Global Mamas: Scotland

Global Mamas Thursday, March 13, 2014

Globala Mamas Scotland map | Ms. Mary Mack

We’re profiling one mother from every country on the planet. (Current tally: 19 down, 173 countries to go!)

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Meet Michelle Brown, mother of 3-year-old Ben.  Michelle originally studied cinema and photography at Ithaca College.  However, after graduating, she worked for a summer camp and her career path turned towards children’s and youth ministry instead.  In 2005 she moved from the States to Edinburgh, Scotland, to pursue a masters in theological ethics at the University of Edinburgh and to plan for her wedding  to her Scottish man, Paul. Five years later, Ben joined the family.  They three now live in Musselburgh, Scotland, and Michelle works part-time as a Children’s and Youth Worker in the Church of Scotland while taking care of Ben full-time.

Here’s her story …

Global Mamas Scotland_Michelle | Ms. Mary Mack 

Life before baby …
I grew up in a small town in New Jersey, but I always wanted to see more of the world.  During college, I studied in Stirling Scotland and also drove across the states to study in Los Angeles, CA. After college, I spent six months working in London, England and then two months travelling around Europe with some friends.  After that I moved to Boston.  I always thought I would be a filmmaker but after working at a Christian summer camp as a camp photographer/camp counsellor the summer after graduating, I quickly realized that working with children and young people was where my heart was.

I met Paul through friends while on holiday in Edinburgh, Scotland. I knew right away that I had met someone pretty amazing. Two years later, while I was visiting Edinburgh for a graduate school interview, Paul proposed! We were marriedtThe day after my dissertation was due.

My ideas about motherhood …
Growing up I was one of those kids with lots of baby dolls playing “mum.”  I definitely wanted a big family — three or four children.  I did a lot of baby-sitting and spent ten years working with children and young people, and  I thought I was prepared for being a mum.

Then came baby …
Even with the prenatal classes and books, I really was not prepared for the realities of those first few weeks getting to know the baby.  When I got home from hospital, I was visited by my National Health Service (NHS Scotland) community midwife Andrea everyday for the first 10 days after returning home.  She answered all of our questions, checked on my healing and Ben’s development everyday, and counseled me during the tough times.

The biggest change once Ben appeared was the complete shift of focus from everything else to this one small person. All of a sudden my work priorities, personal goals, housework, and everything else just were no longer as important. Paul and I had such a steep learning curve from the start with Ben while trying to work out his feeding issues (I wasn’t producing enough breastmilk) that it pulled us together as a couple while also challenging us as a couple. Parenting has made us different people as individuals and as a married couple. It is the greatest adventure we have taken together for sure.

The most challenging part of motherhood …
Whatever is currently happening is always the most challenging part of motherhood for me. But then he grows past that stage and onto the next, which is inevitably even harder than the last.  I thought breastfeeding was hard, but then there was weaning, then he was on the move, then bedtime was a struggle, then naps were getting more difficult, then toilet training, and just when I thought it could not possibly get any more difficult, we have reached the extreme tantrum stage.

He’s my beautiful wee angel one minute, and then he will turn into a terrifying screaming and crying child the next. When he is in full frustrated, angry, tantrum mode, he hits me and kicks me and I feel like a complete failure as  I attempt to stay as patient as possible reminding him that we have “kind hands and kind words” and that it is not OK to hit mum. I sit away from him until he is calm again.  Once calm, he eventually says “sorry,” and we move on, but I am always emotionally wrecked for the better part of that day. I am told by several mum friends that this is just a phase that will pass as well, but oh is it a hard and challenging time.

An older friend with teenagers has lovingly offered to swap children as she assures me that Ben’s current stage is nothing compared to what lies ahead!

On balancing work and life …
My job is quite flexible, which is amazing.  I work mainly from home on the computer or prepping craft projects, apart from Sunday mornings when I am responsible for leading the youth group and Sunday morning children’s ministry.

The volunteers, parents and the minister all understand about my having Ben with me, as professional childcare is far too expensive, so I have opted to be a stay-at-home/work-from-home mum. Thankfully my wee boy loves spending time in coffee shops (where I often have meetings) and loves the church toys so 90% of the time the work/parenting combination meetings are successful. I am very lucky to have such support from work and also from our family.

