Stuff Your Own Stocking

 Photo and Post by Erin Ferris

Photo and Post by Erin Ferris

Nearly every Mama Bear I know approaches the holiday season energized and inspired. In the weeks leading up to the big day, she gives 110% of herself as she decorates her home to make Joanna Gaines proud; selects and wraps gifts perfect for the 713 family members, friends, neighbors, teachers, and community helpers (as my daughter would call them) on her list; and carries on traditions started decades earlier. She schedules family photos, assembles holiday cards, coordinates travel plans, and prepares for out-of-town guests. She throws parties, bakes cookies, and somehow remembers to move “The Elf” every single day. In short, she creates the magic.

But when the holiday itself finally arrives, nearly every Mama Bear I know drags herself across the finish line exhausted and empty.

Now before you label me a curmudgeon, you should know that I absolutely LOVE this time of year. I adore decorating and shopping and wrapping and baking. I look forward to losing myself in the magic of Christmas every December, so much so that I have considered creating a pre-advent calendar counting down to when I can finally start using my actual advent calendar. That doesn’t mean, however, that when December 25th arrives I don’t feel a little like the title character in Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer.

Mama Bears deserve to enjoy the season as much as everyone else in their family, and I have learned – the hard way – throughout the last few years that at least two ways to accomplish this exist. The first is to keep the season simple. Embrace only a few important traditions, start shopping early and shop online for gifts (or just shop less and give fewer gifts), and say “no” to the events, activities, and relationships that don’t enhance the holidays.

The second is to, on occasion, indulge. To “stuff your own stocking”, if you will. When you start to feel your spirits or holiday cheer wane, treat yourself to a small pick-me-up, whether it’s a cup of coffee, a glass of wine, time with friends, a quick workout at the gym, or something fun from the list of pampering goodies below.

Apply this rosemary mint foot cream and tuck your feet into these cozy socks before bed and wake up the following morning with soft, smooth, and hydrated feet.

Indulge in these chocolate, candy, and sprinkle-covered pretzel rods when you find yourself in need of a sweet treat. From toffee and gingerbread to birthday cake and PB&J, there are flavors to suit every craving.

Diffuse natural and pure essential oils throughout your home – or add a drop or two to bath water – to support healthy immune systems and a healthy home. Essential oils can also, depending on your mood and emotional state, help increase energy, calm nerves, improve concentration, and lessen anxiety.

Pour yourself a steaming mug of this delectable peppermint hot chocolate, or if you’d prefer to skip the calories, wash away the day’s stresses with these adorable homemade hot chocolate soaps.

Draw yourself a hot bath and add one of these natural, organic, vegan bath bombs; the set includes Grapefruit, Lemon, Coconut, Lavender, Red Rose, Peppermint, Chamomile, Jasmine, and Vanilla, all of which can offer a luxurious escape from the hustle and bustle.

Sit back, relax, and let the beautifully fresh scents of these candles whisk you away to somewhere other than your living room. The Teakwood Currant and Sugared Birch are particularly unique and delicious.

Fend off those chilly temperatures and biting winds – or just snuggle up on the couch – in a cozy blanket scarf or fringe wrap. This multicolored plaid version is on sale and would layer beautifully over a long-sleeved tee, sweater, or vest.

Mama Bears, I see you. I see you creating the magic. I see you singing the same three holiday songs over and over and over again. I see you climbing out of bed at 2am to move that ridiculous elf. And so this holiday season, I’d love to also see you taking a few minutes to stuff your own stocking.

Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Happy Kwanza, Happy Holidays, Happy Winter, and Happy New Year, Mama Bears!

The Imperfect Table

 Photo and post by Leslie Klipsch

Photo and post by Leslie Klipsch

Ever since I can remember, my mother has thrown a lovely Christmas Eve dinner party. It’s a dressed-up affair that begins right after Christmas Eve Mass with shrimp cocktail, stuffed mushrooms, and oyster stew, and ends—after huge platters of lasagna are served and enjoyed—with dessert (vanilla ice cream for the kids and a Grasshopper for the adults). One particularly merry eve when I was around ten, the dinner plates were cleared and my mom unveiled something new she had spent the afternoon making—a beautiful blueberry cream cheese tart with a crumbly, homemade pecan crust.

