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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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.

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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

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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

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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

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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!

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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?

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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]

2 Years & 20 Days: Welcome to the Circus

Earlier this week, I walked into my apartment and thought I had been robbed. The furniture was askew, the chairs were flipped over, shredded garbage peppered the floor, and I couldn’t help but notice a particularly ripe smell. I quickly threw the (sleepy, cranky) toddler into the crib and set the car seat-bound baby on the floor before rushing to investigate further. “Jesus, someone broke into our apartment and stole our dog,” I thought to myself. I couldn’t find him anywhere–and in a small apartment, he’s not exactly a needle in a haystack. My heartbeat pulsed rapidly as I searched. Finally, I heard a muted, high-pitched whine. I opened the bathroom door and whoosh went the dog, running frantically with newfound freedom. His head was completely encased in an empty oats container, partially gnawed through so he could breathe. The container took away his peripheral vision, meaning he clumsily ran around our apartment while I continued to take in my doomsday-like surroundings. The best surprise of all was the smattering of dog poop scattered around the (small, totally easy-to-avoid) rug. What a delightful surprise.

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Me, coming home today.

[Source]

Based on the evidence, I suspect the dog rifled through the recycling, stuck his head way too far down the oatmeal tube, and got stuck. Then he proceeded to freak the F out, running around the apartment, anxiously pooping on the carpet, fleeing to the bathroom, and accidentally closing the door on himself.

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Because pic or it didn’t happen.

This story is relevant because it’s pretty reflective of the overall chaos that is now my life. Many people have asked what it’s like to transition to two kids (who are two years and 20 days apart), so let me lay it out.

Welcome to the Circus…

…where bodily fluids know no bounds

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If this were me, the whole shirt would be soaked. [Source]

In the last eight hours alone, I’ve been on the receiving end of a trifecta of bodily fluids, none of which were mine. (The unexpected bonus of being peed, pooped, and thrown up on is that you can feel very justified in leaving the dishes for your husband to wash.)

This damp menagerie, combined with the copious amounts of sweat I shed due to postpartum hormones and a practically built-on human furnace, means this mom is now often mistaken for a swamp monster.

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What a typical Millennial to include a selfie. [Source]

…where “germy” has taken on a whole new meaning

On a related, but worth-mentioning-on-its-own, note is the amount of germs that have taken this household hostage (despite constant efforts to sanitize). In case you’ve never been around a two-year-old, I’m going to let you in on a little secret: kids are gross.

Life to a toddler is a germy treasure hunt. The most-touched button in a museum exhibit? Leave it to a toddler to decide that’s the perfect time to suck his fingers. Find a cigarette butt on the ground? Better not turn around or it’s going in the kid’s mouth. Walked through urine puddles in the subway on the way home? Perfect time to treat the bottom of his shoe like an ice cream cone! To a toddler, learning he can use his diaper’s contents like finger paint is like winning the lottery. (Luckily, this last one has yet to happen to us. Sorry, Julie.)

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“If it exists, I licks.” [Source]

Toddlers have ownership rights to this sweet spot of revulsion where the disgusting things they think to put in their mouths are almost on pace with the disgusting things they expel. Snot is such an everyday sight anymore, I don’t even notice it. In a toddler’s mind, leaving any of the body’s many orifices unexplored is a missed opportunity. To their credit, their two-year-old fingers are the perfect size for their nostrils.

The new Baby Bear had a cold when she was just two weeks old thanks to her big brother deciding to use her hand as a tissue. (The next day, he sneezed into my mouth. My MOUTH.) Sure it sucked to have a congested newborn, but I figured at this rate, she’ll be a beast by the time she goes to kindergarten.

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A mother can only hope her child will be this kick-ass. [Source]

Being a mom to a toddler is like exposure therapy for germaphobes. You can use all the vinegar water and soap you want to try to keep things clean, but you can’t avoid a toddler’s grubby hands forever. I try to take comfort in the germs; with each cold comes a more formidable immune system for the entire family.

