The Mother Company premieres “The Siblings Show”

I first learned about The Mother Company when my kids were little. The Mother Company produces the award-winning "Ruby's Studio" series of books, apps, shows and activities, all focused on the social/emotional challenges kids experience every day, with the goal of helping them to become more communicative and kind. Their DVD called The Feelings Show was instrumental in helping my kids identify and talk about their feelings. As a former therapist, I loved the way they emphasized self-reflection and cooperation.

Since then, The Mother Company has launched several other topical DVD’s for kids, centering around emotional health, including friendship and safety, and just last week they launched The Siblings Show, all about brothers and sisters.

I might be a little biased, because one of the sibling sets featured is my own family:

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Look how little they are!!

They filmed this segment a few years ago, and then more recently my kids were part of a music video that is featured in the show:

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Too bad they’re all so shy.

One of the things I really appreciate about this show is that they did a segment on adoption, and featured several multi-racial families. Adoptive and mult-racial families will really appreciate seeing their families mirrored and affirmed. We got to see the premiere last weekend and really loved it.

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Abbie Schiller and Samantha Kurtzman-Counter are the moms behind The Mother Company. I did a little interview with them about their company and values.

1. Tell me about The Mother Company. How did you start?

Abbie:  As a working mom with a daughter in preschool, I found so few resources available to help me teach her the lessons in life that I find most important like how to express your feelings, make friends and be a good friend, resolve conflicts, build resilience, stay safe, empathy, etc.   As a working mom, I really needed that 30min preschool media break to make dinner when I got home and I noticed that there was very little in children's media that explored these areas.  So that's how the idea for The Mother Company was born -- I wanted to ease some of the burden of everyday parenting with a twofold approach:  expert resources for parents and high-quality media for kids that all focus around these essential prosocial and emotional skills.

2. What do you see as the mission for The Mother Company? What values drive your passion?

Sam:  Our motto at The Mother Company is "Helping Parents Raise Good People."  How great would it be to have a new generation of people who are kind, considerate, and compassionate?  Of course, studies show that kids who show proficiency in these social and emotional areas by the age of 5 tend to have more success in school, relationships and life.  It is our mission to become a company that helps parents better understand their kids, and helps kids better understand themselves.

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3. The Feelings Show is one of my all-time favorite DVD's for kids. What made you start with emotional literacy for your first show?

Abbie:  As we often like to say, "There are 25 million children under age 6 in this country…  and 100% of them have feelings!"  We all do!  And so many of us still don't know how to communicate about them effectively -which can lead to divorce, unhappiness, job loss - and in extreme cases, drug abuse, incarceration, homicide and suicide.  Recognizing and communicating your needs and emotions is essential to our entire society and NO ONE was teaching kids what the word was for the intense physical sensation they experience daily (frustration) or often (anger).  And then going beyond the basics of mad/sad/happy to emotions kids feel frequently and need names for like "jealousy" and "fear" and "pride." As Sam mentioned, every study ever done proves that if young kids can learn to recognize, identify, appropriately express and move through their feelings, they gain a much better understanding of themselves and others which lead to happier, more successful lives.  We started with "The Feelings Show" because that, we felt, was the most universal need for both parents and children.  And for society.

4. Talk to me about Ruby's Studio. How did you develop that concept? Why is that format so ideal for talking about higher-level topics with kids?

Sam:   Children are so influenced by media.  And it can be a wonderfully educational format - just by nature, kids want to watch things over and over.  Abbie and I really wanted to create a new hero in the media for kids, someone who could be a role model and engage kids with respect and understanding - a modern day Mister Rogers or Mary Poppins.  So we created Ruby, who is adorable, fun and magical, but still grounded, gentle and calming.   And in every show, Ruby brings a group of real kids (unscripted) to her art studio for a day of exploration about a certain topic - so far, we've done "The Feelings Show," "The Friendship Show" and our new one, "The Safety Show."  And through a combination of conversations with Ruby, beautiful old-school animation and original music videos, kids get to go on a totally fun adventure in a calm, gentle format that engages without overwhelming them.

