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    • Juggling picky eating during family travels requires creativity, preparation, and a dash of flexibility. By understanding the reasons behind picky eating while on the road, at the airport, or overseas, and implementing practical tips, you can transform mealtime into an opportunity for nutritional exploration. As a dietitian, my emphasis is on creating lasting memories of nourishing adventures for your child, ensuring they receive the nutrients their growing bodies need.
      Embarking on family adventures, such as road trips, airport travels, or exploring foreign lands, often poses the challenge of picky eating. A change in routine, exposure to new environments, and the availability of unfamiliar cuisines can all contribute to a child's resistance to trying new foods. As a registered dietitian, I emphasize the importance of healthy eating, consistent meal frequency, adequate protein and energy intake, and hydration while minimizing highly processed foods. In this article, we'll explore the reasons behind children's picky eating during travel and offer practical tips to ensure proper nutrition whether on a road trip, at the airport, or overseas. 
      Tips to Improve Eating Habits and Promote Nutrition on the Road, at the Airport, and Overseas
      Create a Portable Pantry for Road Trips I advocate for planning by packing a cooler with ice packs and a variety of healthy snacks. Options like cut-up/whole fruits or vegetable sticks paired with a healthy dip like dark chocolate/regular hummus, plain Greek yogurt, or nut butter packs, along with single-serving packet choices such as yogurt-covered/plain raisins, applesauce, low sodium jerky, seaweed snacks, popcorn, dried mango, dates, mini energy bars, cheese sticks/balls, drinkable kefir, cheese/nut crackers, plain/dark chocolate pretzels, pistachios or dark chocolate almonds, and sunflower seeds can provide essential nutrients during long drives.  As a dietitian, I recommend avoiding excessive reliance on sugary treats, which can lead to energy spikes followed by crashes.
      Airport Adventures Navigating airport dining can be challenging, but with thoughtful planning, it becomes manageable. Carry a mix of healthy snacks such as the ones mentioned above. Look for airport restaurants offering balanced options like salads, wraps, or grilled chicken. Whether you're on a road trip, at the airport, or overseas, having a stash of familiar, healthy snacks can be a game-changer. 
      Hydration is Key I stress the importance of staying hydrated during travel. Carry reusable water bottles and encourage regular sips. Limit sugary drinks and opt for water or diluted 100% fruit juices.  Coconut water is also a great choice! Proper hydration is crucial for maintaining energy levels and overall well-being.
      Balanced Fast Food Choices While on the road, fast food may be the most convenient option. However, as a dietitian, I recommend making mindful choices by selecting items with a balance of protein, fiber, and vitamins and minerals. Many fast-food establishments now offer healthier alternatives, such as grilled chicken options or salads.
      Opt for Buffets or Family-Style Dining Choose restaurants that offer buffet or family-style dining options. This allows children to explore various dishes in smaller portions without feeling overwhelmed. It also gives them a sense of control over their meal choices.
      Embrace International Flavors Traveling abroad provides a unique opportunity to expose your child to diverse cuisines. Encourage kids to try small portions of local dishes.  For food safety, focus on foods that are cooked thoroughly and filtered bottled water. Engaging in the cultural aspect of food can make the experience more enjoyable.
      Explore Local Markets While overseas, immerse your family in the local food culture by exploring markets. Allow your child to pick out fresh fruits, vegetables, or local snacks. This not only promotes healthy eating but also provides an exciting cultural experience.
      Maintain Routine with Time Zone Changes If traveling across time zones, try to maintain a consistent mealtime routine as much as possible. This helps regulate your child's hunger and ensures they receive the nutrients their growing bodies need.
      Set a Healthy Example Children often model their behavior after their parents. Demonstrate the importance of nutrition by making mindful food choices yourself. If they see you enjoying a variety of nutritious foods, they may be more inclined to do the same.
      Juggling picky eating during family travels requires creativity, preparation, and a dash of flexibility. By understanding the reasons behind picky eating while on the road, at the airport, or overseas, and implementing practical tips, you can transform mealtime into an opportunity for nutritional exploration. As a dietitian, my emphasis is on creating lasting memories of nourishing adventures for your child, ensuring they receive the nutrients their growing bodies need.

    • Traveling with children can be fun, exciting and challenging and traveling with a child with a special needs child adds a whole new dynamic. And yes, there are moments when I look at my husband and wonder, “Why did we sign up for this? Are we crazy?” and then we remember, we are turning therapeutic moments into valuable experiences and making lifelong memories.
      Traveling with children can be fun, exciting and challenging and traveling with a child with a special needs child adds a whole new dynamic. I’m a mom of three: I have one 3 year old son and 5 year old boy/girl twins and my oldest son, Owen, has autism. To get ready for a trip, whether that be an outing in the city, a car trip or a flight, I prepare well in advance, know my resources, plan for the day and embrace a positive attitude.
      Prepare in advance: Clear expectations, visuals and schedules help Owen process new outings. When preparing for our trip to Florida, we worked with Owen’s incredible and life changing therapy team at Chicago Pediatric Therapy and Wellness Center and utilized a social story. To our delight, Shannon Hurst, Owen’s Occupational Therapist, even went as far as to create a mock trip to Florida to help him prepare. During this mock trip, Owen boarded a flight with his own ticket, practiced wearing headphones to block out loud noises, engaged in a few typical Florida activities while working through sensory challenges such as using sunscreen, playing in the sand and wearing a bathing suit and sandals, and practiced boarding a flight home. This mock trip approach helped Owen know what to expect and equipped him with the tools to navigate uncomfortable situations, such as counting when applying sunscreen and wearing sandals when walking on the beach.
      Know your resources: Did you know that airports offer a variety of services such as TSA Cares to assist travelers with diverse needs? On the TSA Cares website, you can submit a request for assistance through the screening process and indicate any foreseeable challenges.  For Owen, it is imperative that he carry his comfort item through security so I request that a hand scanner is used.  We have been very fortunate flying out of O’Hare and have worked with extremely compassionate TSA Cares representatives. Additionally, airlines offer accessible travel options. Since most airplanes can be overwhelming sensory experiences, you can request to board early to get settled and some airlines even offer special perks like a children’s activity packet with a sensory calming strip.
      When traveling locally, seek out sensory friendly kid attractions. One of our favorites is Lincoln Park Zoo. They do a fantastic job hosting sensory friendly events throughout the year, including a sensory friendly evening during Zoo Lights. Like many other museums, sporting venues and concert arenas, they have a partnership with KultureCity, a non-profit that is dedicated to “creating sensory accessibility and inclusion for those with invisible differences”. When dining out, be sure to indicate your family’s needs when you make your reservation. Request a table or quieter spot in the restaurant that might suit your child best and provide the restaurant with any relevant allergy information.
      Plan for the day of: Preparation is key for any type of travel and if possible, allow your child to engage in gross motor play prior to and during the trip. If you’re driving, take a minute to walk around the rest stop. If you’re in an airport and see an empty gate, take advantage of open space. Be sure to throw some extra clothes in for the unexpected spill or accident. And of course pack many highly preferred snacks, as you can’t go wrong with snacks. YumEarth has Elderberry lollipops infused with vitamins and they are allergy friendly - a win win, boost your child’s immunity while giving them a calming treat.  Additionally, Melissa & Doug mess free coloring sheets and workbooks as well as fidget tools provide entertainment for those long trips and potential delays. 
      Embrace a positive attitude: Traveling can be an exciting opportunity for children to see the world in a new way and certainly will come with many hiccups.  It has been helpful for us to break down the travel day into steps and explain each part to our children and celebrate as we make it through the various parts of the day.  And yes, there are moments when I look at my husband and wonder, “Why did we sign up for this? Are we crazy?” and then we remember, we are turning therapeutic moments into valuable experiences and making lifelong memories.

