Selected Instructions for Helping Non-Babies Fall Asleep (Based on Advice for Babies)

It turns out the techniques parents use to get baby to sleep can be more widely applied to … just about anyone!

It turns out the techniques parents use to get baby to sleep can be more widely applied to … just about anyone! Read on to see where you can apply those sleep induction skills elsewhere in your life:

Grandparents

“When your grandma is very upset and clearly needs to go down for a nap, pick her up and shush very loudly in her ears. Spittle may fly and shortness of breath will likely set in soon, but do not be deterred. If she begins to scream, match the volume and intensity of your shush to the shrieking sound. This is to help recreate the loud, cacophonous nature of the womb.”

Siblings

“Your brother is nodding off on the couch but keeps jolting awake – he needs a little nudge. Pick him up, lay him on his side, and swing him back and forth. Do not be afraid to really get some altitude out of your lifts. This, too, matches the conditions of being in utero, because pregnant women sit in extremely violent hammocks much of the day.”

Dog

“If you notice signs that your dog is getting drowsy, drop everything you’re doing and find a piece of large, square cloth. Lay the blanket down at an angle so that it looks like a diamond, and fold the top triangle down almost all the way – leave about an inch. Lay your dog down on its back (a natural resting position for dogs) with its head protruding past the fabric: fold the right corner down to the left and tuck behind the writhing canine’s tail, followed by the top left corner folded down to the right past the jackhammer-like kicking of the leg, and bring up the bottom and tuck it into the collar. Really swaddle that canine tightly; it may even seem too tight, but Fido’s serene visage will indicate otherwise. Your dog will instantly fall into a deep, restful sleep.”

Cat

“Kitty is having a tough time settling in for its 30th nap of the day. It’s time to strap that cat into the car seat and go for a scenic drive! Try to avoid surface streets, because every time you come to a stop, kitty will wake up and screech at you, swiping erratically. It is strongly advised that you drive on the highway, finding a time where there will not be any traffic. If your cat escapes the buckle, return home and swaddle it while wearing protective goggles.”

Roommate

“Your roommate is struggling, tossing and turning in bed with a bad liquor headache, and the shut-eye she needs just isn’t forthcoming. Bring her to the gym on campus, find a yoga ball, and cradle your roomie while bouncing vigorously up and down on the giant inflated ball. You can also swivel, slow down and speed up, and sing her a Chainsmokers song. If your back begins to throb, take a break by standing up, but continue to mimic the feel of the yoga ball by jumping in such a way that you don’t actually ever leave the ground but rather alternate between tip-toes and flat feet.”

Parents

“Your father is not relaxing in his recliner and is straining to find those sweet Zs. Give him a small plastic nipple with a stuffed animal attached, and Pops will hold the little fuzzy bear and suck his way to the Kingdom of Dreams. Pick it up and reinsert as many times as needed; it’s also advisable to sprinkle your dad with a dozen more such nipples so he can reach blindly and find one himself when he drops it.”

Rabbit

“Your rabbit is probably gassy! That’s all. Lie it down on its back like you were going to swaddle it, and work its legs so that it looks like it’s riding a bicycle. Bunnies love to kick anyway so this will go over well. This intense leg movement works the gas out, but pretend not to hear the farts to spare the little fluffer some embarrassment. You can also give the bunny some gas drops with a syringe, as long as you understand that you’re doing this strictly because you’re so sleep-deprived. Gas drops are a scam.”

Stranger

“You come across a stranger trying to nap on the grass at a park, but they’re having trouble. You’re prepared: the Ergo is already tied around your waist. Hoist the stranger up over your shoulders, guide its legs through the leg holes, then click him or her in. Tighten the straps for a snug fit and use the hood if it’s sunny and you’re worried about a sunburn. It’s a good idea to find a walking path where you can mosey without stopping, because it’s the close human contact combined with motion that will ensure a restful slumber for this rando.”

Women vs. Other Women and the Myth of the Zero-Sum Game

While she’s waiting, she begins to question the very worth of this victory: If she’s so triumphant why is she alone?

