The Eldest Son Has Returned

Sue Robins, a guest blogger, writes: My eldest son has returned home from a five-week band tour of 26 cities and 30 shows. He zigged across America to New York City in his black van crammed with band members, zagged back to LA, and then zoomed up the west coast to Canada. In the pictures I saw on Facebook, he grew a fuzzy beard and appeared to wear the same slowly deteriorating sleeveless t-shirt for several weeks at a time.

eldest son

He is now 21 years old, and is supposed to be in his third year of college. He is supposed to be living in a decent walk-up apartment near campus, climbing on a bus every day and dutifully attending his classes. Then he is supposed to graduate with a general degree that leads him to practical, but soulless jobs through his 20’s, before settling into a career. He is supposed to do that because that’s exactly what I did. He has decent high school grades, a scholarship, and parents who diligently saved for his tuition. Instead, he has chosen the life of a drummer, complete with grit, adventure and bonus life experience. This boy has ventured very far from his mother’s comfort zone.

He’s an alien to my friends, whose adult children are doing what they are supposed to do. I’ve lost count of the blank looks and the abrupt changes in conversation that I’ve endured when they discover he’s not in college. I’m wondering, though: aren’t I a member of an underground group of parents, whose children are taking a different, non-college path in life? Aren’t there kids out there who don’t have the grades, financial support, or will to go to post-secondary? And isn’t that ok too?

My son has never done what he’s supposed to do. He was a willful child, right from birth, and always had a very clear sense of who he is. He is a punk rock musician, not a college student, and these two things are mutually exclusive.

He’s currently in between tours, so he’s living in the back of his van, sleeping on a futon mattress shoved between the seats. He’s parked in a friend’s alley, and uses their kitchen and bathroom for a weekly fee. I’ve have pleaded with him to move back home. But he firmly shakes his head, steadfast and resolute.

When he was 14 and had a dyed red faux-hawk, he used to tease me and say that when he grew up he wanted to live in a van by the side of the river.

I realize now that he wasn’t kidding.

I pick him up for our lunch date at a prescribed street corner. I’m happy to see you, I say, as he folds himself into the car. He turns to me and a wide grin spreads across his face, I’m happy to see you too, Mom, he says. He’s relaxed, tanned, and in wiry shape. His little brother Aaron is with us, and he’s greeted with a rousing ‘Hey Goose’ and a high-five. There’s some friendly razzing, arm punching and an impromptu burping contest.

“Let’s do Indian food,”  my eldest suggests and we are off to an all-you-can-eat buffet, where we happily tuck in plates of garlic naan, vegetable pakora, dal and chickpea curry. He and Aaron slurp mango juice and wrestle in the restaurant booth.

“How was your tour?” I ask, not able to fathom a road trip of such epic proportions. He’s 25 years my junior and has travelled to more American cities that I can ever hope to see in my lifetime. His eyes are brightly shining – “It was pretty consistently exciting,” he says.

Most of us live our lives small, and in fear – all in the name of being comfortable and stable. My son has not taken that route. He lives life large and out loud. He’s worked steadily at a job since he was 15, saving money to buy drum sticks, a dilapidated van and gas money to go on tour. He works to tour. He’s the most ambitious and resourceful person I know. He is unapologetic about doing what he loves, and he lives free from fear of judgment. I’m beginning to realize that fear of judgment is what keeps the rest of us small.

After our lunch, I drop the two brothers at a movie. My eldest, 6’2″, ambles beside tiny Aaron. They have a pocketful of change to play video games. My musician son has his arm draped casually across his youngest brother’s shoulder. My tears well up seeing this tender gesture, and afterwards, I sit in the car for a long time. I have one adult son – wild, unencumbered and resistant to authority. My youngest son, born with an extra chromosome, is persistent and full of life.

Here I am, a suburban mom, closing in on fifty, and I’m learning life lessons from my young, diverse sons. Here’s what they’ve taught me – they nudge me subtly and gently towards this question, as they ask: Mom, what would you do if you weren’t afraid?

