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A Quick Sensory Bin Guide for Littles

It can be challenging to find engaging and stimulating ways to fill the hours of our days with our tiny humans (especially now, during this time of social distancing.) You can only play with the same stacking toy or block set for so long before you (both) start to fade. In my two-going-on-three (short) years of being a stay-at-home mama, and with my years of teaching early childhood, I have found that the best way to make it to dinner time with our sanity still intact is by making sure to have simple variety throughout the day and by having intentionally planned activities ready to go. Learning through play is crucial for healthy child development and learning.

A Quick Sensory Bin Guide for Littles

The secret weapon in my back pocket is the sensory bin. One of the things I love most about sensory bin play is you can make it as fancy or as minimalist as you want.

Sensory bin play The basics of a sensory bin are:

  • A tub, bin, or container of some kind
  • A filler/medium
  • Some tools or items to explore the medium with

Medium Ideas

When you make a sensory bin, you can basically take anything you have on hand already and turn it in to an exploratory activity. Flour, dried rice, dried beans, water, or craft materials (such as fabric scraps or tissue paper, ribbon swatches, gift wrap, pom poms, etc.) make for some engaging exploratory play with minimal mess. Be sure to think outside the box; it’s likely that you have some kind of material on hand in the pantry or a craft drawer that can be used for sensory bin play. If you’re stumped for medium ideas, you can always just use water!

Don’t be afraid to switch it up from time to time and experiment with different textures. Get creative, and go off of your child’s current interests if possible. For example, my daughter has recently been very interested in dinosaurs. We have a bag of play sand in our garage, so I scooped a couple cups of sand into a small plastic container and added a couple dino toys we had in the play room. She was engaged for much longer than I anticipated she would be, since she was very excited to explore the dinosaurs in the bin. I put an old towel under the bin to help consolidate any spilled sand and expedite clean up. If I didn’t have the play sand, I could have just thrown together a couple cups of flour, salt, or coffee grounds with the dino toys and she would’ve had just as much fun!

Sensory bin play - choose any medium you want!

Boundaries

I am often asked how I keep my daughter from putting the bin materials in her mouth. In short? I don’t. She’s going to explore the materials however she sees fit, and sometimes that involves putting them in her mouth. Do I like that? No, but it does happen. Throughout our sensory play time, I’m constantly saying, “Out of your mouth!” over and over as a frequent reminder. She knows that’s the expectation, but sometimes, she gets carried away exploring and forgets. If she continually does it on purpose, I caution her that we will have to be all done if she continues to do so. This guideline applies to throwing the materials out of the bin as well.

In addition to, “Out of your mouth,” I’m also frequently saying, “Everything stays in the bin!” She will repeat these phrases because, by now, she’s very aware of the boundaries. I don’t make it a huge dramatic situation; she just knows if she continually and purposely crosses the line in regards to making a mess or putting materials in her mouth, then we clean it up and put it away. It took a few times until she fully grasped this concept, but now she knows, and it makes for a much more enjoyable experience for us both. She’s able to understand problem solving and cause & effect more clearly as a result.

Clean Up

I tend to put a towel or tarp of some kind under our sensory table or underneath a sensory bin. This helps to consolidate the inevitable mess and make for a quicker clean up. Now that my daughter is two, I involve her in the clean-up process, which she really enjoys because it helps establish her independence and responsibility. Don’t be afraid to involve your kiddos in mess clean up, even if it seems like a huge, daunting task! They may surprise you with what they can actually do. Even if they can’t effectively clean very well, they will at least be learning the importance of finishing what they start and taking responsibility for their mess and decisions.

Sensory bin play - follow learning themes, such as holidays

Developmental Areas

Another aspect I love most about sensory bin play is how all-encompassing it is. Sensory activities cover many areas of development all at once. Fine motor development is worked on through the scooping, pouring, and physical manipulation of the materials. Cognitive development is stimulated in many ways including, but not at all limited to, attending to and engaging with the activity, persistence, problem solving, cause and effect, etc. Science concepts (making a hypothesis, experimenting), literacy concepts as they have discussions with you (or listen to your cognitive dialogue that you talk through aloud to them, if they’re nonverbal), mathematics (measuring, sink/float), and depending on what specific materials are involved, creative concepts such as art and music could be involved.

Almost every area of development is touched upon in some way with a sensory activity, and that is pretty incredible! It looks like such a simple, play-based experience, but it actually is helping your child develop many different skills that will enhance their development through play.

Sensory bin play - water is always an easy medium!

Don’t be afraid to utilize the sensory bin, mama! I know it can seem intimidating, but I promise you will get the hang of it and find the perfect combos and rhythm that work for you.

I love setting my daughter up with a sensory bin in the kitchen near me as I prep and cook dinner. It gives her something stimulating and engaging to do, and I’m able to supervise without it consuming me or fully taking me away from my task at hand.

If I’m using a themed sensory bin pertaining to whatever we’re focusing on in our learning, I tend to let that bin last a week and be reused each day. Otherwise, I just make random bins based on whatever we feel like doing. It can be as structured or as fluid as you desire. Some days, our sensory bins are super elaborate and carefully selected, and other days, I’m last-minute pouring flour into a bin and throwing in the first couple kitchen utensils I see. Your child will have a blast either way!

Happy exploring!

COVID, School, and the Mommy Wars

Most area schools seem to be planning to release their plans for the 2020-2021 school year this week, so school choice (virtual, blended, hybrid, traditional, home school, and every other version you can think of) is even more of a hot topic than usual among moms of school-age kids. And rightly so, as the decision as to how to educate a child or children is among the most critical choices parents make.

