It’s great to have friends in little places


By Lisa Sugarman

I love my in-laws. No, for real. I do. And while I know that sounds odd, it’s true. They’re very loveable. And until they retired to Florida about ten years ago, my cute little in-laws owned and operated a traditional “Mom & Pop” variety store on the Lynn/Saugus line. You know, cigarettes, lottery, magazines. They owned it for over twenty years, and the thing I remember my mother-in-law saying most often about why they loved The Store so much was that owning it allowed them to make lots of good friends in little places.

Now I hope that none of their “little-place” friends are offended reading this. That would actually be awful for me. See, if someone were to get mad at my mother-in-law that would cause a huge ripple effect that would ultimately make her mad at me. And that would be bad. Because the last thing I need is for my mother-in-law to be mad at me, especially when we have such a good relationship. Actually, the last thing anyone needs is for their mother-in-law to be mad at them. In almost 28 years as a Sugarman, that’s almost never happened to me. There was a minor toilet seat incident about 20 years ago, but that was completely my fault. (Did you hear that, Ma? I was wrong. It was completely my fault.)

So you need to understand that when she says “friends in little places,” she means it in absolutely the best possible way. She means everyday, regular people doing everyday jobs that make a beautiful and profound impact on us and our daily lives. It’s people like educators and policemen, firefighters and nurses, contractors and sales clerks. All the hardworking folks you see every day whose daily contributions make a big impact on our quality of life.

They’re people like my school’s crossing guard Tom, who goes above and beyond, rain or shine, 180 days of the school year, to make sure our kids get safely from their minivans into school every morning. Doing it in the kindest possible way. And even though Tom’s job might seem simple in the grand scheme of jobs—especially when you stack it up next to, oh, I don’t know, a neuropsychologist—to the kids and parents who adore him he means everything. He’s got everybody’s back and is so humble and watchful and sincere that you can’t help but feel like your kids are in the best possible hands once they hit that crosswalk every morning. Not to mention that if someone loses something on their way into school, Tom’s your guy. You have no idea how many dropped iPods and boots and books and hats he’s reunited with their kid owners. And to a busy parent with little or no time to go on reconnaissance in the Lost & Found box, this is of supreme value.

Or like Rick, our custodian at school, who has this knack for anticipating what everyone needs even before we know we need it ourselves. Like when the heel of my shoe separated from the sole and the only thing I needed at that exact moment in time was Gorilla Glue. And there he was, Gorilla Glue in hand. Ready to save my day. A lot like a real, bonafide superhero. Because who knows the kind of hip dysplasia that may have set in if I had been forced to walk on a broken heel all day. I may never have been the same. Thanks, Superman.

Or the guy at the meat counter at Wholefoods who saves you the last shank bone for your Passover Seder plate when everyone else in town is out. Love that guy. Saved the whole holiday. It’s the receptionist at the doctor’s office who calls in that emergency Z-pack that your husband desperately needs before he leaves the country on business. Never mind the fact that he has the ear canals of a seven-year-old boy, he still needed the drugs.

And one other group of unsung heroes who always stuck in my mind were the lobster fishermen who were regulars in my in-laws’ store. It was because of them that we ate like royalty every Fourth of July, enjoying dozens (and I mean dozens) of fresh lobsters that they would just give to my mother-in-law straight off the boat. Because of them, our Independence Day was always like a medieval feast, minus the organized jousting.

Even Garth Brooks wrote a song about these kinds of friends. Although, come to think of it, his was called Friends in Low Places. And now that I really think about it, I think it had way more to do with people who drink lots of whiskey and beer than what I’m talking about. So maybe that doesn’t exactly support what I was saying, but at least some of the words were the same.

Bottom line is, the older I get, the more I realize that it’s my friends in little places who are among the most significant in my life. And while they may not be the ones curing cancer or developing tooth regeneration technology or sustainable fusion reactors, they have a powerful impact on my life. So remember, treasure your friends in little places because they are among your most valuable. And never, ever piss off your mother in law. (I’m honestly not sure which piece of advice is more important.)

Lisa Sugarman lives in Marblehead, Massachusetts. Read and discuss all her columns at She is also the author of LIFE: It Is What It Is available on




What really counts, in the end?


