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The only thing more jarring than the beginning of a new school year is being wholly unprepared for it. It doesn’t matter whether your household is sending off a freshly minted kindergartener or a been there/done that middle schooler- there’s plenty of gear to round up before the bus arrives.


In the interest of making your job just a tiny bit easier, and spending your money more wisely, we’ve compiled a list of our favorite back-to-school gear. (Sorry, grocery shopping for lunches is on you.)


 

[stag_icon icon=”share” url=”https://www.parent.com/ultimate-back-to-school-supply-checklists/” size=”18px” new_window=”no”] View our ultimate back-to-school supply checklists.


 

Best Backpacks

Burton Youth Grommlet Backpack $34.95

This kid-sized pack from Burton has all the bells and whistles. A padded pocket for a small laptop or tablet, a side water bottle pocket, and plenty of storage.

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Marvel® Youth Day Hiker 20L Backpack $49.95

The Burton Marvel Dayhiker is our favorite overall kid backpack. We’d buy it whether our kids thought it was rad or not (they do.

State Kane Kids Backpack (4 color options) $55.00

For every State bag that’s purchased, they donate one to an American child in need. The colorful Kane kid’s pack is water-resistant and perfectly sized to keep kid’s carrying their stuff without tipping over like a turtle on its back.

JanSport SuperBreak Backpack (price varies)

Had I kept track of the Jansport backpacks I accumulated in middle and high school, I could be sending my kids to school with them twenty years later. Then, they could patronizingly explain to me how only dorky kids wear both straps at once. Ugh.God, MOM. Oh well, I’m sure they’d prefer to choose their own color now that there are several dozen options. Nirvana patches aren’t included, but a lifetime warranty is.

L.L. Bean Backpacks $24.95-$99.95

LL Bean has been in the backpack game since forever. And with that much experience, they produce some of the best performing packs available. Even the scaled down version for the younger set doesn’t skimp on features. Including a padded back panel, reflective front strip, and plenty of room for everything, it’s far more likely your kid will lose it than wear it out. (Just how does one go about losing the only thing they’re responsible for? I wish I understood.) And if they do manage to wear it out? The lifetime guarantee has you covered.

Best Pencil Cases

ZipIt Monster Jumbo Pouch $9.99

Just look at this thing. It’s hilarious. AND it can unzip completely into one long zipper. If that’s not a pencil bag party trick, well, I don’t know. Should pencil bags have party tricks?

Blue Q Junk Drawer Pencil Case $5.99

These cheap, durable, and spacious zipped pouches are endlessly useful.

Kokuyo C2 Tray Type Pencil Case $10.50

Keep pens and pencils tidy and easy to sift through.

Best Lunch Box

Dabbawalla Lunch Bags $30.00

If lunch boxes are any indication, children are incredibly disgusting creatures. By Halloween, the inside of them are the scariest thing you’re going to see/smell ALL DAY. Unless of course you invest in one you can throw in the washing machine.  These colorful neoprene bags by Dabba Walla are insulated, machine washable and basically bulletproof.

Bentology Laptop Lunches Bento Kit $34.99-$41.99

Laptop Lunches are the whole system, squish-proof. Before I bought this for my son, packing a lunch involved a mix of hunting down the miscellaneous containers that managed to make it home and wasting ziplock bags. Packing his lunch is his job, and listening to him whine about the logistics of it is worse than doing it myself. These bento-style kits, with their perfectly sized containers, take the pain out of putting it all together.

L.L. Bean Flip-Top Lunch Box $24.95

This classic from LL Bean works everywhere from pre-school to a construction site. Sturdy, long lasting AND with the oft overlooked shoulder strap, pick a color you like because you’ll no doubt end up taking it to work some day.

Lunch box Accessories

Fit and Fresh Cool Coolers $7.99

Ice packs. Flat. Cold. They have one job and do it well.

LunchSkins Reusable Sandwich Bag $8.99

In the interest of conservation, (and not literally throwing money into the trash), these reusable sandwich bags are well worth the investment. Just throw them in the dishwasher, turn inside out to dry and they’re ready to go again.

BooginHead Screw Top Squeez’ems $7.99

 

Have you ever seen those nightmare Facebook posts of what people have found lurking in applesauce pouches? Shudder. Better yet,  have you compared the cost of them to just buying it in jars? And yet, kids seem to find this method of slurping their food IRRESISTIBLE. It’s possible that the delivery turns yogurt/purees/basically anything into some sort of crack. These refillable squeeze pouches take the waste and the mystery out of the pre-filled version that always find their way into your grocery cart.

