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    • Together with Diono, we offer these tips to make traveling with little ones less stressful.
      Sponsored article by Diono
      Traveling opens doors to new experiences and quality family time and memories. However, with cranky kids, unpredictable schedules, and long packing lists, traveling with your baby is also challenging. Read on for five tips to make traveling with kids less stressful.
      Research your destination
      Before you start your trip, conduct in-depth research of your destination. You could determine the current weather conditions of the location you are visiting to enable you to pack appropriately. Researching your destination beforehand also helps you plan for either indoor or outdoor activities.
      If your baby is still breastfeeding, you also need to determine whether or not breastfeeding in public is allowed in the location you are headed. While some states do not prohibit breastfeeding in public, others demand that mothers find a private area to feed their young ones.
      Pick the right time to travel
      Determining the right time to travel is crucial, especially when traveling with younger children. Consider traveling at night when your babies are likely to be asleep to allow you more hours of peace in the plane and fewer distractions when driving. If night drives and flights are not ideal for you, consider scheduling your drive or flight thirty minutes before your baby’s nap time. Once the flight takes off, or you start driving, you could do a short story or a quick snack or bottle to help the baby drift off.  Traveling at night in your car also means little or no traffic jams or roadworks so you will reach your destination faster.
      Beware of heatstroke
      Did you know that a kid dies from heatstroke in a car every 10 days? Heatstroke is a life-threatening condition characterized by high fever and hot, flushed skin.  It is caused by prolonged exposure to direct sun, extreme heat, or high humidity with limited airflow, especially in a parked car. Avoid leaving your child alone in the car to prevent heatstroke. You could also invest in a portable stroller fan from Diono to give your child a cool, comfortable ride. 
      Stock up enough snacks 
      Even when you have meal arrangements at your destination, ensure that you have a few snacks available for your children. The food at the destination may differ from what your child usually eats, so they may only take a few bites. Your flight may also be delayed, get unexpected traffic jams, or the tour may take longer than anticipated, so taking a few snacks with you prevents you from dealing with a hungry, cranky child. Some travel-safe, healthy snacks you could stock up on include crackers, cheerios, granola bars, nuts, pretzels, string cheese, fruits, and vegetables.
      Pack wisely
      Be sure to pack enough essentials when traveling with kids. A few essentials include: 
      Diapers, wipes, pull-ups, and sanitizers.  To be safe, carry one diaper per hour of travel Comfort items such as pacifiers. Ensure that you carry more than one pacifier to prepare for emergencies like it getting flung on the floor A tablet or smartphone loaded with your baby’s favorite shows or movies Water Art supplies such as a blank paper and crayons A plastic bag for trash Proper preparation can make the difference between a fun and miserable family trip. Implement the above strategies to make traveling with your kids a breeze.
       

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

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

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

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

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    • As we move through 2022, I recuperate and regain energy. The adventure continues…
      When faced with a challenge, I often think, “Let it be an adventure." Well, as 2020 began, my sister and I faced the adventure of preparing our parents' home for sale. We had lost our Mother in March 2019 to metastatic breast cancer. Then, March 2020 brought in an additional challenge: a pandemic.
      So my sister and I worked, masked, in different parts of the house. We practiced social distancing on breaks outdoors in lawn chairs, chatting and snacking. While the pandemic complicated the process of sorting through family heirlooms, it gave my sister and I time to reflect on our parents' lives, and strengthened our bond.
      [Related: COVID and PTSD: How to handle the whirlwind of emotions]
      The pandemic brought new words and phrases into our vocabulary, such as PPE and positivity rate. My husband, son, and I withdrew into our “pod” as the pandemic evolved. Our son finished up his lessons at a local art gallery; creating works of art now gives him solace when confined indoors. We had fun choosing patterns for our fabric masks, and wore them everywhere. We still use fabric masks outdoors, and KN95s indoors. My son has decided to wear his KN95 at school, despite the recent change in the school masking rules, “to be safe,” noting: ”I don't want to be sick.”
      As we adjusted to the pandemic lifestyle, we experienced an unexpected loss. Our guinea pig, Frankie, passed away. We grieved, missing her presence, and later adopted a guinea pig mother, Mimi, and daughter, Minnie, in need of a home.
      As someone classified as “immunocompromised,” I was eager to be vaccinated. A connection found me a vaccination appointment, and I was fully vaccinated by March 2021. My husband followed suit by April 2021, and our son prior to starting school that fall. As we adjusted to life as a pod, my son enthusiastically observed, “We're like pioneers." The basement, with standing desk and screen, became a workplace for my husband; my desk became part of a 7th grade online classroom. My son and I started school days outdoors, enjoying the exercise, the passing trains, and the chickens in a backyard facing a local park's walking path. I gladly shed the pounds that I had gained during my Mom's illness.
      [Related: Reflecting on COVID: Being with my family 24/7 has strengthened us in a way that I never could’ve imagined] 
      As 8th grade started, I became my son's aide. He detested Zoom learning and required much encouragement and support. “I miss my friends, and seeing them at lunch!” he said often. When some students returned to school for the last quarter of 8th grade, he eagerly joined them. Our house wore
      many hats: serving as school, workplace, and our home, simultaneously.
      My husband, working in Information Technology, elected to work solely at home as the pandemic continued. His presence has been a blessing in many ways. I was diagnosed with a salivary gland infection in fall 2020, then rediagnosed as a cancerous tumor by summer 2021. Surgery — followed by seven weeks of daily radiation treatments and weekly chemotherapy — wrapped up in early December. My husband has been ”holding down the fort” during my treatment, and has been woven into the fabric of our daily life.
      I am thankful for the supportive texts, calls, and prayers across the U.S. which “hold me in the light," and for my doctor's recommendation that I prepare for surgery by exercising. I had been walking a 5K most days and eating well, which gave me the stamina to walk from Randolph and Michigan to the Northwestern hospital campus daily for treatment. My ability to exercise kept my morale up.
      Post-treatment, I was told I couldn't be indoors or eat with those outside my pod. How, then, to spend the holiday with my extended family members? The warm weather let us exchange gifts Christmas Day outdoors, and make Christmas memories despite the circumstances.
      As we move through 2022, I recuperate and regain energy. Our house still serves as our home base and a workplace, and the study's role alternates as I share the room part-time with my son. I'm realizing that my biggest challenge is finding a private spot in the house for both my daily tasks and quiet reflection. We are pioneers indeed. As my son says when our vacations end, “This has been an excellent family adventure”. The adventure continues…

