beachfront baby water carriers: wrap review

Living in South Florida, we're in the water a lot and not just in the summers, either. There's water everywhere down here and we swim and go to the beach year 'round. Even our zoos and playgrounds typically have splash pads for the kids to cool off from the ridiculous Florida heat. Oh, the heat. It's been especially brutal this year which has been the hardest adjustment in bringing home a new baby. I've been torn between trying to shield Carmen from the record-breaking temps and trying to keep Ethan's outdoor play schedule as normal as possible despite the huge changes at home. Our regular baby wraps and carriers are great for indoors but got to be a little hot for those outdoor ventures. After just a half hour at the playground, both Carmen and I would be roasting whenever I wore her. When I read about Beachfront Baby Wraps, I was immediately smitten by the concept.

The Beachfront Baby Wrap is made from a lightweight, silky, mesh material not unlike a swimsuit. It is breathable and doesn't feel heavy in the water or when wet. While it's perfect for the pool, the Floridian in me feels compelled to point out that this is the perfect wrap for keeping baby close at water parks, theme parks, the playground, the zoo -- anything that brings you outdoors. Hello, breathability. This was the first thing I threw in our suitcase for our upcoming Legoland trip! (The wrap does not provide sun protection, so be sure to always apply sunscreen and take proper measures!)

Our wrap was also the perfect way to introduce Carmen to the water and get her comfortable to being in the pool. Water safety is so important here in Florida especially, and I wanted to make sure she had some level of comfort in the water before beginning her swim lessons in just a couple of weeks.

The best part of the wrap, for me, was the convenience of being able to keep Carmen close while also being able to be attentive to Ethan. He loves practicing the skills he learns in swim class and having a baby in my arms made it hard to devote enough attention to him. Being able to keep Carmen close and safe in our Beachfront Baby wrap freed up my hands enough to make sure I was able to give Ethan the attention he deserved.

Being able to wear Carmen in the water as well definitely gave us some more freedom and allowed us to return to our regularly scheduled water activities (did I mention we swim a lot?) quicker than I imagined. It made taking two children in the pool a lot less daunting!

As I mentioned above, the material is a lightweight, athletic mesh. It dries quickly and doesn't weigh you down in the water or out of the water. It dries quickly and is comfortable to keep on which means you don't have to constantly re-wrap.

I also love how this wrap is perfect for the shower. Finding time to squeeze in a shower is one of the hardest things for me as a mom (please, tell me I'm not the only one) and this wrap definitely makes it easier. I can just wrap Carmen and take her with me to get cleaned off after a long day without having to worry about putting her down or waiting for her to be asleep at night.

The Beachfront Baby Wraps come in different sizes, from petite to XL. I am wearing an XL wrap and it fits great, with just the right amount of stretch for added comfortability (but not too stretchy to lack in support). If wrapping isn't your thing, they also make beautiful ring slings as well! Visit Beachfront Baby Wraps online for more information, including sizing and color options.

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carmen fable: six months

Our incredible, amazing Carmen is six months old today! Half a year old, already, somehow.

Carmen had her six month check-up at her doctor on Thursday afternoon. She weighs 13.4 pounds (9th percentile) and is also in the 9th percentile for height. (We read through Ethan's six month statistics today -- he was in the 75th for height and the 80th for weight. One on each end of the chart, I suppose.) Carmen is in mostly 0-3 month clothing but I can get her to pull off some 3-6 month clothing if it runs on the smaller size and with the help of her cloth diapers.

Carmen loves being worn in the Boba carrier. She wears her Magic Sleepsuit for both naps and at nighttime and is sleeping 11 hour stretches at night. We completely transitioned her from bassinet to crib over the last couple of weeks and she is loving having more room to wriggle around and sleep comfortably. This little one is a mover! She can roll front to back as well as back to front, and she can scoot on her belly across an entire room.

Perhaps her most exciting six month milestone is that she tried her first solid foods!

Ethan has been looking forward to making his sister food since the moment she was born. Ethan's first food was green beans and we purchased the same organic, local green beans that Ethan had for his first solid foods (oh, my heart). He had a blast steaming and pureeing them, but he had the most fun giving her the first taste.

The first day didn't go so well, but now she's enjoying her green beans a little bit more. (Next up: peas!)

