A long, long time ago, I was a senior in journalism school, neck-deep in an intense journalism ethics course, when I came home to visit New Orleans for a much-needed spring break. I met a group of friends at a French Quarter bar, and after a couple of drinks, I struck up a conversation with the woman sitting next to me, who told me she was a New York-based travel writer visiting New Orleans for an article. I thought she was so cool, a hip professional woman with a dream job – until the bartender came by and she pushed her empty glass back toward him and said: “Give me another one. And remember, babe, I’m not paying; I am writing about you for [a national magazine].”


“What?” I said to her, earnest and aghast and so very, very 21 years old and naïve. “You can’t do that! That is unethical! Listen, I am in journalism school, and I know …”


She cut me off with a laugh. “Oh, honey,” she said. “You’ll learn. You don’t make any money as a journalist, but you get so much free shit.”


“Well, not like that you don’t,” I told her, emboldened by my firm convictions and three Cape Cods. “I don’t like your ethics, and I am not ever going to just accept ‘free shit’ [oh, God, I think I even did air quotes] when I become a journalist.”


“Suit yourself, kiddo,” she said, “but I sleep just fine at night.”


I am absolutely horrible at confrontations, so I just said, “Well, I will suit myself,” and flounced off and told my friends we were leaving. The next day, I felt sort of foolish and very hungover – but still not wrong. I took two Advil and vowed that in the future, I would never take free things as a journalist or drink cheap well vodka on an empty stomach.


Well. Becoming a real journalist has made me break both of those vows more times than I would like to admit.


There is no excuse for the latter, but in defense of my ethics, I can say that I have never demanded anything for free or promised coverage in exchange for anything free.


But about a week into my job with New Orleans Homes & Lifestyles, packages began showing up addressed to me or just to “Editor.” Was I supposed to just send them back? I got cool dishes and scented candles and fancy hand lotion. I got cookbooks and perfumes. I got picture frames and plastic mugs and more stuff covered in fleurs-de-lis than you can shake a stick at. I never asked for it, granted, and I gave a lot of it away to co-workers or to writers – but I can’t say that I didn’t keep a lot of it myself or even that I didn’t like getting it. It made me uneasy for about six months, and then it just became another part of the job. And then I started blogging about my kids, and that’s when I really started getting buried in stuff. Kids’ books. Toys. A really great jazz CD for kids (thanks, Putumayo!). Baby wash. Onesies. Again, I never demanded anything or promised anything, but I did take a lot of it home to Ruby and Georgia and my stepson, Elliot.


“The real danger in ‘mommy blogging’ isn't invading your kids’ privacy or opening yourself up to criticism,” I wrote on Facebook recently. “The real danger is that a publicist will send you an unsolicited Furby.”


Ruby actually adores the Furby, but he has been banished to the laundry room after waking up Georgia and/or scaring the crap out of me one too many times. But there is one “mom-centric” product I received recently that I absolutely love and would like to recommend. In the interest of full disclosure: yes, I received it for free. But I can honestly say I would have bought it if I hadn’t been sent one – and in fact, I have bought an additional one to supplement the one I was sent.


The BubbleBum is an inflatable booster seat. It is every bit as safe as a traditional booster, but you can fold it up and send it in your kids’ backpacks for carpools or after-school play dates or keep an extra in your glove box for an unexpected small passenger. It inflates in about 1 minute. The extra bonus is that it is super-narrow because it doesn’t have arm rests, so you can fit three across the backseat. Without having the BubbleBum for Ruby, my husband and I would not be able to take our three kids anywhere in the same car. I also used it once in a taxi in Chicago – I was able to fold it up in my purse on the flight, inflate it for use in my friend’s car when she picked us up at the airport, use it in the taxi we took back to the airport and then deflate it again to stash in my purse for the return flight – so much easier than lugging around a booster seat, and at $40, about the same price. I know this sounds like ad copy, but I really do love the thing, and I recommend it to other parents all the time in real life, along with LiceFreee! spray (the only thing that finally eradicated our disgusting hair critters), which I bought myself; the Moby wrap, which I got at a baby shower; and the Easy Bake app for the iPhone, which is free and totally awesome for keeping Ruby quiet for brief periods of time.


I like to think that my 21-year-old self would not be too horrified at the freebies littering my desk right now. Back then, in addition to my lofty morals, I thought that by 30 I would have a clean car (no), a nicer wardrobe (nope) and no balance on my credit cards (hahahaha) – but even if I haven’t achieved every goal, I have achieved the most important one, the only thing I have ever really wanted in my entire life, which is of course having my daughters. And as I celebrate Mother’s Day this weekend, I know that even if I have let myself down in other ways, I wouldn’t change a thing. I might not sleep all that well at night, but it's for the very best reasons.


Happy Mother’s Day, everyone.