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She messages me in the middle of the day, “Hey.” And that’s it. 


I never know how to respond. But there are so many things I want to say.

“Hey Kate, sorry I suck.”

“Hey Kate, I know it doesn’t feel this way, but I think about you all the time.”

“Hey Kate, I know you have no reason to believe me, but I never forgot about you.”

“Hey Kate, I was so young when I met you. I didn’t know what to do.”

She doesn’t expect much from me, but I already know that no matter what I say, it won’t be enough.

I just turned 40. My hair has started its slow fade from a bold, shiny brown to a dull grey. My hands hurt after a busy day at work. I know I’m not old, but I’m not who I was when I met Kate.

The invincibility and the eternal hopefulness that once spilled into everything I did, and everyone I loved, has been trampled by reality. I tread much more lightly. I hesitate to make my once mighty, now mild, presence known when I enter a new space. Maybe the reason I tend to be more forgetful is because I have so many things to think about. I feel like memories are becoming ever more distant and details are harder to remember.

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But I remember the day I met Kate.

Her father and I drove for days. We left the New Jersey shore on a humid summer morning and headed west. I planned a route to get us to Arkansas in less than a week if we didn’t stop too much.

The stops we made in the other states we crossed should have been more memorable. Nashville and Memphis are faint blurs in my mind, maybe because I’d just turned 21 and felt compelled to drink whenever I had the chance. Maybe because I was so focused on getting to Magnolia, Arkansas.

In my mind, this would be as simple as checking off an item on a to-do list. We were heading out to see Kate. Kate’s dad was divorced from her mom, and a year had passed since he’d last seen his little girl.

The child in me was excited to be instrumental in their reunion. Convinced that he would be lost and empty without his daughter, I took him by his willing hands and yanked him into my world of impulsivity. We dropped everything for this road trip.

We arrived to find two girls and a boy standing beside Kate’s mother, and she directed Kate to go greet her daddy. Kate meekly ran into her father’s arms and gave him a soft, quiet hug. She was giddy, but polite. And she called me ma’am.

We spent a week in Magnolia and we saw Kate each day. Her meek demeanor changed as she got more comfortable with us. She was easily excitable and very expressive. Her little heart was overflowing with love and she had plenty to go around. She boasted about having two daddies and said she loved them both over and over. Her stepfather smiled and shrugged at us whenever she pointed this out in front of him.

Kate was delighted in that classic little girl way, every gift we gave her, every meal we treated her to, and every ride she took in our car made her little heart soar with happiness. I insisted to her father that we stay awhile. A little girl needs her father. I know this from experience.

It’d been days into months into years since I’d last seen my own dad. I wanted to save this girl from that crooked balance of a life lived somewhere between great hope and deep disappointment. We settled just south of the Arkansas/Louisiana border in Shreveport.

My heart was in it for Kate, but I quickly started hating Louisiana. My inability to adapt to a new place blurred my understanding that time and patience were the only things that could make me more comfortable. Louisiana is starkly different from New Jersey, and while I could have lived with that, I didn’t want to be so far from my family and friends.

Maybe it was this that dampened my mission to save this girl from life without her father. Maybe I realized that I alone could not be the one to force devotion and duty for her upon anyone. Maybe it was because I grew tired of encouraging visits, gifts, and involvement. Maybe there were many reasons I took a step back and started thinking more about myself, and less about “saving” Kate.

Months went by and we didn’t see her anymore. We returned to New Jersey and had a child the following year. I thought about Kate, and how she would love to hold her baby brother. I had naive faith that this could happen. I was certain that their father would feel consumed by love for both of his children, and he’d want to see her again. An innate wholehearted desire to be a father to his children would usurp his shame and cowardice.

Our baby was so darling and beautiful. I assumed that every time he held our brand new son, his daughter crossed his mind. I believed his love for Kate, rekindled and inspired by the birth of our son, would make him shove hesitation aside and propel him past the fear he allowed to take control.

