The Power of the Spoken Word

By Lisa Sugarman

There’s this saying I often use with my kids—it’s one of the many profound nuggets of parenting wisdom I lug around in my head and try to use appropriately from time to time. And it goes like this, You can’t take back the spoken word. A pretty powerful concept when you think about it.

I mean, we’ve all had experiences—either as kids or as adults—when someone gave us a compliment or a criticism that left an indelible mark on our heart, on our mind, or in some cases, on both. And as most of us know, those kinds of marks are a lot like tattoos—for better or for worse, they’re with us for life.851701

Maybe you were like me as a kid and someone criticized you for wearing tomboyish clothes so it made you extra sensitive to the clothing choices you made for years to come. Or maybe you were a middle schooler who didn’t consider yourself an artist until your art teacher told you she thought you had real talent.

The truth is, those kind of interactions have the potential to shape our future in both good and bad ways. And it’s especially true for negative feedback, which can be as dangerous as a loaded handgun. That’s because when hostile words come hurtling at you, they can rip right through your heart with the same devastation as any caliber bullet out there.

That’s why it’s always so important to think before you speak. Because once hurtful words hit the air, there’s no grabbing hold of them and swallowing them back down. They’re out in the universe and burned into someone’s memory forever.

Now the reason I’m thinking about this is because of a spontaneous conversation I had with a friend the other day about something I said to her daughter that left a pretty acute mark on her sweet little brain. And she wanted me to know how poignant my words were in her daughter’s eyes.

In this case the little girl I’m talking about is a fourth grader and I’m one of her cross country running coaches; and something I said to her at practice last week made a strong impression on her. Stronger than I even realized. Lucky for me, though, it made a strong positive impression.

We were doing tempo runs at practice trying to teach the girls how to find their just-right pace and my little friend was giving a 110% effort the entire time and it showed. That’s why every time she ran past me during practice I yelled something positive to her, the same way every one of our coaches does when we see our girls giving their best effort. And then, at the end of practice, as we often do, I took her aside and told her how proud I was of her and how her attitude and her commitment to becoming a stronger runner was so obvious to everyone.

Well, I guess what I said meant something to her because she went home feeling great about herself. So much so that she asked her dad that night at dinner to start running with her on the weekends. And now who knows, maybe she’ll be the next great American distance runner. Stranger things have happened. Anyway, it’s proof that we generally get way more from people when we build them up, rather than cut them down.Good-Job

See, words are funny things, they can sound totally harmless echoing around in your head, and then have a totally different quality as they leave your mouth and hit oxygenated air. I just think people sometimes forget the power that the spoken word has and how impactful they can be, especially on a child. And who those words come from is equally as important.

For instance, as a parent, I know all too well that I could give either of my daughters the most profound advice about relationships or school or work and it wouldn’t matter if every word I spoke was coated in edible leaf gold (like the kind you find at the bottom of a Goldschläger bottle), because no kid thinks their mom or dad knows what the hell they’re talking about. But have someone like their teacher or their coach or their boss say the exact same thing and now your kid is drooling over every word. So not fair.Don’t-Praise-When-You-Don’t-Mean-It

My point is, those of us who coach or teach or parent or supervise anyone, in any capacity, always need to stay cognizant of the kind of power and influence our words have on the people around us. Because one insensitive comment can change the course of a person’s life. Like the mother who tells her daughter that she’s getting fat and then the poor girl becomes anorexic and has self-image issues for the rest of her life. You hear it on the news all the time.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that we all have a responsibility to the people around us to choose our words wisely because what you say and how you say it can be a game changer. So say whatever you have to say in a meaningful and sensitive way, because your opinion or advice or feedback may just have the power to change someone’s life. And if you have nothing nice to say, well, then shut up.

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 and select Whole Foods Market stores.

The Fruits of Honest Labor are Mighty Tasty

By Lisa Sugarman

I can still remember the moment like it was this morning, the day I transformed from little girl to young adult. The day I left my little-girl self behind and took one big step closer to becoming a woman.