    • It used to be a painful exercise when I had to write a note to our son’s teachers to let them know we would be taking our son out of school for a family vacation. The guilt would sink in and I would start to think we were bad parents for not putting enough focus on his education. I would write and re-write these emails and would get a knot in my stomach after hitting send as I wondered what his teachers must be thinking of us for prioritizing a trip over the classroom. 
      But as we’ve traveled more and I’ve gotten more practice writing these types of emails, I’ve come to a few basic conclusions:
      Travel is education. The memories and experiences gained through travel can sometimes be more valuable than the lessons learned inside a classroom.  Our son is still very young and him being absent for a handful of days each school year is not going to have an impact on him learning the class material. The time we enjoy together on vacation is crucial for our family. The reliance on technology, work stresses, and constant running around the city for errands, after school activities and birthday parties takes a toll. It is a huge release to be able to leave all this behind and just focus on each other.  Some will argue that vacations are no reason to take a child out of school, and I am also very aware that just being able to take a vacation is a privilege. But if you are able to take a trip and decide to do so during your child’s schooldays, here are a few tips on how to write that note to your child’s teacher:
      Before you send that email, review the school’s policies. What is considered an excused absence vs. an unexcused absence? What, if any consequences, will there be if your child accumulates too many unexcused absences? Communicate well in advance of your trip. Telling your child’s teacher a day or two before you plan on taking your child out of school for a trip is not best practice, and it’s not respecting the teacher’s time. We like to give our son’s teachers at least a month's heads-up when we need to take him out of school so they can modify their lesson plans for him, if necessary.   Focus on academics. Your child’s teacher is concerned about your child’s academics, not your family spending a week at Disney World or Spring Training in Arizona during the middle of March when school is in session. So, let your child’s teachers know that your child will be making up any assignments they’ll miss. If assignments are posted online in Google Classroom or another platform, even better. Your child can still complete/submit work on time when they’re gone.  Be honest. There’s no reason to make up a story about why your child is going to be absent. You’re taking a trip. At the same time, as mentioned above, you don’t need to share your vacation itinerary with your child’s teachers.

    • Discover restaurants, salons, boutiques, bakeries, gyms and more Black-owned businesses in Chicago.
      Looking for a special gift or just a treat for yourself? Check out this list of Black-owned businesses in the city (many of which offer delivery or curbside pickup), where you can get everything from cocktail-themed artisan soaps to kids' toys. 
      *Updated 1/28/2024
      Food & Drink
      Batter & Berries: Breakfast/brunch/lunch spot in Lincoln Park
      Brown Sugar Bakery: Cakes and cupcakes in Chatham
      Can't Believe It's Not Meat: A vegan and vegetarian restaurant specializing in plant-based comfort food in Hyde Park
      Chemisty: Black-owned steakhouse and celebration/party venue in Hyde Park
      Chicago French Press: Coffee roaster that offers bean subscriptions and beans by the pound
      Coffee, Hip Hop & Mental Health: A cafe and mental health resource in Lakeview
      The Common Cup: Coffee shop in Rogers Park
      Demera: Ethiopian cuisine in Uptown
      Ethiopian Diamond: Ethiopian cuisine in Edgewater
      Friistyle: Belgian frites in Bronzeville
      Frontier: Meat-focused restaurant in Bucktown
      Fruve Express Juicery: Cold-pressed juice in Loop and South Loop
      Gimme Some Sugah: Pies, cakes, cookies and more in South Shore
      Good to Go Jamaican: Jamaican cuisine on Rogers Park/Evanston border
      The Grail Cafe: Breakfast and lunch in South Loop
      Ina Mae’s Tavern: New Orleans cuisine in Wicker Park
      Justice of the Pies: Pies available in markets and some restaurants
      Kilwin’s: Ice cream and sweets in Hyde Park
      Kyoto Black: Coffee shop in Edgewater currently offering coffee bean delivery
      Lem’s Bar-B-Q: Barbecue spot in Chatham
      Life’s Sweet: Cafe in Rogers Park
      Lizzy J: Catering, cafe and housemade iced tea in Ravenswood 
      The Long Room: Bar/restaurant in Ravenswood currently offering to-go cocktails, beer and wine
      Love Corkscrew: Wine delivery; also available in various retail locations
      Luella’s Southern Kitchen: Soul food in Lincoln Square
      Pearl’s Place: Southern cuisine in Bronzeville
      Rooh Chicago: Indian cuisine in West Loop
      Shawn Michelle's: Ice cream shop in Bronzeville
      Sip & Savor: Coffee shop in Bronzeville
      Soule: Southern cuisine in West Town
      Strugglebeard Bakery: Baked cookies and sweets made with love by a Veteran in Hyde Park. 
      Taste 2 Go: American cuisine in West Loop
      Taylor’s Tacos: Tacos for catering or pickup (Tuesdays only) in East Garfield Park
      Virtue: Southern cuisine in Hyde Park
      Clothes & Accessories
      A’nies Accents: Boutique in South Loop
      Buttonsbyferrai: Etsy shop featuring custom and social activist buttons
      Kido: Kids' toys and clothes in South Loop; online ordering available
      Kiwi’s Boutique: Boutique in Tri-Taylor; online ordering available
      Mimi’s Tot Closet: Shop for girls’ clothes in Auburn-Gresham; online ordering available
      Love Peridot: Accessories shop in South Loop; online ordering available
      Recycled Modern: Vintage, upcycled and handcrafted furniture and home decor shop in Lakeview
      Reformed School: Etsy shop featuring humorous and social activism T-shirts and accessories
      The Silver Room: Jewelry, accessories, clothes, gifts and more in Hyde Park; online ordering available
      Sir & Madame: Fashion brand with a store in Hyde Park
      Standout Style Boutique: Online-only clothes and accessories 
      Beauty/Personal Care/Health
      80th and May: Online-only shop featuring artisan soaps and bath salts
      Blade and Bloom: Etsy shop featuring skin-care products
      Bodi Shak: Group fitness gym in Uptown
      Chatto: Natural hair- and skin-care products in West Loop; online ordering available
      Depart with Art: Online-only shop featuring organic body products
      Eb & Flow: Yoga studio in Bucktown; currently offering live online classes
      Goldkissed Essentials: Online-only shop featuring handmade soaps
      Mad Moisture Beauty: Online-only skincare products
      Mind Body Defense: Kickboxing gym with private classes in Uptown
      Next Man Up Spa: A spa catering to men in Bronzeville
      Pear Nova: Online-only vegan nail polish
      Soap Distillery: Cocktail-inspired artisan soaps
      Sweet Beginnings: Beekeeping social enterprise featuring honey and honey-based body care products; online ordering available
      Black Owned Market: Online-only bath and body products
      Urbane Blades: Men’s barbershop in Near North Side
      Wholistic Skincare: Skincare salon in Clybourn Corridor; online ordering available
      Books, Gifts & More
      Black Ensemble Theater: A theater and arts production studio that also provides theatrical and technical theater training opportunities for youth in Uptown
      Boxville: A shipping container marketplace featuring diverse-owned businesses that operate year-round in Bronzeville
      Helendora Samuels Picture Framing: Custom frame shop in Wicker Park
      Rose Blossom Chicago: Online-only florist
      Semicolon Chi: The only Black woman–owned bookstore in Chicago. Store in River West; online ordering available.
      Thepairabirds: Etsy shop featuring illustrated artwork
      Third Coast Comics: Comic and graphic novel shop in Rogers Park
      This is not an exhaustive list, so we'd love to get your recommendations for awesome Black-owned businesses in Chicago. Share them with us at sitaara@npnparents.org.

