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    • A Chicago pediatrician on how kids can play winter sports safely.
      2020 was truly a very difficult year with regards to the coronavirus pandemic. There is a lot we know now that we didn’t know at its start and still so much to learn. Scientists and medical researchers are working hard to develop therapeutic medications and vaccines to help protect us from the harms this virus can cause. Families everywhere have had to make sacrifices in their personal lives, work lives and the ways they enjoy sports and recreation, all the while trying to find new ways to stay healthy and active.
      While spectator sports are an exciting pastime in the fall and winter months, we have all heard over and over again about COVID infections and spread amongst professional athletes. These individuals have made personal decisions about participating in these sports as it is their job. Sports participation at the student level is clearly a different issue. The American Academy of Pediatrics values sports and physical fitness in their guidance of healthy living and good mental health during this pandemic. The safest sports last summer were noted to be golf, running, baseball and tennis — activities in which we’re able to maintain distance and minimize sharing equipment.
      Keep following the rules
      The underlying guidance across all activities is the ability to maintain social distancing, perform good hand hygiene, and wear a mask when you can’t maintain a 6-foot distance. For safety, masks may not be required in active elite level exercise, water sports, or where it poses a risk of getting caught on equipment, covering one’s eyes, or choking. Each athlete should have their own mask, access to hand sanitizer, and their own water bottles and towels.
      [Related: Free or cheap ways to entertain your kids on winter weekends]
      Recreational sports for young children can be challenging because mask-wearing may be difficult to enforce. Competitive or high school level sports for older children pose additional problems because the severity of coronavirus illness in children in their teen years may mimic that in adults. New information about the effects of COVID infection on the heart poses even more concern.
      Watch-outs: cardiac conditions
      The current recommendations by pediatricians and cardiologists include looking for signs of cardiac inflammation or myocarditis in athletes who had significant symptoms of COVID as part of clearing them to return to their sport. This can mean a minimum of a 2-3 week absence from their sport if they don’t have any cardiac concerns, or of course much longer if they have significant cardiac compromise. It is recommended to be in touch with your healthcare provider before making the decision to return to sports.
      What to avoid
      During sports practice or games, athletes need to avoid huddles, high fives, handshakes or fist bumps. They shouldn’t share any food or drinks with their teammates. Cheering each other on should be limited to when they are greater than 6-8 feet apart and they should always use a tissue when spitting or blowing their nose.
      [Related: Coat or no? Car seat safety during the cold winter months]
      Low-risk activities
      So the question remains, what can you and your children do to keep healthy and active and be as safe as possible? Here are some suggestions that allow social distancing, mask-wearing and minimal equipment sharing: Walking, hiking and running, fishing, golf, tennis, baseball, swimming and diving, dancing and yoga, and skating and cycling.
      Higher-risk activities
      The higher risk sports which involve more contact — soccer, football, basketball, gymnastics, cheerleading and hockey — should be undertaken only if you and your athletes, coaches and sports associations appreciate and follow the best guidance they can to minimize risk.
      There are no easy answers to the questions parents have about participation in sports. We know robust physical activity contributes to good mental and physical health. Knowing the risks may help you determine good options for your child. Of course, always consider discussing the health risks and benefits with your individual pediatrician. And while this may not be the ideal year for your athlete, we hope that there are good protective vaccines available in the near future which can help protect us all, and allow for a more active lifestyle again!
      Anita Chandra-Puri, MD, is a Chicago pediatrician with Northwestern Medical Group Pediatrics, as well as a mom and NPN board member. To ask Dr. Anita a question, email newsletter@npnparents.org with the subject line, “Ask a Doctor.”

    • Create a warm, relaxing respite from the cold for your family with these hygge ideas.
      Hygge: feeling warm, comfortable and safe. This Danish concept advocates enjoying the simple pleasures and treating yourself with care. During Chicago winters, we could all do with a little dose of hygge: the perfect antidote to Zoom overload. Here’s how.
      Clear out clutter
      To ensure the simplicity required for this concept, some decluttering is required. Make this an opportunity to donate items, then clear everything out of sight into some large, natural hampers.
      Bring in cozy
      Wool blankets, faux sheepskins, baskets of slippers. There is nothing better than snuggling with your family and embracing the best of togetherness.
      [Related: From slow to go! Balancing life post-pandemic]
      Add texture
      To complement the soft textiles, add some earthenware bowls for soup or glass jars filled with pinecones for a pleasing aesthetic. Bringing nature in promotes the tranquil vibe.
      Display those memories
      While we can’t see extended family members as much as we would like, displaying photos brings them closer. Or, dig out old mementos and arrange treasured items on shelves where they bring back happy memories.
      Read and listen
      Reading and listening to music are soothing pastimes for many of us. Select some poetry or a beautiful photo book, create a playlist, and chill out in a nook made from a bean bag chair or throw pillows.
      Embrace changing seasons
      Embracing the seasons is a part of hygge that we all have to accept in Chicago. Bundle up on sunny days, invest in a sled for the snowy ones, and makeover your bedroom hotel-style for the really ugly ones.
      Set a fire
      Whether you have a fireplace indoors, a fire pit outside, or just a visual on YouTube, fires are immensely relaxing. Rearrange the furniture around this focal point, replacing the TV with conversation.
      Enjoy a cuppa
      Make 2021 the year to up the ante on winter drinks. A hot chocolate bar is a fun, low-key activity for all the family. Alternately, cover a box with beautiful fabric and fill it with a range of teas for a home tasting.
      Bake a treat
      Though cookie exchanges are a no-no, take the opportunity to explore comfort foods from across the globe. Baking bread is another wonderful way to bring in the hygge, filling your home with an enticing aroma.
      [Related: Family-friendly slow-cooker meals for cold snaps]
      Bathe in light
      If candles are problematic with children and pets, there are plenty of realistic battery versions. And of course, strings of tiny fairy lights add a magical effect strung up a little haphazardly.
      Put away tech
      Central to the theme of hygge is simplification, and that applies to technology, too. Identify a place to put away these items at the end of the day, such as a sanitizing station or a charging drawer.
      Embrace neutral decor
      To fully embrace the required Danish décor, repaint a room in neutral colors of grays, greens and creams. For a low-commitment fix, try adding new pillows or replacing the bold with calming artwork.
      As we continue our winter living with COVID, it is so important that our homes become our sanctuaries — and not our cells. While traveling and experiencing a refreshing change of scene remains problematic, setting up our dwellings to provide respite is hugely beneficial to our wellbeing.

    • When should you start searching for schools, both public and private, in Chicago? This guide gives you important timelines for preschools and elementary schools.
      While Chicago is replete with hundreds of school choices ranging from public options (open enrollment, magnet, selective enrollment) to private religious and independent options, all schools will require some forethought in planning except the one school into which you are automatically accepted and there is never a deadline: your assigned neighborhood Chicago Public School. Each Chicago address is guaranteed an assigned neighborhood elementary (K-8th grade) and high school (9th–12th grade) that allows for immediate enrollment any time of year. Find your assigned school.
      All other schools (including other neighborhood schools) can be viable options for families but typically do require at least an application to be filled out and, in the case of private schools, can require a lengthy, multi-step process that begins one year before your child will start the program. Some private schools do have rolling admissions, but most schools start their application processes one year prior to enrolling.
      The key for families is to be prepared and not to miss their window of opportunity, with the “entry year” (i.e., age or grade a program starts) of a school typically being the time when most spots may be available. The majority of Chicago schools also have a fairly strict birthday cutoff date of Sept. 1, so if a school accepts students who are 3 by Sept. 1, you should apply the fall when your child is 2 by Sept. 1. With the exception of Suder and Drummond (both start at 3 years old) and Inter-American (starts at 4 years old), CPS schools start in kindergarten, when your child is 5 by Sept. 1. Private elementary schools typically start at 3 or 4 years-old.
      Chicago Public Schools (CPS) have centralized information for either 3 and 4 year old preschool programs (www.cps.edu/ChicagoEarlyLearning) or K-9th grade programs (www.go.cps.edu). Preschool applications open the spring prior to entry (4/11/23 this year) while K-9th grade applications open a year prior (typically late September to early December). Private schools have varying application deadlines from late September to February or even rolling admissions. Be sure to check with each private school to determine application requirements and deadlines.
      Public schools may offer tours and open houses, but attendance is not a requirement for admissions. Their applications are also straightforward with preschools allowing up to 5 options and K-9th grade applications offering two pathways that can both be chosen: one for up to 20 non-selective Choice programs and another for up to six selective enrollment (test-based) programs. Both applications are part of the online portal at https://cps.schoolmint.com/login and this year CPS preschool applications are available through the same link.
      Private schools, however, typically do require participation in a coffee/tour, and may require a playdate or shadow day, parent interviews, and recommendations. While some private schools share online documents (via Ravenna or similar online platforms), each has its own application requirements and deadlines, so it’s important to keep track along every step of the way.
      Whichever schools or programs you are interested in, the key is to be ready to apply by understanding the timeline. It really is a process that can require at least a year of foresight so we recommend families of any age visit NPN’s Annual Preschool & Elementary School Fair to ask about entry years and find the open house dates and deadlines for each school they are interested in.
      Updated Winter 2023

