What Is the Value of an Education to a Stay at Home Mom?

Women are pursuing degrees in record numbers. But taking time off to raise a family once you’re that deep in debt makes many have to choose between the two.

It was an introductory sociology class my freshman year and students were debating whether women who wanted to be stay-at-home moms should get a college degree. One woman argued that they shouldn’t bother – it was simply a waste of time and money. The majority of the class disagreed, some quite fervently.

At the time, her comments certainly rankled me, even though I had no idea what I was planning on doing with my life. And while I still think it is absurd that anyone would argue against women getting an education, now that I am a stay-at-home mom with a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree, I find myself thinking of that conversation often. What was the point of all that education? What am I doing with it now? Was it just a waste of time and money?
When my husband and I got married, we were both graduate students. Our decision to attend school simultaneously raised a few eyebrows, but I was adamant I would not play the role of the supportive wife who worked to put her husband through law school, promising herself she would take her turn “later” when the “time was right.” We were certainly on a tight budget for several years, but I have no regrets about the path I took. Even when I ended up quitting my job only a few years after graduation.
After six years in school, I might as well have used that Master’s degree in Anthropology and Public Health to wipe my baby’s bottom.
While I haven’t heard anyone debate the worth of educating future mothers since my freshman year, there are striking difference in education levels between stay-at-home moms and working moms. Nearly half of all stay-at-home moms have a high school diploma or less, compared to 30% of working moms, according to the Pew Research Center. And this disparity in education translates into financial losses – nearly one-third of stay-at-home moms live in poverty, compared to only 12% of working moms.
While a large percentage of stay-at-home moms have attended college, the share of mothers with advanced degrees who stay-at-home with children is fairly small.  For moms with professional degrees, only 11% stay at home – 9% for those with a Master’s, and just 6% of moms with a Ph.D.
The majority of these moms with advanced degrees who do leave the workforce to care for their children suggest that they would have stayed in their career if their workplace offered a more flexible arrangement. With a lack of paid maternity or sick leave, coupled with the high cost of childcare, it’s no surprise many women end up putting their careers on hold for a few years. 
Once the children of these moms get closer to school age, seventy percent end up back in the workforce. Unfortunately, there is a high price for women who leave the workforce – even for a few years – as their wages and lifetime earnings can take a large hit.  
I scrimped, saved, and worked through my grad school years in part due to a nagging fear that if I did decide to stay at home with my kids, the last thing I would want was a massive student loan hanging over my head. I was lucky to land a job as a research assistant to help cover some of my bills, but many aren’t so lucky. 
The average undergraduate borrower has over $30,000 in student loan debt. For every woman who quit her job because of an inflexible schedule or the high cost of childcare, there is another wishing she could take some time off but is paying off a mountain of educational debt instead.
Despite the large percentage of women staying at home who do not have higher degrees, more women are now earning college diplomas than men – 37% vs 35%. Nevertheless, women are still earning 79 cents for every dollar a man makes. This gap in pay hits women for whom college is out of reach even harder – They work at lower wage jobs and they have less of a chance to earn enough to pay for adequate childcare.
Whether or not I use my degree on a day to day basis, I don’t regret my decision to go to college or graduate school. I have gained perspective and experience that has improved my life and that I can pass down to my children. I  learned organizing and management skills that I use while volunteering I have a sense of accomplishment from pursuing a field I wanted to study.
On the days that I do use it, I’m working as a freelance writer from home, a degree of flexibility in a field I love that I’m not sure I would have if I didn’t pursue an education. And if I decide to return to the workforce full-time, I’m glad I have options available to me.
Women are pursuing higher education in record numbers, but we still have more work to do to ensure that college is affordable and accessible for everyone and that our workplaces are more flexible and accommodating of working parents. Only then we can be sure that women truly have the option to pursue what is best for them and for their families.

How to Keep Stir-Crazy Preschoolers Occupied Indoors

When kiddos get restless and emotions run high, you need several go-to activities that are easy to put into place and don’t require too much pre-planning.

I’ll be honest. I actually looked forward to the idea of winter during the summer. I imagined bundling the kids up in their snow gear and making a family of snow people in the yard. I bought a new sled in hopes of fun rides down our hill followed by mugs of hot cocoa.  
In reality, we haven’t had much snow. Our cold, gray, soggy days don’t bode well for outside play that when the kids need to channel their energy.  
When my kiddos get restless and emotions run high, I need several go-to activities that are easy to put into place and don’t require too much pre-planning. The following ideas work well:  

Snack fort

Although this may need some adult help at the onset, once the main structure is built, it’s pretty easy to step back and watch the kids make it their own. The other day my daughter repurposed a popcorn tin into a table and cajoled me into letting her bring a snack into her fort while her brother napped. She played in it with her friend for three hours.  
Now, granted, the novelty might wear off after a few days but three hours of somewhat quiet on a gray, windy afternoon is gift I will gladly accept.