    • My mom tells me to just be myself when I first meet her “new friend,” but my other question now is how do I talk with our son about his grandma’s new partner?
      Since my dad died about a year and a half ago, I haven’t visited his grave, I skip past old family photos when my phone reminds me of what happened this day X years ago, and I haven’t spoken about him much with your 7-year-old son. Avoidance has been my way to grieve. But now that my mom has finished grieving the loss of her husband of 50 years and has moved on to find a partner she trusts and is truly happy with, my avoidant behavior is no longer an effective strategy. My mom tells me to just be myself when I first meet her “new friend,” but my other question now is how do I talk with our son about his grandma’s new partner? 
      For guidance (for myself and hopefully others who are in similar situations), I reached out to Dr. Natalia Kaczmarek, a clinical psychologist who is the founder and owner of Northbrook-based Indigo Therapy Group. Here is part of our conversation:
      Q: How confusing can it be for a child to hear that their grandparent has a boyfriend or girlfriend when all they've known is seeing their grandparents together? 
      Dr. Kaczmarek: I think confusion would be dependent on timing of the disclosure and how they understand love/relationships. It may be helpful to provide some education or a metaphorical story around the importance of seeking out joy, sharing as much love as you can, and that we can never replace special people in our lives, rather, grow in different directions with different people. For younger children, it may also be helpful to explain the expectations around how to relate with the girlfriend or boyfriend. Again, in the spirit of concreteness, they may need to know that calling them by their first name is okay, that relationships take time to grow and there may be some awkward moments, and that finally, this person may be similar to getting to know a "fun aunt" or "cool babysitter".
      Q: How do you initiate a conversation with your child about their grandparent having a new "friend"? Are there preferred ways of how to refer to their grandparent's new partner? 
      Dr. Kaczmarek: In my experience, kids don't really know what boyfriend or girlfriend fully entails. Sometimes, it's more important to explain who the person is and what the label means. For example, "Grandma has a new boyfriend named Jeff. Jeff and grandma have a lot of things in common that they do together, like... After getting to know each other, they realized they made each other really happy and something special." It may also be helpful to insert some direction around your/the family's reaction is and build in space for the child to ask questions/bring up concerns. For example, "We are really happy for grandma and Jeff because they make every day a bit more fun, and we hope you like Jeff too. If it ever feels a little weird, or, if Jeff makes you miss grandpa, you can always let me know."
      Q: Should these first few meetings between your child and their grandparent's new partner typically be short, informal, and in a neutral place? In other words, not at your home for the holidays? 
      Dr. Kaczmarek: I recommend something fun and something that has a natural built-in distraction or common activity, like the zoo! Holidays and dinners can feel high pressure, and let's be honest, most kids don't want to sit for extended amounts of time and just talk. Doing something with a common point of interest, even a game or decorating cookies, allows a natural connection to happen that can feel comforting and natural. Kids are intuitive and they will pick up on the feelings of the adults. The more comfortable the adults are with one another, the more grounding it will also be for the kids.
      Q: What do you tell your child if they ask if their grandparent's friend is going to be their new grandma or grandpa? 
      Dr. Kaczmarek: Well, we are not psychics and it's impossible to answer this question with certainty! But your child probably isn't asking because they need to know the definite answer. If your child is asking about this, they are probably curious or maybe even anxious about something else - for example, will everyone just  "forget" the deceased family member? / will there be new traditions? / what if you child doesn't like the new friend? / etc.? If your child is asking this, it's important to be honest with your uncertainty, and to lean into the question with some curiosity. Providing space for your child to express their concerns and validate those things (not necessarily providing solutions), can be very healing in their journey through adjustment and loss.
      Q: Are there signs parents should look for when trying to determine if their child needs to see a therapist about their grandparent dying? 
      Dr. Kaczmarek: Every kid processes so differently that it's difficult to give a "one size fits all" recommendation. However, if you see any marked changes that are particularly disruptive to their functioning, like frequent emotional distress, externalizing behavior, persistent worries/ruminations about safety/your life, school issues/avoidance, nightmares, or potty issues, it may be helpful to get in with a therapist. It's also important to know that some level of distress is normal and should be anticipated. Other red flags would be if the changes are happening for an extended period of time and if things they used to enjoy don't seem to have the same positive impact. For sensitive children and families that have the privilege of planning, getting started with a therapist pre-emptively may be helpful. Again, it may take quite a while for a therapist to build a connection, reinforce a sense of emotional safety in the room, and teach a variety of emotional concepts to even begin grief work. Starting that work sooner than later would be helpful - and worst comes to worst, your child doesn't need as many sessions as you anticipated!

    • How to feed your infant is a personal choice, and I support families regardless of their choices. However, I strongly advocate for access to appropriate support to make sure that those who do choose to breastfeed or chestfeed can be given their best chance at reaching their goals.
      Does this sound familiar? You have a breastfeeding problem and go to your
      doctor, who looks back at you with a blank stare. Or recommends you switch
      to formula. Or sends you to another doctor who doesn’t know what to do.
      Unfortunately, this scenario is all too common. It happened to me when I had
      my first baby! I saw a lactation consultant as well as my OB/gyn for recurrent
      plugged ducts and eventually saw a breast surgeon who couldn’t figure out
      what was going on. Thankfully, we ruled out anything serious, but I continued
      to struggle with an uncomfortable situation throughout my lactation journey.
      As a direct result of my difficulty getting answers to my breastfeeding
      problems, I pursued specialized training in lactation and discovered the field of
      Breastfeeding and Lactation Medicine (BFLM).
      Excellent breastfeeding and chestfeeding support can and does come from
      various professionals: lactation consultants, counselors, specialists, midwives,
      doulas, and yes - OB/GYNs, pediatricians, and family medicine doctors.
      Believe me, if I didn’t have lactation consultants helping me through my
      journey, I don’t think I would have made it through in one piece! But when I,
      like many, encountered a more complex problem that required physician
      expertise, I couldn’t find anyone to help.
      Through my professional goals of learning more about lactation, I learned
      about a little-known group of physicians who had been treating breastfeeding
      conditions for years – physicians with expertise in the medical nuances,
      evaluation, and treatment of lactation-related problems. I took every course
      and went to every conference I could find in the field. Since the start of my
      training, BFLM has become a board-certified medical specialty through the
      North American Board of Breastfeeding and Lactation Medicine.
      BFLM provides something distinctive. It is a niche within medicine where
      providers from different specialties acquire specialized training in caring for
      breastfeeding dyads. BFLM physicians are different from other lactation
      professionals in that we can diagnose, order labs or imaging, and prescribe
      medications or other treatments as part of our care. We are equipped with
      evidence-based medical expertise to provide that crucial support that was
      lacking during my journey.
      BFLM covers a wide range of concerns: painful latch, high or low milk
      production, recurrent plugged ducts and mastitis, persistent breast and nipple
      pain, tongue tie concerns, and maternal or infant medical conditions affecting
      breastfeeding. It also includes support for mothers with twins, re-lactation,
      and inducing lactation for adoptive or non-birthing parents wishing to lactate.
      With the addition of BFLM physicians to women’s care teams, I hope that no
      one feels that their only choice is to switch to formula because they cannot
      find the support they need. How to feed your infant is a personal choice, and I
      support families regardless of their choices. However, I strongly advocate for
      access to appropriate support to make sure that those who do choose to
      breastfeed or chestfeed can be given their best chance at reaching their