Carmen shockingly still has no teeth! Ethan had two by this age and she definitely began teething earlier than he did. I'm guessing teeth will be coming sooner rather than later!

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i'll eat you up, i love you so: the first day of pre-k

Last night you were nervous. You asked if Barack Obama got nervous before his first day of school and your eyes grew wide in disbelief that someone so magnificent could get nervous, too. I realized then that you will never understand the depth of my pride, respect or admiration for you. To me, you are that great and that magnificent.

There is something so absolutely unnatural in a mother releasing the grasp of her child to let them grow. Something unnatural in the naturalness that is the growing up process, as nonsensical as that seems. "It's just preschool," people urge me. "You'll see, you'll be loving it," they assure me. But, my sweet boy, when I chose to have you and raise you and be your mommy, I chose that forever. I chose to soak in every minute of you even the long, overtired days where neither one of us had much to contribute to the day. And I chose all of it knowing that one day the ebbs and flow of the tide would whisk you away into an independent life completely untied from my own. So, yes, it is just preschool. But it is the end of something and also the start of something new, and you sort of half one foot in the queue of school and the other in the river of childhood. Next year, I will hear a lot of people telling me that it's just Kindergarten but it will be so much more than that: it will be both feet on the conveyor belt that will take you into independence and adulthood.

You picked out your shoes this year. We got your feet fitted at Vans and the sales associate brought out "these regular ones your mom picked out or these cool glow in the dark snake skeleton ones" and I winced and laughed because, well, I knew we would be leaving with the glow in the dark snake skeleton shoes. I love them in all of their ridiculousness.

And then this morning, sleepily over breakfast, you asked me what to do if someone teases you. "I guess sometimes kids don't have mommies like you who teach them how to be kind and give them hugs," you rationalized as you bit into your peanut butter sandwich. I am stuck in this place of loving our conversations and your realizations and the beautiful, abstract, intricate view you have of the world and then seeing you as that diaper-clad toddler clapping your palms together with joy when you matched the corresponding colors together in our tot school classroom.

Baby, baby it's a wild world.

I want you to know that I find so much solace in your hugs and that for a brief moment, the wrongs of the world are righted when I get to look into your bright, oceanic eyes. I want you to know that when you are stubborn and we butt heads I am still proud of your strength. I want you to know that there is softness in your smile and that I refuse to let your anxieties deter you from a lifetime of joy because that's how I spent far, far too much of my life. Until there was you.

I want you to know that I will always be on your side and that there is nothing -- literally nothing -- you can't talk to me about because I will always be the support structure holding your messy feelings together and giving them validation. I want you to know that you are peace and love and pride and joy; that you are every abreaction I ever had as a teenager standing before me with your hard part and velcro Vans. "Tell me how much you love me," you asked as we pulled into your preschool parking lot. "Like the stars above," I told you. And then a few moments later inside your classroom you looked up at me and said "you can go now, mommy."

And this is when I realized there will never be words for the level of pride and love and joy and sadness that are balled up in my heart at this moment. I can't expect you to change the world if I don't let you step out into it. I don't have to tell you to be the good, my baby, because you already are.

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of winning and losing

Dear Ethan and Carmen,

My lovebugs, I am constantly scolded that the world is not going to cater to our everyone gets a trophy familial mindset. I understand that. Perhaps the one perk to early puberty were all of the years I got to fake menstrual cramps to avoid gym class or field day or any activity that required showcasing my athletic (in)ability against that of girls who were taught to be winners. For as long as your father and I can raise you and guide you and protect you from the ills of a society that we disagree with often, we will let everyone get a trophy for trying. Trying takes courage, which I learned the hard way.

But more than anything, babies, please believe that winning doesn't matter. You don't have to win. You don't have to be top of your class. You don't need to make your bodies weak and sick and dull from all-night study sessions. You don't have to come in first place or even tenth place. You don't need to win. You don't need to be the best. You don't need to be popular. You don't need to strive to be better, stronger, faster. None of it. Take it all up in your mind and toss it far, far away.

Be true to your heart. Take classes that you enjoy because you enjoy them. Enroll in enrichment activities that make your body and mind fulfilled, even if you're the only one in the class who can't master that yoga move or grasp that artistic skill. Enjoy it all. Enjoy everything you do. Soak up the pleasures of being young, of being children, of being teenagers, of being young adults put into this world to learn and grow and be and do. Listen to music you enjoy, even if everyone thinks it's weird. Let the sunlight warm your skin and the fresh air flow through your lungs because you, children, are allowed to not be burdened by expectations to perform on tests or assessments.