Shaving cream bath

Fill up the wells of a muffin tin with shaving cream and add a drop or two of food coloring to each well. We start with paint brushes so the kids can mix the ‘paint,’ but quite frankly they prefer using their fingers.  
When it seems as if the tub or – who am I kidding – their bodies are well painted, give them a washcloth and invite them to wipe things down. Sometimes cleaning is half the fun for my four-year-old. It can stretch out for a while and is an awesome way to spend that sometimes long, whiny stretch between supper and bed.
Just be forewarned: The tub can get a bit slippery when covered in shaving cream!

Homemade play dough

A simple Google search for homemade play dough will yield several easy recipes. We like to keep the basic ingredients on hand at all times so we can whip up a batch when we need it. Even toddlers can help measure and mix the ingredients with guidance. Sometimes we add food coloring, glitter, spices, or essential oils before it’s cooked to change it up a bit.  
After the dough cools, try using a variety of materials to extend their play, such as cookie cutters, rolling pins, small plastic animals, or popsicle sticks. A wide-mouth canning jar with a lid will keep the freshly made dough usable for quite some time.  

Sensory table

An under-the-bed storage tub works great as a sensory table. Place it on the floor when the kids need a little redirection, keep a towel handy if there’s water involved, fill it with various materials, and you’re ready to go.  
One of our current favorites is Kinetic Sand with either repurposed containers (cleaned drinkable yogurt containers, baby formula scoops, etc.) or small construction equipment. My toddler son also loves dry rice and scoops or water with a squirt of dish soap and whisks. Meanwhile, my four-year-old enjoys washing her play dishes or experimenting with mixing several containers of colored water.  
Bonus: when not in use, the tub can easily slide under a bed and store unused materials.

Shake and bake

Be it something small, like a boxed muffin mix, or big, like assembling the layers of a lasagna, being in the kitchen can do wonders for grumpy kids. It gives them something to focus on and makes them feel important as they do what is typically considered an adult job.
Also, when kids help prepare food, they’re more likely to at least try eating it!  

Visit your local library

Bring a sturdy bag and give the kids time to browse the aisles of books to see what catches their eye. I’ve started placing some books on hold a few days beforehand, so the specific titles I want to read to my kids are waiting at the front desk. This is especially helpful with toddlers who want to explore the library or, ahem, jump on the library’s furniture.
Either later that same day or the next, make reading the new books an event by spreading a cozy blanket on the floor and inviting the kids over to read. Make it even more special, and perhaps entice those prone to wiggling, by eating a snack while you read.

Teaching Children to Appreciate Quiet in A Noisy World

In a world where being loud is lauded, let’s teach our children the beauty of quiet and stillness.

Quit laughing. I know you read the title and started cackling. Children, admittedly, have a lack of appreciation for quiet. If anything, the heavy walking, loud breathing, human noisemakers seem to get perverse pleasure out of being loud. To them, he or she who is the loudest for the longest wins.

Teaching children to value quiet is about more than just saving our own sanity. There’s another, more fundamental reason. Gordon Hempton is an acoustic ecologist, or collector of sound. He travels the globe in search of the rarest nature sounds – sounds that can only be heard in the “absence of man-made noise.”

According to Hempton, silence is an “endangered species.” In an “On Being” interview with Krista Tippett, he described our environment as being filled with “noise pollution,” like the pinging of cell phones, the beeping of car doors locks, and the rustling of the artificial fabric of our clothes. These things don’t just take place in our homes and public spaces. They’re everywhere – even in nature. 

If you’ve been to a designated outdoor space lately, especially somewhere with crowds, like a National Park, you know the truth of this. There is always one annoying hiker who brings a walking stick – and a cell phone. Or you’re deep into a walk in the woods only to step on a crinkly potato chip bag that someone neglected to pack in, pack out.

In a world where being loud is lauded, let’s teach our children the beauty of quiet and stillness. Let’s teach them to listen intently, not just to words, but to the sounds around them. Did you know that while our bodies sleep, our ears don’t? It’s how we can hear the alarm clock in the morning or a child calling for us in the night.

Teaching children to appreciate silence isn’t about saying “hush” or doing like your elementary school teacher did and turning out the lights until everyone settles down. Make listening to the quiet into a game, and try some of the following:

Lie down and listen

Grab a blanket and have your kids lie down next to you. If they’re really little, tell them to be still and quiet like a noodle. Now have them listen and try to distinguish sounds. If you’re indoors, can you hear running water, rain dripping from the eaves, or doors shutting? If you’re outdoors, can you hear birds, airplanes, the wind, rustling leaves?

