Mothering My Way Through Her Milestones

Mothering My Way Through Her Milestones

Mother and daughter holding hands while walking together

By Estelle Erasmus

When my daughter was two, we took a short family cruise. Our last night on board, I packed up our luggage and left it in front of our door to be picked up. By the time I realized I had stashed away all her diapers in our oversized suitcase, they’d already collected it.

“I can’t sleep without my pull-ups,” my newly potty trained toddler cried.

“You’re able to hold it in during the day, honey, maybe you can do it in the night, too,” I said.

“I can’t,” she wailed.

With my daughter listening closely, my husband and I investigated where we could get pull-ups. Unfortunately, the shops had closed for the evening.

As I placed a mound of towels in her crib, in a makeshift effort to avoid the flood that was coming—and not just from her eyes— I felt torn with guilt. I reassured my anxious child that she’d make it through the night dry, while my heart ached for her knowing she wouldn’t.

Then her small voice piped up.

“We have to go to the camp on the boat, mommy.”

“You’re not going to the day camp downstairs now. You’re going to bed.”

“No,” she insisted. “The camp has pull-ups. I saw them.”

Racing down three flights of stairs, I was grateful to see a cavalcade of little ones watching a movie. The understanding counselor responded to my plight by donating a few diapers. But the real gift was how my sweet baby had solved her own problem.

It started me thinking about the steps we had taken the first time we tried to toilet train her. First, I bought Once Upon a Potty, which I read to her, and then I got her a potty of her own that I let her decorate with stickers. Finally, I showed her the illustrations from the book to demonstrate exactly how it worked. My Princess sat on her “throne” and did nothing but look at picture books. After a few weeks of trying with no discernible results I was frustrated and gave up.

Shortly after, we attended a party, where the tiara-topped birthday girl in a tutu proudly pulled out her “seat” and filled it to the brim. I saw a light of recognition flash in my toddler’s eyes as she connected the deed with the device. After that, toilet training was a breeze. Just as important, I realized that my child does best when she can model her behavior after someone.


Soon after, I had the chance to help her when I noticed that she came on strong with new friends in the playground, following them around, or reaching out for her pal’s hand, then becoming upset if the girl pulled away.

One day after another incident that left her full of ire, I hugged my frustrated little one.

Mommy’s going to help you. I’ll show you what to do.”

She hugged me back.

Let’s pretend I’m your new friend,” I said. Go ahead and take my hand.”

When she did, I pulled it away from her.

No, I don’t want to hold hands,” I told her in a child’s voice.

“But I want to, mommy,” she said.

Don’t grab her hand again,” I said. “Just tell her, ‘it’s fine’, then walk away.”

After a few practice sessions—which had her screaming with laughter when I varied the pitches of my voice— she stopped acting desperate for friendship.


The summer she turned five, during a weekly play date three girls battled over who would wear the one sparkly gown for dress-up. It ended up my daughter’s prize, infuriating one of the girls who told the rest not to play with her.

Though we were both upset, I calmed down.

“Listen, sweetie, not everybody is going to get along, and not everybody is going to like you and that’s okay.”

She nodded with rapt attention, brushing back the tears brimming from her eyes.

“If it happens again, say, ‘It’s a free country. You don’t have to play with me and I don’t have to play with you’. Then find something else to do.”

We practiced for a week until she had the words and the attitude right. The next time someone tried to shun her, my girl was ready with the script we’d worked on. The result was minimal emotional collateral damage.

As she grows, I’ve noticed that her friends are exerting more influence on her, particularly when it comes to achievement.

For example, last summer, she was tasked with the deep-water challenge at camp in order to be allowed to paddle boat on the lake. The challenge was to hold her breath underwater for twenty seconds, float on her back for two minutes, and swim four laps without touching the sides of the pool. A few of her friends had already passed the test. At first she was fearful, but I pointed out that everybody starts at beginner levels for any challenge in life.

“Yesterday, your friend Ellen didn’t pass the test, but today she did. She worked hard to do that—it didn’t just come to her. You can pass, it, too. But you have to practice.”

“I will,” she said. And she did.

She came to show me her medal, when several weeks later she aced the test.

“I’m so proud of you, but more important, you should be proud of yourself,” I said.

“I am mom.”

My seven-year-old is eager for more challenges.

