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Saturday, 31 December 2016 20:40

 

holiday sandwich TT style 2016 1231

For many around the world - but certainly not all – the month of December has turned into this chaotic time warp. And time, as we once knew it, has turned into “Apple time” – you know when the time for installation and upgrades alternates (versus counts down) from 75 seconds to 43 days to 27 minutes and so on and then . . . TA DA! Done! What the hell? Who counts like that? And how did the holiday time become some sort of “iTime”?

The rush into the holiday season has turned into a crush of the holiday season. Every place is more crowded. Every person moves faster. (And if they aren’t, they should be!) Every decoration is bigger, more glamorous (or more gaudy). Every thing is wanted, not needed; and every thing that is needed is unaffordable. Exceptions are made that should never be made but are made anyway. Just this once . . . or maybe, twice . . . It becomes harder to breathe, much less be happy, jolly, merry or whatever the season calls for.

Families that should never visit for more than a few minutes arrive for the day or sometimes several such that it rolls into another unit of time, commonly referred to as “a week”. Relatives say exactly what you wish you couldn’t hear but expected to hear and it still irks you anyway. Sometimes they don’t say anything but somehow you know – you just know, dammit – that they are thinking it and probably saying it to each other when you’re not within earshot! And that irks you as well. And you walk around irked – which by the way is a really cool word and you may borrow it or just have it. (I won’t be irked, but I’ll need that word back in a little while. You’ll have to share it.)

Friends who should visit can’t because their own families are visiting and they are dealing with their own festivities, aka holiday madness. They are calling you instead of visiting. They are ranting about all the things that their relatives are saying (or not saying) that are irking them.

Are we having fun yet? Who knew a single short season could be so irkful? Irkulous? (And yes, I’m riffin’ now.)

 But we hare having fun. Because, thank goodness, there is the wonder of small children with their eyes still sparkling, reflecting the lights of whatever holiday you observe. If we do a good job, we hide the chaos from them. We hide the worries. We hide the financial-what-have-we-just-done panic. We hide the work projects that demand our attention because their deadlines, of course, are at the end of the month. We hide how we feel about our favorite relatives because they are (mostly) favorite, just not necessarily right now. In general, we actually just hide from our children. It’s safer that way. Let them enjoy the season on their own. Let them ooh and ahh.

And then, unless Hannukah goes even later, the chaos screeches to a halt and stops. Or so we believe.

If you celebrate Kwanzaa, this is your week to celebrate – possibly with some of the issues noted above.

But, many of us have the hanging week. The dangling week. The week that is sandwiched between Christmas (and sometimes Hannukah) and numerous other holidays that are celebrated in countries around the world at this time . . . and . . . New Years which is celebrated by everyone around the world at this exact time.

For parents, our kids have no school and this is our week not just to return and exchange gifts in long lines in stores and post offices; not just to visit family (see above); not just to clean up the decorations and find places for all the gifts; but to spend quality time with tots to teens.

Quality time. Together. Family. Our own family.

In the age of technology – of movies that no one has to agree upon because we can all watch separately on our separate devices, where board games have become boring because tech has re-engineered our brains for constant color, faster pace, and more to do, to score, to level up, to win – this concept of family time is hugely challenging.

So we spend the week trying to avoid the guilt of demanding our kids be with us or subtly avoiding our kids all together. We send them to play with their new toys. We make play dates with friends. We continue the visits with relatives who are still here and we try to coax our kids out of their rooms to visit and take the pressure off our own visiting which then, of course, increases the pressure.

And then when school starts again, when work requires that we return, we go back to our regularly scheduled programming of runaway moments and lost opportunities to make real connections. We are often a lot more weary and are scratching our heads at all the ideas for what we could have done for fun but never did.

Why didn’t we?

News Flash:
You can still do it.

You can still find 2 board games and play for 15 minutes each. (Don’t demand hours. Ask for 15 minutes per game. A good game will last longer by default and no one will want to leave. After 15 minutes, anyone can choose to sit out and wait for the next game. But add a rule: no tech while waiting. Watch. Read a book. Hang out. Pretend there is no wifi. Deal with the panic of 15-30 minutes of no pings, rings, or dings.)

You can still agree on a movie by agreeing on several movies. Everyone picks 2 and each then narrows it down by agreeing on 1 of each person’s choices. Then schedule movie moments (afternoons or evenings) that can only be rescheduled in dire emergencies. Dire. Make snacks. Divert all other tech. (For the purposes of this exercise, microwave popcorn does not qualify as a “high tech” item.)

You can still toss everyone into the car and head to a museum – everyone chooses their fave (art, science, history, zoo,  . . . ). The key? Set a timer for an hour. Big family? One museum every two weeks. Everyone goes. One hour. If, after an hour, people want to stay, only by unanimous agreement (teens included), you can choose to agree to another 30 minutes. After that, time is up – else you risk sudden meltdown and mutiny. Much better to leave with everyone (or most everyone) wanting to come back.

You can still toss everyone back into the car and head to a park, playground, hiking/skiing trail – again, everyone chooses a favorite. If you have mixed ages, get creative about what people are allowed to bring along. But leave the tech off. In fact, bring tech only if you have a crew likely to split up on trails; then tech is safety (unless, of course, the preferred tech requires an extension cord). Whether your weather is snow and cold or warm and summer, get the heck out there. Take a walk. Together. Even the grumpy kids will walk, particularly if they have a target in space or time. Maybe they’ll go faster, maybe slower – but make an effort to occasionally go their speed; talking is optional with grumps but walking together is not.