    • If you plan ahead and bring the right supplies, it's possible to safely fly with young kids during Covid, says one Chicago mom.
      It’s not really ever easy to fly with kids. But the reward of getting to your final destination for a family vacay and creating amazing memories makes it all worth it. Right?? That’s what I tried to remind myself when my husband surprised me with a family trip to San Diego for my birthday. During the midst of a global pandemic.
      Part of me was so excited to go somewhere, to have an adventure with our family, to get out of the normal day-to-day routine. The other part of me was panicked. How on earth was I going to get through an airport and sit on an airplane with a 4-year-old and an 8-month old, when germs today have a whole new meaning?
      Something important to note here: I am a BIG germaphobe. I’ve always been very aware of hand-washing, antibacterial gel, trying not to touch “public” surfaces. Add that to a worldwide virus-spreading crisis and you have the perfect recipe for someone who should be terrified to go anywhere.
      But we went. And it was amazing.
      I would never try to talk anyone into doing something they aren’t comfortable with, but coming from someone who is very germ-adverse, I have some tips that could help you understand that it is possible to travel with kiddos these days.
      [Related: 7 tips for parents of young kids navigating Covid-19]
      Plan your antibac kit
      For me, this is pretty typical for any flight, but I felt good having my antibacterial wipes, sanitizing hand gel, and seat tray covers in my carry-on. When you board your flight (and check with airlines on pre-boarding options for families with kiddos!), wipe down everything in your seat area: tray tables, seat belts, window “sill,” armrest and buttons, video screen and overhead vents and buttons. Remember that while you might not touch something, your little ones might. So wipe it all. (Another side note: We flew Southwest; the flight felt very clean — although we still wiped down everything — and we had priority family boarding.)
      We wore our masks the whole time we traveled — through the airport and on the flight — unless we were eating or drinking something. Masks can start to get uncomfortable after wearing for a long time, so find one that doesn’t pull on your ears or smush down your nose. Test masks out with the kiddos before traveling to make sure theirs fit well also.
      Have a bunch of extra masks, too. Kids might accidentally drop theirs on the ground or decide the mask is a napkin. And a fresh mask always feels good. (Yes, we are actually saying that these days!)
      [Related: The secret to traveling with kids? Planning, planning, planning]
      Car seat for the bambino
      If you have a baby, I highly recommend buying an extra ticket and bringing along a car seat. Babies love to be held. Until they don’t. Having a spot to tuck your little one away snugly so they can have a bottle, babble at you, or take a nap is a lifesaver.
      Bring snacks & activities
      This is something we do anyway when we travel, but I definitely made sure to pack some healthy snacks (fruits & veggies) as well as fun ones (fruit strips, M&Ms, crackers). On our flight, Southwest had limited food service, but they did offer canned water and a small bag of snack mix.
      Be patient
      We didn’t encounter long wait times, probably due to the overall reduced travel, but we gave ourselves extra time just in case. And we felt like people in general had more patience for one another, and it was nice. We really felt (and expressed) gratitude to everyone working at the airport. There’s something about this pandemic that can bring out the We’reAll-In-This-Together mentality. Silver linings…I’ll take it!
      Travel looks a little different these days, but with some planning, flying with your family is still possible. I’m so grateful I avoided any germaphobic meltdowns, and we had the time to make new memories. And not surprisingly, I’m already trying to plan the next adventure!

    • "Our goal is to avoid being racially stereotyped as angry Black parents and change the narrative to 'strong parent advocates.'"
      As the doctor held up our firstborn, the feeling of joy and overwhelming love was quickly followed by a heavy pit in our stomachs. My husband and I looked at each other and without words, we both had the same feelings and thoughts: While we were so happy, we also knew that raising a Black boy in America is a daunting task. Fast-forward two years and the words, “We recommend your child receive the diagnosis of Autism,” shattered our world. All of a sudden, we now had to raise a Black autistic boy in America.
      My husband and I were emotionally ill for weeks. My husband, especially, had a hard time accepting our new reality. His first reaction was to not follow through with the diagnosis. As a Black man, he had first-hand experience of the stereotypes and challenges our son would face. He knew that the world may never see him for who he is as a person; he knew he would be judged by the color of his skin and his diagnosis. He knew, because of this, people may give up on him or put him in a box and never give him a chance to show how great he really is. Ultimately, we followed through with the diagnosis because, without it, our son would not get the intervention he needed. We knew that without OT, speech, or ABA therapy our son’s development could stagnate and, as an adult, this would be more harmful. It’s an important reminder: Do not let fear stop you from making the hard — yet right — decision for your child.
      [Related: How to be an anti-racist parent]
      “The Talk”
      Every Black person in America knows what “the talk” is. It is not about sex. “The talk” has been something parents in the Black community have been doing for years. During “the talk,” we learn about our history; we learn some people still see us as inferior, some people hate us, and some people may use their power and position to hinder us from achieving our goals. We learn that the educational, financial, and housing systems in this country were set up to keep us out of the American dream. We learn that some community helpers, like police, overreach their power and sometimes hurt or kill us.
      So, we wondered: should we have “the talk” with our son? He has been taught to see the police as helpers, who will be kind to him if he gets lost or is in danger. The reality is, some police officers may see the color of his skin first and view him as a threat. The reality is, as our son gets older his meltdowns will probably be misunderstood.
      My husband and I decided to have “the talk” in phases. We took into account our son’s developmental understanding of social dynamics. We have talked about slavery, we have talked about the Civil Rights movement, and we have talked about racism. We have chosen to leave out certain details because ultimately it may be more confusing and traumatizing. We still need him to seek out the help of a police officer if he is ever lost or in danger, so we decided to be proactive and not reactive. At age 10, we took our son to our local CAPS meetings and introduced him to some of the officers present. We have also taken him down to the local precinct and introduced him to officers, as well. Our hope is that proactively communicating his diagnosis will help just in case, God forbid, our son ever has an encounter with police.
      [Related: Chicago venues that cater to kids with special needs]
      Angry Black Parent vs. Advocating Parent
      One of the nuances of raising Black children in America is that as parents, we have to fight stereotypes as well. Every single ER visit, we have been met with the questions, “Does Dad live in the home?” and “Do you have the same last name?” Our answer, which is “yes” to both, has always been met with surprise and sometimes shock. I even had a nurse say out loud, “Wow, that’s a first!” We have also shocked hospital staff with our organized documentation of our son’s medical history, our knowledge of his rights as a patient, and his benefits under his insurance plans. This is very important; we never want to be in a position in which racial stereotypes prevent our son from receiving the best healthcare. Make sure you are always prepared; do your due diligence.
      In addition, our approach when advocating for our son has always been from a place of knowledge. Our goal is that we, as parents, can avoid being racially stereotyped as the angry Black parents and change the narrative to “strong parent advocates.” My husband and I use this approach in other aspects of our son’s life as well.
      Raising children is hard; raising a Black autistic boy in America is even harder. My husband and I do not have all the answers, and we take each situation as it comes. Yes, we get angry and scared. Yes, it sometimes feels overwhelming. Yes, we have shed many tears. However, no matter how disheartening, exhausting, and stressful the journey may be, we never lose hope.

    • Erikson Institute offers simple ways to begin incorporating media literacy into your everyday media encounters.
      Children are now using media at very young ages. Touchscreen phones or tablets make swiping, tapping, and clicking easy enough for even a 1-year-old to manipulate. Voice-activated speakers allow children to request their favorite songs with simple language commands, and an endless amount of content seems to be at their tiny little fingertips. Add streaming networks, YouTube, video chatting and child-directed apps to the mix, and it becomes clear that our young children are active and regular media users.
      [Related: Limit screen time for a happier, healthier kid]
      Even those families who restrict or limit exposure to media tend to regularly be pushing a smartphone in their child’s face to take all of those cute photos. It is nearly impossible for children to be completely removed from the media that surrounds us all. So why are we not supporting them to develop strong media literacy skills as early as possible?  
      We define media literacy in early childhood as the emerging ability to access, engage, explore, comprehend, critically inquire, evaluate and create with developmentally appropriate media. 
      Here's an analogy: When children are young, we talk to them about healthy eating. When they complain about eating vegetables, we explain their value in helping them grow healthy and strong. When they request ice cream for breakfast, we share that ice cream is a “sometimes food.” We talk about healthy eating as early as possible because we know this impacts their later eating habits. The same mindset is helpful when approaching media literacy: supporting strong media literacy skills early on will impact their media engagement habits. 
      While there are many concepts included in media literacy education, there are also simple ways to begin incorporating media literacy into your everyday media encounters. Here are some examples:
      [Related: I feel no guilt about my kids' screen time]
      TV shows. When watching a show with your child, ask questions to see if they are understanding the storyline and message. Explain the ways media creators use cuts, zooms, flashbacks and music to tell a story. 
      YouTube. Talk to your child about what happens when the video they selected is over. How is YouTube different from shows on our TV? Why does it suggest another video for you to watch? How did it decide what video to show you next? Explore (in kid-friendly terms) how the creators of YouTube want you to stay on the website. You can even bring up advertising here!
      Tablets and smartphones. Consider how your child uses these types of devices. Provide tools and opportunities for them to explore and create with these devices. Use the features that empower them to tell their own stories, like voice recording or photo editing apps.
      These actions and discussions may seem simple, but they are critical in early childhood. 
      Also written by Jenna Herdzina, MS, Program Manager of the TEC Center. 
      Erikson Institute’s Technology in Early Childhood (TEC) Center is a trusted source for digital-age educators and parents seeking information about the intersection of child development, early learning and children’s media for children up to age 8. For more activities and ideas for supporting media literacy skills, check out our Media Literacy Implementation Plan. To find out more about how to support media literacy in early childhood, explore our full Media Literacy in Early Childhood Report, which includes a framework, child development information and Tips for Caregivers.