    • Here's a look at NPN’s year-in-review as well as our plans for 2024!
      Successes in 2023
      We stayed true to our mission to connect a diverse community of families by providing support and resources to solve the challenges of parenting in Chicago. 
      As you know, NPN helps Chicago families research schools and navigate developmental differences through parent education sessions, our annual Preschool & Elementary School Fair, and the Developmental Differences Resource Fair. In October 2023, we held our first Education & Community Fair at Kennicott Park in Hyde Park, complete with performances by the Kenwood School of Ballet. 
      We created and relaunched even more opportunities to foster connection within our community.
      NPN members find social support and parent-to-parent advice at our monthly playdates, in our Developmental Differences Parent Support Group, on virtual Parent Chats, at in-person Member Networking Coffees, and New Parent Group meetings, not to mention the discussion forum and our Parent to Parent newsletter. (Stay tuned for the next issue of Parent-to-Parent which will hit your mailbox in March!)
      Looking forward to 2024
      Goal: Grow our membership while providing more support to new and expecting parents and parents of older children.
      Our challenge this year is to increase membership, especially among new and expecting parents. To that end, we are planning a special new and expectant parent event this spring with some of our favorite partners. Stay tuned for more information!
      We are also developing a new format for our parent education sessions (a podcast!), and creating new programming for parents and their older elementary school children to enjoy together. We look forward to planning more support for post-high-school planning as well.
      There are so many new things in store for NPN and I’m excited to share them with you throughout the coming year.
      How you can help.
      Invite a friend to join NPN?
      Our strength is in our membership, and every member counts. NPN welcomes families of all cultures and backgrounds, gender, gender identity, race, ethnic origin, national origin, religion, sexual orientation, age, and ability. Your friend is welcome here, so please invite them! Share promo code Member30 with them so that they can save $30 on their first year of membership.
      Here is a blurb you can use for inviting friends to join:
      Thank you for your support of NPN. Your membership keeps the organization going and provides resources to families across the city. We are so grateful for you and hope to connect with you online or in-person in 2024. 

    • If there is one thing I believe all parents need to understand, it’s that the best outcomes for our children depend on parenting in a way that builds a secure attachment between them (kids) and us (parents).
      There aren’t many topics that seem to ruffle feathers like the “Gentle Parenting” debate.  And honestly, it makes so much sense. At some point the term Gentle Parenting came to be associated with permissive parenting, lack of boundaries, and parents who seemingly never get upset or raise their voice above 50 decibels. And while I didn’t coin the phrase, and I’m not too interested in defending the beast that gentle parenting has become, I will fiercely defend the parenting approach that I think it was trying to be. 
      We love labels and categories, a quick google search on parenting approaches will turn up phrases like: gentle parenting, attachment parenting, connected parenting, permissive parenting, traditional parenting, conscious parenting, etc. But you don’t have to pay attention to any of that. If there is one thing I believe all parents need to understand, it’s that the best outcomes for our children depend on parenting in a way that builds a secure attachment between them (kids) and us (parents). And good luck trying to rebrand attachment theory, it’s grounded in decades of research.  Its purpose and good name is here to stay!
      In my transformational parenting program The Empowered Parent: 90 Days to Parenting with Confidence, Pride, and Success, I lead parents to build this securely attached relationship with their children. And while my clients tackle aspects of parenting both deep and wide reaching, there is some myth busting that almost always takes place. So let’s set the record straight on three arguments I come across a lot. 
      They’ll never be ready for the “real world” - which isn’t gentle at all.  
      Yep! The world isn’t gentle. And guess what! Our kids are already living in that world. They experience pain, confusion, and heartache just as we do. They endure the death of family members, friends move away, they attend a new school, they encounter mistreatment, they witness images of violence. And they do all of this before they have a fully developed brain that could make better sense of it all. The world is tough, and we don’t need to be a source of that toughness. Instead, we provide security and safety. This is how our children grow to have resilience when they face hardships. The resilience is a result of having a safe and secure base in us to come home to. 
      You can’t just let kids do whatever they want.  
      I don’t know that anyone who understands attachment theory would advocate for letting kids do whatever they want - children need boundaries. I do however know that when parents move away from a mindset of needing to control their children and hold power over them, they see more cooperation and mutual respect. Think of your parenting as a set of guardrails along a path. If the guardrails are very narrow, our kids will constantly bump into them, causing friction and frustration for all of us. If the guardrails are too far apart or not present at all, our kids lack safety and reliable ways to learn from our leadership and presence. But when the guardrails are just right, we allow our children to explore, learn from mistakes with natural consequences, and provide the safety and leadership of thoughtful boundaries. 
      Sometimes kids just manipulate for attention.
      This one may be half true!  While I don’t think children misbehave to manipulate, I do think that a need for connection (i.e. attention) can show up with undesirable behavior. In her book Beyond Behaviors, Dr. Mona Delahooke explains that all behavior is communication.  If we are able to shift from a behaviorist mindset that solely looks at behavior as something to be rewarded or punished, we are then free to examine beneath the surface and uncover the underlying cause of a child’s behavior. Often, our examination will reveal a child’s unmet need or an underdeveloped skill. At the simplest level, a newborn doesn’t cry to manipulate us. A newborn cries to get a need met - for example the need to be fed. And an infant hasn’t yet developed the skills (i.e. brain development) to ask for food with words or sign language. A key piece to the 90 day Empowered Parent Accelerator program is growing in knowledge of our child’s brain development. Understanding this development can make all the difference in how we respond to behavior - and probably most importantly the story we tell ourselves (and our children) about who our children are at their core. 

    • Help us ignite the spirit of giving while celebrating YOU!
      Many of us have experienced that warm and fuzzy feeling that comes with giving. During this fundraising season, the NPN staff team asked ourselves how can we as an organization be generous while doing the critical work of raising money?
      Enter the NPN Dreams Come True Family Vacation Sweepstakes.
      In the spirit of generosity, we’ve put a twist on our end-of-year fundraising campaign. This year, for every $40 you donate, you will have a chance to win the NPN Dreams Come True Family Vacation Sweepstakes. If you win and you are an NPN member, we will give you an additional cash prize of $100 - $1,000 depending on the amount of money raised. You can donate to enter the sweepstake and see all of the details here.
      The funds that we raise in November and December are critical to NPN’s operations. As a member, you are just as critical to NPN’s success. Every time that you engage with NPN by renewing your membership, attending an event, commenting in the discussion forum, sharing social media posts, or forwarding a resource to your parent community, you help NPN flourish. I hope you catch that generous feeling every time you engage with NPN, because every engagement is a form of giving.
      When you win the sweepstake (why not you?) NPN will celebrate three times. Once for having raised the funds we need to operate next year, once in celebration of your generosity and support, and finally, we’ll celebrate because you won a dream family vacation!
      I hope you have fun with this campaign and share it with your friends. Should you make a donation and enter the sweepstakes, I hope you win! Truly, you make a difference in the lives of every Chicago family who depends on NPN for support and resources. I can not thank you enough for your generosity.
      With gratitude,
      The NPN Team

