moment.

So I said thank you, and afterward, I looked him straight in the eye, and with all the warmth in the world I said, “He is autistic.” I heard the words aloud. They were familiar. I looked over at the Mcdonald’s sign and I had a moment of déjà vu. I had been here before. Some say that déjà vu is the universe telling you that you’re in the right place at the right time. I felt like the universe was telling me far more than that, but I certainly agreed that I was in the right place at the right time. I couldn’t help but think that the homeless man who had helped me was an angel sent to protect me and my children from a potential tragedy that I refuse to even attempt to fathom.

As the deja vu dissipated, two profound realizations began to run through my soul like a severe case of goosebumps. I realized that perhaps the reason this man was the only person to come and offer us his kindness was because he knew exactly how I felt as I stood outside those doors looking in. He knew what it felt like to be judged, stared at, and passed by; he knew what it felt like to be truly desperate for just an ounce of humanity from his fellows. We had more in common than I would have ever believed a mere hour before. And we had even more in common than I had yet to comprehend.

Simultaneously, I realized that I had come full circle in the past year, and I was back at that Mcdonald’s with that desperate mom. I could see her in a new light. She was no longer eating her salad. She was searching for a diaper, stressed out by her husband; she was alone. But she was tough as nails. When it came down to it, she owned her life and her circumstances. When she told me, “He has autism,” it might have been the first time that she didn’t stumble over the words. But I could never tell. Just like the homeless man who helped us probably could not tell that it was the first time that I had fully owned the statement. In this moment, I knew why this fellow mother was stuck in my head and her words echoed in my thoughts at night for the past year. I was her. And at one point, she was me. And maybe I offered her the same kindness that day that this homeless man had just offered me. Maybe good karma is that simple.

And as I said the three simple words aloud, “He is autistic,” one million thoughts of gratitude and understanding darted through my tired brain before they were instantly silenced by the man’s reply. “I know,” he said. “I have a family like yours.” His words evoked within me one final realization. This man was not only my angel; he was my kindred. On a different day, would I have passed him by? I may not have had any money to offer him, but would I have said hello, and how are you? I don’t know. There are still many unanswered questions that are inherent to this journey. But I will not pass him, or anyone by again without so much as an acknowledgment; an ounce of humanity. And I will continue to look up, sometimes with a little attitude, and sometimes with faith and surrender. As I have said, I am not really religious, or maybe I am, and I just don’t know it yet.

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When it comes to holiday gifts, we know what you really want, mama. A full night's sleep. Privacy in the bathroom. The opportunity to eat your dinner while it's still hot. Time to wash—and dry!—your hair. A complete wardrobe refresh.


While we can't help with everything on your list (we're still trying to figure out how to get some extra zzz's ourselves), here are 14 gift ideas that'll make you look, if not feel, like a whole new woman. Even when you're sleep deprived.

Gap Cable-Knit Turtleneck Sweater

When winter hits, one of our go-to outfits will be this tunic-length sweater and a pair of leggings. Warm and everyday-friendly, we can get behind that.

$69.95

Gap Cigarette Jeans

These high-waisted straight-leg jeans have secret smoothing panels to hide any lumps and bumps (because really, we've all got 'em).

$79.95

Tiny Tags Gold Skinny Bar Necklace

Whether engraved with a child's name or date of birth, this personalized necklace will become your go-to piece of everyday jewelry.

$135.00

Gap Brushed Pointelle Crew

This wear-with-anything soft pink sweater with delicate eyelet details can be dressed up for work or dressed down for weekend time with the family. Versatility for the win!

$79.95

Gap Flannel Pajama Set

For mamas who sleep warm, this PJ set offers the best of both worlds: cozy flannel and comfy shorts. Plus, it comes with a coordinating eye mask for a blissed-out slumber.

$69.95

Spafinder Gift Card

You can't give the gift of relaxation, per say, but you can give a gift certificate for a massage or spa service, and that's close enough!

$50.00

Gap Stripe Long Sleeve Crewneck

This featherweight long-sleeve tee is the perfect layering piece under hoodies, cardigans, and blazers.

$29.95

Gap Chenille Smartphone Gloves

Gone are the days of removing toasty gloves before accessing our touchscreen devices—thank goodness!

$9.95

Ember Temperature Control Smart Mug

Make multiple trips to the microwave a thing of the past with a app-controlled smart mug that'll keep your coffee or tea at the exact temperature you prefer for up to an hour.

