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    • NPN's biggest fundraiser of the year, which allows us to continue to bring programming, events and school-choice help to Chicago parents, opens for bidding on Wednesday, March 8th! This is the perfect opportunity to buy things you already know you want or need—and help NPN, a 501(c)3 non-profit that depends on your bids to keep its lights on! Did we mention floor tickets to see Beyonce’s Renaissance Tour in Chicago?
      NPN's biggest fundraiser of the year, which allows us to continue to bring programming, events and school-choice help to Chicago parents, opens for bidding on Wednesday, March 8th! Open to the public, our Online Auction is bigger and better than ever, with more than 200 items up for bid. 
      Once you've had a chance to see our $65,000+ in goodies for Chicago families, make sure to place bids asap! We know how crazy life can get—set your max bid and rest easy. You can stop back in and visit your items or check your email notifications to make sure you are still in the lead. Bidding closes at 10pm CST on Sunday, March 12. 
      This is the perfect opportunity to buy things you already know you want or need—like summer camps, kids classes, museum memberships, restaurant gift cards, birthday parties, theater tickets, sports tickets, jewelry—and help NPN, a 501(c)3 non-profit that depends on your bids to keep its lights on! Did we mention floor tickets to see Beyonce’s Renaissance Tour in Chicago? 
      How to bid:
      Go to biddingforgood.com/npnparents. If you are new to Bidding For Good online auctions, click the Register to Bid button in the top center of the homepage. Enter the necessary contact information and click Submit. If you already have a Bidding For Good account, type in your username and password and click Sign In. Click the View All Items button to peruse more than 400 amazing items or click on individual categories to shop item by interest. Select the item(s) on which you’d like to bid. Enter your current bid, maximum bid and/or straight bid. (For more information about these types of bids, see below.) Make sure to click the Confirm Bid button to ensure your bid is properly processed. Track your bids by clicking the My Items button. To update your account or credit card information, click the My Account button. Check your email for updates when there is activity on your items. Frequently asked questions:  
      Do I need to enter credit card information into the system in order to bid? Yes. Your bid is considered your commitment to purchase the item at that price. If you win the item, the credit card used will be charged for the item you purchased. What is a “Maximum Bid”? Your maximum bid is the highest price you are willing to spend on an item via proxy bidding scenario. You can always increase your maximum bid if you’d like or if you’ve been outbid. What is a “Straight Bid”? A straight bid allows you to bid higher than the minimum increment immediately, instead of having to wait until the bidding is increased to that level. Enter the amount you would like to bid on an item, and check the "Straight Bid" option. The bid will be placed immediately at the amount entered. Do all items “close” at the same time? No. Every item’s closing time will continue to extend in 5-minute increments as long as there is continued bidding. Individual items will automatically close when there is a 5-minute extension period with no new bids or after 60 minutes past the original close time. Is there a “Buy It Now” option? Yes, on three items. For the NPN Online Auction, you have the option to purchase raffle tickets to win three floor tickets to see BEYONCÉ - RENAISSANCE WORLD TOUR. You can also purchase raffle tickets for the 50/50 auction and you can Fund a Family by purchasing an NPN membership for a family in need. Those all operate as a “Buy It Now” option. Will I be notified via email if I am outbid? Yes. Bidders are automatically opted in to receive bid alerts when they are outbid. Happy bidding! Thank you for supporting the NPN community.
      Please contact Amy at amy@npnparents.org if you have any questions or need any help. 

    • We all have pain points from our school years. Exploring and healing these sore spots will free up space for you to more clearly choose how you want to interact with your child around homework.
      Let’s begin with a boundary check: The responsibility of homework completion falls squarely on the child. Without question, it is hard to watch our children struggle with the effort homework demands, but it is very important that we resist the urge to “rescue” our child from the discomfort of effort. If you “help” a butterfly out of its cocoon it dies because it wasn’t given the chance to build its wing strength.
      So, we can all agree that children should work through homework on their own, but there is still a tremendous amount of pressure on children and parents to achieve at very high levels in our culture. College applications reduce years of education to a discrete set of numbers and the status of being from certain high-performing schools. We are told to not interfere, and then we are shown a world in which not getting the best possible grades and achieving the accolades that come with that means dramatically reduced opportunity. 
      And it all begins with homework, which is why it’s such a charged topic. While we often are looking forward towards an imagined future for our children, we are probably pointed in the wrong direction. To achieve a way forward through this achievement thicket, we should look to our own memories of doing homework as a child. There, we can mine the gold of memory: the parents who hovered over you and checked your work before you turned it in, or the parents who left you completely alone. We all have pain points from our school years. Exploring and healing these sore spots will free up space for you to more clearly choose how you want to interact with your child around homework.
      Your uncomfortable memories of homework and your child’s struggles with it today represent a perfect reparenting opportunity for you, which can lead to a deeply compassionate journey with your child as you work together to make homework work for them, instead of simply feeling like busy work. With this mindset you can start shifting the narrative from struggle and challenge to one that is about how we can learn and grow - together.
      Here are some suggestions of ways to foster relationship and a love of learning:
      Pair your own work time with that of your child by having work/study dates. You can set goals together, take breaks where you share what you are learning or working on, and most importantly celebrate progress together. Turn counterproductive statements or questions into learning opportunities by challenging them to problem solve. Respond to a statement like “I don’t know how to do this” with “What have you tried?” Having a good dialogue about a stumbling block builds critical thinking skills. Problem solve difficulty in completing homework together, as you might tackle a task management problem at work. Engage the challenge as a partner in removing obstacles. By making homework help a self-development opportunity, you can ensure a deeper engagement in learning for both your child and you.

    • Your child deserves the best version of you, and the healthiest parents possible. Only you can provide them with a happy, healthy, and functional you. Your behavior is a model framework, and your child learns more from how you interact with others than from how you instruct them to interact with others. 
      As a family law mediator and attorney, my hours are filled with former couples who must learn how to communicate for the benefit of their child. In advising clients on how to do this, we have to consider certain situations or feelings that get in the way. Before diving into advice on appropriate communication, I’ll explain a bit more on why it is so important:
      Your child deserves the best version of you, and the healthiest parents possible. Only you can provide them with a happy, healthy, and functional you.  Your behavior is a model framework, and your child learns more from how you interact with others than from how you instruct them to interact with others.  As we know too well, children are observant and smart. In their social skills now and for the future, your child will reference your communication skills (or lack thereof) as guidance for their social interactions. You are very uniquely positioned to help them become functional individuals who can face interpersonal difficulties. Your child will certainly pick up on your own attitude, demeanor, and language about your ex. If you ask adults whose parents were divorced to share a memory of how their parents communicated, they will undoubtedly remember. You don’t want your child to grow and think, “wow, my parent really couldn’t put me first. They hated my other parent more than they loved me.” You want your child to grow and know, “my parent did their best to protect me from the nuance and nastiness of their adult romantic relationship.” 
      Finally, remember that your child is truly a combination of you and your ex. Regardless of who your child is closer to, resembles, prefers, etc.,  remember this: they have two parents. Your child could likely internalize at least some of what you’re saying about their other parent, because it’s, well, their parent! And you have a truly special opportunity to show them how to communicate in a healthy way. Caveat: My thoughts apply to standard or high-conflict situations where everyone is physically safe. Anyone dealing with an abusive or violence ex should, of course, put safety first.
      Universal guidelines for communication with a co-parent:
      Accept that your relationship with this adult is now primarily transactional. Consider this a business relationship where you are essentially professionals working together raising the child.  Make, keep, and reaffirm boundaries.  I highly recommend the book by Nedra Glover Tawwab as described below. Some common examples of boundaries with co parents are: Only being available to them for matters related to your child; Letting their calls go to voicemail and reviewing the voicemail; Answer non-urgent requests within 24 hours; and Reminding them as needed of your boundaries.  Keep it BIFF: Brief, Informative, Friendly, and Firm. As described in the book mentioned below, communication between co parents can and should, in general, be straightforward. Your exchanges should be brief and to the point; informative and useful (no communication “just because…”); friendly without being flirty, and firm without being harsh. Again, you now have primarily a transactional relationship with this person. Behave accordingly. Consider shared calendar and family organization apps (Google Calendar, Our Family Wizard, Talking Parents) to limit unnecessary back-and forth. Never use the child as a messenger. Consider therapy another source of professional help for handling the massive emotions and changes you’re likely experiencing.  You don’t have to do this alone. When one of you is still in love:
      Accept reality. However you must do this, learn and accept that you are now a solo parent and a single individual. This person is not your spouse, they are not your romantic partner. It is not ok to flirt with them or treat them romantically or “cute.”  Distance yourself. Refrain from contacting them unnecessarily, or for reasons outside of their new role as co-parent (and not as your romantic interest). Ask some friends to be your assistants in this, and check with them before sending or saying anything that you think may not be best. Reframe their role in your life. While you may have once been comfortable calling this person your husband/wife/ spouse, this person has a new role: Teammate on Team Child. I have seen parents save each other's phones as new contacts “Sam Jones- Team Billy!” It’s corny, but maybe it will help. (Side note: if you can’t save them as something nice, save them as their own name. This is not a time for “nicknames.”) When there’s hate:
      Process it on your own. You are probably going to want a therapist, if only for a short term. How can you move forward if you’re still so angry abo it the past? Your anger may be well-founded and deserved, I get it. You must learn to leave your child out of this as much as possible, and prevent them from becoming collateral damage.  Keep it away from your child. Regardless of where you are in the healing journey, your child is dealing with enough on their own. Protect them from adult matters by discussing co parenting issues when they aren’t around. Speaking in “code” or just out of their earshot probably doesn’t work as well as you think it does. Note: if there is or was abuse or violence in your relationship with your now-coparent, i recommend the following  books in particular: “Splitting” and “Why Does He Do That?” These books separately address some of the considerations that you may unfortunately be dealing with.  Regardless of where you are in the coparenting process, I hope you will consider your child above all else. Even the “best” parents struggle sometimes. It is hard! And you can do hard things. Especially ones that are so very worth it for your child.

