What does your music say about you?

By Lisa Sugarman

I often wonder what people’s reaction would be if they heard the music I listen to when I’m sitting in the corner of Starbucks writing my column every week. Because I’m willing to bet that most people wouldn’t expect me to be listening to Jagwinder Singh Dhaliwal, better known as Juggy D, a British Indian singer from Southall, London, England.image168-e1427657376963

Especially the people who know me well. They probably think I’m more of a Top 40s or indie pop girl or even a gangsta rap fan (well, maybe just my homies would think that). And that’s because our taste in music is such a deeply personal aspect of our personality—one that often doesn’t match up with what the outside world might expect from us.

It’s fascinating, really. At least to me. I just love how someone may appear to be a very distinct personality type, based on nothing more than how they dress or where they live or what they do professionally. And then something as simple as their taste in music showed us a very different side of them than we thought we knew.

Take my father-in-law. Pretty conservative, clean-cut guy in his late seventies whose heyday was back in the mid-fifties, putting him squarely in the Bobby Darin, Ritchie Valens generation. Although The Platters was his favorite when he was young. Funnily enough though, he’s become a true country music guy. Like the ringtone on his phone is Kenny Chesney’s She thinks my tractor’s sexy.Kenny-Chesney

(Ok, for the record, I’m really not one hundred percent sure if that’s his actual ring tone, but it might as well be because I’ve definitely heard the words tractor and beer.) Either way, country music just isn’t a genre I would’ve matched him up with in my head if I met him on the street and had to guess. And I absolutely love that because it’s something you just wouldn’t expect.

And I’m sure you could say that about millions of people all over the world who escape into the world of music as their own little rhythmic Fortress of Solitude or use it as a vehicle through which to express a different side of themselves.

I mean, wouldn’t it be interesting to poll random people in coffee shops and cyber bars across the country to find out who’s listening to what? In the same way you can never judge a book by its cover, I’m sure we’d be shocked to discover how many peoples’ music taste didn’t line up at all with who they appeared to be on the outside.1297336779516_ORIGINAL

That’s what I think is so truly cool about music—it gives us a safe place to connect with a wide range of emotions and moods and personalities that we carry around inside us that we sometimes just don’t know what to do with. And music allows us to connect with them on an external level. Like maybe you’re a quiet, reserved person to the outside world who has a spicy side that you’re just not quite comfortable expressing to the people around you. With music, though, you have a safe way to express that side of yourself. You can be a cowboy at heart on the inside, like my father-in-law, and express it every time you listen to songs like You’re The Reason Our Baby’s So Ugly or Get Your Tongue Outta My Mouth Cause I’m Kissing You Good-bye. That’s because music is a safe and universal platform for self-expression.

Like maybe deep down you have an edgy side and you want to express it, but you’re just not comfortable dressing goth or getting a tattoo or dressing in all black, so instead you listen to Marilyn Manson. That’s your outlet. That’s how you connect with that side of yourself in a way that maintains a healthy balance of self-expression between who you are on the inside and how you project yourself on the outside.American-Gothic-Country-Music-Band--36477

Or, conversely, maybe you’re an extroverted personality type who’s always putting yourself out there, always engaging with people and you need a way of mellowing out, so you spend some quiet time underneath your big air-traffic-controller headphones listening to Chopin’s Nocturne No. 2 and that’s how you channel your quiet side.

But regardless of what type of music you like, beats and rhythms and lyrics are always there to support our moods and our fantasies and our individuality in very distinctive and beautiful ways. It’s there to help wind us up, to help us wind down, to console us, to inspire us, to stimulate us, to enchant us, and to define us.

So whatever your favorite music is, I hope you listen to it loud and proud in spite of how it may or may not align with how the outside world sees you. I hope you treasure it as the intimate, personal expression of the hidden rappers and cowboys and hard rockers who live inside all of us. And the next time you hear some funky Punjabi music that sounds like it came straight out of Bend it Like Beckham, you’ll think of me fondly.

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 at select Whole Foods Market stores.

This summer, just let kids be kids

By Lisa Sugarman

Holy crap, we’re an inch away from summer starting! So you know what that means. It means that the dependable 8:00am to 2:30pm routine that’s occupied our kids for the last 180 days is going away. That beautiful thing we call school that fills our kids’ time and enriches them intellectually, socially, and physically, is over for the year.

Just breathe people, breathe.school-kids-running-out-57567543

Summer is here and I know that figuring out how to occupy your kids’ time outside of school can be a major source of anxiety. But it doesn’t have to be.