You are just children and I am surrounded so often by mothers craving more for their children: more homework. More testing. More assessments. More grades. More structure. More. More. More. And slowly I shirk away with whispers of less, less, less. Less of the things that don't matter. More living. More loving. More being the incredible people that you are. If an assessment test decides you are average, know two things: there is no shame in being average and also you are the farthest thing from average. You cannot be defined by a performance on a test or by your ability to memorize mathematical equations that you will never see in your adult life. You are defined by your kindness, by your warmth, by your gentleness, by the way you exist in the world around you. You will hear from many that those things don't matter, but listen closely, lovebugs: nothing matters more.

It is a cutthroat world. You will often be picked up and placed on a hypothetical race track and expected to run, sprint, leap; expected to out perform your peers and be the best. Be the fastest. Be the strongest. Be the smartest. Be the one who pole vaults their way onto an accelerated education and takes the fast track to Ivy League colleges.

But listen to me, babies: when you stay true to yourself, you've already won.

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I am listening to my husband and Ethan bake cookies in the kitchen. After an entire day of boycotting naps, Carmen fell asleep at 7:30 and I'm trying (but not too hard) to not be lulled to sleep myself listening to her white noise machine over the video monitor. It's been a long day. We are in the throws of a new and exciting (I'll keep telling myself that) season of life and I am handling the change poorly (that's code for eating lots of chocolate) and it's all just very overwhelming. Four out of five days of summer camp as a prequel to school down and it's apparent I'm really bad at getting my kid dropped off someplace on time. I guess this is the thing that Experienced Moms joke about, car lines and drop offs and school events that I've never been able to join in any conversations about because my kids were little and school was so far in the future. Well, here I am. This is my stop. (Please pass the chocolate.)

Tonight the cloth diaper laundry will wait and I'll leave the LaCroix cans littered all over the tables because it must be at least midnight, only it's not even nine. I'm listening to my husband and Ethan bake cookies in the kitchen and Ethan is so hopped up on sugar and adrenaline and whatever-it-is that makes five year olds run at the speed of light constantly, and my husband is so obviously exhausted but acting so engaged in measuring organic cane sugar. It's hard not to smile through the exhaustion as Ethan is chattering about wanting a spot of tea and my husband has no idea what he's talking about and in nine minutes the cookies will be done and everyone is just so overdue for bedtime. I'm equal parts exhausted and also pumped and ready to take on the future that is staring me in the face. It's where exhaustion meets happiness and even though your eyes are burning, with the last bits of energy you're able to muster, your mouth forms a smile.

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finn + emma wooden rattle teethers

Ethan was an easy teether. We didn't even know he was getting teeth until they simply popped up one day. He never had an ounce of discomfort or desire to gnaw -- which is a good thing, I suppose, despite the fact I was prepared with an entire drawer full of wooden teethers and "chew toys" (we can call baby toys that, right?). Carmen, on the flip side, is a miserable teether. The buckets of drool and snot and swollen gums -- she's got it all. We were absolutely delighted to find these wood teething rattles by Finn + Emma just in the knick of time. I say "we" because I'm totally captivated by how adorable they are but then there is Carmen who is grateful for the ability to gnaw on something to help her sore, tired gums.

Not only are the teethers a safe wooden alternative to harmful plastics (they're made from untreated Indian hardwood), but they're also rattles. This means they're still fun for Carmen to play with even when her desire to gnaw has briefly subsided.

At age 5, Ethan also likes to use them as maracas to sing his sister lullabies (can we talk about how he pronounces the word as "wollabyes" and how that makes my heart just melt into a pile of goo?) at bedtime. The rattle teethers are filled with Indian cooking beans for a soft, oceanic sound that are every bit as soothing to listen to as they are to chew on. Finished with a non-toxic vegetable seed wax finish, parents can rest assured that these are every bit safe for little hands and mouths.

I love the modern yet classic design of Finn + Emma's toy selection, which far exceeds these rattle teethers. Among their inventory are play gyms, stroller toys, pacifier clips and more, each one fair trade and safe for your little lovebug.