Go on a night walk

When it’s dark, we rely more heavily on our hearing than our sense of sight. Walk with your ears and listen for nighttime sounds. How do they differ from daytime sounds? Do sounds echo? Are they louder or more muffled at night?
Bonus: Learning to discern night sounds can be especially helpful for small children who are afraid of the dark, because it removes the element of the unknown.

Make shadow puppets

Make shadow puppets on the ceiling using a flashlight or night light. Your puppets don’t have to be elaborate. A bunny or dog will do. Although shadow puppets are visual, they require stillness and focus. They can teach children to appreciate the interplay of light and shadow, which happens in nature, too.

Do a smell test

Pull a few spices like cinnamon or curry or chili from the spice cabinet. Blindfold your children, or ask them to shut their eyes tightly. Now ask them to notice what they smell. Does one smell sweet, while another one smells spicy? Can your child name the different smells?
Now, add an auditory component to the game. With your children’s eyes still closed, open the refrigerator and pull out a condiment like ketchup. Can your children identify the item based on smell and sound?

Listen to soundscapes

Many parents play nature sounds at night as a sleep inducer for their kids. They’ll flick on the sound machine and call it a night.
Instead, try listening with your child – even for a few minutes – and see if, together, you can pick out the different nature sounds. Or change things up and play a soundscape during waking hours so that everyone, at any time of day, can appreciate the natural tempo of earth, wind, water, and fire.

Writing Is My Peaceful Rebellion – Find Yours

Inside each one of us is a restless soul trying to find purpose. This is how it has always been, and hopefully, this is how it always will be. I believe this to be true for males, females, adults, and children alike. Unrest such as this is not necessarily destructive, unless it is ignored.

One of my favorite books that validates living a creative life is by Steven Pressfield, called “The War of Art”. It includes inspirational quotes and motivational kicks-in-the-pants to those of us treading water and fighting our instinct to create. Pressfield has the audacity to blast those who do not fulfill their creative purpose in life, those who battle their fire within. That fire can turn into envy, judgement, and destruction.

He mentions art can come in many forms, and one form is putting pen to paper. Of course, I am attached to this idea. I have recently come to embrace writing and all of the cultural responsibility that comes with it. To me, writing is rebellion.

I used to be a pretty envious, stagnant person. It’s clear to me now that my negative unrest was caused by my inability to let my creative instincts take over. Living like a creative was, in my mind, the job of lead singers and ruthless rebels.

I was jealous of those who dyed their hair, adorned themselves in tattoos, and pierced something visible. How brazen and bold these individuals were, so confident in their rebellion that they wore it for all to see. They absolutely owned their own form of art.

And they were some of my best friends. I ached for a way to let out my restlessness the way they did, but I needed it to be my own. I wanted to put noise where the silence was. I wanted to feel the walls shake.

For some time, my creative outlet was taken over by having children. Bringing babies into the world is its own sort of rebellion. Not only are you thrusting this creation out into society, but you are also ensuring that this organic creation will find room to take over, to make his or her own art. While busy changing diapers, obsessing over their futures, and trying to keep a career going, I was too distracted to focus on my own unrest.

That’s over now. They are blazing their own trails, acknowledging their own creative calls, and here I am, in the post baby years, trying to embrace this new rebellious hunger.

My friends and I are pretty straight-laced, responsible children and parents. I’ve never felt like I have the luxury of creative mistakes on my own body. I wanted a piercing, but where? I wanted a tattoo, but what? I’m a Gemini. My interests ebb and flow too much for me to land on an idea and always hold my head up proudly at my decision.

No, my rebellion wouldn’t settle on anything for that long. I’m a 30-something, still hesitant about upsetting my mom who gave me my skin. I’m a public school teacher and a mother, so some of my favorite t-shirts with expletives won’t do right now.

Finally, I’m usually too locked into my pacifist thoughts to verbalize aggressive feelings on the spot. Although I love talking to people, I’m an introverted extrovert, afraid that my verbalized opinions will come off as wrong or offensive. These feelings left me creatively stuck for a bit.

And then it happened. Almost all at once, in my late 30s, I started writing again. It wasn’t until I began composing pieces that I started to feel my hunger quelled. It was passive enough for me to feel okay about it, yet aggressive enough because I’d have to feel – really FEEL – publicly.

Now, when I put something out into the world, I have to stand behind it. And I have to do so responsibly, and know that others may read it.

