Interview // Rebecca Volynsky, Artist

Tell us about your business / current project.

I am up to my neck in personal projects these days! I had a really challenging fall/winter season, and I'm very thankful for the opportunities that came my way in recent months. It's easier said than done - but it is amazing what can happen when you stick to your work and believe in yourself.

In addition to the closing reception of my exhibition at Lady Project Works on May 26th from 5 - 9 PM ... I had an interactive installation at the Hope St. Block Party sponsored by the Hope Street Merchants Association on Saturday, May 20th. I am wheat-pasting a series of public art pieces for PVDFest in partnership with the Providence Art, Culture & Tourism Department, The Dean Hotel, Cornish Associates, New Urban Arts, and the Hope Street Merchants Association starting May 28th through June 18th. There is also a possible mural project in the works for the summer months.

Meanwhile, I've been making bagels, researching various Jewish/Russian recipes, practicing yoga, and working on my new garden plot. I like to bounce around the different facets of my creative practice, and community public art projects/event planning are the main focus lately.

Why did you choose the career that you have?

My career and education paths have always been very loose. I always take a step back, make a huge leap to the side, and then venture off in a different way when I discover a new interest. I believe this is how I ended up with an array of passions and creative outlets - not a single career path. My artwork, culinary projects, event planning, and community work, however, all center on the act of creating inspiring experiences and connecting people.

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When did you take your biggest risk (in life or business)? Was it worth it?

There is a lot of worth in knowing your *self worth*. I have moved several times, ended relationships and friendships, and left jobs before because I knew that I, not only deserved more but had the potential to offer more. This is so important to address because you have to learn how to say "no" to the things that sometimes just don't work out. This has allowed me to become more honest and serious about creating a positive future for myself.

When things get rough, how do you keep yourself going?

I let it out. There comes a time when keeping things in is more difficult than being honest with yourself and addressing the issues at hand. Whether it is through baking, painting, working in my garden, or chatting with my therapist - I find a way to ease my anxieties. I am so exhausted by the often advertised "all or nothing" / "I'll sleep when I'm dead" mentality when it comes to work and entrepreneurship. It's critical to completely shut out your work life sometimes, unplug, find peace of mind, and take care of your damn self.

Where do you find your inspiration?

I've actually found a lot of inspiration in the acts of letting go. 

I have thought about this a lot recently, and I have found that you have to be willing to let go of the things that do not serve you - such as fear - in order to live the life you want. This can be challenging if fear is all you have grown accustomed to; however, learning to let it go can be one of the most subversive, badass, life-changing things.

This translates to my artwork because making art is a very therapeutic and meditative practice for me. Allowing myself to let go and feel vulnerable through art making, practicing yoga, or meditating builds room for creation and setting positive intentions. When it's difficult to dive into that space in the present moment, it is easier to do so through getting into a creative flow. This is not about thinking "where have I been?" in the past, or "where am I going?" in the future - but, rather, it is about proclaiming "here I am, I exist" in the present. Finding that space has become the real purpose of my personal art practice.

7 Podcasts That Will Change How You Think About Motherhood

In the course of one spring, I bought a house, became a mom, and started listening to podcasts. All of these things changed my life in surprisingly equal ways. 

In the early days of motherhood, I was awake during the wee, dark hours and cocooned in the tiny, sleepless world of taking care of my little one. Podcasts became my lifeline—they kept me company and fed me with ideas, stories, and connections with the larger world. 

Here are seven podcast episodes that share different perspectives on motherhood for the mommas out there, those who are trying or considering what it would mean to become one, and those who know they never want to be a mom. 

1. Dear Sugar, Episode #51: The Inevitable Guilt of Motherhood

Dear Sugar is an advice column podcast hosted by the wise and generous authors Cheryl Strayed (Wild) and Steve Almond. In this episode, they address two guilt-ridden letters that cut right to my heart: one from a new mom balancing career ambition and motherhood, and one from a mom who is caring for both her dying mother and new baby. It is a touching, heartfelt, and complex conversation.

So much of my journey into motherhood was learning about how to manage guilt—in little moments, when I left the house to go to a yoga class, or big moments, when I considered new professional responsibilities and how they might diminish my ability to be there for my baby. Like so many women, I navigated this while swarming in the middle of a storm of healing, adjusting, and managing the responsibilities and expectations placed on me by others, and by myself. 

2. The Longest Shortest Time, Episode #79: Terry Gross on Not Having Kids

The early episodes of this show focused on surprising challenges in early parenthood, and they were my gateway drug into podcast listening. They brought me so much comfort in my daughter’s early days, showing me that I wasn’t going through it alone. More recently, host Hillary Frank expanded the show’s focus, and I love how it now focuses on all things parenthood—including deciding not to become a parent.

In this interview with the one and only Terry Gross (host of NPR’s Fresh Air), Terry talks about being childless or child-free, balancing depth, brutal honesty, and humor. It touches on how making the choice to be a parent is only a meaningful option and not an obligation if women like Terry choose to forge another path—and how society questions how fulfilling being a "childless" women can really be.

Terry is rarely the one answering the questions, and this is a great chance to learn more about her interesting life. She doesn't let Hillary get away, though, without asking a bold question that only Terry Gross can make sound non-judgmental and safe: "Hillary, do you ever regret having children?"

3. Death, Sex & Money: The Great Guest Takeover

Death, Sex & Money, hosted by Anna Sale, focuses on “the things we think about a lot, and need to talk about more.” Anna is a skillful interviewer, asking questions that get at taboo subjects. Her voice is full of warmth and curiosity. 