It was a huge moment for me, one that left an indelible mark in the back of my brain that’s still there today.

You remember those profound moments. The ones that pull you out of one stage of your life and drop you into another almost seamlessly. Well that’s what this moment was for me. And it’s always stuck with me.

I’ll never forget that sense of pride I felt when the camp director gave me my clipboard and my whistle and my attendance list and pointed to my very first group of campers. They were all mine and I had never been prouder or more excited. I was finally The Counselor. I had arrived.MANZ7557_7558_clipboardWhistle2

Now be honest, did you think my coming-of-age-moment was going to involve sex or getting my period for the first time or maybe shot gunning my first beer? You did, didn’t you?

Nah. To me, getting a job and being responsible for something, or, in this case, someone, is what marked that moment for me. And now that I’m watching my youngest daughter, almost fifteen, about to get her own first clipboard and whistle, it’s bringing all those memories back to me.

See, from the earliest I can recall, all I ever wanted to do was work. I know, it sounds sort of ridiculous, but it’s true. When I used to watch that paperboy pedal up my driveway with that neon orange Boston Globe newspaper bag over his shoulder, I couldn’t help but fanaticize that I was the one being weighed down by all those Sunday supplements and that it was my shoulder straining under the weight of that clumsy bag.

Because to me, having a job has always seemed so glamorous, so alluring. There was just this special quality about those waitress aprons and order pads or those chintzy newspaper sacks or those flimsy particleboard clipboards. I’m practically drooling just sitting here reminiscing about them. And I guess that’s because I always equated those things, and being old enough to use them, with independence and with being able to make a valuable contribution to something and get something in return to show for my hard

I know, this isn’t necessarily your typical fourteen-year-old mindset, but I was never exactly your typical fourteen year old. I was always a bit of an over-thinker. What can I say, I have very thinly coated emotional wiring, so I really feel the impact of this kind of stuff.

In all honesty, though, working was never really about the money for me or the power that came with that cheap plastic whistle. They were symbols of adulthood for me—of being trustworthy enough to be given a job in the first place. So I always took it very seriously. Still do. It’s probably because both of my parents were such hard workers, always committed to doing the best job they could at whatever job they had. They both had about the best work ethics I’d ever seen. And it rubbed off.

For them, it was about taking pride in yourself and your work more than anything. Whatever their name was attached to, they knew was a reflection of who they were as people. Of their commitment to whomever it was that trusted them enough to hire them.

So that’s exactly what it became for me. And now, that’s what it’s become for my own kids. And that’s a beautiful thing to watch from the other side. They both want to be contributors to something in the very same way I did when I was that age. They actually want responsibility and that special sense of independence that comes from working hard at something.

For my oldest, who’s held a steady job since she was fourteen, she grew up with the same little fire in her belly to work that I had; that’s why the minute she was old enough to get herself out there and find someone to take a chance on her, she hit the pavement. Now, three years later, she still relishes in the chance to step behind that counter every Saturday and Sunday and sort through all the overnight video rental returns. She’s grown into herself and her job in more ways than I ever expected. She tasted the fruits of hard work and loved them. And now her sister is about to do the same and she’s been looking forward to it in very same way.w2

I guess I’m just feeling a little nostalgic now that both of my daughters are finally legitimate bread winners. Because we all know that once you’ve got a W-2 with your name on it, you’re an official card-carrying member of the American Workforce. Only now, I’m just not sure which feeling is sweeter, the pride of landing my own first job and seeing my name on that first paycheck, or the feeling of finally, after all these years, not having to write that big camp tuition check for my kids. Yeah, that one wins. No contest.

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 and at select Whole Foods Market stores.

All I want for Mother’s Day is…

By Lisa Sugarman

So there’s something you should know up front, before we really get rolling…there’s very little that I want that I don’t already have. And that’s the honest truth.

I’m actually being serious right now. I consider myself to be an incredibly fortunate person who really has just about everything I could need to be happy. I’ve got a great guy, two terrific and relatively low-maintenance kids (relatively), and a surprisingly normal and loving extended family.

