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If the sun were out, it would be lighting up the tan curtains on the left hand side of my bed. I’m only seeing the darkness.

I grab my phone and press the side button to light up the screen. The unnatural white blinding light hurts my eyes and I shut my left eye as I bring the screen closer to my face. There it is, the time: 4:45 a.m. I place the phone back on the nightstand and roll over and bury my head under neon-colored paisley pillows.

I want to go back to sleep. I don’t want to move. Suddenly there is an instantaneous craving for coffee overriding my mind. And I’m torn. An hour-and-a-half more of sleep or the chance to jumpstart my day?

The choice, although not an easy one, is already clawing at my stomach and my mind. My brain has started planning each step. My internal never-ending to-do list is on repeat. There are too many people I need to be today. Too many roles need to be acted out and I’m the only actress on the stage.

I toss my body back over and stretch my hand outward fumbling my phone before it misses the nightstand and falls on the floor. I don’t worry about the phone. I need my vision. My hand roams around the small white table until it finds the plastic frames and I place black-rimmed thick lenses upon my nose.

The bedroom, looming in an eerie predawn color, becomes sharper. My eyes make their proper adjustments, and begrudgingly I escape the sanctuary of my full size bed. The steps make their habitual creaking noises and I use my phone as a flashlight until I reach my kitchen. I glance over and see the husband fell asleep on the couch again, and I can hear his heavy snores sawing their way through the silence. I flip the light switch on and I finally see the first colors of a brand-new morning.

Bright yellow kitchen walls surround a turquoise coffee maker and red canisters. Nothing matches in my kitchen. I go through the necessary steps to turn the dark ground-up coffee beans into my early morning elixir. 

My cereal is on top of the refrigerator and every morning I have the same argument with myself: eat now because I don’t know when I’ll have time to eat again. I grab one of our largest bowl from the cabinet and pour Cheerios.

Cheerios remind me of my mother. As a child, I remember making a solemn vow that I would never eat them. They were bland. There is a haunting memory buried in my mind. It comes back every time I see the yellow box and smell coffee brewing. I see my mother bending down in front of me trying to fix my hair for school. Her breath suffocated my face with a combination of coffee and Cheerios. I hated sitting in front of her wondering why she couldn’t brush her teeth before she fixed my hair. I understand now why. She had two little girls, two years apart. There weren’t any minutes to spare.

As the coffee maker begins to gurgle its last few drops, I know I’ve became my mother. I grab the tall Longaberger travel coffee mug. There are three of these cups which I rotate throughout the week because they hold the most liquid as I travel through my morning. I carry my cereal and coffee back up those memorized hardwood steps. I sit back down on the bed and I begin my first job of writing. One hour and one editorial submission later, my coffee is half drunk and my cereal is gone. I close the computer and head back to the yellow kitchen for a refill.

The next time I walk back up my stairs is the best part of my day. And sometimes it’s the worst. It’s a toss up as to who I will find behind my son’s bedroom door. There are mornings he’s happy and chatty. He tells me he loves me. His innocent three-year-old face is excited to see “Mr. Moon” is still out. If the morning is later, he’s intrigued by the sunbeams shining into his room and will ask where “Mr. Moon” has gone. He is proud of himself and says, “I sleep till the sun came up.”

Other mornings, he isn’t as joyful. He doesn’t want to get out of his bed and he doesn’t want to get dressed. He’ll yell at me to, “Go away. Leave me alone. I don’t want to go to school.” On those mornings, I have to break the news of how he faces a long time of attending school ahead of him. I know he doesn’t understand, but I hope he’ll be a little more prepared for the 12 years of early mornings that will come when he starts public school.

Today, I’m lucky because on this morning, he’s both happy and sleepy. He doesn’t want to get up, and I can’t blame him. I didn’t want to get up either. He is perfectly distracted as the orange- and-white-striped cat named “Mr. Pickles” jumps into his bed. He tells me how the cat is making his ‘happy noise.’ Instantly, there’s a calm purring throughout his bedroom as I breathe my Cheerios-and-coffee-smelling sigh of relief.

He gets out of his bed and asks to race matchbox cars. I tell him we can’t because we have to get ready. I gather up his blanket and pillow and a cup sitting on his nightstand. I walk down the steps knowing he’s never too far behind me.

