I Know What I Did in 2015

She’s bacccckkkkkk.

After taking an intermittently interrupted, somewhat intentional hiatus from this here blog, I thought it might be nice to give you the run down on where exactly I’ve been, and what I’ve been doing.

A year ago, in January 2015, I quit my job in marketing at The University. After many years of being unhappy in my chosen field, I decided it was time to leap into the professional abyss for something brand new and scary as hell. I became, for a bit, a freelance writer. And like all slightly insane, not-as-thought-out-as-you-imagined plans, this little experiment had its ups and downs. I’m planning to write more about what I learned as a freelance writer, what went right, and what I wish I had done differently. Stay tuned if that topic interests you.

But in the meantime, here’s a little bit of what I’ve been up to, writing-wise, around the Internet:

In June, I became an About.com expert for the Toddlers and Twos section. That means I write eight articles a month about toddlers. This is a lot of articles about toddlers. When my work load picked up significantly in October, I started subcontracting out a couple articles a month to Gena. But, if you’re interested in toddler topics, here are a few of my favs from the last seven or so months:

8 Reasons to Try Toddler Yoga

10 Tips for Traveling with a Carsick Toddler

What To Do When Your Toddler Climbs Out of the Crib

No Toys Please: 10 Toddler Gift Ideas That Won’t Create Clutter

5 Tips to Start the Preschool Process

Surviving Santa: How to Manage Your Toddler’s Fear

3 Ways to Encourage Toddler Independence at Mealtimes

5 New Year’s Resolutions for Parents of Toddlers

Toddlers weren’t the only topic I wrote about last year (thankfully). I also did a little writing for Midwest Living magazine’s blog:

10 Reasons to Love Harbor Country This Fall

7 Hotspots for a Michigan Winter Adventure

Top 10 Things to Do with Kids in Columbus

Finally, I had a piece published on Jezebel, which was a huge thrill  for me as I’ve been reading Jezebel for many, many years, plus it was my first attempt at more serious journalism and pitching bigger outlets, which was nerve-racking as hell and, frankly, hard. Lucky for me, I had a couple journalist friends who were willing to take my anxiety-ridden phone calls about handling sources and editors. They also both read drafts for me and provided a ton of insight. The result:

Mommy Get Your Gun: An Investigation of Mothers Packing Heat

And while I neglected the blog for many months, a few articles had a life of their own. Just for fun, here’s the most popular 2015 article on Mommy Sanest, which is now pushing 100,000 views. Whoa.


This isn’t all I did in 2015. I wrote content library articles, blogs, and emails for a few mom-focused businesses; I worked as a copywriter with a higher ed marketing agency; I was hired to write all of the digital campaign pieces for a university’s Giving Tuesday campaign; I was contracted to be a staff writer at an association.

It was the association job that ended up being the last stop on my freelance adventure. They offered me a full-time position in December, and after much thought, I decided to stay. I’m back to work full time, for better or worse, as a senior writer in the marketing department of an association. The pros: I love my team possibly more than I’ve ever loved a team. I love that I’m writing. The cons: I’m once again figuring out how to balance life with a full-time job, a husband whose job requires a “non-traditional” schedule, and a young child. In other words, same old, same old… but more on that later.

And that, my friends, brings us to Feb. 1, 2016. Welcome back.

No Gifts Please: Should Your Child Have a Gift-free Birthday?

When I wrote about Emme’s 3rd birthday and showed off the adorable invitation, you might have noticed that “No Gifts Please” was printed under the date and location information. Yep… We asked people to skip the gifts for our kid’s birthday.

Maybe that seems horribly mean? Here was my reasoning: My daughter is the only grandchild on one side of the family; one of three on the other side. I knew her grandparents and other close relatives would give her generous gifts, and from that alone, she would be receiving quite a bit of stuff for her birthday.

No gifts please

When the guest list for her party started to get a little out of control, I started to think about the added clutter and writing dozens of thank you notes. Based on my untrained medical opinion, my blood pressure began to rise. So I started to think about requesting no gifts.

As you can imagine, the first person I consulted for advice was the entire Internet. And like most things on the Internet, the people seemed divided. Some regarded a parent’s request for no birthday gifts as an affront — they seemed convinced it was a trick. Others were totally on board.

Since the Internet is typically not to be trusted, I asked my IRL mom friends for feedback. Everyone seemed to think it was totally fine. They reassured me that no one would be offended by a “no gifts” request. They also said that people would probably bring gifts anyway (they were right).

I went for it. And many people brought gifts. That’s OK. Some people didn’t. That’s OK too. The people who did bring gifts, brought smaller items. Some people skipped the gift, but brought Emme a small token — a mylar balloon or pack of stickers. Others took the time to write a sweet message in a birthday card.

And it was all good! We did get less stuff, which was the main goal. However, the decision to ask for no gifts did have some pitfalls. People weren’t totally sure if we really meant it (we did), and a good portion of the party goers apologized for either bringing a gift or not bringing a gift. It was definitely not my intention to put any kind of pressure on my friends and family.

So, based on my experience, here are a few tips if you decide to ask for “No Gifts Please.”

How to ask for no gifts please at a child's birthday party. Tips for parents who don't want guests to bring gifts to a child's birthday party.

Keep the message simple.

I thought about trying to get super cutesy with the request that guests not bring gifts (“Your presence is our present,” etc.), but ultimately clarity and simplicity won out.