Yup, I have just about everything I need to be happy. Just about. (I am human, after all. And a girl. I do occasionally want stuff.) And I’ll get to what that is in a second.

Now I know this might sound a little farfetched but, as a mom, I don’t often put myself first. In fact, I’m almost always dead last. Like, when I need a new pair of Dr. Scholls for the summer I only buy them if there’s money left over after I’ve bought bathing suits, shorts and flip flops for the girls, new dress shoes for Dave, and a new leash for the dog. Needless to say, I’ve been resoling the same pair of Dr. Scholls for the last ten years. You see my point.drscholll

I know, putting yourself last as a mom is a foreign concept to all you mamas out there. (I can feel you laughing.) So I guess it’s because I define myself as a mom above anything else that I feel like Mother’s Day is so significant. That’s why the one thing I actually want for myself is a perfect Mother’s Day.

That’s it. Just one perfect day.

How I define that perfect day, though, may surprise you.

See, I have no interest in getting physical gifts from my girls on Mother’s Day, like silk pajamas or flowers or heart necklaces. Not that those aren’t meaningful, but they’re just not what really matters the most to me. In fact, getting a store-bought gift is the exact opposite of what I want. (God I hope this week’s column is the one you guys pick to read this year, cause I’m like spoon-feeding you here.)

Honestly, the reason why this particular day is so important to me is because it’s the one day of the year that celebrates the most important thing that I am—a mom. Yeah, yeah, it’s corny, I know, but there isn’t one of us out there who doesn’t secretly feel the same way. Every one of us bitches and moans that, as moms, we have no time for ourselves anymore; that we’re sleep deprived, sex deprived, exercise deprived, financially depleted, and in a constant state of chaos. Yet none of us would trade motherhood for the promise of a lifetime of all of those things

Ok, granted, motherhood was most definitely the reason they came up with the phrase labor of love. But it really is about the best gig going because it’s one of the few things we all put our entire heart and soul into for life. And I guess on some level I just want my kids to pause long enough on Mother’s Day to acknowledge and appreciate me by giving me some of the “things” that I spend the rest of the year giving up because I’m so busy being their mom.

I want things like getting and keeping their undivided attention when I’m talking. Eye contact, girls. Eye contact. I want privacy (specifically relating to the bathroom). I want unlimited access to the TV remote so I can watch an entire day’s worth of Modern Family back to back to back. I want the car radio to stay on the 80s Mix Up Mash Up station. I want to be the one to go in the shower first and use as much hot water as I want. All of it, actually. I want to drain that water heater dry. Just one time.woman in shower washing hair

And I want to spend hours in the kitchen cooking my favorite meal and have everyone excited to eat it, regardless of what they’re really in the mood for (Chipotle is not an option). I want all fighting to cease and desist just for this one day—no door slamming, no eye rolling, no attitude, no moodiness, no insults. And no asking me for anything. In short, I want only happiness, gratitude, and appreciation, expressed either in the form of hugs and kisses or I love yous or a simultaneous mix of the three.

This is what I

Ok, fine, maybe not all of it (my list is rather long). Maybe just a select few. Actually, I’d be thrilled if I got that last one about hugs and kisses and I love yous just as a gesture of good faith. Because the truth is, I really don’t have time to enjoy all the other stuff. Sunday is the day I strip all the sheets, do the food shopping, make lunches for the week, do all the ironing, and get to all the errands I didn’t have time for during the week.

Wow, come to think of it, Sunday’s looking pretty stacked. I might only have time for a quick wave as I’m backing out of the garage. A mom can dream, though, can’t she?

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

Goodbye birthday parties, I’ll miss you.

By Lisa Sugarman

I can still picture my oldest daughter’s first birthday party like it was this morning. The weather was perfect, seventy-eight degrees and cloudless. And the way I remember it, our lawn was pristine, a lot like the front nine at Augusta, giving us the perfect backdrop for a first birthday party.5952530_f520

As I recall, we invited everybody. Like, everybody. And we had all the accoutrements to go along with a first-rate first birthday party. We had the grossly overpriced Winnie the Pooh and Friends cake. We had a guy dressed in a shockingly realistic Pooh costume walking around the yard playing with/traumatizing all the kids. We had cutesy little Pooh-themed goody bags. And come to think of it, we may have had Tigger there, too. What can I say, we were first-time parents.