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    • I’m writing this to encourage all of us to speak our truth on our toughest days, and to allow our kiddos to do the same.
      I had Omicron on the day I was asked if I had any interest in writing an article about being "over" COVID. I quickly said yes, as this was our second round with COVID in our small four-person family, and I was feeling very over all of it. 
      My daughter was the first to have symptoms. I offered to sleep with her and be the first parent to be exposed, knowing that my husband would soon follow. She had just turned 5 and was about to get her vaccine…more on that later. Anyway, I knew I would be next, and then my husband. 
      [Related: A child therapist admits to committing these 10 COVID-19 parenting fails]
      My son, however, was the last man standing again (he was the first time around, too), without any symptoms and continually testing negative on both exposures. He’s seven. At some point, while masked and standing from afar, I tried to teach him how to make a quesadilla. His reply: “This sucks. Can someone just breathe on me so that I can get it over with and cuddle?”
      I know that we are not the only family that has tried to quarantine in the same house away from other family members. It seems futile and like we should all embrace the suck and get it over with all at once vs. one at a time. I guess that is another sign: I’m over it!
      The first time was scary, as it was four months into the pandemic, and both my husband and I were working in the trenches with people struggling and severely affected by COVID. Vaccines had not yet been created, and everything felt ominous and unknown. After that first bout with COVID, we found our way back to “normal” — if there even is such a thing. We found a way to see family and travel safely within our “pod." (Another thing I’m over are these new terms that flow like water and are now as common as “LOL": pod, pivot, resilience, quarantine, virtual learning, social distancing…the list goes on.)
      But this time, it was different.
      It had been two-and-a-half years since we had seen my side of the family in California — for many reasons, but mostly because my parents don’t love science and didn’t want the vaccine. After many conversations about how to travel home during the holidays and remain safe, we came up with a game plan. For instance, this even meant not seeing my Uncle Ralph, who's 80, because he wouldn’t get the vaccine or stop frequenting casinos. The risk would be too high for us, leaving us judged by many. 
      [Related: From slow to go! Balancing life post-pandemic]
      We survived 10 days in California, where people felt like masks were optional and that we were the crazy ones, living in fear. I have always operated from a science and intuition approach, but to each their own opinion. We took educated risks and felt good about our trip. 
      Back home a few weeks later, it was my daughter's fifth birthday. Everyone had canceled because the numbers were too high, so that only left our immediate family, her aunt, and her grammy. It wouldn’t be the fifth birthday of her dreams, but it would be as fun as we could make it…except that our fully-vaccinated and boostered family brought us Omicron. Thankfully we all had mild symptoms and got through it relatively quickly. Thank you science, and God, and all my friends who knew we needed a meal or cinnamon rolls. Thank goodness we got over it. 
      This “over it” feeling continues as I work every single day trying to help others move through it. As a therapist, I study a topic of interest or a topic that has impacted us at one time or another and use that information to help others. This is the hardest time to be a therapist because we are living the trauma with our clients. We are suggesting to do things that we think will help, but that we can’t find the energy to do ourselves. We are listening and caring more than ever for the doctors and nurses on the frontlines, knowing that this virus will remain in our field for so many years to come.
      The other day my son wanted to go to the grocery store with me, and I quickly said yes. At the store, he asked if he could eat some raspberries out of the clam shell, “like the good ol’ days.” I said yes to the unwashed raspberries, so long as he ate them under his mask. I continued about my shopping, but when I turned around to look at him, there were tears running down his face.
      My first response was, ”Did you bite your tongue?"
      He said, “Mommy, I don’t remember the good ol’ days. I don’t remember not wearing a mask to the store.” 
      We both cried a little bit. 
      He asked more questions: "When will this end? Will we ever go to the store or school without a mask?”
      This conversation broke my heart. A quarter of his life has been living with COVID. It has impacted every year of his elementary school experience so far. I realized here in this moment it wasn’t just me that was over it; we are over it. All of us.
      For the last two years, I have been working overtime at both work and mom life. I have been trying to be more engaging, more crafty, more fun, more adventurous, more everything by redefining adventure. None of it matters on days when you just need to say, “I’m over it!” It’s okay to just be done and to say it out loud. Many famous psychologists say that by stating your feelings, you can move them in your brain to be able to better process them in your body. I’m writing this to encourage all of us to speak our truth on our toughest days, and to allow our kiddos to do the same. 

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    • Your home is their constant in an ever-changing world. This is a big change and needs to be approached with care.
      My husband and I had no intention of moving. I am a Realtor and what I have in my condo, my block, and my neighborhood is golden! For us, we were settled. Then, COVID hit. (Insert eye roll.)
      After realizing it was time for more space, I started my strategic timeline. My oldest is diagnosed with autism and before COVID, he made great strides to be more flexible. However, when COVID hit, his entire world stopped. All the anxiety around  everyday changes came crashing back. In some ways it is worse than before. With that in mind, I had to take a step back and listen to some of my own advice, which is usually given to my real estate clients who have special needs children.  
      Considering this, COVID has raised a little anxiety in all of us so change is hard for everyone right now, especially children, and especially children with special needs. Your current home is their constant in an ever-changing world. Your current home is a place of safety and tranquility in a world that seems, at times, upside down. So this is a big change and needs to be approached with care.
      As a Realtor and mother of a special needs son, here are some tips I have told my clients.
      Start a casual conversation around the idea of a new space.
      Perhaps ask, “Wouldn't it be nice to have a basement so you guys have more space to play?” Or ask, “If you could have your own room, how would you decorate it?” Use whatever narrative that is personal to your situation. This plants a seed, so when you bring up the subject in the future, it is not a surprise.
      [Related: Chicago venues that cater to kids with special needs]
      If you can, give your child(ren) a voice in the process. 
      Ask them to design what their new home may look like. Ask them to choose three neighborhoods they would like to live in and why. This will allow your children to take some ownership in the process.
      If you already know the areas you want to move to, consider putting shallow roots in those areas. 
      Personally, my family is in this part of the process. My husband and I have discussed the three neighborhoods we would move to. Two out of the three neighborhoods are new for our family. So, we have switched some of our extracurricular activities into the two new neighborhoods we are considering. Weekly, we choose a different restaurant to patronize in the new neighborhoods. This is a natural, no-pressure way to explore the neighborhoods, and allow your kids to get to know the potential new neighborhoods. We also signed our kids up for activities at the park district in the new neighborhoods. This is a natural way to make connections with kids in the neighborhood.
      [Related: Back-to-school prep tips for parents of kids with special needs]
      Create a social story for each part of the entire process.
      This will be like a chapter-book social story, for which each "chapter" (e.g., "highlights" on Instagram) is a different part of the moving process. If your current home is to be put on the market, create a chapter around staging and showing your home. Create a chapter on packing up your current home; create a chapter documenting any construction or repairs needed in your current or new home before it can be placed on the market. Finally, create a chapter for the actual move day(s) to the new home. Really think through each step and create chapters in the moving "story" that your child can watch and re-watch as they wish.
      When you are under contract on a property and close to closing, ask your Realtor to set up a time for you to allow your special needs child to do a “sensory walk through.”  
      I have done this for my clients and usually ask for a two hour block of time. This allows my clients to walk their child through their normal ADLs in the new space. Let them open the cabinet where their favorite snack will be. Let them fill up their water bottle from the refrigerator. Let them touch the walls, turn on the lights, check out the closet in their new bedroom. In their new bathroom, turn on the lights, the vent, the shower, and flush the toilet to let your child feel the water pressure and hear the noise level of the flush and vent. Whatever is an important or part of your child’s everyday routine, take the time to role play and let them feel the space.

      Does this mean that the buying and selling process may take longer? Yes it may. The suggestions above may or may not work for your special needs child, as every child is different. The fact of the matter is that moving is a major change that is hard for everyone, and if you have special needs child, you may need to take a step back to help support them through this change.

