Bristol Renaissance Faire: A Chicagoland Spotlight

As an enthusiast, but sadly not practitioner, of time travel, I am especially fond of the Bristol Renaissance Faire. Just about an hour north of Chicago, right across the Wisconsin border, the Bristol Ren Faire is consistently voted the best in the country, and it’s easy to see why. Upon entering the gates of the 30-acre, open-air site, you’re transported to Elizabethan-era England (but, fortunately, with the benefit of modern-day conveniences).

20160828_110754

To escape the summertime heat and stench of London, Queen Elizabeth would spend time in the countryside, where villages would put on lavish festivals in her honor. The Faire replicates those visits, and serves as quite a shock to the senses, quickly forcing Chicago to fade into obscurity. When you’re at the Ren Faire, you really feel as though you’ve entered a new world, surrounded by the sights, sounds, and (only good, food-related) smells of the 16th century.

Within minutes, you’ll be greeted with several iterations of “good morrow,” “how dost thou?” or “hail and well met!” You’ll see costumes of grandeur, costumes of…scant fabric, and costumes that involve nothing more than a t-shirt that says “this is my Ren Faire costume.” (I’m convinced those are probably engineers.) You’ll look around in slack-jawed wonder and laugh at the anachronistic disparities between this world of fantasy and that of our own. It’s no wonder that the Faire’s slogan is “Where Fantasy Rules,” because that’s exactly what you’re getting when you go: a day of fantasy.

Why You Need to Visit

It’s a fun, living-color history lesson

There’s actually quite a bit of history laced in with the whimsy of the Ren Faire. As mentioned, it’s supposed to resemble the English countryside during Queen Elizabeth’s visit in approximately 1574, when townspeople would gather for elaborate celebrations and to flaunt their wares. This is why the Queen and her court are historically represented with quite a bit of pomp and circumstance each day of the Faire. You can even check out the Queen’s court as guests are being presented to her. The people representing these historical figures are quite impressive; they’ve auditioned for and researched their roles well and nail their accents. But it’s the costumes that really blow me away. Each one must be valued well into the thousands, if I were to guess, and they certainly add to the air of majesty and grandeur.

Visitors also have the opportunity to watch and even learn how to do the maypole dance.

20180721_101816

You can also learn quite a bit about the culture of knights and weapons, if you’re so inclined. The Military Encampment, or weaponry area, is especially fun.

20170902_131721

The 11 o’clock show is particularly important.

An inside source told us that most of the people in this section are, amazingly, wearing handmade, historically accurate costumes, and that several people working at the Faire hold master’s degrees in British history. Despite how silly it seems at times, there’s definitely some clout behind the scenes.

It’s a great place to take kids

The Ren Faire has so much to offer children, it’s like taking them to Disney, just on a much smaller budget and with little to no licensed character sightings. Aside from all of the history your child will absorb and weapons he will yield (again, great parents!), there are several play structures, face painting booths, human-powered carnival rides (which are hilarious to observe), free-range fairies and woodland nymphs, and so much more.

And, of course, there’s also the “horse part” as my son calls it, where you can see knights compete in an exciting jousting tournament. With this and all of the other kid features, I guarantee you’ll have much more fun here than you would at Medieval Times. It’s an almost laughable comparison.

20180721_121825

But make no mistake, there’s quite a bit of “adult” fun too

My implied salaciousness is purposeful, because bawdy humor abounds at the Ren Faire. Even the most unexpected of passersby may lash you with a biting tongue, as it seems implicitly understood and accepted that the sharper the wit, the more suggestive the commentary, and the more unseemly the pun, the more fun you’ll have (though, honestly, this is kind of how I feel about life in general).

For a taste of what I mean, I suggest checking out Adam Crack’s fire whip show, the Washing Well Wenches show, and Vegetable Justice.

20160828_114028

Throw tomatoes at the insult comic or you will face his relentless–and usually hilarious–scrutiny. Warning: throw only if you have a thick skin.

Grab one of the many available cocktails (I personally really enjoy the red sangria) and prepare to be mildly offended but thoroughly entertained.

IMG-20180729-WA0000

The Ren Faire is the only place I’ve ever seen chain mail or mesh bras–and shockingly, not just once, or twice, or thrice. Since it’s a little awkward taking a picture of someone in a bra, you’ll have to settle for this mannequin model.

There’s a ton of food and it’s pretty decent

With hundreds of food–and drink–options available, you’re sure to find something that whets your appetite. The turkey legs are popular, of course, but despite being Instagrammable, I actually prefer the calzones. Also worth trying are the pickles on a stick (the spicy one is great) and the jerky. Not worth your money is the white chocolate key lime pie on a stick. I should have trusted my gut on that one.

Screenshot_20180811-151549_Instagram

You’re better off with a calzone, but I admit the picture is more exciting like this.

The entertainment is plentiful and worthwhile

There are so many kinds of performances you can watch at the Ren Faire that there’s guaranteed to be something up your alley. Even if you don’t want to sit down for an entire show, it’s impossible not to happen upon some type of art or musical installation just walking around. Keep your eyes and ears open (and check out the performances I mentioned above).

You can be anyone or anything you desire, and not a single person will care

To me, the best part of the Ren Faire is that everyone is 100% themselves; the day of fantasy also means it’s a day without judgment or shame. Everyone is welcomed and celebrated within the confines of the Faire, regardless of race, ethnicity, body type, or anything else. This also means you’re in for a treat as far as costumes go. Some of the most creative costumes I’ve ever seen have been right there in Bristol.

Sure, there are several people in traditional Ren Faire garb, practicing their Elizabethan English, but you’ll also find pretty much any kind of cosplay you can imagine. A mash-up fairy alien? Why not? Bruce Wayne with a Predator mask? Sure! Looking for a place to flaunt that chain mail bikini? This is it. Want to hang in the background and just observe in your normal, boring 2018 clothes? That’s okay too.

In fact, I’ve been so inspired and envious of all of the costumes over the years, that I finally decided to invest in one of my own. I love it so much I want to flaunt that baby everywhere: dinner, the gym, the laundromat, whatever. I’m pretty sure that’s normal.

20180729_141852

Costume from Silver Leaf Costumes. They were wonderfully helpful in selecting and fitting what is now my favorite outfit. Shoes especially historically accurate.

Quick Tips

Here are a few things I’ve learned over the years that will maximize your Ren Faire experience.

1. Bring sunscreen

Though there’s plenty of shade in spots, it’s hard to avoid the sun entirely. Make sure you’re packing and putting sunscreen to use, or you’ll end up as red as the tomato guy (probably redder since not a lot of people actually hit him).

2. Pack water bottles

Because it can get so warm, I highly recommend bringing your own water bottles. You’ll need to keep hydrated and I will say water fountains are not in abundance. Plus, a bottle of water costs $4. FOUR BUCKS. At a fairground in Wisconsin. For shame.

3. Take out some cash ahead of time

While most of the artisans accept charge cards, you’ll need cash for pretty much everything else, including food and drink. There are ATMs available at the Faire, but I recommend avoiding those lines and grabbing cash before you leave home.

4. Check out some of the stalls

The vendors at the Ren Faire showcase quite impressive craftsmanship, and you’d be seriously missing out if you didn’t check at least some of it out during your visit. You can find costumes (so many kinds of costumes), candles that turn into lotion, metalworks, blown glass, art, books, art-rendered maps, jewelry, and more.