The episode I recommend is different from the usual: it briefly previews a series of four episodes that aired during Anna’s maternity leave in the fall of 2016. In each episode, one of her former guests becomes the interviewer and invites someone they’d like to talk with on the show. In one, Sonia Manzano (aka Maria from Sesame Street) interviews Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor. 

But the best part of these episodes isn’t the deep conversation between interviewer and guest; it is the short break in the middle of each interview when they call Anna to check in on how her maternity leave is going. We get to hear Anna on the phone, baby cries in the background, speaking honestly about how life is changing for her. 

What I love about this is that Anna took an intentional approach to making her maternity leave “visible.” In an interview in NY Magazine, “Don’t Hide Your Maternity Leave,” Anna talks openly about how important it was for her to not disappear during maternity leave, and how that time gave her space to learn to care for her baby, reset her priorities and changing identity, and think of some big ideas for her work.

4. Modern Love, Episode #14: My First Lesson in Motherhood

I love the Modern Love podcast for its simple format. Hosted by the warm and wise Meghna Chakrabarti, it features well-known actors reading essays from the New York Times Modern Love column. The wide range of essays touch on all different types of love—in that way where they are about very specific stories, but somehow feel completely universal and relatable in their themes. Afterward, the actor tells a bit about why they chose the essay, and we hear from the essay’s author.

In this episode, Connie Britton reads Elizabeth Fitzsimons’, “My First Lesson in Motherhood,” a personal essay about a woman’s almost immediate challenges with a daughter adopted from China. It is heart-wrenching and speaks to the commitment and vulnerability of motherhood. 

5. Reply All, Episode #57: Milk Wanted

Reply All bills itself as “a show about the internet,” but it is so much more. It’s my favorite podcast of all. I feel as though hosts Alex Goldman and PJ Vogt are my brothers; I’ve spent so much time with their voices and stories straight into my ears, laughing together. And they have the best laughs ever. I’m always impressed by how the show balances fun with in-depth journalism, diving in to uncover surprising and compelling stories. 

In this episode, producer Phia Bennin wades into the complex world of breast milk markets. She discovers the surprising history of breast milk in the United States, how difficult and expensive it is to come by, and just how desperate parents can be to get it for their babies. And, of course, the internet has a big role to play in all this.

As someone who struggled intensely with breastfeeding, this episode hit close to home. Before becoming a mom, I knew nothing about milk banks and their scarcity in the U.S. Now I know!

6. Startup, Season 5 Episode #4: Running a Family and a Business

Startup is all about what it takes to start and scale a business. In all of its five seasons, though, it’s never touched on the topic of parenthood. In this episode, Diana Lovett, the founder of a socially responsible chocolate company called Cissé Cocoa, talks with an executive coach about her #1 challenge: managing the relentless guilt of running a business and being a mom

Whether you own your own business or not, this episode will surely strike a chord with moms who are trying to juggle career ambition with being there for their families—it inspired me to reframe the “lacerating guilt” I feel day in and day out as remorse, and to slow down and break down how I can forgive myself for being imperfect, and in doing so, teach my daughter a valuable lesson.

7. Pregnant Pause, Episode #1: Wandering in the Desert 

When I started listening to Pregnant Pause, I felt like I had time traveled back to Sunday breakfast at Rue de L’Espoir circa 2014, which is where my husband and I had most of our talks about what it might mean to become parents. Over eggs and cornmeal muffins, we asked each other big questions, shrugged, and sat in the discomfort of the uncertainty, excitement, dread, and joy for what might be ahead of us. 

Pregnant Pause is essentially those conversations. Zak and Shira, the married podcast creators, document their intimate conversations about whether parenthood is in the future, and they talk to friends, family, writers, and scientists for input and perspective. 

The questions that they’re grappling with are so relatable and humorous—from “How will this change our relationship?” to “Won’t it be a pain in the butt to pack up all of the baby’s stuff in the beach bag?” Even as a mom of a two-year-old, these questions still resonate with me. Listen from the beginning.

What are your favorite podcasts on motherhood? Let us know!

What I Have Learned From Being a Stepmom

I sat and stared at a blank screen for what seemed like an hour, watching the cursor blink, before I could write. The truth is I don’t talk openly to everyone about being a stepmom. I wasn’t sure how I was going to navigate through this topic with grace and ease. It seemed so… personal. I am highly transparent as a writer, and this deserves truth telling. I also don’t think I am the authority on being a stepmom, some days I think I suck at it. Then I thought it might be odd for my stepdaughter, who is in the throes of her teenage years, to witness my writing on the topic. She more than likely would not want her stepmom blabbing about the trials of step parenting. 

But she trusts me, and that’s the thing about being in this role. That’s the thing about our relationship. You have to earn it. 

When I first met my husband he was newly divorced with a bright-eyed four-year-old daughter. She had yet to understand the complicated layers of divorce, and it was bittersweet. I knew I didn’t want children, and I had parents who were still in love after decades of marital bliss, so divorce and children were not in my realm of understanding. This relationship surprised most, maybe even you as you’re reading this, but not as much as it surprised me. 

At first, it felt like I was the neighborhood babysitter, responsible on the surface, or on a part-time basis. But slowly as I dove deeper into the relationship, I came to the realization that this was not about me and my boyfriend. From the beginning, it has always been three of us. Even on those “it’s not my weekend”, it was always three. This little person was the other half to my half. If I wasn’t ready for adulting, I was being asked to be. This was not a drill. 