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    • Use your nanny agreement as a document to help facilitate healthy communication and avoid unhealthy conflict
      Why is it that when most of us hear the word “contract” we cringe? A contract is simply an agreement, pact, or understanding. It's used in many areas of life and business, and simply put, it can be a useful playbook to help guide us toward success. 
      Full disclosure: I am not a lawyer, and I don’t know all of the ins and outs of contracts. Yet, I am a firm believer that when we set up proper expectations with those whom we choose to intermingle, we are sharing love. Many of our fumbles or disagreements could be prevented if we would have simply looked ahead and examined, “What do I want?” and actually shared this with the other person or party ahead of time. Contracts do just this. And when it comes to our children, we all know what we want. We simply need to put some thought into this so that everyone — us parents, our children, and our caregivers — are set up for a favorable outcome. 
      [Related: What to ask in a nanny interview]
      Now, on the flip side, contracts are a step to support and protect our nannies as well. Imagine accepting a job without knowing when you are supposed to show up for work, how long you are supposed to work, how or what you are even supposed to do for work, when you get paid, how you get paid, how much you get paid…this list goes on and on. This isn’t a firm foundation for a trusting relationship. There is no indication of safety and security, which are core feelings that we all need to live happy and healthy lives. The City of Chicago recently announced that a written contract is needed to protect all nannies (and other domestic workers). I think this is a step in the right direction to help us all sharpen our communication skills and to come to a mutual agreement on how we want to create this transaction between us parents and our nannies for caring for our children. 
      A good nanny contract may consist of the following:
      Your Family Philosophy: Share your values, activities, styles of learning, and the ways you want to interact and respond to the child(ren).
      Job Responsibilities: This may include feeding and dressing standards, schedules and routines, activities and recreation, and any other household maintenance that you expect from your nanny (like cleaning up after the children). You may also want to include what this job does not include so your nanny can feel comfort in knowing what she doesn’t have to do while on this job.
      Terms and Conditions: Be sure to include the start date, days, and hours along with total time expected each week, any outside of normal hours conditions, and location(s).
      Pay and Earnings: Include how much will they earn, how and when they will get paid, formalities on how to communicate if/when the nanny will be late or absent, and any penalties associated in these instances. Finally, include whether your nanny is responsible for filing her own taxes.
      [Related: 5 tax breaks every parent should know about]
      Time Off: Define sick and vacation time and how much of each is included, how and when to notify for PTO, and list any other holidays or additional days that are considered PTO or non-PTO.
      Termination or Exit: One of the most powerful pieces in any contract is articulating how it would look like to end the relationship. Put some time into this part and list out how each party may terminate the agreement and those conditions.
      Signatures: When everyone reads and agrees to this agreement, memorialize this with your stamp of approval, aka your signature.
      (Pro tip: Google “nanny contract” and get free or cheap templates to guide you along.)
      Ultimately and hopefully, you can use your agreement as a document to help facilitate healthy communication and avoid unhealthy conflict. When I’m advising my clients on their businesses, I always remind them that we need to plan to plan. And if our goal is to build a happy and healthy relationship between us, our children and their nanny, we need to plan this out. Do yourself a favor and take this time to create a contract and thoughtfully share this with your nanny. Talk about it. Have them ask questions and give them the option to add or edit. Not only that, but this agreement can be leveraged to help serve as a mission statement for your family that you will come back to over time, and serve as a reminder for how you envision your family to thrive.

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    • For all of the ways it's changed, Logan Square is becoming more and more family-friendly.
      When I bought my first home in Logan Square back in 2005, the neighborhood was more edgy than hip. I found an old fixer-upper I could afford, crowdsourced a roommate on Craigslist, and called it a day. I was 27, single, and could not tell you the name of the school down the street. 
      A decade later, with a husband and new baby in tow, my starter home on a busy street wasn’t ideal. Still, we knew we wanted to stay in leafy, low-key Logan Square. Our neighbors, mostly in their 60s, were moving to make way for younger families, and the neighborhood schools were growing as a result. Restaurants and retail were popping up like crazy, but the wide boulevards and squares kept the ’hood from feeling crowded. We saw the writing on the wall: If we didn’t upgrade within Logan ASAP, we’d get priced out by the time our daughter was in kindergarten.
      [Related: Family neighborhood guide to Sauganash]
      In the end, we landed within walking distance of our first-choice school and our favorite restaurant, and found an incredible daycare up the block. As much as Logan Square has changed since my 20s, I’ve changed with it — and can’t imagine raising my daughter anywhere else. Here’s why.
      Parks
      With two separate playgrounds, Unity Park is great for toddlers and big kids alike. There’s a splash pad there, too, plus a big grassy area for lounging. Palmer Square has only a few little climbing sculptures, but it’s massive and features a half-mile track, great for beginning bike riders. Haas Park has a pristine soccer pitch and playground, and tiny Grape Park is, well, tiny! Just a short drive south is Humboldt Park, second only to Lincoln Park in size and beauty. 
      Schools
      We’re a Brentano family, and love its Cinderella story: It survived the chopping block of mass school closures in 2013 thanks to the community’s involvement to help it grow. Darwin and Goethe are also good elementary schools in the neighborhood, while St. John Berchmans is a popular parochial school.
      Walkability
      Thanks to its wide, shady boulevards, Logan Square is incredibly walkable and stroller-friendly. It’s a large neighborhood with lots of little pockets, which means quiet residential streets far outnumber the noisier ones. The main “square” surrounding Centennial Monument and the Blue Line station is on deck for a major pedestrian-friendly redesign, and traffic-calming measures are implemented along the boulevard during the summer months.
      [Related: Family neighborhood guide to Old Irving Park]
      Diversity
      Though gentrified portions of Logan Square have caught a lot of flack from the Latinx community that’s dominated the neighborhood for the past generation, many newer residents have added to its diversity. In recent years, Centennial Monument has become a hub for all walks of community groups to make their voices heard to the Mayor, who lives a few blocks west.
      Restaurants & Sweets
      Lula Cafe, one of the country’s o.g. farm-to-table spots, is still serving the community 20 years in, and yes, it has a colorable kids’ menu. For treats, Pretty Cool Ice Cream, Black Dog Gelato, and Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams are open year-round, while Miko’s Italian Ice and The Freeze are popular summer spots. For pizza, we favor Dante’s for slices and Paulie Gee’s for pies; Parson’s Chicken & Fish on the Humboldt border is great for brunch and dinner. Unfortunately, there isn’t a centrally located grocery store, so we shop around: Cermak Fresh Market on the west side for produce and pantry staples, Fresh Market Place on the east side for incredible meats, and Dill Pickle in the heart of the ’hood for staples and specialties.
      Arts, Culture & Other Fun Stuff
      Our family loves the handful of street fests that take over MIlwaukee Avenue during the warmer months, and the farmers’ market on the boulevard is one of the biggest in the city. During the summer, there’s almost always some kind of band performing at the monument, and the nonprofit–led Comfort Station across the square hosts everything from record swaps to avant-garde jazz and book fairs. The local library is pretty fantastic, and there's an incredible Halloween Parade down the boulevard every year.
      For all of the ways that Logan Square has changed over the past several decades, it feels like it's just becoming more and more family-friendly.