      **Here are the links to the recommended reads mentioned above:**
      Set Boundaries, Find Peace: https://www.semicolonchi.com/humble-design/1du11v25tyoistwttyram0lgrgxvib BIFF: https://www.highconflictinstitute.com/bookstores/biff-for-coparents Splitting: https://www.goodreads.com/en/book/show/9996542 Why Does He Do That? Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/224552.Why_Does_He_Do_That_

    • Overwhelmed with loneliness, desperation, and the fear of our new normal, I realized that a parent community might be what I needed to restore my hope.
      It was an early Sunday morning in March 2012. I did not get much sleep the night before, because I was 4 months pregnant with our second child, and our first child, Luke, had just received a diagnosis of autism and epilepsy. To say that I was stressed would be an understatement. 
      Related: Your Child Received a Diagnosis, Now What?
      After speaking to my nursing pediatrician, it was recommended that I join a few community groups for support and resources. It was in this search that I found out about a resource fair that was created for parents just like me - parents that were overwhelmed, stressed, and on the hunt for resources and community. I was determined to provide my children with the best options available and realized that attending this fair might help me do just that. Overwhelmed with loneliness, desperation, and fear of our new normal we went to our first NPN Developmental Differences Resource Fair (DDRF) that morning. 
      If I close my eyes right now, I can remember the moment I walked into my first NPN Developmental Differences Resources Fair. I can remember looking around and seeing so many resources and so many families, like mine, all in one room. Instantly, my stress levels decreased and I breathed a sigh of relief as the feeling of hope, which had escaped me for several months, came flooding back. I was able to connect with so many resources at once! The biggest takeaway was the connections with the other families I met; just knowing I was not alone gave me so much encouragement. 
      The following year, I returned for my second DDRF. This time I was more confident, I knew exactly which resources I needed, and I was prepared with questions to ask. My biggest takeaway that second year at DDRF was that there is literally a resource for everything. Education, extra-curricular activities, therapies, government benefits, financial planning, whatever it is - there is a resource for it. I just had no idea where to look to find all of the information that I needed and had been too exhausted as a new mom to seek out the resources on my own.
      Related: Raising a Black Autistic Boy in America
      Fast forward to today and my son is now 12 years old and thriving! I have to say that being an advocate for my son and utilizing the resources that I found at NPN’s DDRF have made all the difference. I am proud to report that we have been able to change the trajectory of our son’s progress for the better. One of the best decisions I ever made was to pull my exhausted, desperate, hopeless, and stressed self out of bed that morning in March 2012,  and take the first steps towards building our community and support network.

    • We definitely just started a new tradition in our home. I cannot wait to take her back next year and to personally experience the magic again, myself. 
      As a mom to a boisterous four-year-old girl, I am always looking for ways to entertain her and keep her busy. That's why I decided to take advantage of the opportunity to take my daughter, Clarke, to see The Nutcracker for the very first time this year. Clarke has been captivated recently with dance and gymnastics - so I figured an opportunity to take her to see the greatest holiday show ever would be as magical for her as it would be for me! 
      Growing up, I was the girl that always dreamt of going to fancy shows and getting dolled up to go out with my mother. However, with two busy working parents and four other siblings, there was always either a shortage of time or money which meant no ballet performances for me; the closest I would get would be to watch a performance on television. So, once the ticket notification hit my inbox, I was overjoyed! We were going to see The Nutcracker for the first time ever!!
      In all of my excitement, I ignored warnings that my daughter might be too young to admire the amazing skills of the dancers or to be truly interested in a performance without words or animation - but as we got closer to our performance date, I began to worry about her attention span and a little bit of everything else. Will our seats be close enough for her to see what's actually going on? Will she want to talk the entire time? Will the people near us be patient and understanding if (when) she does talk the entire time?? Will other kids her age even be there???
      Alas, our performance date arrived, here's how it went and how I did my best to prepare her.
      Hours before the ballet: 
      The afternoon leading up to the ballet, we talked about how ballerinas can be girls and boys and how they study dance and practice for years to take part in performances. We also watched a few clips from a YouTube video on the work that goes on behind-the-scenes to prepare for The Nutcracker performance.  Personally, I watched a video about the history of The Nutcracker. (Did you know that it was originally written in 1891?!) I didn't set out to watch this video on my own but my daughter was not at all interested in this content.  On the way to the ballet: 
      On the way to the ballet, we listened to the famous Tchaikovsky tunes from The Nutcracker while I called out different melodies that I hoped she'd be able to recognize later. During the ballet:
      After struggling to find parking, we ended up arriving 8 minutes late and had to sit in the late section for the first act. This was the roughest part of the experience for Clarke. She kept asking questions about why the dancers were so far away and trying to rock around in her seat to peer a tiny bit closer at the action on stage. I silently counted down until the conclusion of the first act so we could move to our actual seats. After intermission, a snack, and a bio break - we finally settled into our seats and enjoyed a much closer view. To my delight, we sat next to a five-year-old girl that was also there for her first show with her mom. Her mother and I exchanged smiles of support as the lights dimmed for the final act. Much to my surprise, Clarke was completely enthralled! She was focused in and amazed at the movements. She recognized many of the songs we'd listened to on the way there and she giggled along during the hilarious moments and clapped loudly at the end. I'm pretty sure I sprained a cheek muscle from smiling ear-to-ear for 45 minutes straight.  Afterwards: 
      For about a week, our kitchen floors received a complimentary wax as a result of all of the spinning and gliding from Clarke and her fuzziest socks. She was going to be a ballerina, she exclaimed! The kind that dances with nuts. We definitely just started a new tradition in our home. I cannot wait to take her back next year and to personally experience the magic again, myself. 
      The Joffrey Ballet’s “Nutcracker” runs through late December at the Lyric Opera House.
      A very special thank you to The Silverman Group for providing complimentary tickets and making our dreams come true! 

    • You are the reason we do what we do, and your membership makes this work both meaningful and possible. Your donations also help NPN tremendously. Read more about how your generosity really makes a difference.
      Many worthy causes are vying for your donations and many organizations tug on your heartstrings, so you may be wondering - why donate to NPN? 
      After all, as a member of NPN, you likely understand that there is a level of privilege here. Topics on our discussion forum include luxurious vacations, elite universities, private jets, and more. But NPN means a lot to many families around the city and we are continuously working towards our mission to connect a diverse community of families by providing the support and resources they need to solve the challenges of parenting in Chicago.
      Did you know that with the help of the Chicago Park District/Special Olympics, Illinois Action for Children, and Carlson Community Services, NPN has distributed more free memberships in one year than ever before? Sixty-five and counting. Or that we help provide free and discounted membership renewals to parents who couldn't join without one? Or that all of our developmental differences resources are free to anyone, anywhere. We truly strive to be here for every new or experienced parent in Chicago who is researching schools, navigating developmental differences, and looking for parent-to-parent advice.
      NPN makes life more manageable for parents in Chicago, and every parent who comes to NPN comes with a need. They need a school, a diagnosis, advice, or a friend. One parent might come to NPN and quickly find school information or summer childcare and smoothly move on to tackling the next parenting hurdle. Another parent might come to NPN and find ongoing emotional support in parenting their special needs child, along with expert help in finding special services and therapies. NPN is here to help parents find whatever they need, and NPN is here for you.
      You are the reason we do what we do, and your membership makes this work both meaningful and possible. However, membership fees don’t cover all of NPN’s expenses. Can you give a little bit more to keep NPN going? 
      Your donation truly matters to NPN. Our financial outlook is challenging. Despite gaining dozens of new members every year, NPN's membership has been declining slowly every year for several years, following the trend of membership organizations in general. We attribute this to families moving out of the city and an increase in parenting resources overall, but we also want to do better. I will explain more about that below. At this moment, a slowly declining membership, an abrupt and extended loss of in-person events during the pandemic, and the continued economic uncertainty faced by our advertisers and sponsors creates the most challenging financial future that NPN has ever confronted in our 42 year history.
      With that in mind, you may have noticed that NPN has turned to focusing on what we do best: helping parents research schools, navigate developmental differences, and find parent-to-parent advice. This coming year we will partner with local education and special needs experts, add new programming for parents of teens, create hybrid school fairs and developmental differences resource fairs, and elevate parent-to-parent advice. At the same time, we are intentionally working to make NPN more inclusive and relevant to every parent in Chicago, regardless of culture, background, gender, gender identity, race, ethnic origin, national origin, religion, sexual orientation, financial means, age, or ability. We want every parent in Chicago to feel welcome and supported here.
      As an NPN member, you are savvy, smart, and doing your best for your family. You also want to do the best you can when you give. Please consider what you could do for NPN and the parents who come here for information and support. Even five dollars a month goes a long way right now, while Meta is matching all recurring donations made by 12/31/22 via Facebook.
      Please consider setting up a recurring donation today by clicking here.
      The NPN staff team, board of directors, your fellow city parents and I are truly grateful for your support.