He would no longer be too scared to attempt resolve, and he would pick up the phone and call his ex-wife. They’d discuss how he’d re-enter his daughter’s life for good. At first I hinted at this fantasy of mine. Then, I asked him how he felt about taking such actions. Finally, I started resenting him, and wondering if he cared about her at all. He couldn’t articulate his feelings except to say that it was, “too much to deal with right now” because we had a new baby, and we were barely getting by.

Consequently, he fell behind on his child support. Partial payments weren’t enough to keep him out of court. First, it was garnished wages. Then, it was a levy on our joint bank account. We lost much needed tax return money.

Court orders arrive, promising arrest warrants if he failed to appear. His ex-wife sent letters through an attorney stating he’d no longer have to pay child support if he signed his paternal rights away, and allowed her stepfather to adopt her. My heart dropped. It seemed like impossible debt from which we’d never recover, but I was absolutely sure he’d never sign those papers.

I held our baby on my hip as I signed for the last certified letter and wondered what made him work so hard for our child, but not for Kate. I fought with him about her, but it didn’t make a difference. His whole family agreed with him, saying this was, “for the best.”

I thought about that little girl and how on earth I might explain this to her someday. It’d been two years since we’d spoken. She was almost nine years old when he made his decision. I sent her little gifts on Easter and Christmas that year. The following year, I asked him if we should send her anything. I don’t remember his answer, I only remember being sad and disappointed.

I didn’t know that this could actually happen – that a signature on paper could erase a child from our lives. She went from being a someday to being a never. I could list a million excuses to justify why I wasn’t brave enough to object, why I didn’t take it upon myself to earn and pay that child support and the arrears, why I didn’t understand his family supporting his decision to stop being her father, why I wanted to help but felt that I couldn’t.

None of that matters now.

I thought of Kate all the time. It would have been more practical to wish that she’d forgotten about us. But I always hoped she’d remember the short time we spent with her. Even after her father and I divorced, I still believed that she would come back into his life and she would meet our sons. I still believed she’d remember the trip, and the time we lived nearby. I even hoped that she’d remember a little bit about when she was small, her parents were still together, and she saw her father every day.

His dismissal of her existence seemed as easy as turning off a light, and walking out of a room. I spent our whole marriage doubting his seemingly steady devotion to our children. Had Kate never existed, I would’ve taken his actions at face value, feeling proud and confident about his love for our sons.

Instead, any minuscule sign of indifference toward their wellbeing made me fear that he could turn his paternal love for them off as easily as he turned it off for Kate. Was he acting? Was he going through the motions, feigning the love of a devoted father just for show? Could I trust the love he professed for me if it was so easy for him to forget about his little girl? Living in constant insecurity wore me down – we had so much conflict and strife. So, before our oldest son turned ten, I chose to leave the marriage.

Twelve years slid by. Twelve years of wondering how Kate was doing. Twelve years of seeing cute little toys and clothes and TV shows that I wondered if Kate would love. Twelve years of wondering what she looked like, where she was, what she loved, and whether or not she needed her father. Twelve years of expectation turning into diluted hope and wishful thinking that her father would say, “I want to make things right with my daughter.”

When Kate was almost twenty years old, I found her profile on Facebook. She was nothing like I remembered, of course. The last time I had a good look at her, she was a cherub-like child. I marveled at the young woman whose photo stopped my heart.

Kate and I exchanged messages for a bit and I gave her my number. I rehearsed every possible scenario of this phone call in my mind for twelve years. I was ready for anything. Whatever she wanted to know or hear or tell me, I was ready. I would tell. I would speak. I would listen.

Her soft voice and southern drawl made me smile. Ever since my first pregnancy, I’d dreamt of this day. Kate’s brothers are my sons. And if I knew nothing else about her, this fact was enough to keep my heart wide open with space reserved just for her.

She’d done nothing wrong. None of this was her fault. It didn’t matter that the rest of the family seemed content to pretend that she never existed. It didn’t matter that her father and I were divorced, it didn’t matter that I could not remember the last time he’d spoken of her. Kate wanted to talk to me.

