Teaching Kids How to Goal Set With New Year’s Resolutions

Surround yourself and your kids with piles of magazines and update vision boards for the fresh, new year to come.

Each year on December 31, I surround myself with piles of magazines and begin to update my vision board for the fresh, new year to come. Last year, my daughter wanted to do one alongside me so I used the opportunity to introduce her to the importance of setting goals and the power visualizing the things we want.
Even though she was only seven years old at the time and bounced back and forth between dreams of being the next Taylor Swift and a construction worker, depending on the day, it’s great for children to feel a sense of responsibility for the things they want, no matter the age.
When we started, the only advice I gave her in crafting her own vision board (she used sparkly poster board) was to turn the pages of the magazines and tear the things out that made her stop and feel something. I wanted to make sure I had no input on the things that caught her eye because I did not want to take the fun out of the activity and also, wanted her to feel in complete control over her desires. Instead, I talked openly about my own board and the aspirations I had for the months to come. I made sure to include phrases about being committed to the work in order to get results and being flexible about obstacles that may arise.
In an essay about goal-setting, Dr. Michele Borba writes:

“To help children feel comfortable talking about goals, we parents need to share our own aspirations. So take time to share a few of your dreams and wishes and the resolution you plan to set for yourself like losing those extra pounds, learning to text, finally reading and finishing Moby Dick, taking that gourmet cooking class. Whatever!”

One of the best things about doing this activity together was the conversations that stemmed from the different things we cut from the pages. We talked both realistically and imaginatively about far away places we’d like to travel and what it would be like to own a bakery or start a podcast. If nothing else came from this evening together, we exercised our creativity and bonded while reenacting some of the over-the-top advertisements we came across.
When we sit down to update our boards this year, I want to talk about what we accomplished, what we changed our minds about and what will be different in the year to come.
On her site Kiddie Matters, LCSW Yanique Chambers writes:

“Children are more likely to work towards their goals when they see progress. They can track their progress by using a sticker chart, graph with tally marks, a spreadsheet, etc. Make sure the child can readily see the progress they are making towards achieving their goal.”

Since it was her first time doing a vision board last year, I didn’t really think about using a way to measure her goals because I simply wanted her to enjoy the process. Now that she’s in third grade and has some consistent extracurricular activities she’s into, I plan on choosing a date every couple of months to “check-in.” Again, I want to make sure it’s something she gets excited about, so it’ll be kid-friendly with fun treats and maybe some Taylor Swift in the background.
After all, a quarter of the time, she still wants to be a pop star.

Which Type of Exercise Best Improves Kids' Moods, According to Study

Parents often feel overwhelmed by trying to schedule in exercise because of time constraints and child willingness. A new study can help with the guesswork.

I recommended movement to everyone I see in my clinic, including kids. Moving our bodies has many benefits for mental and physical health. As life becomes more sedentary we can struggle to encourage movement habits in our children and ourselves. This can lead to mental and physical health problems.
This large recent study that found benefits for exercise for school-aged children’s mood, attention and memory grabbed my interest because it also looked at factors such as intensity and choice of exercise activities. Parents often feel overwhelmed by trying to schedule in exercise because of time constraints and child willingness. This study’s findings help takes out the guesswork about what works best.
The study is part of the BBC Learning’s Terrific Scientific campaign and is part-funded by the University of Edinburgh and the Physiological Society. Over 11,000 school pupils across the UK participated. Children investigated the impact of taking a short break from the classroom to complete a physical activity on their mood and cognitive abilities.
Researcher Dr Naomi Brooks explained: “Anecdotal evidence suggests that short breaks involving physical activity can boost concentration and happiness in pupils. While this is positive, the evidence is not conclusive and this is what we asked the children to help investigate.”
The children answered questions about their mood – such as how happy and alert they were feeling – before completing computer based attention and memory tasks. Children undertook the tasks both prior to and following participation in each of three outdoor activities. These activities were:

  • A bleep test: An intense activity, where the children ran in time with bleeps, which got gradually quicker, until they felt close to exhaustion.
  • A run/walk activity: An activity graded as intermediate intensity where the children ran or walked at a speed of their own choice for 15 minutes.
  • A control activity: The children went outside to sit or stand for 15 minutes. This was used to compare whether there were benefits to physical activity other than purely going outside.

The results show that children reported feeling more alert after taking a break and doing exercise for a short time than in the control activity of going outside. The children felt more alert after both the bleep test and the run/walk but they felt most alert after the run/walk. The children also said they felt better after doing the run/walk but reported no difference in the way they felt after completing the bleep test when compared to the control activity.
Results on the computer tasks were also better when children completed the medium intensity run/walk activity. Responses were quicker to the attention task after completing the run/walk, compared to the control and bleep test activities. Children controlled their responses more effectively after doing the run/walk and bleep test than after the control activity.
Children were better able to recall words in sentences in the run/walk condition. There was no difference between the bleep test and control activity. There was no difference in children’s ability to remember shapes after any of the outdoor activities.
The researchers concluded that the children’s best responses to tests came after physical activity that was set at their own pace, as opposed to exhaustive exercise. “Ultimately, we found that 15 minutes of self-paced exercise can significantly improve a child’s mood, attention and memory – enhancing their ability to learn,” says Dr Booth. “This suggests that children should be encouraged to exercise at their own pace during short breaks from class. This may help children be more ready to learn when they return to the classroom.”