His steps are those of a child, heavy and not aware of their full potential. I begin getting the child dressed; a daily struggle. He wants to wear pajamas. He doesn’t like pants. My husband has showered and is tying the laces on his shoes. He stands up and wipes the sweat from his forehead. He’s always sweating as he rushes too hurriedly through a morning routine. My husband is a human who will be forever nervous about being late. He grabs up the blanket and pillow and heads to the car.

I watch as our son tries to throw up his usual protest to leave his blanket alone. His words are unheard, as he finds his way to the front door to watch his Daddy with anticipation. I begin preparing for his next request and go back into my kitchen to fill up a cup with diluted juice. From there I can hear the front door open and my husband walks back into our living room. There are words and questions exchanged about leaving. 

The child wants to take a book. He doesn’t want to take his Thomas the Train to school again. He had to take it last week for “show and tell.” Since he is an only child, he has anxiety that he may lose his train to the other children. My husband calms his fears and tells him he can leave the train at home today. We pick our battles, choosing ‘show and tell’ not to be one of them.

My family says goodbye. I try and kiss the boy, but he laughs and hides his face so I can’t. Some mornings he just wipes off my kisses. I worry at three years old, he’s already embarrassed by his mother’s affection. Or maybe he smells my breath laced with coffee and Cheerios.

The door shuts and I hear them enter the car. I finish more writing and editing. I prepare for the 9-to-5 grind. An hour and fifteen minutes later, I’m ready and on my way to the office. I keep mentally reminding myself to pay the parking ticket I got last week. If I don’t pay it, there will be an added $25 fine. We don’t have an extra $25.

Every morning is just one morning out of my lifetime. With each new sun rising, I feel as though I’m being ripped apart. I keep trying to be too many different personas trapped inside one body. I am the writer. I am the mother. I am the wife. I’m the animal lover. I’m an employe who too often lets her parking meter expire. Sometimes, I am hungry. I am trying to survive one day to the next.

In between those days are good moments and exhaustion. There are sweet memories I’ll treasure until my death. There are happy noises. There can be crying defiance and fit-filled protests. Sometimes, there is loneliness. There is always more work to be done; things I didn’t get to cross off my list today. I plan for tomorrow.

Within each moment of living, struggling, there is something else all around me. There are beating hearts. They are the reason I’m doing my best to fill so many roles. My home is alive with tears and happiness. I am a mother trying to keep it all together, one day at a time.

Who said motherhood doesn't come with a manual?

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It's a conundrum many parents wrestle with: We don't want to lie to our kids, but when it comes to Santa, sometimes we're not exactly giving them the full truth either.

For Kristen Bell and Dax Shepard, lying to daughters Lincoln, 5, and Delta, 3 just isn't an option, so everyone in the Bell-Shepard household knows the truth about Santa.

"This is going to be very controversial," Shepard told Us Weekly earlier this month. "I have a fundamental rule that I will never lie to them, which is challenging at times. Our 5-year-old started asking questions like, 'Well, this doesn't make sense, and that doesn't make sense.' I'm like, 'You know what? This is just a fun thing we pretend while it's Christmas.'"

According to Shepard, this has not diminished the magic of Christmas in their home. "They love watching movies about Santa, they love talking about Santa," Shepard told Us. "They don't think he exists, but they're super happy and everything's fine."

Research indicates that Shepard is right—kids can be totally happy and into Christmas even after figuring out the truth and that most kids do start to untangle the Santa myth on their own, as Lincoln did.

Studies suggest that for many kids, the myth fades around age seven, but for some kids, it's sooner, and that's okay.

Writing for The Conversation, Kristen Dunfield, an Assistant Professor of Psychology at Concordia University, suggests that when kids come to parents with the hard questions about Santa, parents may feel a bit sad, but can take some comfort in "recognizing these challenging questions for what they are—cognitive development in action."

Kids aren't usually the ones who are upset when they figure it out, researchers note. Typically, kids are kind of proud of themselves for being such great detectives. It's the parents who feel sadness.

Some parents may not choose to be as blunt as Shepard, and that's okay, too. According to Dunfield, if you don't want to answer questions about Santa with 100% truth, you can answer a question with a question.

"If instead you want to let your child take the lead, you can simply direct the question back to them, allowing your child to come up with explanations for themselves: "I don't know, how do you think the sleigh flies?" Dunfield writes.