By Lisa Sugarman

I don’t usually get somber. It’s just not how I’m wired. But sometimes it’s inevitable. And that’s because, as we all know, life just isn’t a straight line. We’d be delusional to expect only ups without any downs.

So I’m somber because I’m just coming off one of the downs—the most ultimate kind of down, actually, so I’m sure you can guess where this is going. I lost someone close to me. Someone I loved. Someone my whole family loved. And it stings. As it should. But mixed in with the throbbing of the loss is the soothing memory of a beautiful life that meant so much to everyone it touched. And it forced me to think about that one thing we all hate to think about.

Unfortunately, though, it’s someone’s death that usually gives us that brief moment of pause when we reflect on what we had and what it meant and how it impacted us and the people around us. And it’s just a shame that those moments of great clarity usually only come at times of deep grief and loss. But that’s just how the human psyche is designed. We all have a built-in safety switch on our brains that power down our extreme emotional tendencies when we’re faced with tragedy. It’s our survival mechanism. Because we certainly can’t be dwelling on death all day every day or we’d go clinically insane by the time we were ten. We’d never be able to get out of bed every day if we spent too much time obsessing about our mortality. We’d never get any actual living done. So instead, we think about it only when we’re forced to. And while that’s ok, I can’t help but think that we need to somehow strike a balance where it stays on the tip of our mind just enough to motivate our daily decisions.

I just wish there was a way we could manage to preserve that feeling of how precious life is all the time, the way we feel it when we’re faced with someone’s death. Because I think we’d all be a lot more inclined to live better, fuller lives if we could keep some speck of that feeling on our minds all the time. And I wish I had a good suggestion for how to do that. But I’m afraid I don’t. Well, wait, hang on, now that I think about it, maybe I do. Keep reading.

As I sat in the synagogue listening to the rabbi memorialize the Uncle Joe that I knew so well, I learned about the other Uncle Joe who I never really knew at all—the father, the husband, the businessman, the war veteran, the wild young boy. I listened as his entire life was laid out in front of us, organized chronologically, as most eulogies are, focusing on all the highlights. I sat with my cousins, sharing our grief, mingling our sadness with moments of laughter over the funny memories that most of us had forgotten. It was my Uncle Joe, after all, who Sloppy Joes were named after, you know. Or so he used to tell me. And I watched the impact that his life had on everyone in the room. I listened to my cousin Sue and her brother Dave share how deeply their father loved them and my Aunt Harriet. And it became plainly obvious that they were both the beautiful people they are because of who their father was to them.

And as I listened, it was impossible not to let my mind wander to what my own funeral would look and feel like. This is assuming I ever have one, because as I’ve said before, I’m not planning on looking aging in the eye, so a funeral won’t be necessary. But in the interest of a reality check, I still had to wonder.

It’s an odd sensation, imagining your own funeral and wondering how people will react to your death. I know it’s a little creepy. I get that. Kind of like picturing your parents having sex—you hate to do it because of how damaging the image can be, but somehow it manages to sneak into your thoughts on rare occasions. You know it’s a reality but the thought of it is just horrifying. Sorry, mom.

For me, though—someone who hates missing a good party—it’s tough to imagine not being around to enjoy the ultimate bash. Especially when it’s in my honor. So I guess that leaves me only one alternative, and that’s what my uncle’s funeral reminded me; I need to make absolutely sure that I live a kick-ass life now, while I’m here, so people have plenty of good memories to sustain them after I’m gone. I need to make damn sure now, while I’m here, that I make the biggest and most beautiful impact on my children and family and friends that I can. So that’s my advice. And I strongly suggest you consider it. Because in case you haven’t heard, we only have one dance card.

Look, I know talking about funerals is an uncomfortable conversation. One that you probably don’t want to have. And I don’t blame you. Mortality is a buzzkill. Plain and simple. But in case you haven’t noticed, we’re having the conversation anyway, so just hang in there and hear the rest of what I have to say. And maybe it won’t be quite as painful as you think.

For most of us, we tend to only focus on things like pre-need funeral arrangements and life insurance plans when our parents force it on us. Otherwise, it’s usually a case of out of sight out of mind. And that’s how the brain works. It takes the stuff that’s too emotionally heavy and compartmentalizes it into a tiny little solid steel room deep down in the back of your brain. The same place where Dave keeps all his thoughts about our girls dating.