What does this mean for parents?

As parents, we can incorporate this knowledge into how we infuse movement into our children’s lives. This study shows you don’t have to exercise for long bursts to get benefits. Instead:

  • Brief exercise breaks of 15 minutes of a self-chosen moderate activity are likely to be the most beneficial and also motivating for your children.
  • Slip in 15 minute movement breaks between homework and chores.
  • Make it fun and be creative. If your child doesn’t like running and walking try dance games or ball games. Or turn your walk into a treasure hunt. For example today we have to find one red leaf, a feather, a rock, and point out a bird.
  • Move with them. Most kids love it when their parent joins in the activity. This will boost your daily movement levels too. Why not enjoy the benefits?

How do you add movement to your child’s life? Let us know in the comments!

8 Cool Things Kids Can Get in the Mail

Want your kids to see the mailbox as an invitation to adventure? Here are seven of the best opportunities we could find.

My husband and I can go weeks without checking our mail. All the good stuff gets dropped on our porch at all hours of the day and night by Amazon’s new delivery fleet, so we rarely need to trudge down to the box. When we do, we’re usually rewarded with print copies of bills we’ve already paid online, zombie catalogs for garden trinkets that keep appearing despite our cancellation requests and lack of garden, advertisements for half a dozen window cleaning companies, vague recruitment pitches for jobs in some “sizable Midwestern city,” or notices from our alma mater that continue to refer to us as “Dr. and Mrs. [husband’s name],” even though I graduated first and we are both doctors.
My childhood forays to the mailbox were not dutiful grudge work. They were independent adventures that could lead anywhere. There could be anything in there! The next installment from the Dr. Seuss Book Club. An issue of Highlights. A sample of Cracklin’ Oat Bran. Letters from friends who had moved out of state. Columbia House stamps.
I wanted my son to see the mailbox as that same invitation to adventure, so I Googled around for “free mail for kids.” I would discourage you from doing the same. Free sample sites abound, but many require product reviews and social media promotion, which means you would be receiving “free” stuff in order to nag your friends about how great that free stuff is. There are tons of “free” books, toys, and clothes, as long as you’re willing to pay hefty shipping and handling fees.
I wanted to find freebies that would introduce my son to something new while not compromising my integrity or depleting my bank account. Here are seven of the best opportunities I’ve collected, as well as one paid one that is worth its price.

1 | Posters

Want to get your kids free mail and inspire them toward greatness? The Government Printing Office has a number of posters for download or delivery, including a 22 x 34 inch wall poster telling your kids everything they’ll need to do should they wish to climb to the highest job in the land. If they don’t have their sights on the Executive Branch, this poster can teach them about all three branches.

2 | Stickers

Loads of companies offer free stickers to promote their products. (Annie’s enormous cheddar bunny is particularly fun). The problem with these stickers is two-fold. First, you have to time your request just right. Many companies only release stickers once per month, and the time you wasted trying to get free stickers probably cost you more than just buying stickers. Second, branded stickers don’t expose your kids to anything new.
PETA solves both parts of the problem with their ever-available stickers, which help teach kids about various threatened animal populations. The stickers arrive on a postcard, so if your kid gets to the mail before you do you may find “Let Them Be Free” messages festooning your walls. Our accidental field tests suggest that the stickers won’t destroy paint or furniture.

3 | State tourism packets

Visit your state’s tourism website to request brochures that can help you plan out mini adventures to parts of your home that you never knew existed. Or pick a state far from your own and plan an imaginary trip to help teach your kids about different people and places.

4 | Books

Depending on where you live, your zero- to five-year-olds can get free books once per month from Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library. Since its launch in 1995, the program has mailed nearly 100 million books. The library’s website also offers activity sheets to accompany its books. You can check here for availability. If there is no program in your area, consider starting one.
Read Conmigo is a English-Spanish book program that prioritizes bilingual learning in kids from preschool through fifth grade. All kids may join the program and download free e-books. Kids in Florida, Texas, and California can also get free print books every four months.

5 | Catalogs

Many of us, understandably daunted by the phone book size of Restoration Hardware’s catalog, are putting ourselves on “do not mail” lists. But a few printed catalogs are still a delight to receive. Trader Joe’s Fearless Flyer includes funny product write ups as well as a shopping planner your kids can use for your next outing. The Zingerman’s Mail Order Catalog features drool-worthy subscriptions like a bacon of the month club, but even if you don’t shop it’s a terrific educational resource about foods from all over the world.
Parents of teens take note: While your younger kids might find it boring, The J. Peterman catalog, made famous by Seinfeld, still exists. It’s as over-the-top as ever, including its Merry Christmas 2017 catalog and this introduction to a women’s Edwardian Blazer: “One of the chimneys on the left wing topples into the greenhouse overnight, let’s say, and Spencer and the cook haven’t been paid for six months.”