**

The holiday sandwich is not always likeable. It’s not always easy. It doesn’t always have the right ingredients so that everyone can enjoy.

Sometimes, in the chaos of “iTime” we need our routines to appreciate unscheduled time.

If you are a believer in “2016 Sucked”, then you are in luck. 2017 has arrived just in time. And the best way to make 2017 even better is to talk, spend time with your kids. You may not be able to change the world but you can alter your small part of it.

Resolve: A little less tech. A little more talk. A little more time.

Then go find something to do. Together.

blog sandwich week 2016 1231 m

Monday, 19 December 2016 17:59

The original start of this post:

Not only have we relaunched our website (Again? Yes!! AGAIN!) but we are also in the news and on the road at shows
and festivals and conferences and giving talks and being featured in blogs and online holiday gift guides and . . . and . . . and . . . 

But it just got better.

 tiffintalk in the news 2016 1219

Today, Monday, December 19, we were featured on the front page of the business section of the Philadelphia Inquirer. (also here at philly.com)

How's that for exciting news? Go there – but come back here because there's more. Much more.

It’s all very exciting and one run-on sentence is just not going to do it. Here it is in brief:

Website relaunch:

  • Biggest and “bestest” addition: Look for our new videos! (If you missed the 'placeholder' cat & dog videos, they will be on the website under the "More" menu item, and they're also on the TiffinTalk YouTube channel.)
  • Better visuals: Along with clear explanations of each product line, you’ll find excellent slides (that you can control) so you can see each product and truly know all about it – words for those of you who are readers; pictures for those of you who can’t help but “judge the book by its cover” – no matter what your teachers warned you!
  • Testimonials: Yeah, people love us. And they tell us. And we tell you. So that you’ll try us and love us, too. It's really all one big happy circle of love. (Enjoy it before some new politician makes it illegal.)
  • Easier store experience: TiffinTalk offers 3 products lines, each with multiple options. And there are more coming. It’s not meant to confuse you and we hope we’ve laid it out for you in a simple way. But let’s face it: tech can only explain us to a point! If you reach “the point” and need more, CALL us. After all, we are all about talk and we’d love to talk with you. (1-610 299 1107 – Yup we put it right here. We want you to call.)
  • Better navigation: You’ll find it easier to get around. Period. Boring. But important.

News:

  • Concordia University: Author Erin Jay Flynn featured TiffinTalk in the university’s Literary Resources guide. The article, Card Kits Get Kids Talking and Learning to Think for Themselves, is thorough, readable, and thoroughly readable. You’ll be surprised when you realize you’ve just read every word. She’s that good an author!!
  • We’ve been featured by Motherchic, a blog written by a former-elementary-school-teacher-now-full-time-mom-of-4-boys. She features fashion with a passion and still covers the latest and greatest . . . like TiffinTalk!
  • We will soon be featured in As a Child Grows and have several other Philly mom bloggers setting up calls to talk about TiffinTalk.
  • We’ve been in local online news, Pivot.Today (and that was during our pre-professional video days!) and Media Patch and are thrilled to be covered in our backyard as we make our way into ever larger media sites. (There’s a hint in there… we’ll keep you posted!)

Holiday Gift Guides: Look for us at TiffinTalk in our own store. And since you are reading this, enjoy a 20% discount with our own New Year’s Resolution gift code: techlesstalkmore2017. (Oh, just cut and paste it! We’ll honor it through the end of January 2017 but buy now.) But you can also find us at:

  • Philly Baby Bump - A very cool site for expectant moms in the area. (Yes, we don't quite make cards for infants but lots of babies have siblings who are desperate for talk time all their own . . . )
  • Macaroni Kid – We'll soon be featured in their regional versions for Media, West Chester, Main Line and Montgomery! They focus on the to-do’s across the country with local sites that feature our local areas and local sellers and artists. 
  • And like the infamous Ginsu knives . . .  That’s not all! We’ve got more surprises in (online) store(s) coming soon to a computer near you!

On the road! We’ve had a busy summer with local festivals almost every weekend from June through the end of September. And we’ve also been at:

  • The Philly Baby & Family Expo
  • TACA’s (Talk About Curing Autism) Fall Festival
  • PAGE (Pennsylvania Association for Gifted Educators) Conference
  • PSCA (Pennsylvania School Counselors Association) Conference
  • … and 2017 has us at a major conference in DC with keynote speaker Brené Brown at the PsychNetworker and at a Boston expo for the CEC (Council for Exceptional Children)
  • Plus – did I mention the speaking engagements?! Book now for a talk on the Power of Talk. I speak to groups of all sizes and all ages and tailor the topic toward parents, educators, and/or seniors. Honestly, don’t we all need to talk – now more than ever?! I will never ever claim to be the Talk Expert, but I am the Talk Advocate and I can speak to that and more.

Grandparents . . .  they are asking. Schools . . . they are asking. Counseling Centers . . . they are asking. Inpatient and Outpatient Facilities . . . they are asking (impatiently, I may add). Distributors . . .  they are asking. Non-profit educational groups . . . they are asking. And we are talking and meeting and meeting and talking.

And we’d love to talk to you. And all the people you know.

Spread the word.

New day. New year. New plan: Tech less. Talk more!

TiffinTalk.

Thursday, 11 May 2017 16:44

 blog 20160809 mother knows best 38567939 m v2

 

I’m old enough to be a mom and blessed enough to still have my own mom close by.

