MommyCon Chicago 2016 Review

mommycon chicago 2016

It’s such a great experience when you find yourself among like-minded people, discussing topics from a shared perspective. It was a big moment for me in my earlier parenting years when I attended the La Leche League 50th anniversary conference, and for the first time found myself surrounded on a large scale by experts, vendors, and parents who shared and supported many of my parenting values.

I was so excited to attend the MommyCon Conference in Chicago earlier this month to see if I could capture some of that same magic, and to consider if such events were still relevant to me as a parent of older children. I am happy to say that I thoroughly enjoyed the experience.

MommyCon gives a lot of focus and attention to topics of interest to parents of young children, such as breastfeeding, babywearing, and cloth diapering. It was evident that they also emphasize issues pertaining to older children, in addition to the well-being of parents themselves.

Before I dig in to all of the nitty gritty, here is a breakdown of the MommyCon basics

MommyCon is a conference and expo aimed at “forward thinking parents with a natural flair.” The conferences are held on multiple dates throughout the year at different venues around the country. Tickets for upcoming MommyCon events can still be purchased, and the code CRUNCHY16 will knock $5.00 off of the ticket price. ***BONUS Spoiler*** Tomorrow I will be posting Part 2 of the MommyCon Review, which will include a giveaway for 2 free tickets to an upcoming MommyCon 2016 event of the winner’s choosing.

Chicago was the second stop of the 2016 schedule. Parents from near and far converged upon the convention center, many wearing their babies with them at the one-day event. Tremendous effort was put forth to make sure that babies and young children were comfortable throughout the day.

Caring for the Big and Little MommyCon Conference-Goers

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MommyCon had play areas set up in the back of many of the large lecture spaces so that children could remain entertained while the adults listened to speakers.

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There were also craft stations in the hallways for older children to flex their artistic muscles when they were in need of a creative outlet. New this year, MommyCon offered a drop-off care option at the Chicago location for children ages three and up, although this is not available at all of the conference locations this year.

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In addition to keeping children active, MommyCon catered to their other needs as well. The conference provided fully-stocked changing stations where babies could be diapered in complementary (healthier) sposies. Wipes were also provided free for all the mini conference attendees.

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Stonyfield sponsored an eating area where babies and children (and parents) could enjoy a snack of yogurt. MommyCon also had water stations in the hallways where reusable water bottles could be refilled, and where cups and cold water were available as needed.

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Mystery bags hanging out in the hallway

MommyCon provided snack bags on several tables in various hallways, free to anyone who had the munchies. These bags were not labeled in any way though and they went quickly, so you needed to be made aware of their presence and act fast if you wanted one.

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Revealed! Snacks for those in the know.

Nurslings could of course snack wherever and whenever they wanted. For those benefiting from a quieter, less stimulating environment, MommyCon had a “ladies & babies only” nursing lounge for some private snuggle time, as well as a Quiet Room for a good long nap.

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MommyCon Talks & Topics

MommyCon had packed the day’s schedule with presentations covering topics of interest to parents with children of all ages. They had four larger conference rooms in addition to three smaller, topic-specific rooms exclusively targeting sleeping, feeding, and woman-centered issues. At any given moment, conference attendees could select from among 3-6 different presentations on topics ranging from cloth diapering 101, breastfeeding for the working mom, infant massage, car seat safety, toddler wearing, picky eaters, body positive images, baby led weaning, and more. It was sometimes difficult to choose between subject areas, but I tended to stick with parent, older-child, and family-oriented discussions since they were most relevant to me.

Vagina Village at MommyCon 2016

Vagina Village draws a crowd

The talks held in the larger conference rooms had plenty of seating available, as well as the aforementioned child play areas in the back. New to 2016, MommyCon introduced “Vagina Village,” a smaller room hosting presentations specific to women, such as intimacy post-children, talking to young girls about their periods, and supporting care of mothers postpartum and beyond. Many of the talks here were standing room only as listeners sat on the floor and spilled out into the adjacent hallway. With such an enthusiastic response, I hope that MommyCon will give some of these topics more premium space at other venues, and in future years. It was clear to me that in addition to learning about their babies and children, MommyCon visitors really want to learn about mommy too.

As a parent of older children (ages almost six through thirteen,) a standout session was “The Period Talk Unraveled” by Meg Eldridge from generationMe. Meg gave parents thoughtful tools for helping their daughters feel comfortable, prepared, and knowledgeable enough about their periods to respond to their cycles from an empowered position; without fear or embarrassment. She encouraged ways to normalize and acknowledge this milestone, and to create a positive culture around this aspect of womanhood that is often complained and joked about in our society, rather than honored or respected. Meg spoke about the many reusable menstrual products available today.