$79.95

Gap Flannel Shirt

Our new favorite flannel boasts an easy-to-wear drapey fit and a flattering curved shirttail hem.

$59.95

Gap Sherpa-Lined Denim Jacket

Stay warm while looking cool in this iconic jean jacket, featuring teddy bear-soft fleece lining and a trendy oversized fit.

$98.00

Gap Crazy Stripe Scarf

Practical and stylish, this cozy scarf adds a pop of color—well, colors—to any winter ensemble.

$39.95

Nixplay Seed Frame

This digital picture frame is perfect for mamas who stay up late scrolling through their phone's photo album to glimpse their kiddos being adorable. By sending them to this smart frame to view throughout the day, you can get a few extra minutes of sleep at night!

$165.00

Gap Crewneck Sweater

Busy mamas will appreciate that this supersoft, super versatile Merino wool sweater is machine washable.

$59.95

This article was sponsored by GAP. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and Mamas.

Our Partners

Most of the time, being inclusive isn't that hard. Actually, it's so easy, even 4-year-olds can grasp it. That's the message body acceptance activist and Instagram user Milly Smith wanted to share when she posted a photo of her son, Eli, explaining a very simple thing: "Some men have periods too. If I can get it, so can you."

Theoretically, it is easy to get the fact that non-binary people and some trans men menstruate. Usually, body-affirming hormone treatments stop them from menstruating, but that's not always the case. Sometimes their period will stop for years but make a surprise return for a variety of reasons, such as a medication change. Bodies like to keep us guessing like that.

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And yet, many of us, particularly cisgender people, fall back on our habitual ways of speaking about periods without even thinking about it. We have a hard enough time discussing menses as it is, so this may be one of the last vestiges of non-inclusive talk. When a young kid asks why mama is bleeding, the knee-jerk reaction could be to say, "It's just something that women do," hoping not to have to explain the finer points of sex and reproduction for a few more years.

But Smith is here to remind us not to do the knee-jerk thing.

"Eli has been told about periods since he saw blood on my pants a couple of years ago," Smith wrote on Instagram. "I didn't use the language of women have periods because it's not entirely inclusive. I told him that SOME women, SOME non binary people and SOME men have periods. It was easy for him to accept as he hadn't had to unlearn the engrained [sic] societal norm but if a 4-year-old can grasp it I'm sure most of us can have a crack at unlearning transphobic/misinformed norms and open our minds... ya think?"

Some corporations have begun to do their part to unlearn those gender stereotypes. According to PopSugar, Always announced in October that it was removing the Venus "female" symbol from its packaging. While the website for Thinx period underwear is still Shethinx.com, it has attempted to appeal to trans and nonbinary customers as well, referring to "people with periods." Last year, British period subscription service Pink Parcel launched a campaign that included trans man Kenny Jones as one of its spokespeople.

Sadly, a couple of ads and an Instagram featuring a cute kid have not quite solved the problem of transphobia in this world. Smith has turned off the comments on her post, probably because of negative backlash from the shining citizens of the internet. That's an upsetting reminder of how far we have to go.

But at least we can still enjoy Smith's concluding words, "It's not insulting to women, it's not discrediting women," she said of this change of wording. "It's opening up the community to make it a safe space for those who don't identify as women but still have periods."

The world isn't always black and white and it's time we start recognizing the beauty in accepting the grey areas.

News

Throughout my life, I have set really high standards for myself. I've always expected the absolute best. Inevitably, I set myself up for failure. Once I'd reached a goal, there was always a higher one to attain. I rarely stopped to enjoy and celebrate my successes. They always felt somehow anticlimactic. Instead, I wondered what I needed to set my sights on next.

I never stopped to wonder what I was trying to prove. And to whom.

It was only when I became a mom that I realized my pursuit of perfectionism couldn't continue.

Ironically, striving to be the perfect mom made me a worse mom.

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I couldn't achieve all the targets I set myself; I couldn't maintain the standards I had previously strived to meet. I couldn't work until I dropped.

Why?

Because my little one needed me.

My failed attempts at trying to complete household chores with a toddler in the room entailed that I had no choice but to let go of perfect. I didn't have control over things anymore: No matter how many parenting books I read, there was no manual for the unpredictable little creature who had abruptly transformed my life.

Striving to look like a supermodel wasn't even a remote possibility anymore (like it ever was?!), and I had to redefine what attaining a healthy body meant – losing pounds suddenly wasn't the most important thing anymore.