Right now, I’m teaching her how to cross the street with me as she carefully observes how I look to the right and the left, and watch for cars turning or backing up, before we start walking across.

“Mom, when I’m older, I’m going to cross the street by myself, and I’m not going to hold your hand at all,” she shares, flush with the power of her future.

If traffic were a metaphor for life, I would say that for now, we’ll practice together navigating the quiet streets of her childhood, in preparation for the busy thoroughfare of her teen years.

Because one day, instead of being steered by me, she’ll need to be the one doing all the driving.

Estelle Erasmus is a journalist and writing coach. She has been published in Brain, Child, The Washington Post On Parenting,, Vox, Salon and more. You can read more of her work at:






15 Kinds of Kisses for My 5-Year-Old

15 Kinds of Kisses for My 5-Year-Old

By Estelle Erasmus


When she’s sick and I gently kiss her feverish brow, hoping to heal her with a spoonful of a mother’s love—the best medicine.


Kissing is a universal way to demonstrate love. I like to smother my daughter with affection, and studies support that doing this can help ease her stress and anxiety and help her to become a resilient adult.

Here are the kinds of kisses we share.

1) Angel kisses: Where I lightly kiss her right next to her eyes, on either side. I usually kiss her this way when waking her up in the morning.

2) Blowing kisses: When I drive away from her school, as I watch her adjust her backpack and join up with her friends, I kiss my hand and then blow her bittersweet kisses from my window, which she catches in her hand and blows back to me.

3) Boo-Boo Kiss: A therapeutic kiss guaranteed to make a boo-boo feel better, if not go away entirely.

4) Butterfly kisses: Sprinkled on her cheeks, eyes and lashes like morning dew meeting an upturned flower.

5) Careful kisses: When she is engrossed in a coloring project or LEGO building but I want her to know I’m by her side, I kiss her arm or shoulder or top of her head.

6) Cheek kisses: When she leaves to go to school, I give her a peck on the cheek. In many cultures, it’s a common way of saying hello or goodbye.

7) Devouring kisses: I am often reminded that time is fleeting and that my cherished little girl may soon be unimpressed or unmoved by my physical expressions of love. So I kiss her as if I were inhaling her—her youth, her innocence, her energy.

8) Eskimo kisses: Sometimes right before she drifts off to sleep, we’ll rub our noses together back and forth and she’ll say the nonsensical words “Muga Muga” and expect me to say them back (I always do).

9) Hair kisses: Usually after she’s washed her hair, I smother her with kisses on her clean, strawberry or citrus-scented tresses.

10) Hand kisses: Each morning, we start our day by holding hands as we walk to the car. Right before she buckles herself into her car seat, I kiss her on the palm or back of her hand, as an affectionate benediction. It delights me that she’s recently started returning the favor.

11) Noisy kisses: When my mouth makes a popping sound on her bellybutton, which sends her into paroxysms of helpless laughter at the antics of her silly mother.

12) Rocking kisses: When she is feeling bad, mad, or sad I often can make the clouds drift away by rocking her in my arms. While doing this, I hum a little tune (ah, ah baby, ah ah my lady), while at the same time I press my lips on the top of her head in a never ending kiss, without breaking contact. It never fails to make her feel better.

13) Soft kisses: When she’s sick and I gently kiss her feverish brow, hoping to heal her with a spoonful of a mother’s love—the best medicine.

14) Tearful kisses: Sometimes, I look at her and become painfully aware of how very precious she is to me. Despite my best efforts, I feel my breath catch in my throat and as my eyes fill with tears I kiss her on the cheek or head.

15) Tickle kisses (not to be confused with noisy kisses): When I tickle her on her neck or under her arms and she can’t stop laughing, while I plant myriad kisses on her face.

Estelle Erasmus has been published in numerous publications including Marie Claire, The Washington Post, and National Geographic Traveler. She blogs at Musings on Motherhood & Midlife and tweets at @EstelleSErasmus.


Becoming a Mom Earlier in Life/Becoming a Mom Later in Life

Becoming a Mom Earlier in Life/Becoming a Mom Later in Life

How does the age at which you become a mother affect the shape of your life? Lisa Heffernan had her first son in her early thirties and Estelle Erasmus had her daughter in her mid-forties. Though the women are roughly the same age now, one of them has a Kindergartener in the house and one of them has an empty nest. Here they discuss the pros and cons of their respective situations.