Meg from GenerationMe MommyCon 2016

Meg of generationMe shows some of the reusable products in the exhibitor area. Photo Credit: Katie Hovland www.katiehovland.com

I was rather intrigued by “period panties” that have an absorbent panel to catch any leaks and avoid embarrassing middle school moments or unnecessary laundry challenges. During the Q&A session following Meg’s presentation, moms shared some of their experiences with reusable menstrual cups, and discussed how to talk to their young children about menstruation (since moms never seem to have a moment alone in the bathroom and the topic has a way of coming up). Meg also handed out a mommy-specific tip; informing us that the Soft Cup menstrual cup is even safe and tidy to wear during intercourse (who knew?).

In a session focused on natural products for the whole family, Jenny Duranski of Chicago’s Noktivo natural nail salon spoke about the lack of regulation in the United States with respect to the ingredients in personal care and beauty products. She encouraged parents in attendance to become more aware, and to make simple changes in the products that they use to help maintain safer healthier homes, and safer healthier families. She highlighted two of my favorite resources, the EWG Skin Deep Database and the Think Dirty app as starting points to become more conscious of what is in the products that we buy and put on our bodies.

As many of you know, I am rather passionate about making healthy choices that support wellness. I am likewise always in support of products that are effective, affordable, and allow people to feel nurtured and beautiful. I was delighted to see this topic presented at MommyCon, and I hope to see healthy home products and green beauty explored even more at future MommyCon events.

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I also very much enjoyed the presentation about positive body image by photographer Jade Beall of A Beautiful Body Project. Beall showed dozens of her powerful images, capturing women’s bodies as they really appear in all stages of their adult lives; from pregnancy, nursing, postpartum, and on through to grand-motherhood.

Beall focused on the liberating, educational, and cumulative effects of projecting real images out into our society, rather than accepting mainstream photoshopped “celebreality” pictures as truth. To highlight the assertion that honesty in images can change society’s views of beauty, Beall demonstrated that a Goggle image search for the term “beautiful body” is now peppered with Beall’s “true beauty” images amongst the scantily-clad photos of starlets and swimsuit models (warning: link contains nudity). This concrete example showed that grassroots efforts to promote realistic images of women and beauty, change the definition of beauty over time.

Stay Tuned….

Tomorrow I will continue my review of MommyCon’s Chicago stop, talking about the Vendor Expo, giveaways, and gift bag. I’ll also have a giveaway of my own to share; two free tickets to the MommyCon 2016 event of the winner’s choice (enter here).

If you don’t want to leave anything to chance, you can still get a $5.00 discount off of your ticket purchase for any remaining MommyCon 2016 dates with the code CRUNCHY16. If you are feeling lucky, be sure to check back tomorrow to enter the ticket giveaway. Subscribe to Crunchy Parent and you’ll even receive an email reminder when the giveaway opens so that you won’t forget.

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MommyCon 2016 the Conference for Forward-Thinking Parents with a Natural Flair Coming to Chicago! (+ Discount)

MommyCon 2016 conference schedule for naturally-minded parents

As some of you know, I began this blog almost nine years ago. Eva was in preschool at a lovely, nature-based, Waldorf school. Alina was a barely a toddler, spending most of her time snuggled up to me nursing away in a wrap or sling. The blog was my way of processing my parenting journey and connecting with other parents on similar paths. It motivated me to learn more, try new things, and share ideas and thoughts with others.

One of the big things that I did that first year as a natural family blogger was to seek out festivals, expos, and conferences oriented toward “crunchy” families. I was fortunate that it happened to be the 50th anniversary of La Leche League International that year, and they were having a big weekend-long conference in Chicago that summer to celebrate. Rich and I signed up to attend. Eva stayed with my parents and my little nursling Alina came along with us to enjoy the experience.

It has been many years since I attended that first big conference, but I still remember it as a real rallying point for me. The Waldorf school was a small, like-minded community where we found connection, but the conference felt like we were part of a larger movement. Everywhere I looked there were parents with babies, toddlers, and young children in carriers of all shapes and sizes, many of which I oogled and envied (the carriers I mean, although the children were cute too). Babies looked adorable in their little leg warmers and soft-soled shoes, which were still “fringe” choices at the time. We parents smiled with appreciation at the amber teething necklaces and plump, cloth-diapered bottoms all around us. It felt warm and familiar; as though all of the people behind the usernames in the natural parenting forums had leapt forth from the screens and materialized right before me.