But we need to consciously bring it out of the little impenetrable room and accept that it’s not as scary as we think it is. And I guess the only way to do that is to reconcile with the fact that it’s going to happen, so we just have to stay in the moment and focus on making as many of them matter as we can. Because remember, how easily something goes down when you try to swallow it depends entirely on the kind of bite you take. Death doesn’t have to be a miserable, painful, indigestible choking hazard. Instead, if you just consciously strive to live your best life, it can actually go down smooth, like an iced green tea latte, unsweetened and with one pump of peppermint.

So it was halfway through my uncle’s memorial service that it dawned on me, kind of like a brick directly to the face, how important it is that we leave an indelible, bright, beautiful mark while we’re here. And that whatever mark we leave—be it our mark on the world, our mark on our family, our mark on our children—we need to make our marks count. And, of course, the bigger the mark, the bigger the impact on the people we leave behind. Because as far as we all know, we only get one shot. So we need make sure we live big.

Lisa Sugarman lives in Marblehead, Massachusetts. Read and discuss all her columns at She is also the author of LIFE: It Is What It Is available on



Girls rule, boys drool


By Lisa Sugarman

I know going into this that it’s going to be impossible for me to get away with saying what I’m about to say without completely alienating an entire population’s worth of people, and that’s a pretty big risk to take in my line of work. But what the hell, we both know I’m going to say it anyway. So here goes.

Women should rule the world.

Now I know most of you girlies out there just jumped out of your chairs clapping and screaming and yelling, “DUH!” But I’m afraid the boys probably aren’t having quite the same reaction. And I expected that going into it.

But I’m honestly not trying to insult anyone here, in spite of how it may look. Because I know, it looks bad if you’re reading this and you’re a guy. But toughen up, boys. The truth sometimes stings but it’ll make you stronger in the end.

All I’m saying is that, collectively, guys have been at the wheel now for the majority of human history and we’re still doing an awful lot of fighting and there are still millions of mouths out there in the world that need feeding. Not to mention a laundry list of other things that still need fixing. And that’s just the plain and simple indisputable truth, hurtful as that truth may be.

I mean, let’s just talk about hunger alone for a second. As far as the hunger issue is concerned, any mom I know, myself included, would never let anybody go hungry if they had breath left in their body. It’s just not in our DNA. Every single one of us is genetically wired to feed the people around them. That’s why we have whole neighborhoods in our kitchen on any given day of the week and we’re always feeding everybody else’s kids. You think we’d let the rest of the world go hungry? Please.

And that’s only one example. But I’m not alone in thinking this. Even though I’m pretty confident that most women believe that a girl in charge might just be the solution to all our problems, there are people out there who are way more credible than me who think the same thing. And one of them, who’s been pretty vocal about it in the last couple of weeks, is former White House press secretary Dee Dee Myers. Dee Dee has been out in the foreground lately reminding people that the last century has been the bloodiest in human history. It’s been a tale of war, terrorism, religious extremism, abject poverty, and disease. And while Dee Dee and I are by no means saying it’s all men’s fault, we are pointing out that men have been the ones mostly in charge, and we seem to be no closer to finding answers to our problems now then we were two hundred years ago.

Look, contrary to what you boys might think, I’m not saying this just because I’m looking for a legitimate reason to change the entire planet’s color palate to favor pinks and pastels. I’m saying all this because I genuinely believe that since women are traditionally more inclined and predisposed to talk things out and really work on problems starting at their emotional roots, we might have a fighting chance at fixing things because we’re willing to travel the emotional road that needs to be traveled. Challenging as that may be. Because according to my girl Dee Dee, when the future of the free world is at stake, helping people get in touch with their softer side may actually be the way to go.

I mean let’s just look at the issue of conflict resolution, as another example. And think about it honestly. Historically, you hear way more incidences of guys punching other guys in the face over an issue than you do of guys sitting down and talking about their feelings. Stop laughing, guys. That’s just rude.