In the best of times, moms get riled up about school choice. We all have opinions and everyone seems to think their way is the best. I’m guilty too. Add in a global pandemic, and the level of angst, emotion, stress, and even panic regarding school decisions is about fifteen notches higher than usual. Cue the mommy wars, where we all compare our way of cooking, crafting, home hair cutting, (not) limiting screen time, and yes, schooling to one another and hate on the way that other mom is doing it.

School choice is not a moral decision.

I’m a scientist, my husband is a teacher, and I’ve got lots of thoughts about school re-openings. I think my reasons for my opinion (which I won’t be sharing here) are well thought out, based on high quality scientific data, and also realistic, but many people I love and respect disagree and have other well thought out and reasonable plans and opinions. Here’s the deal: the schooling method we choose is not a moral decision. Hybrid is not right, home school is not wrong, traditional is not best, and virtual is not better. They are different, yes, and we are all entitled to choose (and let us rejoice that we have choice), but one is not right and others are not wrong.

I love a good debate and I’m all for standing up for what you believe in, but this particular issue in the mommy wars is not worth falling on a sword over. In fact, if we all put down our swords and stopped swinging them at each other (i.e. How could you send your child to school in a mask?! Don’t you think it’s important for your child to have social interaction?! I have to work; must be nice to stay home to teach your kids . . .), maybe we could teach our kids something truly valuable.

I have good news.

We can post cute graphics indicating that “We’re all in this together” to our social media pages and wear “be kind” t-shirts, but I think the vast majority of moms in this country would agree that the mommy wars are alive and well. There are certainly issues that are worth debating, because our children learning the difference between right and wrong is at stake. But how we teach them multiplication and phonics does not fit in this category.

So rejoice, Mamas. There’s freedom to choose what works for you and your kid, or just to pick what you like, or even to flip a coin if you so choose. Your neighbor, your sister, and your best friend can all choose something different and both of your choices can be excellent decisions. If that’s not good news, I don’t know what is.

Teaching Our Kids to Celebrate Diversity :: A Collection of Resources for Birmingham Moms

It’s no secret the year 2020 has been the year of all years. There is so much heartbreak in our world right now. I think we can all agree that a lot needs to change and it is overwhelming. 

The moms at Birmingham Mom Collective want to see an end to racism. We want to see lasting change in our city and our country — change that values all humans, gives dignity to all people, and celebrates the beauty in our diverse city. Birmingham has a history deep in racism, unfortunately. While we cannot change history, we can change our future and it starts with the present — in our very homes. Our living rooms, our dinner tables, and our backyards are places where the change can begin. We can start by teaching the next generation.

teaching our kids to celebrate diversity

Birmingham Mom Collective has collaborated to bring you resources to teach your children to celebrate diversity and pursue equality with everyone. Contributors Emily, Katie, and Brittany worked together on this list. We hope these resources are not just helpful, but also unique ideas that you may have not seen elsewhere. It is important to us that we provide you with resources that have been used by us either with our own children or with children in our professional lives as teachers and counselors.

Books

Books that Address Human Rights 

These books are ideal for the older elementary crowd, but they can also be used as read-alouds for younger children. 

  • Esperanza Rising by Pam Munoz Ryan 
    This book was used to primarily teach the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. We learn about a little girl whose life was changed when they were forced to leave their home and become migrant workers. There isn’t just talk about how badly Hispanics were treated during this time, but it also shows the main character changing her views about social classes throughout the novel. 
  • Promises to Keep: How Jackie Robinson Changed America by Sharon Robinson
    Jackie’s story should capture the attention of a sports fanatic! It’s eye opening to read about what he experienced, and open discussions on racial injustice are easier with such a beloved topic as sports.
  • My Brother Martin: A Sister Remembers Growing up with the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. by Christine King Farris
    In this book, we can see MLK, Jr. as a child and what he experienced growing up. Most of us know King as an adult, but getting a glimpse of his childhood helps us understand what shaped him as an adult. 
  • Dark Water Rising by Marian Hale
    This is an incredible story of the Galveston Hurricane that destroyed the island in the early 1900s. In it, though, the lead character Seth becomes friends with an African American boy named Eszra and they venture through racial injustice of that time. Injustice isn’t the main theme of this book, but kids will discover this theme anyway. They will pick it apart and devour this book!

Books with Themes of Injustice

In this series of books, kids can compare how location or life circumstances can change their access to something. Themes of injustice and mistreatment of other humans can be repeatedly discussed. 

Books on Diversity

Exposing children to images and art that reflect a variety of races, ethnicities, and cultures can be just as important as books that directly address race. Here are a few books with beautiful pictures that can bring diversity to children’s book collections.

Books with Activities 

Katie did these activities with her son. The links provided take you to YouTube videos of the books, so you can just watch the video before doing the activity! 

Diverse Paper Dolls

  • The Colors of Us by Karen Katz
    My three year old has rarely verbalized noticing variations in skin colors, but I knew it was time to begin being more direct about the importance of acknowledging differences. I explained how all people have different shades of skin, which is what makes people so beautiful. Using our crayon box, we identified all different colors people can be and I gave him language to talk about this. We made a chain of paper dolls and my son picked out different colors to represent his different friends. Seeing him color these sweet friends holding hands is an image I know I’ll hold for a long time.
teaching our kids to celebrate diversity - diverse paper dolls

Flags of the World

  • Whoever You Are by Mom Fox
    I want to teach the lesson that people all around the world may look different and live different than we do but that some things remain the same (love, laughter, joy, beauty). I let my child pick out flags, and together we cut and glued them together to make a banner. Then we googled these countries to learn more about their culture, their geography, and their traditions. 
teaching our kids to celebrate diversity - flags of the world

Protest Signs

  • I am Rosa Parks by Brad Meltzer
    Noticing and appreciating differences is not enough. I want to teach my child to speak up when injustice occurs. We talked about the meaning of protest: when there are rules in place or actions being taken that hurt people, especially because of their color, we speak up and say this isn’t okay. Together, we drew protest signs that we placed in our yard and other appropriate locations.
teaching our kids to celebrate diversity - protest signs


Teaching through Art

Videos and Songs 

  • The Bible Project: What is Justice? This video produced by The Bible Project explains what justice is in a kid-friendly way that teaches why it is important to stand for justice. 
“Different colors and different shades
All fearfully and wonderfully made
Through each, the glory of God displayed
God made me and you”
-Shai Linne
 

Resources for Parents

Hey, it’s not just the kids that need to learn! Sometimes we as parents need to know where and how to start the conversation with our kids. 