When Ben took naps, I was able to have big blocks of time at home at the computer for emailing, writing up newsletter articles, planning lessons, etc. However, when Ben was around 2, the naps stopped and he wanted more and more of my attention and working at home became a real struggle. This often leads to me working very late at night once he is finally asleep for the day or getting up really early to get in an hour or two of work before he starts his day. It is exhausting!

Thankfully, his place in the government provided school nursery began when he turned 3. This has been a complete game changer for us. Now I get 2 ½ hours every day of the school week child-free to run errands and get a significant uninterrupted time at the computer for work. It is amazing what can be done in 2 ½ hours. I am so thankful for those hours as I am a much less frazzled mum who can be more focused on boy when he is back home from school.

I am managing this work/life balance as best as possible, but it is definitely hard some days. Still, it’s a real joy to watch him grow up and see him discover the world around him. I love that I have been able to be there for the little moments and the big moments each day with him.

The best part about raising a child in Scotland
The National Health Service (NHS) in Scotland has been incredible. Now, quality of care can vary depending on where you live, but for my experience, the midwives in Musselburgh were fantastic!

I had an amazing midwife with me in the hospital throughout labour. I stayed in hospital for two days and upon returning home I had my community midwife visiting me for ten more days. When I was discharged from the midwife’s care, I was then visited by Ben’s health visitor who would continue to be available to me via phone if I had any further concerns and who would check on Ben’s development again at his immunizations.

Meanwhile, we were never charged a penny for Ben. All of the care, classes and literature we received free from NHS Scotland. Our contribution to National Insurance each month from our paychecks and our income tax is all we have ever paid. Even this is so small when compared to what I used to pay in health insurance in the States.

The thing I most appreciate about the NHS is that I never need to worry about cost when it comes to my child.  If Ben is unwell or if I have any big worry about him, I get him to the doctor.  There is no fear of if we can afford it — the care is already there.

Best piece of advice I ever heard …
“Make friends with the other mums.” So true! The mum friends that I’ve met at my prenatal class, at the breast feeding clinic, at church, and through Ben’s swimming class have been a complete God-send. They truly are friends for life!  These lovely ladies are my support network, my cheering section, my shoulders to cry on, my coffee break pals, my sanity break, etc.  I cannot imagine being a mum without them all.

If we could jump into the DeLorean and race back in time …
I would tell myself that I am looking at a precious and wonderful gift who will grow to be a curious, funny, energetic, loving, clever and sweet pre-schooler soon. There will be tough times along the way, but there will be many more fantastic times too.  Parenting is a wild adventure. You never know where each day will take you, but always remember that you are doing a great job.

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Read more about Michelle and life in Scotland on her family blog here.

We’ve got over 170 countries to go (yeah, whoa.). So if you would like to nominate a mother who is living and raising a family abroad to be featured on MMM’s Global Mamas series, do let us know! Drop a line to: get[dot]msmack[at]gmail[dot]com.

Also, be sure to join the fun over on Facebook. There are giveaways, random polls, jokes, and more. Don’t miss a beat; Like us!

Global Mamas: The Netherlands

Global Mamas Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Global Mamas Netherlands Map Hoi | Ms. Mary Mack

We’re profiling one mother from every country on the planet. (Current tally: 18 down, 174 countries to go!)

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Meet Farrah Ritter. She’s an adventure-seeking expat mom from the States  living in the Netherlands with her family. Originally from Michigan, she and her husband relocated to the Deep South in 2006 and then jumped over the pond with their boys in tow. Her blog, The Three Under, started when Farrah was on bed rest with a difficult twin pregnancy, but has since morphed into documenting and sharing her family’s European journey with three little kids – Brody, (almost) 5, and Lincoln and Chase, 3.5 year-old twins. A sucker for the cities of Europe, Farrah loves to see the perspectives of others and experience the beauty of old towns and historic places.

Here’s her story …

Global Mamas Netherlands Farrah | Ms. Mary Mack

Life before baby …
To be blunt, I didn’t think I wanted children. It was almost a deal breaker when I was dating my then boyfriend (now husband)! I enjoyed working and going to graduate school, loved the freedom to travel and be on my own. I treasured my freedom. I couldn’t see myself as a mother. Plus, I was terrified of anything involving hospitals, doctors and needles. To me, the idea of pregnancy and childbirth was the last thing I ever wanted to experience. I didn’t see the bigger picture. It was only me and me alone.