6 | LEGO Life Magazine

If your children are between five and 10 years old, and you are willing to expand your LEGO budget to accommodate all the new things they will learn about from it, LEGO Life Magazine is a great piece of free mail. It features obvious product placement, but it’s also tons of fun.

7 | Letters

This will sound crazy, but bear with me. The best way to get mail for your kids is to just write a letter to someone. Kids can write to grandma. They can write to their favorite authors. They can write to Disney characters. They can write to NASA’s astronauts. They can write to the president. They can write to complete strangers.
You can also help your kids make new pen pals. Do you follow a parenting blogger on Instagram who you wish was your pal in real life? Reach out and send them and their kids some actual mail.

8 | Nature boxes

All of the other items in this list have been free opportunities, as long as you don’t count all the extra treats and LEGOs you’ll buy after reading about cool new products. Nature Pal Exchange, started by bi-coastal homeschoolers in 2015, will cost you, but it is a great way to view the world from other kid’s eyes.
Each exchange comes with a fee, as well as the cost of shipping your nature finds, but a look at the amazing things sent around the country, as well as the charities that are benefited by your purchase, makes the price well worth it.
You can sign up for updates about upcoming exchanges. While you’re waiting for the next exchange, check out some of the amazing things sent around the country on previous exchanges here.
Do you have any ideas to add to the mix? Let us know in the comments below!

Making New Friends? Not in the Wintertime.

All I want to do when the holidays are over and January spreads out, flat and unchanging, is to call in the old standbys.

One word on the Oxford Dictionary’s 2016 “word of the year” list spoke wonders about our nation’s current mental, political, and emotional state. “Hygge,” in case you haven’t heard of it, is the Danish word for creating an intimate, cozy experience wherever you are. There’s not even a direct translation into English. It’s an idea, an ambiance. It’s about crocheted blankets and fuzzy socks and hot toddies by the fire. It’s about staging the cover of every L.L. Bean catalog in your very own home. It is everything you wish for on a cold, gray winter afternoon.
It’s also why it’s harder to make new friends.
Because, in all honesty, who wants to go to that kind of effort? All I want to do when the holidays are over and January spreads out, flat and unchanging, is to call in the old standbys. I want crockpot soup and spaghetti. I want old favorites on Netflix and the sweatpants from college with the hole where a pocket once was. And I only want about three to five people on my rotating schedule of daily interactions – the husband, the kids, and the best friends who don’t make me try. I want to be social without being “social.”
And I’m not the only one. Most of us tend to turn inward, our own version of social hibernation, in the winter months. This makes sense. William Chopik, a psychologist and professor at Michigan State University explains, “Cold weather is often a barrier to venturing far from home. Meeting new people in the winter months requires a lot of effort.”
Who wants to defrost the car and pray you don’t bust it on a patch of ice in your skirt and heels? Who wants to hire a babysitter for anything other than a date with your closest people when time is money and the wind chill is eight below? You pick your people and call them to you. It’s an introvert’s dream. Suddenly even the extroverts are huddling up with a book and glass of wine on a Saturday night.
We all want easy listening and easy company until the earth warms up again. Even my manic kids choose to gather round me in their pajamas like I am Mother Hubbard. They want books read and hair played with and long baths just like the rest of us.
I unwittingly made a new friend in the car pick-up line at my son’s school recently. She’s a fellow mom of a special needs kid and she’s wry and sarcastic and feels equally ambivalent towards holiday teacher gifts. She unintentionally showed up to carpool in her UGG house shoes, but applied lipstick nonchalantly like it was all part of the plan. She’s a kindred spirit.
But that doesn’t mean I’m going to call her up to go wine tasting any time soon. For now, we will make small talk and trade school gossip and spouse stories while shivering in our puffer jackets waiting for our kids. And then we will go our separate ways.
Maybe when spring rolls around and the daffodils are out and pool days are just around the corner, I will call her up and we will run away together for a few hours. We will try the new Indian restaurant downtown or grab iced coffee and walk through the park. But for now, I’m content to keep it simple and invite over only those who are intimately familiar with my holey sweatpants. We will order pizza and watch reruns of “Veep” and wait for warmer days.

How to Introduce Your Toddler to Percussion Instruments

Of all age groups, young children are probably our most enthusiastic music-makers. I remember my four-year-old son coming home from the beach one day where he’d collected a variety of shells and small pieces of driftwood. He began to click the shells together like castanets and tap the driftwood pieces. He smiled at me and said, “I’m a drummer!”

Kids are fascinated by all kinds of sounds, either making them or hearing them. Their impromptu music-making is often rhythmic and they can frequently go into action by simply clapping hands, snapping fingers, or jumping to the beat.

 In his book “The Joy of Drumming,” Tom Klower writes, “The enormous wealth of sounds from percussion instruments astonishes and fascinates nearly everyone. The timbre or ‘color’ of the sound strikes the imagination. This is percussion’s great charm: its timbre carries messages from the soul.”

Percussion instruments are untuned, which means they just make noise. They make a sound when one hits, scrapes, or shakes them. As a result, they provide an easy and fun way to introduce pre-schoolers to rhythms and music play. Small hand drums, rhythm sticks, wood blocks, or shakers are perfect instruments for tiny musicians since they can experiment with rhythm and improve fine-motor skills at the same time. 