    • Erikson Institute offers tips on how to help young children manage the stress and anxiety brought on by COVID-19, even as pandemic fatigue sets in.
      The devastating effects of the COVID-19 pandemic continue to mount as parents, caregivers, and families across the country navigate unprecedented challenges. Anxiety and uncertainty have become the norm, and as pandemic fatigue sets in, parents are grappling with ways to support their children’s healthy development and help them cope. 
      At Erikson Institute, a graduate school specializing in child development, our mantra is “relationships, relationships, relationships.” In the challenging circumstances we’re all facing, supportive relationships with each other are what can sustain us the most. Think about what you want your child to remember most from this unusual time, and try to create as much connectedness and joy as possible for all of you.
      Here are 7 tips for parents of young children navigating COVID-19. 
      1. Take care of yourself first. Children look to the adults in their life for cues about how safe they are. Having solid self-care routines and their own healthy ways to cope can help parents be as steady a role model as they can for their child. When children see you coping, it helps them to cope, too.
      [Related: Self-care during COVID: Creating your own pandemic slowdown] 
      2. Speak honestly and openly with children about the pandemic, but keep it simple and brief. Young children don’t understand everything going on during difficult times, but they feel better if they know&nbspsomething. Reassure them about how people can stay safe, using examples they can see like wearing masks or washing hands, and talk with them about any fears they might have. Point out the people who are responding to the crisis. In the words of Fred Rogers, “look for the helpers.”  
      3. Try to keep a routine at home. Young children thrive on routine—it helps them know what to expect so they can have a sense of control. A simple visual schedule for breakfast, playtime, nap, etc. is one strategy parents can use. Let your kids come up with items to put on a calendar, and don’t forget to include special events they can look forward to, like virtual playdates or a pillow fight night. If you’re working from home, creating your own simple visual schedule can help your children know when you’re available to them.   
      4. Let them play! Encourage your child to follow their own interests for play and (safe) exploration. It may look like “just play,” but there is a lot of learning going on. Pretend play is an especially important way for children to work out fears and stresses. Invest time in finding high-quality children’s tech content. If you can’t watch or use the technology with them, find content they can engage with on their own.
      [Related: Help your kids capture memories of this strange year]
      5. Make a game of social distancing and hygiene, or do a project together. This can give children fun ways to retain important information and can help them feel more in control during this scary time. Help them create masks or handwashing signs to put around your home as reminders, or give them turns to be the “reminder boss.” Consider doing a project together to help other people, like thank you emails or drawings that can be sent to hospitals or grocery store workers.  
      6. If you or someone in your family gets sick with COVID-19, try to help children anticipate what will happen. Illness during this time can create even more worry and stress for you and your children. Talk about what’s going on in words children can understand. Explain clearly what is going to happen, especially if they have to be separated from you or a loved one, and emphasize what you and others are doing to make things better.   
      [Related: What it's like to be a parent with COVID]
      7. Don’t hesitate to seek help from an outside source. Erikson’s Center for Children and Families offers therapy sessions with parents remotely (by video or phone). They can be reached at 312-709-0508.  

    • Don't want more toys cluttering your home? Here are some alternative ideas for kids' birthday gifts.
      “No gifts, please!” We’ve all received those invites, but rarely do we feel empowered to act upon those instructions. Who wants to look like a thoughtless guest, and what kids will really understand?
      Like many others, we’re trying to balance the excesses of childhood with a sense of value, while at the same time building environmental and fiscal responsibility. While we have tended to be traditionalists on the party gifts front, I've come up with these ideas to help avoid the glut of birthday gifts for future parties.
      Build a library
      Parents living in the city always appreciate getting books. Aside from being mutually approved by grown-ups and kids alike, they critically take up little space. We’ve been invited to parties where the hosts have suggested bringing a favorite book to build a library and it’s been fun for everyone.
      Book exchange
      Making the book concept even more guest-friendly is a book exchange. No need to buy a new one, just recycle one you already have. Kids love the concept of recycling and reusing, so this green option will appeal to their imaginations. A post-party trip to the bookstore can help mitigate a lack of parcels while keeping on theme.
      Secret Santa
      To avoid getting an overload of gifts you don’t need, a secret Santa concept could be helpful. Invitees each bring one gift that will go to a random child at the party. To ensure the party princess/prince remains happy you can supplement their gift with a trip to the store for a wished-for item.
      Monetary donations
      We’ve also been to parties where the parents have requested donations to a family cause. Involving your child in the steps along the way gives them a sense of responsibility. Offer them a reward for completing such a worthy project: choosing a museum to visit or selecting a new movie to see.
      Donation drive
      For those who are uncomfortable with a monetary ask, consider implementing a donations drive. Would collecting old sneakers appeal to your child’s interest in running, or would a school supplies drive be more meaningful? Creating a certificate or awarding a medal can instill a sense of pride – which can be fashioned into a gift, too.
      Harness your kids' creativity by asking guests to bring a picture or a poem to the party rather than a present. Use these unique pieces, alongside party snaps, to create a custom book. Then watch their face when it arrives in the mail.
      Video clips
      If you’re feeling really creative, ask for video clips instead. Give guests a prompt: advice for turning five years old, something you like about the birthday girl/boy or a crazy birthday dance. These can be used to make a special movie to share at the party. Your child is guaranteed to feel like a star, especially when they get to watch this over and over.
      Potluck contributions
      And if you don’t want to ask people to bring any kind of gift, however untraditional, asking for a food contribution can be made fun. If it’s an ice cream party, ask for toppings. If it’s a brunch party, ask for breakfast items. Purchasing a kitchen item (such as a popcorn machine or s’mores maker) for the family to use later can help kids overcome the no-gifts barrier.  
      Fiona Royer lives in Lincoln Park with her husband, Randall, and their three young children. Originally from the U.K. with a business and creative background, she now works in the Chicago philanthropic community. She believes that giving is the key to a fulfilling life.