    • If you're ready to spend your next trip relaxing, exploring, and bonding—instead of arguing and stressing, you'll want to read these expert tips from NPN's own!
      As winter settles in, many people cope with the change in weather by planning their next family vacation. But if your last family vacation has you wanting to never venture out as a family again - you're in luck! 
      We've gathered the top travel hacks from NPN members on how to master your next family vacation and a ✨magical opportunity to make the financial planning part of your next family vacation a piece of cake! 
      Hack 1: Pick A Location That Works For Everyone
      The opportunity to get away with your family only presents itself a few times a year. Make the most of your trip by traveling to a destination that will please all of your carry ons - ahem, children. Destinations like amusement parks, cruises, beaches, and family-friendly resorts are always a win! ✨NPN is excited to offer your family the chance of a lifetime! Win a magical family vacation while supporting NPN and Chicago families! Win big while giving back by purchasing a chance to win in the NPN Dreams Come True Family Vacation Sweepstakes! The sweepstakes is now open so secure your tickets today! Hack 2: Don't Stretch Your Budget
      Family vacations aren't cheap but overspending doesn't have to be your only option. Plus, if you overspend, you'll be more likely to not be able to enjoy your trip because you're too busy worrying about paying for everything later. Do yourself a favor and try to save during the year for your next family trip. Plan ahead and divide the anticipated total cost up each month or pay period to make your dream vacation a reality for your bank account. ✨P.S Did we mention that tickets to NPN's Dreams Come True Family Vacation Sweepstakes are only $40 and that the grand prize includes a check to cover airfare, lodging, tickets to the park, and spending money? Read more about each prize level and secure as many tickets as you want here. Hack 3: Leave The Planning To The Pros
      There are two types of people out there - those that love planning things and those that don't. If the thought of planning meals and activities makes you nervous, tag in a vacation planner to handle the details! Before you start thinking of your grandparents who used travel agents “back in their day,” remember that travel agents are experts in wanderlust and have relationships that can lead to a better vacation and a much less stressful experience for you. For example, if you're planning a trip to Disney, it can be hard to know how soon to plan your trip, what a Genie+ is, or how to find the best deals. If you're planning things at the last minute or haven't been to Disney since you were 10, a planner may be the expert you need. Looking for recommendations? This forum post has a few! Hack 4: Carve Out Time For Yourself + Time With Your Spouse
      I know, I know - it's a family vacation. But YOU are a part of your family and so is your spouse! Try to find time to stay up late and catch a movie together or to take a dip in the pool, solo. You'll be amazed how therapeutic it can be! Where possible, choose a family-friendly resort, a cruise with a kids club, or find activities that your kids can do on their own (if they are old enough) to give you a few minutes of alone time. Your kids will also appreciate this time to be independent!
      Hack 5: Don't Sweat The Small Stuff
      Every trip is sure to have its share of surprises and things that you didn't expect or prepare for. Try as best as you can to go with the flow and be prepared to pivot under pressure. Figure out how to make the best of crappy weather or meltdowns or sickness to avoid spoiling an entire day or the whole trip. Not only will this help you have a less stressful time, but it'll also show your kids a great example of how to handle disappointments, snafus, and changes of plan—something they’ll carry with them (and that’ll make them awesome travelers) for life.
      Try (as best as you can) to plan ahead. Bring extra snacks with you (did you know that you're allowed to bring your own food into Disney?!) to avoid the inevitable "I'm starving" whines, pack ponchos to be prepared for random rainstorms, and be prepared for attitudes and tantrums from kids who may not appreciate all of the work that goes into making their dreams come true!
      There's no need to be afraid to plan your next getaway with your kiddos and there are major benefits to traveling and creating memories with your family. We hope these tips make your next family adventure, a dream come true!

    • An age-by-age guide, sourced from child development experts to help you explain the Israel-Hamas war to your children.
      As parents, it's our job to do everything we can to make our children feel safe and secure. So it's only natural to default to avoiding topics that may frighten, concern, or cause panic in our children. But what should you do when the topic impacts you directly because of your religion or beliefs or when the topic feels unavoidable due to news and social media coverage?
      Ever since October 7th, many families (including my own) have been torn on how to answer this question. So, I compiled expert advice from trusted sources on how to best navigate these difficult conversations with their children in this age-by-age guide. 
      Don't wait for your child to ask you about it. Not all children will start a conversation or ask questions about what's going on and may instead choose to rely on information from their peers or social media. In order to ensure that your children are receiving accurate information, it's important to take the lead.
      Waheeda Saif, a program coordinator at Riverside Trauma Center in Massachusetts suggests using open-ended questions to start a conversation: "'Have you heard what's been going on in the world?' 'Have you heard anything about what's going on in Israel and Palestine?' And just see what they say, and take it from there," she said during a conversation with NPR.
      Children of all ages deserve a conversation — even those without loved ones who live in Israel or Gaza.
      Regardless of what you believe, we can all agree that everyone has a right to life. While this seems like a known fact, it's important to start here. According to Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health’s Claude Bruderlein, leading with empathy in these discussions will help dissociate ourselves from categories like race, nationality, and religion, which can become divisive. “The first, more sensitive step is really to take a stand that everybody has a right to life and dignity, regardless of their nationality, regardless of their religion, regardless of their gender and age,” Bruderlein told The Boston Globe. 
      It can feel impossible to answer all of the questions that may pop up during your chat but it's important to remember that you don't have to have all of the answers and that you are not expected to turn into a historian or political scientist overnight. Often children just want to better understand why and how people can be so cruel to one another and as difficult as it can be to explain, it's okay to redirect them towards believing in the possibility of peace and coexistence. Allow them to lead by asking them how they can improve the immediate world around them by being kind to others. 
      Protecting your mental health at this time is vital. Family clinical psychologist Dr. Jennifer Hartstein, recommends that you "...check in with how you are doing, as well, to ensure that you are not flooding your own nervous system...be mindful of how you are feeling so that you can be more present for you children."
      How to Explain the Israel-Hamas War Age-By-Age *Source, Parents.com
      Many experts agree that discussing the war with your preschooler is not necessary UNLESS they ask you about it or see it on the news. You want to avoid dismissing them because of their age while keeping the topic age-appropriate by using words and situations that they can relate to.  Leading the conversation with statements about people hurting each other and expressing that it is never okay to hurt someone else is an easy way to start.  ELEMENTARY SCHOOL 
      Keeping things simple with this age group is best as well. You can begin by showing them a map of where the conflict is taking place, discussing why people may be sad or upset and being direct about what it means to be at war.  MIDDLE SCHOOL
      Once social media has entered the chat, the discussion needs to be dialed up a bit. It's important to help your middle schooler realize how to spot fake news and how to fact-check information that they may find on the internet.  For this age group, it's important to let them lead the conversation. You can do this by asking questions to see what they already know and to help determine how they may already feel about it. Respect their opinion while introducing them to and educating them on the history of the conflict. If you don't know it, this is a great opportunity to learn together.  HIGH SCHOOL
      Helping your high schooler learn to discern fact from fiction is key. Help them identify and follow reputable, non-biased sources that you know and trust to try to help beat the algorithm of content that is designed to spark an emotional reaction.  Help them understand the importance of being mindful of their mental health. Scrolling social media and seeing photos and videos of death and violence can be traumatic. According to reports, Israeli and Jewish schools in the U.S. have even urged parents to delete social media apps from their children's phones to shield them from seeing any purported hostage videos from Hamas. Deleting social media from their phone may seem extreme so it's important to remind them to take breaks from social media when they feel overwhelmed with any content they may see and to also report the content on social media to keep it out of their feed. A major part of keeping our children as safe as possible is to make sure that they are aware of what is going on around them. I hope these tips help prepare you to do just that. Let us know how your discussions go on the forum. 

    • If you'd asked me where I'd be in 2023 as a teenager - there's no way I'd ever guess I'd spend my weekends couch surfing with my kids while watching Disney movies that I've seen a thousand times...and enjoying it. In a post-COVID world, it can be easy to convince yourself that you don't need any new friends but if you're ready to make a few, here are three easy tips!
      If you'd asked me where I'd be in 2023 as a teenager - there's no way I'd ever guess I'd spend my weekends couch surfing with my kids while watching Disney movies that I've seen a thousand times...and enjoying it.
      My social life as a teen/early adult was that of scene from a pop-themed movie. Nonstop plans, no fears or worries about being mugged, short dresses, scandalous heels that I could actually walk in (how!?) and more than anything, friends out the whazoo. I had friends from college, high school friends, cheer friends, friends of friends, guy friends, queer friends, straight friends, family friends - you name it and they were a friend of mine. It was completely normal for me to strike up a full conversation with a total stranger on the L over their shoes. Oh, you're also getting off at Fullerton at the same time as me? Instant friend!
      Fast-forward to today where I avoid making eye contact with strangers at all costs. Especially in public, unfamiliar places. Spark up a random conversation with a stranger that lasts longer than 30 seconds? As if.
      What gives??
      Turns out, I'm not the only one. A quick Google search reveals that making friends as an adult is a common query and also that it is notoriously harder than it ever was. In fact, it is so difficult that there are apps dedicated to it. According to people smarter than me who are paid to research things like this, COVID is largely to blame. Per the Surgeon General, America is in the midst of a loneliness epidemic, and the forced physical separation of the pandemic certainly didn't help us stay in touch. Surveys show that many Americans lost friends thanks to two years of shutdowns and restrictions.
      Also, newsflash - you still got it, sis! The difficulty isn't that you're uncool or awkward. It's that the essential building blocks of friendship are harder to come by when you're older. For example, research shows making a casual friend takes 50 hours on average, while close friendships take 200 hours (yes, like 199 +1). Ain't nobody got time for that!