I have layers of feelings and truths centered around being a stepmom, in all its messy, complicated, joyful and emotional beauty. What I am still struggling to figure out, what I’ve learned and what I know for sure. These are those truths that I have learned speak the loudest. 

Understanding My Role  

When my stepdaughter was six she broke her arm. We rushed to meet her and her mom at the hospital and when we got there I froze up. I didn’t want to go inside. I sat in the car for hours while they were casting her arm. I felt guilt around that choice for years and made myself out to be a complete wimp. It later dawned on me why my instinct was to keep my distance, and it was simple. She needed her mom and dad, she was six and scared. 

I made a conscious choice early on that my role in her life was not to replace a parent. Twelve years later, I still feel the same and I believe it has formed its own unique relationship between the two of us because of that decision. With both parents present in her life, I knew the best stepmom I could be was someone who was there to listen, set an example of love but never overstep.  

On Giving Real Advice

One of my biggest struggles has always been the concern that I am giving the wrong advice, or that I am asking the wrong questions. When we give advice to a friend, we can retract, refrain even joke. But to a child, or to a teen that is not your biological child? It’s larger than that. I have learned to be myself, and in those moments of “oh shit, she is reaching out to me right now for real life advice”, I say whatever I feel is right. 

My words may not impact or make sense to her now, but in the future, it may have the potential to lift her up. If there is one thing I will always want as a stepmom, it is for her to know she can talk to me. Anytime, anywhere. And those moments she approaches me before her dad? Oh, they are bliss. Not because I win, but because I have established myself as someone she can confide in.  

How I See Her Mom is Everything

I do not see her mom as someone my husband was in love with, or romantically involved with. You can roll your eyes and think I’m full of it, but truly I don’t. Although their past is present in my life through my stepdaughter, I have always been steadfast in my belief that what happens prior to anyone’s presence in a situation is not our story to tell. I see her mom as a mom, to a beautiful teenage daughter. 

When my step daughter was five and graduating from kindergarten, I watched her mom beam with love. Then again when she graduated from middle school, I saw her as a mom with tears in her eyes, watching her baby girl grow up. A woman who loves this child to pieces. 

I will always respect the role she has in her life, and understand my bond is not the same. Understanding that is ok and it’s essential. When you are not the biological parent you can still care for and love this child, and want the best for them, however the bond between a mom and her daughter is magic and not mine to take.  

The Balancing Act

I would be a liar if I said it was always easy to navigate seamlessly through the dynamics of being with a man who has a child, that I never felt I was climbing uphill trying to figure out if I’m doing it right. I would be a liar to say that being a step mom has not at times brought out the worst in me, or in us. That it hasn’t tested my marriage, or my sanity. 

I am being honest when I say it has made my marriage stronger. The memories the three of us have shared, and continue to make, is one of the most important aspects of my life. It is the most fascinating and rewarding role I play. I have learned to be selfless, and compassionate. I have learned to be resilient and a better listener. I have become a better wife, sister, daughter and aunt because of it. 

I’ve learned that falling in love with a man who is a father, is the greatest act of love I will ever take on. 

Cheers to the stepmoms, who are owning it and stepping into it with nothing but love. 

How To Stay Close To Your Mother When She Lives Far Away

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My mom is my best friend, which is why it’s so frustrating that she lives so far away, especially during holidays and special occasions, like birthdays and Mother’s Day. Unfortunately, those occasions don’t always warrant a 12-hour drive down the east coast. Maybe it’s because of the miles between us that we both work extra hard to stay connected throughout the year, not just on those special days. 

Over the past few years, we have discovered some really great ways to stay close:

Schedule time to call or Skype her

My mom and I are both very busy with work, friends, and other family members. I would sometimes go weeks without calling her. Our least busy day is Sunday, so I got into the habit of calling or Skyping her on that day, and now we always have those chats to look forward to! 

Send her little gifts or cards

Who doesn't love getting mail? These gifts don't have to be extravagant or expensive. The goal is just to let her know you're thinking about her! Sometimes when I'm browsing on amazon or at a cute shop downtown, I'll pick something up for her and mail it with a handwritten note. Sometimes she does the same, and it always brightens my day!

Plan visits together

Since my mom lives 12 hours away, when we visit each other, we usually stay for at least 3 or 4 days. We spend the weeks leading up to our visit planning what we're going to do! I send her links to menus at new restaurants that I've discovered or schedules to plays and concerts. It's fun to plan the itinerary together and it also means no visiting time is wasted trying to decide what to do! 

Share hobbies and interests with her

My mom and I both love thrifting and antiquing! New stores that we've discovered or our latest finds are things we love to talk about! Maybe you and your mom watch a lot of the same shows or read the same books. Try recording the show and watching it together while on the phone or starting your own mini book club! 

Take lots of photos

I usually text my mom multiple times a day; it’s a quick and easy way to communicate. My favorite thing to text her are photos. They’re worth a thousand words, right? And I feel like sharing the things that seem mundane to me, like cute pictures of my cat or the view from my cubicle or the flowers blooming outside my apartment really make her feel like she’s part of my life because she's not around in person to see them.

I'm Not a Good Mom

When I was pregnant, I never got tired of hearing people telling me, “You’re going to be such a Good Mom.” I found this reassuring because I was scared of what was to come. How much was my life about to change? How would I tap into the endless patience and selflessness required for motherhood? I had never even changed a diaper before. Could I really do this?