    • Very willing to have the baby and not the man, this Chicago mom embarked on a journey to become a single mother by choice.
      My long-term relationship that had been fizzling for quite a while had finally snuffed out when it occurred to me that I should become a single-mother-by choice. I was always able to picture myself as a mother but the image of myself as a wife was hazy. Very willing to have the baby and not the man, I started to strategize on how to make that happen.
      What is a single-mother-by-choice (SMC)?
      Sometimes called a choice mom or only parent, a single-mother-by-choice is a woman who decides to become a mother with full understanding that she will be the only parent. Or as the 2015 article, the single mother by choice myth defines it, “she’s the epitome of the modern independent woman who wants to have it all, career and family ─ taking her future into her hands, acting decisively, and doing what it takes to achieve her goal of motherhood, with no need for a man. A single-mother-by-choice will pursue motherhood with the aid of donor sperm from either a known donor, with a sperm bank, or private donation. I went with a sperm bank.
      How does it work?
      Initially, my plan was intrauterine insemination (IUI), where sperm is placed inside the uterus. Some women are brave enough to do it on their own at home. I wanted to go through a doctor. In doing so, I researched the best in the Chicagoland area and went with Chicago IVF. After sharing my medical history, I underwent a hysterosalpingogram, an X-ray of my uterus and fallopian tubes. I learned that in vitro fertilization (IVF), where the sperm and egg are fertilized outside of the body and then placed inside the uterus, was my only option. Due to the rigorous care schedule, I transferred my care to the Fertility Center of Illinois in River North because it was closer to home and work. Speaking of work, in Illinois, there is a state mandate that health insurance must cover fertility treatment, including up to four cycles of IVF.
      But how does it work as a parent?
      The African proverb, it takes a village to raise a child, rings loud and true for an only parent. If not to help in childcare or to have someone in case of emergency, you will need a sane adult to let you know that you will survive. I’ve been fortunate enough to have the help of my parents—without them, working from home during the shelter-in-place would have been impossible.
      Any advice for someone considering SMC-hood?
      Working to get pregnant is well, work. Don’t be afraid to ask all of the questions. Choose a healthcare team that you’re comfortable with, especially if you’re a woman of color as racial and ethnic disparities in pregnancy-related deaths persist. Get a full physical workup before you start. Keep a journal because pregnancy comes with a lot of feelings and your journal can be your listening ear. Focus on what you have and not on what you’re missing. 
      It took me two years to become pregnant. Out of those 730 days, Mother’s and Father’s Days were some of the roughest. The first year, I was starting IVF and had no clue if it would work. I skipped church and their Mother’s Day parade and focused all the energy I had after a good shower cry on my mom. That Father’s Day was rough because I was working to become an SMC and I was already rife with worry of how my baby-to-be would feel about the holiday seeing that she or he wouldn’t have a conventional dad. 
      By the next year, I was an IVF pro, but I still needed a distraction. I spent that holiday season uplifting other moms-to-be and hosted a Twitter giveaway for a self-care kit. However, the nervousness around Father’s Day persisted. My mom was the first person I told my decision to become an SMC. “A baby needs a dad,” she said, and I agreed. But when I told her that I didn’t want to miss my chance to become a mother because I didn’t have a man, she quickly gave me her blessing. Yet, that didn’t stop me from praying that my love for my child would be enough.
      My third embryo transfer, in which my father drove me to the doctor, was a charm. That February, I gave birth to a beautiful baby boy. Mother’s Day of that year was going to be great. My mom and I made plans to brunch with her best friend and her daughters, all of whom are mothers. I would finally get to celebrate with the cool kids. I even bought me and the baby boy matching shirts. But the Thursday before Mother’s Day, my father had a stroke. My mother spent the holiday in the hospital with my dad, while I celebrated my first Mother’s Day worrying and taking awkward selfies of me and my son. My dad’s recovery was slow but steady. He was still in the hospital for Father’s Day. Me, mom, and the baby sat around his bed and ate salads from Portillo’s.
      This year, while Mother’s and Father’s Day was off-kilter for the entire country, I’ve finally hit a stride and that blanket of burden is gone. My son is growing into his own person every single day and I’m confident in my ability to parent him, for now. This first year of parenting has already taught me that he will change and change. Even this Father’s Day felt better. My dad is doing as well as we could expect, and I’ve begun to practice my spiel on how I will tell my son know that he’s donor-conceived. I’ve even had the opportunity to connect with two handfuls of his donor siblings ─ giving him a peek (when he’s ready) into his other side, albeit extremely non-conventional. And maybe now I will channel all that Mother’s and Father’s Day tension into a holiday more deserving, like National Brownie Day. 

    • Interviewing, screening and selecting potential nanny candidates can be a daunting task, but it is an important part of finding a nanny that is a good fit with your family.
      There is a lot to consider when hiring a nanny. Interviewing, screening and selecting potential nanny candidates can be a daunting task, but it is an important part of finding a nanny that is a good fit with your family.
      Try to use open-ended questions that will prompt for informative answers, such as questions starting with: What? When? Why? How? Where? Or tell me about… This will avoid getting yes and no answers.
      Experience and background: Look for a nanny who has experience working in a position similar to what you are hiring them for. Finding someone who has experience working with multiple families will ensure they are familiar with adjusting to the needs of your family. Ask for a resume and have them include at least three family references. Sample questions should include: Tell me about your educational background. Do you have any formal early childhood development or childcare training? How long have you been a nanny? 2. Nanny and philosophy/approach: Make sure a nanny’s philosophy about childcare is in line with yours. Discipline is an area that needs to be discussed up front to avoid any differences of opinion on how children should be disciplined. You need to know your candidate is in the field for all the right reasons, and enjoys children. Important questions to ask are:
      Why did you choose a nanny career? Why do you like being a nanny? What do you think are the qualities needed to be a good nanny? 3.    Your requirements: Make sure the nanny’s approach to work lines up with your own requirements. Your ideal candidate should be someone who has similar values, goals and work ethic to your own. Key questions should include:
      Are you familiar with the neighborhood? What is your philosophy on food and snacks? What is your flexibility with scheduling? 4.    Additional considerations: Give the candidates some time to spend with your child in home. We also suggest families schedule a working interview with finalist candidates. Are they attentive? Do they keep your children engaged? Your observations matter a great deal when you finally make decision. A few good questions are:  
      Are they comfortable holding and/or speaking to your child? Was the nanny pleasant and have a positive and upbeat personality? Are you able to communicate easily and effectively with each other? Doing your homework and asking questions that are important to you and your family will make selecting the nanny that much easier. If you allow these questions to guide your interview process, you will find a great match in no time at all.

    • This mom knows her daughters won’t dish out or take any type of bullying behavior because of the 10 philosophies her family lives by.
      Remember the movie Mean Girls, where high school students created a burn book to spread rumors about each other? While I, too, enjoyed the movie and often joke with my friends that “on Wednesdays we wear pink,” the movie exposed some very harsh realities when it comes to bullying. Sadly, with the rise of social media, the issue has only progressed since the flick came out 15 years ago, and the Netflix show 13 Reasons Why provided an even clearer picture of the nationwide epidemic.
      Having two young daughters ages 6 and 3, I figured we’d have a few more years before we had to address the issue, but the numbers don’t lie: More than 160,000 kids stay home from school each day to avoid being bullied, and a startling 1 in 5 school-aged children report being bullied, according to the National Center for Educational Statistics.
      I thought sending my daughter Hayley to elementary school would be sunshine and roses, but it only proved that mean girls do exist, and they’re everywhere: in my child’s class, in other classes, in the hallway, the lunch table and the playground. Hayley has a few “frenemies” who constantly give her a hard time about anything and everything, and she’s recounted stories to me about having her shoes pulled off while hanging from the monkey bars. Last year, a classmate even tricked her into throwing away her snack, telling her it was poison.

      In acknowledgment of October being National Bullying Prevention Month, let’s teach our children to be kind. I did, and I’m already seeing the payoff. Will my children always be perfectly behaved? No, but I am content knowing they won’t dish out or take any type of bullying behavior. Here are the 10 philosophies we live by:
      Encourage self-acceptance
      Research shows that children who bully others often do so because they are unhappy with themselves and want to deflect the attention. Talk to your child about what makes them different and unique, and encourage them to celebrate these differences. When my daughter was picked on because she was short, I wrote the book Being Small (Isn’t So Bad After All) to show her she is special. Books are a great way to promote self-acceptance. Build a healthy dose of self-confidence
      Praise your child for their intelligence, personality, appearance and abilities. Celebrate their wins with them, and let them know it is OK to come in second, or even fail. Be a shoulder to cry on when they do. Teach empathy
      Acknowledge to your child that not everyone is the same as them and that it is okay. Roleplay and ask them how they might feel in someone else’s shoes. When they can understand empathy, they will learn to genuinely care about others. Highlight the golden rule
      My grandma always said you catch more bees with honey. Reinforce to your child that we should treat others the way we want to be treated. Remind them that everyone is fighting a battle we know nothing about. Suggest they show small acts of kindness that can yield big results. Stress the importance of inclusion
      Has your child talked about another classmate who is withdrawn? These kids are likely the targets of bullies. Encourage your child to show they care by acknowledging and including them. It can be as simple as inviting them to sit together at lunch or play together at recess. Raise upstanders, not bystanders
      Even if your child isn’t bullying anyone, acting as an audience for the bully and saying nothing is just as bad. Often times, bystanders don’t know what to do. Speak to your child about the importance of using their voice to take action to tell the bully to stop or to report the behavior to an adult. Speak nicely about others, and yourself, too
      A child’s mind is like a sponge—they absorb everything. Make a conscious effort to only let your child hear you speak about others—as well as yourself—in a nice way. Model positive behavior
      Children take cues from their parents, so what you do is more important than what you say. Let your kids see you opening the door for strangers or giving up your bus seat for someone who is elderly. Simple, kind gestures like this help you role-model the behavior you want to see from your kids. Give back
      Whether it is organizing a toy drive for needy children or serving meals to those less fortunate, provide meaningful opportunities for your child to experience giving back to the community. Keep the conversation going. Schedule an informal “check-in” with your child to talk about their friendships at school. Take them out for ice cream, and show genuine interest in their day-to-day life at school.

