Clean is Sexy and Other Advice for Sons: Home for the Holidays Edition

Lisa writes: Earlier this year we shared Clean is Sexy and other bits of motherly wisdom for teen and young adult sons.* As our kids come home for the holidays the impulse to shower them with even more parental guidance seemed irresistible. So along with the gifts and good cheer here is our two-cents worth of advice for sons during the holidays, or anytime.

Home for the holidays - Clean is sexy and other motherly advice for sons home for the holidays.

1. For years, your parents showered you with holiday gifts, even beating back other overzealous parents in Toys “R” Us to get you the last Talking Elmo. Now you are thinking of showing up at home for the holidays empty-handed? Who raised you? Buy something small but thoughtful that lets them know how much you appreciated your Beanie Babies, Pokemon cards and their love.

2. And while you are at it, siblings do not grow on trees. These are the only brothers and sisters you will ever have and, God willing, you will have them forever. They are the only people who will accompany you on almost your entire life’s journey. Show them some appreciation at the holidays, too.

3. If it is going to be a long night, make beer, drunk slowly, a big part of it.

4. When you were a child, holiday meals seemed to appear by magic. Now that you know the truth get off your behind and help your parents in the kitchen.

5. When you come home for the holidays you may realize how much you have missed your friends, want to spend every minute of your short stay with them and come away hoping that you will be close forever. Do not forget your parents feel the same way about you.

6. Some women love men’s hands. I am not sure why, but you might want to remember this when biting your nails.

7. Your dorm room or apartment floor may be covered in dirty clothing, indistinguishable from your laundry basket. That is your business. When you are home for the holidays things are done differently.

8. When you are driving never think, “WHAT’S the worst that could happen?” rather “What is THE worst that could happen?” and then drive accordingly.

9. Office holiday parties have long been an excuse for bad behavior. It is almost a cliché. Don’t become a cliché. The party is short and your career will be as well if you cannot remember to behave yourself.

10. Popular press will tell you to follow your dreams, but just remember you will need to afford them.

11. Being smarter or richer than someone else doesn’t make you a better person. It just makes you fortunate.

12. People who do not share their good fortune and their good cheer, especially during the holidays, but, truly, all year, are not a credit to their parents, or themselves.

13. If you want to be a better person give generously of your of your time, your wisdom and your wealth.  

14. Your dorm room looks a little bleak? Apartment just doesn’t look like home? Take the time, and it really is only a little time, to put up a few decorations for the season. It will make you feel better for weeks.

15. Eggnog only seems like a good idea at the time.

16. There is a certain level of untidiness and disorder that your parents may have learned to tolerate from you at one time. They love you so much and are so happy to have you home for the holidays that they may tolerate it from you again. Don’t make them.

17. Travel will only open your world, if you open your eyes. Just being in a new place does not mean you have experienced it.

18. WiFi is not on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Human Needs, but love is. Put down the laptop and look at the world around you, and into the eyes of those whose love matters most.

19. Never lose more at a casino than you are willing to pay for an evening’s entertainment.

20. Always keep a decent untouched bottle of wine at the ready. You never know when you will receive a last-minute invitation to dinner.

21. If you get picked for secret Santa, go with food and you will never go wrong.

22. You will overeat when you are home for the holidays, do not try to fool yourself into believing otherwise or feel guilty for a moment. Plan for it. Just add a bit more exercise and some days of sensible eating to your pre-holiday routine.

23. When you are home for the holidays and your parents have not fully acknowledged your adulthood, don’t push them. If they are not happy with sleepover guests, or hangovers or having you walking around the house, in front of guests, dressed only in boxers, try to remember it is only for a couple of days.

24. In the end it will matter less how good an athlete you were and more how good a teammate you were. Talent fades, camaraderie and memories endure.

25. Never buy the large size of popcorn. It is overpriced, oversized and only seemed like a good idea.

26. If you have a girlfriend, boyfriend or partner and you wait until the day before and cannot find the right gift, the right size, or the right color or you can, but it cannot be delivered in time, it is not the store’s fault, it is yours. Blame no one but yourself.

27. A working knowledge of 1970s and 80s rock will make you happy and a stand-out in trivia contests.

28. Eating too much turkey once a year is not overindulgence, it is your birthright as an American. Go ahead, enjoy.

29. The first days of any experience are recorded in our minds in bright living color with routine dulling the memories of later days. Take it all in during those early days.

30. Manners are more important in the digital age when we are lacking the subtleties of facial expressions. Forget yours at your peril.