I felt a surge of excitement, mixed up with relief. Kate was the elephant in the room for the duration of my marriage to her father. Even after our divorce, when he’d provide for, indulge, or champion one of my sons, my heart would whisper, “what about Kate?”

She was the person I had hoped for and wondered about for all this long time. Any girl with a slight resemblance made me imagine what she looked like. Whenever our caller ID showed a number we didn’t recognize, I wondered for a split second if it might be her.

To finally hear her voice made my distant, hopeless dream come true. Talking to Kate after all these years felt like receiving a precious gift that I felt unworthy to accept. After she told me all about her life, what she wanted to study in college, and where and how she lived for all these years, she had so many questions. 

I answered them all. I told her the truth.

I didn’t know why her father never called. I didn’t know exactly why her mother wanted her to be adopted by her step-father. I didn’t get into the details back then because at that time, I felt like it was not my place. I told her I didn’t understand any of it, that if it had been up to me, things would be different.

I hoped that she understood this – it was never up to me. I would have made her part of our family. I would have sent her photos and videos of her brothers. They would have called her and we would have sent her gifts every holiday and on her birthday. I told her all about her brothers and confessed that they didn’t know very much about her. After her father signed away his paternal rights, her name was rarely mentioned by anyone in the family, but I never forgot about her. 

Kate is now twenty six years old. She has her own life, her own aspirations, and her own struggles 1,400 miles away from me. I can’t make up for two decades of lost time and I don’t have all the answers about her father’s absence from her life, but I will always respond when she messages or calls. I’ll always let her know she is welcome, she is family, she is treasured, and she is important.

I don’t know if that’s good enough for Kate. She deserves so much more. I can’t fill the hole her father left in her heart. All I can do is promise that nothing she says or does will ever change how I feel about her. All I can do is make sure she knows that I’m here for her now.

“Hey, how’s life?” I message back.

It’s not enough.

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As mamas, we naturally become the magic-makers for our families. We sing the songs that make the waits seem shorter, dispense the kisses that help boo-boos hurt less, carry the seemingly bottomless bags of treasures, and find ways to turn even the most hum-drum days into something memorable.

Sometimes it's on a family vacation or when exploring a new locale, but often it's in our own backyards or living rooms. Here are 12 ways to create magical moments with kids no matter where your adventures take you.


1. Keep it simple

Mary Poppins may be practically perfect in every way, but―trust us―your most magical memories don't require perfection. Spend the morning building blanket forts or break out the cookie cutters to serve their sandwich in a fun shape and you'll quickly learn that, for kids, the most magical moments are often the simplest.

2. Get on their level

Sometimes creating a memorable moment can be as easy as getting down on the floor and playing with your children. So don't be afraid to get on your hands and knees, to swing from the monkey bars, or turn watching your favorite movie into an ultimate snuggle sesh.

3. Reimagine the ordinary

As Mary says, "the cover is not the book." Teach your child to see the world beyond initial impressions by encouraging them to imagine a whole new world as you play―a world where the laundry basket can be a pirate ship or a pile of blankets can be a castle.

4. Get a little messy

Stomp in muddy puddles. Break out the finger paint. Bake a cake and don't worry about frosting drips on the counter. The messes will wait, mama. For now, let your children―and yourself―live in these moments that will all too soon become favorite memories.

5. Throw out the plan

The best-laid plans...are rarely the most exciting. And often the most magical moments happen by accident. So let go of the plan, embrace the unexpected, and remember that your child doesn't care if the day goes according to the schedule.

6. Take it outside

There's never a wrong time of year to make magic outside. Take a stroll through a spring rainstorm, catch the first winter snowflakes on your tongue, or camp out under a meteor shower this summer. Mother Nature is a natural at creating experiences you'll both remember forever.

