We Can’t Manufacture Friendships, For Us Or Our Kids

By Lisa Sugarman

There’s this saying that I love (and use often), and it goes like this. We’re only as happy as our least happy child. And I’ll bet there isn’t a parent alive who wouldn’t agree. But while there are always a lot of moving parts associated with our kids’ happiness—like health and home life and sugar and Snapchat—none seems to have a bigger impact on their mood and general wellbeing than their friendships. Having them and not having them.Happy Kids Together Hugging

To our kids, who they’re friends with is often the end-all-be-all; and this perception they have that being friends with the “right” people can make or break their life is making many of them crazy. Because even though they shouldn’t be preoccupied with being in the right crowd and constantly being social, they still are, regardless of what we say.

Any of us could list off the names of the popular kids who went to our high school without even thinking twice. And chances are good that if you weren’t friends with them, like me, you wanted to be. Also like me. It was about social status and image instead of being true to who we were and who we really connected with as people. What mattered was the perception that being friends with them upped our stock.

Anyway, what I’m really getting at here is that there’s not enough emphasis today on the quality of our friendships versus the quantity. I mean, look no further than social media. For a lot of people out there, particularly kids, it’s a numbers game. It’s about how many followers you have or how many friends you have in your Facebook profile, regardless of whether or not those friendships are authentic.

Yet for me, at this point in my life, I’d so much rather have a small handful of good, quality, healthy friendships with people who have my back and bring out the best in me than dozens of fake relationships with people I think should matter. And I want the same for my kids. We all should.

See, friendships should never be manufactured. Not by us or by our kids. And it’s our responsibility as adults to model and stress the importance of doing what feels right, in our own heads, and not what public perception dictates is right.

I mean, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with our kids choosing to hang out at home by themselves if their close friends are busy, instead of trying to motivate them to make plans with someone else just for the sake of having plans. But when our kids make the choice to stay in, we panic and try to push them to reach out to someone. Sometimes just anyone. And I think, on some level, all parents feed into that mindset at one point or another with our kids. I know I have.Girl watching a movie on a smart phone

As a parent, I can honestly say that it’s tough to resist the urge to encourage my kids to get themselves out there. All the time. But what I’ve realized (or at least started to realize) is that our kids manage to find their way in spite of what we think might be best for them—especially with friendships. We did. And like us, our kids know when they’ve had a busy week and just need some downtime to decompress. Alone. They know, exactly like we do, when they feel like being social. And when they don’t.

Ironic the arc that friendship takes as we age. In the beginning, when we’re young, we want as many friends as we can find. They’re a commodity. We go out every chance we get, even if it’s not always with the people we want to be with, because most people dislike being alone.

And that continues for the better part of our young adult life. We want to be included in everything that’s going on around us. We seek out the invitations to all the parties and the get-togethers. Then, as we grow older, we realize that it’s not about how many friends we have, but more about the quality of those relationships. And once we’ve settled into ourselves as grownups, we become even more selective; we become even more judicious with the plans we make because we learn to treasure our downtime. We actually start declining plans because we want to savor the time we get with our closest friends and families. Our circles, in lots of cases, get smaller and more selective out of choice.

So I think, as parents, we can all benefit from dialing it back—both for our own sake and for the sake of our kids. Because if we don’t, we’ll raise a generation of little stress balls who are all hyper-consumed by having tons of friends. And that’s not good. For us or for them.

It’s important to remember that friendship should always be grown organically, just like tomatoes. They’re sweeter that way, I think.

Lisa Sugarman lives just north of Boston, 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.


As parents, we always need to be needed

By Lisa Sugarman

My kids are getting old. And I don’t like it.

Wait. That sounded harsh. Lemme try that again.

Now that they’re in high school and college, my kids don’t need me anymore in the same ways they used to and I miss being needed as somebody’s mom.braniac-baby

See, it’s not that I don’t want them to grow up. Of course I want them to grow up. Like any mom, I want my girls to grow into strong, empowered women, with families of their own someday. I want them to be fiercely independent, to live big, and love passionately, while still wanting me to wipe the corners of their mouth from time to time.