While Dax Shepard acknowledges that telling a 3-year-old that Santa is pretend might be controversial, he's hardly the first parent to present Santa this way. There are plenty of healthy, happy adults whose parents told them the truth.

LeAnne Shepard is one of them. Now a mother herself, LeAnne's parents clued her into the Santa myth early, for religious reasons that were common in her community.

"In the small Texas town where I grew up, I wasn't alone in my disbelief. Many parents, including mine, presented Santa Claus as a game that other families played," she previously wrote. "That approach allowed us to get a picture on Santa's lap, watch the Christmas classics, and enjoy all the holiday festivities so long as we remembered the actual reason for the season. It was much like when I visited Disney World and met Minnie Mouse; I was both over the moon excited and somewhat aware that she was not actually real."

No matter why you want to tell your children the truth about Santa, know that it's okay to let the kids know that he's pretend. Kristen Bell's kids prove that knowing the truth about Santa doesn't have to make Christmas any less exciting. Pretending can be magical, too.

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Last year my sons and I gave my wife the one thing every mom really wants every now and then: the absence of us.

We woke up that morning, kissed her on the cheek, and got out of dodge. Ten hours later we returned to find her eating carrot cake in a bathrobe and listening to podcasts.

Like so many dads when they do any solo-parenting, I posted a picture to Facebook. It got a big response, with more moms than I expected saying that's just what they wanted, too. I'm not an expert in presents or parenting, but consider this my recommendation to dads to make "taking the kids and leaving" this year's gift for moms—and a much bigger part of your regular life.

Don't get me wrong, we love my wife Kate. She's everyone's favorite family member. She's brilliant and funny and full of adventure. She's both the strongest person I know and the most caring. She's amazing at freeze dancing. She can name one million Pokemon. She knows instantly which injuries need Band-aids and which need kisses... and which, like me stabbing my hand trying to open a coconut with a kitchen knife, need the ER.

That's precisely why on her birthday we needed to get out of there. For a few hours Kate didn't have to do our emotional labor or be the default parent. No one asked her to make his brother return a toy or to check the tone in an email. She didn't have to perform appreciation for a breakfast in bed we would have made wrong. For one day, she didn't have to take care of anyone. It's embarrassing this is rare, but I admit in my family it is.

This brings up some big questions.

Why couldn't we have just stayed and taken care of her for a change? Did we really have to leave?

The answer is yes, at least for now. Our family's modes should include times when we're all around and Kate's not working, but they just don't.

When the kids need a Lego separated, it's her name they yell first down the stairs. If they're bored and looking to gin up some interaction, it's her lap they cannonball onto from the back of the couch. And that all goes for me, too, only without the Legos and cannonballs (mostly). That means whenever we're with Kate she has to be at some level of "on."

She shouldn't have to feel like the decision-maker, problem-solver, and nurturer in chief whenever she's in the same house as her husband and children, but she does. That means, for now, the quickest way to free her from that burden is just for us to get out that door.

That brings us to the biggest questions.

Does one day make a difference when there's such an everyday imbalance in the parenting load?

If Kate shoulders so much of the practical and emotional labor in our house that a day on her own can be a *literal* gift, what does that say about us?

It says a lot of things, but here's the main one: we need to change. If you'd asked us on our wedding day if our plan for raising a family was to divide the load unequally, we'd have both said "no way." But here we are.

So what do we do about it?

Well, the better question is what do I do about it. The problem is—I need to transform my share of the work around here. It can't be on Kate to solve that, too. That means I need to step up, to start doing much more not only of the caretaking and meal-planning and cooking, but the playdate-scheduling, doctor appointment-making, and child-life-organizing.

Leaving the house for one day doesn't turn me into a co-primary parent, but maybe it can be a jump-start. Sometimes the best way to begin changing habits is to create situations where those habits are impossible.

I might not have the strength to change our caretaking patterns when all four of us are together, but if it's just me and the boys with mom inaccessible, no one has another choice. The more days where I'm the primary parent, the more all four of us get accustomed to me in the role we're used to just having Mom in.

Kate might be superior to me in every aspect of parenting—which makes sense, given she's been practicing more than I have for eight years—but it's important to remember that a shared load is better for everyone. Of course it's better for her, but it's so much better for the boys, too. And it's better for me.