5. Tire your kids out in the children’s garden

If you have kids, make sure to pay a visit to the children’s garden. It has adorable little Hobbit-style houses, slides, a stage, a big dragon egg, pirate ships that double as play structures, and characters who are all-too-willing to recruit your kids for some kind of mission. It’s spacious, right next to the mother’s room (see below), and a great way to make sure your kid is exhausted later that day.

6. Don’t be afraid to get in the spirit!

Most importantly, go with an open mind! Ask people questions, try your hand at one of the various activities (I went on the man-powered rocking ships and they were so fun), test out your best British accent, wear a costume (even if the rest of your family doesn’t), and have fun. The Bristol Renaissance Faire is a joyous place with joyous people, and not exploring it in its entirety would be doing it, and yourself, a major disservice.

Plan Your Visit

Print off a discount coupon before you go and either take it to your participating Menards or go ahead and head straight to the box office (it’s never very crowded in the morning). Without the discount, tickets are $25.95.

Location and hours

The Faire is located at 12550 120th Avenue, Kenosha, WI 53142. It’s open on Saturdays, Sundays, and Labor Day from July 7 through September 3 (meaning you have two more weekends this year!) from 10:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m.

Parking

There’s no public transportation, but there is plenty of paid parking in the field on site. I believe it’s $5 cash.

20180721_141401

Stroller or carrier

The Faire grounds are primarily dirt, gravel, and grass, so as long as your stroller can traverse those, I’d recommend bringing it. You can always throw the carrier down below.

Mother’s room

There is no air conditioning at the Faire, meaning it can get pretty warm. For a brief reprieve, check out the mother’s room by the children’s garden. It’s nothing fancy, but it’s a clean, air-conditioned room with changing tables and benches for nursing moms.

A Hit for All Ages

Do yourself a favor, Chicagoans, and make your way to the Bristol Renaissance Faire before it closes for the season after Labor Day. When you visit, you and your family are in for a day of lighthearted, boisterous hijinks and fun. If you soak in a little history or get into the cosplay, that’s honestly just a bonus.

20180721_111217

Advertisements

A Lesser-Known Fact About Parenthood

If there is one surprising, yet universal, tenet of parenthood it is that we discuss our children’s bowel movements openly, often, and usually in great detail.

Why? Just…Why?

You may not even realize you’re doing it for a while; early on you’re too caught up in the daze of trying to figure out how to keep your tiny human alive. It’s kind of a miracle if you’re even able to form complete, coherent thoughts, much less calculate how much time you now spend talking about your kid’s wet diapers. Hospitals even helpfully provide you with a chart to notate both how often your baby is peeing and pooping, as well as what the texture is like. I’m not kidding. I’m pretty sure this is how it all begins.

So no, it doesn’t seem bad at first, just necessary to survival. Eventually, though, you realize that 80% of your conversations with your partner at least include a mention of your kid’s bodily functions. When the kids multiply, so does the amount of time you talk about their collective dumps. Who went when, why someone hasn’t gone yet, whose turn it is to deal with it next, what someone could have possibly eaten. As you can, but try not to, imagine, the list goes on.

From what I can tell, talking about your kids’ bathroom (or diaper) habits is a common bonding agent between parents. No matter the kind of parenting philosophy you practice, the one common parenting denominator (in addition to the love for your respective children, of course) is the fact that they poop (and pee and whatever else) and you have to deal with it. Until someone (incredibly smart) invents a machine that changes the very nature of human physiology, we must all accept this as truth (or hire a nanny).

It is a warm and peaceful July evening. As you sit down to relax with a glass of wine, you hear the words “I’M NOT POOPING” shouted from afar. You casually deposit your wine and walk calmly towards the voice. You are not even fazed. Your skin doesn’t prickle with unease. This is the sixth dimension beyond that which is known to man, a dimension of the foulest order. This is your life now; you are in the Twilight Zone. [Source]

What’s ironic is that, when given the rare opportunity to revel in adult conversation, we, without fail, talk about our kids. This is another thing nearly all parents have in common. Kids are hilarious, mind you, but still.

What I’ve come to realize, and am doing my best to prepare you for, is that kid talk almost always brings with it some sort of potty talk. This, a strange hallmark of parenthood, is actually kind of cathartic. If you can lay this on the table, just think what else you can discuss. Your kid’s poop is basically taking your friendships to the next level with very minimal effort on your part! It’s simultaneously appalling, of course, because our poor children have no say in the matter and it is, well, poop, but it’s really amazing too. It’s just another bizarre reminder of how much your life changes when you have kids.

Ch-Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes

Sure, you know your opportunities for date nights will be more limited (spending $80 to have a babysitter watch your kids sleep so you can go spend another $150 on dinner and drinks is not an easy pill to swallow). You know your body will change (in disturbingly pliable ways). You may even think know how you’ll parent (ha).

But like any grand adventure, there are so many little things you don’t even know to expect when you’re expecting. I’d say that chief among those is the frequency and ease with which you will say the word “poop.”

Keep in mind, this is coming from someone who had a dog for nearly five years before adding a kid to the equation. My husband and I were no slouches when it came to poop talk. After all, when you live in a city and have to walk your dog instead of luxuriously opening a back door to let him in the yard (the fantasy!), you have to figure out if, and when, he needs to go. However, with our dog, unless something truly alarming arose in taking him outside, there was nothing more that needed to be said. We didn’t dwell on the topic.

Kids, on the other hand, force you to take it to the next level. Not only do you discuss the if and when, but you also find yourself going into the intricacies of how and why. Honestly, the creativity I demonstrate with my poop-related vocabulary is praiseworthy. If we earned badges of the sort, parents would be blue-ribbon holders. It’s an award no one ever wants, to be sure, but when you’re at the beck and call of a small child, knee-deep in tantrums and lack of sleep, you’ll take what you can get.

And How

This realization–of how much time my friends and I spend discussing our kids’ pee and poo–is without a doubt one of the most depressing ones I’ve ever had. Sure, any amount at all may be a little bit of a bummer, because I don’t even want to think about anyone’s pee or poo that much, even or maybe especially my own. The degree to which we incorporate these discussions into our everyday chats, however, is astounding. Plus, it’s not just the number of times we bring it up, but the sheer nonchalance with which we do so that’s so incredible. When else in your life do you talk about poop to this degree? I know more about my friends’ kids’ poop rituals than I know about my own family members’ lives.

When they’re babies, especially if you’re first-time parents, you’ll ask questions about what’s normal. I shuddered when my birth class instructor told us a newborn’s poop smelled like Target popcorn, but I distinctly remember a point during the middle of the night just a few short days after baby was home that I very begrudgingly found myself agreeing with her (and you’re welcome for imparting that little nugget–no pun intended–to you). Little did I know that was the beginning of such vivid fecal description.

When they’re older, you talk about when you’re going to teach them how to use the toilet, or, if you’ve already started, your tips for how to get them to actually do it. It’s not like poop is the only thing we talk about–of course not–but it does seem to wriggle its way into almost every conversation we have.

I tried, in vain, to fight it. While I’m certainly not prudish, not in the least, it’s not exactly as if I make a habit of going around and making poop or fart jokes. Yet the more time I spent around fellow moms, I realized there’s a whole host of bodily functions that are unceremoniously, gloriously up for grabs. It’s positively freeing to discuss whatever, whenever, as it relates to you and/or your child.

“No secretion is too sacred” is basically the motto of motherhood.

You may think you won’t be that kind of parent, the one who so casually references BMs and other potty horror stories, but you will. Believe me, you will.

