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“I’m running away,” he says. “I’m going to find a new family. I hate this one.”


He stomps upstairs and starts packing his bag.

“Where are you going?” 

“New York City.  I’m going to go live at the top of the Umpire State Building.”

“I hope you take some money; food is expensive there.”

“Oh yeah? Well, I have 600 cents. So I can buy a hamburger from the vending machine. And a soda. When I leave I can have as much soda as I want and you can’t tell me no.”

“How will you get there?”

“Train.”

“Train tickets are expensive, too.”

“Well, then I will just eat a hamburger and not have soda and then I will have money for the train.”

I sit down at the kitchen table and try to figure out how to handle this one. What do you do when your five-year-old child tells you he is going to run away? Do you take him seriously and hope his frustration burns itself out? Do you argue with him, or does that just cause him to dig in his heels more deeply? Do you just ignore it and hope he gets bored or distracted by a better path?

I couldn’t ignore it. This is my baby. He’s hurting. I know it isn’t just that he’s angry that screen time is over. That ordinary and completely expected event happens once a day, every day. He has a timer and gets numerous verbal cues as the end of screen time approaches. 

School is rough for him this year. Really rough. Life has brought dramatic changes to our family. Our son is a dandelion seed being blown around, seeking purchase in the soil but never quite finding it. I feel guilty even as we take steps to help him.

This is so not about screen time. Or maybe it is – screen time is just the thing that bubbled to the top, following a series of tiny frustrations during school which never quite settled. Maybe I was not consistent in my rule enforcement? How many parenting tasks did I screw up since I got home from work? In the past week? Lots.

I decide to observe, make myself available for talking or hugs if he wants them, and hope for an opportunity to diffuse things in a way that he feels is on his terms. I don’t know if this is the right thing to do, but figure this is the least likely way to make things worse. 

Here’s a heartbreaking thing about parenting nobody tells you about: sometimes the best thing you can do is just not make things worse.

He brings his backpack to me, proudly, and demonstrates how well prepared he is for his journey. Inside:

  • His sketchbook, which he draws in at night when he can’t sleep.
  • Pajama bottoms.
  • A t-shirt.
  • Two socks.  One Sonic the Hedgehog, one Star Wars.
  • A pencil and three crayons.
  • His toothbrush, toothpaste, and swishy cup.
  • A flashlight.
  • A small mason jar which contains his feather collection.

When he finds a feather, I’ve always told him it means that there is an angel nearby watching over him. He picks up the feather and looks around at the sky, trying to spot his guardian. This jar of talismans and happier memories is simultaneously the least and most practical thing he packed. He’s scared, too.

“I just need my flip flops, mom, and then I can go. Can you help me find them?”

I told him that if he were really ready to move to New York City all by himself, he would have to find his own flip flops. “It’s good practice for when I’m not there to help you.”

He never finds his flip flops. 

He decides to stay home.

And I pray that there will always be feathers for us to find.

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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

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

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For many families, getting out the door in the morning is one of the biggest hurdles in our day, whether you've got one kiddo or multiples. Mama needs to get ready, children need to find that missing sock, and everyone needs to find something to eat—all while making it to the car before the entire day is running behind.

So we asked Chairman Mom members for their best tips and tricks to getting out the door faster in the mornings. Here's what they shared:

1. Get your kids to help prep the night before

"The simplest thing you can do to streamline the morning is prep everything that can be prepped the night before. Often easier said than done. But once your kids are old enough, they can own a lot of this."—Amy

2. Set an alarm using your kid's favorite song 

"Something small that saves us a few minutes: I put on an alarm with my 3 three year old's favorite song at 7:42, he knows it signals it's time to get his shoes and coat on."—Nogo

3. Use smart technology 

"We use Google Home (I'm sure Alexa would do this too) to read kids a story. So much easier to stop after the story is over then telling her to shut off the tv from watching a show!"—Maven

4. Try wearing a mom uniform 

"I don't wear make up, and my hair is an inch long, so I do not spend any time styling anything. I have an Office Casual Uniform arrangement of clothing, shoes, and jewelry, so there is no real choice involved. I have a coffee maker that is programmable, so I set it up the night before to brew at 6:15am."—Melinite

5. Simplify your beauty routine

"I do mascara and tinted sunscreen. Lipstick that I can put on without a mirror."—Julie

6. ...and your kid's beauty routine

"I brush and braid my daughter's hair the night before so that we don't have to deal with tangles in the morning. This saves the morning from going off the rails..."—Crystal