Steven Pressfield writes that a little bit of nervousness is important. It reminds us we are awake and alive. Every time I post something, submit it to a magazine, or add to my novel, I rebel against the silence. I shake the middle-aged-cage that challenges art. I’m feverishly begging for the mayhem to continue.

Writing is the perfect rebellion. It is cyclical. It is ever-changing. It is infinite. It is artistic expression perfect for someone like me, who needs it to be a little different each time. Because, like everything that lives, writing evolves with us. It returns like the tide. It is predictable, but what comes out isn’t.

So my message to you is: find your rebellion. Acknowledge your need to create and put art into this world. Get the tattoo. Find that piercing. Build something. Craft a letter. Teach someone something. Express yourself verbally. Create your art. We need it.

Those who acknowledge their hunger make this world a kaleidoscope of excitement. And if nothing seems to fit, and you need to let out your inner extrovert, give writing a chance. It’s the perfect paradox of old and new, passive and bold, constant and changing.

Writing is rebellion.

How to Wear Converse in Almost Any Situation

You may be wondering why you would wear Converse sneakers so often that you would need a guide for it. Fair question.

For starters, you can send the same messages with sneakers that you can with flats or heels: celebratory, outgoing, mysterious, even professional. Heels have a tendency of holding me back. For an ex-New Yorker who still walks fast, and now has to chase my toddler, I’ve become a bit of a sneaker evangelist.

Figuring out how to make sneakers work in various settings feels way more productive than forcing myself into shoes that stress me out. They’re generally accepted in most social situations these days: holiday parties, dates, play dates, networking events, and even the occasional wedding or job interview will allow it (the really good ones, anyway). Chucks can be paired with many levels of dressiness, provided you pair them with care.

Converse, in particular, can make you feel like an extrovert – especially if you aren’t. Something about their classic cool attracts people of all ages. I made the discovery when I bought a red, low-top pair on a friend’s recommendation. On a jam-packed meeting day, when I needed a mood boost, I wore them to work. (I should note that I am lucky to have the most casual of office-casual work settings.)

8 a.m. – Daycare

At daycare drop off, every toddler in the room came over in some sort of trance, pointing one sticky finger and saying, “Red shoes!” It was like offering fire to an ancient tribe.

9 a.m. – Coffee line at work

When I got to work, the first two coworkers I saw complimented my shoes and told me they’d had Chucks in college and missed wearing them. Extensive college reminiscing ensued.

10 a.m. – My desk

Two more coworkers approached and complimented the color of my shoes. Red is a big deal.

10:05 a.m. – My desk

A third coworker joined us and showed us all a photo of he and his wife sporting matching maroon Converse high tops. This started a heated debate: Is matching your spouse cute, or overkill?

6 p.m. – HOME…already!

Just about every meeting started with a friendly sneaker-related chat, setting an upbeat tone for the day. I made it through every meeting smiling.

When I dug into the history of the brand, it all started to make sense. Chuck Taylor All Stars have been around, in one form or another, since 1917. They went from basketball shoe, to Olympic shoe, to taking over 80 percent of the shoe market by 1957.

In the 1970s, fancier athletic shoes took off, and Converse became the rebellious choice for their simplicity. Which such a long history, they seem to hold a meaning for everyone.

So, I’ve developed some simple guidelines for wearing Chuck Taylors. In the spirit of the shoes themselves, I encourage rule breaking:

Consider color

1 | If you’re wearing brightly-colored Chucks (I recommend crisp red), make your outfit one of neutrals.

2 | If you’re wearing neutral Chucks, add a pattern, a pop of color, or unique accessory elsewhere in your outfit, and let the Chucks fade into the background.

Consider cut

1 | Because Chucks give off a laid-back vibe, make the item closest to them – your pants – a little more tailored. Skinny jeans work great, and a pair with a slight crop work even better.

2 | For skirts, anything above-the-knee or below-the-ankle looks good with Chucks. The midi-skirt generally doesn’t work. It creates too many horizontal lines across your leg in too small a space. This confuses the eye, and the effect can be disorganized when you’re trying to look pulled-together.

That’s it! Simple rules for a simple shoe.

A version of this article originally appeared on the author’s site, PowerSuiting.com.

A White Suburban Mom’s Response to “All Lives Matter”

“All Lives Matter” is not an inclusive phrase to unify the human race, but rather highlights the exact problem that the Black Lives Matter movement means to abolish.

I can’t believe I’m still seeing it, on my my Facebook newsfeed, on Twitter, and in online comments from my own family and friends – #AllLivesMatter – and it pisses me off every time. For the most part, I find that white people I know who are posting this phrase are oblivious of its divisiveness.

