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Icons of our Youth

By Lisa Sugarman

As I sat in my kitchen last weekend, early in the morning, sipping my tea and watching the last of the leaves from our big red maple float to the ground in the backyard, something profound dawned on me. I realized, as I was staring up at quite possibly the most perfect climbing tree in the history of trees, that what I was looking at was so much more than just an ordinary climbing tree.FullSizeRender

I realized, as I stared at its perfectly juxtaposed branches, that in addition to being a flawless specimen as far as trees go, it was also a pseudo amusement park for my kids and every other neighborhood kid within a three-block radius. And that’s when it occurred to me that the tree symbolized something way bigger than just a place to hang out. It was an icon. More specifically, an icon of their youth—something that had become sacred to all of them. And it always would be.

Ironic that we never really paid much attention to the tree when we moved into the house ten-plus years ago. At that point, our girls were still little and the tree was just the big, beautiful centerpiece of our yard. In fact, it took a friend—the father of three boys—to see its potential and sneak away from a family barbecue to christen the tree with its first bonafide climber.

As soon as he pulled himself up onto the first set of low-hanging branches, that was it. Life in my backyard was never the same. And it was amazing to witness that moment of inception, when all the kids simultaneously turned and looked for Al, only to find him three stories above our house, straddling one of the thick anchor branches and grinning down over all of us.

Needless to say, it took about six seconds for every kid and all of us parents to shimmy up the tree and hosie our own branches. And we’ve all “owned” the same branches ever since. Almost like chairs around a kitchen table that each belong to someone specific in your family. And believe me when I tell you, you did not sit on Korey’s branch if you were Libby, or on Jesse’s branch if you were Riley. You just didn’t. Just like you don’t sit in Dave’s chair if you’re me. That’s because people are territorial.

Well Dave eventually built ladder rungs going up the side of the tree, and once he did that it was like an open invitation for every kid on the block to spend their free time supervising all neighborhood activities and solving all the middle school problems of the world.

What would’ve been interesting, in hindsight, is if I had somehow kept track of how many hours the kids spent up in the tree over the years. Or, better still, if I could’ve somehow wire-tapped the branches to hear the conversations that took place on those Indian summer mornings in March when the kids would throw on snow boots and shorts and drink their hot chocolate hovering above the grass.rsz_shutterstock_185056517-566x401

The point I’m making is that we all have very specific icons of our youth that symbolize different times in our lives. Whether it’s a pond you used to skate on or a tree you used to climb or a shed you used as a fort, we all have some icon from our past that symbolizes a particular time and place and point in our lives that we remember fondly. Or at least the kind that I’m talking about are the kind we remember warm-heartedly.

For me, ironically enough, the icon of my youth was a tree just like the one my kids have grown up with in our yard. It lived across the street in my neighbor Paul’s yard and was populated daily by almost as many kids as our tree is now.

And the memories I have of that tree are truly beautiful ones. They’re of laughter and silliness and bonding and adventure. And although the only specific memory I have about my time in Paul’s tree was the day I sliced my middle finger open with a Swiss army knife carving my initials in my branch, the vibe I have in my heart from all the time I spent perched in those branches is priceless.Ice-Skating-Duck-Pond-19671

The neat thing is, we all have some kind of an icon from our past—something that conjures up fond memories from another time—that has the amazing power to shoot us back to a time when silly little things like a tree or a pond seemed even more exciting than Disneyland.

I wonder, do you remember yours?

Lisa Sugarman lives just north of Boston, 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.


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 She is also the author of LIFE: It Is What It Is available on and select Whole Foods Market stores.

Target: My idea of the perfect home.

By Lisa Sugarman

Now it’s possible that what I’m about to say may sound weird to you. Then again, it might remind you of your own childhood and the dumb things we used to fantasize about as kids. Either way, at the very least, I’m hoping you’ll be entertained.

So when I was a little girl, I used to dream about what it would be like to live in a department store. Full time; 365. And while I know it’s kind of an odd concept, I have a feeling more people have imagined the same thing than are willing to admit.

In my case, it probably stemmed from reading Don Freeman’s children’s book Corduroy so many times when I was a kid. You know, the story about the little toy bear named Corduroy who lived on the shelf at a department store who wandered the floors at night looking for his missing button. Always was one of my favorites.CorduroyBook

The thing is, as I’m sure you’ve learned too, once we grow up, our adult brains start processing through all the stupid stuff we believed when we were kids; and we realize that most of the brilliant ideas we had as young people just aren’t feasible. In other words, we realize that we really were a bunch of idiots. And in my case, it didn’t take me long to realize that living out my days in Jordan Marsh was a fundamentally flawed idea from inception.

Sure, they had bathrooms, so that took care of one critical human need, and water bubblers so you could stay hydrated, but after that, my plan fell short. Very short. Like once the vending machines in the staff lounge were tapped, I’d be dead in less than a week. Terrible plan.

It’s funny, though, how history tends to repeat itself so organically generation after generation. Just the other day, during a quick trip to Target, my fourteen-year-old daughter blurted out how Target would be the perfect home. Never knowing, mind you, that I had already pioneered the concept of department-store living back in the early 70s.

So of course I was like, “Oh my God! I totally used to wish I could do that!” To which Libby rolled her eyes and said it wouldn’t’ve been possible back then because superstores like Target, with every department imaginable, didn’t exist. (Hate when my kid out thinks me. It’s irritating.)

But in her case, her master plan showed far more advanced intelligence than mine. She accounted for things that, at the age of fourteen, would never have crossed my mind. Everything from home furnishings and electronics to food and clothes and every nuance in between. The kid’s got game.

Granted, you probably couldn’t make this theory work in a traditional Target store because they lack some of the key elements for survival like a pharmacy, a health clinic, a Starbucks, and a full grocery line.