7. Share your childhood memories

Chances are if you found it magical as a child, then your kids will too. Introduce your favorite books and movies (pro tip: Plan a double feature with an original like Mary Poppins followed with the sequel, Mary Poppins Returns!) or book a trip to your favorite family vacation spot from the past. You could even try to recreate photos from your old childhood with your kids so you can hang on to the memory forever.

8. Just add music

Even when you're doing something as humdrum as prepping dinner or tidying up the living room, a little music has a way of upping the fun factor. Tell Alexa to cue up your favorite station for a spontaneous family dance party or use your child's favorite movie soundtrack for a quick game of "Clean and Freeze" to pick up toys at the end of the day.

9. Say "yes"

Sometimes it can feel like you're constantly telling your child "no." While it's not possible to grant every request (sorry, kiddo, still can't let you drive the car!), plan a "yes" day for a little extra magic. That means every (reasonable) request gets an affirmative response for 24 hours. Trust us―they'll never forget it.

10. Let them take the lead

A day planned by your kid―can you imagine that? Instead of trying to plan what you think will lead to the best memories, put your kid in the driver's seat by letting them make the itinerary. If you have more than one child, break up the planning so one gets to pick the activity while the other chooses your lunch menu. You just might end up with a day you never expected.

11. Ask more questions

Odds are, your child might not remember every activity you plan―but they will remember the moments you made them feel special. By focusing the conversation on your little one―their likes, dislikes, goals, or even just craziest dreams―you teach them that their perspective matters and that you are their biggest fan.

12. Turn a bad day around

Not every magical moment will start from something good. But the days where things don't go to plan can often turn out to be the greatest memories, especially when you find a way to turn even a negative experience into a positive memory. So don't get discouraged if you wake up to rain clouds on your beach day or drop the eggs on the floor before breakfast―take a cue from Mary Poppins and find a way to turn the whole day a little "turtle."

Mary Poppins Returns available now on Digital & out on Blue-ray March 19! Let the magic begin in your house with a night where everything is possible—even the impossible ✨

Spring is officially here and if you're looking for a way to celebrate the change in the season, why not treat the kids to some ice cream, mama?

DQ locations across the country (but not the ones in malls) are giving away free small vanilla cones today, March 20! So pack up the kids and get to a DQ near you.

And if you can't make it today, from March 21 through March 31, DQ's got a deal where small cones will be just 50 cents (but you have to download the DQ mobile app to claim that one).

Another chain, Pennsylvania-based Rita's Italian Ice is also dishing up freebies today, so if DQ's not your thing you can grab a free cup of Italian ice instead.

We're so excited that ice cream season is here and snowsuit season is behind us. Just a few short weeks and the kids will be jumping through the sprinklers.

Welcome back, spring. We've missed you!

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The woman who basically single-handedly taught the world to embrace vulnerability and imperfection is coming to Netflix and we cannot wait to binge whatever Brené Brown's special will serve up because we'll probably be better people after watching it.

It drops on April 19 and is called Brené Brown: The Call to Courage. If it has even a fraction of the impact of her books or the viral Ted talk that made her a household name, it's going to be life and culture changing.

Announcing the special on Instagram Brown says she "cannot believe" she's about to be "breaking some boundaries over at Netflix" with the 77-minute special.

Netflix describes the special as a discussion of "what it takes to choose courage over comfort in a culture defined by scarcity, fear and uncertainty" and it sounds exactly like what we need right now.

April 19 is still pretty far away though, so if you need some of Brown's wisdom now, check out her books on Amazon or watch (or rewatch) the 2010 Ted Talk that put her—and our culture's relationship with vulnerability and shame—in the national spotlight.

The power of vulnerability | Brené Brown

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If Marie Kondo's Netflix show got people tidying up, Brown's Netflix special is sure to be the catalyst for some courageous choices this spring.

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My husband and I recently had a date night that included being away from our son overnight for the first time since he was born three years ago (but don't let your heads run away with a fantasy—we literally slept because we were exhausted #thisiswhatwecallfunnow). It was a combination of a late night work event, a feeling that we had to do something just for the two of us, and simple convenience. It would have taken hours to get home from the end of a very long day when we could just check into a hotel overnight and get home early the next day.

