The “Rules” of Play

The rules of play are simple. There are no rules for the child. There are, however, rules for the adults. Adults can either hinder, or help, play be what it is intended to be. Play, by definition, is intrinsically motivated, self-directed, and natural. “Play is a child’s natural language and the toys are their words, ” Garry Landreth (The Art of the Relationship, 2001.) Play is not only how children communicate, but it is how that express themselves, process experiences, and make sense of the world around them. 

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These “rules” are what we Play Therapists live by.

Disclaimer: Although these are the rules Play Therapists follow in the playroom with clients, following these rules does not make you a Play Therapist. Sixty-one graduate hours and several thousand clinical hours under direct supervision have taught me to use these guidelines in a very specific way to form a therapeutic relationship with my clients and create an environment for positive change to occur in the child’s perception of self, the world, and circumstances.

That being said, parents can apply these same rules if they’d like to encourage a more active imagination, independent play, and allow more learning to take place naturally through play.

Rule #1: Allow the child to lead.

Play is natural for children. They do not need an adult to intervene and show them how to play by moving objects, making sounds, or deciding what happens next. Child directed play is best. This is why toys with batteries or electricity actually work against play. Imagine being a child playing in what looks like a kitchen and placing something on the stove and the stove responds, “Yummy. I like spaghetti!” But, you weren’t cooking spaghetti. In fact, you were pretending to be a mad scientist concocting a potion to kill aliens from the planet Zonkatron. Or, the adult in the room intervenes and says something idiotic like, “Oh, are you making something special for me?” This not only pulls the child out of the fantasy, anchoring them to reality, but also changes the motivation of the play to serving the interest of the parent and pleasing the parent, not the child.

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Rule #2: Play is not a time for education.

Learning takes place naturally during play. The infant/toddler brain is maze of channels, twists, turns, and roadways, but if not all of the passageways get engaged often, “roadblocks” go up. Parts of the brain actually die off and get pruned away if not activated. Just the same, parts that are engaged often become stronger. Do your best to fight the urge to teach the child colors, numbers, shapes, and sounds. Quizzing the child on what they know is also not appropriate during play. Things like, “What’s the horsey say?”, have no business in play. Learning letters, numbers, and so forth will happen in due time, in the classroom, or while you’re out and about as a family and talking about things you see.

Rule #3: Don’t ask questions you know the answer to.

I see adults break this rule ALL the time. They walk up to a child holding a ball and say something like, “Are you holding a ball?” or, a child slams a car into another car and screams, “Boom! They just crashed!” and the adult says, “Uh oh, did they crash?” Asking questions like this can make the child feel misunderstood (and make the adult look stupid). Remember, play is about expressing one sef so if there’s enough information for a question, there’s enough for a statement. Instead, try, “Whoa, they crashed hard. I heard the boom”. The child feels seen, heard, and understood.

Rule #4: Grant in fantasy what you can’t grant in reality.

This is a big one! Children’s play is not always an indicator of their deepest, darkest secrets, nor is it predictive of future actions. The child who plays “good guy, bad guy” and has the two beating each other up isn’t necessarily going to be aggressive or violent as they grow up. Just the same, the child who plays army and blows up the whole town isn’t necessarily going to make bombs in their garage and blow up their school as a teen either. Children use play to explore different sides of their personalities, try out various behaviors and actions, and sometimes something like blowing up a town in their play makes them feel powerful and strong n a day when they may have felt weak and misunderstood. Children may also use play to give alternate endings to real life experiences, but they don’t need to be reprimanded for pretending they punched Aunt Helga in the face for that smelly kiss. It’s pretend and it’s natural and therapeutic.

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Rule #5: Don’t label things the child hasn’t labeled.

To the adult it’s a stick, but to the child it may be a sword, a hammer, a magic wand, a syringe, a whip, a light saber, lipstick, a cane, Cruella Deville’s cigarette, a plane, or something that’s never even been invented. Don’t assume you know what the child is pretending, or that they even want you to know, by interfering and giving their object a name. If you’re wrong (which you probably will be), you’ll pull them from the fantasy into reality and distract from the process.