…where I learn as I go

I like to think of myself as a fairly laid-back person, at least as evidenced by my laissez-faire approach to germs. If there’s anything I’ve learned so far, it’s that kids are constantly changing and that parents adapt quickly as a result. No one knows what they’re doing, not really. Therefore there’s no sense in worrying too much about every little thing; it’s much less stressful to just figure it out as you go.

This second time around is no different. Yes, certain things were harder at first, like simultaneously carrying a sleeping toddler and a car seat up the stairs to the apartment. But with each passing day, my confidence grows. That, or I fail, have no choice but to laugh at the ridiculousness of the situation, and learn for the next time.

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“How are you going to do [insert activity here] with a newborn and a toddler?” [Source]

…where my days are measured by coffee, wine, and diapers

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Honestly one of my favorite things about going to bed at night is knowing coffee awaits me in the morning.

As much as I like to think I’m still “cool,” having two kids has finally forced to acknowledge that my version of “cool” has drastically changed over the last few years. Gone are the days where I’d be able to attend a play’s opening night at the drop of a hat or direct friends to the best bachelorette hot spot. I’m aware that clubs still exist, but I’d be hard pressed to tell you the last time I entered one. That said, knowing the most entertaining playgrounds or the best kid-friendly breweries is valuable, too, and in those terms, I’ve got you covered. (Did I mention how stereotypically important booze is to me as a mom of young kids?)

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Me, talking to early 20-somethings. [Source]

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m extremely grateful for the ways staying at home has changed my priorities and given me more room to live now that I’m not tied to a desk. (But I’ll be the first to admit there are many days where a desk, some deadlines, and, hell, even meetings sound more appealing than having a toddler weasel his way into my personal space all day.)

However, while I’ve been a mom for two years now, I’m still occasionally hit with the peculiar realization that my daily life is now marked by the number of times I’ve changed a diaper, my ability to find that one car my two-year-old suddenly cannot live without, or the constant question of how many cups of coffee a day are still within reason. When asked what’s new in my life, I immediately, without thought, respond with what’s new with my family. My sense of self is harder to pin down now that my entire life is devoted to being responsible for two other, mostly helpless, lives. Self-care and alone time are still very important to me, and I have a lot of support to allow for them, but my self feels less pronounced right now. Grappling with who I am and the uncertainty of who I will be when the kids are grown is difficult.

As uncomfortable as it is to sit with that uncertainty, I am slowly learning to embrace it. If the blurry pace of the last two years is any indication, it’ll all be over before I know it and I’ll look back longingly on these harried days. My accomplishments may be of the playdate-related variety right now, but, dammit, they’re still mine.

…where my brain has turned to mush

Another reason my sense of self has faded is simply because I regularly feel like I’m losing my mind. It may not seem hard, but staying at home with a toddler is extremely mentally, physically, and emotionally taxing (hence the aforementioned wine and coffee). Chasing after a human being who repeatedly ignores me, throws himself down on questionable surfaces (read: parking lots, sidewalks, mud), and thinks it’s perfectly acceptable to sit in his own excrement is nothing short of exhausting. That’s not even taking into account the newborn who literally feeds off me for hours on end. Plus, kids are inadvertently skilled at the fine art of gaslighting.

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Me, after being forced to listen to “Let’s Go Fly a Kite” for 62 minutes straight. (This is not an exaggeration.) [Source]

I like to think it’s the lack of sleep and influx of hormones, but nowadays I’m lucky if I can properly string together enough words to form a decent sentence. In the grocery store yesterday, I found myself garbling verb conjugations to the point where I sounded more like English was my fourth language than my first. I used to fancy myself a valuable trivia partner, but lately I have a hard enough time remembering simple, everyday nouns, like “goggles,” much less when they were first used in the Olympics (answer: 1976). Try as I may to keep up with current events, pop culture, and literature, you’re not going to get much out of me lately unless you’re asking about the verses of “Wheels on the Bus.”

To make matters worse, I’ve taken these diminished language and general knowledge skills to the streets and have become accustomed to narrating my thoughts and actions throughout the day. This is perfectly benign when my toddler is in tow, but it becomes markedly more disturbing when I’m alone and using a sing-song voice to tell no one in particular that I have to go to the bathroom.