    • Help your child explore their future through lived experiences.
      If your childhood was anything like mine, I’m sure you can remember being repeatedly asked what it is that you wanted to be when you grew up. I’m also pretty sure what you said then doesn’t match your life now! So, why do we force children to answer this seemingly rhetorical question? And how can we get our children to explore the endless possibilities of their future without boxing them in?
      As an adult and a mom, I’ve come to really appreciate experiences over things. You’ll often find me gifting tickets to shows, museums, or concerts instead of toys and clothing. So when it comes to getting my children to think about their future, I take the same approach and try to help them discover what they like and dislike based on their lived experiences.
      This is why I was really excited when I discovered Rocket Club Academy, a first of its kind program that provides children 7 to 14 years old the opportunity to explore industries in STEAM and entrepreneurship and discover their passions and interests along the way. With the help of industry leaders, Rocket Club Academy members learn by doing via the program’s proprietary curriculum, picking up valuable life lessons and skills that are not taught in the traditional education system. 
      This January, Rocket Club Academy is launching a new module that will guide members on the journey of learning to own and operate a professional sports franchise! Members will analyze the marketing and financing behind major sports organizations, explore the technology behind how athletes are trained, and the impact on local communities. 
      Encourage your child to expand their thoughts about their future by starting with a topic that sparks their interest and gifting them an experience that can change their lives and perspective forever!
      Rocket Club Academy is a boutique club with limited enrollment and locations in the heart of the Lincoln Park and Oak Park  communities. As an NPN member, you have the opportunity to score a free 1-month membership (a $385 value) with access to the January class! Contact Rocket Club Academy to book a tour and learn more today at https://rocketclub.com/chicago

    • What truly qualifies as “best” for one family may not be well suited to another.
      You’ve successfully navigated the nursery years, tolerated the toddler years and are pondering the preschool years when you realize, "OMG! Preschool means 'pre-SCHOOL,' and I need to find an elementary school!"
      A parent’s school search typically starts by sitting down at the computer and typing in “Best Elementary Schools." The results are populated with hits from sources such as GreatSchools, Niche, Schooldigger or School Sparrow. But what do these results mean, and should parents just add the #1 school to their list while ignoring other schools that are closer or more familiar to them? How reliable are the ratings, and how should a parent use them?
      [Related: How to apply to CPS selective enrollment elementary schools and magnet schools]
      The fact of the matter is that school ratings and rankings are a very messy, very inexact method to quantify schools. Because they are summarized by a “number” or “grade” or listed in a “ranking order," parents tend to put undue emphasis on ratings/rankings yet aren’t aware of what is being measured.
      While test scores are typically the largest component to rankings, “school fit” (literally, how good of a fit a given school is for your child) is much more than test performance and is ultimately a very personal matter that can even vary within a family from child to child. What truly qualifies as “best” for one family may not be well suited to another. While it is understandable that parents need some metric to start with, the metrics used can be skewed, out of date, or not reflective of the cohort your family will be entering the school with. 
      Following are some common misunderstandings about school rankings:
      Ratings typically put the greatest emphasis on test scores, so better resourced families often have higher test scores and those family resources continue to benefit their children throughout their education Ratings/rankings are not set in stone and can change as demographics in a school changes Ratings typically reflect 3rd to 8th grade, so younger families should be wary of looking at metrics that may include a very different demographic than the one their family will be in school with Ratings often lump in all programs within a school. So, those with a higher population of students with learning needs may still be a great (or even better) option for your student, but the “rankings” may not reflect the level of supports. Schools can and do change, and schools in gentrifying areas may have more resources added to the school by the time your family will be attending [Related: 9 questions parents should be asking schools]
      Test scores don't tell the whole story
      It is somewhat pre-ordaining to use rankings to choose a school. Think about it: If test scores are a big factor in ratings/rankings, then children who have advantages and resources from birth are certainly going to test better overall and the schools near them will reap the benefits of well-resourced students and parents.
      While new parents may be more swayed by rankings, eventually we come to realize that academics alone are not a single trait to look for in a school. Social-emotional factors — as well as culture, climate and community — are just as impactful yet are hard to capture in objective metrics because they are inherently more subjective. School visits can be invaluable to dispel pre-conceptions or help a family picture themselves in a school, but people gravitate toward or crave the easier route of following rankings.
      School rankings don't measure lifestyle impact
      Parents who blindly follow blanket rankings/ratings may overlook a great "fitting" school in favor of one that a third-party metric says is 10 spots “above” the other school, yet requires a drive across town to attend. In the end, there may not be any marked difference in outcome for their child attending one or the other. But the lifestyle impact could be more negative for the school that's further away.
      One school’s overall scores may be lower because it serves a broader range of backgrounds or has more special needs students, but that doesn't mean your child’s success is reliant on only one school and not another. What your child can achieve and what they score on an exam does NOT have to be the “average” number.
      What to look for instead of rankings
      Using rankings and ratings to be the first or only metric in choosing a school can also serve to negatively suppress positive changes at a school. Instead, families should tour their local school or those near them. Another great indicator of a school fit? Talk to families with children their age who may have older siblings at the school. Reaching out to a school’s parent group or attending local school council (LSC) meetings is also a great way to get an honest scoop on a school.
      Ultimately, the greatest arbiter of student success is parent involvement in their children's lives — way beyond one school over another school, public or private, city or suburbs.

    • Make dinner exciting again! Connect with others while sharing your very own recipes in NPN’s first-ever cookbook.
      One thing I love about NPN is that I’m surrounded by other parents that I can honestly share the joys and woes of parenting with. One of those woes that many of us feel daily is the struggle of deciding what to feed the tiny humans we’ve created. My day often moves so quickly that the thought of slowing down to prep dinner for hours no longer fits into my lifestyle.
      Hangry and searching for ideas that stretch beyond my exhausted “Yummm” Pinterest board, I turned to the NPN Discussion Forum and found several other moms that were desperately looking for new recipes and tips to make dinner easier. A few weeks later, and here we are: launching our very first cookbook! 
      NPN Cooks: Connecting Through Food seeks to compile Chicago meals from Chicago families and solve your weeknight craving for new dinner ideas. Obviously, we need your help and would love to publish your recipe — keep reading if you’re hungry to learn more!
      What is it?
      NPN Cooks is our first cookbook that we hope to turn into an annual NPN tradition and fundraiser. The cookbook will be a compilation of recipes from NPN staff and members and provide all contributors with the opportunity to share their favorite recipes and even add a special note (perfect for shouting out your great-grandmama for the original recipe!) or photo.
      [Related: How to get your kids involved in day to day cooking]
      How can I contribute?
      Click this link to add your recipe! It’s super easy and takes less than 60 seconds for the average recipe. We ask that all recipes are entered by November 25th so that we can design the book and get it ready for print for the holidays.
      Can I share any recipe?
      This year, we are focusing on family weeknight meals with an emphasis on mains, sides, and sweets or snacks. So we ask that the recipe that you share can fall within one of those categories. 
      Is there a limit to contributing?
      Nope! There is no limit on how many recipes you contribute! 
      [Related: 5 tips for cooking with little kids]
      How much does it cost?
      Contributing your recipe(s) is free! The cost for completed cookbooks varies based on the format that you’d like to order. There are multiple formats ranging from a digital version that you can access on your phone or tablet to a hardback-cover cookbook, with a few other options in between.
      How do I order?
      You can pre-order without entering in any credit card information when you submit your recipe. We will notify all members when the book is officially on sale.
      I have questions. Who can I contact?
      Please reach out to me with questions at sitaara@npnparents.org.
      Chef's kiss!