Rule #6: Don’t set limits until limits need to be set.

The average two year old hears the word, “No” over seventy-five percent of the day. From their, it just continues with “don’t touch that”, “don’t put that there”, “don’t do that”, “stop that” and on and on. Play should be a time in the child’s day where rules don’t exist until there’s really a problem. A child shouldn’t pick up a doll, walk to the pretend kitchen and hear, “Remember not to dump the food all over the place and be sure you don’t get her wet this time”. I roll my eyes and shake my head at this parent. I just want to scream, “Why not?! Who the eff cares if the plastic doll gets wet?” Play should be freeing, unlimited, cathathartic…so only set limits when there’s danger or the possibility of irreversible damage to something.

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There are many more I won’t get into, but these are my favorite of the basics.

So, as a parent, what can we do? Let them play! Let them lead! Let them decide how objects are used, where they go, how they move, who gets to be what and say what. Let the child explore, imagine, be creative, be destructive, and be expressive. Respect play for what it is, don’t try to change it, and recognize it’s value in your child’s development metally, emotionally, socially, and even physically. Children need play free of adult interaction, intervention, and direction.

Stay gold,

That Girl

I Already Miss This

When you’re a mom, everyone tells you to “enjoy every moment” and how “it goes by so fast”. I’ve only ever wanted to be a mom so I have breathed in every moment and treasured each day, but this doesn’t stop time from racing by at warp speed. When I was pregnant I told myself I’d document everything, fill photo books, and date each milestone, but then they arrive and you find yourself spinning in circles trying to catch your breath and suddenly they’re almost through their first year of life and you know there are already things you’ve forgotten they did that were so wonderful and hundreds of moments you already miss. 

I already miss…and never want to forget…

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  • The way Cannon would wake up the entire neighborhood with his pterodactyl sounds after he first found his voice
  • How Cash would hold his eyes open as if falling asleep meant life or death
  • Taking a bath with him because they were tiny enough we all three fit in the tub together
  • Sneaking into bed next to their tiny Snugglenests and smelling their sweet breath, hearing their grunts and groans as they slept
  • I miss the tearless cries and toothless mouths
  • Nursing them in the tub
  • Cash used to get the hiccups ’round the clock & I loved the way he’d cling to me like a baby monkey with each jolt
  • The way they’d grunt like zombies and Cannon would smack his tummy or beat his chest demanding more food
  • The look on Cash’s face when he rolled over for the first time which scared the hell out of him
  • The way bashful Cannon used to put his cheek to his shoulder and look up at strangers as if he knew what a Gerber baby he was
  • Wearing them in my ACK wrap knowing they’d fall asleep in a matter of minutes with their head on my chest

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  • Nursing them and watching them search desperately for each other’s hands and seeing the relief when they found each other
  • Taking hour long naps with one (or sometimes both) snuggled in to my side or asleep on the breast
  • The way Cash would pet my face or stroke my hair as he fought sleep
  • Bundling them up in their Woombie swaddles and seeing them inch towards each other to spoon all night
  • Cannon talking to himself in his carseat mirror like he’d found his best friend
  • Cash kicking his legs wildly in the tub

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  • Their sweet chubby faces peeking out from under their Walrus or Hippo hooded towels
  • The excitement when they heard Rafi’s “Day-O” song the first time
  • Cash’s huge smile and sly giggle when I’m cleaning countertops
  • The way Cannon’s jowls rest on his carseat straps
  • Cash losing his voice from making zombie noises all night
  • The snuggles in the morning…heads on my shoulder
  • Sleeping next to Cannon from 4am-6am and kissing his juicy lips when he wakes up
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  • Cash log rolling from end to end on the bed attempting to dive off before we catch him
  • Wrestling them both after bath wondering when it was they stopped laying there letting me massage them
  • Biting their “biscuits” during diaper changes and hearing them laugh hysterically
  • Chasing them room to room and scaring them so bad they levitate and crack up laughing
  • Cash’s face on the swings

This list will only continue to grow and grow and grow as their personalities develop and as we experience more of this beautiful life together. I could choose to be sad as I think of days gone by, or I could focus on how wonderful it is that there’s even more of this to come. Their hands will not always be so small and chubby, but I’ll always have them to hold. Their feet will one day stomp instead of pitter patter, but the sound of them in my home will always be music to my ears. Their mouths will one day kiss a woman they’ve fallen in love with instead of me, but…their hearts will have always been mine first. Twice blessed, forget the rest.