I know the idea of letting your kids run free for two months without structure or purpose is simply terrifying. I also know that a lot of you are worried that a couple of months out of their normal routine will jellify your kids’ brain and send them to the back of the intellectual pack once September rolls around. A normal fear—one that I’ve definitely felt myself—but nothing more than urban legend.

Let me tell you what our kids really need. They need time just to be kids. And, scary as it is, the idea of letting kids have open-ended time to play without purpose or watch mindless TV or daydream or play hoops at the park, is one of the best things we can do for them, especially today.

Look, it’s a super-competitive world, I get that. I have two daughters, both of whom I want to see reach their full potential and be successful, productive people. So I’ll be the first to admit that I cringe sometimes when I see them lying on the couch binge-watching Netflix. But that’s because most of us just instinctively associates constant movement and activity with productivity. But that’s just not the case.

Idle time shouldn’t be considered wasted time. In fact, downtime is actually critical for maintaining a sustainable emotional and physical pace in life. And kids need that downtime as much as anyone.115610-113568

Think about it, you only need to look around you to see parents everywhere trucking their kids back and forth between soccer or lacrosse or football or ballet or baseball or field hockey or art classes or violin lessons or French lessons or karate classes or tutoring. It’s a very long list of possibilities nowadays. And only getting longer.

Too many kids today are so hyper-scheduled between school and sports and extracurricular activities that they’re in constant motion from the minute their little eyes open in the morning to the second their frazzled little heads hit the pillow every night.

Just think for a second about what happens to a top when you keep winding it. As long as you keep winding, it keeps going. And when we, the parents, are the ones doing the winding, then our kids are just gonna keep on spinning. And that’s not good. That’s why it’s our job—no, our responsibility—to encourage our kids to spend time just being kids.

As adults, we all know, very intimately, what it feels like to be over-stimulated. It’s a disjointing and overwhelming feeling that more often than not leads to counter-productivity and burnout. So imagine how little kids, with a very limited capacity to express themselves or channel their frustration, deal with being strung out. You already know the answer. They flip a nutty. They implode and act out and shut down and lash out, all at the exact same time. It’s usually an ugly mess.UCAB - GUARICO - LIGA NACIONAL [#Beginning of Shooting Data Section] Nikon D70 Focal Length: 170mm Optimize Image: Custom Color Mode: Mode II (Adobe RGB) Long Exposure NR: Off 2006/03/26 16:07:23.1 Exposure Mode: Shutter Priority White Balance: Direct sunlight Tone Comp.: Normal Compressed RAW (12-bit) Metering Mode: Multi-Pattern AF Mode: AF-C Hue Adjustment: 0° Image Size: Large (3008 x 2000) 1/500 sec - F/5 Flash Sync Mode: Not Attached Saturation: Enhanced Exposure Comp.: 0 EV Sharpening: Normal Lens: 80-200mm F/2.8 D Sensitivity: ISO 200 Auto Flash Comp: 0 EV Image Comment:                                      [#End of Shooting Data Section]

Remember something, we all have a saturation point. Especially our kids. And we all need time to unwind and process and reflect on the things we do and see and learn every day.

I think it’s easy for us as parents to forget that more than anything, our kids need a little time to roam free range. And that in order to achieve a healthy balance, we often need to learn how to acknowledge when we need to stop and just be.

We need to teach our kids that there is, in fact, a tipping point where our efforts become ineffective and even counter-productive. There comes a time when everyone—especially kids—need to shut down and be a little bit lazy and unproductive.

We’ve all over-committed, at times—whether in work or in school or at home. I know I have. And I’m willing to bet that you’ve spent plenty of time in your life feeling frazzled or scattered or totally ineffective, too. And probably, somewhere along the way, even started to resent what you over-committed yourself to in the first place. Well, kids are no different.

As millions of us parents anticipate the summer ahead, I know that plenty of moms and dads are already stressing about their kids having too much downtime.

But what we often forget is that it’s actually ok if our kids spend some mindless time dock diving or playing Man Hunt or exploring or channel surfing. And it’s ok becasue they’re kids. And that’s the stuff kids are supposed to do. It’s how they unwind. It’s how they decompress. It’s how they grow.IMG_4648

So when your kid is lying upside down on the couch this summer updating their Instagram feed, resist the urge to rip them a new one. Remember that they actually need a little R&R in the very same ways that we do. And remember that even Instagram has value. I’m not sure what it is exactly, but I’m sure it’s got some.