As soon as my baby was born, though, being called a Good Mom felt like a punch in the gut. It made me feel like I was walking a fine line between good and bad. If I do this, I’m a Good Mom. If I do that, I’m a Bad Mom. I had no idea what I was doing, I hadn’t slept, and my hormones were completely shifting. I felt like I was failing. My milk didn’t come in. We landed in the ER three days after she was born. I couldn’t withstand the pain of breastfeeding, despite more determination and problem-solving than I’ve mustered for anything before. I felt like a Bad Mom. 

All the little choices in the beginning—breastfeeding, bottles, pacifiers, sleep training, cloth diapers, sleeping arrangements, going back to work, childcare, the list goes on—felt like some kind of a formula adding up points for this and deducting points for that, and spitting out a calculated score on the Good Mom barometer. (Meanwhile, if my husband did any little thing, he was a Good Dad.)

One day months later, a colleague at work said to me, “Oh, I bet you’re such a Good Mom.” 

I heard myself say back to her: “I’m not a good mom or a bad mom. I am the mom that I am.

It took months and months, but that’s it—I am the mom that I am. There’s no other mom I can be. I’m learning. I try my best. I listen to my intuition. I don’t always get it “right.” There is no right. There is what works today, and that will change by tomorrow. Because it always keeps changing. 

What I’ve come to realize is that becoming a mother is not just about who I am to my little girl. Of course, how I show up to her and what I bring to that relationship is important, but it’s only about half of the motherhood equation for me. 

The other half of being a mom is how I mother myself through all of this change and challenges and joys and heartbreak and uncertainty.

Berating myself every day for being Good or Bad doesn’t serve anyone. Carrying around immense amounts of guilt about everything I am or am not doing doesn’t serve anyone. I was so hard on myself at first. In many ways, I still am. But loving, motherly mentors reminded me over and over and over again to be gentle with myself and to cultivate self-compassion

I’ve learned to access a gentler voice inside myself. I can close my eyes and hold myself in my lap just like I hold my daughter. I look down at myself with warmth and love and say, “Look at you, trying your best, and always growing. You are a dear. It is hard. You feel like you’re failing, but you’re right where you need to be. You are enough. I love you.”

When I mess up, I take a breath and think about what I would say to my little girl if she were facing the same situation. Gradually, I’m choosing to offer myself that same kindness and compassion every day.

My Mother And I

When I taught Italian to college undergraduates, I would introduce the topic of “the Italian family” by analyzing stereotypes. According to my students, Italian mothers are to be found in the kitchen making scrumptious meals of lasagna and tortellini, or running the occasional errand on their Vespas. They are never stressed, never out of time, always ‘there,’ waiting for their children with open arms. American mothers, on the other hand, were supposedly always on the go in their minivans, rushing back and forth between school and home and their three jobs, always stressed, with no time to cook. Looking at the two ‘mothers’ on the board, I would smile at myself thinking that my very own Italian mother must have been American at heart, or had perhaps been secretly displaced at birth, for she couldn’t be further away from the stereotypical image that my students so vividly depicted.

My parents were high school sweethearts who married in their twenties and had their first, long-looked-forward-to child – me – after three endless years of trying. Three other siblings arrived in the following six years. Partly for financial reasons but mostly because of her own interests and ambitions, my mother never stopped working (granted, Italy allows for longer paid maternity leaves than the US). She drove what back in the day could have been considered a minivan, rarely cooked during the week, and entrusted us to the care of our loving grandmothers, at whose place we would eat lunch every day after school and spend our afternoons and early evenings. One of my most distinct childhood memories is that of my mom finally coming to pick us up after a long day of work, looking exhausted and smelling like the cold.

Fast forward a couple of decades, I was attending graduate school in the US and acquiring the critical language and conceptual tools around feminism and gender (in)equality issues. It is here that I first encountered the question as to whether women “can have it all.” As my mom came to epitomize that dilemma for me, she also represented a model I rejected. I admired the immense passion fueling her seemingly superhuman energy, but it had led her to a scary burnout when she was barely fifty. It was clear to me that I would do things differently... especially after, being my mother’s daughter, I had my very own scary burnout at twenty-seven. As a very sensitive child, I had unconsciously concluded that my need for my mom, and by extension all my other needs, were ‘wrong’: that I should be ‘strong’ and deal with it; that needs are signs of weakness. This led to rigid self-discipline and perfectionist tendencies, which in turn blossomed into eating disorders, anxiety, insomnia and, eventually, the mental and physical burnout that took me so long to recover from. As much as the path of my recovery has been one of self-acceptance and self-compassion, it has also been characterized by a want to be as different as possible from my mother.

Now, however, as I am pregnant with my first child and find myself shattered by emotions and inner conflicts that I’d thought long resolved, I must admit to myself that I am not that different after all. As I get ready for my son, my harsh inner critic comes in as strong as ever, telling me that catering to my baby’s needs and being there for him would be overindulgent, that he will have to be strong and to deal with “it,” that he should not get in the way of my job and professional gratifications. Will I give in to this voice? No! I yell inside. But it’s not a simple no; it’s one that requires me to step back and breathe every time I have to make a choice or, more likely, a compromise… even now that my baby is still in the womb and I enjoy the luxury of working from home on my own schedule. I imagine having four small children and a regular job and am overcome with waves of sympathy for how hard it must have been for my mother, especially since she did not have access to many of the resources that are available to me. She had never even thought of whether she could “have it all” – she did and has continued to simply do her best, always. Whether or not her best was enough is not a question anymore. Will I try to trust my instincts as well as my brain in mothering my child? I will. Will I try to do things differently? I will. Will I keep blaming my mom for making the choices she made? I will not. If there is but one thing that I have learned from the long journey of pregnancy, it is deeper compassion and newly found love for my mamma.