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both sides now

When Carmen joined our family, I swear I felt our entire circle of friends and family let out some collective sigh of relief. There. Life was good now, again. Life was safe and warm and happy. I would again get to know the feeling of two a.m. feedings and painful exhaustion and what it's like consoling a screaming infant as your older child runs rampant through the Target aisles. There. Life was good again, regrowing where the grass was seared at the dead end.

And it was good again. Life, I mean. It was good again for the first time in a while, like the hollow wound throbbing and bleeding in my side had been properly tended to and healed and stitched to perfection with ointment to stop the ache. There is always that reflexive wince when someone calls me a mom of two, or asks if we plan on another child, or points out how fortunate I am to have "one of each" sex, or things that seem so commonplace to regular moms. It stings just subtly enough for me to always remember that I'm never going to be a regular mom again, even though I was one once.

That's sort of what grief leaves you with as some shitty consolation prize for the ringer you've survived: pieces of normalcy, but not an entire picture. There will always be one child that my body carried who will be missing from our family photographs or holiday traditions, one child not seen when well-meaning strangers inquire about the age gap between Ethan and Carmen. You don't even know the half of it, I will think as a fast-paced montage of heartbreak and diagnosis and tragedy and death and infertility and uncertainty flash before my eyes before ending with a photograph of Carmen. Oh, sweet Carmen, with her gigantic, sparkling eyes. She is the sweetness at the end, yes. She has duct taped the normalcy back into our lives so that we function like a normal family. But there are always those reminders that normalcy is a thing of the past.

Sometimes I look back at old photographs of my husband and I when we were teenagers and just making our love known. Our engagement, our wedding. The smiles and selfies-with-film-cameras and blissful naivety that comes from thinking everything would be normal because we were normal and our lives were normal and there was nothing exciting or different about us at all. There's that little feeling of invasion that happens, too. That uneasy feeling you get when your home has been robbed while you weren't home, knowing someone has been touching your stuff and invading your privacy. That feeling sort of tags along with grief, too. Something just sort of takes a piece of you and rearranges things without your permission. The security doesn't regenerate even when life becomes better again, brighter again. It's just sort of dead, too.

I always had this vision that I wanted all of the things for my children that I didn't have. I want siblings and loud, magical Christmases and birthday parties with cousins. I wanted to be a grandmother who welcomed all of my children and my many grandchildren into my home on Sundays for big, boisterous dinners. There was no guarantee of that, of course. My children could all decide to not want children, to travel the world, to settle down in a yurt in Mongolia somewhere. But there's still that piece of you that goes what if and feels the quietness of your own life and wants more, louder, bigger things. The what if is hard to lose, too. It clings to you and trumps any rational thought or logic because it is fueled by grief.

In the immortal words of Tupac Shakur, it's got you staring at the world through your rearview.

There are the nights where I cry silently in bed because the happiness tickles my bones and makes my stomach flop with eagerness and joy and a general feeling of life that I can still remember thinking was gone forever. I can still feel the sorrow so deep that breathing physically aches and you're not sure that you can trudge through another day, hour, minute because your bones shake, your joints are stiff and the exhaustion is suffocating. I've come out the other side. I've climbed out of the ravine and my muscles no longer tremble and I feel refreshed, yes. I feel happiness again. Joy in it's purest form. But there are the aches that still get you when you least expect them and I know that I'll never fully recover from the injuries but I can succeed at wearing my gameface while walking it off. It's an awkward dance, an uncomfortable balancing act that accompanies life after tragedy. The ability to see life from both sides, or something.

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how the hell did we get here

There's a song by Matt Skiba & The Sekrets called How The Hell Did We Get Here? and it was probably the turning point in me realizing that Ethan was at an age where he not just listened to lyrics, but regurgitated them properly. ("Target? We're at Target? How the hell did we get here?" and other appropriately used exclamations shouted out in the correct tone when just enough people were around to hear.) "School starts next week," I lamented as usual one morning. "How did we get here already, buddy?" He was silent for a minute and then asked "how the hell did we get here?" with just enough sing-song familiarity for me to realize he was recycling lyrics I probably should have stopped letting him listen to in the car months ago.

"Good question."