My ideas about motherhood …
I honestly never thought about motherhood before becoming pregnant. My husband and I were married for about three years, and I was over 30, when we decided to add to our family. I didn’t think I was responsible or unselfish enough to give so much to another person. I didn’t play with baby dolls as a little girl —  nor did I want to be a “mommy.”

When my husband and I did sit down and talk about it, the idea seemed very abstract. After our first child was born we decided to have our second (and last) child. Two seemed good for me. However, the universe had other plans.

Then came baby …
After we had our first in 2009, I never imagined I could love so much. The end of the pregnancy was scary as I had preeclampsia and had to have him via C-section at 37 weeks. As frightening as it was, I felt it was worth it. I knew that we would have another child, that I would endure pregnancy (even though I didn’t enjoy it), but I felt that it was possible to double my love instead of dividing it.

The biggest change had to be how nothing else mattered but him. For once, I saw in my life a bigger purpose, an ability to love something so much that I put myself last behind everything else. I left my career in teaching without any remorse. I threw myself into caring for our son, thinking about our future and focused on nothing else but his happiness and wellbeing. For someone as selfish as me, this was easily the biggest transformation and change. Something I never imagined possible.

The most challenging part of motherhood …
It was the surprise when our twins entered the picture. My oldest was just over a year old when they were born, and as I expected life to be interesting with two, suddenly we were jumping to three. I was terrified. We lived 12 hours away from our family, and I did not think I was up for the task.

Today the twins are 3 and my oldest is almost 5. I look back on that haze of the twins’ first two years and can’t believe we survived! Structure, self-discipline and routine became my life. Nothing else mattered. Daily life was survival. I doubted my capabilities of caring for three babies at once and had trouble seeing beyond the early years. I loved more than I thought possible, but the chaos was intense. Three boys under two years of age at once was something in a million years I did not expect nor plan for.

On balancing work and life …
My entire life I wanted to be a high school teacher. I was in my third year teaching in South Carolina when I became pregnant, and was already feeling disillusioned with my career choice. I threw all of my emotions and mental strength into teaching troubled kids, and it sucked the life out of me. The last year I taught was so difficult, I do attribute it to my high blood pressure during my pregnancy and have never regretted leaving it behind.

I am now in the early stage of realizing that my boys aren’t babies anymore. They aren’t as dependent on me as before. I am just beginning to formulate an idea of life while they are going to be in school. I ask myself, What do I want to do next? Teaching left a bad taste in my mouth, but I always enjoyed working. The trouble now, though, is what do I do? I am in a foreign country and do not speak the language. How to I join a workforce and contribute as a foreigner?

The best part about raising a child in the Netherlands …
The best part (and there are many) has been the school system. I am beyond thrilled with the quality and friendliness of the traditional public Dutch school that we chose, instead of going the International school route.

My oldest is now fluent in Dutch (after just a year!) and I am amazed. My 3-year-olds are speaking more and more Dutch daily. It’s a challenge for me to keep up with them.

I have embraced the bike culture. We traded in our minivan and suburban life for a small village and cargo bike.

The food is better for my kids. And friendships seem easier to make – and keep.

Also, there’s health care for everyone. There is a government service called the Consultatsie Bureau that provides early childhood vaccines and checkups. (However, there is some contention as to how “helpful” the CB really is, so the jury is out on that.)  I do miss having our pediatrician. Here you only see a pediatrician in an extreme situation. They are at the hospital. For everything else, you see your family GP.

Also, I do see quite a bit of involvement on the part of the Oma and Opa [grandparents].  They come to school for drop-off and pick-up. Extended family is very involved with childcare.

Overall I’m thrilled raising my kids here. They have gained insight to a new culture, have been able to explore all over Europe and learn a second language. I feel at home and at peace with where we are located. So much so that we just extended our stay three additional years. At this point we are in no hurry to return to the US.  I feel that we are doing really well.