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

Happy Father’s Day, Mom.

By Lisa Sugarman

Father’s Day is always an interesting day for me. As it approaches every year, I’m always a little funky in my head and in my heart as I anticipate the day. That’s because I lost my dad back in the late 70s when I was only ten. So, naturally, Father’s Day always feels a little awkward to me.rsz_shutterstock_255135502-566x401

Now I’m not telling you this intimate detail about my past to make you feel bad. Like, Oh, poor Lisa. I’m telling you for one simple reason, and that’s to clarify that I was raised by my mom, which is an important detail in terms of what I want to talk about.

See, from the time I was in the fifth grade, my mom was both mother and father to me, 24/7, 365 days a year. Whatever needed to be done, wherever we needed to go, whatever challenges we had to face, my mom was the one to handle it because, obviously, she was flying solo. Every single aspect of our life—from earning and paying the mortgage to food shopping to housework to entertaining me and everything in between—rested on her shoulders. And it wasn’t until I became a mom myself that I truly understood the real enormity of that load.

It didn’t matter if my mother was sick or tired or heartbroken or frustrated, or maybe just overcome with grief, because she snapped into action every time I needed her without so much as blinking twice. And the thing is, now that I have my own family, I know, very intimately, what it takes to keep all your balls in the air without ever letting even one of them drop. The only difference is, my kids have a dad and I have a husband. We’re fortunate. But I have the perspective of growing up without one, so that gives me a unique vantage point from which to reflect on the enormous load my mom always had to carry as a single mother. Both physically and emotionally.

I did what I had to do. What any mother would do. It’s as simple as that, my mom would always say. Still says. But what I’ve come to realize in my adult life is that it’s most definitely not as simple as that. What she did to pick up all those miles and miles of extra slack was beyond my comprehension. It was a true, bonafide, authentic labor of love in its rawest form.

And here’s the thing, I know there’s a whole world of mothers out there who are doing the same—9.9 million, if you wanna get technical.Mother on telephone with son in kitchen

The truth is, I could easily reverse this entire monologue and acknowledge that the very same thing applies to millions of dads out there. Because it does. But that’s not what I’m focusing on today. Today, I’m turning the spotlight on all the unsung-hero moms who wear two hats every single solitary day. The moms who put themselves dead last because their crosshairs need to be squarely focused on their kids at all times. The moms with heightened peripheral vision and super-human hearing and endless amounts of energy and resolve that hoists them out of bed every day.

And while there are plenty of reasons why a mom may be raising her family alone—maybe her husband died or left or she’s separated or there was never a dad in the picture to begin with—but the bottom line is always the same. It means she’s a one-woman show.

Now as a mother of two with a great husband as my wingman, I know exactly how fortunate I am. First and foremost, that obviously means my daughters have a dad. It also means there’s someone around, who I love and trust, to share the responsibilities of being a parent. Someone to cover me when I’m sick. Someone to cover him when he’s sick. Someone to be the Bad Cop once in a while so I’m not always the one with the bad rep. So believe me, on Father’s Day we celebrate him fully and completely. And because of him, Father’s Day has a renewed appeal to me.

This year, though, I feel like saying Happy Father’s Day to all the single moms out there who’ve been pulling double duty, including and especially my own. I’m not at all sure how you did it all by yourself, but somehow you managed to be both mom and dad. Oh yeah, and you also took care of grandma for ten years. 628x471

Somehow you learned how to throw a decent slider with your tomboy daughter and learned how to ride a bike when you were 40 and entertained the whole family for every holiday and milestone and never seemed to break a sweat.

Somehow you filled a big part of the void of growing up without a dad. And you did it without ever tucking your fingers into the top of your pants every time we watched Star Trek. Bravo, mom. Bravo. And Happy Father’s Day.

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 at select Whole Foods Market stores.

Youth sports…a labor of love

By Lisa Sugarman

As parents, we make more sacrifices for our kids over the course of their lifetime than most of us can possibly count. Some big, some small, but all designed with the same purpose of improving the quality of our child’s life. It’s just one small part of being a parent and it’s something we all know we’re going to have to do well before the sperm and the egg make their little love connection.