I believe in my heart that they’re attempting to be inclusive, instead of exclusive, or that they are wholly unaware that #BlackLivesMatter is a peaceful civil rights movement. Still, their ignorance of the destructiveness of #AllLivesMatter is part of the problem. 

Friends, family, people I love, please listen! #AllLivesMatter originated as a response to #BlackLivesMatter. “All Lives Matter” is not an inclusive phrase to unify the human race, but rather highlights the exact problem that the Black Lives Matter movement means to abolish. “All Lives Matter” – the phrase and the hashtag – inherently divides. It pits black people against white people. It hurts the black community.

It is proof that we, the white community, still do not get it.

Imagine you have a friend who has breast cancer. She is fighting for her life every day. It consumes her. She posts regularly on social media about her journey and shares articles about supporting breast cancer research.

This woman doesn’t only fear for her own life. She has lost loved ones to breast cancer, and she fears for the lives of her daughters. She hopes and prays that research will discover new treatments and a cure for breast cancer before her daughters or granddaughters have to fight for their lives against a seemingly incurable disease.

Now, imagine that every time this woman posts, “Support breast cancer research!” someone else posts in response, “Support all cancer research!” Do you understand the insensitivity of this response? Do you see how that person comes across as having no empathy for the woman, her situation, or the struggle she faces every day?

Of course all lives matter. No one is saying they don’t. That is a given. My six-year-old would say, “duh!” But posting #AllLivesMatter disregards the real battle for equality and fair treatment minorities in this country face. It’s equal to saying, “we need to fight all cancer, not just the one you’re fighting” to a woman dying of breast cancer.

If you wouldn’t go to a breast cancer event, where flat-chested women in head scarves walk to raise money for research, and hold up a sign with the words, “Support All Cancer Research” then stop typing #AllLivesMatter.

If you cannot lend your voice to the #BlackLivesMatter movement for fear of offending all of the other “lives” out there, then stay silent.

Words matter. Your words matter. Make sure you know their significance before you post them.

When Furniture Falls, We Blame the Parents

Accidents happen. Parents and companies make mistakes. But in the age of social media, extending any sort of understanding has become a rare occurrence.

Earlier this month, a terrifying video of twins climbing a dresser circulated on social media. The video, caught by security camera, shows twin brothers Brock and Bowdy Shoff climb and accidentally topple a dresser.

The camera also captures the painful-to-watch-minute during which Bowdy, after gasp-inducing trial and error, finally figures out how to pull the dresser off of his brother.

Richard and Kayli Shoff were fearful that if they shared the video they would be labeled bad parents, but chose to post the video to highlight the dangers posed by unanchored furniture. They have followed up their original posting with videos showing how to get furniture anchors and how to safely anchor a dresser.

This video has brought attention to an important safety issue. It has also raised important questions about how guilt and social shaming function in our culture.

The dangers of tipping furniture

The Shoff’s video is a good primer on the risks of unsecured furniture. At age two, Brock and Brody represent the age group most at risk for furniture-tipping injury and death.

According to a Consumer Product Safety Commission report, 360 children died from a household tipping accident between 2000 and 2013, and 65 percent of those children were between one and three-and-a-half years old.

That Brock was not seriously injured by the tipped dresser is also reflective of the typical sources of injury and death. The CPSC report separates injuries and deaths into three categories: televisions, furniture, and appliances.

Televisions are by far the most dangerous item, responsible for 74 percent of the deaths counted by the CPSC between 2000 and 2013.

The twin climbers also reflect a third trend found in the CPSC report. Of the deaths due to furniture tipping, 53 were boys and 28 were girls. That gender difference evaporated with televisions (135 boys to 132 girls).

One final trend not included in the CPSC report was the source of the dresser: IKEA.

Ikea’s recall

If you’ve ever owned a piece of IKEA furniture, you are probably familiar with the assembly instructions, which feature the smiling assembler, the helpful friend-with-pencil, and multiple pages of illustrated instructions.

Perhaps tired after inserting all those tiny dowels and screws, owners are more likely to skip the final few steps of securing furniture to the wall, even though IKEA’s manuals clearly showed anchoring instructions. Or perhaps in the U.S., where the majority of furniture is built to stand safely without anchors, consumers viewed IKEA’s anchors as an abundance of caution rather than a necessity.

In 2014, after two toddlers died under tipped dressers from its MALM line, IKEA initiated its Secure It! campaign, designed to alert consumers to the dangers of tipping furniture. In 2016, after a third toddler died from another unsecured MALM dresser, IKEA took the unprecedented step of recalling all 29 million MALM dressers sold in the U.S. before 2016. 

