THINGS WE LOVE! – FIVE DIY MONTESSORI-STYLE GIFTS FOR INFANTS AND TODDLERS

As a working mom to a 2 and ½-year old and a 9-month old, I don’t think there is any time more awe-inspiring, wondrous, or stressful for me than the holidays. Not only am I dealing with the everyday strains of a busy fourth quarter, but I also have to find the time to figure out what to give my girls for Christmas. And, I’m always trying not to break the bank while doing it. (I’m finding this to be especially difficult because I’m trying to create the best First Christmas EVER for our youngest!)

Additionally, it’s always important for my husband and I to provide our girls with fun and interactive books, toys, and activities that encourage their independence and allow us to spend lots of time together as a family. As a working mom, it’s especially important for me to spend real, quality time with my daughters. I definitely see the value in technology; however, I want the time that I spend outside of the office to be filled with memories that will last a lifetime. For me, that means spending time playing dress up, running around, and getting my hands dirty with my little girls.

We’re Montessori parents, which means that we’ve carefully planned out our home as a learning environment. When we moved into our home a year ago, we designed a playroom that promotes independence and free play and caters to our girls’ natural curiosity. We packed this room with discovery stations and toys, and we spend lots of time playing with them in there. This Christmas, we’re looking to expand this environment into the rest of our home and have spent lots of time researching how best to do this. It’s going to take a little creativity, DIY, and effort on our parts, but we’ve discovered that we can easily expand this Montessori learning environment into the rest of our house without breaking the bank. And, we couldn’t wait to share our research with you!

The list below contains our top five Montessori-style gifts for infants and toddlers, and we hope that it’ll give you some gift ideas as we sleigh ride into this holiday season!

  1. A Star Box for Infants

Star Box.jpg

For the cost of a cardboard box, some extra Christmas lights, and a pair of scissors, you can create a Star Box for your infant and/or toddler. I can’t wait to put this together. I really think our youngest, Emily, is going to get a kick out of it. She’s mesmerized by anything and everything bright and shiny! All you need to do is poke some holes in the top of the box, stick your Christmas lights through the hole, plug it in and let your little one crawl around. I even think our oldest, Mary Pat, is going to love it!

  1. An Animal Discovery Box

Animal Discovery Box

If I’m being honest, it doesn’t take much to entertain our toddler. Sure, she loves her YouTube Kids app on my phone, but she’s just as thrilled by books, flash cards, and figurines. She’s going through a phase where she LOVES animals. So, this Christmas, we’re going to make her an animal discovery box. Print out some pictures of animals, paste them to index cards, and get some animal figurines, and you’ve got the makings for a GREAT Montessori discovery box. I’d even recommend laminating the index cards. If your toddlers are anything like mine, they’re going to want to play with these while drinking a juice box or eating a snack, and laminating them protects them against ruin! For about $15 maximum, you, too, can give your infants and toddlers hours of great learning and fun!

  1. A Kitchen Prep Station and Table

Kitchen Prep Station.jpg

My husband is a classically-trained chef, and Mary Pat always wants to help him cook. We’re super excited to set up a prep station for her this Christmas because she’s finally hitting the age where she can get involved in the process. We’ve been working with her on her listening skills, and she’s beginning to take directions very well. We’re going to set up a little wooden table for her in our kitchen and put a cutting board on it. That’ll be her “prep station.” We’re also going to set up a drawer in our kitchen where all of her kitchen utensils will be. She’ll have plastic knives, measuring cups, a vegetable peeler, etc. We envision her using this prep station when my husband cooks at night, as well as during meal and snack times throughout the day. The goal is for her to learn to feed herself. I think this is a great idea and learning tool, and I can’t wait to get her started!

  1. A Pull Up Bar

Pull Up Bar

I am most excited about setting up this pull up bar and mirror for Emily. We’re currently in negotiations about where to place the pull up bar in our home; however, I’m thinking we can modify the version above to be more portable. I’ve seen some renditions of this on the Internet where parents make a free-standing pull up bar in front of a mirror, rather than attaching it to a wall. Emily is just getting to the point where she’s starting to pull herself up on anything she can find (couches, steps, the dogs…). She’s also enchanted by her own reflection. I truly believe this will be one of her most favorite gifts this Christmas. And, the best part about this is, the whole thing costs about $10! It’s the perfect gift for our little angel baby!

  1. Locks and Latches Sets

Latches and Locks

We’re going to try to make some of these a little bit more complicated for Mary Pat, but you can get a sense for what our plan is from the picture above. I think we’re going to make these on our own to keep the cost down; however, you can totally find them on the Internet by searching for “Montessori locks and latches.” The goal of the toy is to get your infant or toddler to use his/her natural curiosity to figure out how to open and close the locks. By making an easier and a more complicated set, we’re hoping that our girls can play with them together and teach each other how to use them. I think it’s going to be a great way to strengthen their problem-solving skills and foster some sisterly-love!