Suddenly, I needed to do things that I had previously perceived to represent procrastination and had, therefore, forbidden myself from doing… like taking care of myself. Relaxing. Napping.

I realized that if I continued trying to chase "perfect," I'd drive myself crazy. I'd drain myself. I'd break down. I'd scream and cry more often. I'd be the opposite of the role model I wanted to be for my daughter. I'd be the opposite of the calm, strong parent she needed. I'd be showing her that I couldn't make myself happy and that I would never be enough.

What's more, I wouldn't enjoy being a mom.

Our babies change so quickly. If we continually chase our shoulds, we kind of miss the fleeting moments of our babies' childhoods, the moments in which we make a connection with them.

That was exactly what I had been doing.

I recently made a list of all my shoulds, and the results scared me a little.

  • I should work more to achieve my business goals – I am constantly behind, especially compared to others.
  • I should write more – it is my passion, and my work and should be a priority after all.
  • I should be more active in social media
  • I should be a better steward of our finances and spend less money.
  • I should connect more with friends.
  • I should network more.
  • I should exercise more and be slimmer.
  • I should spend more time with my daughter.
  • I should spend more quality time with my husband.
  • I should be a more productive and efficient homemaker (an endless list of cleaning shoulds to feel guilty about).
  • I should educate myself more and learn to be a better parent.
  • I should be a better, more patient mom.

Yep… The list goes on.

However, one thing was particularly scary about my list of shoulds: I had to confront myself with the fact that I couldn't let myself be happy, couldn't let myself feel enough, couldn't let myself stop and enjoy life RIGHT NOW.

I was postponing my happiness, my life, my connection with my daughter.

I lived in the "if I do this, then ..." mode. If I am a better homemaker, a better parent, slimmer, had a more successful business…then. Then I can stop and relax. Then my life can start properly. Then I can be ... what? The perfect version of myself that would be allowed to be happy and be present? If I could just get all that work out of the way, I would have earned the trappings of perfectionism.

The problem is that there is always more work. There is always more to do. There is always someone else to compare me to. There is always the next thing I need to attain. There is always a new, better version of myself I'd need to become. Because nobody would say to me: "It's okay, it's enough. You've done it." I would have to be able to say that to myself. I would have to feel it.

In the meantime, my daughter would be missing the "mom right now." That was the only mom she needed. Me, because I was her mom, by design, however imperfect or unsuited for the job I felt.

Me, there, present.

Having realized all this, do I still read tons of parenting books and worry about what I should be doing? Sure.

Do I still have professional, personal, and even motherhood goals? Yes, most definitely.

I want to live my dreams and having goals is part of achieving this. However, I have contemplated to what end I want to reach those goals. I have defined what is important to me and what success actually looks like for me. And being present with my family and making a connection with my daughter is right at the top of that list. Breaking the habit of perfectionism is hard. So I make a habit of reminding myself every day: In motherhood, you need to find a balance between doing your best and giving yourself grace. You need to find joy in the imperfect now instead of waiting for the perfect "if I have achieved this, then" future.

You need to surrender.

Life

Is anyone else absolutely freezing right now? Seriously, this cold is the REAL DEAL. In addition to facing unbearable temperatures, parents have the extra challenge of entertaining their kids—and themselves—during the long and dark months of winter.

Heading outside is such an awesome activity for newborns through adults—but what happens when it is absolutely freezing? Can you still take your sweet little bundle outside?

The answer is: maybe.

Children, especially babies, are more sensitive to temperature changes than adults. “Because they are less able to regulate their body temperature than adults, children can quickly develop a dangerously low body temperature (ie, become hypothermic). Newborn infants are prone to hypothermia because of their large body surface area, small amount of subcutaneous fat, and decreased ability to shiver," says The American Academy of Pediatrics.

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So, you are not overreacting by being nervous about taking them outside! The good news is there are ways to do it safely.

How to dress your baby for the cold weather

To keep warm, layers are the key (for adults and babies). But, it's very important not to overheat your baby by putting on too many layers—since overheating is dangerous for babies, too.

The general rule of thumb is that your baby should be dressed in one more layer than you feel comfortable in. If you are good with one long sleeve shirt, your baby should probably have a long sleeve onesie, plus another shirt on top of it.

If you're going for a stroller walk, dress baby warmly, then add a blanket or footmuff to keep them all snuggled up.