I Became a Mother in My Early Thirties

By Lisa Heffernan

lisaheffThere is no ideal time to start a family, no perfect moment when all the pieces come together. In my immediate family, for example, we have seen new parenthood as young as 17 and as old as 47. My brother and my husband’s sister are exactly the same age and yet this year one became a parent and the other a grandparent. Welcoming a baby is something that is almost always accompanied by great joy, but that doesn’t mean the experience isn’t altered by the age at which you do it.

When I became pregnant with my first child, I was on the younger side, by today’s standards at least. Many of my closest friends were single and most of the ones who were married did not have kids yet. Suddenly I felt quite alone and utterly lacking in confidence. For nine months I wished I had friends with whom to share the experience and feared I would be truly lost once my baby arrived.

Within days of my son’s arrival I was invited to join a local baby group with other mothers who had given birth in recent weeks. A few of the women were my age but most were older. If there was one thing that put me at ease in that first year we spent meeting together, it was the realization that even those first-time mothers, who were a decade older than I was and had long successful careers, were feeling equally insecure about their new role. Confidence in motherhood, I have learned, comes with being a mother. And, in that group, we were all starting at square one.

That being said, it is an undeniable fact that fertility wanes with age, particularly for women. While becoming a mother younger doesn’t guarantee anything, it does shift the odds in your favor. And with more time, there is perhaps the option of more children, siblings spaced further apart, and the probability of fewer health risks to both mother and child.

As a woman who started her family earlier rather than later, I didn’t have my thirties to myself, but I feel that I had something better. I don’t wish I had done more before my kids were born, because after they emerged from toddlerhood, we had our adventures as a family. Whether it was something as simple as trying a new food or as thrilling as watching the look of astonishment on their faces as we disembarked at the Venice train station and beheld the Grand Canal, sharing the novelty made it better. My awe and wonder at the world has only been enhanced by experiencing so much for the very first time with my children in tow.

Having kids younger turned out to be a positive for my career as well, despite the prevailing wisdom that it is important to establish yourself, to build up some credibility and seniority before incurring the disruption of becoming a parent. I was a Wall Street trader before I had my kids. After they were in school, still in my 30s, I was able to completely start over and become an author.

In her seminal piece on women and work, Ann Marie Slaughter notes that, “Many of the top women leaders of the generation just ahead of me—Madeleine Albright, Hillary Clinton, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sandra Day O’Connor, Patricia Wald, Nannerl Keohane—had their children in their 20s and early 30s, as was the norm in the 1950s through the 1970s. A child born when his mother is 25 will finish high school when his mother is 43, an age at which, with full-time immersion in a career, she still has plenty of time and energy for advancement.” In her own life, having had her children at 38 and 40, Slaughter discovered that the most demanding years of her career coincided with her children’s adolescence, a situation which became untenable.

While the case for being a young mom almost always includes the argument that you will have more energy while your kids are small, I think this misses an equally important point. Do we really have more energy at 26 as opposed to say, 36 or 43? If so, it is marginal. But having kids younger does increase the chances of being a much younger grandparent. My father-in-law was in his mid 50s when my children were born. This means he has been able to enjoy everything from soccer to whitewater rafting to college visits with my sons and he has had the incomparable joy of watching them grow up as a vital presence in their lives. His relative youth has been a blessing to him, and them.

Life takes a major turn when our kids leave home. Having kids young means that, when your nest empties, you are not facing retirement but perhaps the best years of your career and the chance to take on new and even greater challenges. All around me I am watching friends who have become empty nesters in their 40s immersing themselves in a second career with decades of time in front of them in which to develop. Some parents find that after the day-to-day demand of having kids at home is over, there is a sense of liberation and excitement. The kids are launched, the career established or just beginning for the second time around and life feels full of possibility all over again.

Suddenly there is a release from the tyranny of the school schedule. Dinner out with friends on a Sunday night? Sure. A weekend away that starts on Thursday? Why not? What is less exciting is being among the last of your friends with kids still at home, watching all of this newfound freedom from the carpool line.

Lisa Heffernan is the author of three business books, including New York Times Business Bestseller Goldman Sachs: The Culture of Success. She co-writes a blog Grown and Flown and her work has appeared in Forbes, The Atlantic, The Huffington Post, and other publications. Lisa is married and has three sons. 