I know, that’s a slight contradiction, but it’s how I really feel.

I guess what I’ve realized is that I’m just not ready for my kids not to need me for all the little things anymore. Because the farther away I get from doing those little things—like wiping their mouth and braiding their hair and tying their shoes—the more I miss them. And while I recognize that it would look slightly odd if I licked my finger and wiped the tomato sauce off my eighteen year old’s chin when we’re out to dinner, I still sometimes feel the urge.

It’s the yin and the yang of parenting, I guess.

Funny how when we’re in the thick of their youth and our kids constantly need us—for absolutely everything—we just wish they could fend for themselves. And as soon as they reach the age when they’re old enough to self-soothe or walk downtown on their own or keep secrets, that urge to be needed starts bubbling up again.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve learned to appreciate the fact that my girls don’t need my help going to the bathroom anymore or zippering their hoodies or cutting up their food. After all those years of needing my help to do those little things, it’s rewarding to watch them come out of the mall bathroom fully zipped up, knowing that I was the one who taught them how to do it. Life skills.veterst1

It’s beautiful to watch our kids go from depending on us for every single human need when they’re babies, to walking and eating and dressing and driving and living on their own. That’s the natural order of things. Right? Of course it is. But it still doesn’t change the fact that I sometimes still feel hollow inside when they’re so damn self-sufficient.

That’s why I was so excited when my eighteen year old got her wisdom teeth out last week. She was all doped up on Vicodin and legitimately needed me for all kinds of stuff. It was beautiful.

Don’t misunderstand, I obviously wasn’t happy that she was in pain or that she was all tweaked out on painkillers. It’s always so much worse experiencing our kids’ pain than our own. I’m just focusing on the fact that she was in a situation where she needed me again in ways she hasn’t needed me in a very long time. And I’m not gonna lie, her being in pain notwithstanding, I loved every second of taking care of her.

Like when, the first few hours after surgery, before the Novocain wore off, I actually got to wipe the vanilla milkshake drool off her chin every time she took a spoonful. That was one of my favorite moments. And yes, I confess, there were a few times when I assured her that her face was clean when there was actually a huge drip dangling from her chin. (Don’t judge me. It was adorable. And you would’ve done the exact same thing.)

And I loved being able to press the ice packs against her cheeks for her so she could cinch the drawstring on her hoodie tight enough to hold them in place. And because we had to do that every twenty minutes for three days, it amounted to some real quality time together.

For the record, this is NOT actually my daughter. Are you kidding...she'd kill me.

For the record, this is NOT actually my daughter. (Are you kidding…she’d kill me.)

I got to bring her bowls of ice cream and make her soup and buckets of mashed potatoes and she actually let me blow on them to bring the temperature down. And we’re talking like a decade since she’s let me do anything like that for her.

Probably the best thing, though, was the invitation I got to sit with her on the couch and watch TV together. I never saw that one coming. I mean, she was incredibly uncomfortable and, at times, slightly delirious, so I just assumed that she had mistaken me for someone else. But on the afternoon of the third day of her teeth coming out, she just lifted her legs up off the couch and asked me to come over and sit with her. And between you and me, once I realized that she did, in fact, know it was me, I almost cried. That’s because I can’t even tell you the last time I sat on the couch with my daughter’s legs draped over my lap.

Now, for the record, I did actually get permission from her to write about this. An unusual happening in my house because my kids are usually dead-set against me writing about them in any context.

But I asked and she said yes and here we are. And the point of my story is that no matter how old our kids are, we’ll always be their parents and we’ll always have the secret desire to be needed as their mom and dad. And when the rare opportunity presents itself, we should consider it a gift, pounce on it, and savor the moment. Just like I did.

Oh yeah, by the way, did I happen to mention that I asked Riley for her permission to write about this a couple of hours after I gave her her pain meds? What?! It counts.

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.

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.