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    • I thought that just by telling my children a different message than the one I got growing up, that things would be different for them
      One night my family was standing around the kitchen island talking, and my 15-year-old daughter casually said, “I know: Mom basically has an eating disorder.”
      Excuse me? I do not have an eating disorder. I am an extremely healthy 49 year-old. I have done CrossFit-style workouts for the last 10 years, and as a result I’m in good shape. I went on a rigorous diet five years ago that I’ve never really stopped, and as part of that I weigh my portions, eat lots of protein and vegetables, eat very little fat and allow myself a “treat” of some sort of moderate portion of a carbohydrate at dinnertime. I never snack, I never let myself eat things that I want to eat, I never let myself eat as much as I’d like to eat, and I never eat when I’m hungry.
      Does that behavior constitute an eating disorder? The answer to that question doesn’t really matter. What matters is that I thought I was setting an excellent example of healthy eating, and my daughter thinks I have an eating disorder. This is not the first time as a parent that I thought I was setting a shining example but found out I was setting a sh*tty one, instead.
      [Related: Moms, you're the key to your daughters' positive body images]
      I talk a lot about “healthy eating habits” in my house, like eating lots of fruits and vegetables, eating balanced portions, and not eating too many sweets. But when I asked my daughter more about her comment, she said, “I think that all of this 'healthy food talk' is more about how you look than actually being healthy.”
      Ouch.
      As I thought about what she said, I became confused. Isn’t monitoring and limiting my food intake what I’m supposed to be doing? Doesn’t healthy behavior involve controlling your portions and limiting the amount of unhealthy food that you eat? Isn’t it our society that has a disordered relationship with food by making large portions and salty, sugary food so readily available? It’s not me; it’s society! I’m the one who’s normal! Right?
      [Related: The social media mom: How social media can influence the way we feel]
      When I took a hard look at my relationship with food, I saw what my daughter saw, which is that my approach isn’t all that “healthy.” I am obsessed with weight. I think about it — the weight I’ve gained, the weight I’d like to lose, how every morsel of food I put into my mouth will affect that battle — all the time. I thought this was just a running dialogue I was having internally, but apparently it wasn’t. It was obvious for the world to see, and especially for my four daughters — the people I wanted to see it the least. I preach body positivity in my house and I talk to them about it for their own bodies all the time. But when it comes to my own body, none of that applies.
      I thought I was setting an example of how to maintain a healthy weight and body image into middle age. Instead, I've been setting an example of ordering my life around looking a certain way and constantly denying myself pleasure to maintain it. That example sucks.
      Many times as a member of Gen X, I thought that just by telling my children a different message than the one I got growing up, that things would be different for them. I wanted to have my cake and eat it too: impose on myself all of the obsessions about weight that I’d grown up with while telling them to be different. But they see that as the hypocritical position it is.
      I don’t want to be a hypocrite, but letting go of my obsession with my weight? Not so fast. I’ve been in an ongoing conversation with myself about my weight for at least 30 years. Would I be able to love myself, or even like myself, if I gained weight? Not without a lot of hard work. Frankly, it’s a lot easier and very tempting to stay a hypocrite.
      But I don’t want to set that example for my daughters. I want to have a healthy body image and a healthy relationship with food. I don’t want them to obsess about their weight, and I don’t want them to waste the monumental time and effort that I have obsessing over staying thin. I’ve got to do better.
      So how will I unpack and unlearn 30 years of internalized beauty standards? I haven’t a clue. That’s a topic for another essay.

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    • Before you make a big leap, take some time to assess and create a vision for your career and family life
      We have all seen the headlines around the growing exodus in the labor force with people leaving in what appears to be record numbers. The “Great Resignation” is real and it is impacting all if us in both direct and indirect ways.
      First, let’s do a brief overview of some of the data. The biggest exodus seems to be in the accommodations and food service industry, with retail next. Interestingly, this trend was happening before the pandemic and researchers aren’t sure if the continued trend was due to the pandemic or not. Healthcare workers are quitting and finding alternatives due to burnout and dissatisfaction (can we blame them?!).
      [Related: Working mom hacks: Tips and tricks to make your life easier]
      None of this is cut-and-dry, and researchers are working to get at what is really going on, but I believe it is super important to acknowledge the disparity in reasons people are leaving. Some are leaving good jobs for better work environments and more flexibility — these are the fortunate ones. The other broad category is comprised of folks who are experiencing truly deplorable work conditions and have to choose between unhealthy work environments and survival. And how very different it is for women who have consistently outnumbered men in exiting the workforce out of necessity to care for children, aging parents, sick relatives, or all of them at once.
      [Related: How to hire more moms? Corporate America needs to learn to share]
      We are all a part of, and impacted by, this world phenomenon. What is important about understanding the bigger picture is being aware that it unconsciously sways our own behaviors. Suddenly we are given permission to think about our work life in very different ways prompting us to ponder the following questions:
      * How do we think about being a working parent now vs. pre-pandemic?
      * Are there aspects of our job that previously didn't bother us, but now do?
      * How do we think differently about our role as a working parent vs. pre-pandemic?
      Personally, I fall into the privileged category of assessing a work-life situation that is already good, but the pandemic has brought up gaps and caused me to step back and inventory what aspects I love, and what I want to change. As a coach and facilitator, I love being with people and did not think I could take my practice online and keep the same level of impact. Our children are recently out of college, and this new flexibility has caused some regret to surface around being physically gone many evenings and weekends while I was raising them. I would say I value time, nature, and learning and growing more than I realized before the pandemic, and I am changing my work situation significantly to have more of what nourishes me.
      I have found in my coaching of couples and families that many had previously gone along with the program as it was scripted, and are now stepping back and assessing their priorities. In many fields, it is a job-seeker's market, but before you make a big leap, take some time to assess and create a vision for your career and family life.