Looking back, it was like we were subconsciously auditioning for the old MTV reality show My Super Sweet Sixteen. But in our defense, we just wanted her first birthday to be something special—the same kind of special that every new parent wants for their baby.

The irony is, the kid never remembers any of it. In fact, they probably don’t remember their first four or five birthdays. But we still go out of our way to make them memorable. Kind of funny when you think about it. We go through the motions of pulling together an unforgettable party for a kid who’s only ever going to remember it through pictures and stories, not from their own actual memories.Creative-First-Birthday-Party-Ideas

But I’m wandering from my point.

What really got me thinking about birthday parties is that my youngest is about to turn fifteen in a few weeks and I’m realizing that the days of planning birthday parties for my kids are over. And that makes me sort of sad.

Now don’t get me wrong, I won’t necessarily miss all the moving parts associated with a kid birthday party, like the invitations, the goody bags, the set-up, the decorations, the favors, the thank-you notes. (Ok, fine, I’ll miss them because I’m a detail-oriented person and I love that stuff.) But even more than the planning and the executing, I’ll miss the look on my girls’ faces when it all comes together. And that look is the exact reason we all jump through hoops to make their birthdays special.

In our case, we’ve done the princess tea party, the American Girl party, the pool party, the Snip-Its hair styling party, the petting zoo party, the hibachi dinner party, the fondue party, the sleepover party. If you can think of it, chances are good we’ve done it.

But now, sadly, our girls have aged out of the traditional birthday party. Once they hit thirteen-ish, there was a seismic shift in how they wanted to celebrate. Gone are the Disney princess parties where the only color allowed was pink. (Sorry, with two girls I never learned to speak boy. Pink and lavender are all I know.)

Suffice it to say, nowadays birthdays pretty much involve Dave and I dropping a group of girls off at a sushi bar and coming back to pay the bill. Or, in the case of our oldest who’s turning eighteen this summer, dropping her and her crew off at the train so they can spend the day in downtown Boston shopping, food-stand hopping at Faneuil Hall Marketplace, and then pulling an all-nighter in our basement watching horror movies.140917_EM_Tipping

Fortunately for us, though, we’ve managed to retain our annual tradition of secretly decorating the house the night before every birthday so our kids wake up to signs and balloons and streamers and birthday crowns. So we’ve still got that going for us. And those are the things, as your kids grow older, that you find a way to preserve. Because those special traditions are what your kids carry with them into their adult lives and ultimately recreate when they have children of their own.

Here’s a tip, instead of taking it on the chin when the days of helping them blow out their candles are over, think of it as a hiatus—a vacation from all the party planning and stressing over a houseful of seven year olds. And enjoy the break while it lasts. Because it’s really only a brief pause that allows you to catch your breath just in time to help plan their wedding—the mac daddy of all parties.

So consider this as you anticipate or mourn the loss of The Birthday Party… for probably close to thirteen years you put your heart and soul and paycheck into planning the perfect birthday experience for your kid and now all they really want is a wad of cash and you to make yourself scarce. And while it seems cold and sterile to give your kids an envelope full of gift cards, it’s more or less what most of them really want. And that’s because they’re growing up. A fact that, whether we like it or not, we have to accept. It’s the natural order of

But remember, at the end of the day you’ll always be the one they turn to when they need a wire transfer or their debit card refilled. So you’ve got that going for you. Just think of it as a different kind of umbilical cord. Only I’m not sure this one ever gets cut.

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

It’s not called a caffeine high for nothing

By Lisa Sugarman

Damn I’ve been feeling sluggish all day. Kinda like I’m walking around half-cocked but for no apparent reason. And I can’t seem to put my finger on why. It’s sorta like I just don’t have enough gas in the tank. But I’ve retraced my steps since this morning and I can’t figure out where I went wrong.