Originally from Italy, Anna Aresi has lived in the US for the past eight years. After receiving her Ph.D. from Brown University, she now works as a freelance translator and editor. She lives in Providence with her husband and dog, all eagerly waiting for baby Giobi to join them in June.

LP Book Review // Stress Less by Kate Hanley

"Stop Stressing. Start Living". The front cover of Kate Hanley's Stress Less - 100 Mindfulness Exercises for Calmness and Clarity immediately embraces you with a calming blue shade and its buoyant title. The goal of the book is clear and its message is straightforward and easy to embrace. Everyone encounters moments of stress throughout the day, wouldn't it be nice if we had the tools to handle it gracefully?

Stress Less is a guide comprised of 100 stress reducing techniques that can help center your thoughts, identify what your stressors are, and find your best method of dealing with stress. Each page has a stress relieving technique with a simple and clear instruction related to finding mental or physical calm. The techniques are paired with apropos quotes that often bring your current moment into focus. My current favorite is Number 43. Try A Little Kitchen Yoga, which suggests a gentle forward stretch against your kitchen counter as a way to spend some meaningful time while your coffee brews and your toast toasts. 

The concise nature of each page lends itself well to reading a few pages daily and practicing or remembering those techniques throughout the day.  For the same reason, Stress Less is incredibly convenient to pick up in a moment of worry when you need some on the spot coping techniques. In the past month, I have found myself picking a page in the morning to ruminate on for the day, and also flipping through in moments where I feel overwhelmed and need a healthy distraction.

Reading Kate Hanley's Stress Less introduces you to productive ways of managing stress while providing a little insight through well-chosen quotes. It would make a great gift for a mother in your life or a perfect addition to your personal library or desk at work.

5 Fun Outdoor Activities for Busy Moms

“The phrase working mother is redundant” - Jane Sellman. For many mothers, this rings overly true. For any mother time with your children is precious, especially when balancing with the demands of a career. With the weather warming up and plants in bloom, kids are anxious to get outside. You want to be a fun and exciting mom, but it can be hard to plan and prepare for entertaining activities when you are pressed for time. 

This list of 5 outdoor activities that are perfect for mothers that are short on time. They are simple, creative, fun ideas that don’t require a lot of planning or preparation. Take advantage of Springtime this year. Try the ideas on this list and get more enjoyable quality time with your kids. 

1. Go On A Picnic

Grab a blanket, pack their favorite lunch, and head to your local park to enjoy the weather with your kids. In today’s fast-paced urban lifestyle a picnic is a great way for some family bonding. 
 

2. Side Walk Chalk

Take your artwork outside! Sidewalk chalk is a stable of spring and summer activities. This is a great item to have on hand for when your children get bored. You can draw stories together, make superheroes, take turns tracing each other, etc. You can develop your child’s motor skills by playing hopscotch or four-square. Depending on your child’s age you can also work on shapes, numbers or animals with sidewalk chalk. Don’t forget about hangman. It’s an all-inclusive educational, fun idea! 
 

3. Blowing Bubbles

Children love bubbles. Best part, you don’t even have to purchase bubble solution, which can go quickly with spills or losing the bottle. DIY bubbles are easy and fun, plus it saves you a bit of cash!

One recipe is to use 2 cups of warm water, 1/3 cup of dish soap, and ¼ cup of corn syrup, combine the ingredients in a large dish or bowl and stir gently. You can use a hanger as the wand to make the bubbles. Have large cookie cutters available? Those are fun to make bubbles in different shapes. 

4. Sensory Scavenger Hunt

This is an exciting twist on a scavenger hunt and doesn’t require preparation. Identify smells and sounds or nature together! See what you and your children can find, the scent of flowers, or sounds of birds. 

5. Make a Bird Feeder

What better springtime activity is there than a DIY bird feeder? Bird feeders are great ways to enjoy wildlife at its best. It’s so much fun to sit back and watch all the wonderful birds. Not to mention that making bird feeders with the kids is a fun activity to get them outside and loving nature. 

There are several DIY ways to make a bird feeder. A simple way is with a plastic soda bottle and a couple of wooden spoons. You just have to make holes in the bottle for the spoons and be sure that you angle the spoons downward so that the birdfeed will drizzle onto them. 

Quality time with your family doesn’t have to be complicated or expensive. After a long stressful day at work relax and enjoy some family time with these fun activities!

Lianna Tsangarides, LCSW has a private practice in Watertown CT. She specializes in working with teens and young adults. Lianna is also a workshop facilitator for DBT, Trauma informed care, and safety planning. 

Photos by Pexels

Interview // Mercedes Samudio, LCSW, Author of Shame-Proof Parenting

Mercedes Samudio, LCSW is a Parent Coach and Speaker who helps parents and children communicate with each other, manage emotional trauma, navigate social media and technology together, and develop healthy parent-child relationships. She can now add Best-Selling Author to her resume thanks to the publication of her new book, Shame-Proof Parenting. 

Who is Mercedes Samudio and Why Should You Read Her New Book Shame-Proof Parenting?