IKEA’s response is important because it’s the world’s largest furniture retailer. To get a sense of just how large an influence the company has, consider that IKEA uses one percent of the world’s lumber supply. It is an enormous company with enormous influence, so its decision to recall all of its MALM dressers, not only in the U.S. and Canada, but now also in China, suggests an industry-wide change in furniture safety.

Guilt meets safety shaming

Ikea’s recall – and the lawsuits that led to it – highlight another important component of the falling furniture problem. There are relatively few lawsuits and, therefore, relatively little public attention, focused on falling furniture and televisions.

One reason parents don’t know about the dangers posed by tipping furniture is that parents who have experienced this aren’t willing to talk publicly about it. ​Michael Carr, an attorney who has represented other families whose children died when dressers tipped over, suggests that parents are less likely to blame the manufacturer out of a sense of their own guilt.

Given the comments posted to the Shoff’s video, it’s no wonder that parents’ guilt may be discouraging them from speaking out. Alongside the arguments that one brother didn’t “save” the other at all, that Bowdy was a “retard” for not realizing jumping on the dresser would hurt his brother, that Bowdy didn’t care about his brother because it took him over a minute to act, there is a firehose of judgment directed at their parents.

Commenters label the Schoffs irresponsible for leaving their kids alone in the room. They are lazy for sleeping instead of watching their children. They are neglectful for not coming into the room as soon as the dresser fell. They are fame chasers for re-uploading the video a few weeks after the original posting.

It appears that the Shoff’s initial concerns about sharing the video were valid. The flood of comments on their videos, which brought more attention to their story, led the Schoffs to defend the reality of the video in a segment on Good Morning America.

In the comments section underneath that segment, viewers double down on their conspiracy theories, and, for good measure, shame the Schoffs for distracting their kids with electronics in order to talk to George Stephanopolous.

It is important for companies to build safer furniture. It is important for parents to look for sources of risk in their homes. It is important for us as a society to discuss the balance between corporate and personal responsibility. But perhaps more important than all of these issues, is the need for people to stop jumping to safety shaming in the wake of other people’s tragedies and near-tragedies.


The Unexpected: Grieving the Loss of a Surprise Pregnancy

When I fantasized about leaving New York City, three things shone brightest on my mental wish list. Most obviously, a garbage disposal. You never realize how useful they are until you’re not allowed to have one.

Also, stairs. Ah, the luxury of spreading out vertically, of stretching one’s calf, of having a depository for misplaced items awaiting transportation to their proper location.

But most importantly and pressingly, I longed for a cat. 

I longed for a cat in a way most women my age were beginning to long for children. But, apartment rules: no cats. No real cats anyway. Do you remember those advertisements for Fresh Step, with a cat Photoshopped to look like he was crossing his legs in an effort to avoid using an unsuitable litter box? I cut one out, named him Pajamas, and deposited him subtly on my husband’s bedside table.

The countdown to NYexit was on.

Our first apartment in Portland, while it did not have stairs, did have a garbage disposal. And it had no rules against pets. Imagine those cartoons in which someone runs so quickly that she appears stuck for a moment, a blur exiting her motionless frame before her body catches up with her excitement. That was me, heading to the Oregon Humane Society to adopt our real life Pajamas.

Pajamas was a fluffy black-and-white sweetheart with a penchant for tuna. He had markings on his face that resembled human facial hair, making him appear somehow both wise and befuddled. We both doted on him, even my humoring husband.

And then, I got pregnant.

The positive test was surprising, but not unwelcome. The timing worked. We were ready, even if we hadn’t really considered having children quite yet.

The next day, I started bleeding.

It was the day I normally would have gotten my period. “Maybe my body is just confused,” I reasoned to myself.

I found an OB. She scheduled me for an ultrasound.

“Sometimes people just bleed,” she assured me.

But the bleeding got worse, nearly every time I went to the bathroom now.

I went in for the ultrasound. The baby was small. Too small. 

“It’s unusual for it to be this small at this point,” said the ultrasound technician. “This is likely what we call a blighted ovum. It failed to divide properly. Let’s see you again in another week.”

I came home and held Pajamas, crying into his white and black fur.

Then Pajamas got sick. I remember tucking him into a little cocoon of blanket, partially covering his body with it, making him cozy. My husband and I left to go out to dinner. When we arrived home several hours later, the blanket hadn’t moved. Neither had Pajamas. My heart sank. I knew something was wrong.

“Do you think he’s depressed?” I asked my husband.

He laughed, deservedly so. But a lump remained in my throat. 

I brought Pajamas in to an emergency vet that night. As they drew blood, the technician complimented his black and white markings, and then sadly said, “It’s unusual for a cat to be this docile when we take blood.”

The words of the two technicians combined.

I went back to my technician. The growth had stopped. A miscarriage was inevitable.