    • Three houses. Nineteen family members ages 6-70. Here's what we did.
      During a week in July, my husband and I hosted his family for vacation. Spread between three houses (including ours), were 19 family members, ages 6–70 years old. With a small backyard and a basement only a teenager would love, we had to get out and about in the city.
      To help inspire anyone who's in a position to play host this fall and beyond, I'm sharing what we did and how it went — both the "goal" and the "reality."
      Chinatown on a (sweltering) Tuesday ⭐⭐
      Goal: Drive to Chinatown, take a water taxi to downtown and back, shop, eat, drive home.
      Reality: The water taxi was only running on weekends over the summer. Bummer #1.
      Parking was easy in the Chinatown North Parking Lot (2001 S. Wentworth Ave.). After parking, we met inside the beautiful, air-conditioned library (2100 S Wentworth Ave.). So far so good.
      We ate lunch at Triple Crown Restaurant (2217 S. Wentworth). Amazingly, they sat all 19 of us right away, at two big tables right next to each other. The dim sum was delicious but it was a severely hot day and the A/C couldn’t keep up. I sweated through lunch. 
      [Related: Chicago date-night ideas that go beyond dinner and drinks]
      After lunch we tried to stay together, but as a big group on a narrow sidewalk trying to make a decision about where to go next, this was not fun. Eventually we all made it to the plaza together and that was much better. Bubble tea, shopping, finding some shade…everything was OK again. Except for the fact that when we got to the parking lot, we realized that we had neglected to get our parking tickets stamped at the restaurant, and had to pay full price for parking. Sigh.
      Downtown on a Wednesday ⭐⭐⭐
      Goal: Take the El downtown, go to the Skydeck Ledge in the Willis Tower, then to Millennium Park and Maggie Daley Park. Eat lunch along the way.
      Reality: We purchased tickets to the Ledge ahead of time and took the train to Willis Tower. There was no wait to get into the elevator. So far, so good.
      The winding line that we stood in to actually walk out onto the Ledge was long, but moved quickly. We were a group of 20 and they allowed 14 of us on the ledge at once. Pictures turned out great!
      Back down at street level, half of our group went home. The rest of us (ages 6-70) ate lunch outside at Willis Tower and then walked to the Crown Fountains at Millennium Park. Everyone had a good day. 
      Climb Zone on a Thursday ⭐⭐⭐⭐
      Goal: Let the kids burn some energy while (some of) the adults do other things.
      Reality: We had eight kids in our group, ages 7–16. They all climbed and played video games, bumper cars, and laser tag. We ate pizza, chicken strips, and salad. Parking was tight in the lot (2500 W Bradley Pl.), but we had the inside almost all to ourselves. Easy and fun.
      [Related: Chicago venues that cater to kids with special needs]
      Miko’s Italian Ice on a Sunday ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
      Goal: Walk to Miko’s (4125 N. Kimball Ave.), eat Italian ice, be happy.
      Reality: Exactly as planned!

    • My advice as a physical therapist and as a parent? Trust your instincts. YOU know your child best.
      As a pediatric physical therapist, something I hear quite often in new assessments with families is that they "knew something wasn't quite right and had questions on it, but were told to wait and see if it was still a problem" at their next pediatrician visit. Many times, things do work themselves out with development for a variety of factors. Unfortunately, it's not every time. If gaining anything from this article, my advice as a physical therapist and as a parent myself is to trust your instincts. YOU know your child best.
      Early intervention has been statistically proven to shorten overall intervention times as well as improve results across all disciplines with children. The challenge with the “wait and see” recommendation is that earlier in your child's medical care at their primary pediatrician, you are seeing each other every four weeks. By the time you may have concerns, your check-in period is every three months. Three months is a long time in a child's first year of development: it's a quarter of their life!
      [Related: Preschool, or therapeutic preschool?]
      So how does a family pursue occupational, physical, or speech therapy for their child? There are a multitude of different ways to access services, which move along their corresponding timelines for each path. Here are some of your options:
      1. Call a reputable, outpatient center or home-based service to provide therapy services.
      Turn around time to services: one to two weeks
      Look at online reviews, ask for others’ experiences in local parenting groups, access NPN’s referral list — any of these areas could be a good starting point to contact for an assessment for services. Most places will directly call a pediatrician for the prescription to be on file prior to the assessment. In Illinois, you do not need a prescription for physical therapy, as it is a direct-access state. This means that patients can refer themselves and receive ongoing treatment without an initial referral. Reputable outpatient service locations will still gain a referral and share treatment plans and evaluation results
      with a primary pediatrician, regardless of the state requirement. You can also ask for this to be done! This is the most direct and fastest way to receive services. This can also be the most costly, especially if you still have to meet an insurance deductible or do not have private insurance to access.
      If you are in a rush to prioritize services, an important question during this process is whether the outpatient center or private-based therapy service site providers are also in network with Illinois's Early Intervention system. (We'll review how to access both services down below.)
      2. Call the Illinois Early Intervention program.
      Turn around time to services: six to 12 weeks, depending on availability
      Illinois has a robust Early Intervention program offered for children ages 0 to 3. Services included in Early Intervention are speech therapy, occupational therapy, physical therapy, developmental therapy, developmental vision therapy, developmental hearing therapy, feeding therapy, social work, nutrition services, and diagnostic referral services, to name a few. Services are typically provided in home, in a daycare, or via teletherapy, depending on a family's preference.
      [Related: What to look for in a therapeutic preschool]
      Families can call the child and family connection facility associated with their home address ZIP code to obtain an assessment and report concerns related to their child's development. Pediatricians or other physicians related to your child's care can also directly refer to the Early Intervention system. To begin Early Intervention services, your pediatrician must agree with and sign off on all recommended services after the assessment. After calling to schedule an assessment, it typically takes two weeks to receive a scheduled assessment. Following the evaluation, recommendations are made and new providers are searched for to provide the recommended frequency of services.
      This process in finding your child's provider team can at times be lengthy to get set up, depending on availability of clinicians in your area. Despite the issues with timely services, the benefits to using the Early Intervention system are great for families! Monthly family fees are assessed based on number of family members and overall household income. This family fee is set from $0 to $200 max per month. Early Intervention can act as your primary insurance (as in, the only insurance plan that is billed for therapy services), or it can act as your secondary insurance (e.g., the insurance to handle any unpaid amounts after visits are processed by your primary insurance plan). Because of this set up, Early Intervention can provide an extremely affordable and accessible means for therapy services for children up to the age of three.
      3. Combination of utilizing private insurance and the Early Intervention system through the state of Illinois.
      Turn around time: one to two weeks to get started; up to three months to bring on Early Intervention coverage
      At times, when a problem has been identified, waiting several months for services can feel like a lifetime. This is where a provider that can initially work with your insurance plan, that has providers certified through the Early Intervention program, can work nicely. Think of it as billing just your primary insurance for the first weeks before Early Intervention can "kick in." Early Intervention can then be used primarily as your benefits plan or to help supplement your insurance plan. Finding an initial provider that provides both services is also helpful so that you do not have to get services started and then switch providers to a different facility.
      Hopefully this has been a useful guide to accessing services and pursuing early intervention for your child. Again, listen to your instincts, pursue help when needed, and don’t rely on “wait and see”: it could prove to take even more time to make gains with this approach.