5. One of the DVD’s in the Ruby's Studio series is about Safety. What does this episode cover?

Sam:  We are so excited about this show (watch the trailer here!) .  "The Safety Show" is a totally new, empowering approach to kids' personal safety, and we really tried to do it with no scare tactics and no "ick factor."  In our usual fun, gentle format, Ruby offers multiple tools and language to help keep kids safe:

- Honor your "Uh-Oh Feeling" -- The primary idea is teaching kids to trust their own instincts when something doesn't feel right.

- "Check First" --  If it becomes a habit to Check First with a Safe Adult before doing anything unexpected - whether it's with a stranger or someone they know - kids will be much safer.

- Be the "Boss of Your Body" -- we made a really fun music video about this idea, with 75 kid hip-hop dancers, drill teams and drummers, all singing about the idea that kids need to be empowered to take charge of their own bodies and say "no" to any kind of touch they don't like.    We figure that if we can get millions of 4 year-olds saying "I'm the Boss of My Body!" we will have done something really meaningful in this lifetime. Watch here!

- Get Smart about Getting Lost -- 7 out of 10 kids will get lost in their lifetime (!) so we help out by offering advice to seek help from a mom with kids (generally the safest choice) and also to really practice remembering their Safe Adult's phone number. 

Ruby also leads the kids in a craft that viewers can do at home, where they make "Safety Wristbands" out of duct tape that have a Safe Adult's phone number on the inside, just in case. Watch here!

6. As a mom-run business, any advice for other working moms out there?

Sam:  Support each other!  It is so hard to work and be the parents we want to be.  But there are enough of us out there who are in positions of power where we can make our respective lives as working moms all that much better, by offering more flex hours, benefits, leave, etc.   Hopefully we can all create sea change in the work world to have more respect for the incredible dedication it takes to try to raise a generation of good people.

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A video posted by Kristen Howerton (@kristenhowerton) on

You can check out all of The Mother Company products here.

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What I want you to know about living with HIV

What I Want You to Know is a series of reader submissions. It is an attempt to allow people to tell their personal stories, in the hopes of bringing greater compassion to the unique issues each of us face. If you would like to submit a story to this series, click here. Today’s guest post is by Matt.

I had a fever of 103, sore throat, sweaty from my feet to my head, achy all over, bed reddened, and exhausted. I went home for Thanksgiving and still had all the symptoms so I went to the nearest clinic and they prescribed me ZPak. The fever finally broke but my stomach began to hurt and my skin was irritated all over. I thought I was allergic to the Zpak - This was a nightmare.

Finally, I went to Northwestern Medical Clinic and the doctor told me to take allergy pills and put some cream on the rashes but that didn’t help. For the next couple weeks, I shrugged off the irritated skin, stomach issues and just changed my diet, cleaned, did my laundry more often, and paid attention more to my daily habits. As much as I paid attention and changed my habits, I continued to have the irritated skin and stomach issues. I couldn’t hold anything down.

Finally, I gave up and made an appointment with a Physician to have a check up and he asked, “If I wanted to get tested for HIV?” I automatically said, “No!” out of panic. I was scared that I might have HIV and from all the negativity I hear about it, that is the last thing I wanted to have. I also told myself a long time ago, that if I ever get HIV, I’d have to commit suicide. Finally, my doctor convinced me, he said, that it has progressed since the 80′s and you will no longer die from the virus and the treatment has come a long way. So I got tested for HIV and wouldn’t hear back for a few days.

I remember sitting at work with a lump in my throat waiting for a phone call from my doctor to see if I was living with HIV. I could barely breathe; my voice was shaky, and I was about to have a panic attack. All I could think about is my family can’t see me like this. He called and my blood work came back inconclusive and I had to schedule another visit to draw more blood. I was a wreck and I couldn’t even focus – I was sad, angry, and unstable. I knew if my blood work came back HIV positive - I had to commit suicide. I went to the doctor that evening and had 8 tubes of blood drawn from me. I remember my doctor telling me, I will live a long and normal life and there was no reason to commit suicide.