31. You are not a little kid anymore. If you are going to do something that might not thrill your parents, don’t just try to get away with it, talk to them first. They are proud that you are grown up and make your own decisions. They have no interest in seeing your inner 14-year-old.

32. Learn to cook at least one truly great meal. Underwhelming people with your cooking will never lead to good things.

33. Who you are working for can be every bit as important as what you are doing. Interview prospective bosses as they interview you, politely.

34. Holding doors open, paying for a check or swinging by and picking someone up may be old-fashioned, but that does not mean that those kindnesses will not engender gratitude.

35. Read great books, even if you read them slowly and infrequently. They will keep you in touch with human history.

36. Keep your mind open to other people’s life choices, and be happy for them.

37. Envy serves no useful purpose and is often misplaced. All too often we are mistaken about others’ lives so mind your own knitting.

38. Benjamin Franklin only had it two-thirds right. To the list of death and taxes, add your parent’s love.

39. Your parents cheered you on when you took your first step, rode your first bike and started your first summer job. Listen for that cheering sound when you most need it, I promise it will always be there for you.

* In the earlier post we remind our kids that, “Clean is sexy. Thoughtful is sexy. Being blindingly drunk is pathetic.”

Photo credit: SalzerE

How Long Does it Take to Hear 30 Million Words?

Many parents do it thoughtlessly. We prattle on, speaking words first to babies and then later to toddlers that they have no way of understanding. We do it to keep them engaged, to fill the silence of hours spent with our children who are not yet verbal. Later as they learn to speak, we chatter to illicit their imitation, to model patterns of speech. Often we just speak a stream of consciousness, a narration of our actions, thinking that the sing-song of our voices and the animation of our expressions that will entertain our tiny child.

No one told us to chatter like this, but maybe our mothers did the same to us. Now scientists and doctors tell us that our endless speaking, the stream of thousands, and eventually millions, of words that we rain down on our children, is the best possible preparation for their later education.

Neighbors Link, child in school,

While formal education for children in the United States begins at age three, four or as late as five, researchers have shown that there is a word gap that has already opened up between 18 month olds from poorer and wealthier families. By age three, children from wealthier homes have heard an astounding 30 million more words than those from poorer homes. That gap only widens and the effects are felt in the classroom, according to the New York Times, “Since oral language and vocabulary are so connected to reading comprehension, the most disadvantaged children face increased challenges once they enter school and start learning to read.”

While there is much demand from the public for expanded early childhood education, the deficit starts so early that even children lucky enough to be in a preschool program at three have already fallen behind. “That gap just gets bigger and bigger,” said Kris Perry, executive director of the First Five Years Fund, an advocate of early education for low-income children. “That gap is very real and very hard to undo.”

Neighbors Link, child and teacher

The answer begins in the home with parents acting as their children’s first teachers. I have been inspired by the work of a program in Mt. Kisco, New York, called Neighbors Link Northern Westchester which works with immigrant families showing parents how early language and verbal interaction, in either Spanish or English, is essential to their children’s educational development. Similar programs exist throughout the country but do not come close to meeting the need.

At Neighbors Link, parents work with their birth-to-four year olds and trained parent educators, to find ways to help their children be successful in thriving in a bicultural family and preparing them for transition to school. This is not flash card learning or drilling kids on their colors or body parts. Rather parents are shown how to incorporate, questions, conversation, and importantly reading and probing dialogue into their family’s daily lives. It is a parent centered, child focused program that uses evidence informed programs to teach parents about early childhood learning and how it can best be practiced.

Neighbors Link, child in school

Earlier this month the American Academy of Pediatrics announced a policy whereby their members would recommend that parents read to their children from infancy. “If we can get that first 1,000 days of life right,” said Dr. Dipesh Navsaria, an assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health told The New York Times, “we’re really going to save a lot of trouble later on and have to do far less remediation.”

The families who come to Neighbors Link are inspiring. They have left their communities and their homes to find opportunity for their families. Often they have faced the obstacles of poverty, language and culture to help their children successfully navigate a new home. By coming to a well staffed community center, welcoming home visits from parent educators and participating in programs like “Parents as Teachers” and “Parent Child Together” they are taking steps from their child’s very first days to overcome these obstacles, to close the language gap for their children.  Learn more about the work of Neighbors Link in Parent Education. 

Neighbors Link, child and mother

As the school year begins, too many children are already falling behind. We are 1 of 30 bloggers helping #FindtheWords with @SavetheChildren to raise awareness of the need for early childhood education for all kids.