Sue Robins is a writer, speaker and mother of three. She’s passionate about motherhood, kids with differences, storytelling and nurturing kindness & compassion in the health care & education systems. She blogs at: www.suerobins.com.

Sue Robins

Photo credits: Sue Robins

Empty Nest Rant: Come, Chat, Share, Rant, Brag, Complain

Lisa writes: If you were bringing home a new baby there would be blogs, online conversations and shared advice, galore. But your kid is moving out, or moving towards the day she will move out, and suddenly the internet has left you on your own. Here you are facing the second biggest transition in parenting and there seems to be no community for support. Not so.

Come join us, tell us your thoughts, begin a conversation and meet other moms who are very much sharing your experiences, or different ones. Tell us what you really think, why you love this stage or why it hurts and what you hope for the future.

Kids never call, feel free to rant. Kids won’t move out, we want to hear that too. You miss them until they actually show up with all their crap and decamp in your living room? Yeah we get that. And if you have found that nearly perfect balance with your young adult child, please share your secrets!! Come, chat, share, rant, brag, complain, make a new friend, respond to a post…in the comments section below.

 

Empty Nest: Would You Do It All Again?

Lisa writes: I recently heard the story of a friend, who turned to his wife as they dropped of their youngest child at her college dorm and said, “…as I was saying.”

The conversation between the spouses that was interrupted nearly two decades earlier could now resume. While this was surely said in jest, there is an element of truth to the fact that active parenthood is a long, loving interruption to our adulthood that, once the kids are gone, can resume in one form or another where we left off.

Empty Nest: Would You Do it All Again?

In that vein, I have noticed a few things about life without kids:

It would be easier to like living in an empty nest, if it had a different name. I would rather not define the next few decades by what is absent from my life.

The journey to the empty nest is an adjustment, every bit as big as the adjustment to having children. It will come in phases, some filled with great pride and joy, others with tears. It mirrors the experience we had 18 years earlier. With a lot more sleep.

The grocery store has more hidden memories and reminders than is possible to imagine. Every aisle seems to contain someone’s favorite food and the tiny bout of nostalgia that goes with it.

In the same way that a world of mom friends opened up to me when my first child was born, there is a world of empty nest moms who are happy to make dinner plans on a school night. And there are no school nights.

The shell shock of having this wondrous stage of your family life abruptly come to an end takes much longer than three weeks to recover.

My kids, God love them, were utter pigs who felt no compulsion to put anything away. While I always suspected this, now the evidence can now be seen in my home and in their dorm rooms.

My husband is neater than I once believed. I think he may have been tarred with the brush of my messy kids.

The low fuel light on my car never lights up, a sight that often greeted me first thing in the morning.

No matter how much focus you promise yourself you will give to your spouse, kids at every age are an incessant distraction. It is truly a gift after the chaos of the last two decades to find him still here.

An empty nest comes with a certain feeling of lightness, of having set down a heavy load. Even on the days when you are physically free of your kids, they are in daycare, school or at a friend’s house, you are not psychologically free of their day-to-day lives until they have left home.

You never realize how loud your kitchen appliances are until your kids leave home.

Activities that once felt like a burden, the carpools, the practices that ran late or the 11pm Saturday night pick up, were actually wonderful moments to share with other parents, moments that it are easy to miss now.

College kids may be homesick, they may miss the comfort of their own beds, but a teen who is ready for college will move onto their new life at a speed that will make your head spin. We may pine for the past 18 years but, if all goes right, they will barely look back.

Kids come with mountains of garbage from the first baby swing to the last discarded backpack and I will miss not one item of their belongings. Purging your home after your kids leave is like finally cleaning out the minivan; you had no idea how bad it was until you started.

The silence that comes with an empty nest is both slightly disquieting and oh so nice, all at the same time.

Only teens mess up a kitchen in the middle of the night. No teens, no mess.

All of the jokes about college kids and laundry turn out to be true. That first panicked phone call or text really will have to do with mixing brights and whites.

After decades in my home my children do not seem to know how often their sheets were washed. This will be the second call.

