Top Ten Holiday Gifts for Thinking Mothers

Top Ten Holiday Gifts for Thinking Mothers

We chose ten gift picks for the season — please note none of these items are sponsored in any way,  just a true list of what we’d love to receive. Enjoy.  –Marcelle & Randi

Feel free to print and pass on…


il_570xN.697450065_4xv6Paper Portraits

This is number one on my list, pricey for sure, but what a prized possession this paper portrait of my brood would be.




291665_561_42Sassy Shoes

Last winter, I watched with envy as my next door neighbor snowshoed around her yard after each dump of Northeast snowfall while my running shoes sat, untouched, in the hall closet. Ever since, I’ve been pining for a pair:




CarrotsMore Veggies Please?

Bok choi, red leaf lettuce, sugar snap peas. This 24-week program (June through November) would mean a weekly share of fresh certified organic vegetables, grown at a local farm. All of the colors and flavors of spring, summer and fall. Sign me up!




beautyberry-blanket-600-2-181x214Ready, Set, Knit

I fancy myself a knitter, though I can’t make a stitch, maybe it is time to learn with one of my kids. The intructions, the yarn – ready, set, knit.





photos-negatives-slides-organized-archives.jpg-nggid0230-ngg0dyn-170x120x100-00f0w010c011r110f110r010t010I Dream of Jeannie

Pictures of my kids and their childhoods sit in photo boxes stored in a basement cabinet and on my phone and laptop. I am hopeful the creative and organizational talents of Jeanie Engelbach aka Photojeanie will streamline our family photos and archive the last eighteen years of family memories:




I wish I had made one of these tee shirt blankets for my daughter when she left for college this fall, but I didn’t. At least I have 3 years until my son leaves the nest, plenty of time to collect his outgrown tee shirts instead of putting them into the give-away pile:




912TP6CvRgL._SL1500_Because Comfort Matters

Whether it’s due to age, or mothering two teens these past few years, I’ve been pining for one of these neck support pillows for travel. This holiday, we will be traveling on an airplane; I’m hoping I will be adding one of these to my carry-on bag.



il_170x135.676346141_letwQuartro Formagi?

Grab a gallon of pasteurized milk and these DIY cheese kits include the rest of the supplies needed such as cheesecloth, a dairy thermometer, citric acid, and cheese salt. Oh, the flavors: Fresh mozzarella, ricotta, queso blanco, paneer, or goat cheese.



PC183831-150x150The New Book Bag

Carry Jane Eyre with you at all times? I love these shoulder purses (also available as clutches), made from preserved vintage books. Choose from your favorite author, book or illustrated cover.




il_170x135.876357316_65dcCircle Scarves

OK, I was limited to two literary picks – here’s my second–literary infinity scarves. \ Each one is silkscreened by hand with passages from some of the world’s great books — It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife…


Brain, Child Turns 15

Brain, Child Turns 15

BC 15 GroupOur Literary Salon

Seventy-five guests joined Brain, Child’s 15th Birthday party in Wilton CT where our editors and writers read from their work.

(Left to right: Front row) M.M. Devoe, Krista Miller Farris,Nan Richardson, Rebecca Martin, Marcelle Soviero, Jaqueline Maria Pierro,

(Left to right: Back row) Susan Lutz, Ellyn Gelman, Mary Ann Palmer, Estelle Erasmus, Elizabeth Matthews, Randi Olin, Susan Buttenwieser, Aline Weiller



Play With Me

Play With Me


In the fall, Emily will head off to college, leaving our nest lopsided—and her only brother behind. Like Daniel, I was the youngest child of the family; I can understand how he’ll feel when she’s gone.


“Mom, I need you!”

I hadn’t heard these words from my almost 15-year-old son in what seemed like a decade. Calling for me from his end of the hallway was something he hadn’t done since a bout of bad dreams and restless sleeps a few years ago. “What’s up?” I said, resting the book I’d been reading on my chest, propping my glasses on top of my head. “I need you,” he repeated, this time a little firmer, a little louder. “Can you come here?”