A woman’s primary nemesis is a scale – not the bathroom variety, though its adversarial powers are fierce – I am talking about a balance scale, the kind whose likeness is etched in bronze outside a courthouse. The kind of scale that compares the weight of one thing to another and registers the slightest sliver of inequity by dramatically tipping its arm. A woman imagines herself standing alone in the little gold dish on one side of the scale. She is weighted, grounded, secure. She wins if she is more, and she is more only if the other side is less. Like a zero-sum game, the outcome is distributive, never integrative, never shared. All or nothing, winner take all.
In the second gold dish, on the opposite side of the balance arm, stand other women. Women she knows, women she loves, women she has never met yet knows intimate details about. Women who hurt her feelings back in high school, women who pretend to be interested when she talks, yet can’t bring themselves to ask her about her life. Women who begrudge her success in whatever realm it may be: another pregnancy, weight loss, a promotion, a good manicure. Women who complain about her behind her back, or don’t invite her, or don’t bother to learn her name. Women she is “friends” with, but who won’t give her the satisfaction of “liking” the pictures she posts of her daughter’s first tooth, her 5k run, or her 10th anniversary.
These other women, they weigh against her, weaken her, upset her advantage. Standing alone in her little gold dish, she worries their gain will be her loss. She becomes suspicious, reading maltreatment into motives and assuming the worst. She grows wary and defensive and, by turns, isolated and disconnected. She has invested so much time and effort into this notion of measuring herself against another – surely, it means something. It has to mean something. Only one woman can be the best mom, the most organized, the fittest, can have the cleanest house or the smartest kids. Only one woman can tip the scale.
In the interest of self-preservation, she retaliates, scrutinizing her competition, always looking for a crack. She judges, she’s sarcastic, she’s critical, she arms herself with snark. She withholds compliments lest they detract from her own appearance and give the other side an edge. If there’s a finite amount of admiration or approval in the world, she’s not going to waste it on others. Classic strategy of a zero-sum game, remember?
She plays like she’s been taught, mimicking the catty, spiteful maneuvers of effective women everywhere. She grows a second face to wear, like her mother and her mother’s friends, and keeps it by the door in a skin-deep jar. Beauty, her most valuable asset, is the commodity she traffics. If she wants to win favor – men’s favor, in particular – this is how she must act. Girls compete for self-worth, right? That’s just what they do. That’s what the cosmetics industry, soap operas, “Real Housewives,” Miss Universe Pageants, Angelina vs. Jen, and every season of “The Bachelor” espouse: The only way to win is to make them lose.
She wants to win, and let’s say she does. She tips the scale, and finally, after all that fighting, she can rest on her laurels and receive her prize. She waits in her little gold dish, tired and depleted, thinking “What on earth could be worth all this conflict?” She waits, rehearsing a gracious acceptance speech, and she wishes she had someone to share her good news. She can hear the other women from across the long arm of the balance scale, laughing and talking as if nothing were lost. While she’s waiting, she begins to question the very worth of this victory: If she’s so triumphant why is she alone?
She wonders how winning at the other’s expense could be considered a victory at all.
Still no one comes, and she sears with the growing realization she’s been played. She has been duped by the myth that building someone else up must come at a cost to her, for it doesn’t. Life just isn’t a zero-sum game. There is not a limited supply of goodness and beauty, success or happiness.
The truth is the other women grew exponentially as they gave, their strength increasing with every share. Competing with them only kept her apart. This scale – this rudimentary, archaic device – this scale is her opponent, not the creatures on it. Rivaling did nothing but reinforce the status quo, a status quo that dictates aggressive self-promotion and pits the women against each other, a status quo that levies vulnerability and rewards isolation. Why does she invest in it?
Luckily, there is a way out. An easy, obvious, immediate way out.
She withdraws her fortune from the zero-sum bank, climbs out of the little gold dish, and joins the other women.

How Parenthood Changed My View of Scary Movies

When people say that “everything in your life will change” once you have a child, I thought I knew what that meant. I wasn’t expecting this.

When my two best friends wanted to put together a movie date to see IT, I jumped at the chance to have a girl’s day without my eight-month-old son in tow. Brunch and besties? Yes, please! Plus, it’s almost Halloween, so I figured a scary movie – albeit one based on a book I’ve never read, but by an author I enjoy – was seasonally appropriate.

I wasn’t expecting to walk out of the theater unable to stop crying, but that’s what happened.

I’ve been sensitive to creepy movies and books since I was a kid, but over the past decade or so, I’ve grown to enjoy certain “scary” movies. The Cabin in the Woods pleasantly surprised me in a way I didn’t think was possible anymore in that genre. El Orfanato is deliciously creepy from start to finish. And as far as Stephen King goes, Carrie nails it.

But it’s been a while since things that go bump in the night had the capacity to reduce me into a whimpering mess. What’s different?

I have my own kid now, that’s what’s different. When people say that “everything in your life will change” once you have a child, I thought I knew what that meant. I wasn’t expecting this.

Obviously I’m not afraid of a homicidal clown like the one in the movie, but the biological instinct to protect my kid at all costs flooded my body in a way I’ve never experienced before. When I made it home after IT, I put the question to Facebook. Who else felt like this switch had flipped once they became a parent?

I was floored to discover how many parents, mostly women, have experienced this same shift. It’s as though we’re completely incapable of separating ourselves from the fictional narratives. I was flooded with responses like these from other parents:

  • “For several years after my child was born, any movie/show where the kid was the target of violence or terror just made me ill.”
  • “I can’t deal with anything involving children being harmed in any fashion.”
  • “I couldn’t wait to get home and hug my kid after [seeing IT].”
  • “When Georgie goes out to play in the rain alone, it gave me so much anxiety.”

And so on.

Even my aunt, a nurse of many years, admitted that she had to leave bedside nursing in the oncology ward after she had her three sons. She explained that “the death and difficult disease process were too much to bear after having my own children.”

If somone who faces death and decay on a daily basis felt the same trauma I felt when caught unaware, I knew this guttural reaction went deeper. Dr. Keith Humphreys, psychiatrist at Stanford Health Care, confirmed my suspicions.

“We’re pretty deeply programmed as humans to love and protect our children,” says Dr. Humphreys. “If we didn’t have that, we wouldn’t have survived as a species for so long.”

He goes on to explain that fathers, as well as mothers, are susceptible to this same reaction after becoming parents. Part of this is due to basic biological survival mechanisms, but he suspects it’s also due in part to our overexposure to violence in the media.