Best Water Bottles

Contigo Swish Kids Water Bottle $10.50

The general consensus is that these are one of the few truly leak proof water bottles available. Any parent who’s attempted to blow dry homework knows the importance of this feature.

Klean Kanteen Kid Kanteen 12 ounce $15

Kleen Kanteen is hard to beat. Their stainless steel bottles last forever and the universally sized opening makes it easy to swap out lid types (sippy top, sport cap, or a plain old loop top) for whatever style suits the needs of the day.

Best Alarm Clock

Teach Me Time Talking Alarm Clock $38

This clock has features that benefit both the kids who get out of bed too early (it turns green to signal that Mom and Dad won’t sell you if you leave your room) and kids who need to be woken up to get out the door on time (a fully functional alarm, complete with snooze). As an added bonus, it combines a digital display with an analog face.

Star Wars Stormtrooper Mini-Figure Alarm Clock $29.99

It’s a Lego Minifigure that’s a clock. Self explanatory in its coolness. (And if Star Wars isn’t your thing, there are plenty of other characters to choose from.)

Best Back-to-School Technology – coming Wed August 12 

 

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As a former beauty editor, I pride myself in housing the best skincare products in my bathroom. Walk in and you're sure to be greeted with purifying masks, micellar water, retinol ceramide capsules and Vitamin C serums. What can I say? Old habits die hard. But when I had my son, I was hesitant to use products on him. I wanted to keep his baby-soft skin for as long as possible, without tainting it with harsh chemicals.

Eventually, I acquiesced and began using leading brands on his sensitive skin. I immediately regretted it. His skin became dry and itchy and regardless of what I used on him, it never seemed to get better. I found myself asking, "Why don't beauty brands care about baby skin as much as they care about adult skin?"

When I had my daughter in May, I knew I had to take a different approach for her skin. Instead of using popular brands that are loaded with petroleum and parabens, I opted for cleaner products. These days I'm all about skincare that contains super-fruits (like pomegranate sterols, which are brimming with antioxidants) and sulfate-free cleansers that contain glycolipids that won't over-dry her skin. And, so far, Pipette gets it right.

What's in it

At first glance, the collection of shampoo, wipes, balm, oil and lotion looks like your typical baby line—I swear cute colors and a clean look gets me everytime—but there's one major difference: All products are environmentally friendly and cruelty-free, with ingredients derived from plants or nontoxic synthetic sources. Also, at the core of Pipette's formula is squalane, which is basically a powerhouse moisturizing ingredient that babies make in utero that helps protect their skin for the first few hours after birth. And, thanks to research, we know that squalane isn't an irritant, and is best for those with sensitive skin. Finally, a brand really considered my baby's dry skin.

Off the bat, I was most interested in the baby balm because let's be honest, can you ever have too much protection down there? After applying, I noticed it quickly absorbed into her delicate skin. No rash. No irritation. No annoyed baby. Mama was happy. It's also worth noting there wasn't any white residue left on her bottom that usually requires several wipes to remove.


Why it's different

I love that Pipette doesn't smell like an artificial baby—you, know that powdery, musky note that never actually smells like a newborn. It's fragrance free, which means I can continue to smell my daughter's natural scent that's seriously out of this world. I also enjoy that the products are lightweight, making her skin (and my fingers) feel super smooth and soft even hours after application.

The bottom line

Caring for a baby's sensitive skin isn't easy. There's so much to think about, but Pipette makes it easier for mamas who don't want to compromise on safety or sustainability. I'm obsessed, and I plan to start using the entire collection on my toddler as well. What can I say, old habits indeed die hard.

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

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Military families give up so much for their country, particularly when they have small children at home. Those of us who have never witnessed this kind of sacrifice first-hand could use a reminder of it once in a while, which is just one of the reasons we're so happy to see the beautiful photoshoot Mary Chevalier arranged for her husband's return home from Afghanistan.

The photoshoot was extra special because while James Chevalier was serving a nine-month deployment, Mary gave birth to their second son, Caspian.

Getting ready to meet Dad

"During the laboring and birthing process of Caspian, I was surrounded by family, but that did not fill the void of not having my husband by my side," Mary told InsideEdition.com. "He was able to video chat during the labor and birth, but for both of us, it was not enough."

While James had yet to meet Caspian, their 3-year-old son, Gage, missed his dad a whole lot, so this homecoming was going to be a big deal for him too. That's why Mary arranged for her wedding photographer, Brittany Watson, to be with them for their reunion in Atlanta.

Gage was so happy to see his Dad 

"[He] had no idea he was going to be getting to see his daddy that day," Watson wrote on Facebook. "The family met at the Southeastern Railway Museum for Gage to go on a special train ride... little did he know, he'd be doing it with daddy!"