But she had accounted for all that. Just walk into any one of the 239 SuperTarget stores, she said, and you could probably live a very fulfilling life if you never left the store again.untitled

And the more I thought about it, the more I realized that she may, in fact, have actually figured out a way to make my dream a reality. Because as long as you took enough vitamin D supplements to avoid getting rickets, you could probably manage just fine.

According to Libby, you’ve got a totally secure, climate controlled environment, complete with everything a person would theoretically need to live. Theoretically.

You’d have food, clothing, and jewelry (for those special occasions when upper management came to do audits). You’d have a full electronics department, free Wi-Fi and unlimited mocha lattes, so you’d be fully caffeinated and hardwired with the outside world. And, assuming you opened the doors every day and allowed people to either visit, or shop, depending on your preference, you’d never be lonely.

You’d also have a full health clinic on hand just in case you hooked up with one of the electronics department guys and got pregnant. At which point he’d probably do the right thing and hit the jewelry department and pick you up an engagement ring. Then you could have the wedding in the lawn & garden department, after which you’d get the photos developed in their one-hour photo processing lab, and then, once the little bundle of joy came, you could have carte blanche in the baby section.PharmacistGuest-Medium2

And to work off your baby weight, you could spend your mornings in the sports & fitness department, hitting the health and beauty aisle to clean up after your kettlebell workout.

Then, after you put the baby down for his nap, you could spend your nights reading all the classics and binge watching all five seasons of Breaking Bad.

And should your little one start projectile vomiting during season three, you could quickly and easily scoot over to the health clinic, see a doctor, get a prescription, then get it filled in the pharmacy. After which, you could swing over to the toy department and grab the little fella a treat for being such a trooper with the doctor. See, happily ever after. A flawless plan.

So unless I’m missing something, and I don’t think I am, SuperTarget may well be the perfect home. Now I just have to figure out how to break it to Dave and the girls that we’re moving…

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, at Whole Foods, and at select booksellers.

To be or not to be an only child. That is the question.

By Lisa Sugarman

I was an only child. And despite my parent’s desire to have a bigger family, it just wasn’t meant to be. Don’t feel bad for me, though. This is a happy column. And I’m going to spend the next eight hundred words explaining why.

I guess you could say I was my parent’s one-hit wonder. At least that’s how they always made it seem. Love conquers all, right?1305OnlyChildTimespg

Now look, if I’m being straight up here, then I have to admit that there were definitely times over the years when I wished I had a brother or a sister. I’d be lying if I said there weren’t. But all things being equal, I was generally pretty content as an only.

I mean, you don’t really miss what you never had, right? And it’s probably because my parents were both famous for always rolling up their sleeves, grabbing an army of Barbie dolls, and hitting the shag carpet with me, that I almost never felt like I was missing anything.

I mean, looking back, I definitely do remember a subtle twang in my heart whenever my friends talked about things they did with their sisters and brothers. You know, like playing together or sharing clothes or having secrets. Because the truth is, even though you can have amazingly hands-on parents, there are just some things that you miss out on by not having another kid living in the house.twosisters

Ironic that if you asked my two high-school-age daughters how they feel about having a sister, they’d both probably roll their eyes and rattle off a detailed list of why they wish they were only children. Lists filled with words like annoying, selfish, rude, or obnoxious. But at the end of the day, when both of them let their guard down, they have nothing but love for each other. It’s weird how they can go so quickly from one extreme to the other. And that’s something I wish I had.

Yeah, sure, there were definitely times when it came in handy that I was an only child. Like when it came to my parent’s attention and affection. There was zero competition. And I always appreciated that.

There was also the freedom of having unlimited time in the bathroom without someone pounding on the door, stealing your makeup, using all the hot water, or taking the last tampon.

Those things aside, though, it would’ve been nice to have a sister or a brother around to break up the monotony of only having myself to play with. (Ok, that didn’t come out right, but you know what I meant.)

When I look back, through the eyes of my adult self, now a mother of two, I realize that not having a sibling gave me a unique appreciation for forging close friendships. After all, friends are the family we get to choose. And you become acutely aware of that as an only. Which is why I always tried to choose wisely.siblings

That’s why my friends always felt more like the brothers and sisters I never had. At least until I married Dave. Because when that happened, I inherited the closest thing I had ever had to a real brother or sister—I acquired in-laws. And while those of us who are married know that gaining in-laws is like playing Russian roulette, I got lucky. Not only did I get a great guy, but I got a full second set of parents who I adore and two spanking new siblings—ones I actually liked. Truth is, I legitimately love them. And while I could just as easily have gotten a clown car full of whack jobs, I came out ahead with a couple of winners.

Unfortunately, my brother-in-law has always lived out of state, so we don’t get much time together. But my sister-in-law has almost always lived close. So we’ve spent most of the last twenty-plus years together.

Now granted, in the more than two decades that we’ve been family, we’ve never braided each other’s hair or painted each other’s toes or backhanded the other in the head for stealing eyebrow gel; but we’ve done plenty of other sisterly-type stuff. We’ve confided in each other, laughed and cried together, traveled and shopped, counseled and consoled each other. And although I’ve still never deliberately locked her out of the bathroom and licked her toothbrush, I feel like we couldn’t be much closer. The bottom line being that I couldn’t imagine loving a biological sister any more than I love her.

So even though I started out alone, I’ve certainly compensated for my lack of siblings during the past four decades with friends and extended family and now two kids of my own. And what I’ve learned is that it really doesn’t matter how you start out, because life has a funny way of filling in its own divots. I may not have had a sibling’s toothbrush to lick, but I can sure as hell live vicariously through my kids secretly licking each others.

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