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Today’s post is brought to you by Lisa Marie Lanham, the founder of Mommy, ESQ. Lisa is also an associate in the Consumer Finance Regulatory practice of a large New York City law firm. She loves her job, her family, and helping working moms find a balance between the growing demands of a family and a successful, full-time career. She has trained with the International Maternity Institute and offers group and one-on-one maternity coaching to all working moms. If you’re interested in learning more, you can reach her by commenting below, e-mailing Mommy_ESQ@outlook.com, or posting on any of Mommy, ESQ.’s social media pages.

Wake Up Wednesday – Do Your Best

Always Do Your Best. Your best is going to change from moment to moment; it will be different when you are healthy as opposed to sick. Under any circumstance, simply do your best, and you will avoid self-judgment, self-abuse and regret.

Don Miguel Ruiz, The Four Agreements


Yes, it’s Thursday. Yes, this is a #WakeUpWednesday post. No, I did not intentionally wait to post this until today given the topic.

I did, however, wake up this morning believing that this is a good opportunity to share this post with you, as many of you out there have unrealistic expectations for yourself when it comes to “doing your best.”

What does it mean to do your best? It’s something I’ve mentioned on this blog before. It’s discussed in The Four Agreements. It’s a topic on many people’s lips every day. My father, for example, is constantly telling me, “Lisa, you can only do your best. That’s all anyone can do.” I’ve heard the phrase and used the phrase hundreds–if not thousands–of times before, and I don’t think I’ve ever truly stopped to contemplate what that means. I’m stopping today to delve into what “doing your best” means for all of us because I haven’t believed that I’ve done my best this week, and I don’t know if that’s necessarily true.

The fourth quarter is notoriously a busy time for me as a consumer finance regulatory attorney. I have renewal applications for licenses for all of my clients; I have quarterly and annual filings that need to be made; I have billable hours to worry about; I’m trying to plan for the days that I need to work from home around the holidays. As a mom, I’m starting to worry about where I’m spending the holidays and what I’m going to get my husband and daughters and family and friends for Christmas. I also typically (and do currently) feel run down around this time of year. I’m tired all of the time. I want to spend my free minutes recuperating from rough days at the office and the stresses of my personal responsibilities. I want to give my full and best attention to my husband and family and friends and clients and co-workers, but I find that I’m not always able to because I feel stretched-thin and run down.

I’ve been feeling a little bit this way recently, and, in the midst of all of these feelings, I missed my window of opportunity yesterday to post this #WakeUpWednesday blog. I chastised myself for not “doing my best,” for not “trying hard enough,” to work towards providing you all with helpful content. I thought to myself last night that “I failed” this week, but “I guess there’s always an opportunity next week to post something.” I’d hoped all of you out there in cyberspace would forgive me for my failures yesterday.

I woke up this morning, however, thinking that I might not have failed yesterday. I really did try my best yesterday to get to this post. It’s just that, yesterday, doing my best and managing all of my personal and professional responsibilities meant that I didn’t have an opportunity to give you all a #WakeUpWednesday.

So, I thought, let’s post a #WakeUpWednesday today that discusses what it means to do your best.

Let’s roll into this weekend after having paused for a moment this morning to think about whether we’re doing our best and see where we all wind up on the “Doing Your Best” spectrum.

For me, “doing my best” meets me wherever I am. If I’m sick, I can only do the best that a sick person can do. If I’m tired, I can only do the best that a tired person can do. If I’m happy, wonderous, well-rested, loving… Well, you get the point. You and I can only do the best that we can based upon the specific circumstances of each moment of our lives. In order to “do our best,” I don’t believe that we need to be superhuman–that we always need to give more than we have. We just have to be cognizant of what our goals are, we need to be sincere about wanting to do our best to reach those goals, we need to give our full energy in any given moment towards achieving those goals, and, finally, we need to forgive ourselves if we aren’t giving as much energy as we could on our absolute best day. If our “best” today falls short of what our absolute BEST is, we need to love ourselves through it and fight another day. We need to take time to heal and recuperate so we can give even more of ourselves at a later time.

Today, Friday, and every day, I am going to follow these rules. I am going to rest peacefully knowing that I’ve given my best attention to you, my clients, my family, and myself at any given moment and circumstance in my life.

Thank you for the opportunity to bring this #WakeUpWednesday post to you on this gloomy Thursday morning. Thank you for helping me to realize that I have done my best. And, thank you for continuing to read this Mommy, ESQ. blog. Your support means everything to me.

With love,

Mommy, ESQ.


How do you know you’ve done your best? What is your metric for measuring it?

What are your rules to follow?

Reach out to us by commenting below, e-mailing mommy_esq@outlook.com, or reaching out via any of our social media pages.

We’d love to hear from you!