Sorry to be the bearer of bad news. [Source]

The Whole Truth & Nothing But(t)

Now that many of us have begun potty training, the potty talk seems to have increased tenfold. Truly. For example, while enjoying a nice night out recently, my friends and I belatedly realized with horror that we had been talking about the toilet, and how to get our tiny humans to use it, for 20 minutes. With great pride, by the way. Really, it’s the small things that count. Although, in all seriousness, getting your kid out of a diaper after two or three years feels pretty damn big. It’s exhilarating, hence the need to talk about it so unabashedly, I guess.

(Side note to give major props to my son who we just potty trained last month and, minus a few errant accidents, has been rocking it. Praise be.)

How any seasoned parent looks while discussing poop: calm and unaffected. We’re basically un-licensed bodily fluid therapists. “I’m listening, tell me more.” [Source]

My Hope for the Future

I can only hope–and pray, furiously–that my involvement with my kids’ bathroom activities will dwindle with time. When this day comes, I surely won’t feel the need to discuss such activities at the rate I do now, right? Right?! Just please agree with me. I certainly don’t envision talking about it to this degree when I’m, say, 80. Although maybe by then I’ll be bringing it back up for entirely different reasons.

So be prepared, soon-to-be-parents. Your life is about to change in all the ways you expect, of course. I don’t need to tell you that. But in addition to staying up all night trying to calm your gassy, crying infant, you’ll start to experience what I call the poop creep (in both literal and figurative ways, unfortunately). It may come as a surprise; I know it did for me. But please embrace it for all of its therapeutic, relationship-building glory. At the very least, take comfort in the solidarity the poop creep creates.

After all, we’re all in this shit together.

Travel With Your Kids

Now that we’ve established how much I enjoy traveling without kids, I thought it would be prudent to share how much I like to do it with them, too. It’s certainly different (read: more crap), but still wholly worthwhile. I say this at the tail end of both a camping weekend and trip to Disney, the holy grail kiddie Mecca, maker or breaker of traveling with children. If I still love to do it, then you know I mean it.

20180523_123624

I mean, come on.

When my now-toddler was a baby, we took him everywhere (except international, because we’ve selfishly kept that for ourselves). In fact, he visited 13 states in his first two years. While our now-baby hasn’t traveled quite to that same degree, she’s no slouch on travel protocols either. I recognize it’s not cheap to travel, whether by car, train, bus, boat, or plane. But in case you weren’t aware, kids under two do fly free on your lap within the U.S. As you can see, we really took advantage of that with our first and intend to do so as much as possible with the second, too.

Maybe you don’t like to travel in general. If that’s the case, skip this post. Just know that I think there’s a kind of travel for everyone, and it’d be a real shame if you–and your kids–miss out on the chance to explore the world around you. If you don’t like to travel because you don’t want to be around people–which is completely fair–take a road trip to somewhere in the country. If you don’t like to plan, try outsourcing it to a friend or travel agent. Just don’t dismiss it altogether.

If you do share my propensity to jet set, but are, like many of my friends, a little intimidated to do so with children, look no further. I’m here to help dispel your fears and doubts by sharing some of my wisdom for traveling with little ones. Many blogs have done this before, so I’ll try to keep it simple.

The Only Traveling-With-Kids Advice You Need

Have no expectations and go with the flow. End of story.

Somewhat timely GIF, no? #royalwedding [Source]

Now’s about the point where you want to slap me in the face and tell me to STFU, right? No expectations and go with the flow? Yeah, okay. If we were truly able to do that, we wouldn’t be parents of the modern age. It’s nearly as bad as when people tell you to “just relax.” However, with the understanding that it’s never easy to just let go, that is precisely what I recommend you do when you’re gearing up to travel with children.

Keep going, I promise I’ll get less annoying. [Source]

Despite my rather long introduction, it’s not a big deal, guys. That’s what I’m trying to get at here. Ultimately, it’s just like every other part of parenthood: something that’s wrought with both challenges and rewards.

Because I’m feeling particularly loquacious today, I’m not going to leave you with just that. While I’m not lying when I say it’s your best bet for having a good time on your travels, I’ll do my best to impart my simplest, tried-and-true travel tips right in this here post.

Regardless of how much you read up beforehand or how much junk you lug with you, though, not everything will go according to plan and you’ll undoubtedly experience some choppy waters while you’re on your trip. If you don’t go in with a strict “plan,” you won’t be all that disappointed when things don’t quite follow it. After all, isn’t it the very nature of children to be unpredictable?

Some level of chaos will ensue

A tantrum or two (or what feels like infinity) might will definitely happen, sleep might be interrupted to the point of exhaustion, or you might run out of some item you deem necessary. So what? All of those things can occur just as easily at home, too. At least in my mind, all of the positive experiences you gain on a trip–even if it’s just spending some quality time together outside of your normal routine–far outweigh those minor inconveniences. Tantrums? They subside. Sleep? You’ll eventually get it again. That’s what caffeine is for. Kid supplies? There are probably kids where you’re going. Ask someone where you can purchase something similar. If you can’t find it, take a deep breath and know that children survived for hundreds of thousands of years without it. Yours will too.

IMG-20170510-WA0037

And for those moments when your own survival is in question, send a frustrated selfie to your spouse who’s sleeping peacefully at home. It accomplishes nothing but feels pretty damn good.

But it’s so worth it

All of those minor blips in time will pass and be forgotten, unlike the memories you’ll cherish forever. Sure, your kids may be too young to remember anything, but you will. (And if all you remember is how terribly something went, then I have two things to say: 1. You probably need a general shift in perspective; and 2. Time has a funny way of softening those blows, too.)

IMG_20161007_173224

One of my all-time favorite pictures.

TL;DR: it’s all temporary, so you might as well enjoy it

If you’re going for a decent amount of time, then your kid will adjust to a new schedule. If you’re not, then you’ll just need a couple of days to get back on track. Either way, it’ll be over before you know it.

Keep in mind that some of the biggest benefits of traveling are expanding your worldview and forcing yourself outside of your comfort zone. If nothing else, these are just magnified with children in tow.

All of that said, I’m not your therapist and lest I start advising you to try and relax (there’s that awful piece of advice again), I don’t have great counsel in terms of how to actually shift your expectations. That’s on you. Instead, here are some practical tips on how to ease your travel.

What to Pack

In general life terms, I tend to be a less-is-more kind of person. This extends to my parenting philosophy–which is why my daughter can sometimes be seen chewing on plastic cutlery in lieu of toys–especially when traveling. (It does not, however, appear to extend to the length of this post.) With that in mind, there are some things you’ll want to have in your bags to ensure smoother sailing, regardless of where you’re going.

Must-haves

Clothes and a hat

This is a no-brainer, but I’d like to remind you to bring a few extra outfits because much like movie-promoting celebrities, kids often require a midday costume change. If you’ll have access to a washing machine on your trip, this is obviously less important. If not, bring extra clothes and throw in a wet bag for good measure.

My other favorite travel accessory is a good ol’ sun hat. I’ve been a big fan of this one from i play because it shields kids’ necks and holds up well in the pool.

20180518_115853

My favorite hat and my favorite girl.

Tools of distraction

What I really mean is, bring food and new, exciting toys. One of the great things about having an almost-three-year-old is that he can finally carry his own backpack of crap, but believe me, you’ll want these regardless of your mode of transportation or age of your kids. This music maker from Baby Einstein is my favorite travel toy for babies, and for toddlers I love the Fire 7 Kids Edition Kindle (trust me, screen time will be your travel ally) and this Transformer car (though any vehicle would do).