Save the Children provides kids in need with access to books, essential learning support and a literacy-rich environment. Learn more about Save the Children’s work in the US and around the world. We participating in this social media campaign to highlight 30 words in 30 days — to symbolize the 30 million fewer words that children from low-income homes hear by age three.


#FindtheWords #Inspire


#FindtheWord #Inspire

Joining Rob Lowe in the Empty Nest

Mary Dell writes: The moment our son grabbed the car keys for his first solo drive, I had the proud/heartsick feeling of watching him begin to separate from me. This August, when we drop our daughter at her freshman dorm, I will return to the very quiet house I first imagined as I saw him drive away eight years ago. While my kids have been growing up and increasingly growing away, I have been moving along the empty nest on-ramp. Soon I will arrive at my destination.

This post is sponsored by Life Reimagined

With nearly 22 million students attending American colleges and universities, I am part of a massive cohort. Turns out that one of my empty nest “buddies” is Rob Lowe, who described this moment in a parent’s life as well as anyone possibly could in Love Life:

I’m trying to remember when I felt like this before. Like an el­ephant is sitting on my chest, like my throat is so tight and constricted that I can feel its tendons, like my eyes are 100 percent water, spilling out at will, down pathways on my face that have been dry for as long as I can think of. I’m trying to remember: When was the last time my heart was breaking?

It will be Lisa, not Rob, joining me at Starbucks to weep in our lattes. Friends since our soon-to-be-freshmen were in third grade together, we launched Grown and Flown to write about the stage of family life when kids begin to slip through parental fingers. Taking another lesson from Rob:

Through the grief I feel a rising embarrassment. “Jesus Christ, pull yourself together, man!” I tell myself. There are parents sending their kids off to battle zones, or putting them into rehabs and many other more legitimately emotional situations, all over our country. How dare I feel so shattered? What the hell is going on?

I realize that writing about an empty nest and living in one are not the same thing, just like sitting, big-bellied and cross-legged on the floor while a Lamaze teacher talks about labor pain is not at all like enduring contractions. The only way to understand childbirth is to have a baby. Ditto the empty nest.

So the question I ponder is how prepared I am for living a life that is no longer kid-centric. For both SAHMs and working moms, once their youngest leaves for college, life is never again as it was. This month I will say goodbye to much that has created structure in my life and taken up precious real estate on my September-June calendar. No longer will I volunteer for the PTA, watch my kids play sports, or sprint to the grocery store to pull together a family dinner.

What I may miss the most is sitting down with cheese and crackers and my kids at the kitchen table after school. I have adored hearing the precious bits they reveal about their days and know that much of the info I  get come August will be delivered in a text message, no longer face-to-face.

It has been our good fortune at Grown and Flown to have met, both on-line and in person, countless other parents who are nearing or already in their empty nest phase. Many are working hard to make this pivot point in their lives less about mourning the loss of little children in the house and more about personal re-creation. We have learned from and been inspired by them and many ask the same question: What next?

Madeline Levine, psychologist and author of Teach Your Children Well  has written about this time in life:

The chaotic diversions inherent in raising children cease, and we suddenly find ourselves with time to reflect. What did we do right? Where did we fail? How do we spend our remaining time? And who will show up to help with the transition?

It wouldn’t be that hard to make this transition more pleasant — and more productive. First of all, it would be useful if we began to think about post-parenting years long before they arrive.

As my kids began to grow more independent, I began to change how I spent my time. I started volunteering with my dog at a hospital  and traveled more with my husband. I reconnected with my college, exploring the varied resources offered to alumni. But even with Grown and Flown to keep me busy writing and connected online, I wonder what else I should and can be doing now that my active, in-the-house-mothering days are drawing to a close.

Last weekend, ironically, while Mother’s Day was winding down, I finished a book that creates a framework for seeking the answers to the what next question. Life Reimagined: Discovering Your New Possibilities had me at page 2: “It is a map and guidance system to help people navigate a new phase of life.” Written by bestselling author Richard J. Leider and Fast Company co-founding editor, Alan M. Webber, Life Reimagined is both a book and an interactive website  created under the auspices of the AARP.

There are personal stories of both ordinary individuals and celebrities like former Today Show anchor Jane Pauley  and musician/producer Emilio Estefan all of whom experienced trigger moments that lead them, successfully, down a new path.

It is this new path I will search for in the aftermath of saying goodbye to my youngest child. As Rob describes how he felt watching his son turn to walk back into the dorm:

I close in to hug him, but he puts just one arm around me, a half hug. “Peace,” he says, a phrase I’d never heard him use until he said the same thing to his little brother in the driveway. Then he turns on his heel and strides away. From his body lan­guage I know he won’t turn to look back; I know why and I’m glad. I watch him until I can’t see him anymore, until he’s swallowed up by his new friends and his new life.