Stay gold, That Girl

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How to Raise a Wuss

We’ve all met that kid. You know, the one who’s scared to try anything new, won’t talk to strangers, and punks out from challenges. You may have even dated the guy in college whose bark was way worse than his bite? Now that you’re a parent raising a son, perhaps you’d like to know how you too can raise your own sissy. Well, you’re in luck. As a Parenting Specialist and family counselor I’ve figured out the magic formula for raising a wuss…guaranteed!

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Step 1: Tell him he’s a wuss

This is probably the most common method I’ve seen used. Many parents mistakenly think that by calling their son a wuss, sissy, or pansy that he’ll grow up to be tough, but the opposite is true. By calling your son names like this, his self-esteem will plummet and he will likely grow up to be just those things. Even better? When he cries or “wusses out”, tell him he’s being a “vagina”, too. This way, not only will he grow up weak,  but he’ll also grow up disrespecting women and believing they’re an inferior gender.

Step 2: Show him how strong you are

Don’t allow your child to figure things out on their own, especially if they struggle with it because they’re not developmentally ready to master it yet. Be sure to show them how easy it is for you. They’ll likely start to admire you, think you are a superhero and believe there’s nothing you can’t do. This will foster more feelings of inferiority, create a lack of initiative, and scare them away from taking on things that might be challenging.

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Step 3: Make fun of people together

This one is a surefire way to raise a wuss. Make fun of people for things like their skin color, hair dos, clothing choices, and the way they walk or talk. This will teach your child that other people are probably making fun of them too, which will undoubtedly crush their confidence and cause them to be inhibited in public. Leave no one untouched! The weaker the person being picked on, the better the results for your own child.

Step 4: Never Follow-through

There’s several ways to pull this one off. You could try threatening things like spankings, grounding, or other punishments without ever having intentions of doing them. You could also make empty promises about things you’ll buy them, things you’ll do, or maybe trips you’ll take. This teaches your child that words don’t have meaning. They’ll grow up thinking they can say things they don’t mean, they can be dishonest if it makes things easier, and they may even become that guy at the bar that says “let’s take it outside” when everyone around him knows a fight will never happen. People love that guy, right?

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I have two sons. This has made me very sensitive to societal issues involving men. What defines a real man has gotten blurry and how we raise boys into men is even blurrier. I’ve observed the empty threats from angry parents, which is confusing for children and damages relationships. I’ve overheard, “But, dad, you said…”, too many times, and I’ve witnessed the belittling of the small child who cries because the dad wants to “toughen him up”. It’s heartbreaking because these things don’t create men, they create weinies. We’re raising generations of little boys to become men with no follow through, men whose words have no meaning, men who struggle with their identities, men who confuse masculinity with masoginism, and who make themselves feel superior by preying on the inferior. It’s up to us to make a change. 

Stay gold, 

That Girl

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Letters to my Sons

My whole life I said I wanted to be a mother. I traveled four years of the rockiest fertility road I couldv’e ever imagined and then on my birthday last year I conceived the two most beautiful baby boys in the world. Tomorrow marks my birthday, a day that now holds incredibly different value to me. It’s no longer the day of my birth; it’s the day I was given my sons.

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Dearest Cash,

You are such an old soul. From the moment we met I felt like you knew more about me than I did you. Even while you were in the NICU there was this peace about you like you knew you were safe, loved, and ok. In fact, when I look back on that I remember how stressed I was that I couldn’t be with you but everyone kept telling me, “Cash is ok, he’s happy”. And you were. We all started describing you as “chill”, but it’s more than that. You’re secure and trusting.