In his book, “The Parents’ Book of Facts: Child Development from Birth to Age Five,” Tom Biracree writes, “Fine motor skills and activities are extremely important in preparation for school. Developing small-muscle strength and coordination are necessary for writing, drawing, and other creative activities.”

To start children off with rhythms, it’s best to find instruments that are easy for them to play. Look for small drums such as the hand drum, bongo drum, frame drum, or tambourine, all which can be played with the hands. As well, try experimenting with lummi sticks, which are great starter instruments for young children. Named after the Lummi Native American peoples, they are hardwood sticks, about seven inches long. They’re easy to hold and to tap out simple rhythm patterns for young children.

There are a number of rhythm games you can play using percussion instruments that will promote interaction between you and your child as well as developing listening skills. Here are some simple rhythm games:

Mother Goose rhythms

Children love to drum or tap while accompanying their favorite songs. Begin with nursery rhymes as they are a rich source of ideas for drumming. Tap the beat on the drum while chanting rhymes such as “Hickory Dickory Dock” or “Hot Cross Buns.”

How many beats or what time is it?

This is a counting game. The leader plays a number of steady beats on the drum and asks the child, “How many did I tap?” or “What time is the clock striking?” Keep it simple. Once your child is confident, he can take a turn being the leader.

Echo game

The leader taps out a simple rhythm on the drum. Next, the child taps back the rhythm on her drum. Keep the phrases short and simple. It may take a little time for your child to succeed with this activity. Always give encouragement, even if the echo is not exact. 

Lots of fun variations can be added to this game. Add dynamics and ask, “Can you play this pattern loud? How about soft?” Or change the tempo to fast and then slow. Ask her, “Can you march and play the drum?” Have fun with your little drummer!

Everyday noises

Sounds of rhythm are everywhere, and you can help your child tune into them. Try these prompts:

  • Can you make your sticks sound like the clip-clop of a horse?
  • Can you make your sticks sound like the tick-tock of a clock?
  • Let’s see if we can sound like the pitter-patter of raindrops.
  • How about a woodpecker tapping on a tree?

Encourage your child to choose sounds that he wants to make. How about popcorn popping? The ideas are endless!

Drumming with your child will build a strong foundation for further music studies in the future. It may lead to drumming in a band or a playing percussion in an orchestra or an interest in other musical instruments such as the piano.

5 Unique Alternatives to Baby Books (That Won’t Make You Feel Like a Failure)

In the age of the smartphone, many parents are finding the traditional baby book just doesn’t make sense.

As a kid, I would flip through my baby book, hoping my mom had filled in some of the blanks while I was sleeping or at school. But every time I took the book off its shelf, I saw the same barren pages between the faded pale yellow covers. Listed were the date and time of my birth, my birth weight, a lock of hair from my first haircut … and that was all. I promised myself that if I ever became a parent, I wouldn’t start a baby book if I couldn’t commit to the project. As an adult, I know that I’m amazing at starting projects. But finishing them? Not so much.
This is why I’ve never owned a baby book.
It turns out, I’m not alone. In the age of the smartphone, many parents are finding the traditional baby book just doesn’t make sense. That doesn’t mean those of us who are sans baby book aren’t capturing the important moments. There are plenty of ways to hold onto the milestones, the mispronunciations that are too cute to correct, and everything in between – while letting go of the pressure to fill in the blanks.

1 | Write them down

Instead of baby books, I have a blank, lined journal for each of my two daughters. When I feel inclined to record a precious moment I simply open the book and write it down. There is no schedule, so I never feel like I’m “behind.”
Each entry is dated. Some are briefer than others. Some note milestones like the first step or the first three-word sentence. Others capture funny conversations or serve as a brain-dump of every word they pronounce incorrectly. Sometimes I’m just saying “I love you.” I plan to give each girl her book when she’s an adult … but not before photocopying one for myself.

2 | Type them up and send them off

You’re never too young for an email address. At least that’s what Lakeville, MN dad Joe Meyers thinks. When his son Aden was still in the womb, Meyers set up an email account for him. Since then Meyers and his wife have been sending three-year-old Aden all kinds of emails, ranging from medical records and party invitations to notes regarding milestones including his first dessert (mocha ice cream). This will be the fourth consecutive year the Meyers’ are requesting family and friends send emails in lieu of birthday cards.

3 | Box them up

Boxing memories means no pages to put in order or blanks to complete, and you can include anything you want. Best of all, a memory box serves as an actual treasure chest. At her daughter’s birthday parties, Lakeland, Florida mom Tangela Walker-Craft has each guest write a message on a small piece of paper and then collects them in a jewelry box. “The message can be a favorite Bible scripture, a serious personal message, or a favorite motto or quote.” Walker-Craft says she and her daughter enjoy reflecting on the memories and the messages, particularly the ones from Walker-Crafts late grandmother.
Stacy Haynes is a Turnersville, NJ mom whose kids, ages 10 and 11, each have a simple plastic storage bin for memorabilia. Organizing them is easy; Haynes simply drops the most recent items on top. “We have everything from soccer shirts, to baby teeth and school report cards all in two bins. So on moving day, after college and they move into their own place, their memories are already packed away.” The simple box is a family tradition; Haynes says her mom gave her the memory box from her childhood once she was married with children.