He sat at the edge of his unmade bed as I entered his room; he was shirtless and wearing gym shorts, a baseball cap hung low over his hazel eyes, his foot crossed over his leg, resting on his other thigh. A quick scan of the room revealed a wet towel or two, inside out clothes, was that a fork and a plate with banana bread crumbs on the floor next to his bed? I cringed before refocusing my attention to the strange looking item sticking out of his size-12 foot. He was looking down at it, shaking his head, his hair still damp from his shower, sweat lingering at the nape of his neck.

“Can you pull this thing outta me?” he said, his man-like hands still gripping his foot. “I think I’m gonna pass out, ” he added, his wince coated with a thick layer of Daniel-like drama.

He’d been playing hockey in his room with the new stick we had just given him for Hanukkah. An accidental hit of the rubber ball somehow ricocheted off the bulletin board hanging on his wall, with a direct strike to a thumb tack, the one with a neon green clip and a white strip of paper still attached. A slight misstep and now the tack, clip and all, was lodged in his foot. But it wasn’t just the length of the tack and clip jutting out of his foot that had my attention—it was the strip of paper with “Play With Me Coupon” written in royal blue block letters.

It had been Daniel’s 7th birthday, and big sister Emily gave him a stack of her homemade coupons, all wrapped up in a shoebox filled with hues of blue tissue paper she’d found in the upstairs closet. Over the years, he had used them all, or so I thought, presenting strips of paper to her, like tickets to a show, whenever he wanted immediate access to join her fun.

Not many things had been pinned to Daniel’s bulletin board, only his most special and coveted trinkets—a New York Giants Super Bowl pennant, a Derek Jeter picture, and a homemade “Play With Me Coupon” his sister had given him for his 7th birthday. And he had kept it, all these years.

“I’m Mrs. Olin and you are my student,” Emily had said to Daniel, her lopsided pigtails bobbing as she pointed to the purple plastic chair for her younger brother to sit in. She had hung geography and math posters on the walls of the playroom, using a pointer to “teach” him. On a different day it was a game of library, she and her friends the librarians, setting up areas of different themed and labeled books, Matt Christopher in one corner, Junie B. Jones and Henry and Mudge in another, with a check out station, using bookplates and a stamp pad for Daniel to take out and return his selections. Over the years the games changed, made up worlds on the backyard swing set or on their bikes, drawing roads and stop signs with different colored chalk on the blacktop of our long driveway.

But then, one day, it stopped. “Mom, can you tell him to leave us alone,” Emily said, her bedroom door shutting, her make believe games now “for members only,” behind closed doors, with her friends. Her brother now stood on the outside, his head and gaze downward, his little shoulders slumped; he was no longer invited.

Growing up, my brother was my childhood playmate. We were superheroes running around the backyard, DJs choosing our radio station’s playlist from our selection of 45s and cassette tapes. What I didn’t know then but am certain of now is that besides our parents, our siblings are the only true witnesses to our childhood, the ones who share the kaleidoscope of family experiences both high and low. If we are lucky, like I have been, they are among the deepest and most meaningful relationships we will ever know. “I’m playing ball with my friends, go find something else to do,” he told me one Saturday afternoon, discarding me along with our days of head-to-head Coleco football, Battleship tournaments and Monopoly marathons.

He was the first to leave for college, my brother. The dinner table felt quiet without his sports talk and our inside jokes, his humor and our banter. Our family square quickly became a triangle and I hadn’t been ready for it. In the fall, Emily will head off to college, leaving our nest lopsided—and her only brother behind. Like Daniel, I was the youngest child of the family; I can understand how he’ll feel when she’s gone.

Had Daniel been holding on to the coupon these past eight years for the right moment to cash it in, or was the strip of paper a silent reminder of the passage of time?