Here’s how being a mom and having a mom works: My teens don’t listen to their mom (me) and I, in turn, don’t listen to my mom.

It’s not intentional. It’s a mom thing. It’s a kid thing.

The truth of it is: Moms do know best. They are brilliant. They have experience. And they know (and try to accept) that their children actually do hear them even if they are not listening in the moment.

Or maybe children are listening but trying to reply patiently – or impatiently – about why whatever it is that their mom is suggesting won’t work or is utterly ridiculous. Because, as kids know, clearly mothers just don’t get it. (No matter what "it" is.)

How many times have children said (preferably silently): “Duh, Mom”? And meant every single syllable?

**

Funny thing about mothering advice . . . most times it must simmer, be stirred and mulled, often for days, or weeks, and even occasionally for years. Most times, the child / young adult / grown child then realizes “Mom was right.”

This is almost always followed by a loud but silent “DAMMIT”.

**

In my more morbid moments, I panic over the thought of losing my mother.

Who will explain neutral shoes to me – yet again? Who will know how to get the stain out? Who will hang the picture, paint the wall, decorate? (Those abilities were passed down to my sisters, not to me. Thanks, Mom. Thanks a lot.) Who will convince me that I'm sick and should stay home; or that I'm not dying but should get to a doctor (with an implied "just in case")?

There are so many “hows” and “whys” that only she knows. The internet doesn’t exist for most ‘mom questions’ and it definitely doesn’t exist for mom support. And even if it did, I wouldn’t want it to anyway. There is no way I can call the internet in the middle of the day and start crying about the most critical (or inane) thing that has just overwhelmed me. One thing is for sure: the internet is no substitute for a mom. Not my mom. Not any mom.

My mom loves me unconditionally – as witnessed by all the advice she continues to give me knowing it will take me a long time – not just to understand it and agree with her – but also a long (much longer) time to appreciate her wisdom and then to thank her. (Sometimes, I wonder whether she lives for that long-delayed gratification. I know I do with my girls.)

**

And in my even more morbid moments, I ponder over my girls losing me.

Who will see them through the good, the bad, and the occasionally ugly? Who will they go to for advice that they won’t listen to but realize later how spot on it is? Will their other mamas (my closest friends) still be here to guide them? Will they learn to trust their own inner wisdom by then? Will they lean on each other as sisters and pseudo mothers? Because – and they don’t know this yet – they have each mothered the other throughout these years with such love and kindness. How else could we have survived in this family if we haven't all been mothering one another?

**

But, now is decidedly not a morbid moment. Now, I am grateful for my mom.

And for my daughters who taught me how to better appreciate their grandmama. I learned this by realizing that they were not listening to me just as I understood I was doing the same with my mom. Good grief! I chuckle now with this revelation.

So, I mentioned this to my mother. She chuckled. She already knew. Wise mother that she is.

Dammit.

 

 

201705 mothers day 02

( I knew you wouldn't approve of any of the many, but way too few pictures we have of you, Mom.
This then made me realize that I've inherited that self-critical photo gene which I've passed down to my daughters.
Thus, this is the best non-picture of not-us I could find.)

flowers for mothers day medium IMG 5901

Tulips for you, Mom... your favorite. And the cat won't eat these. Plus your granddaugther took this picture in Copenhagen last month...
Love, Kat

Wednesday, 05 October 2016 15:48

Politics suck.

That may be the only political fact we can depend on. (Check that out with Politifact.)

Conversationally speaking, of course, politics are great. Usually.

Family Political Discussions Ahead Road Sign

But the general rule is: Don’t engage.

Stay clear of political chatter if it appears at the family reunion or holiday dinner with relatives who clearly were born on the other branches of the same (?) family tree. It's not worth pruning your tree over politics. Honestly. There’s a lot more to life. A lot. Take a few more breaths. Attempt a polite change of the impolite political topic. Then focus on quietly counting how many times you blink per minute before doing the mental math to convert this to blinks per hour, per day,... whatever it takes. Because the reality is that the quiet meditation that preempts an argument often beats a lifetime of stony family silence.

Usually.

And stay clear of political chatter with friends whom you love dearly. Love them more than their politics. Sometimes silence with a smile is indeed a virtue. They are adults. They are your friends. (And that’s way better than relatives!) There is no political battle worth damaging a friendship in order to “win”. Reflect for a moment on how you got to be such great friends to begin with. Surely, it went way beyond and around politics. So, maybe you just have unusual and diverse thinking friends? Treasure those differences.

Always.

So that leaves your children. And the truth: Politics suck. Tell your kids. Tell them your truths. Then – and here’s the key to being the best parent ever – ask them their truths. And …

Listen.

Trust.

Ask. Ask with genuine interest and not disgust or horror ... think back to those relatives hanging out on the other side of that family tree … that should help get you in the right frame of mind here.

Listen again. Did you hear them or just think you heard them?

Trust again. Your children will have important ideas and fascinating perspectives. Some you will know and recognize. Some will surprise you.

Ask again. Certainly, there is some point you can ask them to clarify or expand upon.

If you don’t agree, then teach them – not about “correct political opinions” – but that “not agreeing” is a safe place to be. There should never be a war over politics in your house. There should only be respect for a difference of opinion. And those differences of opinion need not ever be substantiated to your standards – political discourse should never be a matter for a family tribunal.