4 | Film them

There is nothing quite like a video to preserve a moment. At the end of each year, Bailey Gaddis, the Ojai, California mother and author of “Feng Shui Mommy,” creates a “Year in Review” video montage of all the short takes she’s recorded of her four-year-old son throughout the year. Not only does the video showcase milestones and random sweet and funny moments, Bailey loves that they double as holiday gifts for the grandparents. As an added bonus, videos won’t create clutter.

5 | Collect them (Dr. Seuss style)

My husband bought each of our kids a copy of Dr. Seuss’s “Oh the Places You’ll Go.” Once a year he makes sure it’s signed by the important people in their lives, including ourselves, extended family, close friends, regular babysitters, and teachers. The inscriptions are reminiscent of the sentiments you’d see in a yearbook missive. My husband plans to give the girls their books when they graduate high school. Meanwhile, the books have been sitting on my desk for four weeks, and my husband has been gently nudging me to write my annual messages. I can only be responsible for one thing, it seems. (see #1).
There were many things I did not know before I became a parent. One thing I did know was that I never wanted an abandoned baby book in my home. One thing I’ve learned is that there’s no one right way when it comes to parenting or capturing memories.

How to Help Kids Cope With Post-Christmas Letdown

When the morning of December 25th arrives, it’s seemingly gone in an instant, often leaving children with a post-holiday letdown.

The hype of Christmas begins earlier each year, which means the build-up to the big day becomes even greater with each passing season. When the morning of December 25th arrives, it’s seemingly gone in an instant, often leaving children with a post-holiday letdown.
With well over a month of shopping and decorating and baking and binge-watch Hallmark movies, the excitement on Christmas morning can often feel like a rushed, chaotic scene of unstuffing stockings and unwrapping presents. Then poof, it’s done.
When I was young, I recall being sad by early afternoon but wouldn’t quite know why. It wasn’t because of the gifts I received; I was always really appreciative of what I had opened. I couldn’t quite pinpoint my blues until my Mom once said “It’s the Christmas letdown.” But even for the years to follow, I remember still telling my parents, “I don’t want it to be over. I want to continue to listen to Christmas music and make crafts and decorate sugar cookies.”
It was like I was mourning the loss of the holiday season. How could I possibly wait 11 more months to do this again? As a kid, that amount of time seemed like an eternity.
So how can parents help their kiddos navigate what may be confusing feelings for some?

Keep it joyful

“First, always keep it positive. Help them to see all of the good that has come out of Christmas,” said pediatric Nurse Practitioner Stephanie Bosche of Tri Country Pediatrics in Pennsylvania. “One thing I love to do is have the kids choose one of their old toys to donate to another child after the holiday season so that they can learn how good it can feel to give.”
For my own daughter, I try to help her keep the excitement going by talking about all of the other special times of year. Although the magic of Christmas can’t exactly be recreated, there are many aspects of the holiday season that we can incorporate at anytime.

Create special events

One thing that works well for us is writing activities and fun made-up days on the calendar. This gives my daughter something to look forward to. For example, pick a date in January when you know schedules are clear and declare that day “The Great Snow Fort Challenge” or “Science Experiments with Friends.” Whatever best suits your child’s interest and the family’s budget.
“Help guide children by encouraging them to feel excited but also feel prepared for other activities throughout the week. In a year like 2017 when Christmas falls on a Monday, followed by seven vacation days for most families I encourage spreading out the holiday events across the week so that there are endless options for fun and creativity,” said Julia Colangelo, LCSW in New York City.

Talk it out

Colangelo also said that keeping an open line of communication and being prepared for these conversations will help for smooth transitions. In fact, she said, the earlier families can have these discussions, the better.
Anytime you hear your child exclaim something like “I can’t wait,” encourage the excitement but link in another activity that follows Christmas to help remind them that there are other great events ahead. For example, you could say to your child: “I love that you are so excited about Christmas. You know what else is just around the corner? New Year’s Eve! I have some fun things in mind for that day.”
Ultimately, it’s important that children feel comfortable expressing their emotions across the board. Sometimes, they just need help making sense of what they’re feeling.
Something that always stuck with me as a kid was when grandmother shared this piece of wisdom with me: A part of what makes Christmas so special IS that it only happens once a year.

When All I See Are Snakes

Where is the balance between protection and paranoia, between caution and completely shutting down?