Our children are wonderful, hilarious and exquisite tiny humans. The focus on my 5-year-old's round face as he tries to make a card tower. The sound of my 7-year-old's boot cracking a puddle of ice as he walks to school. Pokemon. I miss all that when I'm not leaned forward as a parent.

And it's now or never. I've been a father for eight years. In 10 more, if we're lucky, our oldest will be in college. Childhoods go by fast. If don't become a better dad now, when will I?

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Breakfast is often said to be the most important meal of the day, but in many households, it's also the most hectic. Many parents rely on pre-prepared items to cut down on breakfast prep time, and if Jimmy Dean Heat 'n Serve Original Sausage Links are a breakfast hack in your home, you should check your bag.

More than 14 tons of the frozen sausage links are being recalled after consumers found bits of metal in their meat.

The United States Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service announced the recall of 23.4-oz. pouches of Jimmy Dean HEAT 'n SERVE Original SAUSAGE LINKS Made with Pork & Turkey with a 'Use By' date of January 31, 2019.

"The product bears case code A6382168, with a time stamp range of 11:58 through 01:49," the FSIS notes.

In a statement posted on its website, Jimmy Dean says "a few consumers contacted the company to say they had found small, string-like fragments of metal in the product. Though the fragments have been found in a very limited number of packages, out of an abundance of caution, CTI is recalling 29,028 pounds of product. Jimmy Dean is closely monitoring this recall and working with CTI to assure proper coordination with the USDA. No injuries have been reported with this recall."

Consumers should check their packages for "the establishment code M19085 or P19085, a 'use by' date of January 31, 2019 and a UPC number of '0-77900-36519-5'," the company says.

According to the FSIS, there have been five consumer complaints of metal pieces in the sausage links, and recalled packages should be thrown away.

If you purchased the recalled sausages and have questions you can call the Jimmy Dean customer service line at (855) 382-3101.

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Flying with a 2-year-old and a 5-year-old isn't easy under optimal conditions, and when the kids are tired and cranky, things become even harder.

Many parents are anxious when flying with kids for exactly this reason: If the kids get upset, we worry our fellow passengers will become upset with us, but mom of two Becca Kinsey has a story that proves there are more compassionate people out there than we might think.

In a Facebook post that has now gone viral, Kinsey explains how she was waiting for her flight back from Disney World with her two boys, Wyatt, 2, and James, 5, when things started to go wrong, and the first of three kind women committed an act of kindness that meant so much.

After having to run all over the airport because she'd lost her ID, Kinsey and her boys were in line for security and she was "on the verge of tears because Wyatt was screaming and James was exhausted. Out of the blue, one mom stops the line for security and says 'here, jump in front of me! I know how it is!'" Kinsey wrote in her Facebook post.

Within minutes, 2-year-old Wyatt was asleep on the airport floor. Kinsey was wondering how she would carry him and all the carry-ons when "another mom jumps out of her place in line and says 'hand me everything, I've got it.'"

When Kinsey thanked the second woman and the first who had given up her place in line they told her not to worry, that they were going to make sure she got on her flight.

"The second woman takes evvvverything and helps me get it through security and, on top of all that, she grabs all of it and walks us to the gate to make sure we get on the flight," Kinsey wrote.

Kinsey and her boys boarded, but the journey was hardly over. Wyatt wolk up and started "to scream" at take off, before finally falling back asleep. Kinsey was stressed out and needed a moment to breathe, but she couldn't put Wyatt down.

"After about 45 min, this angel comes to the back and says 'you look like you need a break' and holds Wyatt for the rest of the flight AND walks him all the way to baggage claim, hands him to [Kinsey's husband], hugs me and says "Merry Christmas!!" Kinsey wrote.


It's a beautiful story about women helping women, and it gets even better because when Kinsey's Facebook post started to go viral she updated it in the hopes of helping other parents take their kids to Disney and experience another form of stress-relief.

"What if everyone that shared the story went to Kidd's Kids and made a $5 donation?! Kidd's Kids take children with life-threatening and life-altering conditions on a 5 day trip to Disney World so they can have a chance to forget at least some of the day to day stressors and get to experience a little magic!!"

As of this writing, Kinsey has raised more than $2,000 for Kidd's Kids and has probably inspired a few people to be kind the next time they see a parent struggling in public.

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