With Facebook, birthdays aren’t what they used to be

By Lisa Sugarman

So last week was my birthday. (The actual number is irrelevant, so don’t ask.) But because I’m not someone who makes or expects any kind of a fuss over celebrating The Day, it was more or less just a typical Wednesday. And quite frankly, that’s exactly the way I’ve always liked it.

I’m a minimalist with most things, especially with my birthday.e992d44c38730e03cf6a357d8f371e93

I know that everyone celebrates special occasions—birthdays in particular—in very different ways. There are people who make a big deal out of them and people who don’t and a complete range of people in between. And while I totally get why some people choose to go all out and celebrate the day they were born with lavish parties and Food-Network-worthy cakes, I, myself, do not. It’s nothing more than a personal choice. There’s no judgement involved. I’ve just always been perfectly content with being wished a happy birthday and calling it a day.

Ok, well, maybe not completely calling it a day.

I’m not the girl who wants a big gathering or party or celebration to commemorate the day I was born. If anything, I feel more like that should be the day I celebrate my mom and the fact that she gave birth to me alone in a Los Angeles hospital while my dad was circling the LAX airspace during a flight delay. But that’s an altogether different story.

As far as birthdays go, it boils down to this: I really just don’t like the extra attention. I do, however, love not being allowed to cook, getting special dispensation to pick and choose where we go for dinner, and have the unwritten law that none of my children are allowed to be annoying for a 24-hour period. That’s pretty much where the expectations stop for me.

More than anything, though, my birthday is a justifiable opportunity for me to eat cake and legitimately hosie the piece with the biggest flower. And be assured that I get it. Beyond that, I’ve always been content with July 15th being just like any ordinary day. And that’s probably because I’m way fonder of making a fuss over other people than I am about having the fuss made over me.caramel-cake-slice

Then, a few years ago, I experienced my first Facebook birthday. And it unexpectedly caused a bit of a shift in my thinking.

All of a sudden, the whole world seemed to know, and care, that it was my birthday. People everywhere—people I’d forgotten I even knew—were reaching out to wish me the very best possible birthday ever. People posted old (and in some cases slightly embarrassing) photos of me on my Timeline with special birthday messages and inside jokes from back in the day. People jockeyed to be among the first wave to send me birthday wishes, posting on my Facebook page at 1:00 AM to ensure that their message was appropriately time stamped.

It was kinda crazy, actually. Crazy in a good way. Well wishes poured in from all over the world. My Timeline was saturated with birthday-cake emoticons and hearts and streamers and messages from people I hadn’t interacted with in decades. It almost singlehandedly changed the entire feel of the traditional birthday.

I’d be out for a run or a walk around town and local friends who saw my birthday pop up on their News Feed were yelling Happy Birthday to me out of car windows. A slightly different experience than the sweet-but-predictable birthday card I got every year from my Aunt Celia and the awkward annual birthday phone call from my Grandma Jen.

And I have to admit, for the first time in a while, I sorta liked all the extra attention. And I think I know why. It’s because it was almost exclusively one-dimensional affection. I could receive it in my bathroom or while I was eating breakfast or riding in the car or dozing in bed. It was just meant to be received, no strings attached. No three-dimensional fuss or fanfare. Just real, bonafide well-wishes coming from every possible direction.facebook%20birthday%20nine_1

Ok, look, I’m not stupid. I know that Facebook, along with the rest of the cyber world, is fake. For most of us, the great majority of our online “friends” are barely acquaintances. So that means that a pretty good number of the birthday wishes we get on our birthday are more or less canned greetings. But the thing about Facebook is, that even the token birthday messages we get gives us a sense that people care. And no matter how you slice it, that sensation of being on someone’s mind, even for a minute, gives most of us a warm and fuzzy.

And that right there is what makes Mark Zuckerberg such a genius. He knew that whether the affection people got was real or fake it didn’t matter because people just want to feel special. People want to feel acknowledged. People want to feel loved. And on Facebook, if only on our birthday, we do.

So even though we live in a world that celebrates roughly 350,000 birthdays on any given day of the year, (which unmistakably dilutes the essence of the individual birthday), on Facebook, on July 15th, it’s all about me. And I can most definitely live with that.

Lisa Sugarman lives in Marblehead, Massachusetts. Read and discuss all her columns at facebook.com/ItIsWhatItIsColumn. She is also the author of LIFE: It Is What It Is available on Amazon.com and select Whole Foods Market stores.