Entering the woods after spending the first week of October stuck in the house with sick kids is supposed to offer me restoration. I’m raw, and a close call that involved my eldest child trapped in a chest that had to be broken open with a hammer shattered what footing I had left.
The beloved nature preserve plopped down in the middle of suburban sprawl offers solace at low points. My daughter and I are the most enthusiastic hikers, so we pack our backpacks and venture out on our own.
I usually feel a melting away of stress and fear when we head into nature. Despite the proximity to the suburbs, the sound of traffic melts away, and it’s easy to imagine being in the wilderness.
However, on this Saturday I can’t see the fall leaves or the blooming buds as we head down the concrete path that will lead us to dirt trails. I see a sign I’ve never paid much attention to before warning of venomous snakes. My brain heightened towards fear, all my mind’s eye focuses on for the rest of the day are snakes.
Bypassing the sign, I let my nine-year-old daughter, Wren, lead us while I try to appear more relaxed than I am. We are trudging in companionable silence when Wren asks, “Mom, do you think it’s going to rain?”
I didn’t, somehow, notice the cloud cover until now, but I recall a sign warning hikers to stay off the trails during storms. It was propped right by the one about wild, poisonous animals. Determined to prove I wouldn’t be driven by fear, I moved on without checking the weather.
“Maybe. We’re okay,” I say, trying to convince myself as much as Wren. I don’t make us turn around.
A fellow hiker with binoculars is coming towards us smiling. “There are two baby wildcats just ahead right off the trail. I watched them for a while,” he says enthusiastically.
Wren beams, the possibility of creatures usually unseen fascinating.
“Mom, let’s go off trail and find them!”
“I don’t want to find them. We’ll eventually find their mom, and that will be bad if we’re near her cubs.”
“Why?” she asks.
“Because mothers protect. It’s their instinct,” I say. As soon as the words escape my mouth, I wonder if my instincts are so lost that I’ve somehow pushed us into a situation where she’s not protected.
We hit a fork in the trail, and Wren looks to me for guidance.
“You choose,” I tell her, trying to remember what I would do if my mind wasn’t swarming with mass shooting reports, emergency room visits, and Wren’s voice calling to me from inside a locked chest. I couldn’t see her, only heard her screams as I wondered how much carbon dioxide she’d already inhaled, the tips of my fingernails ripping off as I attempted to lift the lid on my own.
“What’s the right way?” she asks.
“There’s no right or wrong. As long as we remember where we turned, we’ll make it back.”
She chooses a direction and we persist.
Within minutes two men are behind us, close enough that I can hear the sounds of their heavy breathing. I usually chat with other hikers, exchange pleasantries of some sort, but I feel threatened by the presence of these strangers. I have no weapon. I could swing Wren’s sketch pad or throw a plastic water bottle, but those are my limits.
I’m faced again with the fact that with very little thought, I dragged us both into the woods under the assumption that no one nefarious would be out here, an assumption that can’t be proven. The world shows the opposite all the time. My ignorance hurts since I know the men behind us may look nice, but I have personal experience with knowing better.
I grab Wren’s shoulder and pull her to the side of the trail to see if these men will pass. They do, waving to us as they go by. I breathe again.
“Mom, are you okay?”
I nod. “Let’s head back. The temperature has dropped. It might rain.”
We head back the direction we came, and I’m struck by how masquerading has become a part of parenting I didn’t expect. My value of total honestly at all times competes with my desire to protect my children from the harsher truths about humans, their abilities to be merciless, their motives never explained. There’s also chance, the wrong choice, the wrong place, the accident that costs everything, which sometimes seems even harder to explain than the evil of humans.
Wren looks out over the fields as we watch the grass being moved by creatures unknown, absorbing every second we still have on the trail. Her eyes return to me, a smile lighting up her features.
“There’s so much out there, and we don’t even know what it all is.” Possibilities unseen excite her. She’s just described my worst nightmare.
Where is the balance between protection and paranoia, between caution and completely shutting down?
I am still more afraid to stand at the start of the path unable to take a step – with fear my motivator and paralyzing force – than to take chances. I’m determined to offer her more than a life based on making decisions from the worst-case scenario approach. I let her lead us out of this path because I want her to know she can, and that most days, the world won’t throw you a completely shattering loop that changes everything. There’s no way to prepare for when it does anyway.
Still, as the grass continues to sway, moved by invisible forces, I’m not sure if I’m made the right choice by fighting fear with risk.
We walk for what seems like too long, but when Wren shoots a concerned look my way, I tell her to follow what she knows: “Have faith that you will come out where you should.” I feel the first drop of rain and realize my faith is slipping.
An ex-boyfriend from years ago berated me, saying I had no sense of direction in the woods, was useless at camping, stomped like a damned quarter horse. It’s his words I hear as the trail winds on long past when I believe it should have returned us to our starting point. It’s her voice I hear next.
“Mom, I recognize this tree. Listen, do you hear the water?”
I do. We turn a corner and the creek that accompanied us the first part of the journey appears, as well as the opening to the trail leading us home.
This time, I was right.

Santa and His Magic – in Full Effect for as Long as Possible

When it’s all said and done, if my children have joyful memories, then I have given them a great gift.