We hope that you will take the time to use this resources! Together we can make a difference in our city, state, and country by teaching our children to value and celebrate all humans. In the words of Toby Mac from the video shared above, we’re more beautiful when we come together! Moms, we can’t do it all (even though we try!), but we can do this: let’s come together and raise up the next generation to love each other well. 

Let Sleeping Babies Lie {In Their Own Bed}

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Will my baby ever sleep in her own bed? Initially it seems like an impossibility, but take from moms that have been there: it can be done — even if your family situation may not make it possible for baby to have their own room. Whatever your approach is, the end goal is to give them their own place for quality sleep.

Much infant sleep advice points out two important factors for parents searching for sleep solutions: consistency and patience. Let’s back up and address the approach you need to be patient and consistent with. How do you decide where they will sleep, when they do sleep?

Myths About Putting Babies in Their Own Room

  • They are too small for the big crib.
  • You won’t hear them.
  • You won’t be able to get to them quickly if there is an issue.
  • They can harm themselves.
  • They will cry all night.
  • They will resent you for abandoning them.

In breaking down these myths, there is one common thread. Mom brain. That’s right, you.

Your anxiety is keeping you from trying something new. Baby doesn’t know enough to fear or dislike the crib. Establishing a routine is so hard in those early days, but giving her your best effort at peaceful and restful sleep can make a major difference for everyone.

It will take time to find what works, and you could easily find ten ways that don’t work. Here are six recommendations from moms advocating for crib time first.

Six Keys to Success When Putting Babies to Sleep

  1. Temperature check

    Check not just the room temperature, but another idea is to warm up the sheet. Sometimes laying them down on a cold bed sheet is enough to startle them awake. Try a warm blanket or heating bad on the mattress for a few minutes before you put them down. Be careful not to keep things too warm or too cold, but find a temp that works well so you can dress them comfortably.

  2. Control their startle reflex

    It takes several months to work through the involuntary muscle twitches. Wrapping tightly with a swaddle blanket or sleep sack is a great way to keep their little bodies in check. They also can mimic the feeling of a warm body when they are accustomed to being snuggled by Mom. Try both the arms in and arms out swaddle to see if one works better than the other.

  3. Wedge under the mattress

    Especially if reflux might be an issue, elevating the head of the mattress just a bit can make for a more comfortable rest. Chat with your pediatrician about recommendations if this is a struggle for your baby.

  4. Video baby monitor

    There is a lot to be said for being able to hear and see what is happening. The peace of mind from a video feed might allow less of a rush to aid and more of an effort to let them self-soothe. If you can see they are working it out, you can allow yourself to relax. Babies are noisy, and a majority of the time they aren’t really awake, just adjusting and making noises because that’s what babies do.

  5. Quality rocker or glider in their room 

    If you do need to tend to them a few times during the night, you will need somewhere comfortable to sit — especially if you have a baby that needs the motion to soothe. It’s also a way to be close without being uncomfortable. You will learn quickly how to navigate from the chair to the crib with a baby in complete darkness.

  6. Don’t rush out

    If you are able to rock or bring them into the space close to asleep, lay them down but keep a hand on them. They grow accustomed to both weight and warmth of your touch. Take a couple extra seconds to let them adjust before you tip toe out.

Sleep schedules are critical for new moms and babies. Putting babies to sleep in their own secure spot will help.

Trial and Error

Building sleep schedules and routines are of utmost concern for new parents. Whether you choose to go straight to a crib as early as possible or transition in stages, you will have to give it your all to build consistency and routine your baby can learn and depend on to feel safe.

If you rip the band-aid off your fears and go for the crib right off the bat, there will be no need for multiple transitions. Get their environment prepped for success and give it a try.

Just remember that they are learning how to adjust in a whole new world, and so are you. I wish I could tell you they will sleep through the night soon, but they won’t. It’s a fact.

They have needs around the clock until they get the hang of things. Even then you may run into issues and setbacks. It’s all a normal part of growth, and there is nothing you are doing wrong to create it. Adjust your expectations and get into problem solving mode.

There is just no way to predict how long it will take and what will work best for your little one. Like all things parenting . . . trial and error. But do it with confidence. Don’t let your anxiety prevent you from success, especially when it comes to the elusive sleep schedule.

You can do it!

What Are Open Ended Toys?

Have you seen a child beg for a bright flashing toy, only to play with it momentarily before tossing it aside? This is frustrating for parents who feel their home is covered in toys that get thrown around more than played with. One option is to transition to toys that are open ended and lead to quality play and creativity. 

So what makes something an open ended toy?

Simply put, an open ended toy can be used in many different ways. These toys often hold the child’s interest for a longer period of time because they are not so specific that they can only be played with in one way. For example, a figurine from a movie can only ever be that character and already comes with a story line attached. Compare this to the following toy recommendations. 