Watson did a beautiful job capturing the high emotions of every single family member, from Gage's surprise, to the delight on baby Caspian's face. It's no wonder her Facebook post went viral last week.

"Caspian is natural, a very happy baby, but both James and I felt like Caspian knew who his father was almost immediately," Mary told Inside Edition. "He was easily comforted by me husband right off the bat and seemed to have an instant connection. It was very emotional."

The moment this dad had been waiting for 

If we're sobbing just looking at the photos, we can't even imagine what it was like in real life.

"We are all so blessed and take so much for granted," Watson wrote. "I cannot contain the joy I feel in my heart when I look at these images, and I hope you feel it too!"


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During both of my pregnancies, I was under the care of an amazing midwife. Every time I went to her office for check-ups, I was mesmerized by the wall of photos participating in what may be the most painfully magical moment of a woman's life: giving birth. But there was a painting that always drew my attention: a woman dressed in orange, holding her newborn baby with a face that could be described as clueless. The line above the canvas read, "Now what?"

I felt like the woman in the painting as I kissed my mother goodbye when my daughter was born. She came from my native Colombia to stay with us for three months. When she left, I realized that my husband had been working as usual during those first 90 days of our new life. My baby was born on a Friday and on Monday he was back at the office. (No parental leave policy for him.)

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Now what? I thought. The quote "It takes a village to raise a child" suddenly started to hit home, literally.

After a few years in Miami, I had some friends, but it truly didn't feel like I had a village. Some were not mothers yet, most of them worked full-time and others didn't live close by. My nomad life left my best friends spread out in different places in the world. I found myself signing up for "mommy and me" classes in search of new mothers, immigrants like me, alone like me.

It seemed like a utopian dream to think about when my grandmothers became mothers. Both of them had 6 and 10 children and they were able to stay sane (or maybe not? I don't know). But at least they had family around—people cooking, offering help. There was a sense of community.

My mother and father grew up in "the village." Big families with so many children that the older siblings ended up taking care of the little ones; aunts were like second mothers and neighbors became family.

When I was about to give birth to my second baby, my sister had just had her baby girl back in Colombia. Once, she called me crying because her maternity leave was almost over. My parents live close to her, so that was a bonus. Hiring a nanny back there is more affordable. But even seeing the positive aspects of it, I wished I could have been there for her, to be each other's village.

The younger me didn't realize that when I took a plane to leave my country in search of new experiences 19 years ago, I was giving up the chance to have my loved ones close by when I became a mother. And when I say close by, I mean as in no planes involved.

It hasn't been easy, but after two kids and plenty of mommy and me classes and random conversations that became true connections, I can say I have a mini-village, a small collection of solitudes coming together to lean on each other. But for some reason, it doesn't truly feel like one of those described in the old books where women gathered to knit while breastfeeding and all the children become like siblings.

Life gets in the way, and everyone gets sucked into their own worlds. In the absence of a true village, we feel the pressure to be and do everything that once was done by a group of people. We often lose perspective of priorities because we are taking care of everything at the same time. Starting to feel sick causes anxiety and even fear because it means so many things need to happen in order for mom—especially if single—to lay down and recover while the children are taken care of. And when the children get sick, that could mean losing money for a working mother or father, because the truth is that most corporations are not designed to nurture families.

In the absence of that model of a village I long for, we tend to rely on social media to have a sense of community and feel supported. We may feel that since we are capable of doing so much—working and stay at home moms equally—perhaps we don't need help. Or quite the opposite: mom guilt kicks in and feelings of not being enough torment our night sleep. Depression and anxiety can enter the picture and just thinking about the amount of energy and time that takes to create true connections, we may often curl up in our little cocoon with our children and partners—if they are present—when they come home.

Now what? was my thought this week while driving back and forth to the pediatrician with my sick son. I can't get the virus, I have to be strong, my daughter can't get ill, my husband needs to be healthy for his work trip next week, we all need to be well for my son's fifth birthday. And so, it goes on. I texted one of my mom friends just to rant. She rants back because her son is also sick. She sent me a heart and an "I'm here if you need to talk."

I am grateful to have talked to her at that random postpartum circle when I first became a mother. She's a Latina immigrant like me and feels exactly like me. I will do it more, get out of my comfort zone and have—sometimes—awkward conversations so I can keep growing my own little village.

It may not look like the one I'd imagined, but still may allow me to be vulnerable even through a text message.

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Halloween is around the corner, but if you are like me you are still trying to figure out what to dress your family (especially the little ones), so here are some cute ideas inspired by famous characters. There's something for everyone—from cartoon lovers to ideas for the entire family!

Here are some adorable character costumes for your family:

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