Morning baskets for toddlers

About a year ago, I came across the genius idea of morning baskets through this post from because I said so, baby. The basic premise is to fill a small box or basket with toys or activities for your child to play with first thing in the morning. While they’re playing, you can make breakfast, clean the kitchen, drink your coffee or make space for your own morning routine.

I’ve implemented morning baskets for our two kids (ages 2 and 1), and it works beautifully. I know it sounds simple (and maybe obvious?), but the magic is in the implementation. At first, I gathered up all of the toys my oldest child was interested in at the moment (the youngest wasn’t born yet), and divided them up evenly among seven — one for each day of the week — fabric cubes with lids. I regularly rotated out the toys so that the box contents stayed fresh and held her attention. That process worked really well for nine months or so. By then, my second daughter was old enough to play and both children were getting bored. I returned to because I said so, baby (can you tell I’m a fan?!) and found her post on morning baskets for 3 and 4 year olds. She goes into detail on how to create themed baskets…bugs, dinosaurs, autumn, etc. I love a good theme, and as it turns out, my daughters do too. Now instead of a toy rotation, I’ve implemented a theme rotation. Our current themes are: safari animals, the ocean, transportation, building, farm animals, ABCs, and colors and numbers. The next baskets I’ll introduce are autumn, insects, dinosaurs and outer space. You can find more ideas on creating a Fall-themed basket here and a Spring-themed basket here.

This approach is totally flexible based on what you have at home. I haven’t had to buy new toys or books to create our existing baskets; instead, I gathered their toys together and divided them into themes based on what was available. And when it comes time for birthdays and holidays, I have a few gift ideas in mind based on what we’ll need for our future baskets. It helps give grandparents ideas too!

The early days of parenthood: All I See is You

The following poem on parenthood is one of the most beautiful, raw literary pieces I’ve come across. It’s an excerpt from the All I See is You poetry book by Jessica Urlichs. I’ve returned to it often over the past couple of years, and it makes me sob every single time. For me, nothing has felt more tender than those early days with a new baby, when you both feel so fragile and your whole heart is blown wide open. Jessica captures it so perfectly.


I can’t see past you right now, I’m so small and everything’s a little blurry.

All I see is you.

When you feel alone, like the walls are closing in, remember I’m here too. I know your world has changed and the days feel a little lonely. But they aren’t lonely for me.

You are my everything.

When you feel like you don’t know what you’re doing, you’re making it look easy to me. Even though we’re still getting to know each other, you know me better than anyone.

I trust you.

When you think some nights you’ll never get sleep again, you will. We both will. But I’m scared right now. I promise I’m not manipulating you. I just need your smell and comfort. Do you feel that tug in your heart when we’re apart? I do too.

I miss you.

When you feel as if you’ve achieved nothing, please know, my cup has never been so full. The days that get away on you will be some of my best memories of us playing together on the ground.

I love you.

When you feel like you don’t know who you are anymore, when you turn away from the mirror. That face will be the one I look to when I achieve something, the one I search for in a crowd. The reason for my first smile.

You’re perfect to me.

When you feel like the weight of it all is heavy in your heart, please know I’ve never felt lighter. Can I lay here with you a little longer? I won’t always need you like this.

But I need you right now.

When you feel as if you have nothing left to give, when I see your hands outstretched at me, pleading. When we’re both crying. I wish I could talk, but I can’t. If I could I would tell you,

There’s a reason I chose you.

I can’t see past you right now mama, because you are my world. It will get bigger, soon enough.

But for now,

All I see is you.”

We had babies 14 months apart. Here’s how I prepared.

My babies are 14 months apart. When I was pregnant with our second daughter, Camille, I struggled a lot with how such a monumental change would affect her older sister Aurelia. After all, Aurelia was herself still a baby. I had faith that my husband and I would eventually figure out how to raise two under two, but I worried that Aurelia would have a hard time adjusting.