“It’s still tough for people because the media knows that stories about children being harmed are eye-catching,” confirms Dr. Humphreys. “It’s common to open a newspaper and see that every day they have another ‘horrible thing that happened to a kid’ story. It’s a way to manipulate you. That’s very upsetting, but it’s hard not to click on it. And that’s what causes anxiety. A lot of parents find it really challenging because you can’t avoid that. You can avoid horror movies – just don’t go to see them.”

This protective reaction isn’t universal. Dr. Humphreys says that even non-parents can be affected in the same way when faced with children in vulnerable situations, and some parents are better equipped to separate themselves from the fantasy.

I don’t think it’s masochistic [to still enjoy scary movies as a parent],” says Dr. Humphreys. “Some people are able to.”

After IT, I decided to test this theory by watching movies I’d seen before that I knew included violence (or implied/attempted violence) towards children in various situations. The Shining. Room. The VVITCH.

What I found was that I was better able to stomach violent images that I’d seen before. My mind had already witnessed these atrocities; I was prepared, albeit still disgusted. I didn’t “enjoy” them, but I avoided the involuntary reflex to protect.

That’s why I think IT affected me so badly. Watching a child succumb to Pennywise’s manipulations made me nauseous. It’s a worst nightmare come to life, it’s reality cloaked in fantasy. It’s masterful. It’s merciless.

This instinct isn’t rooted in weakness, it’s a testament to the power of parental love. If the price I have to pay for being a parent is an inability to digest horrifying imagery like this, I’ll happily skip seeing mother! and keep Hocus Pocus on repeat for every Halloween season to come.

(P.S. My friends, who are non-parents, felt really bad. I still love you guys!)

Teaching My Son About Sex in the Age of Harvey Weinstein

I ended the conversation by asking for his trust – that I be the person he turns to if he has any questions or concerns about sex, now or in the future.

It’s an unseasonably warm Friday afternoon in coastal Maine, and I’ve brought lunch to our back porch for my eight-year-old son and his spritely female friend whom he has known most of his life. They’ve just come up from the tidal shoreline. The air is salty and thick.
I venture back inside to retrieve drinks and, when I return, I am met with giggling and sheepish grinning between the two old friends. It isn’t hard to imagine what they might have been discussing as I’ve gotten used to observing them unfurl so many of life’s mysteries together.
I have been anticipating a conversation about the mechanics of sex with my son for several years now. I had wanted to follow his lead, hoping to answer any questions he might have and then segueing into the details that I would like for him to know. I have wanted to normalize sex for my son in a way that was never done for me so that he might enjoy this vital connection throughout his life in a healthy way, without the hang-ups of shame and disassociation that so many of us have had to shed.
In my adolescence, my mother – while folding clothing together in our laundry room – spoke vaguely of a man planting a seed in a woman.
My father once made a comment about my holding a penny between my knees at all times and referred to me as a “fallen woman” (in apparent jest) when he found out I was sharing an apartment with my boyfriend after graduating from college.
There was no eye contact between any of us in these off-hand and uncomfortable attempts at providing information about the facts of life. There was no mention of love or connection or protection. There was no follow-up, no books to study. I was entirely unprepared as a young woman – as a human – for what it would mean to enter into my sexuality.
For a boy so deeply curious about the inner workings of all things in nature, culture, and even politics – don’t get him started on Donald Trump – my son has been remarkably indifferent, or perhaps reticent, in his inquiry about how babies are made and what our “private parts” have to do with it all. He’s all about being a boy, jokingly intensifying bodily sounds and functions. But outside of speaking about animals mating, he has shown little interest in learning about the human equivalent.
I’ve been teaching him about sexuality in subtle ways from the start. Our language around the body is anatomically correct, and we have a firm policy about listening to the “no’s” we receive from others. I have established this practice with the understanding that honoring physical boundaries now will translate into respectful treatment of partners’ bodies later in life. I feel a particular responsibility in this regard as a mother of boys and as a woman who recently chimed in, “me too” on my social media account.
When my son falls asleep at night, I sit on the edge of his bed, rubbing his back and neck. Sometimes he will convince me to rub his legs and feet, which can feel a little indulgent at times. He directs me to his sore muscles, so I place extra attention there. In these quiet moments, he tests out what it means to share his inner workings and thoughts while nestled in a bed with a woman at his side who loves him with every cell of her being.
I listen intently to what he has to say and engage in this tenderness of touch so that he may one day experience such healthy intimacy as a mature young man in the embrace of someone he loves. I work hard to preserve his connection with his feelings – to help him decipher them and share them verbally so as not to turn on the switch that perpetuates the male tendency to use sex alone as the sole means for connection and comfort.
Back on the porch, I asked the two friends what made them giggle so. My son indicated that they might have been talking about something inappropriate. They had found a couple of horseshoe crabs stuck together down by the shore, and his friend had said that human beings do a similar thing – stick themselves together – to make a baby.
In the brief pause before I spoke, I took in my son’s face – one part cherub, one part Huck Finn – and noticed how he peered at me squarely in the eyes without shame or hesitation in anticipation of my response. I absorbed how comfortable and confident he felt coming to me with this inquiry.
I told him that she was exactly right, that we humans do put ourselves together in a similar way at times. I assured him that I wanted to share everything he wanted to know on the topic, that families like to provide these details to their own children, and so we would have that conversation very soon and in privacy. But if they had any pressing questions, I would be happy to answer those.
They both looked at me and smiled with ease. No questions.
On Sunday afternoon, the house was quiet, and I peeked my head into where my son was working on a drawing. I asked him if we could pick up our conversation, and he suggested nonchalantly that we talk while he continued working. I agreed. As soon as I began to share my thoughts, he turned away from his drawing and looked at me head-on.
I engaged my son in some guessing about what our various parts are meant to do. It turned out he already knew what went where. I was not surprised, but happy to confirm (in anatomically correct language) what he’d already heard in cruder terms at school.
Then we discussed the things that really matter. We spoke about the love and warmth involved in “human mating.” I assured him that, while he will likely hear all sorts of things suggesting that sex is somehow dirty or bad or something to hide, it is actually a beautiful miracle to be cherished between two people.
I ended the conversation by asking for his trust – that I be the person he turns to if he has any questions or concerns about sex, now or in the future. It felt like any other conversation we’ve ever had about the things he needs to know as a human being new to this earth without a map.
I called my sister later that night. We celebrated another hurdle in forging new ground as parents better equipped than our parents were to nurture our children’s emotional and physical well-being. We know that, if they could have, they would have provided us with more information about sex, and we would have learned about the value of our bodies – our rights and responsibilities as women – in less painful ways.
A few days later, my son came home from school and told me about a boy making a joke about breasts using jocular hand gestures. In all earnestness, he said, “ He doesn’t respect women’s bodies.”
I did a little happy dance inside and stifled a smile.
I don’t anticipate that my son will always be so perfectly respectful. I don’t pretend that he will never test out some objectifying behaviors, which are so frequently modeled in our culture. But for now, I feel assured that he is on the path toward learning that sex is something he can discuss openly with me.
I like to imagine that what I’ve shared will live inside him and be available when the time is right. I like to imagine that the prospect of his sexuality causing him or his partners shame or pain will be something he can never understand.

