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late to circle time hurts Michael’s ability to adjust to being in school
without you,” I said. At least this is what I said in 2009 when I was the head teacher to a
class of 15 wiggly, healthy 3-year-olds. The recipient of my tongue-lashing was
a young mother, a newborn slung around her neck in a Bjorn, a large cup of
steaming coffee in her hand and baby barf on the shoulder of her soft sweater.
I want to
take my 2009 self and shake her. Little did I know this exhausted,
doing-the-best-she-can woman would be me in three years, having had two sons
back to back, a miscarriage, loads of therapy, two moves, and so much coffee
I’m on a first-name basis with my local barista.
me to start at the beginning: I taught preschool for six years. I began with
2-and-a-half-year-olds, and when I left on maternity leave I was teaching
4-year-olds (who, when compared to the 2-year-olds, seemed as mature as
college kids!). I loved teaching, and I enjoyed helping guide new parents into the sometimes scary and unknown world
of allowing their favorite person into my care for six hours a day. A child’s
first entrance into school is a really big deal, and I worked as hard as I could
to make the experience a positive one for both parent and child. Let’s just say
I have a PhD in separation anxiety and potty training.
Early on in my teaching career a child brought a peanut butter and
jelly sandwich to school, and I was mystified when my co-teacher jumped into
action, snatching it from a hungry 3-year-old, and dumping it into a hallway
garbage. “What’s the big deal?” I asked, only to later learn there was a child
in my class with a peanut allergy. Even being in proximity to peanuts could
send her into shock, and I would be responsible for administering an epipen. I
know now why my son’s preschool has those annoying peanut signs with the peanut crossed out, like the 1980s anti-drug campaigns.
I should have realized how seriously, seriously hard this mothering business is.
I took great pride in my classroom, and I’d like to think I was as understanding and easygoing as possible, but there were occasional times I had to speak to a parent about their child’s behavior—or the parent’s behavior, which is even more tricky. So as a
teacher I had to red-flag a few peanut butter sandwiches and assign the “teeth are
not for biting” books to the occasional piranha in my midst, but the above
scenario with a mother sticks out in my mind.
Now that I’m a mom I want to go
back in time and apologize. Sure, showing up late to school several times a
week made it harder for Michael to come to circle time and participate in the
weather chart and attendance. Sure, my co-teacher would have to rock him as he
cried loudly when his mom hurriedly hung up his coat and put his lunchbox in
the fridge. But I shouldn’t have been so high and mighty. I should have
realized how seriously, seriously hard this mothering business is, and given the
woman a break. It was, after all, mainly the mothers who took the time to speak
with me about their child, to help me decorate my classroom and hold small
hands on class field trips.
I look down at myself today—two
crying babies in the other room not napping, my dress stained with spit-up, my
hair not washed in four days—and I want to simply take that mother in my arms and
hug her, tightly.