Toddlers, preteens, teens, and young adults are still forming opinions. (Hell, some of us are still revising our own!) Our kids may be determined and stubborn but they are thinking and debating – sometimes aloud, but oftentimes silently behind the scenes as they watch and listen and take it all in. Trust that. Allow that. Be proud of that.

When you ask them to support their opinions to the best of their ability, remember that this should not involve tactical offense and defense. If your political discussions are more like political competitive sports, then they will end in political silences that will extend outward like a political cancer, silencing other topics as well.

Who wants to talk if the result is being browbeaten, teased, or taunted?

And yes, these family conversations about politics can be easy when everyone just has the same central core of beliefs still. But they can be awkward (mildly put) if you have one of “those rebellious” kids who is determined to disagree just because they never (outwardly) agree with you. But, at some level, isn’t that their job: At (almost) all costs, don’t agree with the parent units?

Show them that disagreements are safe and can be welcome. And that there is always room for anyone to ask questions, to change their mind at any point along the way.

Including you!

**

Politics actually begin at home and move outward – locally, nationally and globally. That’s why political discussions begin at the beginning – you talk politics around your children until they ask to be included in the conversations and then you talk politics with your children. You talk about house rules; and you talk about laws. You talk about dictatorships (and the variations on that in your own home); and you talk about elections. You compare. You contrast. You talk about differences. You talk about respect.

You research the local candidates who aren’t all over the news and you ask them what they think. (How accurate is what we find online? Where and what are the truths? How important are the "little" local elections?) If you have the energy and enthusiasm to be politically involved and active on any level, you tell them what you can and treat them as your constituents – because they are. You vote with your children – you actually take (and sometimes, drag) them along. The mechanics of voting can be intimidating. Show them how NOT to be intimidated – or, better still, what to do if you (or they) are intimidated!

And you listen.

Listen.

Listen.

You listen better than politicians typically listen.

And you talk politics better than politicians talk politics. Because you are responsible for teaching the next generation about their rights to their opinions and their rights to voice those opinions and the rights of others to form their own conclusions. It’s about inclusion. It’s about learning to decipher truths in the quicksand of quick talk and soundbites and backstabbing and innuendo and all the doubletalk that tries to distract us from listening and prevents us from understanding.

And it’s about teaching our children how (and why) to have a fair debate. At the dinner table. In the car. With people we trust. Who will listen. And not speak over us. But consider and reconsider. Before presenting their viewpoint louder and longer and not necessarily any better. Interrupting isn’t right – even if you (think you) are right. Family time is where it starts.

Let’s face one undeniable, entirely un-political fact: we need more time together.

Where we talk. Where we listen. Without tech.

Just sayin’.

Because politics suck.

But we shouldn’t avoid these important conversations with the most important people in our lives: our children.

I’m sure that the politicians will have something to say about this. But you should say it first.

And better.

Tuesday, 30 August 2016 15:28

Dan Reimold Dream Big

Where is death one year later?

The truth is I don’t know.

My nephew died. It’s been a year. Emotionally, it was yesterday. I screamed so loudly and fell to my knees when his brother called that day and said ... I actually cannot recall exactly what he said. Odd how you think you'll never forget. But I simply couldn’t comprehend the words coming through the phone. Nothing made sense. My body knew what my mind refused to know. The impossible. At an impossible age. For impossible reasons.

Danny had died of a seizure. How insane was that? Enough that I couldn’t get off the floor. He couldn’t. I couldn’t. Only now as I write this do I understand why I laid there until they picked me up. I recall feeling puzzled that anyone could move at all.

Time was standing still. But in reality it was only still for him.

**

Danny died too young. Maybe this is true for everyone – whether they still need a few more hours. Or days. Or years.

Too young. Too soon.

But he died having conquered so many fears. Having lived more than the three decades that declared his true age. Having reached a pinnacle in his career – a career that he defined, that he quite literally wrote the book on.

He had colleagues – older and younger – who were in awe of him and still liked him. He had students that he inspired into majors and careers that they might never have pursued.

Hell, he started a blog before I knew what the word meant or how to find it online or whether it “was safe” to even read one. He owned a website long before everyone claimed a domain name just in case they’d need it later. He was forward thinking about where technology and student journalism would meet.

He traveled around the whole damn world having overcome a fear of flying so severe that most others stay grounded and never know the cultures and dramas beyond their 200-mile radius or outside the politics of their own country. He was terrified and he flew anyway. While the destination was the goal, the need – the craving – to know more was the motivating factor to get him there. So he went.

Maybe he had more places to go and more to give but he managed to get to a “there” that many of us never even know to dream about.

He discovered. He wrote. He lived.

Every minute of his life.

**

Death, I’ve learned, can bring us closer. Death, I’ve learned can divide us. Unexpectedly.

And coping with death, I’ve learned, is that personal. Danny's death drove many within our family to different ends of despair. I miss him. In that painful, indescribable way. And I also miss many who loved him but who are now no longer in touch. Thankfully, they haven’t died, but they are, sadly, nearly as gone. There is no describing those levels of grief either.

**

One year later. Danny still hasn’t called me. That’s not unlike him. If you had been related, if you had known him, then you knew: he might not return a call, a text, an email for a year. Maybe more. And because I loved him, because I just knew that he loved me back, I didn’t mind. On any random day, his number might have popped up on my caller ID. “Hey, you?!”, I would have said without a sharp intonation, without a threat of where-the-hell-have-you-been. I would have just proclaimed, “Hey, you?!” as a peace offering of sorts and continued on as if I’d spoken to him last week. We would have chatted and caught up and we would have made plans to see each other. Of course, I would have known that the likelihood of him actually showing up was very small but I would made those plans just the same.