    • It’s with a lot of happiness — and trepidation — that I anticipate my son starting preK.
      My 4 year old is starting preschool in the fall.
      This is not necessarily a remarkable event — kids start preschool the world over every year, of course — but given our circumstances and the horridness of local and world events since his birth, I feel this milestone is really something worth celebrating.
      [Related: Preschool, or therapeutic preschool?]
      Let’s start with my son himself. Julian is…how do I say this…a challenging child. He is hilarious, whip-smart, cute as hell and, when he wants to be, very sweet and cuddly. I’m wild about him. But hoo boy, is he intense. Intense opinions. Intense emotions. Intense moods. Even in utero, he made his presence known with morning sickness so intense I had to take anti-nausea meds right up until his birth. Then there was the colic, followed by torticollis that required physical therapy, then a flat head that required a helmet, followed by refusing to eat most foods that required food therapy.
      Then the pandemic hit.
      I took a leave from my job at NPN to parent Julian and help my older son with online school while my husband worked from home. Feeding therapy went away and, with it, all the Fs I had to give about what he ate, which admittedly felt pretty freeing. Then, three months into the pandemic, he started a wonderful nanny share and, for nearly two years, the other little boy often was his only playmate. Classes, play dates, birthday parties, swim lessons…all the things his older brother got to experience at Julian’s age? Until very recently, he didn’t get to do any of them.
      [Related: How I did my Chicago preschool search]
      So it’s with a lot of happiness and trepidation that my husband and I anticipate him starting preK at our neighborhood CPS school, where his brother already attends. Will Julian follow the rules? Adapt to the new routine? Play nicely with the other kids? Eat a lunch beyond Goldfish and a stick of cheese? These are questions all parents probably have before their child attends school for the first time, but his lack of experience with any kind of classroom and his relative social isolation have me worried. Odds are he’ll be just fine, and preK will do him immeasurable good. But until the jury is in, I will be on pins and needles.
      [Related: Preschool vs. pre-k: What's the difference?]
      And then, of course, are the other worries. Since Julian’s birth four years ago, the world has become an even scarier place. Rampant racism, mass shootings, mass shootings in schools, Covid, Covid restrictions, quarantines, horrific wars around the world, an ever-deepening political and social divide, a rolling back of our constitutional rights…just, wow. It’s a lot. Parents of the world, give yourself a pat on the back for just surviving the past few years.
      Yet I am hopeful. Hopeful for Julian starting this new (easier?) chapter, hopeful that there are good, decent people who are working hard with me to make this world better for him. He deserves it. We all do.

    • While my fertility journey is far from unique, it is personal to me. It has helped shape me into the mother — and person — I am today.
      The irony of being a divorce and family law attorney who deals with the dissolution of the family unit and then writing about the creation of a family through in-vitro fertilization is not lost on me. But then again, nothing about life is predictable or often linear.
      My journey through IVF was similar to that of many others. I was never one to dream about babies and motherhood, but when the time was right for me, I was ready to jump. But lo and behold, my body had other plans for me.
      Most of us at age 35 are considered to be in the prime of our lives — professionally, socially and emotionally. I had graduated from law school a few years earlier after having made a career switch from public relations. I was primed to do anything and that included getting married and having kids. But in the world of reproduction, I was teetering on the verge of being geriatric.
      After six months of trying to get pregnant “naturally” and considering the ticking clock, my husband and I decided to have a consultation at the Fertility Centers of Illinois. After a series of tests, it was determined that both of us were producing what we needed to bear children. The problem was, I couldn’t get pregnant and time was not on our side. We decided to try one round of IUI (intrauterine insemination) before embarking on the IVF (in-vitro fertilization) route.
      Related: Path to Parenthood: From infertility to adoption]
      When I think back to what became of my life — of needles and daily monitoring and sitting in waiting rooms while my name of “Katy M.” was called out (no last names are used so as to avoid confidential information being shared) — it is all a giant haze. The first round produced no eggs of sufficient quality for fertilization. Drugs were changed and monitoring became more intense. I dealt with daily shots and every morning returning to the fertility center to see how my body was faring. As a result of the new protocol, I produced multiple eggs, which were harvested (keep an eye on your language when you’re coming out of being anesthetized; thank goodness for the lightheartedness of the FCI staff) and then fertilized. A few quality embryos resulted and we discussed with our doctor the pros and cons of implanting more than one at a time. After some serious consideration, we decided to implant two. And…no pregnancy.
      Heartbroken, we took some time off. The process had been emotionally and physically exhausting. My body just needed a break. Luckily we had three embryos that we had frozen and when it was time, we implanted two. This time, my body cooperated and I became pregnant. Nine months later, my son Luke was born.
      [Related: What I went through to become a single mother by choice]
      We waited about two years to embark on the journey again. I was now 38 and practically a senior citizen by fertility standards. My law career was bustling and I was slated to make partner. While not technically convenient to become pregnant again, it was now or never.
      We had one more frozen embryo in storage which was implanted. I had thought that given the “youth” of the embryo, pregnancy would be a no-brainer. Well, I was wrong.
      I then embarked on round three of harvesting and fertilization. To say that a few years aged my uterus was an understatement. I was the mom of a 1 ½ year old (read: exhausted), my body produced very few eggs, and when they were fertilized, there were very few viable embryos. My doctor said she would take the very “best” and keep her fingers crossed. Pregnancy number two was not likely, and my husband I discussed adoption as an alternative. I remember driving home from our lake house and googling adoption agencies. It was so overwhelming, I just had to stop.
      My doctor transferred the embryo and just one day later, I was on trial for a very contentious case. I was sure the stress of trial would prevent a pregnancy. But I had no other choice.
      After a grueling 10 days, I decided to take a pregnancy test. Positive. I could not believe it. Here I had a “questionable” embryo implanted, I was on trial, and I was nearly a senior citizen in the eyes of reproductive staff. It was a miracle.
      Nine months later, my feisty daughter was born. She turned out to be a fighter, which I knew would be the fact the moment she held on for dear life that day my doctor took a chance on her.
      While my fertility journey is far from unique, it is personal to me. It has helped shape me into the mother — and person — I am today.

    • When my turn came to drop off my 3-month-old at daycare, very little of my experience mirrored the typical tale.
      Like many milestones in motherhood, I turned to social media and my friends who were moms to set my expectations for returning to work after maternity leave with my first daughter. The narrative was this: You will dread the end of maternity leave and curse the swift passage of time. You will feel your heart break and probably sob as you leave your child with another care provider. You will spend your entire work day trying to focus while only being able to think of your child. You will feel pulled in two directions, but mostly in one direction: home with your baby.
      When my turn came to drop off my 3-month-old at daycare, however, I found that very little of my experience mirrored the typical tale. Although I had some anxiety about leaving her with relative strangers for the first time, after just one week back at work, I felt unexpectedly happy and at peace.
      [Related: 3 things working moms shouldn't feel guilty about]
      Perhaps it shouldn’t have come as a surprise that I felt relief when others felt dread. After all, much of my postpartum experience to that point had veered from what seemed to be the norm. I struggled with postpartum depression, which left me feeling distant and somewhat detached from my daughter. I felt lost, scared and completely out of my element. My daughter was a horrible sleeper, making me a jittery, barely-present zombie just trying to make it through every day.
      When I was back at work, it felt like a gift to put my mind toward a challenge outside the eat-sleep-diaper routine, laugh with coworkers, look presentable and use the bathroom or drink a cup of coffee uninterrupted. After three months of total shell shock, I felt like I was seeing the sun again.
      As the months passed and I slowly overcame PPD and yet still had no greater desire to be at home, I started to feel guilty. I wondered what my happiness at work said about me. How could I be the only one who seemed absolutely certain that working five days a week was the best thing for me? If I were a more natural mother, would I want to be home with my baby like everyone else?
      [Related: Navigating the Great Resignation as a parent]
      But motherhood, it turns out, is much like the introvert/extrovert dichotomy. Where some moms derive their energy and sense of purpose from working, others find it at home with their kids (or some combination of the two). When motherhood worries consume me or I have a bad night of sleep, work provides a chance to step away, surround myself with other adults and remember that life goes on. Work helps me recharge my emotional batteries and regain my sense of self so that I'm a happier, healthier, more confident mom. Best of all, the fulfillment I get from work makes me the best version of myself so that I can be the best mom to my daughters.
      After several years as a working mom, I've become more comfortable in my skin. And the more conversations I have with other moms, the more I realize I’m not actually alone after all. During a daycare social event last summer, another mom confessed to me in a hushed tone, “Sometimes the weekends are so long and hard for me. Sometimes…I look forward to Monday. Am I a horrible person?” I smiled as I told her, with confidence and not an ounce of guilt, that I felt the exact same way.