Play Silks

These are fun for dressing up and using as a cape, skirt, or bonnet. They are also fun to use as grass or streams in a scene with characters. 

My husband made this Pikler triangle.

Blocks

Blocks are a favorite from my husband’s childhood, and I remember my brothers spending hours building LEGO creations too. Children can build schools, fire stations, homes, towers, etc.

Gem blocks made by my husband.

Loose Parts

These might seem a bit strange, but loose parts make great pretend food, trees and scenery in small world play. These are also simple to DIY since you can buy unfinished wooden items at the craft store and paint them yourself with nontoxic acrylics. 

I painted these.

Characters 

My son loves the peg dolls I have made for him and carries them everywhere. Because they do not have expressions he can pretend they are happy, sad, angry, sleeping, etc. The ones that are solid colors can also be whatever character or gender the child chooses. These are easy to DIY as well because they can be found unpainted from the craft store.

My husband and I made the semicircles and peg dolls.

One quote that sticks out in my mind is, “Passive toys make active children and active toys make passive children.” Put another way, if your child presses a button and a song plays, then the toy is playing and entertaining the child. However, with a ball for example, the child must do something (kick, roll or throw) in order to play. 

Although sometimes the price of these items can be off putting, they will last for many years and can be passed down to other children. In addition, they are often more environmentally friendly (typically made from natural materials like wood) and can be found secondhand. Furthermore, since each toy serves many purposes, you experience the added benefit of a simpler home, with fewer toys scattered around.

I’d love to hear about some of your child’s favorite open ended toys in the comments!

Love Lessons :: Words to Our Children About Race and Racism

There are endless difficult conversations parents know they must have with children over the course of their lives. World-wide Black Lives Matter protests sparked by the killings of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and George Floyd are leading many families to prioritize one of the most challenging questions. What is most important to teach children about race, racism, and systemic oppression in such a divisive world? 

Birmingham Mom Collective is made of a unique blend of contributors of different races, ages, stages of motherhood, and family structures. But one thing we hold in common is a desire to spread love and support through our communities and our families. Several of our contributors have shared reflections on words they want to pass along to their children in light of these events. 

To Our Children . . .

Injustice: absence of justice; violation of right or of the rights of another; Unfairness 

George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Trayvon Martin, Ahmaud Arbery, Elijah McClain, Tamir Rice, Oscar Grant, Eric Garner, Philando Castile, Samuel Dubose, Sandra Bland, Walter Scott, Terrence Crutcher, Regis Korchinaki-Paquet, and Tony McDade.

Fifteen Black African Americans that were killed by Police officers. We often say “this has got to stop.” The real question is: When will this stop? This question, among others, is one of many questions that we are trying to get answers to. It’s easy to ask a question with a question, and it’s even easier to just pretend like this didn’t happen. To sweep this issue under the rug, like all the others we have done in the past. The conversations that are now being had in open spaces, instead of behind closed doors, are wonderful.  

Fifteen Black African Americans and countless others; we would like justice for their families, but more so for them. As a mom of two black boys I worry about when the innocence dies and they become another number. Or just another body. My boys are ages one and two. Right now when my oldest sees a police car, he says “Police, Police” with all the excitement in the world! He doesn’t know that this police officer could easily turn and end his life. As a black mom I am scared, I am worried. All I can do, like other moms, is hold my babies just a little tighter at night, and pray a little harder. I feel that change is going to come and it’s only going to come when we are ready, wholeheartedly ready, for a change. 

Britney J.

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Ally: a person who listens to the experiences of systemic oppression of others and uses their privilege to stand alongside those being oppressed.

My child, you were born into privilege. There are unending benefits to being born a white middle-class male. This is simply a fact about yourself I want you to understand some day, because you will often have to make the choice of how to use this privilege. Will you use it for the good of the world, or simply to benefit yourself?

You will often hear me say our family believes in seeing all people as our equals and that differences are a part of what makes the world beautiful. Tragically, you will encounter many ways others do not hold this truth. You will witness people use the color of another’s skin to put them down, hurt them, even justify taking their life. Our responsibility is to speak against such injustice.

Harper Lee, your namesake, wrote “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view. Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.” You will never know what it is like to be a person of color. But I will do my best to raise you as an active ally. I hope I’m showing you how to humbly listen to the experiences of others. I hope I’m modeling how to take on the struggle of the oppressed as your own. I hope I’m teaching you how to share your privilege rather than hoard it. During this time especially, I hope I am demonstrating courage in standing alongside others to fight for liberty and justice for all.

Katie R.

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Apathy: lack of interest, enthusiasm, or concern

I want my children to understand that more than blatant racism, blatant apathy has allowed the crimes against the Black community to continue. The number of people who owned slaves was small compared to the number of people who stood by and watched. The number of people murdering black men, women, and children through lynching was small compared to the number of people who ignored the problem and enjoyed their own lives, free of fear. The percentage of people parading around with signs reading things like, “Keep Alabama White” was small in comparison to those who saw the images and went about their day. Those who drank from water fountains marked “White” didn’t necessarily fight to ensure the ones marked “Colored” remained there, but they still took their drinks.

I want my sons to understand that history looks back at the crime of apathy for what it is, and this pivotal time is when people are finally beginning to say, “No more!” Many of us have sat on the sidelines and assumed we’re not racist because we have Black friends, never use racial slurs, or have done a host of other things to show “I’m not a racist.” We are waking up to our own apathy. We are committed to doing better. When the time comes for my young boys to really grasp what was going on in the world when they were two and four years old, they will not have to wonder what their mother was doing while the world around her fought for change; she was fighting, too. 

 
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Courage: strength and confidence in the face of pain or grief.