      So how do we push past the awkwardness and actually find time to dedicate to making new friends? And if you're anything like me, how do we convince ourselves that making friends is actually something we need? Because I have totally sold myself on Netflix and chilling with my kids in my spare time... 
      Here are a few tips!
      Find your people Breaking news: to make friends you have to actually leave your house. But unless we are cool with being besties with our toddlers - teens, we gotta break free from the couch.  An easy place to start, find yo' people! Finding a group of people that you naturally have things in common with is an easy launch point. Are you a new mom? Join a local new moms group (shameless plug for NPN's New Moms Group!), go to a family-friendly activity, or a networking event if professional friends are your thing. Don't just go though, you have to actually talk to people. As awkward as it may seem, approach someone and say something nice or ask them a question. Apparently this works. Connect AND MEAN IT How often have you met someone cool, hit it off amazingly, and then you're like, "okay totally let's do this again!" Only to never.do.it.again? Fall out of this trap by actually setting plans (AND ADDING THEM TO YOUR CALENDAR) before you leave. Adult friendships are a lot like scheduled sex. You can't believe you have to, but you feel much better knowing what to prepare for. 
      Understand the benefits Adult friendships are a lot more than nice-to-haves or the icing on top of a successful adult life. Positive friendships are a proven mood booster and stress buster (while loneliness can be as bad for your body as smoking a pack a day). So unless, you're fond of smoking and want to die alone (okay, maybe a tiny bit dramatic) - the benefits to making friends are real.  Also, for this assignment - work friends DO NOT count. Get out there and make some friends you aren't paid to hang out with. Morale of the story...don't give up on making new friends! It won't happen effortlessly like it did when we were in college but a lot has changed since then so why wouldn't our process of making and keeping friends? With a little planning and courage, the whole friends as adults thing is totally doable. Wanna be friends?

    • Considering adding a nanny to your family? Here are a few key questions that need to be asked during the interview process to ensure a happy and compatible match is made to start you on your path to nanny-family partnership bliss!
      As a Placement Provider for Olive.You.Nanny, I am constantly puzzle piecing to find compatible matches for families and nannies. I have found there to be some key questions that need to be asked during the interview process to ensure a happy and compatible match is made for both the nanny and family involved. If you can find someone who naturally aligns with your parenting style, family values, and worldview while clicking personality wise, then you are on a good path to nanny-family partnership bliss!
      If you are a hiring family you want to first and foremost get a sense for what is most important to your family. In a few words, what is your family focus/motto or what is most important to you as a family unit? Some parents mention education, kindness, openness to new experiences/diversity, or family time as their main focus. Whatever the case may be, it is first important to acknowledge what is most important to you and what you want your children to learn about the world as they are growing up. By asking yourself these questions, you will be able to better clarify what is most important to your family, which will be essential in finding a nanny who naturally aligns with you!
      Nannies come with their own unique personalities, nanny-style, experiences, and values and it is important to better understand their world-view. You don’t want them to mold themselves to you when their ideals and nanny-style could be in contrast. You, the nanny, and your kids will be happier when you are on the same page. Your nanny will act as a role model and teacher when she is with your kids and you will want to make sure what they are learning is something you also desire! I always ask nannies several key questions: 
      1. What are some values that are most important to you in your life? 
      2. What do you think is most important for children to learn as they are growing up? 3. How would you best describe your nanny-style? 
      4. What do you envision when you think of your ideal position? 
      5. What makes you feel most appreciated and happiest on the job? 
      6. What is one of your favorite memories as a nanny and why?
      After interviewing a series of nannies, I have discovered a few commonalities that seem to make Rock Star nannies happy! Most are in search of a family that is open to outings and activities and exploration in the city so they can incorporate play-based learning and get some fresh air with the kiddos. They also want to have open communication and consistency when it comes to nap times, discipline, and boundaries. 
      There are simple ways to make a nanny feel appreciated and chances are you will keep your nanny longer and he or she will go above and beyond in the role if they feel valued. Nannies want to feel like a valued extension of your family opposed to a “worker.” Employers who show their nannies trust by not micro-managing are better able to establish rapport. Thoughtful gestures go a long way in job satisfaction! Letting your nanny off a bit earlier (while being paid) on an occasional afternoon is very much appreciated as nannies tend to work long hours. Remembering industry standards like vacation and sick time and maintaining the nanny’s wage if you do not need him or her the days you choose to be away (same applies to letting him or her go home early if they aren’t needed) are key ways to express respect to your nanny’s profession. Cards of appreciation, small thoughtful gifts, remembering their birthday, having an annual review, and taking time to get to know them, are all ways to show your nanny that you care about them as an individual and value them as an employee. And you are off to a successful relationship!

    • We’re counting down the days until Prime Day on July 11th and 12th and we want to make sure you have everything you need to make the most out of this year's deals. Keep reading for shopping tips to help you make the most out of the 48-hour deal frenzy and a few of the best early Prime Day deals that you can shop for right now!
      Deal are on the way! Amazon Prime Day AKA Christmas in July, kicks off next week and is arguably the biggest sales event of the year. Yep, even bigger than Black Friday! Established in 2015, Prime Day has become the summer's best time to stock up, plan ahead for the holiday season, and splurge on things that we've had our eyes on buying. 
      We’re counting down the days until Prime Day on July 11th and 12th and we want to make sure you have everything you need to make the most out of this year's deals. Keep reading for shopping tips to help you make the most out of the 48-hour deal frenzy and a few of the best early Prime Day deals that you can shop for right now!
      Preparation is Key 🔑
      It's incredibly easy to get overwhelmed by the number of deals available on Prime Day and overspend. Remember, this is a time to save money - not spend more than you need to or purchase things you don't need. Take a few deep breaths, grasp your credit card tight, and follow these tips to be prepared. 
      💳 Membership Check
      Consider Prime Day your virtual Costco or Sams Club - you can't access the deals without flashing your membership at the door. Make sure your membership is current and that you are logged in before you plan to join in. If you're not a member already, the best news is that Prime Day always includes great incentives to take advantage of Amazon's core products - including: 
      Amazon Prime Membership: Try Amazon Prime free (and participate in Prime Day!) for 30 days! Reminder: you can only take part in Prime Day if you are a Prime member! Amazon Family Membership: Save 20% off diaper subscriptions when you join Amazon family Amazon Student Membership: Get 50% off of Amazon Prime for students and 6 months free! Audible Plus: Try Audible Plus and get 3 free months! Gift cards: Buy a $50 Amazon gift card and earn a $5 credit for Prime Day 🗒️ Make a list - check it twice!
      It's inevitable, a great deal is a surefire way to convince you that you NEED that deluxe automatic plant waterer. Save the explanations to your partner when they trip over all of the boxes from your Prime Day haul by making a list and checking it twice. The best way that I've found to avoid over spending is to grab your calendar and make note of all of the important holidays, birthdays, and celebrations coming up. Create a list of names and upcoming events (just make sure you're on that list, too!) and jot down a few gift ideas for each person. Don't forget to also stock up on the household items you'll need and maybe a few big-ticket items (like a new TV or speaker system) if your budget allows. 
      🛍️ Make sure you're actually getting a deal
      Prime Day has put a ton of pressure on competitors so be sure to shop around on Prime Day and leading up to it to see if you're scoring the best price. Big box stores like Target, Best Buy, and Walmart are guaranteed to also slash their prices or even price-match Prime deals to remain relevant during this 48-hour sprint so do your research and shop around!
      🌩️ Capitalize on Lightning deals
      Lightning deals are promos that are only available in limited numbers for a short period of time. If you notice a lightning deal on a product you love, you can track the deal and be notified once it's live in the Amazon App. If you miss out, you may also be able to join the waitlist to be notified if more become available. 
      You don't have to wait until July 11th (at midnight!) to start saving. Prime members have early access to deals on products from brands you know and love like Ruggable and Ring. You can also save early on products from small businesses and support women, Black, and military-owned brands. Here are a few of our favorite early deals! 
      Deals for Kids
      Save up to 60% on Melissa & Doug toys for the kids Save 30% on Balance Bikes Save up to 60% on PJ Masks, FurReal, Baby Alive, and more Deals for Teens
      Save 43% on Amazon Luna controller bundle Save 13% on Polaroid instant print camera bundle Save 35% on a portable karaoke machine Deals for Home
      Save 47% on a Smart Fire TV Save 60% on a new luggage set Save 50% on a Shark IQ Robot  
      *As a 501c3, we are always searching for ways to invest back into NPN and help us continue to grow. For that reason, we may occasionally earn an affiliate commission on the sales of products that we link to at zero cost to you. We vow to only feature items that we genuinely love and want to share and that our opinion on each item is our own and not at all influenced by any earnings. 