    • A final, extremely-early miscarriage, several years, and an adoption later, we have a beloved son.
      I chose married life at the age of 40. I felt a bond with my future husband when we met. My first impression: I felt like I was meeting someone I already knew. Fast-forward a year and a few months when we decided to make our dreams of parenthood come true.
      A Thanksgiving positive pregnancy test! We shared our happy news. I attempted to schedule an appointment with my ob/gyn. Things became strange quickly. I was told that I could only see a nurse, until I was further into the first trimester. Huh?
      Two ultrasounds later, a feeling of dread increased. A nurse came and told us that the baby was known as a “missed abortion." This medical term refers to the situation when “the pregnancy stops developing, but the pregnancy tissue does not pass out of the uterus for at least four weeks”. The practice's administrator accompanied the doctor's delivery of the sad news by asking if we were satisfied with our experience at the practice. I greatly appreciated my husband's response: “Well, other than that, how did you like the play Mrs. Lincoln?” Our experience highlights the importance of speaking about pregnancy, pregnancy loss, and infertility very carefully and sensitively. The language used in the U.S. to discuss this experience regularly fails to encompass the complexities of pregnancy, and pregnancy loss.
      [Related: Three IVF myths you probably believe]
      So, how to have our miscarriage? The hospital was only willing to induce a miscarriage; they were uninterested in helping me have a natural miscarriage. Targeted medical research showed that surgical miscarriages could damage the cervix, making future pregnancies more difficult. A friend who had experienced a miscarriage for each of her successful births, told me that a miscarriage is comparable to a birth. The doctor's office told me to wait no longer than three weeks to miscarry.
      Within two-and-a half-weeks, I began experiencing  lower back pain at work. We had the miscarriage at home, catching the “products of conception” in large plastic containers. At one point I felt extremely light headed and asked my husband to call the practice. By the time the doctor on call called back, the feeling had passed. I had felt lightheaded as the fetal sac passed from my body intact. I held my baby in my hands and thought about he or she. Then I spoke with the doctor, who told me under what circumstances I should come into the hospital. I never needed to, but it would have been nice for the medical professionals to have shared this information in advance. Some people have home births; I had a home miscarriage.
      We tried again and became pregnant. This time we had a heartbeat! My husband's expression of joy included a gift of a Beanie Baby kangaroo. My much younger sister was also pregnant, and we imagined raising our children together. Our mother was looking forward to her first grandchildren. But on a follow-up doctor's visit, we learned that the baby had died in utero. Since my pregnancy was more advanced, we opted for a surgical miscarriage. On the day my miscarriage was scheduled, I went for a final ultrasound, to insure that the baby had no heartbeat. Then I went to the hospital for the medical procedure known as a miscarriage.
      I visualized a miscarriage with no surgical damage. Later the doctor told me two things that I appreciate knowing: He told me that I must have been ready to miscarry, since he touched my body and the miscarriage began with minimal medical contribution to the process. I told him I had visualized my miscarriage happening this way. Next, he told me that I had asked to hold the baby. All I'd known is that I came out of the anesthetic with tears on my face. I appreciated the facts that the doctor shared with me.
      A final, extremely-early miscarriage, several years, and an adoption later, we have a beloved son. We chose adoption as our path to parenthood, and we enjoy our son every day. Given the fact that Roe v. Wade has been overturned, I feel it necessary to say that I support every woman's right to choose, and to make, with her doctor, the medical decisions necessary to preserve her physical and mental health. The ignorance resulting from the misinformation spread by those who fail to grasp the complexities of pregnancy, childbirth, and pregnancy loss threatens women, children, and society at large.

    • Paying nanny taxes isn't just good for your nanny, it benefits your family, too.
      Sponsored by The Nanny Tax Company
      You've hired a great nanny and you've agreed on a nanny contract (either with a nanny share family or on your own). You're done  now, right?
      Nope. You still need to tackle one more important thing: nanny taxes.
      Nanny taxes are employment taxes (social security and Medicare, state and federal income taxes, and state and federal unemployment taxes) owed to the government when you have someone working in your home. Though the term “nanny” is in the name, it’s important to note that nanny taxes are NOT just for nannies! Anytime you hire someone to work in your home, whether a babysitter, home health aide, housekeeper, etc., the government views you as an employer, making you responsible for employment taxes. Though there is a misconception that these employees can be categorized as “independent contractors,” misclassifying a household employee as an independent contractor can lead to a charge of tax evasion.
      Wondering why household help can’t be classified as an independent contractor? Because per the IRS, a person is an employee when you tell them what they will do and how they will do it, as opposed to an independent contractor that you tell only what results you’re looking for. For example, you would consider a landscaper an independent contractor. You tell the landscaper what you want done — they’re responsible for ensuring that it gets done and they’re free to sell their services to everyone in town. A nanny, on the other hand, works in your home at the hours you set, and cannot sell their services to others while working for you.
      While many families think they can “fly under the radar” of nanny taxes, keep in mind there are ways the government might catch on. Although you may not get audited by the IRS, if you fire your employee they could try to claim unemployment benefits. Or, your employee might file for social security benefits and there is no record of her employment with you.
      Plus, paying your nanny legally gives you the added benefit of knowing your employee is receiving fair and legal wages, has the employment paper trail that will allow him or her to purchase a car or home, and will be able to collect social security when they are older. Everyone benefits from paying their nanny taxes: families and employees alike!
      While the complex requirements of nanny taxes can sound a little confusing (and scary!), there is help available. Start by reading IRS Publication 926 to learn about the federal component of nanny taxes. Then check out the Illinois Department of Employment Security (IDES) and the Illinois Department of Revenue websites for information on reporting household employer taxes. Lastly, check the Social Security Administration website regarding filing the employee’s W-2 forms each year.
      The Nanny Tax Company is a family and woman-owned company with over 25 years of experience handling nanny taxes. We know the ins and outs of nanny taxes and are readily available to answer your questions via phone and email. The Nanny Tax Company can be reached at (847) 696-7260, or https://www.nannytaxprep.com.

    • These steps offer suggestions that can be scaled to fit any size patch, from large outdoor garden to tiny indoor pot.
      Water, sunlight, soil. It’s what all plants need, and one of the first science facts that kids learn. So gardening is the perfect way to harness an interest in the environment and to cultivate future scientists. These steps offer suggestions that can be scaled to fit any size patch, from large outdoor garden to tiny indoor pot.

      The winter seems rather endless in Chicago, so thinking of warmer times ahead is a wonderfully positive pastime. Once we get past new year we start to dream of a flower-filled garden. Last year we created mood boards (both as a collage on paper and digitally using Canva), to share our individual visions.
      Looking up native plants, preferred growing conditions, and the necessary maintenance, makes great reading and research practice, while sparking a conversation about sustainable gardening and climate. We love going to the library either in person or digitally (using sites such as Epic which has a free basic plan).
      [Related: Family-friendly summer bike rides in Chicago]

      We’ve all read that children who spend time around nature are happier, better focused, and more empathetic to others and the planet. A trip to the garden center makes a lovely family activity. Assign tasks to keep things harmonious: who is responsible for the cart, the shopping list, keeping track of the time? Alternatively, purchase from any of the one-off plant sales that occur across Chicagoland (bookmark for next year). Some of these have the option to pre-order and then for drive-up collection, which can be convenient if you don’t fancy keeping a toddler in line.
      You know how much children love to get their hands in soil. Seeking out smaller tools can facilitate the planting. Little ones will love the colorful options available, while older children will take greater ownership if they’ve chosen items that appeal to their emerging aesthetic. Readers can check that plants are finding their preferred piece of your patch, while new writers can practice their handwriting by labelling popsicle sticks – drawings encouraged.
      Every small child loves to wield a hose or watering can. Use this as an opportunity to watch the weather forecast and talk about the seasons. Then formulate a coding-like plan for watering: if there is no rain, the temperature is between X and X, then water once in the morning, and so on. Create a chart (an opportunity to practice computer and/or graphic design skills) and assign responsibility.
      [Related: 7 things to have on hand for fun at-home activities with your kids]
      If you can include something you can harvest in your plantings, this will hold everyone’s interest. Tomato plants with little green fruit will provide a quick reward, which is imperative with very little kids. Peppers and herbs are other vegetation that kids get excited about and can lead to some fun cooking activities, including the crowd-pleasing pizza.
      Of course, plants do not follow strict instructions and with even the most loving and zealous care do not always yield the desired results. Making a review of your "land" part of your weekly family time and having conversations around this can help children understand that as well as planning, problem-solving and flexibility are important skills to learn. Then encourage them to suggest solutions for you to try.
      With children’s affinity for the natural world, gardening is a perfect activity to involve the whole family. Whether you have a vast, outdoor space, or need to set up your greenery indoors, there is the opportunity to engage and converse. We hope that this shared interest will continue to bond us as a family as we navigate the years ahead together.