Lessons From Dyeing My Hair Blue

As a mother who sometimes screams, who is unsure of herself, I’m still practicing how to accept my own imperfections. My own failings.

This is a submission in our monthly contest. October’s theme was Determination. Enter your own here!
It’s the end of middle school when my best friend, Janine, and I show up to a sleepover with freshly dyed hair. It is so fresh that we haven’t yet washed it because we didn’t read the box, or maybe we wanted to make sure it really stuck.
Janine is tall and lanky and more gorgeous than she realizes. She’s half-Chinese and her jet black hair barely shows glints of the red Manic Panic she chose to put in it. My long dirty blonde locks are fully blue. Our spunkiness is (in our own eyes, at least) the talk of the sleepover party.
At some point, we realize that we are going to start staining pillows and sleeping bags if we don’t wash the dye from our now burning scalps. I hop into my friend’s shower, and a few minutes later I hear screaming. Her mother has gotten wind of the fact that there is blue hair dye running down the drain of her brand new shower in her brand new bathroom.
A moment later she bursts in and jerks back the curtain. She screams at the top of her lungs, like I’ve only ever heard my own mother scream, when she sees the deep blue circling down the drain as I cover my body with my hands. She slams the bathroom door and moments later, I can still hear her raging inside her bedroom.
I jump out of the shower and pat myself dry. Quickly, I throw my clothes back on and race downstairs where the rest of the girls are cowering, wide-eyed. Janine’s hair is still covered in red dye. We exchange a look that says “let’s get the fuck out of here” and in an instant, run out the back door. We roam the neighborhood a while, then head to my house which is only a few blocks over. We tell my mom the party was a bust and Janine sleeps there instead. We both decide our friend’s mother is a horrible bitch and to never see her again.
The next day, I’m in my room when I hear a knock at my front door. I’ve hardly been upset about what happened. It’s just good preteen gossip. I’m sure Janine and I laughed about it, or said horrible things about the woman who reamed us out and ruined the party. But my hair looked awesome so what else was there to worry about? When I hear the knock, I run downstairs to get the door. My mother works from home, so I’m guessing it’s just one of her customers who doesn’t know that they are allowed to let themselves in.
I bound down the steps and when I get to the bottom, notice who’s standing on the porch. I freeze, wondering if I have time to hide. It’s my friend’s mother. I have no idea why she is here – I had plans never to see her again, and now she’s standing on my front porch. I imagine she’s looking for my mother. I’m afraid she might scream at me again. Slowly, I open the door and step onto the porch, head down.
She takes off her thick, black sunglasses and reveals her red-rimmed eyes. They are swollen and puffy in a way mine have only looked when I cried all night over a boy. I’m used to her looking so sophisticated, I realize. Her hair in a short pixie cut and her all black clothing. But right now, she looks broken. I look at her sad eyes and before I can say anything, she starts to speak.
“Sarah, I am so sorry about what happened last night. I am so, so sorry. You have no idea how sorry I am. I’m so embarrassed for how I acted.” Tears start streaming down her face. I can’t believe it. I’m shocked that she is apologizing to me when clearly, I was the asshole who showed up at a sleepover without washing the dye out of my hair. But before I can say anything, she wraps me in a hug.
“No – it’s okay,” I manage to get out. “It’s really my fault.” But she won’t let me own it.
“All the dye came out. It washed right down the drain. I ruined the party. I’m so sorry. I had no right to yell at you.” She was so sincere, so devastated, and I’d just been going on with my self-absorbed preeteen life, barely hanging onto the night before.
I’m sure I called Janine to tell her what happened the second I went back to my room. I’m sure I played it off like she was insane for showing up at my house – like, who does that? But a part of me was jolted. This woman, this 40-something, responsible mother, was badly hurting. And partly, it was because of me. But it was also partly because she made a mistake. A mistake she couldn’t take back. And for a second, I saw her as a human instead of my friend’s mother.
Until that point in my life, I hadn’t seen mothers as real people. Certainly not my own. It would be years before I really learned this truth completely. Until my own anger or selfishness caught me off guard as I struggled to parent my own children. But seeing her intense vulnerability, splayed out on my front porch like that, caused a delicate shift. I felt connected to this person in a way I couldn’t really deny. I didn’t hate her, even if I might pretend to to my friends. I understood her.
Years later, I saw her at a birthday party for my best friend’s mother. And she brought up the blue hair dye incident. “Oh! I was so awful to you girls that night … I’m so sorry!” she said. All these years and she was still carrying guilt from screaming about what she thought was the death of her new bathroom. Instinctively, I put my hand on her shoulder. I had a six- and two-year-old at home, and I wanted to bawl my eyes out right there.
“Please,” I told her. “We were brats. Are you kidding me?” I felt her relief. I, as a grown woman with my own children, understood. Parents are still human beings. Parents need things for themselves. A new bathroom. A vacation. A fucking moment of silence. Parents have deep, horrible emotions that they can’t control, the same as teenagers, the same as four-year-olds. I didn’t judge her then and I certainly didn’t judge her now.
As a mother who sometimes screams, who is unsure of herself, I’m still practicing how to accept my own imperfections. My own failings. I had once believed that motherhood itself would morph me, if by magic, into a much better human. In some ways it has, but my faults have not evaporated either. I haven’t found myself overflowing with endless love and compassion always.
On my worst days, when I’ve let my children down, when I’ve yelled, or been impatient, a thought lingers in the back of my mind – I am not the mother I imagined being. I keep a pair of dark sunglasses in my purse, even in the winter.