I’m falling in love with you more each day. Your bottom lip quivers with empathy when Cannon is upset or has tummy pain. I’ve noticed it quiver during sad songs too; which touches my heart. You feel so deeply and are so sensitive to the world around you. I hope that you use that quality to serve others and always demonstrate compassion and kindness. Each night I pray that when it comes time for you to love that you will be loved back and that the women you love will not break your heart (although I know it will happen a few times). That heart is one with mine now and I want to preserve it.

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You are a mamas boy and I wouldn’t change that for anything in the universe! You love holding onto my hair while you’re nursing. You clasp my fingers when I’m rocking you and you bury into my neck. Sometimes at night I think you’ve woken up just so you can have some alone time with me and when I pull you into bed next to me you snuggle so close that our skin melts together. I look down sometimes to check on you and every now and then you’re not even sleeping; you’re watching me too. Your bright blue eyes stare right back into mine.

I adore your smile! You waited to start smiling a bit longer than your brother and the smiles were reserved for me, dad, and grandma. It made me cherish each one that much more because it felt like each smile you gave me belonged to me and only me. I pray that smile shows people that Jesus lives in your heart and that you’ll always be a leader, never a follower.

The way you kick and march like a little monkey during playtime or bathtime makes my heart explode with laughter. You’re a bit of an adrenaline junkie, too. I’ve seen you laugh each time you catch air as you try to jump out of your baby tub. There’s so much energy and life inside you. I hope you’re always adventurous, thrill seeking, and approach challenges with gusto!

Love, Mom

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Dearest Cannon,

You are the epitome of the nickname “Cannonball”! Not only have you taken the shape of a ball with your stout, muscular frame (well, rolls of baby fat now, but I see potential), but you’re also a ball of energy, a ball of laughter, a ball of fun! I try so hard not to interact too much at night because I’d like you to go back to sleep, but even in the dark I can see your mouth opened wide into a big Cannonball smile. I hear you cooing over the white noise machine to get my attention and if I hear a giggle I’m a gonner. I immediately get suckered into kissing your sweet chubby cheeks and nibbling your neck.

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You found your voice early! Since it’s been on it’s never turned off. You have so much to say and so many feelings to express. Anyone and everyone gets to hear what’s on your mind and you are skilled at grabbing, and keeping, people’s attention. My hope for you is that you use your voice to spread the word since the name “Cannon” means “protector of the Word”. Use your voice to stand up for what’s right since your middle name, “Wright”, means “righter of wrongs”. Be the voice for those that don’t have one or are too scared to use it.

I love the way you look at your dad. It’s as if you know that you’re curious spirit will get you into some trouble down the road, but this is the guy that will always have your back (even after busting your backside from time to time). You look at him like he’s your protector, and he is. He and I both will love you no matter what ind of pickle you get yourself into.

When you put your chunky cheek against your shoulder and peer up at me with those baby blues I just know you have the potential to be a heartbreaker, but I hope you’ll always treat women with respect. I hope you’ll be a gentlemen and you’ll use your charm to set an example for other boys around you on how to win a girl’s affection by being chivalrous and trustworthy.

You can be so silly sometimes. I look forward to seeing how far your sense of humor and confidence takes you in this world. I hope you never shy from a challenge and approach each new day with zest and excitement. Always take advantage of opportunities and never back down from something that scares you. I see so much bravery and gumption in you.

Cannon, take life like a bull by the horns and show us what you got!

Love, Mom

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Dear heavenly father, please continue to hold both my boys in your hands as you have and keep them safe from harm. I pray that any hurt they do experience only makes them stronger, kinder, and more brave. I pray that you will live inside their hearts and shine through them. Give me patience as a mother Lord and give me the words and actions I need to raise them to be men of character, men of integrity, and most importantly, men of faith. I pray they will be leaders in school, leaders in church, leaders among their peers, and leaders for each other. Protect the women they will marry, Lord, and ready them to give and receive love from my boys when the time is right. I pray all these things in your son’s name, amen. 