Ethan decided that he wanted to attend summer camp at his gym the week before school began. "I want to stay all day," he assured me. I've realized that motherhood is very much walking a fine line between squashing the independence out of your child and desperately trying to stay sane while grappling with a terrifying reality. And so, with bursts of tears at random, I dropped Ethan off at camp. I dropped him off with a packed lunch he would eat with people who aren't me, and said goodbye and walked out the door understanding that I could not protect him for the next few hours. He says things like "I have a water bottle with my name on it and a rocket ship, what else could I need?" and he smiles so purely that I have to bite my tongue so hard to not force him to understand the harshness of the world that he has just begun to wade in.

My husband doesn't understand because he was cool. He was well-liked. He got along with everyone and liked the things other children liked, and to this day watches the television shows that other people watch. He liked sports and Rancid and politics and computers and always has something to talk about everyone with because he's well-rounded and likable and tall and handsome and can pull it together even when it feels like the world is spiraling out of control. I, on the other hand, began elementary school pretending my name was Selena Valenzuela because I'd watched La Bamba too many times (what kid loves La Bamba?) and began middle school frighteningly close to legitimately believing I was a cast member of The X-Files. In high school, I listened to emo bands with long, strung out names about being miserable and drew sad faces on my Converse with Sharpies. Ethan is a little bit more like me. Okay, he's a lot bit more like me. And so I worry.

Motherhood is also a fine line between encouraging your child to be who they are even if that means they're pretending to be an alien and wanting to drop kick the next kid who points and laughs and calls your kid weird.

I have been staying up half the night (which means binge eating bowls of sugary cereal at 2 a.m. because that's how I cope) worrying about school despite the fact he's only enrolled two days a week. And now I have been trying to put my big kid shoes on and swallow the idea of camp for a few hours each day, too. Camp is easier to digest. Ethan has been attending classes at his gym since he was eight weeks old and so his teacher is more a part of our family than people who are actually a part of our family, but still. There is a piece of me that aches when he is away from me and I'm well aware this is just the beginning. As he smiles and runs into the gym for camp, I close my eyes and can picture him slamming his bedroom door to sob away his first heartbreak or to tune me out because the perils of high school are too tedious to discuss with your mother. That's how fast life goes, isn't it? That's what grandparents are always nagging for you to understand, that life just goes so damn quickly? One day, you're twenty five years old rocking your first baby all night as he reflux-style vomits all over your hair and you cry because you don't know what you're doing and then you blink and you're waving your first baby off to Pre-K. Or camp. Or both.

How the hell did we get here?

The other day before he ran in the gate to swim class, Ethan turned around and said "I'm going to make you proud today, mommy." Already teetering on the edge of sanity from this school debacle, I felt my eyes well with tears. I realized then he will never begin to understand the depth of my pride or how devastatingly proud of him I already am and always will be. Everything he does makes the world outside of his smile seem dim and dull. He will never know how even the silliest things like playing at camp for four hours makes me feel like he's just accomplished something so big, or how when he smiles I know that there is nothing he can't do.

I'm not sure how the hell we got here already, but I do know what an honor it has been to be a part of his journey. Even if that means sobbing unapologetically into the speaker at the Starbucks drive through because there is no one in the backseat shouting "venti iced water!" when I'm trying to order my coffee.

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safe sleep with nested bean: introducing the zen sack (+ giveaway)

Safe sleep is so important to me. I am constantly trying to learn more, do more and be more when it comes to spreading awareness of sleep safety. I loved swaddling my babies and knowing they were cozy and safe on their backs in their beds. Ethan remained a steady back sleeper for a lot longer than Carmen. I found that she was busting out of swaddles and rolling herself over very early on, which meant in the name of safety, I had to tuck the swaddle blankets away and look for additional safe sleeping gear. When Nested Bean contacted me about their Zen Sleep Sacks, I was excited to try one out and ultimately learn more about it.

Off the bat, there are a couple really cool features about the Zen Sack that sets it apart from other sleep sacks on the market.

The adjustable snaps. Oh, hello, gorgeous! I loved this feature. Carmen, as most preemies are, is still small for her age. Having the ability to snap the shoulder straps smaller not only helps tailor the fit to her small stature, but offers the opportunity for her to have plenty of room to grow -- and have the Zen Sack grow with her. As all moms know, it feels like we are constantly sizing up and buying new products for our babies. It's always nice to save a little bit of money and have the products grow with our little ones!