When playing outside, in addition to a winter coat and warm pants or snow pants, don't forget a hat and mittens. The most vulnerable parts of a little body are their chin, nose, ears, fingers and toes.

Remember, babies should not wear a winter coat, very thick clothing or blankets under the straps of their carseats—the straps will not cinch tightly enough around the baby if they do, which is unsafe in a crash.

Temperature guide for babies in the winter

Extreme cold starts to become a factor when the temperature drops below freezing (32 degrees Fahrenheit). You can still go outside, but it should not be for very long.

Once temperatures start to drop below 20 degrees Fahrenheit, it's best to stay inside if you can. Be sure to factor in wind chill when you're checking the weather—the wind can feel much, much colder, especially on sensitive baby skin.

When you're inside, the ideal temperature for your thermostat to be set at is 68-72 degrees. Remember that babies cannot have blankets (or anything) in the crib with them as it poses a risk for Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. If you're concerned about baby being cold at night, we recommend sleep sacks!

What to watch out for

Keep a close eye on your baby (we know you always do) when you're playing outside. If you see any of these symptoms (from the Mayo Clinic) develop, give your pediatrician a call right away (or just call 911):

Hypothermia:

  • Shivering (note, babies don't shiver!)
  • Slurred speech
  • Slow, shallow breathing
  • Weak pulse
  • Clumsiness
  • Sleepy or very low energy
  • Confusion or memory loss
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Bright red, cold skin (in babies)

Frostbite:

  • Cold skin
  • Prickly, pins-and-needle feeling
  • Numbness
  • Red, white, bluish-white or grayish-yellow skin
  • Hard or waxy skin
  • Clumsiness and stiffness
  • Blistering

A few other tips

  • Have an emergency kit in your car in case you break down. Edmunds has a great emergency kit list of things like blankets, flashlights, granola bars and bottled water. You'll also want to make sure your gas tank is near full and the car's maintenance is up to date to avoid issues.
  • Consider pre-warming your car, but NEVER in a garage—even an open one.
  • Protect everyone's skin with baby-safe lotion or balms
  • Consider using a cool-mist humidifier to keep baby's air moist

The bottom line

You can still go outside, you just have to be aware. Dress babies in layers, follow safe carseat guidelines, and watch closely for any signs that baby is too cold. Don't stay out for too long, and if it's less than 20 degrees out, avoid going outside at all (a quick walk to a preheated car is okay).

Hang in there, mama. This season can be hard. Go into hibernation mode, focus on some real self-care and snuggles, and before you know it, the flowers will be in bloom and you'll be spending every waking second outside.

Learn + Play

If you're still shopping for the school-age kids in your life, don't sweat. We've got you, mama! Whether you're looking for toys for your nieces and nephews or searching for gifts for your own little ones, we can help. Motherly's editors have been keeping track of the products that were hits in our own households so that we can pass them on to you.

Here are 21 gifts our older kiddos are loving right now, from clothes to crafts to toys:

eeBoo Never Forget a Face memory matching game

I never forget a face game

Memory games are a favorite at any age, but especially in this age's wheelhouse. Kids will love to test their memory skills as they match the bright, smiling faces of people from across the globe.

$18.95

Slumberkins

Each animal comes with a backstory that helps deal with a difficult emotion a child might encounter, like gratitidue, self-esteem or family changes or loss—making these a gift a child will adore and one mama feels good about, too. Prices vary.

$36

Osmo genius kit

osmo kit

Osmo is seriously magic! This game system transforms your iPad into a hands-on learning tool that fosters creativity and problem-solving skills through hands-on play. We so wish this was a thing when we were kids.

$99.99

The Nightmare Before Christmas Operation skill game 

The Nightmare Before Christmas Operation skill game

If your child has trouble picking up small things, try leaving this board game at under the tree. Your little one will think they are playing operation but really they are having some occupational therapy. It's a short enough game that even young kids are able to maintain attention and focus through everyone's turn. Super fun for fans of Jack Skellington.

$43.99

Pictionary air

Mattel Games Pictionary Air

Another awesome board game, Pictionary Air combines new tech and old fashioned family game night by letting kids draw on the air instead of on a big piece of paper. Using the special pen and an app, the fam can see exactly what you are drawing, combining augmented reality with creativity in the best way. So cool.