Make sure you mean it, but don’t be crazy about it.

Some people will end up bringing gifts and some won’t. If the choice people make is going to bother you — either way — just don’t do it.

Don’t send mixed messages.

People will likely ask you if you’re sure about this “no gifts” thing. A friend asked me, and I almost launched into a whole, you don’t have to bring a gift, but you know, people might bring small stuff and you should do what you want. You know what that sounds like? That sounds like I expected small gifts, which are still gifts. And I didn’t. So I just said that I meant the request and not to worry about bringing a gift.

Keep any gifts out of sight.

Often at parties, the gift table is displayed front and center. But if you’re asking people not to bring gifts, displaying the gifts can make people feel uncomfortable if they didn’t bring one. We tucked gifts away under a picnic table, and I don’t think anyone gave it a second thought after they arrived.

Don’t open gifts at the party.

To be honest, I haven’t been to a kid’s party where gifts have been opened in front of guests since Emme was born. When you’re entertaining families with young children, making them sit through an extensive gift opening session can be tedious. But if you do typically open gifts at a party, don’t if you’ve asked for no gifts. That will make people think you weren’t serious about your request and make them feel bad if they followed your instructions.

Emme had plenty to open, and at 3, she wasn’t totally obsessed with the idea of getting tons and tons of gifts — though I imagine that was the last time this will be the case. I probably won’t do it again, but we’ll also probably be transitioning to parties that are more kid-focused that family and friends focused.

I Am Not a Perfectionist

I’ve always worn my lack of perfectionism like a badge of honor. I smugly assumed I had figured out a secret of adulthood by embracing imperfection.

This doesn’t mean that I don’t work hard or strive for 100 percent in some areas; it just means that I know it’s not realistic to reach for some vague bar that has been set for “life” in the age of Pinterest — that pinnacle of living that encompasses everything from having your kids dressed in the right clothing to preparing homemade, healthy meals each day to maintaining an impeccable physical appearance to excelling at a high-powered career while somehow keeping your house clean.

Nope. That’s not me.

I’m cool with imperfect.

At least, I thought I was.

Then last week, I found myself in a particularly ugly spiral of negative self-talk. I was in the midst of grappling with why I simply could not do anything right ever when I realized, I may not be a self-professed perfectionist, but that’s only because I know I can’t reach that bar.

But perfection is still my bar.

progress not perfection

I expect 100 percent across the board knowing it’s simply not possible then I beat myself up for not being able to do it. And when I inevitably fail (which I knew I would), I get even more down on myself and throw the so-called baby out with the bathwater.

Sometimes, I don’t even try. (What’s the point? Failure is inevitable.)

It becomes an excuse to avoid taking chances and putting myself out there. (Why bother, really?)

And a byproduct of this perfection-seeking habit is ultimately, I don’t believe in myself.

The one thing I’ve been trying to live up to these years is impossible, and I knew that. And yet, I’ve let this attitude of “Life: You’re Doing it Wrong,” get to me.

It was, dare I say, an epiphany. Last week, I deliberately set the bar where that I knew (thought? hoped?) I could reach it and maybe hang for awhile. I cut my daily to-do list down from about 20 items to three or four. I focused on racking up small wins (I did all my training runs! I wrote an article every day! I ran an errand I’d been putting off for 3 weeks! I managed to put dinner on the table a few times!) so I could bank them later as a reminder that I am capable even though I will fall behind sometimes, even when the goal isn’t perfection.

And I reminded myself that this is about progress.

Progress, not perfection.

Five Things To Know About Ellie


We have passed T-minus one month and counting till New Baby’s arrival. And instead of thinking deeply about a birthing plan, I’ve concentrated on making arrangements for my oldest while my husband and I are doing the whole delivery thing. Grandma is scheduled to fly in plenty early, but being the obsessive planner that I am, I need back ups for my back ups.

photo (1)

So for any of my kind friends who find themselves caring for Ellie while John and I are otherwise indisposed, I’ve developed a “Five Things To Know About Ellie” list. I should warn you, it’s a bit graphic.

  1. The password to her iPad is EML1.
  2. She still needs a grown-up to wipe after going No. 2, and while doing No. 2, she’ll likely want her iPad. (See No. 1).
  3. She has no food or medical allergies we know of.
  4. She has no concept of time. If she asks, mommy and daddy will be back in an hour.
  5. Popsicles or popcorn solve most problems.

While accurate — and I hope potentially useful — this list was actually fun to put together. I encourage any parent to spend 5 minutes and think of five things a caregiver should know about their child. It’s a fun snapshot of pre-schooler life.

Gena is a Midwest transplant living in TucsoGena Kittnern, Arizona with her husband and 3-year-old daughter, Ellie. When not killing scorpions, Gena writes about food and family. Follow her on Twitter @genakittner, and check out her previous posts on Mommy Sanest.

Winter Isn’t Over Yet

I really had to work hard not to put a sad face emoticon in that headline.

If you live in Chicagoland, then you probably woke up Monday morning, looked out the window, and felt your heart sink. I mean, you heard that it was going to snow, but you didn’t think it would snow that much. And, after several days of spring-like weather and outdoor fun at the park and the zoo, what do you do with a young child when you’ve spent a long winter exhausting all your indoor play options?

You read my piece, 10 Unexpected Places to Take a Toddler on a Cold or Rainy Day, over at Pick Any Two, one of my favorite mom blogs out there!