And these sacrifices we make, they range from giving up our last fortune cookie at the Chinese food place to squishing our kids into the middle of the bed at 2am after a nightmare to taking out college loans that bury us in debt well into retirement. But we do it all with a smile on our face and a full heart because they’re our kids and we love them and, in most cases, our parents did the same for us.328480-1880x1254

But let’s talk for a sec about one sacrifice in particular. It’s probably not one of the top-tier sacrifices that you’d expect me to be talking about, like moving cross country for a better-paying job or spending night after sleepless night caring for a colicky baby or listening to nothing but cheesy Top 40 pop radio in the car from the time your kids are in fifth grade until they’re old enough to drive.

The one I’m talking about is most definitely a lower-level give-up on the sacrifice chart, but it’s still relevant. It’s the one so many of us make in the spirit of giving our kids the experience of being part of something bigger than just little-old them. It’s the one that transforms our otherwise quiet and lazy weekend into a white-hot chaotic mess, filled with endless car rides, hours of sitting on cold bleachers or in saggy lawn chairs with numb fingers and frozen toes.

I’m talking about the languid, relaxing weekends we give up to enable our kids to be part of a sports team. And for those of us who’ve spent season after season out in the damp cold, blowing into our hands, losing feeling in our toes, and begging our coffee to stay hot just a little longer, you know exactly what I’m talking about.DSC_0055

Now it’s probably because the spring sports season is in full swing in my cozy little town, and the sidelines and bleachers are all filled to capacity, that I’ve made an interesting observation. And what I’ve realized is that as much as I may’ve bitched and moaned in the privacy of my own head about the endless car rides and sudden-death overtimes and playoff games, I’m actually jealous of all the young families who are newbies in the world of youth sports.

See, you do a lot of self-reflecting when one of your kids graduates from high school. And since my oldest daughter just graduated on Sunday, I’ve been doing a lot of reminiscing about when my kids were young. Which, in turn, has led me to pause and relive a lot of my favorite moments over the years. And surprisingly enough, I’ve realized how many of those beautiful moments involved watching my kids practice or play on their sports teams.

Those three-hour-long track meets out in the early spring cold waiting for Libby to throw the javelin or Riley to run her 400 meters—events that are so quick you can miss them if you so much as sneeze at the wrong time—are priceless. And I think every one of us who puts everything on hold just to be able to cheer for our kids knows that these are some of our most cherished moments as parents. I mean really, what’s more endearing or hilarious than watching your five-year-old son score the winning basket for the other team on the basketball court? Or having ten soaking-wet ten-year-old girls piled in your car for a rain delay during a soccer game. Or cuddling under a blanket with a couple of other moms on the sidelines trying to share body heat. These are all little gifts—gifts we wouldn’t have if we didn’t sacrifice our time and freedom to make them happen.saginaw-township-soccer-spring-season-begins-ca60659be2dfb135

Because when you add up all the hours spent taking our kids to and from practices, all the time traveling back and forth to games, and then all the hours spent watching them play, you’re talking about a pretty good-size investment of time and energy and, if you’re like me, vocal cords. But what we realize, usually after those days are long gone, is how much we loved those freakishly cold spring mornings or those playoff games or that hunt for the missing cleat when you’re already running late.

We love it because it gives our kids something we can’t give them alone. It gives them the experience of working as a team and of what it means to depend on the people around them and to feel the thrill of the win and the heartbreak of defeat—life lessons you learn best when you live them yourself.PRIDE_IMG_1238[2]

So yes, diehard fan of my children as I am, I admit that I’ve secretly prayed for Noah’s Ark-type rain on weekend mornings to wash out any possibility of a game, or a loss in the playoffs so the season ended quicker; but at the end of the day, I’d go back in a blink and do it all over again. And so would you. I’d just be doing it in one of those portable sideline shelters and wearable sleeping bags. I’m not stupid after all.

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 at select Whole Foods Market stores.

It’s Not the End, it’s Just the Beginning

By Lisa Sugarman

Thirteen years. Thirteen profoundly life-changing years. That’s roughly two thousand three hundred and forty bagged lunches, twenty-seven violin recitals, eleven cross country and track banquets, eight trillion No. 2 pencils, dozens of lunch boxes and backpacks, countless school open houses and parent meetings and report cards, buckets of tears and laughter and failures and successes. And now, here we are, me with a tennis ball-size lump in my throat and my oldest daughter about to dress in her cap and gown and walk her last walk as a high school senior.Bag-Lunch

It all goes so shockingly fast. Faster than we can ever imagine when our kids are little and we’re embarking on what seems like an endlessly long trip.