$16.88

Insect Lore butterfly farm 

butterfly farm

If your little one is obsessed with nature, this butterfly farm will be a the gift that keeps on giving. My 4-year-old and I had the best time raising and releasing butterflies this past spring. This is an experience gift that truly lasts, with little lift needed to maintain and raise the butterflies. Basically, it's my new go-to gift for preschoolers.

$27.99

Learning Resources microscope

Learning resources microscope

This is the perfect hands-on toy perfect for little STEM lovers. This microscope is durable enough to withstand kid's rough hands, but technical enough to feel like an awesome grown up toy.

$28.82

Cubcoats

cub coats

Cubcoats are super cute as toys and as clothing—yep, you read that right. This is a hoodie that folds up into a stuffed animal you child can take anywhere. Bonus points for being machine-washable, ethically made and having tons of character and animal options to choose from.

$33.75

Melissa & Doug Ice Cream Cone play set

Melissa & Doug Ice Cream

Melissa and Doug toys never disappoint and this magnetic ice cream play set is no exception. I cannot believe how many hours of play this set inspired. My kid is running an ice cream shop 24/7. Sometimes they ask me to be the customer, other times I'm on scoop duty. The magnetic scoops provide just the right amount of magic to make this set one of the most-played items in our toy box.

$28.31

Hanna Andersson pajamas

Hanna Anderson

We love these comfy pajamas. They are perfect for Christmas morning or any day of the year. And of course Hanna Anderson had matching adult sizes so the whole family can have a PJ party (or a great photo op).

$38.40

Parkland Little Monster backpack 

Parkland Little Monster Backpack

Parkland's Little Monster Backpack is sure to be a favorite (and maybe even a little motivation to get back into the school groove when the holiday break ends). Our little tester son loved getting a present he could show off at school. The backpack's fun ears and print were a big hit and the bag is big enough to carry everything he needs, but small enough for a Kindergartener to tote around.

$29.99

Pluffle

Pluffle

We love how many hours of play we can get out of one tube of Pluffle. It's the perfect tabletop activity and way less messy than slime. Kids can make anything with it and have fun watching it morph into different shapes without asking to wash their hands all the time. Win-win!

$31.41

Mr. Potato Head Mixable Mashable heroes

Mr. Potato Head Mixable Mashables

We love these Marvel potato heads because they allow kids to create their dream superhero however they choose. Our occupational therapist recommended these and when you combine this classic toy with the Marvel franchise, you have a winner for any superhero-obsessed child.

$47.65

Nugget couch 

Nugget couch

It's a couch. It's a fort. It's the perfect piece of furniture for the playroom. The Nugget is a convertible couch made of four foam pieces and it is the only piece of furniture the kids are allowed to jump on. Need we say more?

$229

Play Doh

Play Doh

You can do wrong with this classic that encourages your little one to create anything their imagination wants to. There is something super exciting about opening a giant box of rainbow Play-Doh.

$24.99

A kids book about...

We love how this book series tackles topics our kids are interested in (or that we want them to be interested in) in an age-appropriate way. Whether you're trying to teach your kids about creativity, money, or harder topics like racism, 'A kids book about' series can help. Bonus: the books are absolutely beautiful.

$25

BRIO classic deluxe railway set

This minimalist toy is a classic for a reason. It allows for independent play but also encourages cooperation and imagination, two things we value in our household.

$46.79

iTouch PlayZoom smartwatch for kids

This is a cute gift for a child who might be obsessed with their parent's smart watch. It lets them take pictures, videos, play games and tell time. It also comes in a bunch of super adorable prints (cats! camo!) and helps any big kid feel like they got something extra special

$29.99

VertiPlay STEM marble run

If you're looking for a new toy but short on floor space, may we recommend this awesome version of marble run that lives on your wall? It's a totally modular STEM toy that will have any little excited to see the marble zoom, bounce and slide down its ramps and curves. We've seen both 4-year-olds and 10-year-olds be super into this, so we love that it can grow with your child.

$89

PAW Patrol deluxe kids art table

​This is as multifunctional as a toy can get. It's part dry erase board, part bookshelf and part toy bin. Plus your ​Paw Patrol​ lovin' kid is going to adore seeing all their favorite pups daily in their playroom. It's a great piece for encouraging your kiddo's creativity and independent play.

$59.99

Wooden toy treehouse

This one is an investment gift for sure, but we can see it being the perfect group gift for a set of kids or a super special present if you're aiming to choose only one thing for your kiddo. Joanna Gaines can design anything, even treehouses apparently. Now our only question is—can she design one of these for our backyard?

$119.99

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