Dear daughter, I hope you always have courage . . . the courage to stand up to injustice, and to fight to protect those around you who are more vulnerable to harm. I hope you will always recognize others’ inherent worth and sacredness, and that you will defend and celebrate the beautiful things that make them unique.

I pray too, that you will have the courage of conviction to stand up for yourself. You will soon realize that racism doesn’t just happen to other people. Your beautiful brown skin that is so beloved in our home, will make you a target to some. There will be times that you will be made to feel as if you don’t belong. (At 7 years old, you have unfortunately already experienced this.) Some days this will be subtle . . . other days, devastatingly blatant.

When you come face to face with apathy, ignorance, and hatred – I hope you will remember that others’ opinions will never define you. The earliest definition of the word courage meant, “To speak one’s mind by telling all one’s heart.” I hope that in those difficult moments; your brilliant mind will call upon your beautiful heart and remind you of the love, integrity, passion, strength and fortitude that abide within you. I hope that you’ll be brave enough to know your true worth – despite others who cannot recognize it.

Dear daughter, you are neither white, nor black. As you grow up in this world filled with complex biases and intense brokenness, you will have to learn how to wield both a sword and a shield. There will be times that you will be able to protect others from harm, and times that you will need to protect yourself too. This is a heavy burden to bear, but I believe in your strength and your fighting spirit. I pray you’ll always be a courageous champion of justice and truth – for others, and for yourself. I promise to never stop fighting by your side – for others and for you.

 
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Awareness: knowledge or perception of a situation or fact

Children of the world, you are now living in a time of deep awareness. You should always be aware of how the world is working and how you fit in it. With that said, here are some things I want you to be aware of.

1: YOU MATTER not because of how you look, but because of who you are.

2: Everyone in the world is different inside and out and that is okay.

3: Some people and things will not always be fair for you but you can always demand fairness.

4: Be aware of your feelings because they are important. And finally,

5: You can help other people be aware! Being aware is a big job, but you little ones have already been doing it by telling adults how you feel, asking questions and learning new things! Keep up the good work! 

Lauren P.

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Endurance: the fact or power of enduring an unpleasant or difficult process or situation without giving way 

When the topic of racism is no longer covering our newsfeeds, will we continue to advocate for justice? Will that be the norm of our private lives, or only as long as social media reminds us of its importance? We need endurance. I want my children to know that treating others with dignity, respect, and value is not something we do only when it’s popular. I pray daily for my kids to do what is right even if no one is looking and even if no one is following. Seeking justice is an on-going activity. It’s easy to follow the lead of others now in regards to fighting racism, but when there is no one to follow I want my kids to lead with kind, truthful words and helpful actions.

The issue of racism in our country is deep, difficult, and complex. As my children grow older and more aware of the disunity in our country, I don’t want them to grow weary in doing good. I don’t want them discouraged, thinking the problem is too great for them to have an impact as a young individual. I want my children to learn endurance, long-suffering, and patience. I want them to bear one another’s burdens. I want them to walk alongside those who need a listening ear and a helping hand. I want them to be humble when they are wrong, continue learning what they don’t understand, seek the truth in God’s word, and love others as they love themselves. This requires a lifetime of endurance. It won’t always be easy or fun, but I pray my kids will persevere with love in demonstrating value and dignity to all people at all times. 

Brittany V.

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Lament: to express sorrow, mourning, or regret — often demonstratively.
The reality of racism in our nation has been brought into the light for all to see. It was well-disguised for many years, but our eyes have been opened. As we learn more about the harm inflicted upon Black people for centuries and the pain that endures to this day, our hearts are moved. We feel much more than a twinge of sadness; we feel deep sorrow. We hear many people say that slavery was the sin of our forefathers and we cannot live in the past. But reconciliation will not be possible unless we join our Black brothers and sisters in lamenting the suffering of their ancestors at the hands of our own. We also must acknowledge the pain the Black community lives with on a daily basis. We finally have ears to hear their testimonies of injustice, and we are coming to understand their feelings of “otherness” in our society.
 
When my children learn the truth about our nation’s history and understand the reality of life in the U.S. for our Black friends and neighbors, I want them to be broken-hearted. I want them to lament for an entire race of people that has suffered oppression since the founding of our nation. And I want them to look back on this time in history and see that our generation led the way with a corporate lament that paved the way for healing and true reconciliation for all Americans.
 

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Grace: A simple elegance or refinement of movement; courteous goodwill; do honor or credit to (someone or something) by one’s presence.

There are many types of grace. Although the word implies a condition of effortless existence, grace must be practiced to be performed correctly. It is important to me you learn this word, as a man, and make it a part of who you are. True grace is powerful, fluid, and strong, like a dancer launching feet into the air to land soundlessly on the stage. You, my child, must give grace in order to receive it from others, and show grace to others even when they do not reciprocate. We must dialogue with grace. Be respectful and thoughtful both when sharing and receiving information (especially if the new information directly contradicts what you have always assumed was 100% true). When you think, and rethink, and refine your thoughts, they become more easily expressed and thusly understood. A pithy meme, while succinct and thought provoking, may start a conversation, but it will never end one.

Systemic racism is a nuanced, sensitive topic. Our society has been imbued with it for generations. Yet only now are many of us realizing how lacking we are in teaching, reacting and guiding each other as we move forward. In this course, I ask for grace for myself.

I pray that you learn to listen. REALLY listen to those you encounter. Everyone has a different story, and they are valuable and worthy of your attention. I ask you not to be colorblind, but see the world as the rainbow it truly is, each soul integral to the life of our humanity. This quote by Luvvie Ajayi is, to me, the epitome of grace in communication: “When it’s time to say hard things, I ask myself 3 things: Did you mean it? Can you defend it? Did you say it with love?”