So many well-meaning people who I shared my concerns with said, “oh it’s good that Aurelia is so young. She won’t remember life as an only child.” In theory, that sounds logical, but research actually suggests the opposite; young children who are thrust into an older sibling role have a harder time coping because they don’t yet have the skills to manage their emotions or the words to the express them. The younger they are, the less equipped they are and the harder it is for them to adjust.

On more than one occasion in the months leading up to Camille’s birth, I remember sobbing as I tried to hold Aurelia over my growing bump, absolutely heartbroken for her.

Then I read Peaceful Parent, Happy Siblings by Dr. Laura Markham, and it changed my life. The book takes a hands-on, research-based approach to facilitating a loving, happy, respectful family culture. It centers on the importance of the parent-child bond and on practicing empathy to help foster a safe environment for children to manage their emotions and ultimately build life-long bonds with siblings. She doesn’t sugarcoat the issues parents and children face, and she doesn’t minimize the very real assumptions a child can make when parents bring home a new baby. (She likens it to a spouse bringing home a new partner who sleeps in their room and gets all the attention. How would you feel?) She offers dozens of real-life conflict-resolution examples (including sample scripts) to help put theories into practice. She explains how parents should evaluate tantrums and how to address them. And throughout her book, she references books by other authors that have turned out to be great resources for me as well.

After reading the book, I felt incredibly prepared and empowered. Dr. Markham spoke my language, and her approach to parenting really resonated with me. She challenged popular child-rearing methods that instinctively didn’t feel right for me and gave me other tools to try instead. She specifically covered challenges that arise when siblings are close in age. She even addressed families who were about to add a new baby and offered suggestions on how to prepare siblings, introduce them for the first time and arm visitors/friends/family with tips to avoid making siblings feel overlooked. Honestly, this book is a treasure.

Today, Camille is almost three months old, and we’re all adjusting incredibly well. That’s not to say there aren’t meltdowns or power struggles, but given the magnitude of the changes in Aurelia’s life, she’s responded beautifully. We use the principles in this book every single day. They’ve given me permission to parent the way that feels natural to me, but that I’ve never seen modeled before. And they’ve given me new ideas for bonding with my children that I can’t wait to continue to implement, adapt and build upon.

P.S. If you don’t plan on having multiple children, you might be interested in Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids, which as the title suggests, doesn’t have the same emphasis on siblings.

Holiday gifts for toddlers

My husband and I try to be mindful about the types (and amount) of toys that our daughters have access to at home. We’ve been fairly minimalistic in our approach, particularly regarding how many toys are available at any given time. (I have a toy and book rotation in place so that they only have a few things to focus on.) We’ve favored experiential toys like musical instruments and art supplies, and we make time each day to use them. Our approach might feel a little militaristic — especially to the grandparents 🙂 — but we believe in the importance of using toys to help our children learn new skills, use their imaginations and teach an appreciation for their belongings. This already feels like an uphill battle amidst the commercialism of the U.S., and our oldest is barely a toddler.

With those goals in mind, here are a few things from our 18 month old’s Christmas list that I’m really excited about:

Books about emotions. I’m a believer in the gentle parenting approach, and I’ve seen firsthand that young children have big emotions that they need help processing. The Color Monster by Anna Llenas helps kids identify and categorize their emotions (fear, sadness, joy, etc.) so that they’re better able to recognize and talk about them. Little Monkey Calms Down by Michael Dahl begins with a monkey who’s having a bad day and then offers suggestions for how he/she can calm down (breathing, singing, cuddling, etc.). Both books emphasize that emotions are normal and that it’s okay to cry. I can’t wait to introduce these to Aurelia during calming corner time.

Calming corner. In the spirit of helping children regulate and express their emotions, I’m in the process of creating a calming corner in our nursery. A major feature will be the Generation Mindful Time-In Toolkit. The toolkit includes tools that help teach children lifelong skills about emotions and how to regulate them in the safe space of a calming corner.