20180323_151459

Or he can just dump the toys out and wear it! Whatever works.

Easy and transportable snacks include packets from Plum Organics, raisins, and pretzel rods (for kids of all ages).

Baby carrier

One of my best tips for you, especially when traveling with babies or young toddlers, is to babywear. I cannot stress this enough. For the infant age, I loved my Baby K’tan Breeze.

IMG-20151004-WA0008

Totally ignoring the scenery.

For babies and toddlers, I’ve loved the ergobaby Mesh 360.

20160624_112013

Any hike is easy when you’re being carried in an Ergo.

For hiking with older toddlers, I am a huge fan of the Deuter Kid Comfort 2.

20161008_105132

Okay, so we obviously enjoy hiking. Note: I really ought to take more pictures with my daughter.

Wearing your kid is beneficial for many reasons. It frees up your hands, keeps baby close to you for his and your comfort, and allows you to nurse on-the-go. If you haven’t figured out how to do this yet, I strongly urge you to experiment until you do. In fact, nursing is another one of the best travel tips I can give because it helps soothe your baby in an otherwise new environment.

All of these benefits are invaluable in an airport (despite my not showing pictures of me carrying my babies anywhere but on hikes). You’ll also find that a carrier comes in handy while you’re actually in your destination. Plus, kids love falling asleep in carriers. It’s a win-win.

20180609_135412

Dads can babywear too!

Birth certificate

This really only matters if you’re flying, but don’t forget the birth certificate, mostly if you’re taking advantage of the kids-under-two-fly-free-on-your-lap policy. I’ve flown on nearly all airlines with my kids and have found that while some airlines always require it (Southwest), others will occasionally request to see it, too. Your best bet is to have a copy in case it’s needed. I just keep a copy of both birth certificates next to my ID, and that seems to work well for us.

Nice-to-haves

These are some things I usually end up packing with me, but I’ve also often just bought once I’ve gotten there. Either way, you wouldn’t regret them.

Ibuprofen

You never know when your kid is going to get sick or suddenly sprout a tooth. I usually sneak a bottle of ibuprofen in my bag because it lasts longer than acetaminophen and is an anti-inflammatory, meaning those achy gums will be better relieved.

Sunscreen

My fair-skinned children require a good amount of sunscreen, so I typically bring it with me so I don’t have to worry about it later. I personally prefer Babyganics Sunscreen for everyday use and Badger Balm Anti-Bug Sunscreen for camping and hiking.

Don’t bother

Pack ‘n’ play and other gear

If you’re traveling to a hotel, they most likely have a pack ‘n’ play or crib they can put in your room upon check-in. Just call and add it to your reservation. If you’re visiting someone’s home, ask if they have an extra or could borrow one from a friend. If you’re renting a place like an AirBnB, look into baby equipment rentals in the area. One of these three options has yet to fail me on all of my traveling-with-kids adventures. When driving, however, it’s often easiest to just bring it along if you have the space.

As for other baby gear, you don’t need it. Like everything else, you’ll figure out an appropriate workaround. Honestly, any alternative is easier than lugging all that clunky, heavy stuff.

Diapers

Pack your carry-on with as many diapers as you’d need for the day, then worry about buying more for your trip once you’re actually there. Diapers are way too bulky and cumbersome to worry about packing in a suitcase, and you’ll find them no matter where you’re going.

Top 3 Tips for Air Travel

1. Check all your crap

If you’re taking advantage of the lap child policy, you’ll need to head to the ticket counter to add the kid to your ticket anyway. While you’re there, you might as well check your bag (I like to use a big one for the whole family) and your car seat(s) if you’ll be using a car while you’re away. (I’ve used rented car seats once and was so unimpressed, I likely won’t do it again.) While all airlines allow you to check your car seat and stroller for free (although some have weight limits, so do your homework), free checked bags are one of the things that differentiate Southwest to me. In general, I find them to be the most kid-friendly airline before, during, and after the flight takes place.

When checking these kid items, I’ve also found it’s easiest to get the big red bags for car seats and strollers since they’re so easy to spot and help keep the items clean. Unfortunately, you do run the risk of your stuff getting manhandled a bit, but in almost three years, it hasn’t been a problem for me.

20161004_082004

Car seat in bag plus large suitcase, ready to be checked.

My routine is such that I usually check the bag and car seat, get my boarding pass, then head to security with my baby carrier and lightweight umbrella stroller (unless I’m going somewhere I won’t use one). Then during the security check, I wear the baby, fold up the stroller, and proceed to the gate, where I get a gate-check tag for the red stroller bag. Then right before I board, I fold up the stroller once more, stuff it in the red bag, and drop it off on the jet way with other gate-check bags. This sounds involved, but it’s an easy routine when you actually move through the steps, and strangers are almost always willing to help if needed.

What’s nice about having the stroller in the airport is that you can lug around a kid who is otherwise slow and/or not cooperative. If you end up continuing to wear baby, then you at least have a nice little storage seat for your carry-on bag to help save your back a bit.

20161122_115140

Another bonus to bringing a stroller: naps on the go. What better way to enjoy a Mai Tai on the beach than with a sleeping child?

2. Tire your kid out before you board

Many airports have play areas for children. Philadelphia and San Francisco both come to mind immediately, though I know I’ve seen several. Take advantage of these designated areas to let your kid exhaust himself as much as possible before he’s forced to sit still for a few hours.

IMG_20161118_123501

This was taken at SFO, where they actually do have a kids’ play area despite this not being it. The point is, he was entertained, and that’s all that matters.

If you’re in an airport without a designated kids’ area, look outside and see wonder on your kid’s face as he takes in all the planes, trucks, and cars whirring by. This has provided us with endless hours of entertainment.

20161009_172118 (1)

“Mommy, wook! Boo trucks!”

3. Choose a window seat

You may think it would be best to sit in the aisle seat so you can get up easily with kids, but I have learned (the hard way) that window seats are ideal. First of all, they allow kids to see outside and stare at clouds or whatever else is out there. Better yet, window seats allow you to turn to the wall for a bit more privacy if you need to soothe your kid. They also allow kids to play with the armrest without bothering your neighbors. More still, they provide a headrest or more wiggle room if your kid falls asleep on you and stretches out. Finally, window seats mean window shades, and boy have those come in handy for last-resort distractions. I’ve also had friends buy those dollar store sticky window decals for flights, and I think that’s a wonderful idea.

20171009_135001

The emergency landing manual has never failed, either. Nor has a basic flashlight, surprisingly.

If you’re flying an airline that allows you to choose your seat ahead of time, book yourself or your kid in the window. If you’re flying Southwest, remember families can board between groups A and B. I’ve never had an issue finding a window seat at that time.

No matter the seat you do choose, if you’re a breastfeeding mom, be prepared to nurse a lot on your flight, especially during takeoff and landing, since the sucking motion helps prevent ear discomfort for the babe. The release in oxytocin should also help  make your baby drowsy, and let me tell you, a sleeping baby is the best kind of traveling baby. When they’re not as pliable or likely to nurse at any time of the day, have a water bottle with a straw ready to go during changes in altitude.

20171203_103537

Yes, Toddler Bear, I agree that the Chicago skyline is mesmerizing.

Top 2 Tips for Car Travel

1. Plan on a few short breaks

I have to pee regularly anyway, so I already know I’ll have to stop on a road trip. This is beneficial during trips with our kids because it allows us time to get them out of their car seats to stretch their legs too.

20160502_130437

Even if stretching their legs is done on yours.