My dear mother. It was obvious within the first few bites that the crust was severely burnt. The guests were having trouble chewing and swallowing, though everyone—friends and family alike—was too polite to mention it, instead carrying on pleasant conversation while reaching for their water glass.

Our parish priest, still in his collar, was seated at our table and he ventured to use the side of his fork to casually (but determinedly) cut his next polite bite. Before we knew it, a quarter-size piece of burnt pecan crumble crust shot across the table like a bullet and landed on my grandmother’s plate.

All eyes quickly turned to my mother to measure her response. To everyone’s relief, she broke out in raucous laughter and we all followed suit, howling until we had tears in our eyes. The niceties were over; the crust was a flop. But the dinner party? Still fabulous.

Of course, this is not exactly how my mother had hoped her tart would turn out that year. It’s also probably not the one moment out of three decades of beautifully prepared Christmas Eve dinners that she would hope to have been crystallized in my mind forever, but it is. I treasure this memory because it highlights the joy found in imperfection. My mother is a gifted hostess whom I admire immensely. However, on that Christmas Eve in the late eighties, her piecrust was not perfect.

The holidays are so often fraught with anxiety and expectation. We worry about everything from money to menus to being face-to-face with the pain of fractured relationships. We struggle to provide magic for those around us and we stress over creating long-lasting memories with every move we make. If only we would let go of some of those long-held expectations and loosen our grip on the quest for perfection. In doing so, we might welcome a better season, one during which we are free to enjoy the depth of relationships and the promise of joy without the heavy weight of flawlessness.

Practicing Thanks

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When I found out I was pregnant with my second, I immediately waged a preemptive strike on the postpartum depression that flattened me after my first was born. In an attempt to keep the fear, anxiety, and despair from once again taking over my life and driving a wedge between me and my baby, I started seeing a therapist and writing in a gratitude journal.

I "journaled" periodically throughout my tween, teen, and college years, and while reading through these journals offers up a walk down memory lane, the walk is anything but pleasant – nearly all of my journal entries center around angst and heartbreak. 

The goal of a gratitude journal, however, falls at the opposite end of the spectrum. In each entry, you are required to write about something – anything, big or small – for which you are thankful. Instead of dwelling on how many times you put your toddler in timeout, you focus on how thankful you are that your partner came home from work 20 minutes early to relieve you. Instead of dwelling on how you spent an entire morning cleaning someone else's bodily fluids off the bathroom floor, you focus on how thankful you are that your baby’s afternoon nap lasted just long enough for you to take a shower.

According to researchers at UC-Berkley’s Greater Good Science Center, the benefits of practicing gratitude span nearly every aspect of life. Study results show that people who take time to notice and reflect on the good in their lives experience more positive emotions like happiness and optimism, fewer negative emotions like loneliness and isolation, and less depression. These people also sleep better, express more compassion and kindness, and have stronger immune systems.

Taking a moment at the end of every day to acknowledge and say thank you for a moment, experience, or person who made the day just a little bit brighter - even when the best you can come up with is "coffee" or "bedtime" - is one of the most positive coping mechanisms around.

By the grace of God, I never experienced a single symptom of postpartum depression - or even the baby blues, for that matter - after Hallie was born. I'll never know if the steps I took while pregnant or the way Hallie came into the world (Will's birth was pretty traumatic, while Hallie's birth was pretty perfect) made a difference, or if I was just given a pass the second time around. Either way, after writing throughout my pregnancy with Hallie and the first few months of her life, I was hooked on gratitude journals. Nine years later, I still keep one every November and every Lenten season.

As we embark on this season of Thanksgiving, I invite you, my fellow Mama Bears, to join me in keeping a gratitude journal. You certainly need not write in your journal every day throughout the month of November; instead try just writing every Sunday in November, or every day during the week of Thanksgiving. Whatever the case, I hope keeping a gratitude journal helps you stay strong and faithful and grateful for the simple gifts in life, just as it does me.  

Mama Bear Books: Graphic Novels and Mysteries

Hello again, Mama Bears!