It’s hard to feel like you can add much value to a conversation when you’re constantly preoccupied with someone else’s well-being. Luckily I still do a few things that help keep me sharp, like reading and playing board games. Can I tell you about the author’s use of symbolism or the best strategies to win? No, but ask me to tell you the color of the book’s cover or if the board game box had letters on it? Now, that I know.

…where sleep is the world’s most precious commodity

You think you’ll never forget how sleep-deprived you were when your first child was born. Much like the intensity of childbirth, you can hazily recall that it was hard to get through, but you really don’t remember the details. It must be the body’s way of helping us decide to continue populating the earth. Then your second comes and pushes that sleep deprivation right back down your throat. Except this time, you’ll wonder why the hell you ever thought your newborn was hard.

Yeah, newborns wake up at night, but you know the hard part about two? You don’t get to “sleep when the baby is sleeping.” Instead, you are forced to get your weary ass out of bed at the crack of dawn (otherwise known as a toddler’s favorite time to warm up his vocal chords with a most spirited rendition of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game”).

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“Is he…is he SINGING at 6:00 A.M.?!?!” [Source]

Then you must entertain said toddler as they Tasmanian Devil their way through the day.

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Oh look, someone took a video of my toddler in the park! [Source]

I recently Googled “sleep deprivation Geneva Convention” to confirm that it is indeed recognized by the UN as a form of torture. It is often said that children are little sociopaths, and now I have proof.

My response when people ask how I look “refreshed”?

…where nap time is not to be taken for granted

I never realized how vital to my very existence nap time had become until it slowly started to fade away. My toddler has gone about 50% of the last three weeks without a nap at all. Before that, he reliably slept for three hours each day. (Yes, I was spoiled.) Now, every day is a crap-shoot as to whether or not he’ll go down easily, have a theatrical conversation with himself, scream at the top of his lungs, cry his eyes out, or some strange combination of the bunch. No matter how hard I try to follow our same old routine, this enigmatic dance often results in me quite literally ripping out my hair (figuratively were it not for my trichotillomania, but that’s for another day).

To give you a clue how it normally goes down, here’s footage of our typical nap time conversation.

Me:

My toddler:

Me:

Sometimes, if I’m very, very lucky, I can channel my inner wizard to get both kids to nap at the same time. Those moments?

…where I find my zen by whatever means necessary

Other times, the magical nap moments don’t happen and I’m left with the ongoing urge to scream and/or cry.

As is quickly becoming the theme of the post, toddlers are hard. They know how to push your buttons; it’s what they do. As such, it’s only natural that you occasionally feel rage. Sometimes it results in yelling. Other times, it results in the desire to shake them so they just. stop. whining. (It’s not talked about much, but everyone I know how has experienced this feeling before. It is normal and doesn’t make you a bad mom so long as you don’t act on it.)

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“STOP THROWING YOUR FOOD ON THE FLOOR!!” [Source]

Any time I feel this ragey Mom Hulk come out, I immediately feel a guilty pit form in my stomach. Over time, I’ve learned the best thing to do when I feel it coming on is to make sure everyone’s safe before walking away for a minute. Honestly, we both benefit from the space.

Though I’m not really one for meditation, becoming a mother of two has greatly increased my appreciation for silence. You know you’re in a silence deficit when you drive by a cemetery and think, “Wow, I bet it’d be so peaceful to sit in there by myself.” Lately, the most alone time I get is in the bathroom. I have therefore started to sneak away when Papa Bear gets home just to go sit on the toilet by myself with no one touching or talking to me. Soon maybe I’ll figure out how to bring in a cocktail without raising suspicion.

Until recently, I never thought a bathroom could feel like this:

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*Cheerfully* “All by myseelf…” [Source]

…where TV is the greatest invention known to mankind

I’m the first to admit that we probably watch an unhealthy amount of TV in our house. Before kids, I thought we’d be the type of parents to limit TV to only a few 30-minute shows a week, if at all. Now, I’m pleased if we only watch a few 30-minute shows a day. If you stay home and still don’t watch any TV, then major props to you. I’m not sure how you do it.