2. Find music you and your kid will enjoy

Someone once gifted us with this CD of children’s songs, and it is incredible how instantly it helps both of our kids settle down when they’re feeling restless. Compared to a lot of children’s music, I’ll freely admit I even kind of like it. Maybe it’s because I’ve listened to 99,000 spirited renditions of “I’ve Been Workin’ on the Railroad,” but I can’t but help sing right along.

disney cd

This just might be the best $5 you’ll ever spend. [Source]

Camping with Kids

Camping with kids is really fun, too. See my previous post for tips on this particular version of travel.

Have Fun and Record Your Stories

Some of my favorite–or most laugh-out-loud–parenting memories have come from our trips together. For example, I remember the first flight I took with a newly minted toddler. He was extra active, climbing on my legs, yodeling at the people behind us, blowing raspberries and basically motorboating me, and being all-around wiggly. When I finally got him to stop and have a sip of water, I didn’t take into account that the pressure change would cause the water trapped in the straw to burst out like a geyser at all of those around us. If only I had this on film. (Moral of the story: appreciate while you can how easy it is to travel with a baby.)

With time and distance, I’ve now also come to find the silver lining in that one god-awful time my son screamed throughout the entire first flight, subsequent run through the airport, and boarding of our second flight. Once he finally fell asleep, he curled right up against my then-30-weeks-pregnant belly. His soon-to-be sister took the opportunity to begin pursuing her life goal of irritating him, because she wouldn’t stop kicking against his head. Little did he know how in-his-face she’d later become. Now when I think back to that day, I remember the cuddles and the belly kicks, and not the exact pitch at which I finally went insane (okay, maybe a little of that).

20170514_114653

Minutes after he finally passed out on the aforementioned flight from hell. Now, in retrospect, I can appreciate how sweet this moment was.

And that’s not even to mention all of the memories I have from once we’ve arrived at our destinations. For example, I’ll never forget the first time my daughter went hiking in the Rockies or sprawled out in our tent, effectively leaving me with a sliver of space between her and my snoring toddler. I’ll never forget the first time my son dipped his feet in the ocean.

20160704_145956

As you can probably tell from my face, I had no idea that wave was coming. Good thing kids are resilient.

I’ll never forget when he decided to go swimming with a sweet potato fry or the look of adoration on his face as he met the Disney princesses.

20180523_204551

Love at first sight.

These memories are the ones that will stick with me, not the ones of nights without sleep. It’s true that traveling changes you, and I can assure you that traveling with your kids will do so tenfold, because what you learn on your journey may embed itself into the very core of who you are as a parent.

I do not deny that it’s expensive to travel, and more so with kids. But if it’s within your means, by whatever means necessary, I say you go for it. Don’t let children or your fear of traveling with them interrupt your desire to explore the world. Life is entirely too short to quell your sense of wanderlust because you’re not sure how to navigate with kids. Like anything else, sometimes the best and most rewarding way to experience something is through baptism by fire. You just have to jump in and take comfort knowing you’ll probably land on your feet one way or another. If you can parent at home, I promise you can parent afar.

Now go book your trip, pack your bags, and have fun. Bon voyage!

Never doubt it. [Source]

 

 

Toddler Bear’s Top 20 Children’s Books

It’s been more than a year since I last posted about my kid’s favorite children’s books. In that time, we’ve read countless stories, many of which were read countless times over (sometimes to my chagrin). As of now, I can confidently say that my two-and-a-half-year-old loves to read. Either that, or he’s spent two years building an elaborate book-loving persona with the sole objective of stalling bedtime with just one more book “for two seconds” (his favorite stalling phrase). It’s entirely possible and, to some extent, likely.

Regardless of his motivation, my bibliophilic heart just about bursts each time he tells me he wants to read together.

giphy2

My kid loves to read? Squee! Using it to distract me? Who cares?!  [Source]

Reading with him as a baby was fun, of course, but I must admit that reading with him as a toddler is next-level amazing. As a rule, toddlers are entertaining at every turn, especially once they start talking. He’s so chatty and so inquisitive that each book becomes quite the interactive adventure.

If he’s not asking questions about what he sees and hears, he’s requesting  more information about the illustrations. (I have to say, I’ve been known to use artistic license when developing the background stories for secondary or even non-existent characters.) If he’s not asking me about the books, he’s reciting pages in their entirety. His ability to memorize is incredible, as is his ability to pick up new vocabulary, test out different pronouns and verb conjugations, and analyze a story and its characters.

Reading is such a wonderful vehicle for blossoming creativity, language, and exploration, and as a parent I love how it allows me to watch him process new information. It’s like discovering the entire world all over again through my toddler’s eyes.

This level of interaction and engagement happily means we can read longer and more complex books now, too. Because reading is such a wonderfully enlightening experience for us nowadays, I decided it was high time to share some of our current favorites.

This list is fairly long–and I already made cuts, if you can believe it–but these books are all worth reading. Maybe you’re already familiar with them, but, if not, you might just come across one of your future favorites below.

Books Your Toddler Will Love

Bustle in the Bushes

bustle in the bushes

Bustle in the Bushes by Giles Andreae and illustrated by David Wojtowycz [Source]

Bustle in the Bushes is a great non-fiction option for young readers because it presents factual information with fun rhymes and bright illustrations. Like many little kids, my toddler seems pretty intrigued by insects, and this is a non-creepy way for him to learn about them. (We have another book about bugs that includes real photographs. Knowing that some spiders burrow their babies in holes in the ground before they burst out is enough to make my skin crawl; seeing it almost sends me over the ledge, and I’m not even afraid of spiders. As you can imagine, this is my preferred insect book.)

Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type

click clack

Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type written by Doreen Cronin and illustrated by Betsy Lewin [Source]

In Click, Clack, Moo, Farmer Brown faces a big problem: his literate cows decide to go on strike until he improves their working conditions. Needless to say, this story provides cheeky fun for the whole family. My husband and I love the silliness of the story and our toddler loves chiming in with the repetitive sound effects. It’s the perfect mix of interaction and goofiness for everyone (plus it’s pretty short, which means we can add it on at bedtime without taking up too much more time).

Colección de oro: Jorge el curioso / A Treasury of Curious George

jorge

Colección de oro Jorge el curioso / A Treasury of Curious George by Margret and H.A. Rey [Source]

I love bilingual books, and this is one of my favorites for two reasons: it has several books in one, and they’re all about a character to whom my mischievous toddler can finally relate. As such, he now frequently requests the “George” book.

Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus!

pigeon bus

Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus! by Mo Willems [Source]

Here’s another book that’s just as entertaining for adults as it is for kids. The simplistic illustrations and minimalist bold text make it eye-catching and easy for kids to memorize and recite. Mine especially loves piping in when the pigeon rants, “LET ME DRIVE THE BUS!!!” (If there’s anything he can get behind, it’s a tantrum.)

Dragons Love Tacos

dragons

Dragons Love Tacos by Adam Rubin and illustrated by Daniel Salmieri [Source]

First of all, who doesn’t love tacos? Secondly, dragons?! Yes, please. Now, combine the two, throw in a party and a jocular tone, and you’ve got this book. As far as our family is concerned, it’s a solid home run.

Giraffes Can’t Dance

giraffes

Giraffes Can’t Dance by Giles Andreae and Guy Parker-Rees [Source]

I adore reading this book aloud, so much so that it’s one of maybe ten that I have completely memorized. The story about embracing one’s individuality is important, of course, but I really love it because of the smooth rhyming structure (minus the part where they rhyme “thing” and “violin,” but I digress). My toddler loves it on his own, but I often try to suggest this book because I like it so much.

Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site

goodnight

Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site by Sherri Duskey Rinker and Tom Lichtenheld [Source]

What little kid doesn’t love construction equipment? Add that to its adorable and cozy rhymes and this book is perfect for bedtime. It often makes me feel ready to snuggle in bed as well (or maybe that’s just due to chasing after two kids all day, who knows?).

Green Eggs and Ham

green eggs

Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Suess [Source]

My kid asks us to read this classic to him all the time, and I’m not sure if it’s because he’s really drawn to the nonsensical story or if it’s actually because it takes a while to read and therefore stalls bedtime even more (this is a theme, as you can tell). It must be because he genuinely likes it, though, because he’ll randomly choose this for a midday read as well.

How to Bathe Your Little Dinosaur

how to bathe

How to Bathe Your Little Dinosaur by Jane Clarke and Georgie Birkett [Source]

This is one of the simpler books on the list. It’s short and sweet, and would probably help kids who dislike bath time feel a little more excited about it (this is luckily not our problem). When the dirty little dinosaur finishes his bath, he gets a big hug. During this stanza, my toddler always leans in and gives me a big hug too, and it never fails to warm my heart.

If You Give a Mouse a Cookie

cookie

If You Give a Mouse a Cookie written by Laura Numeroff and illustrated by Felicia Bond [Source]

I distinctly remember reading this book as a kid. My elementary school’s computer lab was decorated with a cutout of this precocious little mouse (perfect background decor for playing Oregon Trail, as far as I recall). It turns out, the book holds up well with the current generation, too, since my toddler regularly requests the “cookie book.”

The Little Engine That Could

little engine

The Little Engine That Could by Watty Piper [Source]

I must admit, this isn’t really my favorite on the list (I often feel like it drags on too long), but my kid absolutely loves it. Granted, he’s obsessed with trains, but still. He loves reading along, starting with its very first line, “Chug, chug, chug. Puff, puff, puff. Ding-dong, ding-dong.” I’ve heard this more times than I care to count.

The Little Mouse, the Red Ripe Strawberry, and the Big Hungry Bear

mouse

The Little Mouse, the Red Ripe Strawberry, and the Big Hungry Bear by Don and Audrey Wood [Source]

Here’s another short option, and I think it’s one of the most charming books on the list. I enjoy the imagery and beautiful illustrations, and I always end up wanting a fresh, juicy strawberry for myself after we finish reading. My toddler, meanwhile, loves to pretend to be the bear tromping through the forest.

Llama Llama Red Pajama

llama llama

Llama Llama Red Pajama by Anna Dewdney [Source]

This is one of the newest books in our collection, and it’s already a hit. As our kid is starting to develop an active imagination, especially after the lights go out, it’s also timely. I find myself paraphrasing “Mama Llama’s always near even if she’s not right here” almost daily. That and “please stop all this llama drama and be patient for your mama.” Two good lessons in one fell swoop!

The Magical Toy Box

magical toy box

The Magical Toy Box by Melanie Joyce and illustrated by James Newman Gray [Source]

The Magical Toy Box is a fanciful story with uniquely vibrant illustrations. I like it because of its bright pictures and sing-songy verses, and I suspect our toddler likes it because it proposes what toys are really up to each night, à la Toy Story.

The Mixed-Up Truck

mixed up

The Mixed-Up Truck by Stephen Savage [Source]

Here’s yet another simple but eye-catching book that really engages our toddler. It’s an amusing story of a cement mixer who’s confused about his task at hand and ends up making a few mistakes. It’s another where the repetition really encourages toddler participation, making it a fun (and short) option for everyone involved.

Newtonian Physics for Babies

newtonian

Newtonian Physics for Babies by Chris Ferrie [Source]

If you and your toddler want to learn about Newtonian physics, look no further. Sure, it’s a little overly simplified, but that’s precisely why it’s so engaging for a toddler. In only a few short pages, you’ll both learn about mass, force, acceleration, and gravity. That ain’t bad (plus there’s a page towards the end where an apple falls on Newton’s head and our toddler thinks it’s just hilarious).

Pinkalicious

pinkalicious

Pinkalicious by Victoria Kann and Elizabeth Kann [Source]

A stubborn little kid who loves cupcakes and lacks listening skills? That sounds awfully familiar. We all really enjoy this book, likely for entirely different reasons, but I like to think our toddler enjoys reading about how the little girl learns the valuable lesson that mom is always right (and that demonstrating self-control around pastries is a critical life skill). In reality, I’m pretty sure he just likes yelling “pink-a-boo” at the end.

Too Many Carrots

carrots

Too Many Carrots by Katy Hudson [Source]

Our toddler was addicted to this book for months when we first received it. As in, read-it-every-night kind of thing. It’s an adorable, and gorgeously illustrated, tale of a hoarder whose condition nearly costs him his closest friends. It’s a creative story that includes just the right mix of plot and sound effects, meaning that our toddler uses critical thinking to ask about the characters and has the opportunity to say “crash” as loudly as he can. To him, that’s a win-win.

Trains

trains

Trains by Thea Feldman [Source]

We have read this book so many times, it’s almost worn out. If he could only read one book for the rest of his life, I’m certain our kid would choose this one. Another non-fiction, it’s an early reader book all about…you guessed it…trains. It talks about where trains go, what they carry, and how they work. Now our toddler likes to tell us how we too can ride on–and even sleep!–on a moving train. Well, that is except last week when he said, “No, actually Mommy, you can’t sleep on a moving train. You’re too big.” Gee whiz.

Why Do Tractors Have Such Big Tires?

why do tractors

Why Do Tractors Have Such Big Tires? written by Jennifer Shand and illustrated by Danele Fabbri [Source]

Surprise, surprise, another non-fiction (our toddler is really interested in learning how the world works right now), this is our favorite book to read at Grandma’s house. It’s a silly book about how various things function, like why airplanes leave white trails behind them and why trains have conductors. It presents the information in a really entertaining way, so much so that even a two-year-old is eager for more.

Reminder: When Possible, Shop Local

As always, I recommend you shop locally where you can. You’ve likely noticed that most of the books link to one of my favorite local bookstores, Women & Children First. I’m as much a fan of Prime’s quick delivery as the next person, but supporting a local business is such a gratifying feeling that I think you’ll find the extra couple of days (and maybe bucks) are worth it if it means you’re doing your part to enrich your community.

Happy Reading & Your Recommendations

Part of the reason I like sharing these lists on the blog is so I have a journal of the kinds of things our kid liked at different points in his life. The other part is to share our favorites in hopes that you find at least one new book to look for on your next library trip.

Reading with my toddler is eye-opening, incredible, and easily one of the most enjoyable parts of parenting thus far. Every day, he surprises me with the things he knows, many of which come from the books we’ve read together. Not only is reading with him entertaining, but I also love knowing that it’s making a huge impact on his cognitive and language abilities. I hope your experience is the same, and I’d love to hear what books your toddlers love too.

 

 

 

[Featured image source]

Prayers from the Nonreligious

Life is full of tragedy. It’s also full of happiness and light, and for that we can take comfort, but there’s simply no denying or escaping life’s sorrow.

In fact, I believe that to endure it is part of what makes us human. Our tragedies, both individual and shared, lead to periods of reflection and evaluation. They are the impetus for change and growth, adding a new layer to our unique stories and redirecting the trajectories of our lives. No matter the degree, grief and anguish do not leave us unscathed. Though the wounds may heal, tragedy cuts deep. It transforms us and often rightfully compels us to redefine ourselves.