    • A guide to nanny shares from veteran parents
      A nanny share seems like the best of both worlds: Your little one gets daily socialization with another child like they would in daycare, but you still get the benefits of having a dedicated caregiver while (importantly) splitting the cost with another family.
      All of that is pretty much true. But a nanny share also requires a delicate arrangement between two busy families and one nanny, and it can get complicated, especially in the age of COVID. Having just finished a successful nearly two-year nanny share, I feel qualified to offer this guide to starting a nanny share, along with some tips from fellow NPN members.
      What comes first, the family or the nanny? That’s a matter of personal preference and circumstance, but I think finding the family first makes sense. That way, both families can search for and interview the nanny and come to an agreement. Which leads me to…
      Finding a family
      The prevailing wisdom is to start looking for a nanny at least one month before you need one to start, so if you’re finding a family first, give yourself at least a month before that. That means that if you’re taking the standard three-month maternity leave, you basically need to start looking for a family while you’re preparing your birth plan. An exaggeration, but…not really? Connecting with families who are pregnant and similarly far along (NPN is a great source for this!), isn’t a bad idea.
      [Related: How to find a nanny]
      But assuming you have your baby already, use the time you are mindlessly scrolling on your phone while rocking that little rascal to sleep to search or post on sites about sharing a nanny. Options include NPN’s Childcare Classifieds, of course, as well as neighborhood parent Facebook groups, neighborhood association email lists, and sites like Nanny Lane.
      What should you look for in a family? That depends on what’s important to you as a parent, but here are some things to consider: 
      How they feel about vaccines for themselves and their baby (a thorny but important subject these days)  Age of kids (it’s really helpful if both kids are roughly the same age)  Proximity (easiest if the family is close to you or your office)  Hours needed Start date — and end date, if they know it  More nuanced issues to talk about with a potential family: parenting philosophy and discipline preferences. If you don’t discuss this, as one NPN member says, “the nanny ends up having to navigate why Brynnleigh gets fruit gummies and timeouts but Xyaedan can only snack on dried kale and must be rocked to sleep.” 
      Not necessarily deal-breakers but important to agree on before the nanny share starts: 
      What to do when one of the kids is sick  Where you want the childcare to happen (your house, their house, a split of both?) Aligning nap schedules (recommended!)  Whether the host family provides food or if you need to pack food for each day Kid equipment you’ll need — such as a double stroller, crib or pack ‘n’ play, high chair, diapers, dishware and bottles — and how you will split the cost COVID complications
      Like most things in our lives these days, COVID makes navigating nanny shares more complicated. The importance of being in agreement with the other family and with your nanny on safety protocols, masks, and all things pandemic-related cannot be overstated. This NPN member summed up well all the factors to consider: “…Clear communication on illnesses and behavior, both COVID and non-COVID illness … as well as expected behavior/testing for known exposures and feelings on masks indoors in public. When we visit the museum, are both families on the same page as well as the nanny? Also, will you follow the 24-hour fever-free rule schools use or the 72-hour fever free that is actually recommended by pediatricians? Or do you split the difference and do 48 hours? … And what is the plan if nanny is sick? Does each household rotate responsibility for the whole share or is each person responsible for their own kid(s)?”
      Whew. It’s a lot. All the more reason to hash out these issues ahead of time to avoid conflict in the future.
      [Related: What to ask in a nanny interview]
      All about the Benjamins
      Now down to the nitty gritty. You need to agree on the salary you’ll offer the nanny, which is typically the market rate plus 33%. The nanny will be watching two kids at once, after all.
      A nanny contract is essential. In it, you’ll lay out how and when the nanny is paid; vacation, sick days and holidays; bonuses and raises; and when and how any of the parties can end the agreement. (Read a more in-depth guide to nanny contracts.) Each family should employ the nanny separately and each give her a W2. 
      The pay rate and the contract will be finalized once you’ve found your nanny and they weigh in on what’s important to them. 
      Finding a nanny
      Together, you’ll find the nanny of your dreams. There are many ways to go about it: NPN’s Childcare Classifieds, nanny agencies, word of mouth, and sites like Care.com are just a few. 
      But first, discuss with the other family what you’re looking for in a nanny. Do you need the nanny to be able to drive and have a car? Would you prefer a nanny who speaks another language and would be willing to teach it to your kids? Do you expect the nanny to do household chores and food prep?
      Beyond these qualifications, talk about the personality that would fit best with both families. Do you want a nanny who has that calm, warm, grandparent-y vibe, or would a nanny who has boundless energy and tons of silly ideas for fun activities work best for both kids?
      There are countless things to consider when interviewing a nanny, checking references, extending an offer and maintaining a strong relationship. This article, How to find a nanny, succinctly covers it all.
      Just like you would at your 9-5, you might want to have a quarterly check-in with the other family and your nanny. This helps make sure you are all aligned and communicating any issues or concerns. 
      The relationship you have with your nanny and nanny share family is one of the most important in your young child’s life. When a nanny share works well for all parties, it’s truly wonderful. I was very sad when our nanny share family moved to the suburbs, but I will always be grateful for the time our families and our nanny spent sharing the work of raising two small humans.

    • Trust what you know about your child. If they have sensory issues, prepare for them to feel body changes on a deeper level.
      As a parent of a special needs child, I look forward to the periods of platitude. Every developmental stage is an uphill climb that seems to take forever. So when my child hits a plateau and can thrive in an age-appropriate developmental stage, I relish in the peace that comes with it. I have learned to relax during these periods until it’s time for the next developmental growth challenge. 
      Well, during the spring of 2021 when we had finally settled into our “new normal” and were thriving in a pandemic world, BOOM!
      I started to notice my usual rule-following, kind-hearted son becoming more irritable out of the blue. And when I say "out of the blue," I mean over things that were never an issue for him in the past. He seemed more tired than usual, he was more sensitive to touch, and even though he has a speech delay, he is verbal — but he really did not want to talk at all. 
      [Related: Raising a Black autistic boy in America]
      My husband, his teachers, and his therapists all saw this dramatic change in him. For weeks, I chalked it up to the time change. He has always had a hard time adjusting to the bi-annual time changes, especially when we spring forward, so I just assumed this particular year was just a bit harder for him. After weeks of dealing with his attitude, I finally spoke to his pediatrician. She referred me to an endocrinologist. After blood tests and an exam, the endocrinologist looked at me and said, “Well mom, the hormone fairy has asked him to the dance, and he has accepted." 
      He is only 11, My baby is growing up, What does this mean? and Oh no, it’s time for the sex talk, were all the thoughts running through my head. I pulled myself together enough to ask her, "What does puberty look like in a child with autism?”  She told me it is different for each child; however most will be more sensory-defensive during this time. She asked me to close my eyes and imagine what it would feel like to feel every single hair growing on my body, what would it feel like to feel the lump of an adam’s apple forming in my throat, and to feel all of the aches as the muscles grow and form in my body. She explained that this is what my son is feeling on a magnified level. This completely explained his change in behavior and his new sensitivity. 
      [Related: Tips for your next IEP meeting from a special-ed attorney]
      Armed with the knowledge of what was happening, my husband and I immediately put a plan of action in place.
      The first thing we did was communicate this information to his teachers and therapists. This allowed them to make adjustments in their support. It helped him to continue to be successful and get the most out of school and therapy. 
      Second, we talked to him about what was going on with his body. We discussed the physical and the mental changes that were happening. What stood out to me most was that once we assured him everything he was feeling was “normal,” his irritability lessened by 50 percent. I realized the unknown of what was happening was half of the stress he was feeling. We also asked him to tell us what things he thought would help him cope. He said exercise. Lightbulb moment! My son is a swimmer, and pre-pandemic he was in the pool for three 2-hour sessions per week. This gave his body good sensory work out. Since the pandemic he had been only able to do one 45-minute session per week. His body and brain needed a workout to cope and process all the changes that were happening. Since our son had done Tae Kwon Do in the past and enjoyed it, we picked that up twice a week. It took a few weeks, but we finally started seeing our son return to his rule-following, kind-hearted, non-irritable self. 
      Lastly, we told him to come to us with any questions or thoughts he had about what was going in with his body. We told him nothing was off limits. We also prepared ourselves to be ready and open to answer any questions and have uncomfortable conversations. This part is ongoing, and things come up day by day. However, we have built a deeper level of trust that will be helpful as we enter the teen years.
      What I have learned on this journey is to start researching and talking to your doctors about puberty when your child is 10 years old. Prepare yourself and be open to questions and conversations. Honestly, if puberty was on my radar, I would have had a preparatory conversation with my son at 10 years old. I would have told him in a very clinical way what changes he may see in his body, and to let me know when it starts happening. 
      Trust what you know about your child. If they have sensory issues, prepare for them to feel body changes on a deeper level, and think of activities they enjoy that can help their bodies cope with the feelings. Be patient, give them grace, and assure them that all the strange things they are feeling are normal and okay. Lastly, as a parent of a special needs child, remember our journey is a marathon: Breathe and give yourself a break. You are doing great!