The weighted panel. Even at 5, Ethan loves to fall asleep with my hand resting on his chest or on his back. "Just hold me, mommy, until I'm asleep" is still part of our nightly routine. Not much compares to a mama's gentle, loving touch. The lightly weighted panel on the chest of the zen sack imitates a mother's touch, allowing your baby to feel comforted by you when sleeping safely on their backs in their crib.

The two way zipper. Unlike sleep sacks that zip up the center or are secured by buttons or velcro, the Zen Sack has an innovative two way zipper design. This makes diaper changes a breeze without waking a sleeping baby. As parents who cloth diaper, I like to change Carmen often and keep her dry as she sleeps. Having the ability to stealthily sneak in diaper changes without waking the sleeping baby is such a wonderful treat!

The Zen Sack comes in two size options: 3-6 months (pictured here, which Carmen opted for) and 6-12 months. The 3-6 month Zen Sack is good for babies up to 18 pounds. At 5 1/2 months, Carmen is still just over twelve pounds which means she will have plenty of room to grow into this size. Itty Bitty Carmen aside, I loved that there even was a 3-6 month option. When going through my bins and drawers of Ethan's old sleep sacks, I was frustrated that none of them seemed to be offered in sizes small enough. When you've got a feisty, super active preemie, your options are typically pretty slim. I loved that the Zen Sack begins at 10 pounds which makes it perfect for smaller movers and shakers.

Like most of the most genius products on the market, The Zen Sack was developed by a mom who knew first-hand about the importance of touch and how much young children depend on our touch to sleep soundly. I actually found the science behind the Zen Sack pretty cool (did you know many NICU's use small products to apply light pressure to the chests of babies under stress to help them sleep soundly?) and loved that these products were tested and approved by pediatric pulmonologists during development.

With a TOG level of 0.5, the Zen Sack is built for year round comfort and is made of super soft, super cozy 100% cotton. The first year can be an exhausting time for babies who are doing so much growing and developing and for the mamas who are doing so much worrying, patting, reassuring, rocking, loving -- I love that the Zen Sack can tack a few extra blissful hours of sleep on for everyone's reassurance. When your babies are sleeping safely, you, exhausted mama, are able to sleep a little more soundly! For those of you who are not quite at the sleep sack stage yet, I also encourage you to check out The Zen Swaddle. We could all use a little more zen in our lives!

The amazing, generous folks at Nested Bean have offered me the opportunity to host a giveaway for one of my readers to win a Zen Sack of their very own. Here's to some extra shut eye for a lucky winner!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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a birth mother is not the enemy

I still can't believe she picked me.

I think this often when Carmen is looking at me with her joyful, bright brown eyes. Somewhere out there is a mother with empty arms. Not only does she not have the opportunity to watch her baby grow or reach all of her milestones, but she chose that inexplicable pain for the sake of her baby. For our daughter. Our daughter. She carried our daughter in her body and nourished her as best as she could and then gave birth to her and said goodbye. She did that because she loved our daughter too much to let her go without.

Sometimes when people scrunch up their noses and say "what kind of person would give up that beautiful baby?" or "I hope she knows this is your baby now," I wonder if they process that. If they can process that, even half of it. I wonder -- especially when they have children -- if they can understand the magnitude of the sacrifice the mother of our daughter made. I can't imagine the strength it took to admit that you did not have what it takes to provide to your child, that you weren't in the position to mother your child as they deserved to be mothered. I can't imagine the strength it took to knowingly choose someone else to parent your child, knowing the milestones you would be forever missing and the fact that your baby was calling someone else mommy forever. What kind of person, they wonder? Well, a magnificent one. A brave one. A pretty special one, even.

I mean, step back for a minute. Imagine looking through stacks of books and flipping through pictures and reading stories and looking for the people who would become your child's parents. Think about that for a minute. And understand not only the magnitude of the strength and bravery that Carmen's birth mother possesses, but the depth of the honor I carry.

She read our story, she saw our pictures and she chose us. She saw me and said "that's the one" and I'm still waiting for that to fully sink in, to feel remotely worthy. I can assure you that she isn't confused, and she understands with her tattered heart that we are Carmen's parents.