“On the count of three, I’m going to pull it out,” I said, crouched down next to him. “OK, go for it,” he said closing his eyes. “One. Two. Three.” I pulled the tack out quickly, in one shot, and it was gone. Blood spurted, and Daniel re-opened his eyes as I held a bath towel firmly on his foot, putting pressure on the wound. “You’re going to be fine,” I said. “The pain will eventually stop.” Surprisingly, the white “Play With Me Coupon” was still intact, without a spot of blood, a crease or a tear. Without him noticing, I slipped the paper into my pocket, not wanting anything to happen to this remnant of my children’s bond. “It’s done,” I said, our eyes locking a half-second longer.

Without another word, he picked up his hockey stick and found the rubber ball, as if nothing had happened. And I headed back to my room to finish the chapter I had been reading, trying to pretend nothing had yet changed.


Purchase our Sibling Bundle for more essays on the joys and challenges of the sibling relationship.


Our Sibling Blog Series

Our Sibling Blog Series



The Twins and the Pendulum


By Andrea Lani

But they’re not wizards, just two normal boys—as normal as you can be when you share the same DNA—a pair of pendulum bobs swinging through their days, sometimes crazily out of whack, and sometimes in near-perfect alignment.





Saving My Sister

WO Saving my Sister ART

By Marcelle Soviero

I hated visiting my sister in the hospital, but I did, because though her personality had completely changed, she was the same sister I once thought was in charge of my earth’s orbit.





They Are Not Half Sisters 


By Stephanie Sprenger

I believe with all my heart that my children will never regard each other as half of anything.






Play With Me


By Randi Olin

Our siblings are the only true witnesses to our childhood.







At Home

Screen Shot 2015-02-12 at 8.42.58 PM

By Kris Woll

On that night, in that moment in time, home seemed to be a pretty clear-cut place. 





Illustration by Christine Juneau

Purchase our Sibling Bundle for essays on the joys and challenges of the sibling relationship.

Editors’ Picks: Some of Our Favorites from 2014

Editors’ Picks: Some of Our Favorites from 2014


On Shame and Parenting

onshameand parentingBy Adrienne Jones

I did for them everything I believed a good mother would do for her children and clenched my teeth and prayed it was enough, or right, or that at the very least they would be OK in spite of the depth of my brokenness.




Brave Enough

sunsetBy Jennifer Palmer

She was mine, this sweet baby girl, but she belonged to others, too.





For Life

For LifeBy Sarah Kilch Gaffney

We named her Zoe because it means “life” and we could think of no meaning more fitting for our child.





This is Adolescence: 16

This is 16 artBy Marcelle Soviero

Sixteen is full of paper thin promise, delicate due to the decisions I can’t make for her anymore, decisions that will determine what happens next.





Till Death Did They Part

Screen Shot 2014-11-13 at 12.57.07 PMBy Molly Krause

When my dad came back after two decades of divorce, I wondered if my mom had somehow been waiting for him.




Confessions of a Stay-at-Home Mom

Screen Shot 2014-10-25 at 5.04.33 PMBy Dawn Davies

At 6:15 a.m., take the children downstairs for breakfast because, even though you are exhausted, the onus is on you. It is always on you.





My Daughter at the Blue Venus

Screen Shot 2014-10-12 at 12.03.52 PMBy P.L. Lowe

She tells me she is not allowed to give lap dances or blowjobs. She smiles kindly, reassuringly, as she tells me this, as if I have been waiting for this exact information, secretly hoping she will divulge such details to assuage my motherly worries.




Bury My Son Before I Die

Bury My Son Before I DieBy Joanne De Simone

It goes against everything we believe about motherhood, but I’d rather bury my child than leave him behind.





The Boob Tube

boobtubeBy Susan Vaughan Moshofsky

On my second day in the hospital, the nurse worried that Rachel was getting little, if any, milk, so she suggested formula supplementation. I refused, determined to succeed. New mom though I was, I knew that supplementing was the Dark Side.