The Social Spookiness of Halloween

Lessons about crossing dark streets, waiting for others to catch up, and sharing goodies emerge from this strange and spooky holiday.

My dog is barking wildly at the large, misshapen pumpkin I just dragged from the car to the front porch. It’s a good thing my mom visited two weeks ago, or she would definitely be growling, at least internally, at the pagan gourd flanking the entryway to my home.
My mom really hates Halloween. When we were growing up, my siblings and I were permitted to hand out candy to neighborhood children, but we did not engage in the “coarse” act of trick-or-treating. I think I actually learned the definition of “extortion” from my mom’s interpretation of demanding candy from innocent people in return for the favor of not committing a “trick” to their homes or property.
Now I’m a mom, and I have accepted that Halloween, even with its ghosts and goblins, has developed into a beloved American tradition, with costumes, candy, and parties that dangle very far away from any morbid or devilish roots. I’ve made my peace with allowing my children to ask for junk food at neighbors’ and even strangers’ doors, as long as they are sure to respond with an audible thank you and not make a grab for more than one or two pieces of candy.
There’s a spirit of an autumn carnival in our neighborhood on Halloween night. Some families open their garage doors and provide adult-friendly “treats” to tired parents as kids excitedly make their rounds. My kids revel in the ritual of categorizing, classifying, and counting their stashes of candy even more than the actual trick-or-treating. Their hauls expertly spread on the living room carpet, they conduct barters and exchanges of brightly colored fruit flavored candies for chocolate delicacies.
Perhaps the most unanticipated lesson of Halloween lies in the run-up to the evening, when friend groups are tested and children realize their status in the social pecking order. Are they like Tootsie Rolls – accepted but not wildly popular? Will they walk around with their parents and siblings? Will they be invited to pre-Halloween pizza dinners with the most popular kids in the grade or dressed according to an agreed-upon theme of the year? Halloween can be a ghoulish night, as it casts a sharp light on who is in and who is out.
Some children are fortunate to have one best friend, a yin to their yang, a jelly to their peanut butter. Halloween is a blast for those fortunate dyads. Salt and pepper, Batman and Robin, angel and devil, they move through the darkening sidewalks with confidence and laughter. Other friend group formations abound as well: colors in a crayon box, a litter of kittens, a gaggle of superheroes.
What happens to children who want to be a part of a group but don’t know how to ask for entry? Even more prickly is the question of what happens to the child who boldly asserts him or herself by asking to join in a group costume and is then rebuffed?
Halloween is not for the faint of heart. There are modern lessons that can be derived from this ancient holiday. Historically, we dress ourselves up to honor our dead and to protect ourselves from goblins and dangerous spirits on the loose. Likewise, we find strength to encourage our children to rise above the sting of possible social rejection. We celebrate our children’s individual spirits and enjoy the process of finding costumes that reflect what they love and enjoy.
Instead of fretting over possible social exclusion, perhaps Halloween is a good time to remind our children that, even as adults, we don’t get invited to every party or fun activity. We will all still be okay. If your child is the popular one this year, perhaps a lesson in graciousness and generosity is helpful, too. Would it be so terrible to have one extra football hero in the group, especially if it means including the child who doesn’t have a million buddies in school?
When my daughter was very young, she went trick-or-treating with a large group of girls. The laces on her brand new shoes kept untying, so she was constantly stopping to retie them. As I watched from the sidewalk, I noticed her hunching over after each stop on the Halloween circuit while the other girls ran ahead to the next house to gather their goodies. One child remained by my daughter’s side and patiently waited for her to take care of her shoes so that she wouldn’t trip in the slippery grass.
When we returned home that evening, we spoke about the unusual kindness demonstrated by my daughter’s friend. This “shoelace test” became the litmus test for friendship in our house. This was the type of friend to aspire to be and to value.
Lessons about crossing dark streets, waiting for others to catch up, and sharing goodies emerge from this strange and spooky holiday. We can help make the holiday sweeter by listening to our kids when they share their concerns and reassuring them that morning will come again on November 1st.