But she is her mother, too. You don't just stop being a mother when your child dies, or when you place (not give up, please) your baby into another family. To think such is to completely discredit the unrelenting bond between mother and child. Carmen will always be made up of the love of her biological mother. No time or distance or adoption will be able to take that away, and that is a comfort that brings me warmth, too. What kind of monster would want their child to feel unwanted, unloved?

Unlike most of the friends I've made in the online adoption circuit, we do not have an open adoption. There is anonymity for the most part, some level of privacy for every aspect of life except our electronically submitted photos and updates. There is loss in never having met Carmen's birth father, a loss I carry deep in my heart. I was never able to see his face -- which resembles Carmen so, so very much -- in person. When people "what kind of person" me, I wonder what part they're missing. I wonder why they can't understand the unconditional love that I feel for Carmen's birth mother who will always be without, for her siblings who will always be without, for her father who will always be without. They are related by blood to our daughter, to our world, our stars, our sunshine, our rainbow. I mean, they picked us.

They saw our pictures and they picked us. They sacrificed the first smile, sibling relationships, the warm sighs of a milk drunk baby ready for sleep. They sacrificed because they love Carmen with the fierceness that we do. They love her as much as we do and they picked us to love her.

Too often, the birth mother figure is painted as a villain. Someone who was inadequate, who failed somehow, who couldn't pull things together because they didn't care or didn't want to. Too often, a birth mother is someone careless and dirty, someone who is not worthy. Part of me blames the "innocent, pregnant teenager" fallacy for this -- too often, this is the only acceptable form of birth mother and, yet, statistically, it is one that truly doesn't exist as portrayed in film and on television. Carmen's birth mother is not our mortal enemy. She is not an opponent, a rival, someone on another team competing against our own.

She is the woman who gave birth to our daughter and asked me to be her mother. She picked me. And I will spend the entirety of my life fighting for her honor, and the honor of all birth families who are too often not represented fairly. How can I express my gratitude to the woman who, bleeding and stomach stapled from surgery, fought her tears and handed our daughter to us?

She picked us. She picked me. And I pick a lifetime of existing to make her proud.

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back to school: cool threads for your cool kid

Ethan starts Pre-K in just a couple of weeks. When my husband and I made the decision to redshirt Ethan, school felt so far away. With Kindergarten approaching next year, we also knew we wanted a somewhat transitional experience for Ethan to get used to a classroom setting and learning outside the home. And so it is, he will be beginning a part-time Pre-K program in just a couple of weeks. I will fully admit that I'm completely overwhelmed with emotion at the thought of it being school time for Ethan (where did the time go?) but he and I have been having a great time getting school ready.

Today, we're talking wardrobe. I am a huge small shop supporter and I try to get the bulk of my kids clothes from small businesses whenever possible. Here are just a few of the threads in Ethan's school-ready wardrobe rotation!

Public School Prodigy tee by Kids & Coffee Clothing

Okay, this one is a shameless plug -- sort of! My friend Lisa and I are the moms behind Kids & Coffee Clothing, but the tees we make come from our hearts and (okay, maybe slightly warped) minds. Tongue in cheek snark aside, we also are big believers in spreading love and kindness.

Because Nice Matters tee by Kids & Coffee Clothing

Speaking of spreading love and kindness, it's also important to me to keep Ethan's wardrobe true to who he is. Those generic graphic tees in the big box stores with mud splatters and monster trucks and cheery sports slogans don't really scream "Ethan." Another perk to shopping small is getting to capture a more specific glimpse into his true self and personality.

Boys Will Be... Tee by Wire & Honey

Adventure Tee by The Blue Envelope

Be Kind Always Tee by The Blue Envelope

And It Was Still Hot Tee by Wunderland Kids -- this one Ethan requested we purchase for his first day of school. "To remind me of you and home, where I am loved most of all," he said. (Heart melt.) Remind me of this when he's a teenager.

Seuss Tee by Hatch For Kids

Free Spirit Tee by Savage Seeds

I Need My Space Tee by Passive Juice Motel

Eazy E Tee by Passive Juice Motel

And for all those times when my kids closets need some filler, can I take a moment to gush about the new Cat & Jack line offered at Target?! I scored all these at $4 a pop last night on an on-a-whim formula run!

You know, it's the little victories. #momlife

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