The parts that I wish were different …
Dutch is a very difficult language, and although it is extremely helpful to be in a country where English is taught and spoken, I still do not like being helpless in the occasional situation where I do not understand what is going on.

Best piece of advice I ever heard …
My dear friend and postpartum doula taught me: Always remember that you must put on your oxygen mask first. You can’t help anyone if you do not take care of yourself. I think of this often, and thankfully have a supportive partner in my husband who encourages me to take time for myself. Know when to say, “I give up” for the day, take a step back, go someplace alone, do what I want. I am still an individual even though I am a mother. I have never lost sight of that. I matter too.

If we could jump into the DeLorean and race back in time …
I would tell myself: Don’t worry so much. You’re doing great. He’s going to be amazing. And … you think it’s hard now? Hahahah! Just wait until you see that sonogram next spring!

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Read more about Farrah Ritter on her blog The Three Under.

We’ve got over 170 countries to go (yeah, whoa.). So if you would like to nominate a mother who is living and raising a family abroad to be featured on MMM’s Global Mamas series, do let us know! Drop a line to: get[dot]msmack[at]gmail[dot]com.

Also, be sure to join the fun over on Facebook. There are giveaways, random polls, jokes, and more. Don’t miss a beat; Like us!

Global Mamas: Czech Republic

Global Mamas Wednesday, November 28, 2012

 

We’re profiling one mother from every country on the planet. (Current tally: 17 down, 175 countries to go!)

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Meet  Virginia Calderon.

Photo by Virginia Calderon

Life before baby …
I was always a free spirit all my life. I never had a set plan. I just did things in the heat of the moment.  Always just doing what I felt like doing … which kind of explains how I moved to Prague on a whim.

Before I moved to Prague, I lived in New York City. I worked a lot, put played a lot too. I loved living in the city, going out a night, hanging with friends.

My ideas about motherhood …
I never thought about having children, I always thought if it was meant to be it would happen organically … and it did.  The only thing I did know was that I wanted to travel and see a lot of the world before I settled down, which I was able to accomplish. It was only when I got into my 30s that I thought about settling down and having children.

Then came baby …
The first couple of months were pretty hard because everything was so new.  I did read some books, but I’m not sure how much they helped as I don’t even remember what was in them. The biggest change was the amount of sleep I was use to getting. Even when I was pregnant I was able to sleep pretty well.  When Max came along, that all changed and I was completely sleep-deprived. Now 14 months later, I’m still sleep-deprived, although I’ve gotten more used to it.

The most challenging part of motherhood …
Giving birth was really tough for me, even though it was a smooth as could be — only five hours. I had no complications and a very easy pregnancy. But when he was born, I was scared that I wouldn’t know what to do.  After all the nervousness goes away, though, you just do the best you can. (I just want to be able to sleep in one day!)

On balancing work and life …
When I moved to the Czech Republic, it was hard for me to get a regular office job because my Czech is not very good. So I did the only thing I could do: work freelance. I did PR and marketing for international clients. I worked a lot because that’s what I was used to doing coming from New York where I use to work 15-hour days.

Then came baby … and things changed.  Now my Number One priority is Max. After he was born, I stopped working and became a stay-at-home mom. But now that he’s 14 months, I decided I wanted to work again, so I work part-time for a company that I founded.  We’re just getting off the ground, but I have a great partner who doesn’t have children and is a very hard worker and understands that I can only work two days a week.

The best part about raising a child in the Czech Republic …
It’s very baby-friendly here!  It’s not strange to go to a restaurant and see babies in strollers or mothers breastfeeding. When you go to malls, there are always pink parking spots right next to the handicap spaces for parents with babies.

Also being in Prague (Central Eastern Europe) you are surrounded by so many different cultures and languages. We can get in a car and be in a different country with a different language and architecture within three hours!  We are bordered by Germany, Slovakia, Austria, and Poland.  But it’s very easy to even drive to Switzerland, Croatia, Hungry, etc.

The healthcare system in the Czech Republic is beyond great and healthcare is very affordable! They have one of the lowest infant mortality rates in the world, much lower than the U.S.

Also, while community-style parenting is alive and well in the villages, Prague is a major city and like major cities around the world it’s hard to know all your neighbors. Prague is also a very transient city, people come and go.

