What YouTube means for representation

When he was about three years old, my now six-year-old son, discovered YouTube. Like many toddlers and preschoolers, my child would stare in awe as other children un-boxed and played with toys — many of which we had in our very own home, sitting un-played with on a shelf near by.

Maybe it was the comfort of hearing another child’s voice in the home, or the thrill of watching a kid get a new toy, but for whatever reason, my kid just ate this stuff up.

Above all, one YouTube kid kept making his way onto our screen.

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Ryan.

Ryan, the now eight-year-old star of the behemoth YouTube channel, Ryan ToysReview, began making videos with his parents in 2015, and has grown into what may be the biggest child star of my kids’ generation.

What Macaulay Culkin was to the 90s, Ryan is to this decade.

My older son has mostly moved on to watching gamers, but my four-year-old has found his own joy in watching Ryan’s channel.

And, I know that grinds a lot of gears.

Parents, including myself, often disgruntling watched our children stare fascinated at Ryan, all the while calculating in our heads all the money he and his family earn from every single video.

I thought of how this poor child was being exploited, for some sort of bastardization of entertainment. This wasn’t acting, this wasn’t a skill.

Any parent with a cellphone camera could do this.

But, one moment changed my view on Ryan and his YouTube fame. Continue reading

Mystic Aquarium is a wonder of aquatic life

My six-year-old loves learning about sharks, and I’m almost certain we have read every library book available on these fascinating sea creatures. When our family had the opportunity to visit Mystic Aquarium this summer, I was eager for him, and his brother, to see some sharks and other marine life up close.

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From the time we walked in, our family was impressed by the size of the aquarium. The facility boasts plenty of outdoor and indoor exhibits — be prepared to do a lot of walking — and remember with small children, it can be hard to visit everything, so focus on what interests you.

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Growing a love for gardening one community at a time

I was volunteering in my son’s classroom, when his teacher asked me help a few students do some weeding in the school garden. She handed me an example of what to look for, and I thanked her, as I am as far from a “green thumb” as one can get.

My shortcomings in gardening mattered little, as the children themselves schooled me on the finer points of tending to their little plot of various flowers and produce. I thought about how fortunate they were to be part of a educational community that values the importance of learning where our food comes from and teaching future generations to care for and respect the Earth.

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The benefits of spending time outdoors working in the soil are evident, and one Chicago-based woman has made it her mission to show the world that anyone can be a gardener — no matter where they live or their level of experience. Researching for this blog has even started to convince me I might have a shot!

Natasha Nicholes, saw the empty plots of land in her Chicago neighborhood as opportunities. From one small, West Pullman community garden plot started in 2016, the We Sow We Grow project was born. Today, Nicholes spreads her enthusiasm about gardening beyond the reaches of Illinois and has indeed launched a movement to make gardeners out of all of us. Continue reading

It’s time to stop ‘boot-strapping’ parenthood

Scrolling through my Instagram feed the other day, I came across a video featuring a well-known motivational speaker, who this person is doesn’t matter, as the message shared is pretty much the same for the lot of them:

“I worked hard, came from nothing, did this all on my own, became successful, and you can too, if you just tried.”

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At face value, this is an encouraging sentiment, and provides us with that “can-do” attitude we need to achieve our dreams.

Yet. when we dig deeper, we find that success is never achieved in an isolated vacuum, and this message is dangerous no matter what you are pursuing, but it is especially true for parents — women and mothers in particular — who are taught we most work harder, better and smarter, with little or no help from society at large, because this is the American way.

Suck it up, pull up those proverbial “bootstraps,” and do what you gotta do.

This toxic message roots itself deep in our psyche and tells us that asking for help is a sign of weakness. Continue reading

Announcing the Blogging For Better Facebook page

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Last fall, I started a campaign known as Blogging for Better (#bloggingforbetter) as a way of raising awareness and money for various nonprofits. My dream was to bring together a network of bloggers, writers and influencers and use our collective platform to champion those smaller, grassroots organizations which don’t always have the time or money to engage on social media.

Since September, we have raised hundreds of dollars for foundations serving victims of sexual violence, homeless families, children in need of speech services, our veterans and much more.

Though, we still have a long way to go in terms of raising the amount of money I believe these organizations deserve, I am proud of how much this movement has grown over the past nine months.

To support our the efforts of Blogging For Better (#bloggingforbetter), I am excited to announce we are launching a public Facebook page. This page will serve as one-stop place to find all of the great content about our various nonprofits, as well as a home for inspirational stories and ways you can help your community.