    • Pregnant in Chicago? Here are tips and tricks from seasoned Chicago moms about being pregnant and giving birth in Chicago.
      Preparing to give birth in the City of Big Shoulders? Get ready. In addition to a generally friendly Midwestern vibe from passers-by, there are a handful of little-known watch-outs and hacks that Chicago moms of yore have discovered along the way. For advice, we asked our Member Discussion Forum and social media channels to weigh in: What would you tell a first-time Chicago mom? Here’s what we learned.
      [Related: 12 truths about giving birth from an OB nurse]
      Bundle up, but don’t buy a maternity coat
      Given our long winter, chances are you’re going to need a coat. But don’t fall prey to buying an expensive maternity coat — especially since you may only wear it for a short time (depending on your due date, Groundhog Day, or both). Many on our Forum advised buying a used maternity coat for the months you need it, then selling it again when you’re done. One mom said she lucked out with purchasing a plus-sized coat during Black Friday sales just after Thanksgiving: “It was great, and hundreds less expensive than a ‘maternity’ winter coat.”
      Begin your childcare search early 
      In a city as big as ours, there are a lot of childcare options...but there are a lot of new babies vying for those spots. Many NPN moms have said that they were forced to join waitlists for childcare, many of which can be more than six months long. One mom advised that especially in the Lakeview and Lincoln Park neighborhoods, registering “by the second trimester” is a good idea. Considering a nanny? Peruse the NPN Childcare Classifieds to see what parents are saying about the nanny they're recommending. Typically, parents start looking for a nanny about 2 months before they go back to work. 
      Riding the CTA? Wear a button — and speak up.
      In fall 2019, the CTA partnered with The Mom Project to produce “Baby On Board” buttons for expectant mothers riding the El. Thing is, they’re only effective if other riders notice them and follow suit. Most moms we heard from complained that they were seldom offered seats on trains or buses, even during late-stage (read: obvious) pregnancy. Sadly, this anecdote is a common one: “One time, during a curve, my stomach smacked a rider’s face as I was trying to hold on for dear life; didn’t even phase him.” Word to the wise: Even if you’re wearing a button, don’t be afraid to advocate for yourself. In Chicago, seats are prioritized for expectant mothers. Claim what’s yours!
      [Related: The best-kept secret about breastfeeding]
      Plan on traffic
      Whether you’re attending those final, frequent check-ups with your doula or planning your route to the hospital, know that Chicago traffic jams can strike at any time — rush hour be damned. We’ve heard of several moms who didn’t quite make it to the hospital and had to give birth on the expressway...but we also know a mom who had the shortest hospital commute ever early on Easter Sunday. No matter your destination, try to have an alternate route that doesn’t include Lake Shore Drive or the expressway.
      Get a car seat before discharge...
      Unfortunately, some Chicago parents have found out this rule the hard way: Major hospitals, including Prentice Women’s Hospital at Northwestern, require new parents to procure a car seat for use at discharge, whether it will be installed in their own vehicle, or a shared vehicle such as a cab or Uber. Tip: If you need help with the installation, you can have it done for free at any local fire station.
      ...even if you’re taking the El home.
      Some moms said they gave birth back in the days before car seats were required, and were able to walk or take public transit home from the hospital. But just in case, bring your car seat. Compared with births from even a handful of years ago, we heard from other members who said that they were required to bring a car seat to the hospital — even though they’d planned to head home by other means. It’s just policy.

    • What do you do when your child has a fever? The sniffles? A Chicago pediatrician has these suggestions on managing flu season during Covid.
      Every patient encounter I have these days ends with the question, “So, doc, what should I do about my child going to daycare or school?” The question is general, and yet very personal. Each family has to weigh the risks and benefits, the costs both financial and emotional, and the balance of work and child safety that affect them. While this is an individual decision, each family is part of a community; at this time, more than ever, each family has to share in the communal responsibility to keep all of our children safe. Social distancing, wearing a mask, hand washing — you’ve heard these measures multiple times. But what else can you do? Be mindful of the following suggestions to keep your family and others healthy.
      [Related: What to expect when you're expecting during Covid]
      Certainly, not every sniffle in your child is going to be due to coronavirus, but you have to act as if it could be. This means keeping your child home from daycare or school if they have the sniffles to see what else, if anything, develops over the next few days. If nothing else develops, you will need to have a discussion with your pediatrician about when it is safe to resume normal activity.
      Fevers have always been a reason to stay home and take good care of yourself. Not every fever is due to coronavirus, but you have to consider that it could be. This means potentially seeking care from your pediatrician earlier than you might have before. We will be there to evaluate and treat for all of the other causes of fever, cough and pain, too. Please: No treating your child with Tylenol or Motrin to “cover the fever” just to send them to school that day.
      Flu vaccine
      Pediatricians have long recommended yearly flu vaccines to help protect your child and your whole family from getting influenza. This year, more than ever, getting the flu shot could help decrease the potential for two similar illnesses (i.e., influenza and coronavirus) to be circulating at the same time. The flu shot is safe, and while it isn’t always a perfect match, it gives you more fighting power against the flu than not getting the shot.
      [Related: Supporting your gifted child during Covid]
      Emotional health
      Know that you aren’t alone. Children of all ages show different signs of stress — stuttering, poor sleep, poor appetite, tummy aches, acid reflux, recurrent bedwetting, poor grades, experimenting with drugs or alcohol, etc. You may feel more alone this year without your network of class parents or friends to discuss your child’s behavior. Your pediatrician is there to help and should be your resource to discuss your concerns.
      This year may pose many challenges, but we all have the same goal: a healthy educational environment for your child.

    • Here are some easy ways you can help your kids record feelings and milestones surrounding a most unusual year.
      My family isn't counting the days, weeks or even the months anymore, but we are counting the memories.
      What began as a couple of weeks holed up at home could have morphed into a lost year. Instead, we chose to begin each day with the question, What memories are we creating today? Capturing those memories—both joyous and challenging—has become central to our daily lives. Here are some easy ways you can help your kids record feelings and milestones surrounding a most unusual year.
      [Related: How to celebrate kids' birthdays while social distancing]
      Memory book
      Inspired by a school assignment, our children began filling out and coloring in printables related to the new normal. We decided to supplement these with our own pages—including handprints and comic strips—with the ultimate goal of printing a hardcover book.
      Allowing youngsters to express their view of a pandemic world through art is helpful in gauging their understanding and how they’re feeling. My youngest daughter, an aspiring doctor, made a detailed image of a Covid-19 patient and a truly creative series of virus watercolors.
      Memory box
      To preserve three-dimensional pieces, creating a memory box makes for another interactive project. Adding rocks painted with messages of hope or magazines exploring issues of the day, such as Time for Kids or National Geographic, will be interesting for years to come.
      Time capsule
      Or how about creating a time capsule for the next generation to find? Including a newspaper seems like a no-brainer, but ask your kids what else might convey our lives today. A face mask? A popular toy? A recent book? Let their imaginations get to work.
      Newspaper reporters
      Children can also be encouraged to create their own newspapers. Explaining that we’re living through history really brings home the momentousness of the current situation. Task them with becoming reporters or bloggers and charge them with noting what is happening right now.
      [Related: These thoughtful gifts prove showing you care doesn't cost a thing]
      Video diary
      Budding movie producers can capture these memories in video format. Immediate family members can be interviewed in person, while Zoom or FaceTime can be used to connect with folks in other parts of the country or world for a broader perspective. How do their experiences differ? How are we all the same?
      Movie poster
      If this year were a movie, what would it be called? Who would be the main characters and who would be the stars? Summarizing 2020 in poster format is another creative way to encourage reflection and put the year into a visual format.
      Poetry and song
      Of course, memories can also be captured lyrically. There are many different types of poetry youngsters can try their hand at, with free verse or narrative well suited to individual expression. Alternately, given a few musical instruments, kids will quickly develop their own songs.
      While there is so much of this year we may choose to forget, for our children these are the days they’re witnessing significant history, and as such are worth remembering. Capturing some of these memories in a way that works for your family acts as a counterbalance to the aimless drifting of 2020. It can even bring some hope during an uncertain year.