Laura P.

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Love: “a strong affection for another arising out of kinship or personal ties” or “unselfish, loyal, and benevolent concern for the good of another.” Higher: “exalted or elevated in character.” Higher love: an elevated benevolent concern for the good of others.

Love is both heady and sweet, passionate and tender, heavy and carefree. Love inspires. Love accepts. It encourages. It creates a magical holding space. It desires good things – if it’s healthy love. But, toxic love harms, constrains, belittles, and wreaks havoc upon the soul. I want healthy love, a higher love; a love that endures, that earnestly seeks the best even when overwhelmed by the worst.

Higher Love is the very love that I wish to give in my marriage, as a physician, and as a woman but especially for my children. Honestly, a higher love is so hard amid COVID-19 and what I see as the complete unraveling of our country under the weight of hundreds of years of oppression for black and brown people. Yet, this is exactly why embracing a higher love is so critical right now.  

To my three babies, I love you with everything that I am. Let my love for you be a mirror for your love of humanity. Together, we choose higher love. Search for the good in others. Show compassion and kindness to all, even when it’s undeserved. Know that hurt people hurt people and that often those that are hurting are doing the best they can with what they have in the moment.  Know that your big, beautiful hearts are capable of big, beautiful love and that your love is powerful. Your love can transform. Your love can speak to the broken places. Your love can heal and restore. Your love renders you whole and free. Your love reflects the love of Christ, so I dare you to extend love lavishly like our Father in heaven. Planting seeds of love leads to a harvest of blessings. 
 
 

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What words do you want to communicate to your children about race and racism? We’d love for you to share your thoughts as we navigate these conversations together.

Sprucing Up Your Space :: Quarantine Edition

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Growing up, my big sister and I were total opposites when it came to our bedrooms. Hers was messy, mine was neat. She rarely made her bed, I always made mine (mainly just to annoy her)! I wanted everything color-coordinated and periwinkle, she wasn’t as picky. But somehow the tables turned once we hit our 30’s.

She’s suddenly incredible at sprucing up any space–so much so, that I constantly ask her interior design advice for my own home. Especially once the COVID-19 quarantine hit and we were stuck at home indefinitely, I decided I detested something in almost every room of our house! So my husband and I started painting: the living room, the pantry, the hallway . . . and the home overall progressed from there. I couldn’t have given our home a refresh without my sister’s brilliant advice, so I asked her to share some quarantine refresh tips to you all, too. 

Let me introduce you to the best big sister in the world, Alieta! Take it away, Sis!

Easy, Inexpensive Decorating Updates

So, we’ve had three months to sit around and stare at our homes. If you’re like me, you came up with a few plans because you’re tired of staring at the same thing. Some of those plans are amazing, and some of those plans you bailed on because you don’t have access to a wrecking ball. I get it.

Here are three of my plans that actually made it to completion! If I can do these, then you can, too! No wrecking balls required.

Paint Something

I found a dresser on Facebook Marketplace. It was tan–and fine–but I wanted some *wow* in my quarantine life. So I painted it Sherwin Williams’ Greens and added marble drawer pulls from Hobby Lobby. It’s way more than fine now!

Photo cred: @alietatreasurehunting

Add Pattern

Let’s be realistic . . . putting up wallpaper can test even the strongest marriage. But I found a hack: wall stencils! I ordered the Ella Herringbone from Cutting Edge Stencils, and I did my kids’ entire playroom in no time. It was really easy, and it added the pattern I wanted without the stress or tears!

Photo cred: @alietatreasurehunting

Simplify Just One Area

Our computer died right before I sent out Christmas cards last December. I know this because I couldn’t access any of my addresses that were on said computer. But guess what was still sitting on my desk last week? My dead computer. It was surrounded by stacks of school papers, advertisements, and any other item that didn’t have a home.

I considered the wrecking ball, but instead, I took ALL THE THINGS off the desk (and out of the drawers) and tossed, sold, or donated them. Then I removed the top hutch part and created a drink station.

Since we’re all home all the time, we are in each other’s way a lot. This gives my coffee-drinking hubs, my tea-loving daughter, and my ice-obsessed sons space to create their drinks away from whatever I’m doing in the kitchen. It’s been fabulous and cost zero dollars. In fact, I made money on this project because I sold some of the things I found under the piles of stuff.

Photo cred: @alietatreasurehunting

It looks like we’ve got a little longer to stare at our walls, so we might as well make them pretty! Let me know if you try any of these simple projects . . . or if you find a wrecking ball!

My Menstrual Cup Tell-All

According to my Amazon order history, I’ve been using a menstrual cup since February, 2018. Two years of use probably makes me a bit of an expert, so you’re in good hands. Let me go ahead and say that periods are messy, and feelings around my menstrual cup aren’t due to it making my period less so; it doesn’t. Honestly, I just think the thing makes my period less inconvenient. Stick with me, and I’ll explain.

I didn’t have strong feelings about needing to try a menstrual cup, but a few of my friends had converted, and not one had gone back to tampons. My interest was piqued, but I thought sticking a silicone device up my crotch sounded gross. I remember saying that to one friend, and she answered, “Well, periods are kind of gross in general, don’t you think?” Point taken. Bleeding out of your crotch and finding a way to catch what’s coming is, in fact, a nasty business. No device is going to change that.

If you haven’t heard of a menstrual cup, it’s a silicone device you insert in your vagina to catch your period blood. This is the one I have, and it comes with a little diagram of how insertion works. There are several ways to do it, and it depends on the situation. Am I alone in the shower re-inserting my freshly washed cup? I’m going to crouch low, fold the cup into the seven position, and get it inside with ease. (It’s OK to be jealous of both my ability to crouch low in a wet shower and my understanding of the menstrual cup vernacular.) Am I on a toilet with pants around my ankles? I’m just going to spread as much as I can, fold the cup into a seven again, and take my time making sure I have a good seal. More on that in a bit.