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    • Parents play a big role, but if you need extra help, it’s not a role you have to play alone.
      Children are wired for language from birth, and can pick up skills without any formal lessons. Even still, parents play a big role helping their children develop the expert language and literacy skills they need to thrive socially and in school. To learn more about these skills and how parents can nurture them, we sat down with Samina Hadi-Tabassum, literacy and language expert at Erikson Institute. 
      When do children begin learning language and literacy skills, and what are the stages of their development?
      Babies pick up on the sounds of human voices in the womb. After birth, they begin to recognize these voices and turn their heads towards familiar ones.
      In their first three months, infants begin to “coo,” as they learn to control their vocal cords and the muscles they’ll need to speak. Around six months, the baby begins to string together vowels and consonant sounds repetitively, such as “mamama” and “dadada.”
      Most children don’t begin producing words until age two. Before then, they are actively listening and decoding sounds around them. Babies and toddlers catalogue language in their minds, almost like statistics, until they're finally able to voice some of what they’ve learned.
      By age three, children are typically speaking in simple phrases, (i.e. “blue ball”) and sentences that can sound like directives (i.e. “Mommy give ball”), since the ability to pose and ask complex questions comes later at age five. By the time they enter elementary school, most children can string together sentences like little adults.
      There are many instances, however, where children don’t begin speaking until much later on (around four or five), even though they have still been perceiving and making sense of language around them. There are many reasons for this, some more serious than others, but parents should consult their pediatrician if they feel there is a cause for a child’s delay.
      What can parents do to support the early development of their child’s language and literacy skills?
      The most important thing a parent can do is engage their children in conversation from day one, since infants are perceiving and making sense of the language code. When conversing, parents should look children in the eyes, have them watch and observe their mouths, and teach them about taking turns when communicating. Never rely on technology to help your child learn language; it doesn’t work. They can only learn from other humans, and need to be exposed to rich oral language before they can learn to read or write.
      [Related: 6 ways to teach your child a foreign language this summer]
      How can parents partner with teachers to promote their child’s literacy skills?
      Parental nurturing of literacy skills is critical, as reading is an artificial system that we created to convey messages, and children are not wired to naturally pick up on how to read. Parents should begin reading to children soon after birth and incorporate books into their home environment. Ask children questions about the stories you read to foster their comprehension skills. To promote print recognition, parents can point out the letters that make up their names and take them through the alphabet visually and phonetically.
      Note that no matter how much you read to your infant or toddler, it takes time for children to learn to read. They need to learn the sounds of letters, how to decode words, and understand the meaning of multiple words strung together. Doing this requires logical skills, which children don’t usually develop until age five or six.
      If a child is bilingual, how might this affect language and literacy development?
      Bilingual and multilingual children have a cognitive advantage. By switching from one language to another, children learn to think flexibly and sort the world in different ways.
      Bilingual children might be delayed in mastering both languages equally, and might struggle to keep up with their peers at first. But research shows that by the time they are in middle school, bilingual children often outperform their monolingual peers. 
      What can parents do to support their development in two languages?
      The stronger the foundation of the child’s first language, then the easier it is to learn others. For bilingual parents, this means speaking the child’s home language and teaching them to read and write in it. Pass down the culture associated with your child’s native language as well. Research demonstrates that bilingual children who keep their language and culture while learning English in American schools do much better academically in the long run.
      [Related: How I'm teaching my young kid 4 languages]
      For monolingual parents who wish their child to become bilingual, consider a dual-language preschool.This provides them with an immersive second-language experience while enabling them to get a solid grasp on their first language at home.
      What should I do if I feel my child needs extra support in language and literacy?
      Observe your children as much as possible to recognize any language patterns unique to them. Keep in mind, though, that each child is different, so their language and literacy journey is, as well. Factors such as gender, birth order, and genetics can play a role in language development. 
      Speak with your pediatrician about developmental milestones and whether or not they are noticing differences and delays. If there are delays, there are plenty of experts who can help — including developmental therapists who can come to your home. Parents play a big role in their child’s language and literacy development, but it’s important to know that if you need extra help, it’s not a role you have to play alone.
      Samina Hadi-Tabassum is a clinical associate professor at Erikson Institute where she teaches graduate courses in cognitive and language development. Her research interests include examining race, culture, and language.

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    • Bottom line: don’t ignore the warning signs, and take action.
      Although it’s impossible to say how long the COVID-19 pandemic might last, it’s certain that there are lingering emotional effects on all of us. Kids are no different, and perhaps they’ve even suffered the most — given how long a vaccine has taken to come around for them; the fact that each new experience is a chance for them to grow; and that school, which is central to their lives, has essentially been turned upside down.
      [Related: 7 tips for parents of young kids navigating COVID-19]
      Good stress vs. toxic stress
      Under stress as they may have been in the last year-and-a-half, many children, supported by their families and social networks, have bolstered their natural resilience. Others’ normal physiological response to stress (which should come and go) has become a more pervasive and pathologic one. Some children have developed good coping skills, like talking to their families or doing a relaxing activity, while others have developed deleterious ones, such as being on screens endlessly. 
      Changing Lives and Mixed Messages
      At first, it was very normal for us all to shrink back, put our social activities on hold as well as our kids’. At that time it was easy enough to explain to our kids that we needed to hold back on birthday parties, indoor sports activities, and even larger family gatherings. Over time it became harder and harder to navigate these decisions, causing not only the adults to be in a constant state of stressed decision-making, but also leaving our children confused over what was and wasn’t safe, especially with changing COVID rates, vaccination recommendations, and variants. Mixed messages from the media, their friends, and literally everybody around them has made things really confusing. In our household, my husband and I didn’t even see eye to eye on some of these decisions, but tried our best to be very clear about our co-created rules and expectations.  
      [Related: Nurturing your child's health in the pandemic's aftermath]
      Red Flags
      When I see families now who still haven’t started to navigate some social activities with their kids, I worry. Especially when I see kids who have lost interest in activities they previously enjoyed, it’s a red flag. Physiologically speaking, our bodies can tolerate being in a stress state for some time, but living in a chronic state of fight or flight is unhealthy and, especially in kids, can start to manifest as physical symptoms, such as poor sleep (having a hard time falling asleep, waking up earlier than they want), headaches, abdominal pain, and poor appetite.  
      Add to this the stress of returning to a school environment in which they may not feel safe (COVID-19, violence, bullying) and underprepared (many kids got behind last year not just in their learning but in their study skills). In our house, we definitely had a slump in our kids' moods and their overall motivation and interest in learning, but luckily we are seeing things bounce back.  
      [Related: Reintroducing play dates in a post-pandemic world]
      What To Do
      If you’re not seeing your child bounce back or they have any of the red flags listed, I suggest you speak with your child’s pediatrician. At this point we are really comfortable with these conversations, can start an evaluation, and then point families in the right direction. Schools can be really helpful too: Although many are understaffed, they are also very aware of the social-emotional struggles that their students are going through; a social worker or caseworker can be a really great resource. Bottom line: don’t ignore the warning signs, and take action!

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    • In retrospect, that milestone year in front of a screen was painful for all of us — and I am so grateful for the shift that occurred when it did.
      Like most of us, the first month of the 2020 lockdown felt very confusing. After our family had an energy-draining cold while vacationing in Costa Rica, I recall asking myself, “Did I already have Covid-19?” Knowing how many people were losing their lives made the winter of 2020 all the more intense. One of the most heartbreaking moments I felt was when I came to the realization that my kindergartner was going to spend his first year of school on a computer. Remote learning was necessary at the time, but extremely frustrating.
      In retrospect, that milestone year in front of a screen (while, on occasion, our WiFi tempted our faith) was painful for all of us. 
      My wanderlust suffered as well; canceling anticipated trips was a gut punch. Just imagine: your best girlfriends coming over, all excited about your first girlfriends’ trip together, only to be crashed by a global pandemic!
      [Related: Self-care during Covid: Creating your own pandemic slowdown]
      I wanted to scream about the lack of incentives I was used to rewarding myself throughout the year. My stress from working at home and managing the stress of my children led to my weight gain, sleepless nights, and hair loss. As a therapist, other healers like myself experienced our own pandemic trauma on top of providing care to clients and our families. I was in need of some empowerment.
      During the spring of 2020, I experienced a mental reset. I committed to an intermittent fast and went down to my pre-baby weight. I began to practice yoga and meditation on a daily basis; I felt reborn. A light had been turned on in me that led to a fire that could not be doused.
      That fire rose after the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. My voice as a Black woman became more pronounced in my work and personal life. My connection with my chosen family and momma tribe was stronger than ever because of their support, allyship and authentic empathy.
      [Related: Help your kids capture memories of this strange year]
      Being with my family 24/7 has strengthened us in a way that I never could’ve imagined. I learned intimate things about my children that inspired me to start a virtual community for families of mixed backgrounds. (I currently have 2.3K subscribers on my YouTube channel!) It’s been a wonderful outlet for me as a Black mother. It’s been even more inspiring to hear the impact it has had on my viewers and interviewees, as well.
      I've been humbled by the willingness of estranged family members to participate in family FaceTime on Sundays and Thanksgiving. Taking nature walks with our new puppy provided the movement and vitamin D that was lacking due to quarantine. These intentional practices saved me and my family from going down the path of toxic behavioral patterns.
      I am so grateful for the shift that occurred when it did. It has prepared us for the return to human interactions. We now have a wide variety of coping skills to keep us grounded, and we're grateful in the acknowledgment that how we feel and think is what is in our control.