The magic of Christmas is always alive for those who believe. While this may be my life’s eternal motto, I’m certainly not a crazy Christmas lady.
I do know that, for every Christmas light lit before Thanksgiving, one of Santa’s baby reindeer die, so I would never take that risk. But once the official Christmas season begins, I am all in, and dragging my entire family along with me. Santa and all of his magic is in full effect.
Before you roll your eyes right out of your head, hear me out.
I heard an interview recently in which someone described Christmas as a dream – the one time in our lives when we suspend reality in exchange for fantasy. It’s the one day of the year when dreams come true, the one time when magic is real. Really real, not just sleight of hand.
It’s also the one time of year when I have the opportunity to make this magic happen for my family.
I’m 43, and while I acknowledge how beautiful and wonderful life can be, I also know that it can be cold, hard, and relentless. There are times when people don’t care. There are times when your dreams truly don’t matter at all. There are times when you are alone, or worse, lonely. The realization that life isn’t always fair or pleasant comes quickly – far too quickly, in my opinion.
We spend the vast majority of our adult lives, well…being adults, which is exactly why I choose to give my children the chance to experience pure, dream-making magic. While they’re children, I feel that they deserve it.
I get it. Maintaining the Santa illusion hard. But for me, hard isn’t a reason to abandon ship. Last year, we pulled off a live animal Christmas, and it required more logistical arrangements than when I gave birth to my second child. It was also, hands down, the most stressful Christmas Eve on record.
My husband and I fought and bickered while trying to establish the best plan for Santa’s gifts to spend the night. I forgot to remove several labels and tags – clearly, a rookie mistake induced by an adrenaline-fueled combination of stress and excitement.
Boy, was I excited. I was so incredibly excited. I knew how much they wanted this. It never crossed my mind that Santa couldn’t make their Christmas dreams come true. No matter how many favors I had to call in or arrangements I had to make with neighbors, their dreams were coming true.
On that moderately cool, rather balmy southern morning, when my kids saw their dreams materialized at the foot of the Christmas tree, adorned with a freezing cold letter from the North Pole, every minute, every argument, every request, every switch, every exchange was totally and completely worth it. I watched magic happen right before my eyes, and it was worth it.
I admit I’m selfish. I love every minute of watching the holidays through the eyes of my children. In some ways, it’s even better now than when I was a kid. I wish this time of our life would last forever. The magic of Christmas experienced by my children directly improves my holidays, too. Their excitement, joy, and awe make it exponentially better.
While I may be selfish, I’m also a realist. I remember vividly when I found out that my reality wasn’t exactly reality. It was a pretty difficult blow. I remember feeling a palpable sense of loss. Over time, however, I was able to channel the energy and excitement of receiving into the joy of giving.
I’m prepared for my children to experience this loss. I am aware of the sadness that will likely affect them – hopefully, not any time soon. (Truthfully, I’m more prepared for the sex talk than the Santa talk.) But I believe that my kids’ excitement and energy will grow from the magic and joy of receiving into the magic and joy of giving.
When it’s all said and done, if my children have joyful memories – feelings they can return to when the world is not such a friendly place – then I have given them a great gift. So, for now, the magic remains real, and I am forever joyful and grateful for it.
Within my joy, though, a slight sadness tugs at my heart because I know this time is fleeting. Only for a very short time can we capture this excitement. Letters to Santa and personalized cards for our elf, Cookie, will make way for doubt and questions.
I am ready, though. I am ready to block doubt and reassure fears by holding on to my life motto. I am ready to remind my children that, as long as you hold on to the spirit in your heart, the magic will always follow.

Planning the Ultimate Winter Break? Check Out These Hotels with Cool Kids' Amenities

Many hotels around the country have amenities that appeal to younger travelers – including unique kids’ activities and experiences.

Traveling with kids can be both amazing and exhausting. On the one hand, you get the joy of seeing your kids experience novel places and things. On the other hand, it’s hard to explain to a toddler that they are now in a different time zone and should stop waking up at 4 a.m.
Luckily, many hotels around the country have amenities that appeal to younger travelers – including unique kids’ activities and experiences. These places offer a range of options for kids with different interests including art, animals, and the outdoors. There are also plenty of perks for parents – making any of these spots good destinations for the whole family.

1 | Four Seasons Resort and Residences Vail, Vail, CO

Many Four Seasons locations have perks for kids including welcome gifts and child-sized bathrobes. The Four Seasons Resort and Residences Vail, located near the base of Vail ski resort, and is a relaxing mountain retreat for the whole family. The hotel can pitch a tent in your room throughout the year at no additional cost, giving kids a chance to camp by the gas-burning fireplace in the room. The location also has a year-round outdoor heated pool where families can swim (even in the winter) and then warm up with complimentary hot chocolate and brownies. The location also has a kids’ club which hosts rotating events like a kid-friendly après-ski party.

Perks for parents

Parents can enjoy the spa which has unique treatments like a high-altitude adjustment massage or a Colorado beer foot soak (the yeast from the beer purifies and cleanses your feet). The Remedy bar also serves a collection of unique cocktails to help parents unwind at the end of a long day of skiing or sightseeing.

2 | Kimpton RiverPlace Hotel, Portland, OR

Surprise! It’s the Bedtime Butler.

Kimpton’s boutique hotels have kid-centric amenities that vary by location. Some sites offer “Guppy Love” – a program that allows kids to have a pet fish during their stay (that the hotel staff feeds and cares for). The Kimpton Muse in New York offers kids a welcome toy upon arrival and hosts a daily hot chocolate bar.
At the Kimpton RiverPlace Hotel in Portland, kids will love the Bedtime Butler – a cart that makes the rounds several nights a week carrying a rotating selection of complimentary treats like cookies or books for kids and nightcaps for parents. Guests can’t order the butler – the cart visits rooms at random, so kids have to listen for the surprise knock at the door. The Kimpton RiverPlace is also pet friendly and has complimentary in-room tent camping for smaller kiddos.