How to Know When It’s Time to Get Rid of the Swing Set

How to Know When It’s Time to Get Rid of the Swing Set

IMG_0016It had been nine years since we moved into our house and acquired the swing set left behind by the previous owners. My son Daniel would climb the stairs and look through the telescope. He would see a pirate ship. A far away galaxy. A dinosaur. He would run into the enclosed “clubhouse” underneath the slide, the sound of the screen door shutting behind him. He would crouch down in a secret spot where he had stored sticks and rocks and grass for the caterpillars he had gathered. My daughter Emily would yell, “higher!” as I pushed her on the swing. Then, she too would climb the ladder and come down the slide, head first.

Today, my children are 13 and 15. Recently, I was passing by the window that overlooks the backyard and the sight of the swing set caught my eye. The last time Emily and Daniel had used it was during the 24-inch snowstorm a couple of years ago, when they went down the slide. I had forgotten it had been so long. Now, aside from when family friends come over with younger children, the swing set is never used. And that realization brings me to an uncomfortable awareness that my children are getting older.

The untouched swing set reminds me of Emily’s dolls that she once loved but then cast aside as she got older. She didn’t give them away at first. She just slowly started to ignore them. Unlike the 20 minutes she would spend each night, laying them in a tidy row on either side of her pillow, leaving a small opening for her head and body to fit.

Maybe it’s time to get rid of the swing set. Put down more grass seed. Make a bigger yard, like we did when we got rid of our experimental vegetable garden. But the swing set is somehow different. It’s a constant reminder of memories. Of teaching Daniel how to pump his legs on the swing and the first time he climbed across the monkey bars. And it’s about the passage of time.

What ever happened to those days, when my kids would spend hours with each other and their friends, running from the swing set to the sidewalk chalk, making a hopscotch board to play on and a “road” on our long driveway, complete with stop signs and arrows to ride their bikes on? And their made up games, with imaginary names and corresponding accents. Running around the yard with lightsabers, pretending to be Jedis. Or yelling, “you’re it!” to start an impromptu game of tag. These days they are busy with their respective sports. I’m either watching Daniel pitch at his baseball game or beside a pool at a swim meet for Emily.

Maybe everyone goes through this. But it comes at a time when I’m not sure. When, only a few months ago Daniel started to not hug me back when I embraced him, leaving his arms at his sides during what I now term our “one-sided hugs.” And yet, a few weeks ago, after years of reading on his own before bed, he asked if I would start reading to him again before he went to sleep. As he rested his head, his hair still wet from his shower, onto my shoulder I read Harry Potter & The Half Blood Prince aloud. And I thought about the last time we had done this, years ago, when I had read his old favorites to him, like Giraffes Can’t Dance and Duck for President.

But for now, the swing set sits in the backyard, as if it’s willing my children to come play. A small puddle sits at the bottom of the slide. A result of the April rain. My dog, Tobey, goes over and drinks some water. The bright yellow forsythias and a couple of elm trees frame the playground area, accentuating the natural cedar and the cheerful pop of primary colors.

I know my kids are getting older. And they don’t use the swing set anymore. But, for now, my children are caught in a poised place between childhood and adulthood. And seeing the playground everyday in our backyard is like a photo album, a place to see Emily and Daniel as they once were, as little children playing. Maybe they will go out there during the next snowstorm and go down the slide. Or maybe, just one more time, they will turn themselves around and around on one of the swings, twisting the chain tightly before holding out their arms and letting go.

Randi Olin is an Editor at Brain, Child.

Want to read more thought-provoking essays? Subscribe to Brain, Child: The Magazine for Thinking Mothers and see why we’ve been receiving awards for literary excellence since 2000.




Sew The Labels

Sew The Labels


Art Sew the Labels“It’s spring,” I said to my children, as I noticed the newly sprouted crocuses around our white mailbox post.

For me, the deep purple and yellow specks peppering the blades of grass meant something entirely different than Little League games and warmer weather. Rather, Mother Nature was reminding me to start my annual spring undertaking – sewing the nametag labels into the clothing Emily and Daniel would be bringing to camp. With two children, this meant that I would spend about 15 hours sewing at least 350 labels. So, why like many of my friends had I not chosen an alternative to this time-consuming method of labeling my children’s personal belongings?