7. Hire extra help just for the mornings 

"I have a nanny for 45 minutes every morning that comes to help us. That's the best hack my husband and I have found to have happy and stress free mornings and be working or at work by 8 or 8:30 am."—Maria

8. Make breakfast super easy 

"Keep breakfast food at my office (instant oatmeal, nuts + dry fruit) that I eat at my desk while doing the first round of email."—Petya

9. Find those lost socks

"Whenever I have a MOMENT I prep lunches, fix sandwiches, put them in Tupperware, chop fruit, etc. (Oh! I even let the kids earn extra spending money by chopping the week's fruit for me on Sunday with butter knives) And get uniforms and SOCKS ready. Finding socks can eat up a good 10 minutes of my morning routine."—Sarah

10.  Take the guesswork out of what your kid will wear

"I have a toddler who hates changing out of her PJs so we just dress her in her day clothes the night before—one less battle to fight in the morning."—Jess

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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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Mamas have a hard time carving out time for themselves. Our families almost always take priority, meaning things like skincare can easily fall by the wayside. Even though studies have shown the benefits of caring for ourselves also benefit our babies benefit our babies, it often feels just one more task to add to our to-do list.

Fortunately, it's possible to skip extensive routines and start small. If you have just five minutes (or more!) to spare for yourself this week, try these self-care products you can sneak during nap time or after you finally get the little ones down for the night.

If you only have 5 minutes: Remove your makeup

One of the most important ways to care for your skin at the end of the day is removing your makeup. Start with a cleansing towelette to easily wipe away even stubborn mascara and eyeliner so you can go to bed with a clean slate.

Neutrogena Makeup Remover Cleansing Towelettes, Amazon, 2-pk $8.97

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If you have 10 minutes (or more): Use a jade facial roller

After cleansing, use this jade roller to gently massage your face to boost collagen, flush out toxins and improve circulation in your skin.

Jade Facial Roller, Amazon, $11.99

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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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Chrissy Teigen has been very open about the ways pregnancy has changed her body. Mom to 2-year-old Luna and 4-month-old Miles, Teigen—a former swimsuit model—has famously embraced her postpartum body (stretchies and all), while noting that she's still, at times, insecure about it, but she's not ashamed.

That's why, when a man on Twitter commented on a photo of Teigen's red carpet look for the Emmy's to ask the whole wide world (and Teigen herself, he tagged her) if she was pregnant again, Teigen was quick to shut down the shamer.

"I'm asking this with the utmost respectful [sic], but is @chrissyteigen pregnant again?" The man wrote.

"I just had a baby but thank you for being soooo respectful," Teigen replied (from the Emmys).


Fellow moms were quick to jump to Teigen's defense. Many pointed out that Teigen actually looks incredible for any human, let alone one who is four months postpartum. Other mamas were quick to chime in with stories about their own lingering baby bumps.

For a lot of women, our bodies are different after having a baby. Sometimes that means we're a little rounder in the middle than we used to be. It happens to almost everyone, even red carpet-walking A-listers, like Teigen and actress Jennifer Garner, who once told Ellen Degeneres that she would have a bump forever.

"I am not pregnant, but I have had three kids and there is a bump," Garner explained in 2014, after paparazzi photographs fueled speculation that she and Ben Affleck were expecting a fourth child. "Forever and ever, not another baby. Just a bump like a camel. But just in reverse," Garner jokes.

Like Garner, Teigen dealt with the pregnancy question with a sense of humor, but she shouldn't have had to defend her body from the Emmys. As many, many Twitter users pointed out to the man who asked, it's never cool to ask a woman if she is pregnant.

It's not polite to ask, and it's no one's business whether a woman's bump is a pregnancy, some fabric, a burrito, a weird shadow or (as in Teigen's case) basically a figment of someone's imagination.

A lot of mamas online last night chimed in to say that while Teigen's stomach doesn't look like it did in her Sports Illustrated days, it still looks pretty freaking amazing.

Yes, after two kids, Chrissy Teigen doesn't look like a swimsuit model. But she shouldn't have to. She's not a swimsuit model anymore. She is a cookbook author with her own Target line and she hosts a hilarious TV show. She's also a mother. She is so much more than her midsection.

"Honestly, I don't ever have to be in a swimsuit again," she recently told Women's Health. "Since I was 20 years old, I had this weight in my mind that I am, or that I'm supposed to be. I've been so used to that number for 10 years now. And then I started realizing it was a swimsuit-model weight. There's a very big difference between wanting to be that kind of fit and wanting to be happy-fit."

Teigen is happy with her body, and we're happy she spent Emmy night educating the internet about respecting women.

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