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    • We’ve learned to embrace the change of season — not resist it
      “A season of shivers” is the prediction from the Old Farmer’s Almanac. In Chicago we’ve been bracing ourselves. These are some of the winter traditions that our family looks forward to, as we countdown to warmer times.

      10. Bundle Up And Get Outside – What else can you do?
      Build a custom snowman and challenge each other to a (gentle) snowball fight
      Project a (short!) holiday movie outside
      Go sledding on the nearest hill
      9. Enjoy Decorations Galore – A little magic is essential
      Pick out a tree to decorate together
      Visit the Lincoln Park Zoo's festive ZooLights
      Take a pajama car tour of the decorations downtown
      8. Reach Out to Friends – Remember who’s important
      Send paper cards with handwritten messages
      Plan holiday socials (recently held outdoors or virtually)
      Facetime or Zoom with family far away
      [Related: How to survive a Chicago winter with kids]
      7. Undertake A Giving Project – Truly embrace the meaning of the season
      Deliver food in person
      Make bedazzled cards with heartfelt messages
      Fulfill holiday wishes
      6. Make And Eat Special Foods – Enjoy the delicious
      Bake family cookie and shortbread recipes
      Create a (truly unique!) gingerbread house
      Indulge in a home hot chocolate bar (with current favorite: unicorn poop marshmallows!)
      5. Meld Our Cultures – …while exploring others
      Invite our American Elf on the Shelf to come out on December 1st
      Pull English crackers to reveal paper hats and silly jokes
      Recognize and learn about other cultural holidays through crafts and stories
      4. Respect Family Traditions – Take the best of the past
      Play together as a family, raiding the games closet
      Lay an extra place setting on feast days, to welcome unexpected guests
      Walk off over-eating on Boxing Day (December 26th) and be at one with nature
      3. Connect With Santa — Socially distant, of course
      Send a letter to Santa (one that generates a return!)
      Wave to the CTA Holiday Train
      Enjoy a meet-and-greet with Mr. Claus (most recently virtually, with fabulous video recording)
      [Related: Holiday activities in Chicago for special-needs kids]
      2. Cozy Up Inside — Embrace hygge season
      Watch any version of The Grinch during movie nights with homemade popcorn (on repeat!)
      Gorge ourselves on s’mores around the fireplace
      Visit the Art Institute, the Museum of Science and Industry's holiday exhibit, or a family-friendly installation — all warm and indoors!
      1. Welcome The New Year — Celebrate a fresh start
      Make our own party poppers (with toilet rolls, balloons and confetti)
      Take in the London fireworks live (conveniently at 6 p.m. CST)
      Create New Year Intentions collages to pin up and refer to during the year ahead
      Despite the bitter temperatures, there are plenty of activities to do during a Chicago winter. By the time of the first snow fall, our family is ready for our annual winter activities. Over the years we’ve come to realize that you just need to embrace the change of season, not resist it!

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    • Four simple strategies for days when you need to pause your mind and settle back into the moment
      You know that feeling where you've been wide awake, engaged in a task, but were completely lost in thought the whole time? It can be startling to realize you have driven from point A to point B without feeling fully aware of your actions.
      While mind-wandering isn’t bad, it can lead to negative thinking patterns such as catastrophic thinking (e.g., “What if my partner is late because he's been in a terrible accident?!”) or other cognitive distortions that contribute to anxiety and depression. Parenting is hard enough without our minds playing tricks on us.
      Especially lately, there have been far too many moments when I feel like I'm phoning it in as a parent, where a whole day has gone by and I feel like I’ve been on autopilot. My ever-insightful daughter shook me to my core last week when she demanded, “Let me see your eyes!” after I answered her “Are you listening?” plea with a fully distracted “Yes.” 
      [Related: Self-care during COVID: Creating your own pandemic slow-down]
      It was a gracious wake-up call that I need to be more fully present with her. Meditation exercises can help refocus us back to the present moment and create space between our thoughts and ourselves. Meditation cultivates mindfulness, a state that helps us be fully present with our children and decreases feelings of anxiety and depression.
      Here are four simple strategies to use on days you need to pause your mind and settle back into the moment:
      Walking Meditation
      Connecting our body and our mind by slowing both down.
      How to do it: Think of a phrase or mantra (e.g., "I am at peace"). When you step with your left foot, say, "I am," and when you step with your right foot, say, "at peace." Repeat the mantra with each step. Welcome your child to join you and pick their own mantra! 
      Visualization Exercise
      Leaves on a Stream
      How to do it: Visualize yourself sitting beside a stream with leaves floating along the surface of the water. For each thought that crosses your mind — whether pleasurable, painful, or neutral —  visualize placing it onto a leaf, and let it float by. 
      Movement & Visualization Exercise
      Balloon Meditation
      How to do it: Envision a bright red balloon with a string connected to your left leg (arms, hands, shoulders, chest, etc.). As you breathe, notice the balloon rise and see your leg rising with it. Notice that it falls as the balloon brings your leg to the ground. Now, do the same with your right leg. Invite your child to do this one with you! 
      Gratitude Exercise
      The more we focus on what we're grateful for, the more our minds drift away from what we can't control. 
      How to do it: Find time each day (maybe during a period of winding down or relaxing) to say three things that you're grateful for. Of course, your child can do the same! Consider creating a gratitude jar or other helpful way to remember the positives in life.

      Kamryn Hinkle and Julianne Neely teamed up on this article to combine their expertise on parenting, pediatric mental health, and counseling techniques. They work together at Individual and Family Connection where they dedicate their careers to help children, parents, and families thrive by giving them the tools and strategies they need.