The Time My Nephew Washed His Hair With Nair

He calmly explained that the bottle said “hair remover,” which he interpreted to mean having the ability to remove extra dirt from hair.

While waiting for my niece outside a movie theater, my sister entertained herself and her 11-year-old son by walking up and down the aisles of the only store still open in that strip mall late on a Sunday evening. They had already purchased “Wonder Woman” on DVD, and the electronics store was closing.

“Mom! They have bath salt bombs,” My nephew exclaimed, and immediately started begging for the bomb.

The white, baseball-sized salt ball glistened with pink glitter and pressed green leaves.

“I just bought you ‘Wonder Woman,’” she said.

“But this is for the bath and you always say not bathing is not an option,” he argued.

Always delighted to promote solid reasoning and good hygiene, my sister immediately caved, under the condition that he not use it that night as it was already getting late.

The next night, my nephew barely contained his excitement and requested to bathe in the master bathroom tub to maximize the depth of the bomb’s effect. He climbed into the big tub, leaving the door to the bathroom open. My sister and brother-in-law heard him talking to himself and relishing every effervescent moment as they finished up some work on their laptops in bed. (Yes, they bring their work home sometimes. Don’t judge.)

Half-an-hour into the fizz extravaganza, my sister went in to remind him to use soap and shampoo before getting out. When he walked out of the bathroom wrapped in a huge towel, he announced that the shampoo he used – the one in the blue bottle with the pink pump – smelled funny.

My sister is remarkably cool, calm, and collected by nature, which made her training as a high-risk obstetrician a perfect fit for her personality. However, it’s not every day that your kid shampoos with Nair. Panic-stricken, she sprung into action.

If Wonder Woman wants to learn how to fly for her next movie, she should take lessons from my sister, who doesn’t remember her feet touching the ground as she leaped off her bed into the bathroom. She admits to screaming “Oh shit!” and bounding into the shower stall with her clothes on. She scrubbed my nephew’s head with one hand while maneuvering the hand-held nozzle with the other. When she asked him why he didn’t use the regular shampoo, he calmly explained that the bottle said “hair remover,” which he interpreted to mean having the ability to remove extra dirt from hair.

That night, my brother-in-law told my nephew not to worry if a few hairs shed on his pillow and, when they tucked him in, he was wearing his Yoda beanie to “help make the hairs stay in place.” Clearly he was still fuzzy on the process of hair growth and removal.

My sister was a bit traumatized when she cleaned the fizzy residue from the tub and noticed one-inch hairs stuck to the rim, but my nephew’s hair was intact. The hair removal chemicals did not stay on his head long enough to cause bald patches, burning, or any real damage. His hair thinned a bit, but hair grows and lessons are learned. In fact, she and my brother-in-law managed to help my nephew rally to such an extent that he couldn’t wait to go to school to share his war story. He and his friends began composing the sound track to the movie during recess:

Nair, Nair, it’s good for your hair.

The more you use, the more they stare.

If you use too much, you’ll be bald as a pear.

When I heard the story, and after I recovered from my own “what-ifs?” and “holy shits!”, I couldn’t help but marvel at the support and humor my nephew found among his friends. May their bond be as thick as his hair will grow. May we, as adults, take notice and support each other with humor because, sometimes, all you can do is laugh.

Laughter is a great healer, although sometimes it’s not enough. Hair is just hair, and it grows, right? Not always. My sister, tremendously grateful that nothing worse had happened, passed a blessing onto those whose hair is not “just hair.” She donated her long ponytail to charity. Then she exhaled.

Playgroup Isn't for Kids – It's a Parent's Lifeline

Whether it’s talking about pregnancy, feeding , sleeping, or tantruming, playgroup mums really do form your squad.

Every week I cart my offspring off to two or three lovely playgroups, and apart from the fact that they both seem hard-wired to fill their nappies in the most foul way the minute we walk through the door, we all have a lovely time. However, I’ve recently come to the realization that these crayon-filled congregations are not actually for the kids. They provide coffee, crafts, community, and conversation for the sleep-deprived, the floundering, the lonely, and the brave. As an added bonus, they let you bring your children!

Social life

If I don’t see another adult all day, my poor husband really knows about it. He arrives home after a hard day in the office to be met with a frantically gabbling picture of dishevelment, who is so desperate for some adult conversation that she can’t actually remember how to make conversation but instead monologues for 25 minutes about the nappy contents of his offspring, current storylines on Paw Patrol, possible dinner choices, and a detailed analysis of how the toddler’s nap is going to affect tonight’s bedtime (it’s never a positive conclusion). Get the poor man a beer.