    • How to spend one blissful day all to yourself
      Family vacations are overrated. As we’ve read on our Forum, seen on social media, and heard from fellow parents, “Vacations are basically just taking the sh*t show on the road.” With little kids, they’re anything but relaxing. So with spring break in the rear view and summer “vacations” still a ways off, it’s time to plan the next-best thing: a daycation, all to yourself. Here’s how.
      [Related: To the moms running on fumes, here's how to refill the tank]
      Mark your calendar
      You know how people say that the hardest part about exercising is getting to the gym, or even getting out the door? Same goes for a self-prescribed holiday: the hardest part is making the mental commitment to do so. If you’re the type who uses a calendar, go ahead and block it out as you would a true vacation day or mental health day. I recommend blocking a Friday, so you can treat yourself to a three-day weekend instead of having to hop back into reality post-daycation. Block the full day — don’t wimp out and just book the morning. I’m talkin’ 9AM to 5PM. Better yet, block 8AM to 6PM. If you can get out of dropping off and picking up the kids on this day, do it. That saying “It takes a village” applies to solo daycations, too. No guilt allowed.
      Allow yourself to daydream
      Now that you’ve got a day off to look forward to, it’s time to think about what you would truly enjoy to do with your day. (Imagine that!) Try not to default to a combination of forced “relaxation” and obligatory busywork, e.g., eating half a gummy and washing your delicates. Newsflash: That’s not a vacation, parents. That’s a Saturday night.
      [Related: 3 steps moms can take to get some me time every week]
      Think bigger: What does your ideal (solo) vacation look like? Can it be loosely replicated in the city of Chicago in a single day? Unfortunately, we don’t have any private islands within our city limits. But we do have a lot of wonderful ways to play hooky.
      While I can’t pretend to know what your daycation fantasy is, I can share mine (a full day at the Langham complete with lap swimming, lobster rolls, and literally any of these treatments), and hopefully inspire some well-earned daydreaming.
      For instance, if you love nothing more than pretending to read a paperback novel while dozing off poolside, this can be achieved. So can a truly luxe spa day, a gorgeous day spent hiking in nature, a decadent brunch followed by hours of bookstore browsing, an unexpected day-trip to another city, or even a deep meditation session.
      Make it happen
      If you have an agenda in mind but are struggling with execution, check out the list below for some ideas. Then, book it and start the count-down. Anticipation is half the fun. Enjoy!
      Spa Day
      $: King Spa & Sauna in Niles
      $$: Aire Ancient Baths in West Town
      $$$: Kohler Waters Spa in Lincoln Park
      $$$$: Chuan Spa at The Langham in River North
      Pool Day
      FREE: Portage Park Pool
      $: InterContinental Chicago Magnificent Mile
      $: East Bank Club
      $$: The Peninsula Hotel
      Forest Bathing & Nature Days
      FREE: Calumet Woods in Riverdale
      FREE: Forest Glen Woods in Forest Glen
      FREE: LaBagh Woods in North Park
      $: Chicago Botanic Garden in Glencoe
      $: Morton Arboretum in Lisle
      Day Trip
      Wilmington, IL — 75 minutes
      Michigan City, IN — 75 minutes
      Milwaukee — 90 minutes
      Harbor Country, MI — 90 minutes
      Lake Geneva — 90 minutes

    • From toddlers to hipsters, Andersonville embraces city living in a family-friendly environment.
      I moved to Andersonville shortly before my oldest child was born. My husband and I were previously living in a one-bedroom condo in Bucktown, and we knew we wanted to start a family. Andersonville was appealing because of the easy access to the lake and parks, quiet streets with lots of trees, historic architecture, low crime, a diverse community and walkability to many shops and restaurants. Housing can be expensive in Andersonville, especially now. The single-family homes in the Lakewood/Balmoral historic district usually run over a million. However, for those open to condo living, there are plenty of options in the neighborhood.
      Andersonville feels like a small town within a big city. There are a lot of young families in the neighborhood. Many of the businesses along Clark Street have been around for many years, and there are less chains compared to other neighborhoods (let’s hope it stays that way!). People say hello or good morning when passing by on the sidewalk. Andersonville is known for its Swedish heritage, but nowadays Andersonville is celebrated for its acceptance of LGBTQ families, the Hispanic/Latinx community, and the Asian and African communities in neighboring Uptown and Edgewater.
      After five years, we are now a family of four. I am so grateful we decided to start a family in Andersonville. Here’s why.
      The most prominent park in the area is the lakeshore. Most families congregate on Foster Beach on hot summer days or take bike rides along the bike path. There are many playgrounds in the area and each one is special in its own way.
      [Related: Family neighborhood guide to Logan Square]
      The local neighborhood primary school serving most Andersonville families is Peirce School of International Studies, which is an authorized International Baccalaureate World School. The local high school, Nicholas Senn High School, is also an IB school. For families interested in private education, there are many options to choose from: Rogers Park Montessori School, Chicago Waldorf School, Chicago Friends School, St. Thomas of Canterbury School, Northside Catholic Academy and Sacred Heart Schools are all located in the area.
      The racial makeup of Andersonville is predominately white. There is also a sizable Hispanic/Latinx community, and the local public schools are very diverse. The Andersonville business community is supportive of social justice issues and the local public schools.
      Restaurants & Sweets
      Andersonville is not known for fine dining or cutting-edge restaurants but there are some good options, especially for kids. The Israeli restaurant Fiya has a large indoor and outdoor space and offers something for children and adults. My kids love their Challah French Toast. Parson’s Chicken and Fish recently opened a location on Clark Street with a very large patio. Calo Ristorante is an Andersonville institution and serves solid Italian American cuisine. A summertime favorite is George’s Ice Cream & Sweets. Our family likes to go late in the afternoon and then take our ice cream to the Andersonville Playlot around the corner on Ashland and Farragut. For amazing birthday cakes and Mexican bakery goods head to LaBaguette Panaderia. For grocery shopping, there is a Jewel Osco on Clark and Bryn Mawr and across the street is Edgewater Produce, which provides fresh and affordable produce and Mexican staples.
      [Related: Family neighborhood guide to Old Irving Park]
      Arts, Culture, & Other Fun Stuff
      The feminist bookstore, Women & Children First, has been in Andersonville since 1990. It has a large selection of children’s books and pre-COVID, they hosted a story time every Wednesday morning. The Swedish American Museum on Clark Street contains a Children’s Museum of Immigration (currently closed due to COVID-19). To celebrate Andersonville’s Swedish roots, the Andersonville Chamber of Commerce hosts a Midsommarfest in mid-June. There's also a family pride parade in June, as well.
      I always felt that Andersonville was the perfect mix of city living in a family-friendly environment. From toddlers to hipsters to the LGBTQ community to Black Lives Matter supporters, everyone has a place in Andersonville.

    • Everyone can access this state of mind with the right tools and a bit of practice.
      I never considered myself a “Zen” person and during the pandemic I definitely let my emotions get the best of me sometimes. I didn’t always remember to practice self-care and I absolutely got overwhelmed. I don’t meditate in silence on a yoga mat in my personal movement studio. On the contrary, I run around in my sweatpants while chasing after my toddler while two French bulldogs bark in the background. But here’s the thing: If we are always waiting for the “perfect” environment and time to “get Zen,” we may be waiting forever.
      What is Zen?
      According to Merriam Webster, Zen refers to a “state of calm attentiveness in which one's actions are guided by intuition rather than by conscious effort.” This ancient Buddhist practice doesn’t require silence. It can be about finding the quiet within especially when life gets loud, which for those of us with young children can be a daily occurrence. Zen isn’t external and doesn’t rely on only our environment. So I began to wonder what it would take to incorporate more attentiveness, how I could support my intuition, and reclaim the state of calm I so desperately needed.
      [Related: Ask an Expert: Mindfulness tools for parents]
      As if I didn’t have enough on my plate during the last two years, I decided to write a book. As a dance/movement therapist, I’ve been working with clients for years, helping them rediscover their mind-body connection in order to reclaim their lives and improve their mental health. Body Aware, which comes out this August, is all about using your movement to support your mental health. That’s when it dawned on me: This is the foundation for cultivating calm attentiveness and learning to trust your intuition. This pandemic has taught me many things, but the most important lesson I have learned is to take care of my mental health, and that begins with how I move and show up in my body.
      Everyone can access this ability with the right tools and a bit of practice. These may feel elusive, but I’m here to tell you that they are not only accessible, but you already have all the tools you need inside of you. Here is what I have used, what I practice with my clients, and even teach my children.
      Step 1: Become aware of your current movement
      Begin to examine how you move on a daily basis. What are your natural tendencies with regard to your posture, facial expressions, and mannerisms? These contribute greatly to your mood and influence how you are thinking. This allows you to connect to what you feel and to begin harnessing that intuition.
      Step 2: Challenge your current movement
      Allow yourself to move out of your comfort zone. Try walking at a different pace, taking a different type of movement or exercise class, maybe even trying on different postures. Change your relationship to personal space and try slowing down, especially if you are always used to moving quickly.
      Step 3: Expand your habitual movement
      When we move more, we feel more. If we can expand the range and ability of our movement we have the ability to express and feel more emotionally. We can find grounding, calm, and focus. This means we find more opportunities to "get Zen” because we can move through the challenges and overwhelm.
      [Related: Self-care during COVID: Creating your own pandemic slowdown]
      This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to harnessing the power of your movement to improve your mental health. Awareness is the key to change, and sometimes even the smallest movement can have the largest impact. So, no need to work on “getting" Zen: simply start by noticing all the ways you can bring Zen into your current life.


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