I spend most of my time reading literary fiction and nonfiction, but sometimes it’s great to take a break from that and sink your teeth into some good genre reads. Summer feels like the perfect time for a departure from the standard reads. Though I certainly don’t limit myself to these books just in the summer, I have a couple of my favorite mystery series to share with you. And I’m even more excited to share some graphic novel suggestions with you! They are a relatively new discovery for me and I am thoroughly enjoying exploring this genre. I am hoping this post will inspire you to try something that maybe you haven’t tried before. Happy reading!

Graphic Novels

March by John Lewis: This three-book series allows readers to see the Civil Rights movement through the eyes of Congressman John Lewis.

Maus: A Survivor’s Tale by Art Spiegelman: The life of Polish Jews during WWII, both before and after their internment. (Two-book series)

The Complete Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi: If you don’t know anything about the revolution in Iran in the 80s and early 90s, this is a lesson to be learned.

Fun Home by Alison Bechdel: A memoir where Bechdel wrestles with her father’s death and secret sexuality while also coming to grips with her own sexuality.

My Favorite Thing is Monsters by Emil Ferris: This is a dark and gritty tale about a girl who imagines herself like a monster found in horror movies. She tasks herself with figuring out what really happened in the suspicious death of her neighbor, a WWII survivor. Themes include sexuality, suicide, cancer, death and poverty among other things. Not for the faint of heart, but if you’re up for it, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed. P.S. Ferris began work on this graphic novel as she recovered from paralysis caused by West Nile.

Mysteries

The Cormoran Strike Series by Robert Galbraith: Robert Galbraith is a pseudonym for J.K. Rowling. The series starts with The Cuckoo’s Calling. I may be biased because I love J.K., but I thoroughly enjoy the character of Cormoran Strike and his assistant, Robin.

The Flavia de Luce Series by Alan Bradley: The first book in the series is The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie. Flavia is a teen girl full of spunk and a passion for chemistry who has a knack for solving mysteries. She is an absolute delight.

Lindsey Sinnwell is a married mother of four living in the suburbs in Iowa and will be contributing a monthly literary reflection on the Mama Bear Blog. After spending 12 years as a stay-at-home mom, she is returning to her alma mater to pursue her teaching certification in English. She is much cooler than she sounds and is always looking for new book-loving friends. You can find her on Instagram at @mrssinnwellreads.

Mama Bear Self Care: Bake for the Health of It

 Photos and baking wizardry by Erin Ferris.

Photos and baking wizardry by Erin Ferris.

I learned my way around the kitchen under my mother’s wing. Wearing an apron that hung nearly to my ankles and standing precariously on a wooden stool, I inched closer and closer until I all but crowded her out of the head chef’s place at the counter. As we created salads, soups, and casseroles, she taught me the formal techniques I would one day use to feed my family as well how to express my creativity in the kitchen and the art of preparing and presenting food with love.

Fifteen years later and as a newly-relocated (read: friendless) newlywed whose other half worked 14 hours a day, I decided to build on what my mother taught me and improve my baking skills. I told myself I took on the project for the sake of our future children, who would of course someday need me to contribute to their schools’ bake sales … honestly, I really just wanted an excuse to lick the bowl and indulge in a few sweet treats myself.

As I whipped up banana bread, brownies, lemon bars, and carrot cake with cream cheese frosting, I realized that each recipe – even halved – produced more than my little family could consume. Rather than dump the extras into the trash, I started sending them to work with my husband or taking them to my office. My husband’s graduate students sent thank-you emails for the homemade cookies. My coworkers’ faces lit up when they found trays of cupcakes on the break room counter. And with that, a cycle began: I baked, my baked goods made other people happy, I felt happy, and I baked again.

I didn’t always love the process, or the cleanup, or the frustration that crept in when I attempted to tweak recipes with disastrous results, but I kept baking because it made me feel good about myself.

The cycle continues today, another 15 years later. Despite my family doubling in size and my time commitments doubling in number, I still bake for my husband, kids, friends, and friends’ kids. For sporting events. For school functions. For Fridays. At times my inability to turn down a request for baked goods – no matter how full my schedule – baffles me.

And then last month I came across this article. As the choir sang “Alleluia,” the heavens parted and a beam of light illuminated my stove like a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow. Suddenly it all became clear.

Should your busy schedule keep you from reading the article in its entirety, here’s a summary: making other people happy makes us happy, and when we care for others, we care for ourselves.