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    • Who needs the suburbs when there's family-friendly Old Irving Park?
      Three-bedroom new-ish house with a yard on a quiet street in a diverse area, within walking distance of a good CPS neighborhood school, close to an El stop, with parks and restaurants nearby. 
      These were our requirements when my husband and I were looking to move out of our cramped two-bedroom condo in Edgewater with our then 2-year-old son back in 2015. A tall order, for sure. But Old Irving Park, a small neighborhood straddling 90/94 on the Northwest Side, delivered on all points — and then some.
      "It's a little bit of suburbia in the city," I often say to people unfamiliar with Old Irving. Houses with decent-size backyards can often be found for less than $1 million; the community is tight knit (I'm a member of the Old Irving Park Association and the Irving Park Garden Club); my son's school, Belding Elementary, is a 2-block walk from our house and nearly all the kids on our block go there; and we know our neighbors — especially the many parents of kids my sons' ages.
      Here are a few of our favorite family spots in and around OIP:
      [Related: Family neighborhood guide to Sauganash]
      Parks
      Our go-tos are Mayfair Park (cute water feature in the summer), Independence Park (giant slides, climbing structures, and a zip line), playgrounds at Belding Elementary and Disney II , LaBagh Woods (wide open grassy areas, the southern start of the North Branch Trail, toddler-friendly hiking trails along the Chicago River), Portage Park (great pool with kids' spray park, big playground), and Gompers Park (fun playground and a perfect hill for sledding). Yeah…we go to a lot of parks!
      Schools
      We're partial to Belding, of course, but there are plenty of other top-notch schools nearby, including St. Edward Catholic School, Disney II Magnet School, St. Viator Catholic School, and lots of great daycares. 
      Diversity
      Our kids interact with other children from different countries, ethnicities, socio-economic backgrounds every single day. Belding is majority minority, more than 25 languages are spoken there, and my son is learning both Arabic and Spanish.
      Restaurants
      One drawback to living in Old Irving is its lack of retail density. Coming from Edgewater, where you could quickly walk to countless restaurants and bars, a Whole Foods, and independent shops, it was a bit of an adjustment to have to drive to pick up groceries or shop for clothes and gifts. That said, a number of great spots have opened in the past few years that are family-friendly and have great food (a rare combo!). 
      [Related: Family neighborhood guide to Buena Park]
      We love Backlot Coffee for donuts, Eris Brewery and Cider House for its big outdoor patio, Community Tavern for its generous and delicious kids' meals (kids eat free Tuesday–Thursday and Sunday — score!), Old Irving Brewing for its cornhole area where kids can burn off energy (or just hoard beanbags like my kids do), and Easy Street Pizza for its delicious pizza and enclosed patio. 
      Other fun stuff
      The beautiful, light-filled Independence Library is a great way to spend a couple hours — we can't wait for the wood toys in the kids' corner and child programming to come back. The Irving Park YMCA ties the community together with social events, affordable summer camp, swim and sports lessons, and a kids' club where little ones can play while parents work out. Chicago Costume is just a few blocks from our house — the place is bananas and a fun stop even when it's not Halloween.
      Old Irving Park does more than check all our boxes — it's the first neighborhood we've lived in that really felt like home. When so many families seem to be moving to the suburbs, we continue to be thankful for our city/suburb hybrid 'hood.

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    • JUF Right Start makes Jewish early childhood education more accessible for thousands of Chicago-area families.
      Choosing a quality, nurturing preschool or daycare program is often the first major decision parents make for their children. With so many competing priorities—cost, location, curriculum, size of classrooms and more—the process can be overwhelming. The Jewish United Fund of Chicago (JUF) recognizes the complexity of choices and has created extensive resources to guide decision making and ease the financial burden on families.
      JUF Right Start, the first program of its kind, was created to increase access to Jewish early childhood programs for Chicago-area families by providing a tuition discount to eligible children attending a Jewish program for the first time. 
      There are 36 Jewish early childhood centers across the Chicago metropolitan area, each of which creates a warm, loving environment where a child’s natural curiosity is nurtured. Inspired by Jewish values and infused with Jewish learning, these 36 schools are often the first place where a child—and their parents—find their community. 
      Recognizing that families may be struggling financially going into the 2022-23 school year, JUF Right Start is expanding: Families receiving the full Federal Child Tax Credit may be eligible for matching funds, with a savings of up to $7,200 on a Jewish early childhood program.
      The Child Tax Credit has been expanded to $3,600 per child under 6 for working families who earn up to $150,000 for a couple or $112,500 for a family with a single parent. JUF Right Start eligible families who qualify for the full Child Tax Credit and complete an attestation in the JUF Right Start application may receive additional funds of up to $3,600. 
      “JUF supports the Jewish family,” said Dr. Steven B. Nasatir, JUF executive vice chairman and longtime champion of Jewish early childhood education. “This is the largest program of its sort in the country. We recognize that some families may need additional financial assistance right now, and we want to help.”
      Families who do not qualify for the Child Tax Credit may still qualify to receive a JUF Right Start voucher of up to $2,000. 
      “I’m so proud of the resources we built at JUF to help parents,” said Anna Hartman, Director of Early Childhood Excellence at JUF. “We are parents too who have made these kinds of decisions and have experienced just how impactful and transformational a successful early childhood experience can be for both the child and the family.”
      Not sure where to start? The Preschool Concierge makes the process of learning about Jewish early childhood programs easy and convenient. Call 312-357-4967 or email preschoolconcierge@juf.org and expect to hear back within 24 hours during normal business hours (9:00am-4:00pm Monday through Friday, except legal and Jewish holidays).
      To learn more about how your family can save on Jewish preschool, visit ChicagoJewishPreschoolFinder.org or contact RightStart@juf.org.

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    • What started as a this-looks-good-on-paper purchase turned out to be a great decision for us.
      When my husband and I decided we needed to stretch out a bit more than our then 1-bedroom condo would allow, we cast a wide net into Chicago’s neighborhoods, but our criteria was firm: close to the lake, strong residential feel, and good walkability.
      We stumbled upon a townhome close to the lakefront that had some architecturally cool features, was priced right, and had room for us to tackle some renovation work and add some equity to the home. Still relatively new to Chicago, we didn’t mind that the home was located in a neighborhood we were not very familiar with — Buena Park — and instead we focused on the investment opportunity and work we could put into the home.
      What started as a this-looks-good-on-paper purchase turned out to be a great decision for us. We fell in love with the blocks surrounding our home, the neighbors we became closest to, the local businesses that kept popping up, and the amazing access to the lakefront. I could go on and on about Buena Park, but there are a few key highlights that I mention often to my clients who are considering purchasing in the neighborhood:
      Walkability
      Buena Park is a small, primarily residential neighborhood that borders Lake Michigan. It seems like every street has sidewalks and mature trees, and there is a pedestrian path under Lake Shore Drive that provides easy access to the bike path, Montrose Harbor, and Marovitz Golf Course. Many don’t know one of the absolute GEMS of the city, architecture- and history-wise, is the enclave of beautiful homes and estates that reside on huge lots right off of Marine Drive — a perfect backdrop for a walk around the 'hood.
      [Related: Family neighborhood guide to Sauganash]
      Parks
      Buena Park may be small, but its park game is mighty. Buena Park Circle, Peace Circle (tranquility and waterfall!), Challenger Park and even Challenger Dog Park are all sprinkled throughout the neighborhood. And of course, immediate access to the lakefront trail, Montrose Harbor and beach, Montrose Lakefront Track, Montrose Point bird sanctuary (an amazingly peaceful spot) and Cricket Hill.
      Education
      Park View Montessori is a cheerful spot for pre-k kids, and Walt Disney Magnet is not only extremely popular for families in the neighborhood, but a sought-after school city-wide.
      Eating & Shopping
      For a relatively small neighborhood, Buena Park has a great selection of local dine- in or take-out spots along Montrose and Broadway. There are multiple grocery options, and a Target nearby that makes errands quick and easy. Plus, if you are looking for more action, Lakeview is so close you have the best of both worlds — additional restaurant and boutique options are hopping just minutes away, but you get to go back home to your quiet, residential street.
      [Related: 7 places in Hyde Park to explore with your family]
      Prices
      Compared to other neighborhoods south along the lakefront or west of downtown, Buena Park real estate can be very reasonably priced. For an extra 5-10 minutes north on Lake Shore Drive, you can maximize your purchase power with a lot more space and amazing access to Lake Michigan.
      Our family has doubled since we bought our beloved Buena Park townhouse and we had to move on to our next chapter, but I’ll always have a nostalgic love for the neighborhood. It’s one of those communities I never get sick of talking about…and I just may have recruited a buyer or two who has now planted roots in this Chicago gem!