The parts that I wish were different …
At first it was hard living here because the Czechs, one could say, are cold. They are just not very inviting … but it’s part of their culture. However, once you get to know how people are, you get used to it. Also the language has been difficult, my Czech is TERRIBLE!

And I miss my family; they still live in Boston. Extended family plays a big part here in CZ. You always see grandparent with babies walking in the parks.

Best piece of advice I ever heard …
You’re never going to get everything perfect. Just do the best you can.

If we could jump into the DeLorean and race back in time …
I would tell myself to RELAX — it does get easier. I remember in those first three months thinking that it was really really hard and that I wasn’t sure how I was gong to get through it!

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We’ve got over 170 countries to go (yeah, whoa.). So if you would like to nominate a mother who is living and raising a family abroad to be featured on MMM’s Global Mamas series, do let us know! Drop a line to: get[dot]msmack[at]gmail[dot]com.

Also, be sure to join the fun over on Facebook. There are giveaways, random polls, jokes, and more. Don’t miss a beat; Like us!

Global Mamas: England

Global Mamas Tuesday, July 10, 2012

We’re profiling one mother from every country on the planet. (Current tally: 16 down, 176 countries to go!)

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Meet Catherine Batac Walder, mom of 21-month-old baby girl “Little M.” Catherine’s fiction and other works have been published in her native Philippines and abroad in Fine Books and Collections, Practical Boat Owner and Ruin and Resolve. She moved across Norway, Finland and Portugal from 2005  to 2007 on a European M.Phil. scholarship, and then worked as a research group administrator at the Department of Earth Sciences, Royal Holloway University of London. Catherine, now a “full-time wife, mother and boat sweeper,” lives in South East England.

Here’s her story …

Photo by Catherine Batac Walder

Life before baby …
I left home for the first time at 17 to study at a University of the Philippines (UP) college in the mountains. After that I worked in Manila for almost seven years. The work and commute in Manila was hard but I look at that now as part of my treasured memories of my home country. I looked forward to coming home to our family house in the province during weekends. There had been a few heartaches, the biggest of which was losing my father to stroke (he wasn’t even 57). Two months after he had died, I learned that I landed that scholarship to study in Norway, Finland and Portugal. It was hard especially for my mother that I had to leave that same year. But she was supportive as she knew it was my dream.

My ideas about motherhood …
In my early 20s, I taught special needs children. Being surrounded by children, I knew I would someday like to have my own. And I knew that I wanted to be a hands-on mom. I liked working with children. That was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life … until my daughter was born.

Then came baby …
I actually made voice tapes during the first few weeks about the whole giving birth experience and coming home after that. Listening to them again recently made me realized how scared I sounded. There was a part when I started talking about how Little M was becoming a handful — she was colicky — and wondering how I would manage.

In the beginning, I was really nervous, as I had never looked after anyone younger than five before. I had to rely on books. I took a lot of notes. My husband and I read articles and shared what we read with each other. We agreed that it was amazing how much we have learned only after a few months of parenting.

I became more relaxed… but then came weaning and I started to panic again! I made charts and was really concerned I might not be giving proper nutrition to my baby. At around nine months, I stopped relying on articles and charts and just followed my instincts. Now I feel everything just comes naturally.

Like most parents, the biggest changes are seen in decisions that we make, that is, they are now all for Little M’s future. We became more practical. We moved into our new house before her first birthday. We love it, but the decision to buy in the neighborhood was primarily influenced by the good schools in the catchment area (and a bonus that friends live just down the road). Lifestyle-wise, travel and our monthly theater excursions took a backseat … which is not a problem, really, as we enjoy being at home as much as travelling. Plus, there are other things to do that a toddler could also enjoy.

The most challenging part of motherhood …
Having a child is no joke! Here is somebody who will rely on me for everything. There’s no excuse for being ill and staying in bed, otherwise, the baby will go hungry, among other things. When she cries and there comes a point when it feels annoying, I suddenly remember it’s because she doesn’t know anything, she can express herself only through crying. I remind myself to simply enjoy her being needy while it lasts.

The responsibility of taking care of someone, of making sure that she is always safe — and then later teaching her and instilling in her values —  just seem like huge tasks.