  • Baking provides a creative outlet. Research has found an inverse relationship between creative expression and stress, meaning the more we express ourselves creatively, the lower our stress levels.
  • Baking provides a way to communicate feelings and emotions. When we struggle to express how we feel, food can help us share our message. Explains Julie Ohana, a licensed medical social worker and culinary art therapist, “In many cultures, and in many countries, food…is an expression of love, and it’s actually beautiful because it’s something we can all relate to.”
  • Baking promotes mindfulness, which has been connected to increased happiness and decreased stress. Because baking requires physical and mental focus and attention to detail, it requires us to be present in the moment. Ohana also explains that baking promotes balancing the moment against the bigger picture, something that can be difficult to master.
  • Baking with the intent to gift the finished product is altruistic. Donna Pincus, an Associate Professor of Psychological and Brain Sciences, describes the cycle I mentioned above in more detail: “Baking for others can increase a feeling of wellbeing, contribute to stress relief and make you feel like you’ve done something good for the world, which perhaps increases your meaning in life and connection with other people.”

Of course these benefits to baking apply only if you feel comfortable in the kitchen. If baking causes you stress, steer clear…but then find your gift and put it to use in the same way many of us use baking. A friend of mine is an incredible knitter and she loves to make scarves and hats and mittens for friends. Another friend creates beautiful leather bookmarks and pops them into books when she lends her favorites. These Mama Bears enjoy their personal creative outlets and appreciate the feelings of accomplishment and happiness that come from caring for others.

Though I didn’t realize it until last month, for 30+ years I have measured, mixed, and decorated as a way to work out my creative energy, let others know how I feel, and spend time alone with my thoughts. Now that I know the benefits, I anticipate another 30+ years of the same.

Perhaps we should talk about exercise next month…


Mama Bear contributor Erin Ferris is a wife, mother, and writer living in College Station, Texas. She loves snow, tulips, donuts, cowboy boots, kittens, musical theater, college football, crime dramas, young adult fiction, and the color red. After working for the American Red Cross for nearly 10 years, she stepped away from the nonprofit world to focus on her favorite part of that job: telling meaningful and impactful stories. She contributes a monthly “Mama Bear Self Care” post to the Mama Bear Dares Blog, and you can find her at Chasing Roots.

#momtheology: Mother's Day and the Myth of St. Mom

  Mother with Thorns and Turkey from  Mother  by  Judy Olausen

 Mother with Thorns and Turkey from Mother by  Judy Olausen

When I was growing up, there weren’t many women from the Bible elevated in sermons. Yet I could always count on the Mother’s Day service to include a reading from Proverbs Chapter 31 followed by an oration praising the noble wife presented and extolling her domestic perfection.

Because of this yearly tradition, there was a season of my young adulthood in which I resented the proverbial “perfect woman.” She seemed to have all the qualities I lacked. She was an early riser, a tidy housekeeper, and the bearer of many children. She mystified me, I guess. Was she a spokeswoman to represent the important work of womanhood? Or was she an unrealistic figure of excellence who would haunt me forever?

I have since come to see her as both. She is at once an exemplary, model woman and an exaggerated, mythical creature.

When I say "myth" I am not disrespecting sacred scripture, nor downplaying this figure’s power. Karen Armstrong, author and religious scholar, calls something a "myth" if it happened once and also happens all the time. [1] I find this definition fitting for our heroine, the Proverbs 31 Wife, because she was likely a composite made up of real traits that existed long ago … and her characteristics also echo now into our contemporary day and age.

This “myth” language gives me permission to accept our ancient Wonder Woman not by dismissing her qualities, but by holding her lightly—playing, even, with the imagination of her, contemporized. I invite you to join me as I lift up motherhood with the help of biblical wisdom.

For instance, the writer of Proverbs praises "the capable wife" (verse 15) because she “rises while it is still night.” But I say unto you, Modern Mom: “Blessed are you who wakes at 3 a.m., 5 a.m., 5:30, 6:30 (and so on…), yet still adorns her fussy infant with affection come morning.”

Or as the biblical writer in verse 16 extols the woman who “considers a field and buys it” and “who plants a vineyard with her own hands.” Lo, I say unto you, Mom of 2017: “Praised be your name when, though you are ragged, you miraculously remember to pay your mortgage each month!” And, likewise: “Blessed are thy hands that succeed at feeding your toddler food of nutritional value!”