Don’t get me wrong, I love and am fully aware of how lucky I am to spend every day of these formative years with my kids, but I do have a limit on how many conversations I can have about pretend (but very strict) picnics in one day. (This is the toddler’s current favorite game; it involves a very complex diet plan for each of her stuffed animals, and I am required to comprehensively understand this and serve up the correct colored lego block meal to each “friend” while she sits and watches. The menu can change on a whim and I am not informed when this happens but the consequences for not knowing are dire.) 

If I’ve had a few hours of grown-up interaction, my husband will arrive home to a spotless house, an immaculate and cheerful wife, perfectly behaved children, and a delicious gourmet dinner on the table. Okay, that’s a complete lie, but he will get five minutes of peace and quiet with his beer.

Creative outlets

The craft table at my local playgroup is wonderful, but not because it’s providing my toddler with a diverse foundation in creativity and self-expression. Every week there’s a different and imaginative craft activity complete with a “Here’s One I Did Earlier” example, and every week the table is packed…with mums. We all pay lip service to helping our offspring color within the lines, but eventually get so involved with decorating miniature fairy doors with glitter and beads that we don’t notice that Junior left the table 10 minutes ago and is currently shoveling half the snack table in his mouth while Mum is distracted.

With a two-month-old and a toddler, I currently find myself particularly starved of creative outlets, and any free time I do get is somehow absorbed by incredibly unsatisfying tasks such as showering, life admin, painting three and a half toenails before being interrupted, and removing baby puke from myself, my carpet, my bed, or my toddler. Let me tell you, the playgroup craft table is the highlight of my week.

Support for the body, support for the mind

There is nothing better than a sympathetic ear over tea and cake at playgroup. I do try not to moan my socks off every week, but during the last few weeks of my pregnancy I was like a whale with a sore head. I was delightful company. But everyone cared so genuinely, because they had all been there before, and really, properly sympathized. It was a bit like having my own personal cheerleading team – it helped push me through those interminable days until I could take my tiny man into meet the squad.

Whether it’s talking about pregnancy, feeding , sleeping, or tantruming, playgroup mums really do form your squad. Tell your childless friend that you’ve had a bad night’s sleep with your cluster-feeding newborn and she will sympathize, sure. Tell another mama and she will grimace in shared pain, and wordlessly get you a cup of coffee while you try and staunch your leaking boobs. Next week you will do the same for her.

Oh, and don’t forget the cake. Any place that involves a voluntary cake rotation is well worth attending in my humble and sugar-addicted opinion.

Finding Time to Create the Lives We Want

How are we filling up our lives and what’s the why behind it?

A few weeks back, a friend and I were sharing our experiences about fitting exercise into our already-full lives as working parents. At one point she said, “I know you’re able to fit in exercise and a lot more into your life. It makes me believe it can be done. I think I need to get better about managing my time.”

I hear (and say) this line often. When we parents are overwhelmed, need to take on a new project, or fit in some more stuff into our lives, we call our beloved friend – time management. Yes, it’s ultimately about how we manage our time, but not just in terms of getting more efficient or productive. It’s also how much we understand about who we are and what matters to us. How are we filling up our lives and what’s the why behind it? Ultimately, it’s about what kind of life we want to live and the impact we want to create for our families and in the world.

First and foremost, it’s about being very clear about what’s important to me at this point in my life. This changes over time as my needs evolve. The relationships I have with my kids, my husband, my work, the greater world, and, most importantly, myself have changed. It’s asking myself, “What do I need in my life and how much is enough? Can I let go of (or outsource) some so what I have on my plate is the right use of my time?”

My marriage is incredibly important, yet spending time on the couch every night once the kids are in bed isn’t my highest priority. Do I miss those days of spending a lot of time together? Yes, absolutely. However, I’m okay with my kids staying up late so we can spend more time with the kiddos together. My house often stays messy and that’s a choice we both make to have time to exercise, work on our projects, and spend more time with the kids at night. Again, I dream of having that brochure-ready home and I know many, many parents have homes that look like hotels, but I’m not willing to make the tradeoffs at this point and, on most days, I feel fine about it.

It’s also being managing my energy. There are activities and people that fill up my energy bank and there are others that completely deplete me, then there are some that are neutral. It’s been useful to be aware of where my energy level is so that I know how to optimize. Exercise and nature are two of those energy-boosting activities so, a couple times a week, we put both the kids in the stroller and head out for a long walk after dinner (the preschooler loves the idea of a night hike to a coffee shop to get an apple or croissant while making pretend soup with the sand and sticks on the way). We all get exercise and my husband and I get to connect on our walk back while both the kids sleep peacefully in the fresh air.

A couple months back my son and I spent an entire Sunday afternoon with lots of paint. He did his pre-school version of exploration and nurtured his creativity while I got to do my version and, as a bonus, create a piece of art for our living room.

Finally, it’s about planning – meticulous planning. The people and activities that matter are often on my calendar days, weeks, and often months in advance. The camping trips, dates with my husband, time with my close girlfriends, and self-care retreats are often marked in advance on calendars. I spend Friday afternoons planning my work and non-work week to make sure I’m spending my days in ways that matter.

Moments of serendipity are few, but knowing there are fun things to look forward to gives me double joy (anticipation plus the real event), and I can manage my energy more effectively around the things that fall into the “have to do” category (dishes, are you listening?).