On December 28, I went to the doctor’s office to find out my results and it came back HIV Positive. I put my head down and cried. I never thought this would happen to me. There I was crying hysterically as Seth (my boyfriend) held me. My thoughts began to flutter:

“What will I tell my parents? What about my health insurance? How will I pay for my medicine? What happens from here? When will I get the medicine? How does all this work?" 

My thoughts fluttered…

For the next few months I settled into to being angry, sad, nervous and not sure how to tell my family and friends. I spent many days at home laying in bed and taking many days off of work while seeking treatment with a Doctor at Northwestern Medical Group. I gave blood to determine where my white blood cells (they fight against anything that attacks the immune system) are and how much virus is in my body. I found out my white blood cells were very low and there was a substantial amount of virus in me so my doctor would soon prescribe me Antiretroviral Drugs. The Doctor prescribed me Stribild so I went to pick it up at the Walgreens and without notification I would have to pay $900 with my Health Insurance. I went back upstairs and told her that I couldn’t afford the medication so she gave me a Gilead Drug Assistance Card. The card would give me a $400 discount and the cost for the Stribild was now $500 – I still couldn’t afford it. This began a long process of seeking treatment.

After jumping around to various HIV Healthcare Facilities I arrived at University of Chicago to seek treatment and finally got my medication covered 100 percent. I started medication and still continued to have stomach issues, which would result in me switching to the Antiretroviral Drug Complera.

Through this whole experience, I had the idea of coming out HIV positive and running the Chicago Marathon to raise money for HIV/AIDS and blog openly and honestly about living with HIV.

On March 2nd, I decided to come out HIV positive and talk openly about my status via blog. This began a new journey, a journey that allowed new people into my life and pushed some people away. This hardest part was not having the support from my own family when I was dealing with symptoms of the virus. For 2 months, I wasn’t talking to my family and had to quit my job because at this time I was working with my family. I had to put all that behind me because I needed to stand tall and give back to people living with HIV/Aids because I was once judging and throwing stereotypes at them.

This whole experience has changed my life forever. The experiences I have had with sharing my story has encouraged people to talk to me about their HIV status, encouraged people to ask questions and to give others hope. Sharing my own life story goes beyond me, it is simply about living my life openly and honestly to give others hope and belonging. This has given me the opportunity to uncover my sexual abuse, depression, suicide, alcohol abuse and financial instability and by speaking publicly about these struggles it will allow others to stand witness of their own struggles. Like Brene Brown says, “Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy-the experience that makes us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness we will discover the infinite power of light.”

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Friday Finds

1. Nerf Bash Ball  | Hasbro 
2. KRE-O | Transformers  Set 
3. DohVinci Style & tore Vanity DIY Design Kit | Hasbro 
4. SkinAgain  | AHA Exfoliating Cleanser: Natural Foaming Face Wash
5. LOOK FOR LIGHT- Wearable Art Collaboration 
    between Chookooloonks and VIDA
6. Power Clutchette in Coral | Chicbuds 
7. Kingston Digital MobileLite Wireless Flash Reader G2 for Smartphones 
    and Tablets | Amazon
8. Orla Kiely in Multi Stem Fabric | Boppy 
9. Linge Ballet Shoes for Babies and Kids 

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Asshole Parents on tv

This morning The Doctors did a little segment on my  Asshole Parents website and instagram feed. You can watch it here:

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Wednesday's Child: Fancy

Every Wednesday I feature a child recently highlighted by a local Wednesday's Child newscast to share the stories of children from around the country who are waiting for a family. My hope is that this can broaden exposure for the children highlighted, but also serve as a reminder that these children represent thousands of children currently in the foster-care system. Perhaps their stories will inspire you to consider opening your home to a child needing a family. For more information and to learn about other waiting children, visit AdoptUsKids.

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