As I revisit Proverbs 31 now, I’ve noticed some things that didn’t stand out before. For example, it seems that the woman introduced is a woman of means. She considers investments, she has support staff to carry out her household chores. However, these are not the root of her fulfillment.  Instead, verses 26-28 remind us what gives mama her true wealth, her real power. The writer says of this amazing woman: “She opens her mouth with wisdom … her children rise up and call her happy.” What is her wisdom? What makes her happy? The answer stems from the things that cannot be bought or brokered; it rests in the realm of home and hearth, the community of wise women, and the support of a loving, faithful marriage.

And so, I second those words and I say unto you: Mothers, wherever you are, glory to you for the wisdom you share with one another, for the ways you tend to your children’s hearts so that they feel loved, safe, and secure, and for the times they catch you truly delighting in them, in yourself, and in your life ... and they rise to regard you as happy.                

[1] Karen Armstrong, The Case for God (New York, 2009) p. xi.

Kendra Thompson is a part-time minister and full-time mom living in Davenport, Iowa. In her spare time, when she's not at the mall, she blogs at Cry Laugh Snort.

Mother’s Day Gifts: Eight Ideas for the Mama Bear in Your Life

Mama Bear. She’s strong, she’s sensitive, she’s socially minded. If you’re lucky enough to have a Mama Bear in your life, we know you’ll want to honor her on Mother’s Day. Check out these thoughtful, big-hearted gifts sure to make even the fiercest Mama Bear swoon.

1. Beaded Earrings from Tanzania

Because of the sponsorship of mom-artist, Mama-Bear, and #girlboss Jen VanOort of Onion Grove Mercantile, 100% of the purchase of a pair of red beaded earrings ($30) made by Maasai women in Tanzania will go to women’s empowerment programming in poor, rural areas of Tanzania. Empower Tanzania works to prepare women for success in sub-Saharan Africa through education and specialized training in healthcare, agriculture, and small business. Learn more about their work at www.empowertz.org and purchase a set of earrings HERE.

2. Uprising Apparel

A “Be the Light” tank ($28) is a double win. Uprising Apparel is a Mama Bear company in that they offer stylish, inspiring apparel that shares a message of hope while helping to raise vulnerable children out of poverty. The purchase of this tank will help bring light and hope to vulnerable children in Uganda through educational initiatives and will provoke goodness in anyone who reads the message.

3. FashionABLE Bag

We love this leather bag ($148) handcrafted in Ethiopia almost as much as we love the philosophy behind the company who produces it. FashionABLE believes in creating jobs for those lacking opportunity and that those jobs should be held by women. This Mama Bear mission is one we want to support: to end generational poverty, we must empower people to provide for themselves.

4. Minivan Makeover

American moms with children of a certain age tend to spend an astonishing amount of time in their minivans. Concentrate your efforts on pampering her where she’s at! In other words, clean that baby until it sparkles. If you’re detail-oriented and not afraid of elbow-grease, you can perform the task yourself ($0). If you supervise and demand a certain level of excellence, the kids can do it ($0). Otherwise, the local full-service car wash will get the job done ($49-$249). (If you choose to hire someone, find a black, female, or immigrant-owned business to support for bonus Mama Bear points.)

5. Mama Bear’s Manifesto

Mama Bear’s Manifesto: A Moms’ Group Guide to Changing the World ($14) is a book that honors moms and asks women of all ages to poke at the power they hold within. It’s a celebration of women, of friendship, and of the incredible power of motherhood. This book will inspire and reassure moms of all ages and is perfect for Mother’s Day. Ten percent of all sales is donated to The Adventure Project. Available at Target, Barnes & Noble, Amazon, and other major bookstores.

6. LSTN Earbuds

If she loves listening to podcasts, she’ll probably love listening to her favorite shows (ahem, Mama Bear Dares!) on these zebra wood earbuds ($49). Not only are they gorgeous and do they produce great sound, but every LSTN purchase helps give hearing aids to someone in need. (Also, we’re drooling over LSTN’s wireless, over-ear Troubadors ($179). They’re a bit pricier but MUCH harder to lose!)