    • Ahhh the fresh smell of spring. Followed quickly by the strong desire to toss everything! I like to channel Marie Kondo when it comes to spring cleaning…if it aint sparking joy, it’s gotsta go! But it’s a new year and I’m ready to try new things so here’s my list of spring cleaning must-haves.
      If you’re anything like me, at any given time of the day, your home resembles a pigsty (hopefully sans the odor). I have kid toys, clothing, random bits of food, and some of my husbands random items scattered across the tables, countertops, and floors constantly. It’s become our new decor. While I’ve grown to accept that a tidy home is not included in the toddler parenting pack - I am constantly on the prowl for ways to improve the overall aesthetic of my home (AKA ways to hide all of the clutter). Smart storage has become my new thing. The excitement that comes over me when I walk through the cleaning aisle or the Container Store is enough to make my husband green with envy. 
      But who am I kidding? I don’t actually have the time to stroll through store aisles often. So I am forever thankful to Amazon and their array of useful products that aim to make the cleaning process easier, especially for those of us with busy lives and limited amounts of energy. 
      So without further ado, here are a few of my favorite (Amazon) things! Each of which can hopefully help you take on your cleaning goals and keep your home semi-less cluttered all year long (or until next spring, at least!)
      The Pink Stuff Cleaning Paste
      I’ve been hearing about this product line A LOT but it wasn’t until I saw a few reviews on TikTok that I was convinced to try it myself and I have to admit - it works. At only $5 a jar and with over 172k positive reviews, this is a buy that you won’t feel guilty about trying out for yourself.
      Undersink Organizer
      With all of the new cleaning products, tossing them under the sink or into a cabinet just won’t cut it. This undersink organizer was easy to put together and saves me a ton of space while keeping everything organized and easy to find. 
      O-Cedar EasyWring Microfiber Spin Mop
      A few years ago, I splurged on a mop system that also claimed to steam your floors so well you could eat off of them. And then the liquid steam solution ran out and it was a pain ordering a new one or a new mop head. This year, I switched over to this O-Cedar mop system and it also removes 99% of bacteria but doesn’t need special steam solution and the mop heads can be picked up at local stores! This bundle in particular even comes with a few extra replacement mop heads! FTW.
      22 Piece Drill Brush Attachments Set
      My hubby bought this years ago when my 5-year old was in her prime “get everything sticky” phase. I thought it was a joke until he tested this bad boy out on her high chair and it came out looking better than new. I really can’t recommend this product enough, it helped reach all of the tiny crevices that food nestles down into and my husband was excited to use it because it requires a power tool. Anything that can get him to contribute to scrubbing is a win in my book.
      2-Pack Mop and Broom Holder
      The people we purchased our home from were so ahead of the game on this one. They already had this installed into our home so I didn’t need to buy one but I had to list it here because it saves so much floor space and keeps everything in an easily accessible spot.
      Underbed storage
      We use these to store away just about everything but primarily for hiding out of season clothing and kid toys. We even have our kids help pack their underbed storage bin so they know exactly what’s there and where to find things (and return them later) when they want to play with them. My favorite thing about this pack, is that it comes with 3 bins and they have handles on them!
      Vacuum Storage Bags
      Want to stuff even more stuff into your underbed storage container? These vacuum storage bags are addictive and fun. Seriously, we kept looking for items to toss into them and flatten! We even got the kids in the mix and had them help suck all of the air out and talked about the science behind it all, too. I actually just purchased this pack to help with college packing in a few months! 
      Based on some of your advice in the forum, here are a few products I’d recommend to help with some of the main areas you all said to be sure to tackle: 
      Deep clean of baseboards: This cleaner with washable heads can help save your back and knees! Fully clean kitchen and freezer: These storage bins can help re-organize your fridge “Basically everything looks better in storage baskets” - I couldn’t agree more! Here’s a pack of three that are available in a variety of sizes and colors to match your decor! A few of you also mentioned donating things instead of just tossing them and I am a HUGE fan of donating things that we no longer use. Here’s one organization that accepts work attire to help the homeless and other people in need dress their best for job interviews.
      Keep the spring cleaning ideas coming! Share your favorite products, tips, and strategies in the forum!
      *It’s important to note that as a 501c3, we are always searching for ways to invest back into NPN and help us continue to grow. For that reason, we may occasionally earn an affiliate commission on the sales of products that we link to at zero cost to you. We vow to only feature items that we genuinely love and want to share and that our opinion on each item is our own and not at all influenced by any earnings. 

    • With April being Financial Literacy Month, there's no better time than today to start learning about cryptocurrency! Here are three ways to learn and start conversations about financial literacy with your children.
      If you're like me, saving for my children's future is a top priority. But it's more than just saving for college: I want to help my kids have positive relationships with money. And that means talking to them early and often about money and finances so that they are equipped with the tools to make good financial choices as adults.
      However, in the last 10 years, the financial landscape and possibilities have changed drastically with the introduction of cryptocurrency and the Metaverse. As a parent, this leads me to ask so many questions: What does this mean for our kids and their future? How can I better educate myself so that I can safely introduce the world of web3 to my kids? And most importantly, is there a way that I can leverage crypto to incorporate it into our larger wealth-building journey to benefit both myself and my family?
      All of these questions led my husband and I to start a company called The CryptoMom App, the premiere destination for all things crypto for women, by women. I wanted to create an inclusive, secure platform for women to learn about crypto and then invest it in products that are meaningful to our lives, like college funds. And with April being Financial Literacy Month, there's no better time than today to start learning about cryptocurrency.
      Here are three ways to start conversations about financial literacy and web3 with your children:
      1. Model good behavior by researching first
      The best way to learn about the basics of crypto is to start researching. There are really great social media accounts for women that encourage conversations and provide the basics of cryptocurrency; Some of my favorites are CryptoWitchClub on Instagram and Elana @TradingFemale on Twitter. You don’t have to know all of the jargon and buzzwords; It’s more about increasing your exposure to slowly gain familiarity. Then, talk about what you've learned with your kids in a casual setting, like at the dinner table. Your kids will certainly be impressed and you get to flex your 'cool mom' muscles!
      2. Read Books Together
      Kids of all ages love to cuddle up and read books together. You can find books at your local library or online that teach kids the basics of crypto, even board books for infants and toddlers like Bitcoin for Babies. For your teens, offer to start a book club and read the book together. Not only are you learning together but you're also building authentic connections that are often difficult to maintain in the teen years.
      3. Take the plunge by purchasing yourself first
      There's no better teacher than experience so now that you're prepared with research and knowledge, take your first step by purchasing your first coin. Don’t feel the need to invest large amounts of money; Invest what you feel comfortable with, whether it's $20 or $200. Platforms like The CryptoMom App allow you to buy small fractions of bitcoin in just three easy steps.
      If you're looking to connect with other women on their crypto wealth-building journey, sign up for the waitlist for The CryptoMom App to get exclusive, first access to our product. 