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    • More often than not, the experience proved to be a bright light in an otherwise dark period.
      In June 2021, we visited friends in the suburbs for a “pandemic baby” party. With all adults vaccinated and the older kids wearing masks, we gathered outside to hug friends we hadn’t seen in 18 months and meet the eight new babies among us who had come into the world during that time. Although COVID-19 was far from gone, the event was symbolic — something of a bookend to my pregnancy, birth and postpartum experience, all of which took place during the pandemic.
      My husband and I had planned to try for our second baby in late spring of 2020, but the uncertainty of the pandemic threw all that into question. However, after realizing that our lives were in many ways safer than ever with strict quarantining, and based on the encouragement of my OB, we decided to go for it. Many people over the course of the year asked me how it felt to be pregnant and have a newborn during the pandemic, often commenting, “You must be so nervous!” Admittedly, some parts were nerve-wracking. I wish my husband could have attended the 8-week and 20-week appointments with me, for example. And it was certainly stressful to worry about having my parents quarantine for long enough before coming to help after the birth. But more often than not, the experience proved to be a bright light in an otherwise dark period. Here are the four reasons I enjoyed having a pandemic baby.
      1. I didn’t have to see many people in person. As most second-time moms can attest, you start showing a lot earlier with the second pregnancy, often well before you’re ready to share the news. Without in-person gatherings and in-office work, I didn’t have to take pains to hide my growing bump or morning sickness. In fact, some of my coworkers from other departments didn’t even know I was pregnant until they saw my out-of-office maternity leave message.
      [Related: A tale of two postpartum experiences]

      2. I didn’t miss out on social events. When I was pregnant with my first, I found it difficult to adjust from having an active social life to sitting on the sidelines. Pregnancy can feel like you’re frozen in time as the rest of the world moves forward without you. Although I tried to remain as social as possible, I couldn’t help but feel left out when I had to drink water at a work happy hour or duck out early from a late dinner with friends. With a pandemic baby, most social events fell to the wayside for everyone. I didn’t feel like I was missing out because, unfortunately, everyone was missing out.

      3. I got to savor the final months of having a family of three. Although the pandemic introduced an overwhelming degree of chaos for parents, particularly those of school-age kids, it also provided an opportunity to spend more quality time with the family. Without the distractions of playdates, activities and trips to visit family and friends back home, my husband and I were able to soak up time with our 3-year-old. Christmas, which usually involves a whirlwind tour of Wisconsin to see as much family as possible, last year consisted of the three of us making dinner and enjoying a quiet evening opening gifts in front of the tree. I remember moments where I just sat and marveled at my daughter’s beautiful face, grateful for her, our health, and our safety. I had time to be in the moment with her, before life changed drastically once again.
      [Related: Is your relationship ready for baby? 4 tips to prepare your partnership]

      4. I had hope for the future when every other part of life felt hopeless. The degree of uncertainty, fear of illness, sadness over the thousands of deaths in the U.S. alone, and stress of working with a child at home were enough to feel like the world was ending. Pregnancy provided an escape, a chance to see the future through a hopeful lens when the world was crumbling around us. Bringing new life into the world felt like an act of defiance in the face of a relentless virus that took so many lives. I’ll always be grateful for the joy my pregnancy provided when little else did.
      As fortunate as I feel to have had a positive experience with pregnancy during the pandemic, nothing compares to the privilege of living a safe, healthy, and normal life. When I attended the pandemic baby party last summer, it was emotional and somewhat surreal. The other moms and I found ourselves reminiscing about the experience and swapping stories from the previous year. But soon enough, the pandemic talk got old. With our spouses laughing on the deck and our children playing together in the sprinkler, we decided to spend the rest of the day looking to the future — to the joys of normal, routine life we hoped were right around the corner.

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    • In her young life, I never thought this time would end. But it did. And I miss her. I really miss her.
      On my way home from dropping my oldest daughter at college, I realized that for the first time in 18 years and 66 days, I would not know the intimate details of her life. I didn’t know what she was going to eat for dinner that night or whom she would eat with. I didn’t know what she was going to wear the next day, what kind of mood she would be in, where she was going to go and who she was going to meet. Had she made any new friends yet? Would she be able to fall asleep easily in her new dorm room? I wouldn’t know.
      Our society often portrays parents as deliriously happy and relieved when their children leave for college. I get that because parenting a teenager is intense: it’s exhausting, terrifying, frustrating, humbling and bewildering. But all summer before she left, I shared with friends that I while I was so excited for her, I was at the same time very sad that she was leaving. In return I would get bemused and sort of confused half-smiles in return, as if they were saying: You’ll see, it will be great.
      [Related: What if I put my parenting experience on my resume?]

      Parts of it are great. I have three other daughters, so one less person in the house has given me additional time and mental space. And there are parts of parenting a teenager that I don’t miss (like wondering what time she will be home on a weekend night). My daughter is thriving in college — she’s loving her new school, new friends, new freedom and life. She’s the happiest she’s ever been, and I’m so proud of how she’s adjusted and run headlong with open arms into this next phase. All of that brings me intense joy, relief, pride and peace.
      But there is loss and grief too. There’s a pain point that you have as a parent that only gets activated by your relationship to your child. You know the pain point I’m talking about: the one that doubles you over, knocks the wind out of you, bruises your soul.
      My parental pain point is sore and aching. I’m grieving that the 18 years and 66 days I had of knowing the intimate details of my daughter’s life are over. I always knew that this time was a finite gift and a privilege. In her young life (particularly from ages 3-5) I never thought this time would end. But it did. And I miss her. I really, really miss her.
      [Related: Preparing for your child's first overnight summer camp]
      When looking back over these 18 years and 66 days, I’ve thought that parenting is really a cruel trajectory. At the beginning of your relationship with your child, you cannot leave them unattended for a second: their life literally depends on you. Slowly your relationship becomes less and less intense so that eventually you’re just sending heart emojis to show you love them. It seems like a sick joke.
      But with every ending, there’s also a beginning. The last time that my daughter wasn’t part of my day-to-day life, I was 28. Who am I now at 47? What will I do with the extra mental space and time that is not filled by my daughter? I’ll admit that I’ve been watching a lot of episodes of Sex and the City, just like I did at age 28 (although seeing it through a very different lens now — wow), and maybe I’ve been doing that to connect with my younger self. I know that eventually I’ll answer the “What am I going to do?” question, but first I’m going to allow myself to grieve. Parenting is always a mix of intense emotions at the same time, so there’s comfort in knowing that at least that part hasn’t changed.

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