7. Spa Treatment

Encourage her self-care routine by giving the Mama Bear in your life a gift certificate for a spa service (massage, facial, mani/pedi; $30 and up) ... and then make sure she makes time to use it. And remember, Mama Bears love lifting their sisters up—enhance the meaning of this gift by spending your dollars at a local, female-owned business. Pair the gift with vegan, non-GMO bath bombs for complete thoughtfulness.

8. Sustainable Shades

If she has a kid or two, she’s probably responsible enough to hold on to a pair of quality, sustainable shades, right? Invest in a pair of Woodwear eco-friendly, sustainable sunglasses and the Mama Bear in your life will feel fancy and in good conscience all summer long. Woodwear Sunglasses are handmade out of sustainable bamboo in the U.S.A. Favorites: Breck Woods ($90) and classic tortoise Malibus ($60).

Mama Bear Self Care: Make the Dream a Reality

The Dream: after the kids fall asleep, Mama Bear settles in to relax and enjoy what remains of her evening. She shuts off her computer and phone, pours herself a glass of wine or a cup of tea, takes a warm bath, and finally climbs into bed with a good book. Eventually she too drifts off to la la land, waking ready to face the day after a refreshing eight hours of slumber.

The Reality: after the kids are FINALLY in bed, Mama Bear’s work begins. She cleans up the kitchen and loads the dishwasher. She gathers dirty clothes and starts a load of laundry. She puts away toys and books and shoes. She makes lunches, packs backpacks, and sets alarm clocks. She checks and answers emails, writes a to-do list for the following day, and pops over to YouTube to see if April the giraffe has given birth yet.

Admittedly, these two scenarios fall at the far ends of the bedtime routine spectrum. But if your days and nights look anything like mine, you find yourself closer to “the reality” rather than “the dream”.

Back in February I reached my breaking point. Despite feeling exhausted, at the end of the night I couldn’t relax and fall asleep. My brain kept churning, and as a result, my hands continued to pick up my phone to jot down a note or send another message. Around the same time, I realized I hadn’t finished reading a single book since last October. I considered the possibility that these two situations were connected (that when I stopped reading as part of my bedtime routine, my schedule went haywire), and decided to attempt to make my nights more positive and restorative…with a reading challenge.

I committed myself to reading 10 pages of a book – no magazines, no online articles – every night for the entire month of March.

At first I would climb into bed at or after 11pm and begrudging read my pages before going back to my phone to wrap up the night. But as time went on and I began to lose myself in my book, 10 pages became 20 pages became 40 pages. I found myself managing my days more efficiently with the goal of lessening my evening workload and increasing the amount of time available for reading. I stopped picking up my phone for one last message. I started falling asleep more quickly once I had finished reading and sleeping more soundly throughout the night. I woke better rested and without the neck ache I had been dealing with for months. One small change to my bedtime routine dramatically impacted both how I slept and my life as a whole.

According to the National Sleep Foundation, sleep affects our mood, energy level, and overall health and well-being. And while we know and understand sleep guidelines and recommendations, getting enough sleep – especially as Mama Bears – can be tough. We can’t do much about babies who need to eat, toddlers who have bad dreams, or preschoolers who wet the bed in the middle of the night. So instead, let’s focus on what we can control. We can exercise daily and limit caffeine in the afternoons and evenings. We can stick to a regular schedule, sleep in a comfortable bedroom (low light, low sound, cool temperature), and sleep on a comfortable mattress. We can turn off all of our electronic devices an hour before we would like to fall asleep and open a book instead. Just as we create calming, restorative bedtime routines for our kiddos, we can create calming, restorative bedtime routines for ourselves.

“Make sleep a priority…don’t make it the thing you do only after everything else is done – stop doing everything else so you get the sleep you need.” The National Sleep Foundation’s recommendation makes sense, but if completely overhauling your evening and bedtime routines feels too daunting, just make one small change. Take one stressful task off your evening to-do list, or add one relaxing activity to your bedtime routine…even if it’s just reading 10 pages of a good book every night. The benefits will eventually reveal themselves, and Mama Bears deserve every single one of them.