The thing is that now <sigh>, well, it's just ... I see Danny in crowds – impossible. I see him in articles that he is quoted in – forever possible. I see him in random pictures that pop up unexpectedly even though it’s not always him – but dammit, it could have been (and sometimes is). At times, I laugh at his audacity – it’s just like him. At times, I cry at his insensitivity – how could he not know how much his absence hurts my presence?

And, true confession here: I am still certain he will call.

I’m just not surprised he hasn’t.

Not because he’s died. It’s because he’s still Danny. He’ll always be. And so, he may call still – that’s what my heart chooses to believe even as I am certain that I sat with him at the funeral home and looked at his picture over his coffin. Stunned. “Where the hell are you?” I had thought. “So not funny,” I had thought. I’d have been furious if he had jumped out from behind the nonexistent curtain. But I would surely have hugged him hard. And I’d have been afraid to let him go again without making plans that he would keep this time.

That was Danny.

As he will always be.

And that is me. I’ll just let him know this time that I’m pissed he hasn’t called in so long but that I’m glad to have a chance to tell him about his amazing cousins, about what we have all been up to, and then I’ll ask him what he has been doing. He’ll likely reply as he always did, “Not much.”

Not until he died did I really hear about his life.

Talk about serious deflection issues! (I'd like to talk to him about that.)

**

My phone is ringing now as I try to finish what he started: this blog. That’s the kind of timing he has.

Just in case, I’m ready.

“Hey you?!”

It’s still not him.

Dammit.

Lonely Telephone

Maybe the next call.

Monday, 22 August 2016 15:02

College Students Chatting

When we send our kids to college, we pack everything they own, then immediately unpack ½ of it, and repack some critical college must-haves (including the damnable x-long twin sheets for beds that only college dorm rooms have).

AND then we attempt to squeeze in all the advice that we can force them to listen to, plus toss in a few handwritten notes (to reinforce anything they couldn’t hear because they were distracted by the necessity to roll their eyes and tap a foot impatiently).

All those notes get tucked into the odd places to be found while they are unpacking throughout the term. (Hints: inside a sock, in the front of a favorite book you know that they’ll open, between winter clothes in the suitcase, inside the fridge, taped to the back of the printer… oh, you can get very creative. And, as long as the advice is heartfelt and fun, the notes will be readand not automatically crumpled and tossed. Plus eye rolling tends not to happen when no one is watching. You may actually get a tearful eye instead.)

Notes from Mom to Daughter/College Student

**

I try to be a talk-with-teen Mom, not a talk-to-teen Mom or, worse yet, a talk-at-teen Mom. I reserve the right to lecture only for extreme and dire circumstances (or rants over litter boxes still not clean). That’s about it. Well, that and maybe an occasional, “Really, you are 18 and still can’t think to empty the dishwasher on your own?!”

But that one is a short lecture, so it doesn’t count.

Everything else is a two-way conversation. I listen. I take turns. I try.

It’s hard. And I try to resist the temptation to roll my eyes back at them. (Confession: I'm not perfect. I roll with the best of them.)

It’s just that I learned long ago that no one really listens or learns in a one-sided lecture situation – certainly not the lecturer (who is too busy ranting or covering every item in their mental or written notes to hear anyone else speak up or even ask a question) AND definitely not the ‘lecturee’ who is bored and losing consciousness and couldn’t give a damn. (Note to my college Psychology Stats professor: Please re-read this last para. Twice.)

So in my home, there is no mother lecturing except in life-or-death situations or litter confrontations.

Those moments and one other: When my oldest knew she was going to college.

This was lecture worthy. I had an important message. A directive really. And only one delivery was possible, though I tried to make it somewhat interesting with personal examples and a few threats (both of which I will spare you).

So has she listened to her mother? Absorbed any of it? Has she in any way truly adapted the message?

Let’s just say that she’s finished her sophomore year and I’ve given her this same lecture over and over and over again. And I am about to cover it yet again. Deaf ears? Stubborn?

Not really. The real problem: She takes after me.

The other real problem? I don’t want her to take after me! (at least not in this way…)

Here’s my spiel:

You didn’t have (enough? any?) fun in high school. You threw yourself on the college track, took every AP class you could; took PE and health in the summer to free up your schedule to take more foreign languages; studied so (too?) much; got involved in almost every honor society, the school magazine, the musical, the elite choir, the local youth film initiative. What have I missed? Plenty! You took language classes outside of school, online classes (void of interaction), and music lessons on several instruments. You had a ridiculously impressive transcript and resume that made me both proud and embarrassed because there was no stopping you. No holding you back. You were doing all the things you wanted to do. I could only support you and try to get you to lighten up.

HA!

So here’s the thing: In college, learn to have fun. Don’t wait until you’re 45 years old to realize that you are far too serious.

I’m glad you have a great sense of humor; it helps, but it’s not enough.

Don’t let another year pass before you suddenly realize that you are not fun or not having fun or that you have no idea what fun really feels like without being stressed. You have to know more than just how to spell “relax” and now “chillax”. You have to do it and be it.

Try a few random, out-of-your-comfort-zone things.

Have dessert before dinner. Do that. In the dining hall. On more than one occasion. Especially at weekend dinners when the food is notoriously bad.