    • Choosing a gift can feel impossible at times. It may feel like we’re giving toys, clothes, or other items that may just collect dust or be re-gifted. We know that experiences tend to make better gifts than material objects because they lead to richer memories, deepen human connection, and even encourage gratitude and appreciation in children. Check out this list of perennial favorites and fresh suggestions, which are grouped by price range below.
      Zero to $25
      Garfield Park Conservatory’s Spring Flower Show is here! Send your favorite flower lover off to the Conservatory with a cash donation ready to go. The spring flower show will give children and families the gift of warmth (truly! It’s balmy in there). Add on a disposable camera for fun and see what develops… you may be impressed with what captures the eyes of your nature lover.  
      Bubbles Academy- For the younger child, look no further than Bubbles Academy for everything from drop-in art classes to outdoor classes and a nature playground. Coming this spring for families and children aged up to 7, check out their Silly Space Soiree or a gift card for one of their many fun and developmentally smart activities at any location.
      Chalk it Up - Chalk is an underestimated resource. Whether traditional or “spray chalk,” create sidewalk games like Hopscotch, Four Square, or more. Check out “Shape Hopscotch” for a fun twist.  Birthday message artistry is also a fun treat to wake up to! Spray chalk works on grass and washes out after rain.  
      Bee’s Knees (and butterflies, too!) – For kids or families abuzz to help our favorite little honey-makers, we suggest the gift of a native plant garden. For quickest impact, plant natives from a plug rather than seeds.  Because the helpful native plants are hard to find at most big box stores or nurseries, we specifically like Possibility Place Nursery in Monee, (which also offers suggestions for plants to attract butterflies!). Prairie Nursery in Wisconsin also has native plant seeds with the option to ship. For a tree bee lover, we suggest making a donation in name to Southport Corridor Bees, or adding in a jar of local organic honey to the gift.
      Camping - If your child has their heart set on a camping adventure, we like the idea of sharing a weekend (or just an evening) away. With many camping areas within driving distance, you can make their dream come true easily. Check out Chicago Park District’s Coleman Gear Library, where you can rent everything from tents and sleeping bags to flashlights and much more for free. If your family is new to camping, you can attend a camping experience with Chicago Parks for around $50. Learn basic camping principles, take a nature hike and enjoy an evening around the campfire led by our expert camping staff. At night campers will enjoy hot dogs and s’mores over the fire, and a light breakfast in the morning. 
      Art lovers - While the Museum of Contemporary Art and the Art Institute have daily admission or membership options, we find that children and adults alike enjoy spending time and money at the gift shops and surrounding restaurants. Check out specifically MCA’s Family Days and The Art Exchange at The Art Institute of Chicago. Send them with a calendar of upcoming events, and maybe some art supplies and snacks to supplement their fun.
      Movie Theater- Many families have not been to the theater since 2019/early 2020, which means that some young kids have never seen a movie on the big screen at all. Make their day with a gift card to their nearest movie theater or IMAX location. Bonus points if you throw in cash for snacks!
      Chicago Children’s Theatre - offers drop-in day camps for performers and performance-curious. We also love their unique Red Kite Program, which has special offerings for children on the autism spectrum. They even offer financial aid options for those who need it.
      Indoor Play - Fit City Kids offers something from everything from crawlers to big kids. Parents can relax while children run, jump, slide, and dive around the massive play zone. Daily visit passes are available online. Personal and small-group training is also available for the more serious athlete. They even have pickleball classes for kids! You can also check out Climb Zone or Brooklyn Boulders; Trampoline parks like Altitude or Urban Air. And if you’re gifting for a grown-up 21+, check out Altitude’s Adult Nights, where tickets include a drink.
      Date Night -  Who wouldn’t love to be gifted a date night with childcare covered? Send parents the gift of child care:  whether by covering their babysitting costs, or gifting a “Parent Survival Night” at The Little Gym. If you’re feeling generous, send them with a gift card to a nearby restaurant for grownup conversation. Near The Little Gym in Lakeview, we suggest: El Tapatio, Volo, Coda Di Volpe, or Ella Elli.
      Over $100
      Private food experience – For the foodie families in your life, consider giving a private or small-group class or dining experience. Who wouldn’t want to experience a cooking class with  French Chef Vincent at Cook Au Vin? Cooking classes are BYOB, so feel free to package your gift certificate with a bottle of their favorite wine. We hear that private catering options are also available, which may be the perfect gift for small dinner parties or romantic special occasions.
      Sleep - Can you really gift sleep? We sure think so. Kelly Murray Sleep Consulting offers services for new and not-so-new parents. Professional sleep consultants offer free consultations and packages range from from program guides with online support to private in-home coaching.
      Bulls and Bears and Blackhawks, oh my - Tickets to a Chicago Bears, Bulls, or Blackhawks game are wonderful starting points. Chicago’s WNBA team, Chicago Sky, is also a fantastic idea. And for anyone who caught the soccer bug with last years’ World Cup, check out a match for the Chicago Fire (at Soldier Field)  or Chicago Stars (Bridgeview). 
      Family Photos – For families who are so busy making memories that they may forget to capture them, consider a family photo package. Various mini-shoots are available online around holidays. Little Bear Photography and TK Photography are both well-known for their high quality and ease to work with.
      Next-Level Sleepovers - The Shedd Aquarium offers many specialty events for families, including add-on events such as encounters with Sea Otter, Beluga, or even a shark feeding tour! The Aquarium offers impressive overnight events, from sleeping around the Caribbean Reef to Oceanarium, where you can wake up next to penguins, whales and even dolphins. The Field Museum has regular “Dozin’ with the Dinos,” where families with children ages 6 to 12 can spend the night in the museum. Even better, you can prepay for overnight parking! Museum of Science and Industry has the unique overnight “Snoozeum”  
      The Getaway – The getaway gift is staple for a reason. Whether it’s your family or another, most enjoy the gift of a hotel overnight. For those with older children, consider offering a small party or sleepover for them at a cool rental property. While this gift may be reserved for very special occasions, it can be the memory of a lifetime. Imagine hosting a sixteenth birthday party at a rental property with a pool table and a hot tub. Families with younger children may appreciate being sent to an indoor water park or even to the spa for mani-pedis together. 
      Priceless: The Gift of Cereal
      The best gift you can possibly give someone may not be one you could predict. A recommendation shared with me recently was this: Give the child something that they ask for often but usually don’t get. Maybe it’s something you would never think of. Maybe they want to wear mismatched socks one day, or have a parent say yes to their request for a popsicle at the beach or donut at the store. Ask the child’s parent for ideas of what the child is constantly asking for, and find out if you can give the child that. Perhaps it takes the shape of cash for the parent to keep on hand at the beach. In the case of one friend I know, it was cereal.
      The best gifts come from the heart, creative and even wacky gift ideas can be the most memorable. 

    • 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.

    • 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 13th! 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!
      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 13th! Open to the public, our Online Auction is bigger and better than ever, with more than 150 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 17th. 
      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, sports tickets, jewelry—and help NPN, a 501(c)3 non-profit that depends on your bids to keep its lights on! 
      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 150 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. 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. 

    • 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! 


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