Sometimes as a parent you just have to wing it

By Lisa Sugarman

There’s no way to sugarcoat it, raising children is mind-blowingly challenging. Don’t let anyone tell you any different. Parenting is bitter, it’s sweet, and it’s everything in between. It’s a 24/7, 365 job with no combat pay, no mental health days, and no formal retirement option. Parenthood is a one hundred percent baptism-by-fire commitment that’s impossible to prepare for, regardless of how hard we try.

The thing is, though, at the very same time that it’s grueling work, it’s also the single greatest thing any of us will ever do. And that’s the takeaway.

The funny thing is, while there are plenty of experts out there offering guidance and support and endless resources for how to do it “right,” being a good parent has much more to do with instinct than anything else. Because what the books and professionals say doesn’t always work in every situation, no matter how rational or sensible the thinking may be. And that’s because successfully parenting our kids is a bit of a crap shoot when you get right down to it. What works in one family with one dynamic will fail miserably in another family with different dynamics.efd552039985fee69348dfad4ff7fb37

Any of us who’ve ever tried to follow the Standard Rules of Engagement with our kids (i.e. patience, tolerance, boundaries, etc.) knows that those things don’t always work, regardless of how tried and true the rules may be. Sometimes good parenting is just a matter of knowing your own kid and, as WebMD says, adapting your parenting style to fit your child.

Look, we all have the same goal of helping our children grow into respectable, kind, self-confident people before we let them loose in the world, but we can’t always accomplish that goal in the same way our neighbors or friends or family do. And that’s okay. In fact, knowing that it’s alright do a little Jedi parenting and let your inner Yoda guide you is sometimes the best parenting strategy of all. Because sometimes you just have to trust the little voice inside your head.

Take a situation that happened to me years ago when my youngest daughter, now fifteen, discovered the fine art of door-slamming.

Dave was away on business and my older daughter was out somewhere with friends. Libby was in a mood, as tweenage girls can often be, and didn’t like whatever it was that I said to her when she came home from school (probably Hello). That dislike of the sound of my voice evolved very quickly into her storming down the hall and into her room with, you guessed it, an insanely loud door slam.

Now this was uncharted parenting territory for me because, at least up to that point, neither of my kids were door-slammers. So my initial reaction was to calmly get up from my desk, walk down the hall, and respectfully remind her that doors are never deliberately slammed in our house. Come to think of it, I think I actually gave her the benefit of the doubt that it accidentally caught some mystical backdraft of air in the hall and slammed itself.

Well, I’m sure you can guess what followed. I hadn’t even gotten back to my chair when she did it again. And then one more time just in case I didn’t feel the tremor of the last one. Needless to say, this time I didn’t give her the benefit of any doubt. After asking her why she was obviously slamming her door to get my attention, and getting only a shrug in return, I made it unmistakably clear that if she did it again we’d have a problem. This time I took a hard line and told her that her behavior was unacceptable and that if she was upset about something we could talk it out like semi-civilized people.

Didn’t work.

She just stared me down, leaving me no choice but to deliver an ultimatum. We don’t slam doors in this family. But you’ve just slammed the same one four times, even after I nicely asked you not to. So if I were you, I’d think long and hard about slamming it again. Because if you do there’s going to be a consequence and I promise you that you’re not gonna like it. To which I got a dead-calm silent stare that followed me right out the door.


Yup, she did it again. God, kids are dumb. Love ‘em, but most of the time they’re their own worst enemy.

Ok, so what was my next move? Well, secretly, I didn’t have one. It was all a colossal bluff. I had to act fast and at least give the illusion that I had the upper hand. That’s when I knew I was going to have to think outside the parenting box and get creative to make an indelible mark on her memory of this incident. So that’s exactly what I did.

I walked, in one fluid, deliberate motion, straight to the junk drawer in the kitchen and grabbed the flathead screwdriver. Then, with the swiftness and stealthiness of a ninja, I went into her room and quietly popped the hinges off the door. As I’m sure you can imagine, she was absolutely dumbfounded.670px-Stop-Squeaky-Door-Hinges-Step-5Bullet2

And as quickly and quietly as I came in, that’s exactly how I left. With her bedroom door under my arm.

It lived in the garage for three days and she never even considered slamming a door again. Oh yeah, that happened.

So it’s like I said, sometimes as parents we have to go off the grid to find the right path for us and our one-of-a-kind little family. Sometimes, in order to find what suits us best we have to wing it a little. Ok, a lot.

To this day, though, single greatest parenting moment in my career.

Lisa Sugarman lives in Marblehead, Massachusetts. Read and discuss all her columns at facebook.com/ItIsWhatItIsColumn. She is also the author of LIFE: It Is What It Is available on Amazon.com and select Whole Foods Market stores.