    • If we are serious about dismantling systemic racism, we as parents need to actively model for our children the meaning of Black Lives Matter.
      With the reemergence of the Black Lives Matter movement and other efforts to challenge racism in our society, there has been a push to support Black businesses. Families all over Chicago have poured in their money and support to local owners as a part of the national allyship for the Black Lives Matter movement. This support is not only coming from individuals, it’s also coming from multi-billion dollar companies like Netflix and Grubhub.
      It is much needed for Black businesses because of the economic downturn that is having devastating effects on almost every sector of our society. But I must say, most of the support feels somewhat disingenuous because it’s not addressing the need for deeper, long-lasting change. Since the Great Migration, Black families who came to Chicago from the Jim Crow South hoped to reach a financial status that would award them a life free from oppression. Unfortunately, most of these Southern transplants fell victim to systemic racism, domestic terrorism and predatory lenders. Today, as we know, mirrors the past.
      I imagine that some kids today have overheard an adult comment on racism in the U.S. as an issue related to the bootstrap theory. It is when one claims that the descendants of enslaved Black people are not working hard enough today. They say that the work ethic of most Black people does not match that of impoverished arrivals from other countries, which explains the racial inequality in the US. But what these adults never take into account is that generational wealth has often been stolen from Black people time and time again, without consequence, after the end of slavery. 
      As a child, I had the fortune of growing up on both the South and North sides of Chicago. It was (and still is) normal for me to see Black entrepreneurs. It is also normal for me to see Black businesses close down. Sadly, there were far more storefronts, salons and restaurants owned by Black people (from all over the African diaspora) in the 80s to the early 2000s than there is now.
      Of course, it’s not just Black people who are suffering during this crisis, but they are being disproportionately affected by multiple crises at the same time. Long before our parents existed, there were plenty of independent Black communities that fulfilled the bootstrap theory and created prosperity for themselves. The residents in these communities were dentists, bankers, artists, tailors, carpenters, and so on, all living out their American dream, until, for too many of them, it became a nightmare.
      Entire towns or neighborhoods were destroyed due to white rage at Black success. In predominantly Black communities like Tulsa, OK, Wilmington, NC, Atlanta, GA, Elaine, AK, Colfax, Rosewood, FL, residents of African descent had their dreams stolen by angry white mobs who felt threatened by Black prosperity. In our own state capital, Springfield, there is a legacy of white violence targeting Black wealth.
      The erasure of these traumatic events from school history classes has been a deep betrayal of an honest history of this country. What would be your answer if your child were to ask you “How can one pull themselves up with their straps on their boots if the boot itself has been stolen?” What can we as a city do to reverse these crimes against some of our Black residents, who are the descendants of people that were brought here to build this nation to its financial greatness? 
      If we are serious Chicagoans as we are as Americans about dismantling systemic racism, we as parents need to actively model for our children the meaning of Black Lives Matter. Perhaps we can start by supporting activists and taking our children to witness us invest in a Black bank who is countering policies that hinder prosperity within historically Black communities. Supporting the Black Lives Matter must become a verb and not just a hashtag.
      171 Ways to Donate in Support of Black Lives and Communities of Color Support the National Black Chamber of Commerce 180 Black-Owned Businesses to Support Black Farm & Grocery Businesses Successful Black Communities Destroyed by White Supremacists Keisha Mathew is currently providing counseling to youth and their families; a role she has had for over 17 years. She holds a master's in social work, with a concentration in community schools from the University of Chicago. When she and her partner are not fulfilling their multiple roles for their children during the pandemic, they are advocating for the children & families of Chicago. Follow her on Instagram at @wanderlust.writer.creator.

    • Pregnant during Covid? Here's what to expect during OB appointments, labor and delivery, and postpartum.
      For those growing a family during the Covid-19 global pandemic, there may be additional concerns, worries or fears on your mind. While we continue to learn more about Covid, pregnancy has not been proven to be a contributing factor for increased vulnerability to the virus. However, prenatal care, labor and delivery, and post-birth care will look different from the pre-Covid era. Here's a guide on what to expect when you're expecting during this pandemic. 
      Each health care provider—obstetrician, family physician or midwife—will always bring their own training, past experiences and approaches to prenatal care. During the pandemic, each practice will have its own policies and procedures around medical prenatal visits during Covid. Establish a partnership with your provider—ask them your questions about what to expect for your pregnancy care.   
      In the Chicago area, most providers and practices have substituted some of the standard in-person appointments with telehealth visits. If you are experiencing a low-risk pregnancy, this should be just fine for you and your baby. If you or your baby have any high-risk factors or complications, your provider will be working with you directly to provide the most appropriate medical prenatal care. 
      For an in-person visit, expect to be asked screening questions upon arrival and to have your temperature checked. If you are experiencing any symptoms, call your provider’s office before going in to see them. Until testing is more widely available, don’t expect to be tested during routine prenatal visits.
      One of the most significant changes in prenatal care is that your partner may not be able to join you at most or any of the routine visits, though they may be able to attend an ultrasound appointment. You can minimize potential disappointment by finding out in advance whether your partner can come in with you. If not, ask if you can have them on the phone or a web call during the appointment or if they can give you a recording of baby’s heartbeat to share.
      [Related: What to expect if you're expecting a Chicago baby]
      What if you test positive during pregnancy?
      Your provider is going to tell you what they recommend, based on what trimester you are in and what else may be going on with your pregnancy. As always, ask your questions so you understand the recommendations and what options you may have.
      Final weeks of pregnancy
      Talk about what options will or will not be available to you at the birth location. Have this conversation by the 36th week of pregnancy, because most babies, on their own, will arrive between 37–42 weeks. Do you have a strong preference for elements of your birth experience? Knowing what is possible may help you feel more prepared when your labor begins.
      In addition to your provider, you can check out Birth Guide Chicago’s COVID-19 page for updates on local hospital policies and support people. Having the support of a labor support doula—in-person or virtually—can also be an invaluable resource for navigating pregnancy and birth. 
      Labor and delivery
      If you are planning to give birth at a hospital, here are some things to be prepared for:
      Most providers are recommending that you stay home for as long as you are able to manage the sensations of labor before you come to the hospital or birth location. Even if you are planning for or decide you want an epidural, the longer you stay at home the shorter your hospital stay will be. You will be given a Covid test in triage, in addition to the standard triage/admitting procedures. If you test negative, then things will likely proceed as they would in non-Covid times.  If you are having a scheduled induction or Cesarean, you will likely take a Covid test a few days prior.  There will be a limit of one to two people who can be with you. Some hospitals have limited it to one, others are allowing a partner and doula. Whomever your support person is, they will not be given a Covid test at the birth location. They should expect to be masked the entire time, and they will need to stay in the room with you. (Partners, pack extra snacks and clothes!)  Each location has different policies on whether the mom-to-be will be required to wear a mask, regardless of the result of Covid test.  Expect all hospital staff to be masked and gloved when interacting with you.  What if you test positive for Covid when in labor? 
      Expect to have additional measures put into place to keep staff safe while ensuring your safety and baby’s safety. You can talk with your provider in advance about the specific practices of your birth location. Because this is a new virus, there is still much we don’t know. The specifics of what your care will look like during labor, delivery and postpartum, as well as baby’s care, vary by birth location. But expect to be placed in a special room, to potentially have no partner/doula allowed in with you, and for all staff to be wearing PPE. 
      [Related: Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders - The Most Common Complication of Pregnancy and Childbirth (members-only video)]
      Visitors will likely be limited to the partner and possibly the doula. Friends, family members and older children will have to wait to see you and baby once you are home.
      Most hospitals are discharging new moms and babies after 24 hours for a vaginal birth and three days for Cesarean birth. Discharge remains dependent upon Mom being cleared by her provider and baby being cleared by the pediatrician to go home. Breastfeeding/chest-feeding is safe and recommended! 
      When can friends and family visit? Pediatrician recommendations on who and when non-household members come into your circle vary, but generally the baby’s 2-month vaccination appointment can be considered a time marker. You will need to assess the risks and benefits for yourself and your family to determine when you are ready for visitors. There is no one set time that it will feel right for every new family.
      During pregnancy and the first year of parenting, the only constant is change. How we each respond to change is personal but doesn’t need to be isolating. There are many resources that are accessible during Covid: childbirth education and preparation classes have moved online, and so have many pregnant and new parent support groups (check out NPN's New Moms Groups). Therapy and other mental health services have been made easier to access through most insurance companies and with telehealth. Labor support and postpartum doulas, as well as lactation consultants (IBCLCs), continue to offer in-person and virtual care.  
      Pregnancy and postpartum during Covid may be different but you can still find plenty of support. I hope your new baby brings you joy during this uncertain time! 