As the name implies, a time in is the opposite of a time out — sending a child to be alone as punishment for “bad” behavior. My parents never used time outs with me, so I honestly hadn’t given them much thought in my parenting journey. But after reading Peaceful Parent, Happy Siblings by Dr. Laura Markham (CHANGED. MY. LIFE), I was sold on the concept of time ins. Dr. Markham makes an incredibly compelling argument for radical empathy and the vital importance of actively helping your child learn to embrace and regulate their emotions. She explains (and demonstrates through case studies) that children act out due to their inability to manage big emotions on their own. Casting them out away from the family during a time out only further reinforces whatever emotion(s) they’re struggling with and sends the message that emotions are bad. If you’re interested in creating your own calming corner, I highly recommend also reading the book; it will provide a really sold foundation and understanding when it comes time to put the calming corner into practice.

The Time-In Toolkit includes posters that share information about emotions and techniques to help children calm their bodies. It also includes an activity mat and a set of positive affirmation cards which Generation Mindful recommends pulling first thing in the morning . You know I love a daily ritual, and these cards totally sold me on the kit. If the toolkit is above your price point or you’d rather start smaller, this poster set is a great alternative.

Side note: I’m also planning to make a glitter jar — a concept I first heard about on Sesame Street — with Aurelia to include in the space as another calming tool to try.

Cleaning tools. A major tenement of the Montessori approach is to empower kids, respect them, build their confidence and teach life skills by allowing them to become more autonomous. This is reinforced through daily practices like allowing them to set their place at the table, feed themselves, select their outfit for the day and even help with cooking and cleaning from a very young age. At just 15 months, Aurelia started trying to use our hand-held broom and dustpan to clean up after her meals. A couple of months later, she started wiping the table down after she ate. We didn’t teach her to do this; she learned by observation and seems to enjoy being able to contribute to our household.

To help facilitate that interest, we’ve added the Teamson Kids Little Helper Cleaning Set to her wish list. Having access to tools that are her size should really help her learn new skills and curb the frustration that comes with trying to use adult-sized supplies. We’ll keep the set in our kitchen for ease of use. I love this particular product for its pastel colors and the fact that it’s made by a small business.

Cooking tools. My husband recently built a toddler tower to give Aurelia access to our kitchen sink and counters so that she can begin to help with cooking and cleaning up after meals. She’s used it help me make muffins and watch my husband cook on the stove since she’s always intrigued by our meal prep. So far, I’ve only asked her to dump ingredients from measuring cups into a bowl, but I think she’ll be ready to try other skills soon. We’ve added a toddler-sized (and safe) wooden “knife” to her wish list so that we can start to incorporate cutting soft foods into her daily list of activities. Etsy is an incredible resource for wooden cooking utensils for kids like cutting boards, more advanced knives and whisks and scoops, spoons and tongs.

A whimsical nursery edit: part 1

From the very beginning, I never put much thought into our nursery. I think for the same reason that we didn’t name our daughters until a day or more after they were born, I thought we’d always decorate their room once we got a better sense for who they are and what they like. But I realized a month or so ago that Aurelia’s almost a year and a half, and her room is about as imaginative as the inside of a closet. It was pretty basic to start with, and then several months ago we transitioned her from a crib to a floor bed, at which point we had to further childproof her room (since she could get around easily and unattended at night), and it became downright bare.

I’d also been stuck in a circular argument with myself that went something like, “why spend time and money decorating a room when we never spend much time in it?….would we spend more time in it if it was more inviting?” I’m guessing that the answer is “yes.” Either way, it’s time to test out the theory.

So now I’m in the process of making the room more cozy, more whimsical and now that Aurelia’s older, a bit more instructional as well. Here are a few things I’ve ordered so far:

New bedding. Aurelia was sleeping on set of plain white sheets with a wheat-colored comforter. My goal was to replace them with bedding that was both more colorful and imaginative. When I was a toddler, I had a Minnie Mouse sheet set that showed Minnie in different outfits and settings. I loved making up stories about the different versions of Minnie, and I wanted something similar for Aurelia. This Willa Woodland Sheet Set from West Elm is exactly what I was looking for from a design perspective, plus it’s made with organic cotton. I love that we can use it to reinforce animal names with her now and that it will (hopefully) continue to hold her interest as she gets older.