Rush out to a party that you hadn’t planned on going to. If your friend decides not to go, then go anyway with another friend. Drag them along. Apparently, they need to have more fun, too. Because I said so.

Find a random concert of totally unknown music and go; maybe you’ll gag, but maybe you’ll love it. Then go to a different concert next week.

Go to the movies. On campus. Off campus. With one friend. With a bunch of people. Or, by yourself and say hi to someone you recognize when you get there.

Invite random friends to your room to watch a movie online. Eat popcorn. Let there be crumbs. (You can vacuum later.)

Show up at a sports event that you may never have an opportunity to ever see again (until you have athletically talented offspring that clearly don’t take after you). Scream wildly at any team that scores. Because you can. Then laugh at yourself while others look scandalously at you.

You don’t have to drink (though one safe drink with a friend at your side is okay). Just be smart about it. Drinks often taste good. So drink slowly, eat while you drink, and enjoy. If you realize you are not enjoying it, that’s a good stopping point. Being sick later is not so fun. If that happens, don’t sweat it; it really is something you have to learn for yourself and for what your body can tolerate. Just be with friends to learn it. And be a friend to others. Some things can only be learned experientially.

Don’t do drugs (no matter how many friends are with you). It’s not safe. There is no reason to experiment. Totally not cool. And you know that. Easiest way out? Your feet. Just leave. You don’t have to be rude or a prude about it; just decide that you want to be somewhere else and go. Feel free to blame me. As in, "I forgot. My mom is waiting for me to call her back. Bye."

Never do anything you don’t want to do or stay anywhere that you don’t want to stay. There is always a way out. Any ‘friends’ whom you might lose along the way weren’t worth keeping in the first place.

Learn bridge and/or canasta and/or gin rummy. And stay up all night to do it. (But don’t get addicted to it so that you keep staying up all night. Believe me, it’s not that worth it.) Ditto video games. Back to that “everything in moderation” concept. Fun is more fun in moderation. Addictions are not fun. Find a fun game and learn it.

Take walks. Randomly. Into town. Around town. With friends. On your own. Clear your head. In fact, take a lot of walks. Clear your head a lot.

College offers your major classes, your minor classes and some unusual classes in subjects that you may never have the opportunity to easily learn anywhere else – take THOSE classes.

But college offers you so much more than classes. Find that “so much more” and do as much as you can. Because you can.

Here’s the point: For you, college isn’t about buckling down to work harder. For better and for worse, you are one of those kids who has already mastered that. For you, college is about unbuckling a notch or two. Get a few B’s. Don’t let a C rule your entire life. Be happy. Laugh a lot. Stress less. Sleep a little more. Work smart. Play smarter. Join in. Take care of your physical and mental health.

Remember that you are young, no matter how old you think you are. So be young.

You will look back at these years and know that you “did college”. Your transcript will show what you learned – academically. No one (okay, almost no one) will ask to see your academic transcript. But everyone should ask to see your social transcript – if one existed – as proof of whether you are balanced human being.

Life itself will tell you if you used these years wisely. Have no regrets at 25. At 35. At 45 or beyond.

So go sing off key – okay, you can't, but you should try to! Color out of the lines. Do the interpretive dance on the quad lawn at midnight; then do it again at noon – even better!

Find your quirky self again and let her rip.

End of Off-to-College Lecture

**

It is now 2 years down with 2 to go and I am still giving that same damn talk.

My daughter is stressed with her double major/double minor combo. (If you must know, it's International Relations & Environmental Science with German & Mandarin minors.) She won’t give anything up because she loves it all. If she could, she’d force the college to let her be a triple major. (Fortunately, they don’t have enough classes in Linguistics.)

So I am doing just what I don’t like to do: talking again at my beloved, unbalanced, quirky, serious, funny, stodgy-around-the-edges, anxious, perfectionist, caring, narcoleptic daughter:

Go ahead and love it all. But love yourself more.

NOW GO OUT AND HAVE FUN, DAMMIT.

It’s time for a change.

I’m your mother. Don’t be like me.
And, remember that I love you. A lot.

And yes,
we can talk about this more later.
Just the two of us.
I’ll listen.
I promise.

But, I am right.
And you know it. (Just sayin'.)

Love,
Mom

PS: I can see you rolling your eyes at me.
HA!
Right back atchya, Babe!

Tuesday, 09 August 2016 14:08

picture of student moving into college dorm room with parents

It’s that time of year.

We are in urgent need of PACCAPs (Public Announcements from College Children for Addlebrained Parents).

We can save the breath of anxious college-bound children and the going-deaf ears of their anxious parents. Hundreds of thousands of parents will no longer feel the compulsion to shoot the human messenger (aka: their children).

Let’s just save on anxiety levels (on both sides), overuse of sighs, whiny toddlerlike tones, and unspoken “duhs”. Believe me – I’ve paid my “duhs”.

This system delivers the same, reliable message at regular intervals – automatically. Painlessly. Aloud. Over secret wireless technology that has already been installed in every house with a college-bound child who cannot afford college (much less the list of required “must haves”). Oh wait. That’s a huge percentage known only to those organizations that manage student loans and sales of anything stating “I am the proud parent of a <insert college> student”.

What is the message? It is the message from child to parent reminding them of the necessity and urgency of purchases and paperwork.

But wait! That’s not all, for an additional fee, the PACCAP can be customized for the specific college to be attended and thus will include the exact dates due and accountable hours to complete all tasks.