Alina crawls around the conference room floor while mommy learns about medication and breastfeeding.

Alina crawls around the conference room floor while mommy learns about medication and breastfeeding.

The sessions that we attended at the conference spoke of topics that resonated strongly with us and our hunger for guidance and validation on our parenting path; gentle child birth, creating a natural family living community, informed health choices, parenting spirited children, breastfeeding with confidence in the face of challenges, co-sleeping, and more. I learned so much about the decisions ahead of me and processed a great deal about the milestones that had already passed; some of which had turned out differently than I had hoped.

Fangirling on Day 1 of the LLLI Conference in 2007. That's Peggy O'Mara and a starstruck me.

Fangirling on Day 1 of the LLLI Conference in 2007. That’s Peggy O’Mara and a starstruck me.

Rich and I walked with wide eyes and broad smiles down the aisles in the exhibitor’s area. All of the beautiful products that I had spent hours admiring online were right in front of me where I could touch them and ask questions about them. I was shown how to use the Moby wrap that I wore on the second day of the conference to back-carry Alina with ease (a maneuver that I had lacked the confidence to try previously). I admired adorable cloth diapers in all shapes, sizes, and configurations. I looked at beautiful nursing jewelry. I felt in my element in a way that was so rare and so needed at the time.

Happy toddler being back carried in my Moby Wrap-I learned something new!

Happy toddler being back carried in my Moby Wrap-I learned something new!

I am at a different point in my parenting journey now. My first baby turns thirteen next week. My littlest one is almost six. Pregnancy, breastfeeding, cloth diapers, and potty learning are all in my rear view mirror. I still continue to be a crunchy parent whose thoughts are often occupied with how to parent mindfully; what is healthy for my family, and where is my supportive tribe. The specific questions evolve, but the driving philosophy remains the same.

When I resurrected my blog a year ago it reignited a spark and a drive to learn more, to try new things, and to share more along my natural parenting journey and my journey as a naturally-minded person. That is why I was so excited to learn about the opportunity to attend the MommyCon Conference, an annual gathering across the nation that brings together, “forward thinking parents with a natural flair.” This, without question, is my tribe. I was so excited by the prospect of what MommyCon had to offer through their conferences that I went through the process to become a member of the MommyCon Media Team, to help other like-minded parents learn about and experience MommyCon.

MommyCon has already kicked off their 2016 schedule with their conference in Atlanta. In just two weeks they will be headed to Chicago. I am so excited that I will be there to connect with other naturally-minded parents, and parents-to-be. The schedule of speakers and list of vendors has been announced. I am already trying to decide how to choose between the amazing sessions topics which range from postpartum care, cloth diapering, treating childhood illness, positive body image, babywearing, creating intimacy among partners, and all things in between.

As a mom of (relatively) older children, I greatly appreciate that MommyCon has remembered that parenting mindfully extends beyond those first few years. The 2016 theme is “Growing Together” and can be seen in the range of topics being presented. MommyCon had the wisdom to clearly indicate which topics are best suited for parenting children in their first year, second year, toddlerhood and beyond; as well as topics focused on moms and those that are great for dads. The schedule layout makes it easy to find topics in your area(s) of greatest interest.

I think that one of the most challenging lessons for me to learn as a naturally-minded, child-focused parent was the importance of self-care (I’m still working on it). I am especially heartened to see the emphasis that MommyCon has placed on this topic and I hope that every mom in attendance makes time to fit in at least one session that focuses on her needs as well.

Of course, as much as I want to learn new things and meet other parents, I cannot wait to check out the exhibitors and see the great products and concepts that they bring to the show. MommyCon has lined up almost 100 exhibitors to help families feed, wear, clothe, diaper, celebrate, and care for their children and for themselves in a natural, mindful way.

MommyCon has also set up rooms to focus on areas of special interests; the Babywearing Lounge showcases over 40 different popular baby carriers that attendees can see, try on, and receive input about from certified BabyWearing Studies instructors. The Cloth Diaper Resource Center demystifies cloth diapering allowing attendees to see the many different types of cloth diapers available and learn about how to choose the ones to best meet their child’s needs and their budget. Experts are on-hand to discuss issues such as cloth diapering, car seat safety, promoting positive sleep habits, and more. MommyCon even offers stocked diaper changing stations, a feeding lounge, and play stations to meet the needs of even the tiniest conference attendees. Of course I saved the best for last, all attendees receive a gift bag from event sponsors and the event will end with over $10,000 in giveaways.