I’m going to give you a few points on choosing and using a menstrual cup, but then I’m going to list all the reasons I’ve been happy with the switch.

Choosing Your Menstrual Cup

I linked the one I have above, but there are several on the market. Most brands are sized small and large, but this is where you really need to pay attention. If you’re over 30 and sexually active, you need a large. If you have birthed babies through your vagina, you need a large. This is no reflection on you as a person, but Friend, your vagina is not that of a 20-year-old who has yet to have sex and babies. She needs a small; you need a large. You can look up better resources on sizing before you order, but it all has to do with your vagina, not your flow.

Using Your Menstrual Cup

I mentioned a couple of insertion scenarios already, but there should be a little diagram that comes with your cup. If not, there are endless resources online for you to figure out exactly what you’re doing. Vaginas are funny in that they can be shaped differently, so what works for one person may not work for you. What I will say is that there’s a learning curve to insertion, sealing (give it a twist), and removal, but it’s not bad. You’ve got this.

The amount of time you have before needing to empty your cup will vary, but you generally get a larger window with a menstrual cup than with tampons. There is a small pointy thing at the bottom to pull it out, but you may just need to pinch the whole bottom to break the seal. Pour the blood close to the hole in the toilet for it to flush easily, wipe the cup, and put it back in.

Cleaning Your Menstrual Cup

One thing that scares people away from a menstrual cup is the thought that it needs a deep clean after every fill, but that’s not true. If I’m just dumping the blood, I either wipe it off with toilet paper and put it back in or give it a quick rinse in the sink. Let me repeat: You don’t have to figure out getting your menstrual cup to the sink of a public restroom before inserting it again. Dump the blood, wipe the cup, and carry on.

My method for cleaning my menstrual cup is soap and water. I have friends who boil theirs pretty regularly (pro tip: squeeze it inside a whisk, and it won’t keep floating to the top), but I’ve only done that once. It’s a hassle to me, and I find it unnecessary. I make sure it gets a good cleaning at least once daily during my period and of course at the end. The shower has been the most convenient place for cleaning. Flush the blood in the toilet, clean the cup when showering, and insert it again before getting out.

If a menstrual cup sounds awkward, just know it will never be as awkward as this photo.

Why I’m Never Going Back

I don’t have to buy tampons every month.
I’ve had my period since I was twelve, but I swear the thing seems like an unwelcome surprise every time it comes. I’m not the best at planning ahead, so I inevitably realize I need more tampons, and I need them now. No more. And can we talk about the savings? I paid less than $15 for my menstrual cup, and I was spending at least $10 per month on tampons. Quick math says I’ve saved at least $225 in two years. Then there are the little things like knowing my husband no longer has to sweat a tampon purchase where he knows I’ll analyze the brand and design. (“But it says Tampax on the box. Aren’t they the same?”) And not being embarrassed that I’ve got three boxes at a time to get a $5 Target card? Yes, I’m glad to be done buying tampons.

I have more storage space.
I basically had an entire drawer in my bathroom dedicated to tampons. There were three boxes lined up, and I’d just refill them with light, regular, and super tampons. Now I just have the tiny menstrual cup bag and some panty liners which hardly take any space at all.

Packing is simplified.
When I’m going out of town, I no longer need to make sure I’m bringing along a significant amount of tampons. I just throw my menstrual cup bag and a few liners in my suitcase, and I’m set. Then there are the smaller outings with my kids. I don’t need to worry about turning my back on my bag and finding that they have pulled out an assortment feminine products. I can simplify this even more by saying having my purse searched in airport security, at events, or entering Disney World is no longer awkward. It’s not a big deal, but it’s one less thing to think about.

I don’t worry about where to throw a tampon away.
Have you ever been in someone’s home and freaked out that their bathroom garbage doesn’t have a liner? Have you used about half a roll of toilet paper to dispose of your used tampon because you don’t want it to bleed through? Have you buried the applicator and wrapper under other garbage? How about public restrooms when you realize there is no trash receptacle at all? Tampon disposal can be stressful away from home, right? (If you’re reading this and thinking about how you just flush yours, let me encourage you to stop that. Tampons tear up plumbing, even if they make it down the hole. Just google it.)

When I ordered my menstrual cup, I figured I’d try it a couple of months, but I kept my tampons just in case I wanted to go back. A year later, I finally gave them away. The menstrual cup has been a great option to make my period slightly less inconvenient, and I hope you end up feeling the same. Give one a try if you’ve been on the fence; I can pretty much guarantee you won’t go back.

Happy menstruating!

 

Straight from the Dermatologist :: Protecting Your Glowing Pregnancy Skin

We love working with Dr. Corey Hartman and his team at Skin Wellness Dermatology! This is sponsored content.

While pregnancy often includes crazy food cravings, heartburn, and swollen ankles, there’s one bodily change not often discussed: pregnancy skin and how to care for it.

Some women experience that glorious pregnant glow, and suddenly the acne they endured for years miraculously clears up! Then there are others who experience skin dryness, hyperpigmentation, and acne. As Kramer from Seinfeld says, “Mother Nature is a mad scientist!” It’s true. When you’re expecting, you never know what to expect.

Thankfully, Dr. Corey Hartman from Skin Wellness Dermatology is here to help pregnant women navigate this exciting time in life.