I can’t tell you how many stories I’ve heard of two good ol’ boys breaking each other’s nose and then buying the other guy a beer. And while that might address the immediate conflict, it by no means solves the real problem. The punching in the face is merely a distraction that allows them both to vent a little steam and move on. It’s a band-aid. In fact, it’s a band-aid that usually requires a Band-Aid. Not a real solution.

What would a woman do? I think we both know the answer, but I’ll say it anyway. Most women I know, myself included, would dig deep to understand what the real problem was. They’d wrap themselves in Kleenex, wade in, and try to resolve the conflict. And, contrary to what the majority of guys may think, there is a real benefit to pulling back layers of the onion to reveal what’s inside. Because even though there’s usually a fair amount of crying involved in peeling onions, it’s still a necessary evil because it exposes what’s really hidden deep down inside. And you can only ever really expect to reach the crux of a problem by pulling back enough layers to fully expose the crux. That’s just how cruxes work.

The fact of the matter is, traditionally, that’s just how girls roll. We dig deep and in doing that, we get the job done.

Let’s face it, if women ruled the world, most things, especially things like politics, would be more collegial. Businesses would be more productive. Communities would be healthier. Because empowered women make things happen, and we’ve proven it time and time again. So I’m not even going to mention names like Mother Teresa, Rosa Parks, Eleanor Roosevelt, Hillary Clinton, Gloria Steinem, Indira Gandhi, Margaret Thatcher. Oops. Try to remember, while guys have always been typecast as hunter-gatherers, girls are typecast as multi-taskers who almost always have at least nine hundred different balls in the air at any given moment. And that’s because we instinctively know how to get the job done without dropping any balls. It’s a skill. Plus, it’s our job. Girls know we can’t afford to drop any balls.

According to Dee Dee, and now me, if women were in charge, things might actually have a decent shot at changing. Instead of posturing, we’d have cooperation. Instead of gridlock, we’d have progress. Instead of a shouting match, we’d have a conversation. A very long and teary conversation, granted, but a conversation nonetheless.

I know what you’re thinking, boys, you’re thinking, ‘God help us, if girls take over we’ll all be so busy getting in touch with our feminine side that we’ll never get anything done.’ Well, I think it’s fair to say that even in spite of all our emotional tendencies, girls manage to get it done. We bear and raise children, work, and are productive, highly-educated members of the human race. And we do it all in spite of the fact that it takes us significantly longer to get ready in the morning than a man. So if we can do everything that we already do, do it well, and make sure that everyone has left the house with their lunch, their homework, and their permission slips signed, saving the rest of the world should be a piece of cake. And deep down I think we all know it.

Lisa Sugarman lives in Marblehead, Massachusetts. Read and discuss all her columns at She is also the author of LIFE: It Is What It Is available on



My weakness, babies.


By Lisa Sugarman


So I did this thing today that I’m probably going to regret. And I can’t seem to get it off my mind. So what do I generally do when something’s on my mind and I can’t scrape it off? I write about it so that it gets onto your mind too and I feel a little less burdened. You know, spreading the load around makes it easier to carry.

What did I do? Well, I picked up my friend’s new six-week-old son and held him, dumbass that I am. Big mistake. Huge. Because in picking him up, I saw, very clearly and probably too closely, how ridiculously cute and squishy he was, and I had an instant and almost primitive reaction to holding him in my arms. Which was, of course, followed immediately by a very intense moment of envy. What can I say, my kids and most of my friends’ kids are grown and at least a foot taller than me, so babies have become kind of a novelty.

See for me, well us really, that door has been permanently closed, boarded up, and buried deep in the ground in a block of cement. A lot like what the mafia does with their bodies. So short of an Immaculate Conception that puts us into extra innings, the baby game is over for us. And, for the most part, I’m perfectly content with the houseful of teenage daughters I have right now and have no real desire to do it all over again. Especially because when I look at mommies and their new babies now—schlepping around all that gear and chasing their kids down the escalator—all I can think of is, How the hell did I ever do that? Not to mention the fact that even though my oldest is only sixteen, it feels like three lifetimes ago that we were in that baby stage.

Now although I’m [mostly] in love with the phase my kids are in now, I’m not going to lie to you, there are times, more than a few, that I’d love to just scrunch my daughters back down to their original toddler form and relive the magical days when they were little. Because let’s face it, it was a helluva lot easier to parent a couple of knee-high-size kids who worshipped the ground I walked on. Just toss them into the baby bucket or the BabyBjorn and off you go. Easy-peasy-lemon-squeezy.