Tickets for the Chicago conference on March 5th had sold out but 400 more tickets were just added and are going fast. The code CRUNCHY16 will take $5.00 off the price of each ticket. If you have young ones who might want to have their own fun while you learn, the Chicago conference is also offering a Littles Make + Play Camp for children ages three and up. Kids can engage in supervised art and craft fun and creative play during individual sessions or for the whole day.

For those who make not be located close to the Chicago conference location, MommyCon will be hosting many other conferences across the country throughout the year in addition to more specifically focused conferences highlighting babywearing and infant feeding. The code CRUNCHY16 will reduce ticket prices by $5.00 for all locations.

I am counting the days until the Chicago event on Saturday March 5th. Can I look forward to meeting you there?

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Just Darling Skincare for Teens & Tweens by Darling Naturals

Crunchy Parent review Darling Naturals Just Darling Tween & Teen Non-toxic green Skincare

My natural, non-toxic “ah-ha” moment came as soon as I saw the second line show up on my home pregnancy test. All of a sudden my choices were no longer just having an impact on me; they were influencing the precious being that I was taking responsibility for bringing into the world. This epiphany shifted the way that I ate, what I put on my skin, hair, and nails, how I cleaned my home, and so much more. In the beginning, I had a harder time finding the right products to support this new approach to health. I suspect this was due in part to me not knowing where to look and in part to fewer healthy options being available 13+ years ago than there are now.

Fortunately, I was not the only person to connect the preciousness of babyhood to an enhanced desire to avoid toxins. By the time that Eva was born in 2003, I had discovered some brands and products that I felt good about using on her skin. A handful of soaps and creams, an all-purpose hair and body wash; they got the job done.

As Eva moved through her tween years, I began to see a shift. Her skin and hair were changing. She was more conscious about the clarity of her skin. She was noticing the types of products that I used on my face, and was wanting to emulate some of my skincare routine. I let her peruse my stash of cleansing and skincare products (thanks in large part to my subscription box habit, I have a lot to explore). Unfortunately these forays into my stash yielded few attractive options; my products were not a great fit for her tween/teen skin type, and the packaging often failed to intrigue or compel her.

As a result of these experiences, I am always on the lookout for natural brands and products that target older children and teens. Surprisingly, this product niche has lagged significantly behind natural personal care products marketed for women, babies, and even for men. It can be downright difficult to find natural skincare lines for teens and tweens. If you haven’t yet raised a tween or teen, I can offer this bit of insight; hygiene is often not their greatest strength. Having products that they want to use and that are effective can not only help build good personal habits, but can be a blessing for the whole family.

You can only imagine how pleased I was when I was contacted by Darling Naturals and invited to have Eva (almost 13) and Alina (9 1/2) review their Just Darling Pretty Clear Skin Regimen. The Just Darling line is designed for children ages 10-15 years to serve as an introduction to multi-step skincare regimens and overall good hygiene. The products use many plant-based and organic ingredients and are free from GMOs, petro-chemicals, artificial perfumes and dyes, and parabens. They are also vegan and cruelty free.

Darling Naturals Tween & Teen Girls Pretty Clear Skin Set Review-Crunchy Parent

The products arrived boxed into a kit with three bottles and a palm-sized natural sponge. Each bottle was clearly labeled and numbered to indicate where it should be used in the skincare sequence. I spent a few moments with the girls, explaining how they should use the products. They’ve had years of face-washing experience, but toner and moisturizer were less familiar. I also provided the girls with a stack of organic cotton rounds to use with the toner, and then set the products in their bathroom for them to use at their leisure.

I checked in with the girls periodically over the next week to ask their thoughts about the products.

Consistency of the face wash, toner, & gel moisturizer

Consistency of the face wash, toner, & gel moisturizer

Step 1: Face Wash for Problem Skin (4 oz., $12.95)

Ingredients: Organic aloe vera juice, cocamidopropyl betaine, sodium laurel lactylate, kosher vegetable glycerine, calendula distillate, tea tree oil, pink grapefruit oil, black willow bark extract, plantain extract, ethylhexyl-glycerine, phenoxyethanol.

Both girls said that they found the scent of the lightly-foaming, gel face wash to be strong and somewhat medicinal. This makes sense when you consider that it uses ingredients like tea tree and pink grapefruit oil to balance skin and control excess oils. Tea tree oil in particular can have a pronounced and sharp scent. Despite noting this feature, the girls did not find it to be a big deterrent to using the face wash. I however was a bit concerned that the tea tree oil might be too harsh on the girls’ skin. Fortunately the product also includes a host of soothing herbal ingredients such as calendula, plantain, and aloe, which I hoped would provide balance to the formula.