It’s easy, of course, to so blithely describe tragedy given the benefit of time and distance. In the moment, tragedy leaves us raw and aching. It’s awful and, in many cases, unavoidable. Melancholy, restlessness, misery, depression, illness, separation, violence, loss; tragedy presents itself in various ways. It is simultaneously relatable and singular. It is abundant.

Perhaps I feel this way because I’ve matured into a more cognizant member of society. Perhaps it’s because I’m of a certain age and my peers and I now have real adult responsibilities and problems, like divorce or aging parents. Perhaps it’s simply more prevalent now than ever before, though I sincerely doubt that. It’s clear to me, regardless of why, that tragedy is everywhere and affects everyone to some extent at some point.

As a decent human being with self-diagnosed heightened levels of empathy–it should come as no surprise to hear that I’m a deeply emotional being–my chest hurts when someone I care about is suffering. I am keenly aware of how it feels to have a heavy heart and am grateful to whomever first coined the term as it is incredibly apt in many circumstances. I try my best to listen and help, or, at the very least, let that person know I’m there for support. But depending on the situation, saying “I’m here for you” just doesn’t seem like enough. Finding the proper words, however, is tough.

Beyond offering to “be there” for someone, my first instinct is usually to say that I’m “thinking and praying” for them as well. They’re words I grew up saying and somehow continue to feel right because they suggest that I’m spending a good deal of mental and emotional energy trying to conjure positive and supportive vibes. The problem, though, is that I’m no longer religious and don’t technically “pray” either.

While many of the people to whom I say this may not know this fact about me, those who do may wonder about my choice of words. Over time, I’ve become hesitant to use them, often leaving out “prayer” altogether at the risk of sounding irreverent or disingenuous, especially to those who are also nonreligious. Neither is the case; I am very sincerely issuing some sort of prayer to the universe about that person and his or her situation. It’s just that my version of a prayer is not directed to any single god or any god at all, necessarily.

My history with religion is not all that unique or interesting. Like many of my contemporaries, I grew up Catholic but lost my connection to it for a variety of reasons. I’ve dabbled with other forms of Christianity, mostly to be supportive of family members who are religious, and have tremendously enjoyed the sense of community I feel in each church I’ve attended. I don’t have anything against organized religion (unless it’s a church that spreads harmful rhetoric, in which case I’m very much against it) or people who take part in one; I respect the people for whom it works.

I understand that there are many reasons one might be drawn to a particular religion. I also appreciate that, for many, religion provides a great moral guidepost. It’s possible my own morality was partially derived from the religion in my upbringing (though I attribute it to my parents, family, and community). I even admit that the current pope seems like a pretty relaxed and open-minded guy (finally!). I’m thrilled that many religious sects are becoming more accepting of all walks of life, all religious affiliations, and all identities, sexual and otherwise. In my opinion, the ones that don’t are doing a disservice to religion in general. But that’s neither here nor there. I don’t want to delve any more into religion as a concept. I’m not here to talk about its presence, or the lack thereof, in my life.

I’m simply here to convey that I’m not being disrespectful or facetious when I tell someone who is going through a hard time that they’re “in my prayers.” I don’t think my non-believing (or not-sure-about-believing) should affect the weight of my words; to me, religious is not synonymous with goodness. A good person is a good person and their good intentions should be taken at face value. This is why I take no offense to someone who relays these words to me, either.

So please, if I tell you that I’m thinking of and praying for you, know that I am neither pushing religion down your throat nor belittling your belief system; I’m just thinking of you deeply.

I may not be sending my prayers to any specific or commonly accepted deity, but I do believe in the gods of healing, kindness, grace, and mercy. It is to those whom I am sending my thoughts. To you, I send compassion. I hope you are able to find solace in my words and in knowing that you are not alone in your despair.

To anyone experiencing some kind of tragedy as you are reading this, know that I see you, I feel you, and I recognize your pain. My sincerest thoughts and prayers are with you.

A Reminder That Some Tragedies Are Avoidable

Though not my original intent, I feel it would be irresponsible of me to end today’s post without acknowledging the fact that many of the tragedies we see today are within our means to avoid. For instance–a big instance–the implementation of simple, common-sense laws may actually help decrease the frequency of gun violence. It’s after such violence that the phrase “thoughts and prayers” is truly insufficient, so much so that the words themselves have become trite when spoken by a politician who has the real power to effect change and instead offers insincere regards.

Americans are 25 times more likely to be murdered with a gun than people in other developed countries. Twenty. five. Our gun-obsessed culture combined with the oversize presence of gun lobby money flooding our political system has created a real problem with real consequences. We, as Americans, laud our country as the land of greatness and opportunity, a real powerhouse on the global stage. Yet we do not even come close to comparing to the rest of the world in terms of gun safety. Instead, we rank among the top in terms of gun violence. With such a strong-arm reliance on guns in our twisted-priority culture, are we really the land of the free? I’d argue that until we can send our kids to school without the fear that they won’t return, the answer is no.

While many of you, my dear readers, are of like mind and have no need for the reminder, I do think it prudent to add that this is not about taking away guns. Instead, it’s about making it really hard to acquire them and about keeping them out of the hands of people with a history of violence or who are unfit to handle them safely or responsibly. At the end of the day, a gun is a weapon designed to kill. We mustn’t forget that.

Readers, it’s already way past “too late.” As a result, people are dying–our kids are dying–because of our inability to do our jobs, as adults, to protect them. Don’t let those people die for nothing, readers. Take action now. You better believe that when it’s in my power to offer more than “thoughts and prayers,” I do.

 

 

 

[Featured image source]

Motherhood Is

motherhood

Artwork credit: “Mother’s Day” by Chihiro Iwasaki, 1972

Motherhood is indefinable.
It is faceless;
It is pervasive.
It is both all-encompassing and understated.

It’s an umbrella.
It shields;
It protects.
It is both forgotten and celebrated.

Motherhood demands industry and ingenuity.
It is tireless;
It is thankless.
It is productive.

It’s a verb.
It is active;
It is passive.
It is.

To mother is to become an unyielding force with the power to move heaven and earth.
It is to part ways with your past, to lose a piece of yourself to the future.

To mother is to crack open your heart, exposing it raw to vulnerability, to depth, to love, to hope.

To become a mother is to see the dawn of a new day for both yourself and another.
It is to know someone instantly and intimately without even knowing their name;
To give someone life, someone who changes your very purpose.

To mother is to be woven into a story outside of yourself, an ancient history bound together by hundreds of thousands of years of sisterhood.

Motherhood is sisterhood.
It is community.
It is strength.

To mother is to err, rage, wilt, grow;
To question, doubt, and evolve.
It is to worry and weigh;
It is to change and be changed.

To mother is to mentor, curate, guide, heal;
To listen, defend, teach, and learn.
It is to hold;
It is to comfort and be comforted.

It is to apologize and to give thanks.

Motherhood is trying.
Motherhood is jubilant.
It exposes us to the far reaches of the human experience.

To mother is to feel so deeply, to love so fiercely, that you welcome an unknown future with open arms, because in that future, with all of your tomorrows, lies your whole heart.