But before that night, I fretted about what to do. How would childcare work? No one besides me or my husband has put our son to bed, and we have never not been there when he wakes up in the morning.

Enter: Grandma.

I knew if there was any chance of this being successful, the only person that could pull it off is one of my son's favorite people—his grandmother. Grammy cakes. Gramma. We rely so much on these extended support systems to give us comfort and confidence as parents and put our kids at ease. Technically, we could parent without their support, but I'm so glad we don't have to.

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So as we walked out the door, leaving Grandma with my son for one night, I realized how lucky we are that she gets it...

She gets it because she always comes bearing delicious snacks. And usually a small toy or crayons in her bag for just the right moment when it's needed.

She gets it because she comes with all of the warmth and love of his parents but none of the baggage. None of the first time parent jitters and all of the understanding that most kids just have simple needs: to eat, play and sleep.

She gets it because she understands what I need too. The reassurance that my baby will be safe. And cared for.

She gets it because she's been in my shoes before. Decades ago, she was a nervous new mama too and felt the same worries. She's been exactly where we are.

She gets it because she shoos us away as we nervously say goodbye, calling out cheerfully, "Have fun, I've got this." And I know that she does.

She gets it because she will get down on the floor with him to play Legos—even though sometimes it's a little difficult to get back up.

She gets it because she will fumble around with our AppleTV—so different from her remote at home—to find him just the right video on Youtube that he's looking for.

She gets it because she diligently takes notes when we go through the multi-step bedtime routine that we've elaborately concocted, passing no judgment, and promising that she'll follow along as best as she can.

She gets it because she'll break the routine and lay next to him in bed when my son gets upset, singing softly in his ear until she sees his eyelids droop heavy and finally fall asleep.

She gets it because she'll text us to let us know when he's fallen asleep because she knows we'll be wondering.

She gets it because just like our son trusts us as his mom and dad, Grandma is his safe space. My son feels at ease with her—and that relaxes me, too.

She gets it because when we come home from our "big night out" the house will be clean. Our toddler's play table that always has some sort of sticky jelly residue on it will be spotless. The dishwasher empty. (Side note: She is my hero.)

She gets it because she shows up whenever we ask. Even when it means having to rearrange her schedule. Even when it means she has to sleep in our home instead of her own.

She gets it because even though she has her own life, she makes sure to be as involved in ours as she can. But that doesn't mean she gives unsolicited advice. It means that she's there. She comes to us or lets us come to her. Whenever we need her.

She gets it because she takes care of us, too. She's there to chat with at the end of a long day. To commiserate on how hard motherhood and working and life can be, but to also gently remind me, "These are the best days."

After every time Grandma comes over, she always leaves a family that feels so content. Fulfilled by her presence. The caretaking and nourishment (mental and food-wise) and warmth that accompanies her.

We know this is a privilege. We know we're beyond lucky that she is present and wants to be involved and gets it. We know that sometimes life doesn't work out like this and sometimes Grandma lives far away or is no longer here, or just doesn't get it. So we hold on. And appreciate every moment.

As Grandma leaves, I hug her tight and tell her, "I can't thank you enough. We couldn't have done this without you." Because we can't. And we wouldn't want to.

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Spring is one of the most fun times of the year to explore nature with your child. There are just so many fun changes, from baby animals, different birds migrating through, and all of the beautiful rainbows that come from spring showers.

Here are a few fun Montessori-inspired spring activities to try with your little one this year:

Learn about weather

In many parts of the country, spring brings rain clouds in addition to warmer weather. Embrace the rainy days as well as the sunshine by exploring the weather.

1. Cloud gazing

Find some pictures of different types of clouds (or use a book) and then enjoy searching for them in the sky. Take it a step further and use cotton balls to create representations of the different kinds of clouds if your child is interested.