I mean, like anything, there are always challenges and stresses, even when our kids are little. But I really do believe that those stresses are relative to size. Little issues for little guys; big issues for big guys. And you really only realize once they’re grown how easy and manageable it was to have these life-size Cabbage Patch dolls who followed you around and lived to be in the same room with you. Just change a diaper here and there, whip, whip, whip (as my mother would say) and you’re on your way. Maybe address a few hair-pulling issues, keep them away from open flames, and make sure they don’t eat too much Beta-caroteen so it doesn’t tint their cheeks orange. Otherwise, babies are a cake walk.

And the cuteness factor is just ridiculous. Whether they’re awake or asleep or covered in their own Farina, they’re just so damn adorable that it’s hard not to want to travel back in time to when they were little and vulnerable and dependent on you for everything. I mean every phase of their growth and development leads to cuter and more endearing phases. I remember holding Riley for hours and hours when she was a newborn. Just drinking in everything about her, amazed and awed by what I (oh, right, we) had created. And so it’s hard, at times, not to miss that delicious little person.

Because I really do miss that version of my kids. I miss how cuddly and mushy and innocent and baby-wipes-fresh-smelling they were. They were so portable and easy to entertain and just so loveable. God, they were loveable. And when I held my daughter’s friend Margaret’s baby brother John in my arms the other night, I was swallowed whole by his cuteness. We just sat there, staring at each other. Him not knowing me and me not knowing him, yet we had so much to say to each other. None of which either of us could understand because my ridiculous baby talk was just as unintelligible as his gurgling little spit bubbles. But we connected. We shared a moment. And it made me incredibly nostalgic. I can’t help myself. I love babies. I’m weak.

But while I sometimes crave the opportunity to pull the original version of my kids out of a shoebox in the back of my closet, I know I can never go back. We’re not supposed to go back. And as much as I’d love to be able to spend time with my sweet little girlies, I can’t get too depressed because they are actually still here. They’re just taller and have better skin and hair than their mother.

What’s exciting, though, is the idea that someday down the line (way, way, waaaaaaaaay down the line) I’ll have new versions of my kids to satisfy my cravings. I believe those are called “grandchildren”. I just need to be patient. Very patient. And then the cycle will repeat itself. What’s that famous song from the Lion King, “Circle of Life.” Only this time, I’ll have them in wonderfully limited doses and only when they’re on their best behavior and smelling all flowery, which is really my preference.

So in the meantime, I’m going to do my best to restrain myself from grabbing strange babies when I’m out in the general population and maybe just keep an old copy of One Fish, Two Fish next to my bed just to satisfy any spontaneous urges.

Lisa Sugarman lives in Marblehead, Massachusetts. Read and discuss all her columns at She is also the author of LIFE: It Is What It Is available on



EQ vs IQ. Which side are you on?


By Lisa Sugarman


So let me ask you something. And it’s a slightly bizarre question, so stick with me. If, and I say “if”, there was a way to pre-determine whether your child would be born with a high EQ (Emotional Quotient) or a high IQ (Intelligence Quotient), which would you chose? My only stipulation here is that you can only pick one trait. It’s an either/or question and I make the rules.

Don’t rush. Take a minute and really think it through before you answer. Because I realize there are a lot of factors in play here so there’s a lot to consider.

In the meantime, while you’re processing, let me clarify what I’m asking. According to Forbes online, IQ tests are used as an indicator of logical reasoning ability and technical intelligence, i.e., how book smart you are. On the flip side are the EQ tests that measure your awareness of your own feelings and those of others. They rate how you regulate these feelings in yourself and others, how you use emotions that are appropriate to a situation, self-motivation, and your ability to build relationships. I know it’s a lot, but it’s really the essence of who we are as a person.

Then there are the secondary tests like MQ or Moral Quotient and BQ, which is Body Quotient. But I’m really only focusing on IQ and EQ at the moment. And I’m doing that simply because I have a word count limitation here and that would throw me over my max for sure. Because I tend to give the news and the weather, so I’m trying to use some restraint.