My 10 and 13-year-old children had been going to sleep away camp for the past four and seven summers, respectively. A few months before that first summer, my mother presented me with a baggie filled with three things:  a needle, a spool of white thread and a small square of paper. I was confused. It had been almost 25 years since home economics class when I had sewn a lopsided octopus I affectionately named Gus. “What’s all this for?”  I asked my mother. “The camp labels,” she replied.

Growing up, my mother put a lot of time and effort into the sewing she did for us.  Her mustard colored sewing kit looked more like a cross between a picnic basket and a toolbox. An assortment of rainbow colored spools of thread in different thicknesses and sizes dotted the main compartment of the basket, along with a variety of scissors and mini plastic bags filled with an array of buttons. The entire interior flap was lined in a floral fabric filled with stuffing, creating an oversized cushion to store different sized needles and pins. In addition to shortening pants, hemming skirts and sewing buttons, my mother also created my costumes for school events, like the American Indian dress she made for my 2nd grade bicentennial celebration. The hand-made linen colored tunic-like dress was adorned with fringes and beadwork. On the back, she had sketched a colorful scene with an Indian woman sitting cross-legged next to a fire.

Unlike my mother, I was never much of a sewer or a seamstress. Instead, over the years, I had opted to pay my local tailor or occasionally ask my mother to sew a button that had fallen off a pair of shorts or the sleeve of a jacket. But when she handed me my very own needle and spool of thread the summer Emily was heading to sleep away camp, something had stirred inside of me and I was determined to figure out what it was. So, with a big pile of my daughter’s tee shirts beside me, I began to sew. I threaded the needle, pinched each label in half, and knotted the thread by rubbing my thumb and index finger together.  My stitches were far from perfect and the knots often looked messy. The label was usually not folded exactly in half, the “y” in Emily’s name often cut off and instead, included with our last name on the back. I would prick my finger nine out of ten times and with each “ouch” I would look at the remaining piles and resume my labeling.  So, why had I chosen to spend so many hours sewing in nametapes with a far from perfect result?

Many of my friends had paid someone to sew their labels. Others had tried laundry markers, which, in my opinion, could either bleed onto the clothing or fade with each wash. A few had opted for iron ons or peel n’stick clothing labels, “easier alternatives” but perhaps not sturdy enough for the camp laundry.

It was during that first year that I figured out why my mother had given me, a novice sewer, my own needle and thread. Between the 18 pairs of underwear, 10 pairs of shorts and the long list of other clothing and accessories, the camp packing list had recommended ordering between 100-200 nametapes, each I would have to sew. It was when I noticed the suggested 24 pairs of socks that I felt like I wanted to quit. Instead, I rolled down the top of each sock and then folded and sewed on the nametapes. Although tedious, with each finished pair, I had a renewed sense of accomplishment and pride.  But, more importantly, I realized that the labeling represented much more than just branding my daughter’s name onto every article of clothing so she wouldn’t lose things that summer. It was about sending a piece of me with her, with my maternal imprint on each item she would have with her throughout her seven week journey at sleep away camp.

Now, years later, that same baggie sits in my bedside drawer. The spool of thread is much thinner and the needle is fastened to a now tattered square of paper. My labels are still crooked, my stitches are still sewn in no particular pattern and my knots are still messy. But, at least I know that both of my children have a constant reminder of me throughout the summer. Whether that is more of a comfort for them or for me I am still not sure.

The Post Game Report

The Post Game Report

Art postgameMy son, Daniel, had been playing soccer since pre-school. And his 5th grade travel team had a tough competitor that afternoon. As the goalie, Daniel had let in seven goals in the second half. The game ended as a dismal shutout. And, as he threw his goalie gloves and ball into the trunk and got into the back seat of the car I gave my usual, “you were great today,” and then added, “that team was just really good.”

