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Eons ago—maybe three years in ordinary time—I had a
little wobbly wisp of a boy, 13 or 14 months old. His newest skill was an
exciting one, the big one known as walking. And so he did what most proud toddlers
do: He awkwardly marched, knees high, victory arms flailing, from one end of the
room to the other.
Now I’m not saying I’m proud of this, but I had a somewhat
selfish urge to crouch down in corners and, just as I heard those impossibly
tiny feet slapping against the hardwood floor, pop out with a "BOO!"
I wasn’t maniacal about it, of course. Just enough oomph to surge
a little jump through his body—and don’t give me that look; you get the
appeal. It’s the same reason "The Sneezing Baby Panda" has more than a hundred million YouTube hits. We don’t continuously refresh that clip for the high-pitched
sneeze from the baby, it’s the human-like startle reaction from the mom.
Adorable and inexplicably hilarious.
But then through a mixture of hindsight (remembering the
heart-pounding anticipation of my sister jumping out during hide and seek, and
secretly hating the anxiety) and foresight (imagining my phobia-plagued son
sitting on a therapist’s couch), I quit my guilty pleasure.
I’d have to get my kicks elsewhere. Stupid parenting.
But the damage may have already been done, because his
bigger 4-year-old self is all about the scare. Except, if I can be totally
honest, he’s terrible at it. Like, really, really terrible. He gives himself away within seconds—a chirp, a laugh—from his typical hiding spots.
Hmm. That child-sized
lump under the blanket is convulsing to the sound of giggles. Weird.
Life jumps out at you, man, and I felt it surge through my body.
But it’s sweet and he tries, and I’ll always play along with a good “come and find me” invitation.
“Ma,” he bellows, like a 32-year-old bachelor playing video games in his parent’s basement. “Maaaa!”
And suddenly it’s on.
There we are, ping-ponging our scare tactics—one of us
trying harder than the other (ahem)—and somewhere along the way I get lost in time or memory or whatever that thing
is that makes parents stop dead in their tracks, right there in the hallway, when
a toddler clumsily waddles into a sun-soaked room and a lanky child reappears.
I can hear him laughing that gut-tumbling laugh that’s been
echoing and vibrating through the house like a telegraphed message of love and
life. Our life. The way it’s always
been for a million fleeting blinks. Except each blink reveals a slightly
changed child, like a stop-motion video set to the soundtrack of that
And then I realize how soon the soundtrack will change. A
lanky little boy will run behind his rocking chair yelling “Come and find me,” spilling laughter like a trail of breadcrumbs, and a young man will stroll out; his voice, his laugh, his games all deeper and more serious.
Life jumps out at you, man, and I felt it surge through my