Short List for Safe Skin

Dr. Hartman has a “less is more” approach when it comes to pregnancy skincare. “Many skincare products and treatments are not safe for pregnant and breastfeeding women,” Dr. Hartman shared. “We know the oral acne medication Accutane can cause birth defects, and Retin-A is the same medication, just the topical form. So that should be avoided at all costs, too.”

What to AVOID during pregnancy:

    • Botox
    • Hydroquinone
    • Salicylic acid
    • Beta hydroxy acids
    • Retinol and Retin-A

What is SAFE to use during pregnancy:

    • Azelaic acid
    • Benzoyl peroxide
    • Clindamycin 
    • Glycolic acid
    • Alpha hydroxy acids
    • Bakuchiol (an alternative to retinol)

Stretch Marks and Scarring

As if pregnant women didn’t have enough to think about . . . then out of nowhere, stretch marks appear. While Retin-A is often prescribed for stretch marks, as stated above, it is not safe for use during pregnancy or while breastfeeding. Instead, Dr. Hartman advises women use safe alternatives such as Vitamin E oil and coconut oil.

Newborn Baby Skin

While we’re at it, let’s discuss newborn baby skin. Nothing is sweeter than the smell of a brand new baby, am I right?! We want so badly to protect their delicate skin, but just like with pregnancy skin, baby skin must be coddled as well.

Thankfully many newborn skin issues work themselves out on their own (such as baby acne and cradle cap). Dr. Hartman advises all baby skincare items (including shampoos and body washes) be extremely mild and free of fragrance, dyes, and lanolin. If issues persist (such as cradle cap that will just not budge and you have an infant photography session lined up), give Dr. Hartman a call. He can recommend some additional over-the-counter or prescription treatments if needed.

Stay Away from “Doctor Google”

While every woman is different, every pregnancy is different, too. Some women experience no skin problems with their first pregnancy while they endure massive breakouts during subsequent pregnancies. 

Dr. Hartman advises staying off the internet and social media for answers to your pregnancy skincare issues. There is an abundance of false information floating around, and the majority of it goes straight to a worst case scenario. Rather, consult the experts who have both credibility and a genuine concern for the health of you and your child.

Dr. Hartman and his team pride themselves on individualized care.
Simply visit SkinWellness.com to schedule an appointment.

 

What to Pack in Your Hospital Bag When Having Twins (or Other Multiples)

Every aspect of being a parent is new to me. I find myself searching for advice about various topics online. I was surprised by how few things out there cater to multiples and moms of multiples.

One of the first things I ran into was what to pack in my hospital bag when having twins. I am a planner and wanted to have everything ready to go when the time came.

Here’s my list I’d love to share with other mothers who could benefit from it!

What to Pack in Your Hospital Bag when Having Twins

For Babies

Preemie Clothes

I will admit, this was one thing that I didn’t want to think about. I wanted to believe my babies were going to be average size at birth. I carried my twins to 38 weeks exactly, and they came out at approximately five and six pounds. I am extremely glad in retrospect that I packed the preemie clothes because regular newborn clothes would have been much too big! That said, unless you are anticipating a longer than normal hospital stay, I would pack maybe one or two outfits of each size per baby. In other words, four preemie outfits and four newborn outfits for twins should be plenty.

what to pack in your hospital bag when having twins - Preemie Clothes
Elle and June in their preemie clothes the day after they were born.

Stroller

Having a stroller for twins (or other multiples) makes life so much easier when leaving the hospital! My husband and I used this stroller which allows car seats to be snapped in. There is also a plethora of storage on the bottom of the stroller. Not only did this help when we left the hospital, but it was also life-changing for pediatrician appointments.

what to pack in your hospital bag when having twins - Double Stroller
One of Elle and June’s first outings in their stroller.

For Mom

Comfortable Clothes

In many cases, you can wear your own clothes while in the hospital. While you can spend your time in a hospital gown, you can also spend time in regular clothes! That said, I would recommend something extremely comfortable. This means packing some maternity clothes and nursing tops if you plan to breastfeed your babies. I personally packed some maternity yoga pants and a maternity dress. That made life so much easier for me, especially since I had a C-section. Tight waistbands would have been painful!

Non-Slip Socks or Loose-Fitting Shoes

Just because you have delivered your babies doesn’t mean that your feet will be any less swollen. In my case, I found myself walking the halls of the maternity ward in the days after giving birth. Going barefoot clearly is not an option, so comfortable socks and shoes will have to do!

what to pack in your hospital bag when having twins - socks!
Comfortable socks are a definite must-have in a hospital bag!

Toiletries

This includes a toothbrush, toothpaste, soap, shampoo, and conditioner. My hospital had a shower in the hospital room. Nothing felt more amazing than taking a shower postpartum!

What Not to Bring

Anything Breastfeeding/Nursing Related

Your hospital will most likely have their own resources. This means you do not need to bring a pump or pump parts. If your hospital determines you need a pump while there, they should provide a pump and new clean parts to use while there.

I also packed a double nursing pillow, but we didn’t end up using it because there weren’t any areas in the hospital room where we could comfortably use it. The hospital ended up providing lots of pillows instead.

Anything Disposable

This includes diapers and wipes. The hospital will provide some for you when you have your babies. In fact, the hospital sent us all home with several packs of diapers and wipes. I don’t think we had to buy any preemie or newborn diapers once we got home!

What I Learned

In short, you don’t need to pack a ton of stuff for babies. The hospital has just about anything the babies will need. I did pack some nice-ish outfits and special swaddles for hospital pictures, but that was really it.

Packing as light as you can is definitely the way to go. You will be exhausted after everything, and the last thing you’re going to want to do is lug around tons of stuff!

If you are anticipating a C-section, find helpful packing and planning suggestions in this post!

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