Eva has particularly has sensitive skin and sometimes has reactions to products. She said that with her first use of the face wash, she felt that it burned a bit on her skin. She added that in hindsight she thought that she used too much product at first. She said that on subsequent occasions, she used less product and did not find it irritating to her skin at all; rather it had a mild cooling sensation that faded after a short while.

Both girls were a bit wary of the natural sponge at first and unsure about how to use it. I showed them how a bit of water transformed the mound of crunchy swiss-cheese into a silky soft sponge. Eva continued to prefer using her hands, but Alina delighted in the softness of the sponge and the way that it helped the face wash to lather on her face. The first several nights of using the products, Alina flitted about the house, marveling at her soft skin and inviting us to stroke her cheek.

Step 2: Toner for Problem Skin (4 oz., $10.95)

Ingredients: Organic aloe vera juice, tea tree oil, green tea extract, kosher vegetable glycerine, calendula flower extract, black willow bark extract, polysorbate 80, pink grapefruit oil, phenoxyethanol, ethylhexyglycerin.

I was curious to hear the girls’ thoughts about the toner, and was pleased to discover that the didn’t find it harsh as toners can often be. Unlike most conventional toners, the Just Darling product does not contain any alcohol or witch hazel, which can be irritating to sensitive skin. The toner is an aloe-vera juice base enhanced with plant ingredients such as tea tree oil, calendula flowers, black willow bark, green tea, and pink grapefruit oil. The fragrance is of moderate intensity, but did not seem to stand out to the girls. I think that Eva and Alina both found this new-to-them toner step to be a novel addition to their skincare routine.

Step 3: Moisturizer for Problem Skin (2 oz., $12.95)

Ingredients: Organic aloe vera juice, kosher vegetable glycerine, calendula flower infusion, carbomer, triethanolamine, phenoxyethanol, ethylhexyglycerin

Interestingly, both girls commented that they really liked the smell of the light gel-moisturizer. Reviewing the ingredients, I am not sure what gives the moisturizer it’s scent, but it has a zippy, lime-like, citrus fragrance. The girls agreed that the light moisturizer felt just-right on their skin and was perfect for the dry winter months.

Darling Naturals Just Darling organic, vegan, gluten free skincare for teen & tween girls

Overall Impressions:

I asked the girls for their reviews after a week of using the 3-step Pretty Clear Skin Regimen from Just Darling. Eva said that she didn’t love her first experience with the face wash because she had a difficult time getting the product to create a lather on her face using the dime-size amount on her fingertips as instructed. This led to her using an excessive amount of product which she said made her skin burn. With subsequent applications using less product, Eva said that she liked the face wash despite the strong smell. She indicated that she had a red blemish on her face at the start of the week, and she thought that it faded over time with use of the products. She stated that she very much liked the ritual of the three steps, especially before bedtime; adding that the ritual felt like a nice way to wind down before bed. She said that she felt like she was, “pampering her skin like being at a relaxing spa.”

Alina independently shared that she too liked the multiple steps of the regimen. She very honestly reported that she generally does not like having to wash her face. She felt like the three step ritual elevated the experience, making her feel more, “responsible and important.” As mentioned, she took a great deal of pride and delight in how soft her skin felt when using the products.

Although some of the multi-syllable ingredients rated in the moderate range on EWG’s Skin-Deep Database, I was pleased with the products all being organic aloe gel-based, and they were well tolerated by the girls’ skin. I was thrilled that the girls found the product packaging, texture, and fragrance to be attractive enough to keep using again and again without prompting all throughout the week. Unprompted personal hygiene is not a common thing around here. I know that they will continue to use the products, and I think that they especially like having products that are made just for them. I think that the natural sponge in the kit that we received was a nice option, but not necessary to enjoy and use the products. In Eva’s case she preferred to use her clean hands versus the sponge when working with the face wash. Alina enjoyed using the sponge, so I suppose that it would depend on the preference of the child.

As much as we appreciate that Darling Naturals has developed a line of natural products just for tweens and teens, they also have a Darling Baby line and a Darling Mommy line for new babies and expectant and new mommies. For the time being, I think we’ll continue to focus on the tween and teen needs. I have my eye on the Good Hair Day Detangling Spray. Maybe it will be the answer for Alina’s long, tangle-prone locks.

What do you think about the Darling Naturals line for tweens and teens? Do you have any secrets for keeping older children clean and smelling fresh?

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