This post is sponsored by Life Reimagined, a guide to answering your own What’s next? questions. All opinions are my own.

Getting Ready for High School Begins in Sixth Grade

Lisa writes: Ahhhh…the beauty, the certainty of 20/20 hindsight.  As my youngest nears the end of high school, I have been thinking about what allows kids to perform at their best and enjoy their four years to the fullest.  What do I wish I had known as my kids turned 12 that would have helped them in getting ready for high school? If I had it to do again…

Misc.School Bus.IMG_0094_2_2

Do one thing well

I would make sure, if possible, that my child was above average at a sport, music, art or another activity.  Not get-recruited-at-a-D1-school good, but get-picked-for-the-JV-team good. Part of high school is finding your place and that is much easier to do if you are selected for the orchestra or given a role in the school play.  I know educators advocate the benefits of being well-rounded, but competence and accomplishment breed self-esteem and social well-being.

 Sleep is an elixir

I would teach my kids that sleep is the elixir of the gods. It repairs sick bodies. It allows teens to perform better intellectually and athletically. It improves mood and helps maintain healthy weight. Teach your child to worship at the altar of an eight-hour night’s sleep and you have set them up for life.

Look away from the screen

I would work long and hard helping my child develop the ability to concentrate on books or art or anything but an electronic screen. Success in high school results from a level of concentration on the written word that can be challenging for a 14-year-old. I would make them read books, even if it meant tying them to a chair in order to do so.

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We Have to Talk About This, Now

Mary Dell writes: “If I get hit by a bus” is the preamble I use before imparting to my kids some bit of information that I may not be here to tell them later. Although I am not given to gloomy thoughts about my future, I am occasionally reminded by how suddenly one can be knocked off an optimistic trajectory.  On a flight last Saturday night, during turbulence that made the trip feel more like a roller coaster than an airplane,  my confidence was shaken along with the plane. By the time I got home, I decided I could no longer procrastinate and needed to talk to my kids, soon, about the future.

We have to talk about this now, talking with our adult children

Aren’t We Too Young For This?

Pew research reports that 63% of the 75 million baby boomers have at least one adult child. At 18, kids step onto the road toward adulthood, with college, work and the beginning of their own futures. Our relationship with our children changes at this juncture and we expect them to appreciate, possibly for the first time, adult topics regarding home, health, and finances. Acknowledging them as adults, rather than continuing to treat them as children, means trusting them with important family information. Further, while we discuss and reveal arrangements for our future, we model the responsible planning that they, someday, may remember and emulate.

Yes, We Have to Talk About This, Now

Experts agree about the value of involving our older children in the conversation, although they acknowledge it is a talk most of us would rather skip.  Lori R. Sackler, financial advisor and author of The M Word, discusses the topic of communicating with our adult kids.

She says the question she is most often asked by her clients is “What’s the best way to tell our grown children about estate plans without creating a family drama?” She cautions, “Families don’t do enough to prepare their heirs for the handoff. It’s like giving your 16- year old son the keys to your car without a driving lesson.”

In a recent Wall Street Journal article,  The Inheritance Conversation. Ugh. columnist Veronica Dagher, cautions that “For many parents, it is easier to talk to their children about sex than money.” She adds  “waiting too long to discuss the issue, or avoiding the conversation altogether, is a bad idea, financial advisors say. It can cause confusion, mistrust and leave heirs unprepared to manage the family’s wealth.”

How to Start?

This month, AARP launched a new website, Decide.Create.Share.

Written for midlife women, Decide.Create.Share. is a comprehensive resource and template for long-term planning. The basic goal of DCS is to help each of us decide on what we want and need for the future, create a plan to help us achieve these goals, and learn to share our plans with important people in our lives. A 40 Day Pledge included on the site provided motivation and structure for me to review the plans my husband and I already have in place and think through the information we want to impart to our nearly grown kids, now 17 and 22.

I signed the pledge and have begun to answer each prompt. DCS is easy to navigate with state-specific details and checklists. My personal favorite is the three-page “Valuable Documents at Your Fingertips.” Like the long-ago intricate instructions and contact names we left babysitters,  this serves much the same purpose for our now, grown-up babies.

In one spot I have collected contact information for doctors, lawyers, accountants, banks and people to alert in case of emergencies. Financial, medical, and insurance information is included along with personal data (locations for social security numbers, birth and marriage certificates.) Finally, though I would rather remain in denial about it, there is a section for our final wishes.

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