Full Disclaimer: I met Mercedes virtually through an online community we are both a part of a few years ago and have been inspired by her mission ever since. As a mental health therapist that works with the under-18 crowd, I have found the resources she shares online to be a huge help in supporting the parents of my tween and teen clients. 

Over the course of her career, Mercedes has worked with adoptive families, foster families, teen parents, parents navigating the child protective services system, and children living with mental illness. In other words, she knows her stuff!

Mercedes is also personally responsible for starting the #EndParentShaming movement as well as coining the term Shame-Proof Parenting – using both to bring awareness to ending parent shame. 

I was so happy when she accepted my request to interview her about her new book, Shame-Proof Parenting. I’m sure as you read her responses you’ll be just as motivated to join her movement to #EndParentShaming.

1. What inspired you to write Shame-Proof Parenting?

Well, hindsight is always 20/20, isn't it? I started a social media campaign two years ago with the #EndParentShaming hashtag. As I began to come into this message and mission more, I began to receive story after story from parent and professionals connecting with the idea of no longer shaming parents. The more I heard these stories - both online and in my 1-on-1 sessions with parents - I began to wonder: what would it look like to actually begin the journey of ending parent shame? This is what lead me to look at how a framework for helping parents develop not just healthy parenting skills, but also how they develop a healthy parenting identity. Shame-proof parenting is more about finding your unique voice and identity as a parent, becoming aware of how your shame stories affect your connection to yourself and your family and creating a set of parenting strategies that are in alignment with your true self. 

2. Who should read Shame-Proof Parenting?

I wrote this book for parents who are looking for a framework that supports their authentic journey as a human, as well as their development of a healthy development. But, this book is also for anyone who honestly believes that we need to change the way we help humans become parents. When you read this book, I hope that it help you begin to listen to yourself as a parent - and the parents in your life - in order to help their family heal and not just listen to them to make them change. 

3. What does it mean to be a Shame-Proof Parent?

Being a shame-proof parent is all about the journey to connecting to your identity as an imperfect, human parent and your relationship with your imperfect, human child. It's not about mastering a set of skills nor is it about putting more parenting tools in your toolbelt. Many of the parents I have worked with and had the pleasure of supporting have tons of skills. The disconnect is not in the logical skills, but rather in the connection between themselves and their expectations of what they are supposed to be as a parent. I share in the book that the disconnect comes from the effects of shaming parents - and how that shame keeps parents from truly being authentic in each area of the life as well as in their parenting.

4. What is one piece of advice in the book you wished every parent knew?

Good question. Do you mind if I reframed it a bit? I would say that one truth in this book that I want all parents to embrace is that ignoring all your experience and development once you become a parent does you and your child a huge disservice. You lived a very important life before you become a parent. Those experiences - wherever they fall on the positive/negative spectrum - gave you the skills and knowledge that you'll definitely need to connect to who your child is and will be. Do not forget that you are a human first! 

5. The Lady Project caters to women in business who are entrepreneurs or looking to advance in their business or career. Any advice in the book for these types of ladies?

I think the core message of the book is to become aware of, and learn to embrace, the messiness of being a human and developing various aspects of that humanness. I have met so many mothers who have different facets of their identity that they think they have to ignore - or don't have as much value - once they become parents. I think this book will support the idea that integrating our identities and extracting the lessons our experiences taught us can lead to healthy identity formation - no matter what role you choose to take on. 

6. Can people without children benefit from reading this book? If so, how?

One huge piece of being a shame-proof parent includes finding your shame-proof village. For those of us who care about the parents in our lives, we can use this book to understand how judgment and shame affect a parent's journey. We can also learn how to be more empathetic to parents when we don't always have the whole story and possibly develop a better strategy for being a support that does not include shaming the parent into change. Like I said earlier, my hope is that we learn to listen to parents to heal them, not change them. 

I loved being able to interview and share my interview with Mercedes. If you’re interested in learning more about Mercedes, or join her #EndParentShaming movement, I encourage you to check out her website at http://shameproofparenting.com.

Mallory Grimste, LCSW is a mental health therapist in Woodbridge, CT. She loves helping tweens, teens, and young adults struggling with Anxiety (... and other Big Emotions) find what works for them.

Originally a Jersey girl, she loves the beach, sunglasses, and iced coffee. Her favorite coping skills are deep breathing, listening to music, and watching Scandal.

Want to know more about Mallory, or how she can help? Check out her website at http://www.mallorygrimste.com.

An Alternative Motherhood

April 13, 2017

I was approached about writing on the topic of “motherhood” and at first, I felt like a fraud. You see, I am a mother, but one without a child to show. So, you can see how that may make me feel a bit weird...

I was never that girl who dreamed of her wedding day or having a slew of kids, but I was the kind of kid who just lived and seized opportunities as they came. I allowed myself to dream, work really hard and take some chances, even when they scared me to the point of paralysis. I owe a lot of that to my parents, who allowed me to see things a different way and allowed me to be my most authentic self, even before I knew what that meant. I write this as an adult woman who is finding her most authentic voice and being, through the experience of soul-crushing loss.

I found out I was pregnant on March 8th, 2016 and was really excited. I showed my husband the weird plastic apparatus and said, ”Look!!” and he responded with, ”Uh, what am I looking at exactly?” I laughed and responded with, ”We’re having a baby!” He smiled like you’ve never seen a proud man smile. Our life was about to be so very different but little did we know, it was going to be a different one in terms we could never have expected.