I mean, I ate the same two sunny side up eggs and half a grapefruit I always eat. I took my coconut oil, drank my lukewarm lemon water, and ate my horse pill of a multi vitamin, so there’s really no obvious explanation for why my four-mile run felt like death and I’m confusing my kids’ names more than usual.Tired-of-Trying-

Then it hits me… I FORGOT TO DRINK MY COFFEE. Oh my God! Of all the things that a person—let alone a parent—just cannot afford to do, it’s forget their morning coffee. And that’s because without an injection of caffeine to heighten our focus, boost our energy, dull our kids’ voices, and soothe our mood, we’re nothing but slow, scattered, and irritable. You know it’s true.

How could I be so careless? So stupid. It’s not like someone would ever attempt to drive a car on an empty tank. Or read a pill bottle without their bifocals. Or wear flip flops without appropriately manicured toes. And yet, somehow, I missed the one single thing that pretty much sits on the tip top of everyone’s daily priority list. Coffee.

I must’ve been really engrossed or distracted to make a mistake that big.

Answer me this: If you overslept and had only enough time to A. take a shower OR B. stop at Starbucks for your Iced Cinnamon Dolce Latte, which would you choose?coffee-addiction_0

I think we both know the answer. If you’re a guy, you’d probably spray on an extra layer of Axe, make sure your fly was zipped, and sprint to the closest barista. And if you’re a girl, you’d unload a can of dry shampoo on your scalp and be in line right behind the guy wearing too much Axe. Point being that there are very few things most of us wouldn’t sacrifice to guarantee that we’re sufficiently caffeinated every day.

And I think the reason most people will agree that they simply cannot function without a daily infusion of coffee is because coffee is almost, in a bizarre sort of way, like liquid armor. It safeguards you from the craziness around you. The craziness at work, at home, and everywhere in between.ivlifesupport

Think about it. Aren’t you always better equipped to handle a screaming infant when you’ve had a double shot of espresso? Hell yeah. Or your self-absorbed teenage daughter who sees no reason why all of her clothes shouldn’t permanently live on the floor of her bedroom. Or, can you imagine having to interact with the judgmental mom clique at your toddler’s playgroup without having a solid caffeine buzz on? Of course not. No one in their right mind would ever subject themselves to that kind of scrutiny decaffeinated. Proof that most of the crap we deal with is just easier to handle while sipping a Venti White Chocolate Peppermint Mocha.

USA Today confirms that 83 percent of adults drink coffee every day. USA Today, not The Enquirer. So my argument for coffee being the mainstay of a functioning society has real legs. Just the simple act of smelling coffee is proven to reduce stress. So right there it’s already a credible and known crutch for managing daily life. And considering a caffeine high is both real and legal, it’s the closest thing to a non-gateway drug most of us have to get us through the day.

And as if you weren’t already convinced it was liquid gold, “coffee allows your brain to work in a much more efficient and smarter way,” says TIME reporter, Michael Lemonick. “When you’re sleep-deprived and you take caffeine, pretty much anything you measure will improve: reaction time, vigilance, attention, logical reasoning—most of the complex functions you associate with intelligence.” coffee%20aroma

Oh yeah, and a study done by the Harvard School of Public Health determined that drinking between two and four cups of coffee a day can actually reduce the risk of suicide in men and women by about fifty percent. The reason being that coffee acts as a mild antidepressant by aiding in the production of neurotransmitters like serotonin, dopamine, and non-adrenaline. Too technical for me, but I like and appreciate the bottom line.

Plus, coffee is also proven to improve your athletic performance because it stimulates the brain and contributes to clearer thinking and greater concentration. Uh, winning!

What does all this boil down to? Simple. Forget your pants, forget your deodorant, your makeup, your iPhone, or your toupee. But do not, above all else, forget your coffee. Cause I promise you, forgetting it will be just like jumping out of a plane and forgetting your chute—the crash is always gonna be ugly.

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 and at select Whole Foods stores.