And then it’s here. That moment. The moment that the last thirteen school years have led up to. That moment that we, as parents, quietly anticipate in the far corners of our minds. The moment we’re not sure will ever really come because there’s so much to be done in between the time we start the journey and when this part of it ends.

It’s so cumbersome, this idea of our children graduating from high school, that most of us can barely get our minds around it. And then it happens. The day comes when your daughter asks you for the money to buy her tassels for her cap and gown. That moment when you realize they’ve finally made it. They’ve done it. We’ve done it. We can exhale. But only long enough to draw in possibly the deepest breath we’ve ever had to take as parents—the one that allows us to say goodbye.

See, Riley is my first child to graduate from high school, so this column has been percolating since she started kindergarten. So needless to say, there’s a pretty hefty collection of memories and emotions and feelings ready to stream out once these flood gates open.

And I’m sorry, I don’t care who you are; when your oldest hits a milestone like graduating from high school, there’s just no way you’re not feeling something. It’s too big of a day for them and for us as parents not to need at least a pocket-size package of Kleenex nearby.

I mean, I really just don’t understand how it happens this fast that we go from swaddling our newborn to putting a deposit down on their freshman year of college. It’s a very time-warpy sensation as you get ready for graduation. And everyone always says, Enjoy it all while you can because they grow up soooooo fast, and new parents usually politely shrug it off and think Yeah, yeah, suuuuure it does. But it’s true. God is it true. It all goes faster than we can ever imagine back when we’re being wheeled out of the hospital with that little package cradled in our arms.printcomp

The second your toddler takes their first steps you have to just buckle that five-point harness tight and do your best to hang on, because life starts moving like fast forward x10 on your DVR. And it never actually stops. Not for a second.

Right now, to me, it feels like no more than eleven minutes ago since Riley’s cheeks had that orange beta-carotene tint from too many orange vegetables as an infant; and now she’s only a few days away from graduating from high school and moving on to the next stage of her life. (A stage which, just as an aside, involves living in a totally different place than under our roof.)

And that notion hits you in very different and very unpredictable ways as you approach graduation day.

Take last week, for example. I’m setting the table for dinner when it hits me like a puck to the back of the helmet that this time next year, I’ll be setting out three dinner plates every night instead of four. That’s a thought that’ll sober you up pretty quick once it creeps into your head.

The problem is, I’ve had such a contact high since September from the excitement of her living out her senior year, that I’ve barely paid attention to the fact that it’s all actually leading up to her moving on and moving out in the fall. I’ve just been enjoying all the fun.

I think it’s because senior year is just one long steady flow of electrified energy (between applying to schools, prom, senior projects, exams, classes, sports) that there’s really very little time built in to absorb what’s really happening. It’s all just so exciting.

What I’ve realized this year, though, in spite of all the chaos and the to-do lists and the emotions and the anticipation, is that she’s ready for this. Ready in ways I’m not sure I even appreciated until I saw her navigate this last year of her life. And I’ve come to understand that that’s the only thing that really matters.Helping Hand with the Sky Background

She’s ready to cast out on her own and to carve a new path for herself. Ready for the classes and the independence and the opportunities and the new relationships that college will bring. She’s ready to make her own decisions and to find her own way. And while every parent’s darkest fear is that their child doesn’t need them anymore, I think it’s also our greatest triumph when we’ve raised a child who feels confident enough to let go of our hand and walk out into the world on their own. Because that’s the payoff. That’s the endgame.

The truth is, on the surface, senior year looks like it’s a big celebration of lasts and that’s why it tends to take our breath away. But what most of us fail to realize is that senior year is a cleverly disguised launching pad for new beginnings. It’s actually the doorway that leads them to rest of their life.

So as I softly cry behind my sunglasses this Sunday because this chapter is ending, I’ll also be celebrating everything that my sweet girl has accomplished in her life up to now. And I’ll be contemplating everything that still lies ahead.110605_SN_DLE_MHDGRAD_1-M

And hopefully, if I can steal her away for a quiet moment during all the craziness, I’ll be able to find the words to thank her for bringing all the color to my world and for showing me the reason why I’m here in the first place. I’ll explain that I’m celebrating her and the powerful, beautiful woman she’s turned out to be. And I’ll do it with the knowledge that it’s finally time for her to get on with her future.

But most importantly, I’ll thank her, in advance, for taking all of her laundry with her when she goes. (Oh who am I kidding, I’m gonna miss that too.)

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 at select Whole Foods Market stores.