World map. I’ve been on the hunt for wall art that we could hang at Aurelia’s height so that she’s not looking at blank walls all the time. I decided on a world map for several reasons; my husband is from Iran, and I think it’s important for our children to understand their heritage, including where their ancestors lived. We also plan to travel as much as possible with our children and to teach them about other cultures. I think seeing a map of the entire world, and not just our state or country, is an important first step. Admittedly, I also could use a refresher on world geography, so this map is also for my education 🙂 This particular map from PaperMundi on Etsy has beautiful watercolor illustrations including landmarks and animals. It’s the seller’s pastel map, but they have other versions and also can customize colors and landmarks for you. The colors match the Woodland Sheet Set perfectly, so I chose not to do any customizations. Since it will be at eye level, I was nervous about putting our map in a glass frame, so we had it laminated instead and stuck it to the wall with Velcro.

“Flying” hot air balloon. To continue with the theme of maps and travel, I purchased an amazing hot air balloon from TiTics Etsy shop. The balloon I ordered is light gray with rainbow bunting (shown on the right in the photo above), but the seller offers a variety of shapes, sizes and other customizations. It’s coming all the way from Poland so it hasn’t arrived yet, but I can’t wait to finally see it in person.

Festive bunting. Aurelia’s room has dark sage blackout curtains to help block out light during naps. They definitely serve their purpose, but I wanted to brighten them up a bit. I ordered this pastel rainbow bunting from TheCottonSocks on Etsy since it’s so similar to the bunting on the hot air balloon I ordered, and I think it adds a nice air of celebration.

Gold stars. Since the walls in the nursery are dark blue, I wanted to add a few stars around Aurelia’s bed. I’d originally chosen these from Etsy because I loved the design, but opted for these from Amazon instead because they claim to be repositionable and I wasn’t sure if my daughter would stay awake all night peeling them off the wall (she hasn’t). They were super easy to apply and look amazing on her dark walls.

Favorite books for a 9-month old baby

I read to our daughter pretty regularly from the very beginning, but only recently has she started showing a real interest in books. She’s nine and a half months old now, and about a week ago, she actually started “asking” to be read to. (As an avid reader, my heart melted on the spot!) Not only does she ask to be read to every day, she also lets me know really quickly which books she likes and which she doesn’t.

Here’s the list of her top five favorites:

The Napping House is her absolute favorite at the moment. She asks me to read it multiple times in one sitting.

She showed now interest in Little Blue Truck until a couple of weeks ago, and now she can’t get enough. She is starting to understand animal sounds, and she squeals with delight when I’m reading this book to her.

I have to admit, I’d never heard of The Tooth Book by Dr. Seuss until my mother-in-law purchased it for our daughter since she’s teething. I wasn’t sure if she would understand that the book is about teeth, but she points to the teeth in the pictures and absolutely makes the connection.

Let me start by saying that my daughter doesn’t watch CoComelon, so that’s not a prerequisite for liking this book. She does, however, love the song The Wheels on the Bus, which is why CoComelon The Wheels on the Bus is such a hit. The book is also shaped like a bus, and you guessed it, the wheels actually turn, which is really fun for her.

My aunt, who was in Early Childhood Education, has gotten my daughter several finger puppet books, and they are amazing. The stories are simple but my daughter is enamored with the puppets and squeals and claps when we read the books and they “say hi” to her.