2. Rainbows

Spring is a wonderful time to talk about rainbows. Spend time searching for rainbows after rainstorms, and consider getting a prism to let your child explore rainbows even on sunny days. Have fun noticing the order of the colors and provide the correct colors of paint or crayons for your child to create a picture of what he sees.

3. Daily weather report

Use these fun letter board ornaments to allow your child to create her own daily weather report. You could also simply create a booklet with some drawing paper and encourage your little one to draw or paint the weather each day and see how it changes over time.

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Observe animals

From baby animals to butterflies, spring is a wonderful time for children to learn about animals.

4. Bird watching

Spring migration makes it an exceptional time for bird watching. Try talking to your child about the different types of birds he might see this time of year. Have a bird watching adventure in your backyard or nearby park and see how many types you can spot together. Child-sized binoculars can make this even more fun.

5. Filling bird feeders

Filling bird feeders is something even young toddlers enjoy helping with. For older children, try providing several types of seeds and letting them mix or layer them together in the feeder.

6. Study butterflies

Children are understandably captivated by butterflies and spring is a great time to study them. You can simply read a book, or take it a step further and order a live butterfly kit to let your child see firsthand the transformation from caterpillar to a butterfly.

Explore nature

7. Create a nature table

Define a space such as a small table or even a tray or basket, and allow your child collect interesting things she finds in nature. Include a magnifying glass if you like.

8. Plant a garden

Young toddlers can help water a garden, slightly older children enjoy planting seeds and weeding, and older children can help design a garden and select the plants. Gardening provides an up-close look at how plants grow and is also great for independence and a sense of responsibility.

9. Collect flowers

Encourage your child to find and collect some of the little wildflowers growing everywhere this time of year. It can be especially fun to use a flower press to preserve his finds.

10. Celebrate Earth Day

Plant a tree, clean up a park, or join a community Earth Day event. These all provide a great opportunity to talk to children about their important role in taking care of our planet.

Practical life

Montessori teachers refer to the practice of real-life activities, like cooking and cleaning, as "practical life." These skills are practiced all year long, but there are some fun and different ways to focus on them in spring.

11. Peel hard-boiled eggs

Spring is a great time to talk about how some animals hatch from eggs. Letting your child peel hard-boiled eggs can be a fun extension of this, and is also a great way to build concentration, as it can take quite a long time and significant effort for a young child to remove all of the little pieces of eggshell.

Show your child how to crack the eggshell and provide a small bowl for her to put the shell in. Bonus: Ground up eggshells are great for the soil in your garden.

12. Hull strawberries

Spring produce provides a great opportunity for little ones to help clean and prepare different fruits and vegetables, including hulling strawberries.

Show your child how to rinse the strawberries and use a strawberry huller. He can also use a chopper to slice them.

13. Scrub outdoor toys

If you're anything like me, your child's water toys got a bit dusty in the long winter months. Get your child involved in cleaning them up for the warmer weather to come. All she'll need is a scrub brush, a bucket of water, and some soap if you wish. She'll have fun making the toys beautiful again, and you can check something off the to-do list—it's a win-win.

14. Scrub rain boots

In many areas, rain boots get a lot of use this time of year. At school, we sometimes put out a boot scrubbing activity for children to clean their muddy boots and this is something you can easily replicate at home. Set up a little cleaning station, perhaps on the back porch, with everything your child needs to clean his boots.

15. Flower arranging

Flower arranging is an activity enjoyed by children in Montessori classrooms all year long, but it is especially fun in the spring when your little one can help pick flowers in the backyard or visit a local market and see all of spring's beautiful flowers displayed.

Set up the activity so that your child can do it herself. In addition to fresh flowers, she'll need scissors to trim the stems, a few little vases to choose from, a small pitcher for water, and a funnel to pour water into each little vase. Your home will look beautiful, and your child will feel so proud knowing that she contributed.

Perhaps the best way to enjoy spring with your child is to simply get outside, splash in the puddles, and soak up the sunshine, but hopefully, these activities will give you a new way to spend time together and enjoy the season.

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