On Turning 30

It’s my birthday tomorrow!

giphy1

Oscar is my spirit animal. [Source]

My thirtieth birthday.

giphy

Hah hah heh hoo h-what?? [Source]

I’ll freely admit that I’ve always been the type to enjoy my birthdays. As my parents were quick to remind me recently, I used to celebrate the entire week, sometimes the entire month. Therefore it has come as quite a surprise that under the expected level of excitement (which, I will also admit, has waned with each passing year), there’s a creeping sense of dread this time around. Okay, “dread” may be a bit hyperbolic, but it’s apprehension at the very least. I don’t feel anywhere near 30; it completely snuck up on me.

As these feelings have deepened over the last few months, I’ve been extraordinarily contemplative. At first, the idea of this “birthday anxiety,” for lack of a better term, seemed absurd enough that I dismissed it outright. But here I am, hours away from the big day and the trepidation has only increased.

Rationally, I know it’s just another year. Despite the seemingly advancing pace of my life, I also know that each year feels faster because its relative length is shorter as I add more years to my life. (This article sheds more light on the psychology of time.) Surely part of my melancholy can be attributed to how damn fast everything is going by these days. As a human being, especially in the age of constant activity, it’s hard to remember to stop and enjoy every moment. Life does pass quickly. And though I don’t think of it this way often, its rapid pace can serve as a reminder that each year brings you closer to the grave. Part of me wonders if my discomfort with this milestone is because of this, but if I’m being honest with myself, I know there’s more to it.

Unlike the past few birthdays, 30 feels different. Thirty is fully within adulthood. I feel comfortable calling myself a woman now instead of a kid or a girl. In fact, I hate when I’m referred to in those ways. I’m not a spring chicken anymore, able to excuse reckless behavior, mistakes, or just plain idiocy on being young, naive, and carefree. The truth is that I’m no longer any of those things.

I often still feel 22, but, let me tell you, paying a recent visit to my college campus with the two kids in tow was the quickest way I could have imagined to confirm that I do not, in fact, have much in common with 22-year-olds. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t grieve my college years. I genuinely miss that freedom, lack of real-life responsibility, to-die-for metabolism, and youthful appearance. I look back very fondly at that time, which, as a friend recently told me, must mean that I did it right. Part of my birthday reflection has made me realize that, especially in a society that unabashedly–and foolishly–values youth as much as it does, it’s hard not to feel, at least a little bit, like you’re growing more irrelevant and less attractive just by doing what nature intends you to do.

Then that college nostalgia subsides and I look in the mirror to see the creases forming around my eyes, mouth, and forehead that betray my extra years. The extra years of living a full life. I am more experienced now, in ways that I couldn’t have anticipated just eight years ago.

At 30, my modicum of hard-earned wisdom is starting to earn respect from society, albeit a fickle one that has, ironically, simultaneously started to devalue my appearance. No longer am I treated like a clueless child. If I am, I no longer tolerate it. Each year brings a new level of confidence in myself, in my voice, and in my ability to speak my mind. Run-of-the-mill highs and lows aside, I feel confident, proud, and accepting of who I am. Happily, this includes a newfound respect for my brain, my heart, and my body (human bodies are amazing things and I’m determined to be more reverent of mine). I may not be perfect, but I love who I am. And, at 30, I’m finally ready to move on from people who don’t, without looking back. My energy is for positive influences only, please and thank you.

On the flip side, I recognize that I’m not old yet either. Thirty is a nice little sweet spot of vivaciousness where I have the energy and wherewithal to live life fully but not stupidly. It’s sweet, that is, until I’m around a teenager who looks at me like I’m the Cryptkeeper.

cyrpt

Incidentally, this is also how I felt as I walked around campus. When did college kids start looking like middle schoolers? [Source]

As refreshing as it is to finally feel so comfortable in my own skin, turning 30 has made me realize there’s a strange dichotomy to growing older. On the one hand, you know yourself on a deeper level. On the other, you realize you don’t know a single damn thing about anything.

Like most kids, I guess I expected I’d have a lot more figured out by 30. While I take comfort in the fact that I don’t think anyone ever has anything all figured out (if nothing else, my 29 years have taught me this much), I think it’s natural to feel a little uneasy when you realize life doesn’t exactly come with a road map.

The trajectory of my life is something I wouldn’t change for the entire world. Here I am, about to turn 30, with my health, two incredible kids, a phenomenally supportive husband, an adorable–if occasionally irritating–dog, two sets of devoted parents, two loving grandparents, and a whole host of family and friends who would drop everything for me. I’ve had great work experience, even if I’m temporarily pausing from it, I’ve traveled across the world, I’ve gone on crazy adventures, and I’ve generally lived with no regrets. Needless to say, I recognize that I’m fortunate, privileged, and I have a whole hell of a lot for which to be grateful.

I’m lucky, that is for sure.

In the last few months, though, I’ve been thinking hard about the expectations I had for my life when I was still a fresh-faced adult. I never would have thought I’d marry young or have two kids by 30. Yet here I am, married for seven years with a baby on my hip and a toddler scream-singing “Let It Go” in the next room. And I’m loving it. I’m not even sure what exactly I thought life would be, but I look back at that kid and just think of how endless my opportunities were. I could have studied and become anything I wanted. I could have lived anywhere, done anything, been whomever I wanted. My future was largely a blank slate. There’s something to be said for being 18 with the world at your fingertips. You may be a bit wet behind the ears, but you still have so much ahead of you.

It was while reflecting on this limitless potential that I finally figured out that part of my uneasiness with turning 30 was realizing that I’m now officially old enough that some doors are just plain closed. To a certain extent, the course of my life has now been solidly established. It’s a strange thing to explore, because I love the way life has turned out so far. But there’s still a small part of me that wonders, “What if?” What if I hadn’t met my husband in college? What if I had lived abroad post-graduation? What if I had chosen a different career? What if I were still working?

I’m inspired by people who make huge life changes later in life (like, later in life; I know 30 is not that), because I still wonder what I want to be when I grow up. Add to that uncertainty the whole back and forth between expectation and reality, what I thought I’d have accomplished by now versus what I actually have, and it’s no wonder that I think often about my life’s purpose and future legacy.

In having this constant inner dialogue in the back of my mind, I’ve come to realize that some of this dilemma is simply related to being in the trenches of early parenthood. When you’re taking care of another person’s every need, it’s easy to feel like you are a little lost. Even more complicated is mixing in the realization that, though you devote your entire life to your children, they are young enough that they wouldn’t even remember you if you were to die. It’s morbid, but it’s true. These thoughts are so heavy, it’s easy to sometimes feel like I’m drowning in an existential crisis, trying to complete a puzzle that is inherently incompletable and ever-changing.

The more I think about it, however, the more I realize that I’d probably be asking myself the same questions regardless of my life path. I’d still be wondering what would have been, it’s just that the content would be different. Talking to friends who are experiencing these same feelings, despite living completely different lives, has validated to me that this is normal. I guess by 30, you’re smart enough to perform some regular self-evaluation and introspection. You’re also smart enough to release a sigh of relief with the decisions you’ve made.

While I’m not sure what the future holds, one thing is for sure. It’s pretty awesome to be satisfied with the person you’ve become and the life you’ve built so far. If I had to choose to do it all over again, I probably wouldn’t change a thing (well, maybe fewer tequila shots and cookie binges). I may not be curing cancer or winning the Pulitzer (yet!), but I am proud of my sphere of influence as it stands. I like to think I make a small difference in the lives of those around me, and if that ultimately becomes my legacy, then I’ll be proud of it.

Unless I somehow get to travel across the multi-verse, I’ll never find out where life could have taken me. But I’m realizing now that turning 30 is not only about trusting your body, your heart, and your mind, but learning to trust that you are where you are meant to be as well.