What I learned from our first trip with baby

My husband and I recently took a short three-day trip to the beach with our daughter, who is nine months old. We stayed in Seagrove, Florida, which is about five and a half hours from where we live in Atlanta. Considering the longest we’ve been in the car at any given time is two hours, it was

I’d give us a B+ overall on trip planning and execution, with some definite room for improvement. I’ve included our observations and learnings from the trip below:

  1. Find accommodations that offer baby-related amenities. We rented a condo through Airbnb and chose it in part because of the amazing baby equipment the owners provided: a Pack ‘n Play and high chair. When you’re packing for another human, the less you have to bring from home, the better. Other must-haves were a bath tub (a must for our night time routine), a large beach umbrella (important for that delicate baby skin) and large-ish bedroom that had enough space for our daughter to sleep in the room with us. Our one regret with our lodgings was that the bedroom window didn’t have curtains, so the room was really bright during the day…not ideal for naptime.
  2. Plan out your car ride. Since our daughter is so good in the car, we never expected the extent and magnitude of meltdowns that we experienced during our drive. Chalk it up to us being naïve. Only you’ll know what works for your baby, so the only advice I’ll leave you with is: build in stops along the way to get out of the car and reset, load up on toys/entertainment and way more food than you expect to need.
  3. Arrive early. I really regret arriving at our destination so late in the afternoon. We got to the condo about an hour past our daughter’s bedtime, so we rushed through bath time and put her to bed (or tried to) immediately when we arrived in an attempt to keep her on schedule. Big mistake. We woefully underestimated how curious she was about her new surroundings and unsettled she was after spending most of the day in the car. In hindsight, we should’ve arrived with ample time to show her around and get her comfortable in her environment before sticking her in a dark room by herself.
  4. Replicate your normal routine to maintain some degree of familiarity despite your new surroundings. We were very intentional about which toys, blankets and bath time equipment we took with us, specifically those that are bedtime associations for our daughter. At nighttime, she always takes a bath, has her favorite bath time toys, wears the same PJs/sleep sack, has the same white noise, etc. We did our best to replicate her morning and evening routines, with tons of flexibility for fun and exploring during the rest of the day, to anchor her and help her day feel familiar.
  5. Consider your typical schedule and plan your meals accordingly. This is mainly an issue if, like us, you typically have most meals at home. In other words, none of us is accustomed to dining out. We took into account our daughter’s sleep schedule, our condo’s proximity to dining options, whether they were kid friendly and their hours. We also had to factor in a one-hour time difference since we crossed time zones going into Florida. Bottom line, meals can get complicated and you can end up hangry and in a bit of a lurch like we did on the first night. Ultimately, we prepared breakfast at our condo every day since we expected to be up by 5:30 am local time; we at lunch out and we got takeout for dinner each night since our daughter’s bedtime was about 5:00 pm local time. The ability to comfortably eat meals where we were staying was such a life saver.

As you can see, we’re definitely still beginners at this, so please share your tips as well!

Reframing your parenting challenges

This week, my husband has been away on a work trip. This marks the first time he and I have been apart since February 2020, and the only time I’ve been home with our daughter for an extended period of time without him. I’m spoiled in a big way.

I won’t lie; leading up to this week, I was definitely nervous. What if she had a tough growth spurt week? What if my patience faded under the pressure of around-the-clock care? What if I couldn’t juggle our daughter, our dog, managing the house and being pregnant? And aside from all of that, I actually like spending time with him 🙂 Spending that much time apart after so long seemed so abrupt and lonely.

On the first day he was gone, everything was business as usual. I stuck to the baby’s routine and before I knew it, I was starting her bath time. I was so relieved and felt confident that things would continue to go smoothly.

On the second day, something shifted. Our day flew by, and as I was putting her to sleep, I got really emotional. I wasn’t ready to put her to sleep and was struck by the realization that I was enjoying her companionship. Our relationship has shifted from caretaker and baby. We genuinely have fun together. We communicate with and without words. We laugh. And this is just the beginning of a lifetime of creating memories together.