 

We’re the Last Generation…

Since having my twins there are a few phrases I hear over and over and over again. Namely, “Wow, twins?”, and “Oh my, there’s two of them”, and most often I hear, “You’ve certainly got your hands full”. But, even with that awe struck observation that, yes, I have two babies and yes, my hands are full, do you know that only two people have actually helped me in all three months of my boy’s life? Both saints were senior citizens. I shared that fact with the sixty some-odd year old man yesterday who unloaded my groceries and helped load my stroller in thtr trunk. He said something that stuck with me, “We’re the last generation to think of people outside of ourselves”. 

Yikes! How do we change this?

Is he right? I wondered if I should be offended. I started thinking about myself and the people I know. I think I’ve surrounded myself with good people who go out of their way to help others. I was raised to hold the door for moms with strollers, handicap, children, and the elderly. I volunteered at inner city church camps and summer school to help kids less fortunate and I chose a helping profession. I’d like to think I was raised right, although I’m sure I could do more, but what if the seniors aren’t the last generation. What if we are the last generation?

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So then I started wondering how I can be sure my boys are raised to show empathy and compassion. I’ve prayed for their hearts since before they were born, but as a parent, it’s also up to us to lead by example and provide our children with opportunities to serve. Hmmm, what can I do? What would I tell a parent in my office to do?

  1. Think out loud

This is one of the best ways to influence our children positively. Share your thoughts out loud. For example, “Oh, I notice that sweet lady is struggling to get through the door with her stroller. I’m going to go help her”. Or, “Your teacher has been working so hard tutoring you all and keeping up with her lesson plans too. I’m trying to decide what I can do to show we’re thankful and help her out”. Sharing your positive thoughts will hopefully transfer and will become the way your children think as well.

2. Write notes and make phone calls

From a very early age kids need to know how to show gratitude and compassion. Even a two year old can put a handprint on a hand written note to thank grandma for coming to visit or say thank you to the church nursery helper for teaching them a new song. And, in the digital age where texts and facebook messages will become the norm, why not be counter-cultural and show our children how much more personal a phone call is when someone needs a friend.

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3. Recognize problems, solve them together and take action

Sharing your thoughts aloud helps here too. Talk to your kids about issues in the community, get their thoughts on what can be done and then involve them in the efforts. Last Memorial Day Austin had tragic, fatality causing floods. If my boys were a few years older I wouldv’e brought this to their attention and shared the list of supplies that were needed. My husband and I rummaged around the house gathering things to help and then went to the store for what we didn’t have on hand. I would love to involve my children in things like this.

4. Chores

Studies show that children who have chores do better in school because they’re not living like an honored guest in their own home. They’re contributing to the family every day and showing respect for others by keping their rooms clean, unloading groceries, helping with dishes, and assisting parents with cooking. They grow up knowing what it takes to be a part of a family, a community, and learn to do their part and behave unselfishly.

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5. Shop for others

Your neighbor had a baby and you’re bringing them a casserole? Take your children to the store with you to shop for ingredients. You’re going to Target to shop for a birthday party your child is attending? Have them make a list of things their friend might enjoy and go together. You’re playing Blue Santa at Christmas time? Let the kids choose an angel from the tree at the mall and shop with you. And no, they don’t get to choose something for themselves, too. That defeats the point. It’s about teaching them there’s something, someone, outside our selves that matters.

I don’t want them to grow up with attitude of “that’s a problem, they should do something about it”. Who’s this alledged “they” anyway? I want to teach them to think, “that’s a problem, I can fix it”, or at least make an effort to. I don’t want the seniors to be the last generation of people who care about others. In fact, I don’t want my kids to be the last generation. I want caring for others to be the norm again circa 1955. Can we make this happen?