I Became a Mother in My Mid-Forties

By Estelle Erasmus

estelle_BLOG“You must be so happy. You must have wanted a baby forever,” the labor nurse said, smiling, as my husband and I left the hospital with our baby girl. After seeing me give birth in my forties, she must have imagined that motherhood had always been my dream. She was wrong.

I told my husband when we were dating that I didn’t want to have kids, that I didn’t think I was the maternal type. After a year of marriage, I saw what a great dad he’d make and convinced myself that I could also be a caring and capable parent. We faced my age-related infertility together and, with a little assistance from modern medicine, in midlife I became someone I never thought I would be: a mother.

Becoming a mother has been the most transformative event of my life. Doing it in my forties, I join a growing portion of the population. According to statistics from the Centers for Disease Control in 2012, the birthrate decreased for women below 30, but increased for women ages 30-44, with the greatest surge for women ages 40-44.

Since opting to stay home to raise my now five-year-old daughter, I am thankful that I first prepared my career as a journalist, author and magazine editor. The work of early motherhood is hard, and I don’t think I could have split my focus between building a career and being a mom to a small child. I can enjoy my daughter now without resenting her for holding me back, because I’ve already accomplished so much.

Adventure travel was also a big part of my life: I’ve tracked lions on foot on Safari in South Africa, flown to Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, and white water rafted a Class 5 river in the Western Canadian Rockies. I would not have been able to have those experiences with a baby or toddler in tow.

When I check Facebook I am constantly reminded of the dichotomy that while I am celebrating milestones such as my daughter losing her first tooth and attending Kindergarten, my contemporaries are celebrating college acceptances, weddings, or the birth of their first grandchild. I am sincerely hoping that, unlike me, my daughter finds the love of her life earlier on, so that I have the opportunity to be a grandmother. I also see some of my age-mates clearly showing signs of midlife crisis: affairs, divorces, radical career changes. My husband jokes that I don’t need to worry about having a midlife crisis. Mine was having a baby.

I am very lucky I had a child later in life because I would have made a terrible mother in my twenties and thirties. It took me a long time to develop emotional maturity, and even longer to find the right partner. Now I can call on my own past experience—the bitter and the sweet—to help me navigate parenting my daughter.

There have been challenges. I had to tap into my hard-earned emotional resources when my daughter was born, because I felt isolated, lonely and clueless, and had no local friends with babies—most of them were well past that stage. I literally grabbed my first mom friend, by accosting her husband in my building’s elevator. He was with his four-month old daughter, and I insisted that he give me his wife’s number. Gradually, I built up a support structure through a local community of moms.

Community is also important to us for our daughter’s sake. Because of how old I was when I had her, she is an only child, and the cousins who are closest in age to her live in Australia. We enrolled her in a school that goes from Kindergarten until 12th grade, so that hopefully she can find long-lasting friendships that will become as close to her as family.

I’m also confronting the issues faced by my increasingly fearful septuagenarian parents, who have been losing their friends at an alarming rate, and depend on having me around. They need more help on a daily basis than they will admit. My dad broke his hip three years ago, and although he has recovered, his physical and cognitive capabilities have diminished; my mom suffers from high blood pressure, which must constantly be monitored. I worry (and feel emotionally torn and guilty) that I can’t be there for them the way they need, as my time is increasingly taken up by the demands of raising a young daughter. Because of this realization, my parents are looking at independent living facilities near my sister, who has more availability, since she is now an empty nester.

I am in good health and in good shape, I have a wide network of friends, a solid marriage, fulfilling work, and longevity runs in my family, so I plan to be standing firmly by my daughter’s side as she graduates from college and later walks down the aisle. Plus I feel young at heart—that’s the magic of seeing the world anew through the eyes of a child—and a study in JAMA Internal Medicine shows that having such a positive attitude will help me to live longer.

I was not interested in being a mother for most of my life. It was never my dream. But becoming a mother in midlife has allowed me to pave the road for my daughter’s emotional resilience with the wisdom borne out of my many, many mistakes. And that is a gift that will last her into a future that I hope to share with her for as long as possible.

Estelle Erasmus has been published in numerous publications including Marie Claire, The Washington Post, and National Geographic Traveler. She blogs at Musings on Motherhood & Midlife and tweets at @EstelleSErasmus.