On balancing work and life
I’m a stay-at-home mom. Childminder [nanny] services are really expensive over here. To be able to stay at home to look after my family, write, sew, garden or do something creative is just perfect for me right now.

My husband is supportive, but of course you meet people who don’t know what it’s like to look after a child. Some think that stay-at-home moms must be bored to death. Someone asked me once, “So, what do you do when she sleeps?” It’s not an eight-hour job. When they’re asleep (if they do at all), that’s the time you can catch up on what you normally do. I have great admiration for moms who can juggle both career and family.

Most of my life I had been either studying or working, or both. In a way this is like slowing down for me but who knew that a little person could be just as challenging and exhausting. Also, with a baby you don’t notice how quickly time flies. I can see now that this will turn out to be the best decision, to have the opportunity to watch the early years of my child and witness every milestone. There’s nothing more enjoyable than watch a child enjoy herself doing something new. However cliché it might sound, I’m seeing the world through the eyes of a child and it’s been amazing. It’s that stage when the child wants nothing else except your presence, your touch, your smile; when your achievements or social status or titles don’t matter and you can just be mom.

The best part about raising a child in England …
I like that we live in the countryside. Every morning we see horses on the farm from across the road in the comforts of our front room. It takes only 50 minutes to an hour to drive to cities like Oxford and London; 10 minutes to an hour to get to anywhere pretty interesting. Little M and I go out for walks almost everyday. Step out the door and 30 minutes later, we would have already circled the woods nearby.

Home births are highly recommended here. As I recall you get to have two midwives present during a home birth. I actually booked for a home birth myself, since you could change your mind if you’d like to go to hospital at the last minute, but not the other way around.

During pregnancy, you are required to meet with the community midwife and the GP so they can monitor you and give support. I had a difficult childbirth so the midwife (a different one everyday) visited me at home for a week to check on me, the baby’s weight, to see how I breastfeed, etc. Most new mothers appreciate this. I know that they were just there to help but after a harrowing birth experience, all I wanted was to be with my baby, rest and not worry about visits. Once the midwife discharges you, you are then handed over to the care of the Health Visitor. There are a group of them assigned in each area and time and again, one would visit or phone you just to ask how you’re getting on.

The parts I wish were different …
I can’t help but compare what I am used to when I talk about raising a child in the UK. There are obviously residents here who are not satisfied with the systems, may it be healthcare, education, etc. Like anywhere, there are certain parts of the UK that are not ideal for raising a child. But everything is relative. In my experience so far, it is better than what we have in the Philippines. For that I am grateful and privileged to be able to raise a child here.

I’m not a fan of how “commercialized” parenting is over here, and maybe this is how it is for most developed nations. Not that we are affected by the market at all. We buy baby stuff that we truly need.

I don’t stop missing my family and the Philippines but I never feel homesick. I appreciate that my baby was born in a developed country, but sometimes I still wish she would have my childhood. It is not only an entirely different country, but an entirely different generation — a hi-tech one. I would want her to play in the sun, soil her hands, play old-fashioned games. I’m sure that she’ll have her own happy memories: snow, apple trees, red squirrels, castles, and all those things that I often dreamed of as a little girl.

Best piece of advice I ever heard …
I remember our GP (general practitioner) telling me something like, “Sometimes everything doesn’t need to be perfect,” when she saw how bad I felt that I couldn’t produce enough milk and had to top up with formula. I guess all of us have this idea of trying to make everything perfect for that little person, like he/she was our only chance to have a clean slate, as it were. But there are things we can’t control. I almost forgot that like anything, there are bound to be disappointments in parenting and that I should be prepared for them.

If we could jump into the DeLorean and race back in time …
I would simply say: Catherine, sometimes everything doesn’t need to be perfect. This advice applies to almost anything.

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Read more about Catherine Batac Walder on her blog Deck Shoes.

We’ve got over 170 countries to go (yeah, whoa.). So if you would like to nominate a mother who is living and raising a family abroad to be featured on MMM’s Global Mamas series, do let us know! Drop a line to: get[dot]msmack[at]gmail[dot]com.

Also, be sure to join the fun over on Facebook. There are giveaways, random polls, jokes, and more. Don’t miss a beat; Like us! 

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