Stay gold, 

That Girl

Postpartum Body Funk

I’ve always been a healthy person. I’m the kid that would get up early on a school day and rollerblade the neighborhood before it was time to get ready. I did Buns of Steel (it was the nineties) and lifted canned goods (we didn’t own weights) and loved watching Jazzercise videos on TV. Physical fitness and health have always been important to me. And, during pregnancy my health became that much more important.

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I worked out at my normal pace, 4-5 days a week, until about 30 weeks pregnant. Then, I slowed down and started walking most days and did zumba when I could muster up the energy until about 35 weeks. I ate mostly organic, except the first trimester where I lived on bean & cheese tacos and I ate butter like it was my job, and I snacked on fruits, protein, and veggies. I drank a gallon of water a day and even gorged on healthy fats towards the end to aid my babies’ brain development. I gained the minimum weight for twins (around 40lbs) and felt like I’d bounce back to my former glory; strong, flexible, and healthy in a few short months.

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When I woke up from an emergency c-section, after a brutal labor that nearly took my life, and I saw my disfigurement, I was distraught. My legs were swollen from the surgery, and my failing filtration systems, so they were unrecognizeable to me. My skin was stretched across them and looked pale and marbled. My stomach was hugely swollen still, resembling someone 6 months pregnant and my abdominal muscles split down the middle verically and horizontally so the skin that once stretched across both eight pound babies was now able to fall into the hole between my stomach muscles. The area above my incision was fat, raw, and red and the steristrips lined vertically across it resembled those on Frankenstein’s neck. I was humiliated by my appearance. So humiliated that I wouldn’t even let my husband see me walk to the bathroom without a robe on. It was depressing.

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Within the next few weeks the swelling went down and I lost all my pregnancy weight, but not the pregnancy shape. The steristrips came off and the incision was less noticeable by about 4 weeks although there was still a red reminder that my body had been cut open against my will. My arms, legs, and face finally look like the originals, but my stomach muscles are still in terrible shape and my skin is still struggling to find where it goes. My belly button is nonexistent and the linea negra and chloasma (dark skin spots) are still visible.

I want so desperately to be able to get to a gym, but my gym doesn’t offer childcare until babies are six months old. I tried to workout at home, but I caused a hematoma (blood collection) on my incision site and I already have a blood clot I’m dissolving with blood thinners. It’s very frustrating to not feel in control of your own body.

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The worst part? Nobody seems to understand. I keep hearing, “focus on your babies”, or “but look what you have as a result”, or “aren’t you grateful for your sweet boys?” And, someone I love dearly even asked me shamelessly one time if I hated my boys because of what they did to my body. Are you kidding me?

One has NOTHING to do with the other. I love feeling strong, flexible, capable. I love the rush I get from cardio and the adrenaline from dancing through a high impact exercise class. I love pounding the pavement in the sun on a Saturday morning and sweating buckets during a hot yoga session. Why the assumption that being unhappy with my postpartum body means I don’t love my babies or that I’m ungrateful? Because I have babies now I can stop caring about my health or my appearance? Now that I’m a mom I can stop wanting to feel attractive and sexy for my husband? Am I a bad mom because I want to go to the gym? Or, am I less loving because I have the need to do something for myself?

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I love my boys more than I’ve ever loved anything else in the world. I feed them from my body every few hours twenty-four hours a day. I change their diapers 8-10 times a day (each) and their clothes 2-3 times a day. We sing songs, read stories, take walks, dance, and enjoy baths together.  The only time I have to myself is…well, does their laundry count during naps as alone time? What about when I’m shoveling food in my face so I can keep up my milk supply? No? Okay, then how about when I’m watching a netflix show or blogging? I’m usually pumping breastmilk while I do that so I guess that doesn’t count. My life and focus is on caring for them 24/7, but that is hardly a healthy way to live. Working out is the one thing I plan to do for me and I’m sure many other mothers feel the same. We shouldn’t be shamed for wanting to work out or wanting to relocate our former selves.

I want to feel like me again. A strong, energetic, and independent being. This does not make me a bad person and certainly not a bad mom.

Stay gold, 

That Girl

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