In a time when social media can often leave us feeling sad, angry or defeated, Blogging For Better (#bloggingforbetter) will serve to bring some hope and good will to the digital world.

I invite you to like our page, comment on our posts, and share our content.  Also, please feel free to comment on this post with any suggestions or ideas on what type of stories you’d like to hear more about.

Here’s to blogging for better.

“The Sandlot” mom is spot on about free play

“The Sandlot” will always be a film dear to my heart. When the movie was released in 1993, I was 10 years old, around the same age as the rag-tag group of baseball-loving kids enjoying the freedom and joy of summer in the early 1960s.

Though I was never a boy, nor much of a baseball lover, and only knew about the 60s from my parents, every time I watched “The Sandlot,” I felt a deep sense of nostalgia for a simpler time when my biggest concern was the summer ending too fast.

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Even after I was long past those childhood days, my viewing of “The Sandlot” always centered on the action of the kids. They were the heart of the movie, and the kid in me loved to share in their triumphs and defeats. The adults were little more than supporting roles, serving as background for the real action.

Then, my husband and I decided to watch the movie with our two boys. Continue reading

Foundation seeks to make play possible for all kids

We all know how important play is for childhood development, and, few things are as magical as watching a child’s face light up when exploring a favorite toy.

For special needs children, however, toys designed for neuro-typical and physically-typical kids, often fail to meet their fundamental need for play.

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The Gerlach family wants to make the world a more inclusive one for all children. Children, like their son Benjamin, who was born at only 25 weeks old on June 30, 2012. Along with his brother Colin and sister Ava, Ben spent 4-5 months in the NICU.

Once discharged, Ben’s challenges would continue. He relied on a feeding tube, had limited motor ability, visual impairment and was nonverbal. The Gerlachs knew he would have a tough road ahead of him.

Four years later, Ben passed away of respiratory failure on May 2, 2016. Though his life was brief, and often difficult, the Gerlachs were blessed with a happy, thriving child, thanks to the support of friends, family, doctors, therapists and more, who helped him live his best life.

The Gerlachs wanted to honor their sons memory, and honor those heroes who helped him along the way. To do so, they launched the Ben Smiles Memorial Foundation to bring adaptive toys to deserving children and to help spread acceptance of kids with all abilities. Continue reading

Richard Scarry’s “Mother Cat’s Busy Day” is my life

Have you ever read a book, and thought this is my life?

I do, all the time. And those moments of finding yourself in a story are often found in the most surprising places, like a Richard Scarry book.

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Mother Cat’s Busy Day sat on a bookshelf in my childhood bedroom.  Since the book was published after I was already too old to read it, I believe this was a recent requirement of my parents who wanted some children’s books in the house for when their grandchildren were visiting.

As my family was visiting my parents over the Passover holiday, the selection of kids book came in handy. I picked up the copy of Mother Cat’s Busy Day, thinking this would be a cute book to read to my kids.

What I did not expect was how hilariously relatable this book would be.  Continue reading

No veteran should feel alone

On May 12, millions of Americans spent the day celebrating the mothers in their lives. Mother’s Day serves to remind us of all these women have done.

Later this month, Americans will celebrate another special group of people. A group, much like mothers, who put others before themselves. A group who paid the ultimate price for what they loved — their country.

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This Memorial Day, we will place flags on our windows; we will march in parades; we will cheer for those who serve, and bow our heads for those who died in the process. We will swell with patriotic pride.

But, what happens when the parades end, the flags come down, and everyone goes back to their lives?

Like mothers, veterans give their all for what they love. And, like mothers, veterans, all too often, get so little in return.

We praise those who serve, yet when the time comes to provide the services they need to cope with the toll of warfare, America falls short.

Our soldiers return from battle, suffering from the effects of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and are often left to fend for themselves. The resources they find may be limited or too expensive.

One foundation is working to change that. Continue reading

An invader in the womb, and other extraordinary journeys into motherhood

For many, the path to motherhood is unusual, often marked by difficulty and fueled by hope. As someone who experienced a traumatic birth with my second child, I understand how these experiences shape how we parent and who we are as moms.

In celebration of Mother’s Day, I asked my Facebook community to share the extraordinary ways they came into motherhood. These women embody the beauty, grace, love and faith that is being a mom.

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An invader in the womb

Like many couples, Mikenzie, who runs the Facebook page, Me and all my boys, and her husband struggled with infertility. When an IVF cycle helped her become pregnant with twins, the couple was excited their dreams of having a family were realized.

The dream turned into a nightmare, when, during her four-month checkup, a mass was found on one of the sonograms.

Continue reading