At least for me, with a newborn who wakes up all night and a toddler who starts each day at 6:30, I’m just doing what I have to do to survive. Sometimes I muster the energy to read, play with toys, or get a jump-start on breakfast. Other times I turn on the boob tube, sit on the couch, and let my coffee do its magic.

I only casually watch the shows I play for him (typically in desperation to see how much time is left), but I’ve seen enough to become highly critical of some of today’s children’s programming. For instance, why does Daniel Tiger’s mom wear pants when Daniel and his dad don’t? Does Mickey’s Toodles have all that random crap because he’s a closet hoarder? And don’t even get me started on what an asshole Thomas’s friend James is. Luckily for me, my toddler’s attention span is finally long enough to sit and watch an entire feature-length film. Unluckily for me, he wants to watch the same ones repeatedly.

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If I have to watch Cars 2 one more time, I’m gonna be ka-chout of my mind. [Source]

…where the car can become a torture chamber

It’s hard to explain, but if you’re a mom you’ll know what I mean when I say a kid’s cries go straight to his mom’s heart. Kids’ screams send some kind of biological signal that makes a mom’s stress level rise and stomach turn. It’s hard enough with one, but now that I have two children who occasionally sync their wails while I’m driving? Well, let’s just say this is me when we finally get to where we’re going.

…where small accomplishments count

Take a shower? Wash a dish? Work out? Keep your kids alive all day? Get out of the house? Or, *gasp* put on real pants?  I’m not gonna lie; if I do any of these on a given day, I try to allow myself to feel like the badass I am.

…where I sometimes just have to accept pandemonium

Patting myself on the back for the little successes is helpful to some degree, but sometimes there’s just so much chaos that there’s no choice but to give in to it. I often think, “This is my life now.” So my toddler watched five hours of TV and ate ketchup and cantaloupe for lunch. So I’m covered in vomit and my kid is drinking water out of the dog bowl. Who cares? It’s times like these where I try to acknowledge that I’m doing the best I can, that we usually have better days, and that there’s nothing more to do than laugh at the outrageousness of the moment. Honestly, these times usually make for the best stories anyway (see oatmeal story above).

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“Do I care if that gets marked on with pen?” is a question I ask myself more than I’d like to admit. The answer has increasingly been “no.” [Source]

…where my family and friends mean the world to me

I would be an absolute basket case, or arguably more of one than I am now, were it not for my friends and family. We’ve had such an outpouring of support in these last few months and I couldn’t be more grateful. To everyone who has reached out, helped us, or shown us love, thank you.

…where the sweet moments make it all worthwhile

The literal blood, sweat, and tears are hard. The increased mom guilt is harder. The sleepless nights, aches and pains, roaring hormonal shifts, occasional questioning of my sanity–all of it is nothing compared to those moments that make my heart melt. There is nothing quite like seeing Big Brother Bear cuddle up next to his baby sister, turn to me, and say, “Mommy, Baby Sister is so cute!” Better still is hearing, “I love you, Mommy.” It’s moments like these that erase all of the crazy ones.

My toddler may be a little nutcase at times, but he is genuinely invested in his sister’s well-being; he loves to rock her, give her kisses, hold her, and tell me when she’s crying. Lately, he’s big on giving everyone hugs and kisses. He is generally laid-back and listens well relative to many toddlers. He’s such a sweet, empathetic, adventurous, carefree, and funny kid, and I feel humbled to know that I’ve at least partly helped shape who he is. Sure, my patience may be tested on a regular basis, but knowing that it’s to help him learn and grow and blossom is more rewarding than anything I’ve ever experienced before. If I can replicate this to even a small degree with my daughter, I will have hit the jackpot.

Having the two of them has taught me that I’m happy to be a means to an end if it means the end is as wonderful as it’s been along the way.

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Me, when I realize I must not be doing so poorly (and I’ve had coffee). [Source]

It might be Crazy Town, but at least I’m the mayor.