Are you travel compatible?

By Lisa Sugarman

You’ve been friends for years. Great friends. You’ve eaten enough dinners out together and seen more shows and concerts and movies than either one of you can remember. You’ve taken countless shopping trips and had enough café lattes and Pinot Grigios together over the years to fill an Olympic-size pool.

You know each other’s deep, dark secrets, neuroses, personality flaws, bra sizes, and garage-door codes—enough personal information that you might as well be their Emergency Contact #1 on every health form.

But there’s one thing you still haven’t done—one place your relationship still hasn’t gone. It’s that place of true intimacy, where few friendships can go and survive. Where our true selves are finally exposed, for better or for worse.Travel-Friend-Planner1

I’m talking about taking the leap from spending an afternoon together shopping at the mall or side by side on a yoga mat or on a day hike. I’m talking about packing your bags and actually going away together. To a place where you’re stuck together, in the same place, for as long as you both shall travel.

Traveling with friends can make or break a relationship, it’s as simple as that. Because as far as we delve into our friends’ personalities and histories and idiosyncrasies over a shrimp scampi dinner or during an afternoon hike, there’s absolutely no way of knowing whether or not your compatibility will extend from a short, finite amount of time—like a meal or walk or a playdate with your kids—to a multi-day trip away, where true personality quirks can’t be as easily concealed or overlooked. In other words, you’re stuck with each other for the night or the weekend or the week. You’re in it to win it and there’s no turning back once the hotel room keys have been issued.business-woman-at-the-reception-of-a-hotel-checking-in-2

Sitting here on the return flight home from my first real trip away with my daughter—her best friend, and her best friend’s mom—it occurred to me how badly our otherwise lovely five-day trip to Florida could have gone if we hadn’t been so travel compatible. Fortunately for us, we were.

Now being best friends, the girls have, of course, spent insane amounts of time together over the years. And while her mom and I have been great friends almost as long as the girls have, this trip was a baptism by fire for both of us, launching us by catapult to the next level of our relationship. And it was damn lucky for both our sakes that we ended up meshing like chunky peanut butter and grape jelly. Damn lucky. Because our experience traveling together could’ve easily torn our friendship apart if we hadn’t been in such great sync with each other.

See, that’s the thing about traveling with friends; to the naked eye, you may have what appears to be a completely harmonious relationship—one that gives the illusion of being fully transferable to suitcases and an itinerary. But looks can be deceiving. Just because you enjoy each other’s company over raw oysters or a cool lime refresher does not guarantee that you can cohabitate in a timeshare or a hotel room for a weekend. And that’s because people only see a very short glimpse of who we really are on a walk or over a drink or over dinner. The real fun begins when we go away with someone and we’re forced to share a space or collaborate on decisions or make concessions. That’s when things often go horribly awry. That’s when peoples’ true egocentricity often takes over and they reveal themselves to be impossible travel companions.

I mean let’s face it, the average person can usually control their impulses and urges and selfishness to a point. And that point is often the length of a movie or the duration of an afternoon shopping spree. But hogtie two people together for a few days and everyone’s true colors come spewing out. People start imposing their opinions and preferences and then, ever so subtly, the inflexibility begins. Almost without warning, the person you boarded the airplane with doesn’t want Chinese food anymore. Doesn’t like to get up before 11:00am anymore. Orders three mixed drinks at dinner and Crème Brulee to your Pellegrino with lemon and still wants to split the bill straight down the middle.

The unfortunate reality here is that there’s legitimately no way of knowing if you and your friend are trip compatible. It’s kind of like when you send your kids away to overnight camp for the first time. They may be the poster child for day camp but crash and burn once they’re dropped off at overnight camp for a month, away from their family and totally on their own. You just never know.19485i4e2ti6rjpg

So I guess the takeaway here is simply this: some people are good travel buddies and some people aren’t. And that’s okay. Because at the end of the day, we all have a pretty diverse roster of friends that we can count on in many different situations. And that’s exactly the way it should be. We have lots of different people that we spend our time with in lots of different ways. It’s just important to remember that a square peg isn’t supposed to fit into a round hole. And that even though it doesn’t it’s still a great peg. It just works best under the right circumstances.

Lisa Sugarman lives in Marblehead, Massachusetts. Read and discuss all her columns at facebook.com/ItIsWhatItIsColumn. She is also the author of LIFE: It Is What It Is available on Amazon.com and select Whole Foods Market stores.

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