My Secret to a Successful Day

Meditation takes you beyond the mind’s noisy chatter
into the pure awareness
that is the source of all of your happiness, inspiration, and love

Deepak Chopra


I think it’s been evident through these posts that I’ve been struggling a bit with my return from maternity leave. I had this idea that I’d return from my second maternity leave with ease. I thought, somehow, that I’d “mastered it.” That, having been through the worst of the worst returning to work after having my oldest daughter, I’d have all the answers and be able to soar through my work days feeling balanced, successful, and happy.

Much to my dismay, I found that that wasn’t the case.

My youngest is now eight months old, and I’m still searching for the secret. In the past eight months, I have had moments of intense and unexplainable anxiety. I’ve felt out of control of my personal life and career and schedule on certain occasions. I’ve continued to have these moments even though I’ve begun to schedule myself better at work, practice gratitude for the wonderful blessings in my life, and live more in the present moment. And, I believe that in the past two weeks that I found the secret…

Meditation.

Now, I generally haven’t bought into meditation. I had tried it once when I was in college, but I didn’t put much effort into it. I never felt like it got me anywhere. I didn’t feel a connection to my inner self. What I found was that I’d sit there for fifteen minutes (maybe) and listen to the endless cycle of thoughts that went on in my head. So, when a friend mentioned that I should try a kundalini yoga and meditation class to help me get through this difficult period in my life, I was willing to try it but didn’t have much hope–or any expectation–that it would heal anything in me. Boy, was I wrong.

From my first class, I knew that this was something I needed to make a habit. Perhaps it’s that I’m at a different point in my life or that my psyche is crying out for permission to disconnect from the outside world, but I felt that stillness that so many speak about. I felt my body become less important, for lack of a better description. I felt bigger than my body. My breath felt as though I was breathing into a cave. I could sense the thoughts that were running through my head, but I was able to let them happen and pass through without paying attention to them. I couldn’t tell you for how long this feeling lasted, but it lasted for long enough that I felt a shift in me. I felt the benefits of my better scheduling, my gratitude, my “being present” because I spent time in the stillness reflecting on the wonderfulness of my life.

Given the immediacy of meditation’s benefits for me, I did some research into whether this is a practice that others in high stress, client-driven professions have benefited from, as well. Google it; I implore you. You’ll find an endless list of articles written about CEOs of multinational corporations, lawyers, financiers, etc. touting the benefits of meditation and discussing its impact on their lives. Just check out this article that lists a number of Fortune 500 CEOs that practice meditation. It’s incredible!

If I had to give you a piece of advice for changing your life this week, it would be this: Take the time for yourself to try to meditate. Here’s my recommendations for building it into your schedule:

  1. Give yourself permission to take time for you.  I’m not going to say much on this point because I think it’s fairly self-explanatory. As working moms, we can come up with any number of reasons not to take time for ourselves. We aren’t home with our kids that often, so we need to spend as much time with them as we can. There’s so much we haven’t accomplished at home this week, so we should stay home to do it. We should grocery shop. We should do laundry. We should prepare dinners for the week. The “should” list could go on forever and, somehow, “I should really do something that takes care of my emotional and physical health” never makes the list. Schedule an hour for yourself. Give yourself permission to meditate.
  2. Find a time that you’re able to do it and a space you feel comfortable meditating in.  Now, I know that I’m fortunate to have an office with a door on it. I take advantage of that by getting in a little bit earlier, shutting my door, and meditating. Generally speaking, I have a harder time finding the time to meditate when I’m at home. When I hear my kids running around or playing downstairs, I have a hard time getting to that openness, that stillness, that sets me up for a successful day. This week, I’m working on creating that space. For those of you that live in the area and are interested, I’ll be at Yoga + Herbs in Marlboro for its weekend meditation classes. There are two tonight at 5pm and 6pm, and I’ll be attending one of those. There’s another two tomorrow at 11am and 12pm, and I’m going to try to attend one of those, as well. I took my Kundalini class there, and the studio is really wonderful. If you’re in the area, I suggest you try it out.
  3. Find a meditation practice that speaks to you.  I’m still searching for the perfect meditation practice. I really enjoy Kundalini and chakra balancing meditation. For whatever reason, I feel like it’s able to get me to the space that I need to get to in order to really feel the benefits of meditating. If you’re a meditation beginner and don’t know where to start, I find that Oprah and Deepak’s 21-day meditation challenges are a great place to start. They have a free one going on right now that you can sign up for at oprah.com. There are also some great kundalini meditation videos on YouTube if you’re interested in trying that. I really like this one. There are also a few Kundalini and Chakra Balancing playlists on Spotify that I really enjoy listening to.

So, this week, I implore you to try to build this into your schedule. Just do it for one week and see if it doesn’t shift your perspective on your day and your life. See if you don’t find yourself to be more at peace.

Namaste, Mamas. I hope you have an amazing weekend.

With Love,

Mommy, ESQ.


Do you meditate? Are you going to commit this week to trying?

Leave a comment below, e-mail us at mommy_esq@outlook.com, or reach out via our social media pages.

We’d love to hear how meditation has impacted your life!