“Are you kidding?” he responded, with a look that reminded me of when I told him his Ferrari poster board project, complete with messy cut outs, crooked glue sticking and obvious spelling errors was a winner. “I sucked out there,” he said. We sat in the field’s parking lot, the car still not turned on. I looked into the rearview mirror to catch a glimpse of his face. His hair was dripping with sweat and he had dirt streaked across his beet-red cheeks. At first he wouldn’t make eye contact.  But then slowly and deliberately, he looked up, as if I had challenged him to do so.  I had expected to see tears but, instead, was met by his steady glare.

“And, by the way,” he said, not taking his eyes off of mine, “let me give you some advice – as my mom, that’s the worst thing you can say to me after a game. From now on, when I sucked don’t tell me I did great.”

But I am your mother, that’s what I am supposed to do is what I wanted to say in response but instead watched him turn away and look out the window. “So don’t do that anymore. OK?” he added in a softer voice.

It took me a long time to understand how to be a good parent spectator at my children’s sporting events. I was never one to yell, “why did you swing at that?” at Daniel, during one of his baseball games. Or “faster! faster!” at my daughter Emily at a swim meet. In addition to hearing some parents yell, “what’s wrong with you?” and “can’t you go any faster than that?” at their own kids, I would occasionally sit next to a fellow parent who would say “miss” under her breath at an opposing team player preparing to take a foul shot during a basketball game. Or make a hissing sound at an umpire after he called a strike on a 3-2 count at a baseball game. I, on the other hand, had always opted to “staying positive.” So, regardless of the outcome and no matter how good or bad my children’s individual performance had been that day, I would inevitably blurt out, “you did great today.”

But after that ride home from Daniel’s soccer game, I realized it was time to re-evaluate my post-game approach. Thus, on a day when he played catcher and forgot to tag the runner sliding home, I tried, “that must have been frustrating out there today.” And, when my daughter gained time in her 100-yard freestyle event, I said, “maybe you went to bed too late.” Based on their “seriously?” reactions, I eventually abandoned this new attempt at honesty. Luckily, around the same time, I came across a blog post that cited a study about how to be a good parent spectator. It described that college athletes deemed the worst part of their high school and recreational sports experiences the ride home with their parents.  Mostly because, win or lose, the conversation was usually about how that play in the field could have gone better or how the ump made bad calls at the plate or how the coach made a wrong decision in his pitching choices. Once in the car ride home, the athlete wanted to transform back to kid again, with the spectator once again becoming the parent.

I thought that was exactly what I had done, telling Daniel he played “great” at goalie even after he had let in seven goals during the second half. But after reading the blog post, I realized that I had been mistaken. Daniel needed me to be a mother in a different kind of way. And he told me so. I never did tell him that he “sucked” in the car ride home from a game, even one where he missed an easy pop fly out in left field and didn’t get a hit the entire game. Instead, I started to tell both my children what those same college athletes remembered as the best thing their parents would say to them in the car ride home.  And it was simple. And so true. The antithesis of telling them that they were great when they had a bad day.

“I love to watch you swim,” I say to Emily after she has a slow start off the blocks and thus gains time in a race. And, “I love to watch you play baseball,” I say to Daniel even after he walks the opposing team around the bases and the mercy rule is imposed. Because, as Daniel walks away from the baseball diamond and Emily from the swimming pool, they transform back to being 12 and 14 year old kids. And, as I walk back to the car, with my spectator chair slung over my shoulder, I become their mother – exactly who I’m supposed to be.

Author’s Note: I spend a good part of many weekends sitting on bleachers. If I’ve learned anything as a mother these past 15 years, it’s that my kids don’t want me to tell them how great they played or swam, especially when they had an obvious bad outing. Sometimes I say, “I love to watch you play/swim” on our walk back to the car. Other times we head to the parking lot in silence. “I love you no matter what” is what I really mean, what I really want to say. I hope they both know that.