And that’s not all! For even more money, the announcement can be personalized with names and recognizable voices – sans whiny tones.

(Note: No Ginsu knife infomercials were even considered in the making of this blog.)

How much would you pay? Well there’s more:

The message will repeat several times to include:

  • A reminder to get to a certain store to be unnamed but generally abbreviated with the same consonant that is the second letter of the alphabet used 3 times. That store or another superstore or local five & dime will do. But necessities are necessities. Please purchase the follow:
    Twin XL sheets – because these mattresses only exist in dorm rooms. (There is a theory – some say a conspiracy theory – that links XL mattress sheet set sales to the world economy but it has not been confirmed by the conspiracists. Yet.)
  • Other items for shared bathrooms. Imagination and lists are both helpful, though there is a strong probability that one or both of you will forget the one most important item, regardless of what you buy. This will necessitate joint therapy. Start budgeting now. And yes, the conversation will begin with “<Insert guilty parent> forgot to buy <insert toiletry of utter importance>” as your parenting degree is scrutinized as it has now prevented your child from achieving their college degree in a meaningful way.
  • A reminder to get to a certain store to be unnamed but possibly with the same letter used in the previous store but only 2 times. Or you can just go to that “fruit store”. Again, other substitute stores are acceptable and often preferred because you are on the hunt for the latest in all things tech. Laptops will be purchased that won’t be supported, regardless of what you buy and whatever you’ve told been told by the IT Department which was then translated by your child. Printers will be purchased that will not be necessary. And so forth. And so on and on and on. Look on the bright side: you’re supporting the global economy – just not YOUR economy. But this time it’s tech, not bedding.
  • A reminder to get to the store featuring ways in which one can talk or text or chat or play games or write symphonies. Using such equipment for actual phone calls is optional and almost unheard of. Outdated, in fact. These stores will have astronomical fees for contracts and data (which, by the way, is not private so why do we pay for others to have it? In fact why don’t these data “plans” pay us since we are giving them all of our information one way or another?). Don’t forget that you will also be signed up to pay all sorts of taxes that change from device to device and vary month to month. No one can explain the why or ‘whatfor’. Don’t bother asking. (I did. Once. And I can say that quite honestly that it’s not worth even wondering. I was transferred to every sales rep and manager and made it just short of the CEO before the VP and I were both in tears and suffering from PTTD: Post Traumatic Tax Delusions.)
  • A reminder to get to the store that prevents starvation. Your child will need ways to cook (or, more likely, reheat) something and survive without risk of salmonella or someone else eating their food from the common fridge in the common and often disgusting kitchen no matter how many locks they put on their ice cream or cookies sent from home nor how well-labeled the container is with names and illegal (except when protecting college food) death threats. Then be prepared to return the fridge (the roommate will have one) and the microwave (the dorm won’t allow it) and the hotplate (also illegal) and the AGA stove – it won’t fit and can't cook better than the illegal hotplate anyway.
  • A reminder to get to the store featuring all things stationery (and stationary – please note the difference) for supplies ranging from pencils to paper to staplers to glue sticks and glitter and crayons because one must always remember one’s inner child within their college young adult. (And besides the kid with the most arts and crafts stuff is really the most popular kid when everyone is homesick and wants to color and paste stuff… even if the theme is more adult than you’d like to know about.)
  • A reminder to get to the clothing and shoe stores (probably not of your choice) because college may require seasonal clothes or stylish clothes or quirky clothes or just an updated wardrobe that doesn’t include worn underwear that the roommate will likely notice while trying not to notice. It’s a necessary trip even for oblivious (sorry to gender type) boys. This may be the only time that parents of “commando-style” kids have a distinct financial advantage. Enjoy the savings, but woe to the roommate.
  • And finally, a reminder to keep filling out and/or signing off on paperwork: Financial aid acceptance letters. Promissory notes. Health forms. Insurance forms. The semester payment. The fees that were not included at first. (You did, at this point, remember just to keep your checkbook out and pen ready?) You will sign everything. And in return, you will have access to nothing. Your child’s progress reports (aka report cards), etc. are now accessible only to … your child. You pay for their independence. Don’t worry. Be happy. (Or so the song goes … thanks to Bobby McFerrin!)
    In these last weeks, we parents live in a constant state of announcements. We have a list to do and no time to do it all. But we will. And all the while, whether our college kid will be a freshman or a senior, we live in a constant state of mixed emotions as we watch them gain their independence … just as they continue to rely on us … just as we get ready to let them fly (again and maybe for good).

**

And finally, here’s the PACCAP we actually need to hear repeated on the system:

Hey, Mom? Dad? It’s me. Hug me often and don’t let go. Forget it if I squirm or get silly or protest. Hug me anyway. Get a reasonable amount of sloppy sad. I need to know you aren’t made of concrete and that you care but only just enough so that the leaving is my emotional time first and foremost. (You can have the second slot.) I need to I know I can still turn to you in the best moments and the worst no matter where I am, no matter the time, no matter the place. No matter how far away my dorm room is from our front door. So, yeah, hug me every time the usual PACCAP comes over our system. Hugs are the least I can offer in return after this many years of giving me the best that you’ve got.

(Well, a parent can dream if she is designing the damn system!)

**

Good luck getting your kids out and then (settled) in. You will both breathe easier soon enough – and hopefully get the rest you need before you are searching for a cheap hotel for Parents’ Weekend and you’re shopping again. (Pay better attention to the toiletry list this time around!)