    • Embrace the challenges of a socially distant Halloween with these creative Halloween ideas for kids and parents during Covid.
      “Halloween is an opportunity to be really creative” – Judy Gold
      Never has that been more true than now. So how do you embrace creativity and find a way to celebrate during these strange times?
      Lights tour
      When our children were babies we would stroll through the neighborhood on a night prior to Halloween, just enjoying the lights away from the crowds. This activity has now become a part of our annual tradition. We’re truly thankful that we can continue this part of our typical celebration during this distinctly abnormal year.
      Pumpkin-decorating contest
      To make a neighborhood tour more personal, you could challenge other families to a pumpkin-decorating contest. Give everyone a few days to check out the competition, then either vote using an online poll (for the truly competitive) or make everyone a winner. 
      Spooky treasure hunt
      For another distanced activity, create your own neighborhood treasure hunt—with a twist. Take a family walk to spot all the spooky chalk drawings your friends have sketched. Check them all off for a cauldron of goodies at the final stop–your home!
      Party at home
      Hats off to anyone who creates their own Zoom party. We can’t quite muster up the will to get online after a week of virtual schooling. Instead, we’re going to party en famille with indoor trick-or-treating. We’re adding some inexpensive orange and black balloons (no helium required) for a homestyle ball pit. And if it’s nice outside, a pinata filled to the brim with candy would seem ideally suited to the occasion.
      Embrace being inside
      For once you won’t have to worry about sensible weather-appropriate clothing, so just let your little ones dress up however they please. Task the younger members of your household with writing a script for their random characters, then let them entertain you with a play. Let’s face it, these dress-up clothes are destined to get plenty of wear over the long, likely-stay-at-home months ahead.
      Costumes with masks
      And if you are venturing outside, finding costumes that include masks is not that hard. (Aren’t they always reminding us not to bring masks into school at this time of year?) We’ve been thinking about ways to bring virus-protection into costumes. The stores have some cute animal face masks which would be perfect paired with feline onesies. Similarly, dressing up as doctors or surgeons is easy-peasy.
      Non-traditional parade
      At this time of year you’re likely mourning your typical Halloween parade, but try remembering that it doesn’t have to follow the usual format. You can have your children walk past the local shops where they will definitely get the desired attention. We might just stand in line at the local donut haunt and have folks filter past us. What’s more fall-appropriate than eating apple cider sugary treats?
      Character visit
      There are services where you can hire a character to visit. However, if you have a bunch of parents that are good sports, how about having one of them dress up as a superhero or other fan favorite. (A dad who showed up to daycare as a unicorn is always remembered as a star.) By waving to the kids at a safe distance they will be like the Santa of Halloween.
      Look to other cultures
      Sometimes it’s better to embrace change rather than try to do what you always did and fall short. Other cultures can provide inspiration. El Dia de los Muertos is an obvious alternative to Halloween. Or offer up gifts of food to pacify hungry ghosts like they do during the Hong Kong festival of Yue Lan. We might celebrate British Guy Fawkes Day on November 5 with a fire pit in lieu of a bonfire.
      Now, more than ever, it’s important to teach our children to overcome hurdles, build resilience and employ creativity. What is more emblematic of that than a re-imagined Halloween?

    • Chicago's Universal Pre-K initiative (free preschool for 4-year-olds) is now being offered to all Chicago families this fall 2022.
      If you have ever felt confusion about Chicago’s public preschool admissions, procedures and offerings, you are not alone.
      The process and nomenclature have changed each year, with various names, programs and application processes to keep track of. Some programs were applied to via the GoCPS portal and others were via a city of Chicago portal.
      This year, however, CPS and Chicago are working together to streamline their programs and finally bring about Universal Pre-Kindergarten (UPK) for all Chicago children who turn 4 years old on or before 9/1/22. While still called Chicago Early Learning, the portal is now under CPS’s umbrella and, starting at 9am on April 19, 2022, the online application will open.
      While details are still being finalized, these are some changes to expect:
      [Related: How to apply for CPS preschools]
      School-based full-day (7 hours/day) sites are prioritized for 4-year-olds; 3-year-olds may be offered half-day programs in community-based sites Families can apply for up to 5 program sites (must rank your order of preference) “Priority Points” will be given to families as follows: those with income or learning needs, siblings, neighborhood school and within a 1.5 mile proximity of a preschool site  There will be an “initial application period” open for about a month, so applications are not first come, first serve until after that period closes in mid-May After first-round offers are given in May, the next rounds will be offered on a rolling basis with 24-hour notification starting in June Application portal is via Schoolmint (same platform as GoCPS) but will not require obtaining a CPS Student ID prior to applying Most families should get one of their top 5 choices Offers are verified through a Family Resource Center or directly at a school or community-based site, with proof of income, address and birth certificate.
      Waitlists will be offered for any programs ranked above the offered choice. 
      Summer transition programs are planned ("Preview to PK" and "Kickoff to Kindergarten") with more information released after offers are sent.  
      [Related: Preschool vs. Pre-K: What's the difference?]
      Read more at Chicago Early Learning & UPK FAQs or call the CEL Hotline: (312) 229-1690. 
      While preschool is not required in Illinois, many families do try to have their children enrolled in some programs for socialization or kindergarten readiness. For 4-year-olds, CPS will house their preschool programs in school facilities with space or in regional “Early Learning Centers,” and applications are available through Chicago Early Learning. The portal also can help families of 3-year-olds find community-based host sites. 
      CPS still has two tuition-free magnet Montessori-based elementary programs that begin at age 3 (Suder and Drummond) where the student can stay until 8th grade. These are the only preschool programs you apply to via the go.cps.edu portal. All other free preschool options should be applied to via the Chicago Early Learning web portal, opening April 19, 2022.
      Tuition-based pre-K will also no longer be offered and had already dwindled substantially over the years. In addition, changes to GoCPS’s elementary process for 2023–2024 applications are being proposed to give “priority points” for students to continue from their preschool and stay there for kindergarten. Starting this October, Chicago Early Learning 4-year-old students enrolled at a CPS school site for preschool can apply to continue at that school for kindergarten via the GoCPS portal. They will be given priority before out-of-boundary, unaffiliated new students are offered spots.
      With Universal Pre-K, the goal is to essentially start a student’s free public school journey at age 4 in preschool instead of 5 in kindergarten. With the newest Chicago Early Learning application, the first steps of that goal are closer to becoming a reality.
      Updated spring 2022

    • Become a safe space for your child by bringing awareness to the uncomfortable feeling of uncertainty that we are all experiencing during the Covid pandemic.
      As the new school year approaches amid the Covid pandemic, we all find ourselves approaching it with a heightened sense of apprehension with a new normal of social interaction. The previous school year concluded with distance learning and parents temporarily thrust into educator roles and many are anxiously wondering what will happen this fall. It’s impossible to know what the future holds, and with no clear roadmap, parents who have been managing anxiety are now struggling.
      The coronavirus has caused significant disruptions to everyone’s daily life, and children are particularly feeling all of these changes as the new “normal” continues to shift. These changes come with a mix of new emotions as the new school year quickly approaches. Some may be hopeful with the excitement of in-person while others may be fearful of returning to the social stressors. Regardless, it is our job as caregivers to support our children in exploring their many feelings while providing a sense of calm to ease anxiety. But how can we do that in a time like this?
      [Related: 4 tips for managing your kids' coronavirus anxiety]
      We often try to soothe our children’s anxieties by having “all” the answers, and you may feel exhausted by trying to force things to be certain. In this situation, it is important to let go of control as nobody is sure of what the future of school looks like. Become a safe space for your child by bringing awareness to the uncomfortable feeling of uncertainty that we are all experiencing. This will be tough but worth it, as figuring out how to manage anxiety and tolerate the uneasy feeling are essential skills for everyone these days.
      Here are some tips on how to navigate conversations about the upcoming school year with your child.
      Empathize and validate. Encourage your child to express any fear or anxiety while letting them know that what they are feeling is normal.
      Use curiosity. Children may have fears revolving around bullying, e-learning, conflicts with friends, or being separated from you. Ask open questions and actively listen while talking through strategies to help your child improve problem-solving skills and feel empowered.
      Emphasize what is predictable. With the uncertainties of the method of schooling these days, focus on what a child can expect—learning new things, interacting with a teacher, etc.
      Continue practicing. Have the family wear a face mask at home in a variety of situations. This can be playing a board game, coloring, or watching a family movie. Doing this will help with not only the potential to return to classrooms but going to places like the grocery store.
      Shift back into a routine. Routines promote feelings of safety and can give a child a sense of control. Create an expected school routine by following bedtimes, getting ready in the morning, etc.
      [Related: Will my relationship survive this virus?]
      Provide reassurance. Revisit the safety measures in place to help keep children and teachers safe. This can ease anxiety about their safety in public spaces.
      Be honest. It’s okay not to have all the answers! We cannot solve all of our children’s problems, but sometimes they don’t need solutions—just to feel understood and supported. Admit that you wish you knew what the future of school looked like, but the reality is that you don’t. You are unable to make all the decisions now, but you will when you have the information you need. With honesty, you are sure not to make promises you can’t keep.
      Acknowledge the uneasiness. It is difficult to sit in the uncomfortable feeling of anxiety as we tend to avoid or resist it. Begin to notice and gently observe what is happening in your body to increase your ability to handle it. By doing this with your children, it will model that it is okay to feel this way—even grownups do!
      Focus on what you can control. It’s easy to get caught up in the unknown and “what ifs?” Notice when this is happening and gently shift to focusing on what is within your control to stay in the present moment.
      Be kind to yourself. Being a parent in the best of times is already the hardest job in the world. It is impossible to avoid anxiety right now but doing the best you can is all you can do!.