In many ways, I still feel like I’m 20 years old. Therefore the realization that I am two months shy of 30 with two children often hits me like a ton of bricks. Then I take a look around at our beautifully chaotic existence and realize it’s just the beginning of the rest of our lives. And so far it’s shaping up to be amazing.

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We’re doing it! [Source]

[Featured image source]

The Power of Mom Friends

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Jumping sunset poses not necessary, but highly encouraged.

[Source]

Being a mom is a heavy task, and when you step back and really think about the daunting responsibility you have of not messing someone up entirely, it’s enough to send you straight to your wine shelf. Really, you–yeah, yeah, and your partner and community–are responsible for the outcome of a human being. Think about it: the power to turn your child into a total dick is right at your fingertips.

Maybe I’m being a bit dramatic, but all that considered, it’s no wonder even the calmest of moms is occasionally riddled with anxiety and guilt. For the number of Super Bowl champs who say they first and foremost need to thank their mothers, there are even more sociopaths who blame theirs for their problems. I’m not saying my son will turn out like Norman Bates or anything–my God, I would not look good stuffed–but the possibilities of his future personality are endless.

It’s times like this, when I find myself going down an irrational rabbit hole, that I am particularly thankful for my mom friends. You know the ones I’m talking about: the friends who justify your neuroses, pull your head out of your ass, and bring some friggin’ levity back into your life.

I hate to categorize friends in this way, sticking them in the oft-dreaded ‘mom’ bucket, but I’ve found that there’s really no better term for the kind of person I mean. Simply put, a real mom friend is not just a fellow mom you call to schedule play dates; a real mom friend is someone with whom you can commiserate and share your greatest parenting fears and victories. Non-mom friends can certainly lend a sympathetic ear, but I’ve yet to meet a non-mom friend who can comfortably discuss baby poop, much less casually over lunch.

What does it mean to be a mom friend? Let me count the ways.

A mom friend will…

  1. Convince you that your baby won’t develop body dysmorphia because you think it’s fun to use Snapchat filters on him.
  2. Never ask you to do jumping jacks because she knows that no amount of kegels will prevent you from peeing yourself a little (or a lot).
  3. Drink a glass of wine in solidarity after you text her the word “poo-pocalypse.”
  4. Encourage you to keep watching HBO in front of your baby because it’s highly unlikely he understands the concepts of sex or violence yet. And that Jane the Virgin is actually educational what with the exposure to Spanish and all.
  5. Concur that it’s totally normal to shower every two days and wear yoga pants exclusively.
  6. Hear you utter the words “I’ve got a sausage in my pocket” and appreciate that you brought a snack instead of judging you for your sexual euphemisms.
  7. Agree that it’s prudent and not at all absurd to have a zombie apocalypse plan.
  8. Talk with you for 45 minutes about your nipples without batting an eyelash.
  9. Be so well-acquainted with your labor and delivery story that she probably knows your vagina more intimately than most of your sexual partners combined.
  10. Assure you that the dirt your baby just fisted into his mouth is an efficient and all-natural alternative to a probiotic and a multi-vitamin.
  11. Offer to watch your baby when you feel the need to be literally anywhere but with said baby.
  12. Remind you that there’s really no such thing as an “overachieving” baby and that they all develop at different paces.
  13. Help you weigh the pros and cons of going back to work and support your decision no matter the path you choose.
  14. Have a meaningful conversation with you about politics, religion, and the scary world we live in because she respects you and reserves judgment even when she has different opinions.
  15. Open up to you as much as you open up to her.

Most importantly, a mom friend will lament with you, listen to you, or give you a hug when you’re feeling sad, guilty, happy, or all three (read: postpartum hormones). A lot like a spouse, I suppose, a mom friend will love and support you in the good times and the bad.

So let’s all rejoice in our mom friendships! Being there for your fellow mom during what can sometimes be a serious and isolating experience is something to be celebrated and cherished. And, really, who can better understand how hilarious it is to watch your baby get stuck in a hamper?