Sunday, 31 July 2016 00:42

20160801 failing summer parenting 29389428

If you've read my posts, you know that I don’t believe in New Year's Resolutions.

I prefer to make my resolutions every night. I resolve to be a little bit better tomorrow at some parenting “thing” (where “thing” is redefined daily).

So here we are. Summer. And you have to know this: I approach every summer swearing. Not in a bad way. But, swearing just the same.

I swear that I will make this particular summer the best one yet.

I swear that I will spend more time with my daughters, because we all have more time – or, at least, they do with no school day bells to jump to, no homework assignments to be accomplished every evening, and fewer extracurricular events to race to.

And so, in my mind, I owe it to them to take advantage of their free time to create more free time in my world. (And yes, I realize that I don't work on a school bell schedule and can't just shift gears but somehow, some way, I must.)

I also swear that in these months of freedom, we will laugh more, plan less, and just hang out. Because as teens / young adults, this is what they do. We don’t need play dates and organized outings to museums and playgrounds and amusement parks any more. (Though a few of those might still be fun – if only we could arrange enough family outings to balance out one person's boredom with another's delight … )

**

Kids at this age need parents that will see into the future (“future” may equal the next day or the next few hours) and concoct a plan that we can all jump into. But some kids (like mine) require a plan that looks 7 days in advance – at least. It's because their busy summer days of work plus well-earned laziness requires several days notice of a “major” family event (as in “Do you want to eat dinner together and watch a movie on Thursday night next week?”). Anything sprung on them becomes subject to criminal cross examination that makes any suggestion of familial proximity automatically suspect.

**

So, here I am halfway through summer thinking, “I blew it again.”

My older daughter is already setting in motion all the things she needs to do before returning to college and is trying to take charge of her health (see Being a Teen is an Age, Not a Diagnosis) and her life. Her younger sister has filled her days and nights with projects as she works out her medical issues to just stay awake as best she can (see The (Latest) Ultimate Lesson My Teen Taught Me).

Me? I am busy. Crazy busy. A single mom starting a business. Translation: I work 25/9 and laugh at the very idea of getting away when someone politely asks about my summer vacation schedule. Then hours later, I realize “Oh, cripe! My un-vacationing life is my current price for my dreams. But duh. What about my girls? Have I even considered 'summer' and 'vacation' in the same breath for them, at least?”

Answer: No.

And OUCH.

In my efforts to create a business to support all of us, I have left them behind. I failed Summer Parenting 101 with its overarching rule: Spend more time with the kids.

Talk with them. Hang with them. Be with them. Do what they want to do, and do it with them. And, get a decent exchange rate on doing what I want to do with them.

Turn off my Tech.

Turn off my work.

Turn off my scrambling brain that tries to loudly over-think any one-on-one conversations I am having with them so that when it is my turn to reply, I come up empty and clueless and have to confess that my brain was not as present as my heart. (You know those times: when you are watching someone's lips move while you are busy planning the rest of your day, formulating a grocery list, and generally calculating shopping hours until the holidays... Those moments. ARGH.)

Not good. Never good when that happens. And those moments are always followed with an apology and never an excuse because there is rarely, if ever, anything that is more important than my daughters. I need to unscramble my brain and listen harder and be softer in the moment. I know this, even as I recognize that I have not done this as well as I know I can.

I have several weeks to repair this situation, to bring up my parenting grade.

So this is my intention & assignment (and I will report back):

  • We will eat together on all nights when we are together.
  • We will plan movie nights and we will take turns compromising and not complain. (At least, I won't.)
  • We will occasionally play a game and admit that it was fun. (Even if I still, sorry, can't understand Apples to Apples®... but I play an exciting game of Tripoly® and Royalty®.)
  • We will plan an outing that involves shopping for college that is not rushed, but rather more like bonding time as we drive and talk and, oh, yeah, pick up a few things here and there.
  • We will have times where we just hang out and not make lists. (I have a list of possible dates... never mind.)
  • We will go someplace (or places) that seems silly or serious (Knoebels maybe? or the Crayola Experience? the Brandywine Art Museum? or the Hagley Museum? or – get this – a playground with swings and a ball to kick around)
  • We will get something to eat that is dreadfully decadent that none of us should be consuming… but we will enjoy it and laugh. (I'm thinkin' funnel cakes with powdered sugar or a large dish of ice cream ... Yeah, definitely ice cream and make mine double German chocolate ice cream with brownies and hot fudge, please ... maybe on top of the funnel cake ... )
  • We will hug more often, listen more often, laugh more often. (And I will initiate this.)
  • And I will make sure that when they ask if I have 30 seconds, or 1 minute, or 5 minutes, that I not only have that much but more and that I am completely committed to them in that time. Completely. Without a mental timer. Without working on my usual lists while fake-listening. If I agree to their request, then I agree to be there fully.

**

Summer stretches only so long and makes demands on us all.

It is my turn to make a demand on myself because I want – I need – a passing grade. This is a "once in a lifetime" time. And since I can’t extend summer, I must extend myself.

And that is my ultimate intention.

Because my toddlers turned into kids turned into preteens turned into teens. And now young adults. They did this all faster than I could have imagined, and soon the summers will belong to them alone.

It is true that our days on earth our limited. I want to be with my girls in every way that I can.

So, I am resolving not to squander another parenting moment in these long summer days.

And I am resolving to live as if all my parenting time is summer time.

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