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 combined.mom-chaos

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 want.mom-hugging-kids

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 facebook.com/ItIsWhatItIsColumn. She is also the author of LIFE: It Is What It Is available on Amazon.com.

There’s only one thing worse than being sick…

By Lisa Sugarman

Being sick is just sucky. I think we can all agree on that. And depending on what you’re sick with, the range of suckiness can be very broad. With something like the flu, symptoms can be so intense and overwhelming that most of us just wish we could curl up under our duvets and die quickly. Then again, even the common cold has some serious ass-kicking potential that can create its own unique brand of pain and suffering.

And the list of bugs that can make a grown man hug his knees in the fetal position is endless. But the one sickness that tops them all is the one that takes hold of your child, whatever that sickness might be. Because the only thing worse than being sick yourself is watching your child burn up with fever or wretch over the toilet bowl or, God forbid, suffer with something worse. Watching our kids feel even the mildest measure of pain, in my opinion, is worse than any kind of suffering that we, as adults, could ever endure.o-SICK-KID-facebook

The truth is, most of us are just big fat babies when it comes to being sick. We curl up like twisted little pretzels under our blankies and moan and whimper and pray for salvation. We become useless and pathetic. But the second one of our kids takes sick, all that changes. We offer, sometimes even beg, to take the illness away from them and absorb it ourselves. We become the caregivers and back rubbers, the washcloth soakers and temperature takers. Our only focus becomes beating the crap out of whatever germ or disease or affliction has infected our kid.

Funny how that happens, isn’t it? Our paternal instinct to nurture and heal and protect our kids overrides anything else. We drop everything and hit the drugstore hard, trying to find that one brand of cough syrup or decongestant or throat lozenge that could offer them even a tiny bit of relief. We break all the rules and buy them McDonald’s french fries when they can’t stomach anything else, just to make sure they have at least something in their system. We push popsicles and lollipops and ice cream just to ensure that they stay fortified.Vitals_CoughColdOTCMeds1

And it doesn’t matter how old they are, that instinct to comfort our kids and take their pain away is timeless. When our kids get sick, whether they’re seven or seventeen, they all shrink back down to their original hobbit-sized selves in our minds. That’s just how the mind of a parent works. It’s like the minute that thermometer hits critical mass, our kids start reminding us of Tom Hanks in Big, all vulnerable and helpless, swimming in their dad’s business suit.

See, when we’re the ones who are sick, we know exactly how we feel and what we need, but when it’s one of our kids, especially the little ones who can’t communicate with words, it’s a real feeling of helplessness. And as a parent, that feeling of not being able to take your child’s pain away is one of the worst feelings imaginable.

Because let’s face it, the feeling you get when your child’s weakened voice calls to you from the other room is altogether different from the feeling you get when your husband, incapacitated by a scratchy throat and drippy nose, yells for you to get him the remote off the dresser. No offense, boys, but you know you do it.

The ironic thing is, I’ve found that my desire to take care of my kids when they’re sick has only gotten stronger as they’ve gotten older. And that’s probably because our teenage kids are usually only willing to accept our help (and affection) when they physically can’t help themselves.safe_image

I mean, think about it; every one of us knows the old trick of pretending to check our daughter’s temperature by putting our cheek against their forehead, then gently kissing them while we feign a quick temperature check. Oldest game in the book. A trick most of our kids are hip to but usually let us get away with when they really don’t feel well.

When they’re sick as teenagers, though, it’s like the electric fence most of them keeps buzzing around them temporarily shuts down and we’re allowed access. Limited access, of course, but access is access. It’s when they become needy and dependent that the walls usually come down and we’re just mommy and daddy again. Even for a short time.

It’s weird, I know. But where most of us with kids are concerned, we learn to take whatever we can get in terms of quality time with them. Especially as they get older. And even if that time involves having their fever-soaked head on our shoulder at two in the morning. Because at the end of the day, the only thing that offsets the ache of having a sick kid—for us and for them—is being the only one they want to help nurse them back to health.

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 stores.