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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    • 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…

    • 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. 

    • 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.

    • 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.

    • 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.
      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. 
      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.
      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]
      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.

    • 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.”
      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.

    • 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.

    • 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.

    • 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!

    • 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.

    • 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!

    • 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.

    • 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]
      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!
      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. 
      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.
      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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