Yes, I’d love to have a few more hours in my life every week. I’d love to have time where I can spend hours reading, going to a leisurely yoga class, volunteering, and having long conversations with people who matter. But, at this season in my life, I can still have these, of course in abbreviated chunks that are often interrupted by the kids. (“Mom, I need food even though this is your precious 10 minutes of reading time before bed,” or “Mom, can you please wipe my butt even though I know you’re trying to drink your bowl of soup?”) I’m not going to complain. I’m grateful for these rich, joyful, and magical hours that I have in my life.

If Your Child Loved “Charlotte’s Web”, They’ll Love These 8 Books About Unexpected Animal Friendships

Although “Charlotte’s Web” is forever in a league of its own, the literary world is filled with books about fanciful and unexpected animal alliances.

“Charlotte’s Web,” the beloved book by E. B. White, has captivated generations of children with the unlikely friendship between a sassy barn spider and a humble radiant pig.
To the very end, this magnificent duo would do anything for one another: turn webs into linguistic miracles, chase off grumpy rats with rotten cheese, raise orphaned babies with the same kindness and charisma exhibited by their mother. It was a friendship like no other.
Although “Charlotte’s Web” is forever in a league of its own, the literary world is filled with books about fanciful, unexpected, and terrific animal alliances. Here are eight that your child will love:

Friends

Friends: True Stories of Extraordinary Animal Friendships

by Catherine Thimmesh

In this beautiful preschool book, author Catherine Thimmesh makes us smile with these highly unlikely animal friendships. From a polar bear that befriends a sled dog to an ostrich who connects with a giraffe, in the animal world, boundaries are often broken and unusual relationships form.


OddDog

Odd Dog

by Claudia Boldt

Peanut is an odd dog who worries about his next-door neighbor, Milo. When Peanut notices an apple growing over the fence into Milo’s yard, he becomes frantic. Surely, no dog can be trusted. And surely the dog on the wrong side of the tree will eat his delicious fruit. Peanut is quick to judge his neighbor. But what his neighbor does next sparks the beginning of a truly great friendship.
“The real treat is observing neurotic, slit-eyed Peanut and oblivious, wide-eyed Milo, both of whom are completely huggable,” says “Booklist.”


HorseflyHoneybee

Horsefly and Honeybee

by Randy Cecil

“Horsefly and Honeybee” is a simple story about two insects who learn to share and work together. When Honeybee tries to take a nap in the same flower as Horsefly, a slight scrimmage ensues and, unfortunately, they both lose a wing! No longer able to fly, they are forced to walk everywhere…even by a hungry frog who wants to eat them for dinner. Working together, they learn they can fly once again and escape the green monster.
“This book speaks directly to kids in a language they understand, and when you combine that with illustrations that are simple, colorful, and incredibly endearing, you get a book that is sure to become a favorite for any preschooler or toddler,” says one Amazon reviewer.


BatandRat

Bat and Rat

by Patrick Jennings

Creative collaboration describes the friendship between Bat and Rat, two nocturnal animals living in the big city. Bat lives in the attic of Hotel Midnight, while Rat lives all the way down in the basement. Although it seems unlikely that they could ever be friends, they spend their days together doing all sorts of wonderful things: dumpster diving, riding the subway, and playing in a band.
They agree on everything until they get ice cream one warm afternoon. Which is better: Mosquito Ripple or Butter Beetle Pecan? Can their friendship survive this sticky test?


AmosBoris

Amos & Boris

by William Steig

Amos the mouse and Boris the whale are devoted friends with absolutely nothing in common, except their generosity and willingness to help a fellow animal. They meet when Amos’s boat goes adrift at sea. In need of rescue, Boris arrives to save the day. Not long after, it’s Amos in need of rescuing. Can a little mouse help his gigantic friend?
“A simple, matter-of-fact story about the friendship between a mouse and a whale. Lovely watercolor pictures and a funny, well-written text which presents its plot coincidences in tongue-in-cheek manner fit together admirably in this faintly Aesopian tale,” says “School Library Journal.”


TheCricketInTimesSquare

The Cricket in Times Square

by George Selden

Chester Cricket finds himself smack dab in the middle of the Times Square subway station. Rather than fret, he makes himself cozy in a nearby newsstand. Not long after, he makes three new friends: Tucker, the fast-talking Broadway mouse, Mario, the little boy whose parents own the newsstand, and Harry the Cat, Tucker’s unorthodox sidekick. Together, the escapades in New York City never end!


TheOneAndOnlyIvan

The One and Only Ivan

by Katherine Applegate

Winner of the Newbery Medal and a “New York Times” bestseller, “The One and Only Ivan” is a powerful narrative about unexpected friendships. Inspired by the true story of a captive gorilla known as Ivan and told from his vantage point, the book takes readers inside his 27 years in captivity at a shopping mall. He never thinks about home back in the wild, until he meets a baby elephant named Ruby. They instantly bond, and through Ruby’s eyes, Ivan sees his home again.
“Katherine Applegate’s beautiful, life-affirming story will soar directly from Ivan’s heart into your own. Read it out loud. Read it alone. Read it,” says Kathi Appelt, Newbery Honor author of “The Underneath.”


The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp

by Kathi Appelt

A chapter book of unimaginable surprise, “The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp” tells the story of Bingo and J’miah, raccoon brothers on a mission to save Sugar Man Swamp. Together, they’ll have to defeat a gang of wild feral hogs and world-class alligator wrestler, Jaeger Stitch, to save the home they love. The familial bond transcends to best friends forever in this delightful children’s book.
Which books about animal friendships would you add to the list? Share in the comments below.