Mama Bear contributor Erin Ferris is a wife, mother, and writer living in College Station, Texas. She loves snow, tulips, donuts, cowboy boots, kittens, musical theater, college football, crime dramas, young adult fiction, and the color red. After working for the American Red Cross for nearly 10 years, she stepped away from the nonprofit world to focus on her favorite part of that job: telling meaningful and impactful stories. She will contribute a monthly “Mama Bear Self Care” post to the Mama Bear Dares blog, and you can find her at Chasing Roots.

Confessions of a Thirty-Five-Year-Old Mallrat

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In 1995, there was a movie. Granted, it wasn’t a great movie, but at least it was crass and juvenile. I’m talking about Mallrats. Food court debates, break ups and of course, Jay and Silent Bob doing their thing – whatever that is.

I’m not saying this movie sums up my life or anything, but lately I do spend an inordinate amount of time at the mall. I guess you could say: I’m a thirty-five-year-old mallrat.

I blame my children. And the Midwest.

I had my first child at the tail end of a polar vortex which struck Iowa in the first part of 2014. Being hospitalized, becoming a new mother, these things already cam make you feel stir crazy. But when you can’t even go outside because, with wind chill, it’s twenty degrees below zero? You figure out some way to get out of the house.

For me, I took my tiny baby to the mall.

I prided myself on a practice I call “Exploiting the Mall.” I discovered the free coffee sample, which varies daily, at the kitchen store, I located bathroom stalls big enough to contain a mom, a baby, and a stroller, I scouted out quiet places to feed my son and I often left my shopping experience having spent ten dollars or less.

As he’s gotten older, I’ve passed on “Exploiting the Mall” to my son. We visit Build-a-Bear, which may as well be a bear museum, because we never buy anything. We ‘ride’ the trains -feeding no quarters to the mechanical amusements that go nowhere. And after these rounds, we often feast on a low-budget, shared kid’s meal of nuggets, fries, and diet lemonade in the food court.

Now I am the mother of two small children and the mall remains our routine companion. In fact, my son even recognizes it from the road. When he sees the Northwest Bank building looming at the top of Brady and Kimberly he asks, “Mom, is that the mall?” He overlooks Toys-R-Us completely, perhaps because we never go there. But he knows the mall.

I’m not entirely proud of this recognition. Perhaps at some point I will be held responsible for my son’s consumeristic leanings; his own mallrat tendencies.

This pangs me a bit. But it’s not just about shopping.

I regularly have conversations with store owners, managers and baristas.  Yes, I’ve spent enough time at the mall that I’ve made friends. I know that Jim, owner of Cotopaxi, famous for Bob Marley posters and ten cent incense sticks, lives out of state but runs his franchise from a far. I’ve met the Pastor’s son who runs the Christian coffee shop that keeps me coming back with potent espresso and ten percent off coupons. (I even got a tour of their worship space and recording studio once.) I also enjoy running into my friends from church who are mall-walkers, frequenting North Park as much as I do.

Being a mallrat is about loitering and infrequently buying things, but I’d argue it’s also about finding community. Sometimes I go to the mall to shop. But sometimes I go just so I can be around people, nodding at the other moms navigating stores with bulky diaper bags and cumbersome strollers. And in the meantime, I’ve met a few people and now we are in each other’s narratives. Funny how that happens.

When my husband and I lived in college towns like Lawrence, Kansas and Fort Collins, Colorado, my mercantile wanderings took me to Mass Street and Old Town; hip districts containing shops, breweries, and bordered by bodies of water. I’m older now, I have children, and I live in Davenport, Iowa. I suppose we could go downtown to wander along the Mississippi River. I could do that, and infrequently, I do. But more likely than not, when I need to get out of the house, go for a little walk, buy some stickers, and eat a salty snack — I go to the mall


*Special thanks to Joyce Paustian who took this picture at North Park Mall and Woody Perkins who made it so closely resemble the movie poster for Mallrats.

I’m also thankful for my friends and family featured: Joe (my son), Louise (my mother in law), Bob (friend, church member, and faithful mall-walker), Andi (my daughter), John (my husband), Woody, Sarah and Matthew (friends and remarkably adventuresome collaborators).

Oh, and Danielle Parker, Owner and Stylist at Studio 714 salon who asked, “So you want me to style your hair for a blog?” But then did it anyway.


Kendra Thompson is a part-time minister and full-time mom living in Davenport, Iowa. In her spare time, when she's not at the mall, she blogs at Cry Laugh Snort.