From the get go, I was very adamant that nothing was to be put on social media; I wanted to keep my pregnancy as private as possible. You see, I was 37, which in the medical field is deemed as a “geriatric pregnancy”- can you fuckin’ believe that!? I knew that things could happen and I didn’t want to put all these posts about being pregnant and then have something happen and have to address it with the world. So, my husband and I asked our families to please be respectful of that one wish.

I had what my OB called a “low-risk pregnancy,” everything seemed fine and normal and no reason to be overly cautious. I am a highly active person, who eats very healthily and I take very good care of myself; what did I have to worry about, really? So, I kept doing what I normally did and followed doctor’s orders on everything else. I felt strong and happy... Now, I also know, very naive. 
 

On November 1st, I was 38 weeks and I hadn’t felt my daughter move very much that day so I went to Thayer Street and got a cookie the size of my face and a big sugary drink. When I’d ingest a large amount of sugar I’d feel her move around. I figured I’d get her amped up to feel the kicks which would put my nerves to rest. I didn’t though, so I called my friend and said, ”should I be freaking out right now?”. She advised me, as a mother of two kiddos, to call my midwife just to be sure. My midwife asked me to go to triage at Women and Infants Hospital to get some tests run. They ran a non-stress test, did fetal monitoring and ultrasounds all which were fine. The doctor told me all my amniotic fluid was up under my left rib, which happens sometimes. Also, my placenta was anterior, which means it is between the baby and my stomach, which made it difficult for me to feel kicks in the first place. She said towards the end of pregnancy with very little room in there and having an anterior placenta it can be very difficult to detect kicks. I told the doctor our next midwife appointment was in two days and she said to be sure to go and fill in my midwife. 

Thursday, November 4th, my husband and I went to see the midwife and get our second to last check-up before our girl arrived. She said I was measuring well and the baby’s heartbeat was strong. She said, ”I think you’ll probably go late, Mia, just by looking at the way you’re carrying...” I had heard that quite a few times and totally prepared myself for the idea of a late-arriving bundle of joy. My husband and I went out for a celebratory Ginger Ale, seeing we were one appointment away and five days from my due date. We talked about how we wanted to parent, the things we’d teach her, adventures we would take as a family; again, we were so happy and yet so naive.

Monday, November 7th, I had my last official midwife appointment and I couldn’t believe how fast time had flown by. I met my husband at the office and I knew immediately that he could tell I was having a bout with anxiety. I was so anxious to hear my daughter’s heartbeat that day. Our midwife came in, said hello and chit-chatted for a while. She got out her doppler and listened for a heartbeat. She kept saying,”there it is” then quickly would say,”oh, that’s YOU- haha…” She asked if I had eaten that day and insisted on bringing me some juice and cookies to spike my blood sugar. I scarfed them down to get the sugar in my blood stream as fast as humanly possible. She went to get the other room set up to use the ultrasound machine, which she deemed as “better machinery”.

We went over to the other room which was dark with the exception of the glow from the monitor. The technician was very cold and had the screen faced towards her, which irritated me greatly. My husband could feel my frustration and asked her nicely if she’d turn it to me, so I could see what was going on. In what felt like slow motion, the technician slowly looked at the midwife who looked up with the biggest fattest tears in her eyes. They seemed suspended in her ducts until she said the four words that would haunt me forever: “THERE IS NO HEARTBEAT.”

And there it was, the instant in which our lives changed forever, and very much not on our terms. All I could get out between sobs was, "I don’t understand. We were so close… two days away…" The sobbing was guttural, emanating from the deepest depths of my now barren soul. 

As much as I knew, in that moment, that my life was now completely different, I would not let it destroy me or my marriage. My husband and I picked ourselves and our shattered hearts off that cold, dark tile floor and headed over to triage, once again. 

Once at the hospital, we talked with our midwife on duty who put it to me like this, "You have to give birth to your baby, you can do it now, or tomorrow… but you need to do it soon." In that moment I had to flip a switch and realize my “birth plan” was now null and void. There’d be no water birth, no doula talking me through each stage of labor or bouncing on an oversized ball through contractions. My husband said once I realized what I had to do, that I went into complete and utter warrior mode, I had a job to do and that’s all it was now: a job. The door was slammed on my image of labor ending with bliss. My heart and my hope were broken. 

We went home for a bit to regroup, to call our families and to take all of the baby stuff out of the car. The car seat, the little blankets, the baby bag with a coming home outfit that I picked out… all hidden away. I went upstairs and I took a hot shower, rubbed my big belly and said my goodbyes as the water washed away my endless tears and sobs. I snapped a picture of myself to document what the saddest, most broken version of myself looked and felt like. I gathered my things and we went back to labor and delivery. 

I was given meds to induce me and shortly thereafter my water broke which felt worthy of celebrating at the time, and then I remembered the reality, as I stood there with soaking wet feet. I labored through the late hours and by morning I asked for an epidural. The combination of heartbreak, mental anguish, and physical labor was, well, too much- I needed to numb one aspect of the pain.