As a new parent, it’s so easy to get hung up on the caretaker role…which is in many ways a thankless job. You can easily lose sight of the big picture and the future under the strain of the day-to-day grind, the monotony and the stress. That’s why I thought of this week with trepidation: I was focused on how I would manage. By reframing it as getting to spend more quality time with my daughter, just the two of us without dad around, it shifted from something stressful to a memory I’ll never forget.

Reframing can be a powerful tool in parenting, moving your perspective from…

….frustration about a baby’s sleep schedule to gratitude for seeing every sunrise.

…feeling unproductive in how much you accomplish every day to appreciating the opportunity to slow down.

…missing your old self and former life to welcoming growth, transformation and the new you.

It’s not always easy to reframe while you’re in the thick of a challenging situation, but if you set the intention, I’m confident that the right perspective will come.

What’s the origin of your fear?

Yesterday, I had my 15-week prenatal appointment with my midwife. During every appointment, she goes through a checklist of questions related to my physical and emotional wellbeing. This time, when she asked about how I’m doing emotionally, I paused. I told her about the anxiety I’ve felt related to violence in our area, particularly gun violence related to kids. I also talked about how my fears around COVID really flared up around the holidays and into January.

As she let me ramble, I had a major realization: my anxiety and fear actually had very little to do with COVID and the violence we’ve seen on the news. Rationally, I know that we’re safe. We make thoughtful choices, and we’re not taking many (if any) risks to put us in harm’s way. I realized that I have some unaddressed fear as a new mom that’s been compounded by the fact that I’m pregnant again. Out of shame for not living up to my own standards, I wasn’t allowing myself to express that fear, so instead I attached it to two very real, widespread and acceptable fears…COVID and gun violence.

The reasons those fears have persisted and evolved into anxiety is because I hadn’t addressed their root cause. By allowing myself to be honest about the more vulnerable cause – motherhood can be scary – I continue to accept my whole self and show myself some grace. I also have the opportunity to evaluate my own expectations. Do I judge other mothers for their fears as parents? Absolutely not. So why do I judge myself?

All that to say, our fears as parents are valid. But there’s a big difference between recognizing fears, taking proper precautions and letting them go and what I was doing…taking proper precautions and then continuing to worry.

If you find yourself caught in a fear-based cycle of feeling anxious and attempting to control situations, it’s worth checking in. Have you taken precautions? Are you still worrying? What can you let go? Know that your fears are valid, but they don’t have to control you.

One piece of advice that’s worked for me is to find an emotional anchor that you can come back to again and again when you feel yourself slipping into anxious mode. For me, that’s a deep conviction that the house we moved into a couple years ago was divine intervention. The timing, the features and the neighborhood were exactly what we wanted. We are meant to be there as a family and so we are safe.

Parenting as a catalyst for personal growth

Topics related to personal growth and parenting have been on my mind a lot lately: how we’re raised as people pleasers, how to recognize childhood trauma and ways that postpartum healing is as emotional as it is physical.

Digging deep to explore your psyche, separate your true self from learned behaviors and heal old wounds is so incredibly important, especially during the challenging and transformative phase of parenthood. Under the stresses of parenting, you feel conflict (within yourself and with others) more easily and recognize really quickly when things just aren’t working. You’re reminded of your childhood and spend more time contemplating how your wounds and beliefs directly impact another person. Conflict with immediate family members might arise. Anxiety and fear often become more extreme, but so does love. It’s a time of coming to terms with a stark duality: you are both the best and worst versions of yourself.

While parenting can serve as a catalyst for deeper transformation and healing, these lessons and this work aren’t just for parents. In fact, waiting until you become a parent to begin your personal growth journey isn’t ideal; you’d likely set yourself up for a lot of added stress as well as strain on relationships with those closest to you.

That said, if you’re already a parent or about to become one and you haven’t started your journey, it’s absolutely never too late. Take it slow and give yourself permission to feel whatever arises without judgement. The results are so incredibly rewarding and will dramatically change your life.

If you’re looking for a place to begin, I highly recommend The Seeker’s Manual by Arda. You can find other resources for seekers and parents under my resources tab.