Perks for parents

Parents can enjoy evening social hours featuring local craft beer or Oregon wines and take advantage of complimentary coffee in the morning and yoga mats in every room.

3 | Sundial Beach Resort & Spa, Sanibel, FL

Sanibel Island, located on the Gulf Coast of Florida, is a great beach vacation option for families. Everyone can enjoy wildlife viewing, beaches with a large variety of shells, and the bike paths located throughout the small island. The beachfront Sundial Resort has rooms with kitchens, making it easy to prepare snacks or meals for kids (and you can pre-order groceries to have your room stocked when you arrive). Kids can play at the pool or take advantage of complimentary sports equipment rentals or activities like scavenger hunts and seashell necklace making. The Sanibel Sea School is a program that gives families a chance to interact with marine educators to learn about some of the marine life on the island like sea turtles, manatees, and dolphins.

Perks for parents

While kids are engaged with some of the resort activities, parents can take advantage of the full-service spa and restaurants, or even reserve a dinner on the beach.

4 | Resort at Squaw Creek, Lake Tahoe, CA

This Lake Tahoe resort, located at the base of Squaw Valley ski area, offers a variety of amenities to keep kids entertained year-round. In the winter, families can ski, enjoy the private ice rink, or go on a dog sled tour. The summer season offers hiking and swimming and a chance to take a tram to the top of the ski area to a museum commemorating the 1960 Olympic games that were hosted at the site. Kids can also enjoy perks like 30-minute spa treatments designed especially for them and seasonal events like a holiday Gingerbread Village and a kid’s New Year’s Eve bash.

Perks for parents

Parents can unwind at the spa or enjoy a nice meal at the contemporary steakhouse Six Peaks Grille, which uses produce from the resort’s on-site hydroponic garden.

5 | LEGOLAND Hotels, CA and FL

Aargh! Go to bed.

The hotels adjacent to the LEGOLAND locations in California and Florida are designed to delight kids. Rooms have different LEGO themes like Pirates, Friends, or Ninjago, and kids can complete a treasure hunt to unlock a treasure chest surprise in their room. There are also pools and play areas and a variety of LEGOS to play with throughout the hotels, and guests get a complimentary breakfast buffet and early access to LEGOLAND parks. In addition to the existing locations, the LEGOLAND Beach Retreat opened in Florida in 2017, and a castle-themed hotel is set to open in California in 2018.

Perks for parents

Rooms are set up so that the kids area is separated from the adult area giving everyone their own space. But the best perk may be that with so much to entertain the kids, parents get a chance to actually relax.

6 | Embassy Suites Waikiki Beach Walk, Honolulu, HI

Hawaii is a great family-friendly destination, but accommodations can get pricey. The Embassy Suites Waikiki Beach has some great amenities at a good value. As with other Embassy Suites locations, the room price includes a complimentary evening reception and a hot breakfast buffet. The suite rooms feature living spaces separated from the bedrooms, which can come in handy for kids that go to bed early. There is also a separate kids’ pool and free Hawaiian entertainment at the poolside reception, and the hotel is just a short walk to the beach.

Perks for parents

The hotel hosts free poolside yoga some mornings and the evening reception has complimentary cocktails and snacks.

7 | Omni Berkshire Place, New York, NY

This hotel in Midtown Manhattan has an excellent location near a lot of popular New York City attractions like Rockefeller Center, Central Park, and The Museum of Modern Art. They are also one of the hotels across the nation that offer an American Girl Package. The package at this location comes with breakfast, a special American Girl-sized doll bed, and an evening treat. The location also has the Omni Kids Crew program which includes kid-friendly amenities like a welcome backpack filled with games, crayons and binoculars.

Perks for parents

Parents can take advantage of the fitness center with a view of midtown, in-room massages, and the on-site steak house restaurant.

8 | The ART Hotel, Denver, CO

Little art aficionados will appreciate the Denver ART Hotel, which is located within walking distance of some of Denver’s museums. Kids can play or sleep in the complimentary children’s Teepees that the hotel provides or visit the adjacent Denver Art Museum, which is always free to kids under 18. The hotel is also housed in a unique modern building and features over 50 pieces of artwork.

Perks for parents

Parents will appreciate the hotel’s modern, refined feel and can enjoy a cocktail at The Living Room lounge bar, which offers cocktails and a complimentary selection of old-fashioned candy.

9 | Great Wolf Resorts, Various Locations

Great Wolf Resorts is an extremely kid-friendly chain of indoor waterparks for kids of all ages. In addition to the waterparks, kids can keep busy with arcades, magic wand quests, and character appearances. Some rooms also come outfitted with cave and cabin themed sleeping areas with bunk beds for kiddos. With several locations across the country, visiting a Great Wolf Lodge can be a kid-friendly vacation of its own.

Perks for parents

Some locations offer a “Wine Down” service for parents – a wine and food pairing delivered as room service in the evening for parents to enjoy after the kids are in bed.
Image Credits: All images came from their respective properties.