On Tuesday, November 8th at 11:30 am, I went into active labor and started to push, again, I felt some sort of hope. Maybe they were wrong, I remember thinking, maybe she’s okay in there... I was in the presence of such lovely women who were so kind, mindful and loving during this process. My wonderful husband held my hand the entire time and reminded me that it was going to be okay. My midwife said, ”OK, Mia, we are at the last push, you’re doing great...” I took a second before my last push to look at these special people who all had a hand on me. In this moment I had a significant spiritual experience which prompted me to tell them, “there’s a lot of love in the room”. I felt deeply connected to these people, this moment, my body and the greatest power… love. I took a deep breath, grabbed the sheet that was wrapped around the end of the bed for me to pull on, and pushed with every ounce of energy I had left, and felt relief... pride... and then… silence. I did it, my body was so powerful and yet somehow, had failed me. The room was so eerily quiet, no crying baby or celebrating after all that hard work. The range of emotions that washed over me was profound and overwhelming; how could I be so proud of myself and so incredibly sad at the same time? 

I held my daughter- I saw her sweet face, her perfect little face. She fit into my arms like she was made to be there and as I held her I said, ”Wake up, Rosalie, just wake up. It’s okay….it’s okay.” I couldn’t believe after nine months, I was finally holding her, and feeling the weight of her small body made it real. My husband held our daughter, and it was probably one of the most beautiful sights my eyes have ever seen. She was his and he was hers, all for too short of a time. The chaplain from the hospital came up and blessed our sweet babe with lovely words and her calming presence. I am forever grateful for that moment of peace and that someone else got to see her and recognize her existence. 

The weeks to come were just plain awful. I can’t describe it any other way without being honest. We left the hospital empty handed, heads down and just broken. How did this happen to us and why? We got home and it was different now; the light that had once shone brightly from the nursery had fallen dim.

My husband cared for me as I healed my physical body and held me when I’d get hit with the reality of what trauma had just occurred. I could not have asked for a better person to be by my side than my husband. He took care of all the funeral arrangements with the help and support of our fathers. He chose the most perfect, beautiful spot in our favorite cemetery that is a ten-minute walk from our home. There is a large anchor that is about 50 feet from where our daughter is buried, the anchor is a sign of hope...I couldn’t have asked for a greater sign to be in front of me every time I go to see her.

When we get married we typically say for better or for worse, and we don’t think about the worse aspect of that line. I have been fortunate enough to be with someone who has seen me at my worst and loves me even more than before. I cannot even begin to elaborate on the extent of my gratitude. But, I also hope that by saying that, people remember that marriage is not about one day of wearing white; it’s about a lifetime of choices and moments that define a marriage.

Sometimes we forget why people, certain people, are in our lives. Maybe we’re just busy with life and work and forget. Those people came out of the woodwork to make it known to my husband and I that we were loved and supported. It was the most humbling act I’ve experienced in my lifetime. The conversations I had with my closest girlfriends and my mom gave me great strength, even if I didn’t know it at the time. People, scratch that, women, who empowered me to be my most authentic self in my darkest moments. 

My battle with anxiety got worse as I started to leave the house again; I didn’t want to run into people and have to explain why I had no baby. People who had seen me for the last nine months, imparting parental wisdom on me, giving me hugs and had told me “it’s going to get harder...” when I was having a seven-month pregnant hormonal meltdown, and counting down the days with me until my girl arrived. Running into them and not knowing what to say, how to say what I was unsure of, and how to make them feel better. It was a crap shoot that I had to throw myself into to only get stronger. I slowly, and I mean slowly, figured out little ways to remedy my fears, and the big one was to just say “it.” If I just said “my daughter died, she was stillborn” I’d get it out of the way, acknowledge it, and not let it fester in the depths of my soul. 

As I addressed my grief head-on, I knew I need to channel it somehow. I started to explore the arts again; I’ve been an artist forever and know it’s powers. I began throwing pottery again and it instantly made me centered and feel alive. I continued to throw and throw and glaze and create and I remembered how good I was at art. I started to think about what I was going to do about work again in the coming months, once I was up on my feet again. I knew that jumping back into doing events was going to be too much for me, I’m well aware of the energy output with that gig. So, I started diving back into the idea of the beauty and wellness realm of work which I was in some years ago. I worked as a makeup artist in NYC for many years doing TV, print, runway and lifestyle shoots. I decided I wanted to reinvent myself because I am a new Mia, a different Mia, a better Mia. I landed on my idea of organic airbrush tanning, which I could brand as I’d like and create my own vision. Funneling my grief and energy into a project felt so good and gave me a new purpose. I know who I am and I know I need a purpose in my life.

I started getting out “there” again. Going to the gym, going to get my morning coffee, going to have cocktails, being out and being seen. It was really hard but I sensed myself getting a little stronger each time I ventured out into the world. I got in contact with Sierra who graciously put me in touch with her good friend Sarah. Sarah had lost her son, Henry in 2012 and was very open and honest with her story and experience. I was so amazed by Sarah’s ability to be honest, hopeful and still keep her sense of humor. I was just so inspired to be a better version of myself and get livin’. Not too long after our meeting, I attended the Lady Project Summit where I ran into my new friend Sarah and some lovely women I had met the year prior. My energy shifted and the enthusiasm ignited my fire again. I was able to connect with these women and share my new business venture and there was a lot of synergy! 

I truly truly believe that being surrounded by other women who want to empower themselves and the women around them is the 9th wonder of the world. It is infectious and powerful. I have been inspired and encouraged by others to share my story, which ironically was what I was avoiding from the beginning of my pregnancy. But sometimes plans are just that, plans. Nothing solid about them and that's ok. 

I am grateful for all the wonderful women in my life who have supported me at my lowest, cheered for me at my highest and reminded me that I will always be Rosalie’s mom, no matter where she may be. 

And that, is a gift.