    • Communication with your co-parent is key.
      Co-parenting is always a balancing act, but add your child's remote learning into the mix and you could have a real challenge on your hands.
      As always, communication is key. Each parent should be informed on what the back to school process looks like and all available options, knowing that with COVID-19, recommendations and options are changing every day. Discuss with your co-parent the concerns you each have as it pertains to healthcare, your work schedule, and your child’s educational, emotional and social needs. 
      [Related: How to co-parent during the coronavirus pandemic]
      What are some options you can consider? Perhaps a temporary modification of the current schedule to better accommodate the child’s new hybrid learning model or remote learning schedule. Seek out advice from teachers and counselors at your children’s school to help create a good parenting schedule and break up of work among both households. Perhaps brainstorming together about co-teaching different subjects and classes, coming up with activities or homework that can involve both parties. 
      Children will also be in a time of transition during the period of remote or hybrid learning. It is vital as parents to be on the same team with one another, trying to create a fun and educational environment in both homes, finding new and exciting ways to teach and learn given the circumstances. 
      However, co-parents may be facing certain issues that nuclear families do not. For example, a point of contention may arise over which home is more equipped to facilitate remote learning during the week. Do both parents have adequate access to a computer, an extra room or office, or even faster internet? Another issue may be that one parent’s work schedule may allow for more hands-on learning with the child while the other’s work schedule poses time constraints. Parents need to communicate with one another and determine what the best remote learning option is for their child.
      [Related: Have a difficult ex? Co-parenting is still possible with these tools]
      Apps such as Talking Parents and Our Family Wizard should be used for parents to check in and make sure the children are being kept up to date on the school curriculum. Calendar applications within the OurFamilyWizard program can be used to update the other parent on homework for the week and what work has already been completed. Parents also should communicate to ensure that consistency is being maintained. It is expected that both parents get on the same page to facilitate remote learning in equal or similar environments, support one another, and communicate about issues the child may experience.
      If you and your co-parent are worried about the transition to online learning (and parenting) or have already been faced with hiccups when trying to compromise, seeking third-party help is always an option. Mediation, Parenting Coordination or involving a Guardian ad Litem may be the best resources for helping you both come to a healthy resolution or fair compromise. These forms or third-party help can be used to avoid costly litigation and help parents stay grounded in the most important thing: the way your child can learn, progress, and transition to remote learning with ease.
      The Law Office of Erin M. Wilson specializes in family law, litigation, mediation and parenting coordination. 

    • How one Chicago mom learned to appreciate the upsides of quarantining during the pandemic.
      Looking back at the first phase of the COVID-19 pandemic, as much as I was telling myself that everything was OK, I was dealing with my own internal panic:
      I can’t go to Trader Joe’s anymore because they don’t do Instacart. Eek. I am going to have to live with Instacart never getting my grocery order right. Eek! I am not going to get any work done because I will have to share my workday schedule’s blocks of free time to homeschool. Eek. My kids won’t have their normal Saturday activities and are going to become brain-dead from too much screen time and no social interaction. Eek. I will never have any space or time for ME. EEK! I am going to have to spend Mother’s Day with my family and not at the spa. Eek, eek, eek! I am not going to be able to hang out with my girlfriends because we really should be just hanging out outside (this was early in March/April). Eek. I like to work out online, and if I don’t work out I am not going to fit into my summer clothes. Eek, eek, eek. Summer camp is canceled and I still have to work full-time so they are probably going to have one of the worst summers ever (major mommy guilt). EEK. I internalized my personal freak-out as to not add to the anxiety my friends were already experiencing (but definitely let my husband hear it a couple of times). In the absence of a full-on panic attack, these were the thoughts going through my head the first 45-60 days. There was no silver lining—just me holding on as tight as I could to “normal,” all while trying to help keep my family safe and healthy.
      [Related: Help your kids capture memories of this strange year]
      After a while, I unintentionally fell into a new groove—and one not marked by rushing home from school pick-up to do dinner and homework; one free from spending Saturdays running ragged trying to fit in grocery store shopping between kid activities. (Because yes, I am the mom who tries to fit in too much in an unreasonably small amount of time.) I slowly started to experience what I am calling my “pandemic slowdown”:
      Sleep: I was not waking up for 5am workouts after too little sleep, and I was allowing myself to wind down and actually get in the bed at a decent hour.
      Cleanliness: Something about a house out of sorts increases my stress level, so I became more consistent at doing a little every day to keep the house clean and neat, versus saving it all for Sunday afternoons and burning myself out. Not only did it bring my stress level down, but it actually allowed me to enjoy my home.
      Hobbies: Typically, I used vacations as an excuse to dive into books. But with nowhere to go, I fell back in love with reading light, fun fiction. I also discovered adult coloring books (great for mindless relaxing!).
      Exercise: Live Zoom classes are not that bad; they give me a sense of normalcy and something to look forward to in the absence of not yet being ready to go to the gym.
      I have actually grown to enjoy this new normal. While I have never been a fan of working from home, I appreciate the absence of fussing with the kids to wake up and get dressed, and then rushing home from work and doing homework and cooking. I choose not to think about the brain cells that my children are annihilating every day with the exorbitant amount of screen time they are getting because, at the end of the day, they are not going to die from it. I have physically felt myself slowing down. And although my 7- and 9-year-old can’t articulate it, I know that they have felt the slowdown, too (in the absence of Mommy and Daddy fussing at them to move faster and hurry up).
      [Related: A pediatrician's guide to keeping your kids—and your community—safe from flu and Covid]
      Now, don’t get me wrong. While the slowdown has been awesome for my physical and mental health, I still grapple with my fair share of mommy guilt. My kids are literally screen zombies for a ridiculous amount of time each day. I still give my husband the occasional side-eye when I feel like he is not doing his fair share. Homeschooling while working is still like oil and water.
      But at the end of the day, I feel blessed because when we do get back to normal (whatever that new normal will be), I know I am going to PAUSE and make sure that I am not just throwing my family back into the crazy tempo we once had. If there are any blessings from this pandemic, it will be me and my family slowing down and focusing a little bit more on what matters most. I hope that you are encouraged to do the same.

    • You can create heartfelt and meaningful gifts that don’t cost anything, just a little time and some thoughtfulness – and that’s what true gifting is all about. 
      We’re all feeling the pinch. Whether you’re job searching or just unsure what the future holds, saving a few bucks here and there is very welcome these days. I like to advocate for recognizing folks with gifts, but those gifts don’t have to break the bank. These strange times have prompted me to think creatively and find a few zero-cost options to consider. 
      [Related: How to celebrate kids' birthdays while social distancing]
      The obvious zero-cost gift is one of the precious masterpieces that your little ones churn out. Let’s face it, that archival box has more than a couple of pieces you could part with. Digitizing and emailing pictures is super easy. But with just a little more effort, mounting them on some recycled cardstock (even a cereal or pizza box) produces something tangible. 
      Photos are another no-brainer, either of your kids or an image they took themselves. A photo doesn’t have to be another ubiquitous pretty shot, either. We’ve created Warhol-esque pop art, coloring black and white selfies with neon markers. Adding some sparkle with Photoshop Express provides enough magic to satisfy aspiring wizards and princesses. 
      Similarly, video can be used to recognize special occasions. With the Stop Motion app (free), we’ve pulled together still images and set them to music, allowing unicorns to frolic and magnetic letters to spell out messages of hope. Clips (also free) is another one we’ve been experimenting with. The fun backgrounds and effects (such as Star Wars scenery or a sketched appearance) really add a wow factor. 
      Maybe this is the year you actually watered those tomato plants regularly and were rewarded with a good yield – enough to share. Or perhaps you nurtured a beautiful flower garden and know a couple of stems would cheer up a friend. Tied with some ribbon, homegrown items always make touching gifts, now more so than ever. 
      [Related: Reduce the glut of kids' birthday gifts with these fun party ideas]
      Of course, gifts can simply take the form of a kind action. An offer of help is often better appreciated than more stuff. By giving your time you’re showing just how much your fellow citizens mean to you. The whole family can work together to tidy up a neighbor’s front yard or offer to run an errand. 
      Alternately you might decide to add some fence décor to mark a birthday, using banners and decorations you already own. Likewise, making a sidewalk chalk drawing is another wonderful way to spread some cheer, and makes for a lovely surprise – no occasion necessary. 
      Don’t overlook a simple letter or notecard, either. We often neglect to put pen to paper, and yet it really shows thought and effort. Producing the card yourself adds an extra special touch and can be rewarding for the creator as well as the recipient. Try using pressed flowers or fashioning collages with old magazines. 
      We recently commissioned a poet to create a unique piece for an engagement celebration. Poetry has long been something bestowed by an author upon someone esteemed. While we’re not all practiced at prose, developing your own haiku (3 lines totaling 17 syllables) or nonet (one to Google) can make for interesting dinner conversation. 
      With so much uncertainty and grief in the world, it's essential to show others you care. With a little ingenuity, you can create heartfelt and meaningful gifts that don’t cost anything monetary, just a little time and some thoughtfulness – and that’s what true gifting is all about. 


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