I felt trapped. I no longer had a baby growing inside me. I had something dying inside me, dead already. I felt its death, lodged in the pit of my stomach and in the bottom of my heart. And I wanted it out.

The blood smears mocked me every time I went to the bathroom. Finally, through tears of anger, frustration, sadness, “Just come out already!” I cried.

The next day, it did. The experience was painful, but a relief. I sat on the toilet doubled over, while thick clots of blood came out. It was, I now know, three children later, labor – the cramps identical to the real thing, the forcible expulsion less joyous, but just as much a milestone. My uterus was finally in on what my brain and my heart had known for weeks.

There was no baby.

I called in sick to work. And then I took another day. I watched “Sex and the City” from the first episode up until the one when Charlotte miscarries. Pajamas, feeling decent on a healthy dose of steroids, stuck close by me.

I Googled obsessively, switching between my own symptoms and my cat’s. I wondered if I would ever be able to have a baby. I wondered if Pajamas would get better. I wondered if children, something my husband and I had so cavalierly assumed “someday,” were not going to be in our future.

I called my dad. “I lost the baby,” I sobbed. I felt such guilt. “And Pajamas is going to die.”

Pajamas did die. But not before I continued with the steroids and fed him tuna water, anything, to get him to eat. A few weeks later, I came home from work, and when he got up to run to me, he walked sideways until he hit a wall. He had feline infectious peritonitis (FIP), a relentless, fatal cat disease.

I called the vet in tears, but there was nothing more to do. I held him in my arms until it was time to bring him in. I gently placed him on the metal table. The vet administered the shot. “Can I hold him?” I asked. “Of course,” the vet said.

“Is he gone?”

“Oh yes. He’s gone.”

I don’t know if I had him in my arms in time. I don’t know if his last sensation was of my warm body or of the metal table. I don’t know if the last thing he saw were my tears, or my unexpectedly empty arms.

Working Out Makes Me a More Fit Parent

I often apply the wisdom of the phrases I hear when I’m working out to the many parenting challenges I encounter.

I’m a fitness fanatic. Six days a week, I’m either in a spin class, body pump class, or watching an at-home DVD workout program. I wasn’t always this way. In fact, I used to be the type of person who avoided all forms of physical activity. So what changed? It began when I met my husband, who loves to work out.

But I didn’t really transform until I became a mom.

We had a family gym membership, which was only used by my husband. Being a stay-at-home mom to twins made me feel overwhelmed and isolated. Our gym offered free child care while you worked out. The thought of having an hour to myself during the day was motivation enough to pack up my brood and head to the gym.

At first I considered reading a magazine in the lobby during the hour since I didn’t really want to work out, but my guilt got the better of me. I compromised by reading the magazine while walking on the treadmill.

Reading on the treadmill is incredibly boring, but I had a view of the aerobics room. The pulsating music emanating from it reminded me of a dance club. The participants of the kickboxing class moved in unison like a choreographed dance routine. It definitely looked more fun than the boring elliptical machine, so I gave it a try. I loved it. Over time I got hooked and started going to variety of fitness classes.

One of my favorite parts of fitness classes are the motivating messages the instructors shout as the sweat pours off my skin. Sometimes during the day, I’ll think of comparable phrases to help me overcome the many parenting challenges I encounter.

Here are a few of my favorites:

You are stronger than you think

This one helps you lift heavier weight. In strength training, the goal is to move up in weight over time. So if you have used 15-pound weights for several weeks, you try to move up to 20 pounds. It’s pretty common to fear you won’t be able to move to the next level. Hearing this phrase it helps you overcome that fear.

It took me a long time to believe this message both related to fitness and parenting. After 11 years, I’ve come to the realization that I can at least try to lift that heavier weight. Parenting is hard both emotionally and physically; it requires a great deal of strength. Knowing you’re strong helps you face those challenges with confidence.

Get out of your comfort zone

On “Celebrity Apprentice” Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi basically said to Arnold Schwarzenegger she wasn’t comfortable naming a person to be voted off. His response was something along the lines of the experience not being about comfort. If he’d remained comfortable while a body builder, he would never have achieved any success.

In strength training, your body becomes used to the weight you’re lifting. In order to build your muscles, you need to move up in weight. When you do this for the first time, it is both hard and uncomfortable, but it leads to being a stronger person.

As a parent, you experience a plethora of uncomfortable situations, both as an advocate for your child and as a parent. Your child continually moves through phases of development that require you to constantly change your parenting techniques as well as your interactions with your child. For example, the time out technique you use with your toddler would not be the same as the one your use with your teen.