So what I’m asking, now that you’re totally versed in the two types of categories, is for you to decide which one you’d want your child to have. This is, of course, assuming that you could pre-order your kids’ traits ahead of time. I know, can you imagine?! And why are we playing this little game in the first place? Simple. I’ve noticed, at least in my own limited little world, a real emphasis being put on IQ and not enough being put on the EQ side. On, you know, who we are as people.

With a daughter in her junior year of high school, I’ve become acutely aware of how much grades and standardized test scores matter. I also happen to work in the school system, so I see, up close, the kind of stress kids are under to perform. Even at the lower elementary school level.

As a kid who almost always tested poorly on any kind of standardized test—including and especially the SATs—I feel strongly that academics alone are not a true indicator of a person’s ability or potential.

I mean, I was always a hard worker. I understood, from very early on, that you get out of something exactly what you put in. And the reality is, I busted my butt in school and that’s how I did well. I worked hard. Very hard. But it didn’t come easy to me in the way it did for so many of my friends who didn’t need to wear open-toed shoes to math class so they could use their fingers and toes to solve their equations. I was the kid who stayed after school and did the extra credit and relied heavily on my organizational skills to carry me through. Those were my advantages. And I exploited them as much as I possibly could.

See, I figured it out, at a very young age, that it was the core people skills that would carry me through life. And that’s precisely because I didn’t have the same learning style or aptitude that the Ivy Leaguers had. But I think, all said and done, it’s fair to say that I’ve done alright very much in spite of the fact that I’m really not all that smart. Look, the truth is, I tanked my SATs. I don’t even remember if I cleared 1000. Two hundred of which I’m sure I got just for signing my name. I just never had the mental juice for aptitude tests. They’re just not in my wheel house.

Personally, I think that raw intelligence is grossly overrated. So my no-hesitation answer to my own original question would be a high EQ all the way. Now don’t get me wrong, I’d love to be like Madonna and have an IQ of 140 and have a shiny MENSA membership card in my wallet. Not to mention the money and the personal trainer. But at the end of the day, that intelligence quotient is not what I really think you need the most to be successful in life. It’s important, no doubt, but a high IQ is not the end-all-be-all. Because, when you really break it down, having one offers absolutely no guarantee that you’ll lead a successful life. And while I totally get that it enables certain doors to open that may otherwise stay closed, particularly in the professional world, a high IQ isn’t a guarantee that you’ll be able to keep your high-profile, high-paying job. Because if you can’t relate with people, or collaborate, or build and maintain relationships, then you’re not gonna be in your sweet new job for very long. Because people won’t like you and you’ll get fired. Oh, excuse me, you’ll get “downsized”. And that’s because having the people skills you need to function in the mainstream are a good, solid fifty percent of the equation.

It’s like trying to walk around all day with only one sock and one shoe. Can you do it? Sure. But it’s certainly not going to be easy or comfortable or keep you on stable ground. And eventually, the further you travel like that, the more obvious it will be that it just doesn’t work right without the other shoe. They go together for a reason; because the two pieces together work in tandem.

Now it’s no big secret that I like data. Not because I’m good with numbers, because I’m not, I can barely leave a proper tip. I like them because numbers are terrific for validating things. Especially things I’m trying to prove. So I found this Carnegie Institute of Technology study that shows that 85 percent of a person’s financial success is due to skills in “human engineering,” which includes your personality and ability to communicate, negotiate, and lead. And, shockingly, only 15 percent is due to technical knowledge. Kinda makes you think, doesn’t it? Kinda gives what I’m talking about a little more credence.

Look, I’m really only saying all this because I see, first hand, the emphasis that’s put on test scores and grades when those things alone shouldn’t be the only determining factors in where a kid goes to school or to who hires them in the professional world. All I’m asking is that we try, and maybe we’re starting right here and now, together, to remember that there are other equally-as-important pieces of the whole pie. I don’t know about you, but at the end of the day, I want my daughters to be good problem solvers, good friends, good empathizers, and just generally solid people. Because those things are the true measures of a person. Wouldn’t you think?

Lisa Sugarman lives in Marblehead, Massachusetts. Read and discuss all her columns at She is also the author of LIFE: It Is What It Is available on