As an advocate for your child, you interact with their teachers, doctors, and child care providers. It may feel uncomfortable to disagree with your doctor’s diagnosis, but ultimately you have to be uncomfortable to help your child. By being comfortable with being uncomfortable, you become a stronger person and parent.

You can do anything for five minutes

During every fitness class, the instructor will shout out, “You can do anything for five minutes!” Usually it’s during a really difficult section towards the end when you’re tired and wondering when it’ll end, because it feels like it never will. But it will. In just five minutes.

This is a great phrase to say to yourself the next time your child has a full-blown, stage-five meltdown in the middle of Target. Granted it may last longer than five minutes, but at some point your child will become tired, right?

The fact is, the duration is limited, and you can push through the pain (and embarrassment) to finish up the shopping trip just like you finished the fitness class.

Don’t phone it in

Some days you don’t feel like working out. On these days, you may be inclined to just go through the motions. “Don’t phone it in” motivates you put in 100 percent even though you might not feel like it. It helps to realize you really can push yourself harder by increasing the resistance on your spin bike or running at a faster pace.

Don’t feel like being a parent some days? Want to just crawl back into bed and forgo your responsibilities? Those are the days you need to work at not “phoning it in.” Your child will notice the difference. It’s worthwhile to push through and give it your best effort.

Try a fitness class

Here is my motivation message. If you are not already working out, go try a class or borrow free fitness DVDs from your library or a friend. Most cable companies offer free fitness classes on demand. If you ask, many gyms will offer a free day pass.

You’ll feel better both physically and emotionally. And you might pick up a few motivational messages.

Why You Don't Need a Big, Dramatic Closet Purge

These tips, collected from stylists, office organizers, time management experts, create a gradual, sustainable system called “The Sane Closet Cleanout.”

If you’re trying to do a major closet makeover, most experts will tell you to purge, purge, purge.

Don’t listen. It doesn’t work.

You’ve heard it before: take everything out of our closet and then only allow back in those things that you really love.

People say this like it’s easy to make all those gut-wrenching decisions. In truth, none of them can do it without agonizing over the Delia’s sweater they wore all through college. All right, one of them can, but we think she’s a little smug about the whole thing, frankly.

It’s exactly like doing a juice cleanse, or an all-chicken-and-greenbeans diet, or going to the gym every single day.

It will give you a sense of control, of things changing, of you changing. But that kind of control is not real.

Life will step in and distract you, and you will give just as little time and attention to filling your closet back up as you did to emptying it in the first place. Next year, you will have a closet full of stuff you only sort of like, again.

Think about clothing companies. They change hemlines, proportions, and influences every season so you’ll think you need to buy new things to stay current.

It’s working. On average, women spend $3,400 per year on clothing. That’s $283.33 per month, according to the bureau of Labor Statistics.

Stay with me! I’m not suggesting you don’t buy new things. What I’m suggesting is that we all pay more attention to what we have and what we buy. I’m proposing we savor the closet clean-out, bit by bit.

How to savor cleaning out your closet

If you spend only five minutes a week on your closet, you’ll get that little “fix” of control each time, instead of one big fix that will inevitably lead to more cravings and questionable buying decisions. (Hello, non-returnable J. Crew dress with the tag still on! Your pattern is too busy for me.)

To battle this, I’ve compiled tips I’ve picked up from stylists, office organizers, time management experts, and even interior decorators, to create a gradual, sustainable system called “The Sane Closet Cleanout.”

It starts with one five-minute session.

The 5-minute cleanout

Follow this system of small steps right now. They are designed to give you satisfaction and momentum, without the regret. 

1 | Grab any storage containers you have on hand, like trash bags, grocery bags, totes, Amazon Prime boxes… You will need three.

2 | Label them: “Seasonal,” “Toss,” and “Outbox.”

3 | Set your phone timer and spend one minute grabbing anything that is blatantly off-season: your puffer coat if it’s July; your swim cover-up if it’s December. Put those in the “Seasonal” box. This can be as few as one or two things. If you’re unsure, leave it where it is.

4 | Spend one minute plucking anything that is embarrassing, but not sentimental or super-comfortable to you: a stained blouse you only wear under sweaters; running socks with holes; pit-stained T’s that are beyond Oxiclean. These go in “Toss.”

5 | Place the “Outbox” somewhere handy, preferably in, or right outside your closet. It lives there now. Say “Hello” and be nice to it. You’ll use it daily as a temporary residence for any item with an uncertain fate. Each week, you’ll review these items (that’s Step 2 in the series).

6 | Stash “Seasonal” under your bed, or wherever you typically store things.

7 | Put “Toss” out in the trash. Do it. Now.

Savor your good work.

This article originally appeared on the author’s site, PowerSuiting.com.