At some point, visiting your kid on their college campus, seeing the classes they are taking and friends they are making, you will forget how happy you are for them and in a bout of extreme envy, want to be them.

And finally the empty nest is going to be great, this I really do believe. But the truth is, I would do it all over again, in a heartbeat.

“The Biggest Mistake”

Lisa writes: We remember the big moments. Cameras out, we record, first steps, nursery school graduation, a big game and college drop off. But there are so many other moments, seemingly small points in time that somehow slip away. A wise friend said to me that she could barely remember the sensation of leaning over a crib and scooping a sleepy baby into her arms, though she has four grown sons and must have lifted them up hundreds of times.

children at beach, beach vacation Looking back, I wonder if those weren’t the big moments, after all. I wish I had recorded in my mind or my camera those unnoticed minutes and hours that slipped by, the ones that I only now realize are what truly mattered. Like so many things about parenting, Anna Quindlen said it best:

But the biggest mistake I made is the one that most of us make while doing this. I did not live in the moment enough. This is particularly clear now that the moment is gone, captured only in photographs. There is one picture of the three of them sitting in the grass on a quilt in the shadow of the swing set on a summer day, ages six, four, and one. And I wish I could remember what we ate, and what we talked about, and how they sounded, and how they looked when they slept that night. I wish I had not been in such a hurry to get on to the next thing: dinner, bath, book, bed. I wish I had treasured the doing a little more and the getting it done a little less.

Moments I wish I could remember:

The first time you have a coffee with your kid and enjoy this very adult ritual together. The quiet morning, the milky coffee, the two of you beginning another day together.

The first time your child is lost in a book. They cannot see or hear because a wonderful author (to whom you will always be grateful) has swept them away.

Leaving our kids at their new dorm room door is an emotional moment, but the real milestone is sometime in that first semester when they realize that, despite how ready they were to leave, how they hated us all summer and counted the days until move-in, some part of them misses home and their very own bed.

The day they show you something technological that you didn’t know. This happens at a disarmingly early age and at the same time you are overwhelmed by both pride and mild embarrassment. It is a tough to look like an idiot in front of an eight year old.

The whole process of learning and communicating is a revelation in children, but the first time your child understands an abstract concept is nothing short of miraculous. Ditto the first time she reads a word.

The first time we bathe our child and the last time.

The first time they are sick in the night and do not call for us. I learned that my parent medical license had been revoked one morning with one of my high school sons said he had been sick all night, “but didn’t want to bother me by waking me up.” This was a child who woke me up every single night for the first four years of his life. I should have marked this turn of events with applause but instead I felt a little wistful.

It is a disheartening day when your tween decides that you no longer know or understand anything. It is an equally welcome day when your twenty-something realizes that you do. I wish I had remember the day the contempt began and had the wherewithal to remind myself that it would end.

Mark Twain’s dictum may be the best thing ever written about the evolution of teens:

When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years.

It is a big moment in every parent’s life the first time their child sleeps through the night. But even when this blessed day comes, they still seem to rise well before dawn. And then one day they don’t. One morning I are stood in my strangely quiet kitchen and realized that my children were still asleep in bed. It is a morning worth recalling.

The first time they go to the movies with you and sit through a full length film. It is that moment when the curtains peel back and the big screen appears, when you see your child’s eye widen in amazement. A little afraid of the dark, my kids crawled into my lap to snuggle, during a showing of Babe. It was a bigger moment for me than any show I have seen on Broadway.

The first time your child is in real trouble. It may be at school, or a ticket for speeding, or a car crash they never saw coming. In an instant their swagger is gone as the full enormity of their action bears down upon them.

The first time they keep a secret. Their first secret often entails a surprise gift for mom or dad crafted in the classroom. Prior to this they have been unable to contain themselves, spilling their every thought, and then one day they keep a secret from you. It is a seminal moment.

Each family has their own moments and for each parent they are so different. It is so easy to have them slip by, so easy to think that the big moments will be obvious when, in fact, they are not. The milestones of childhood are deceptively quiet and sometimes get lost in the noise of far more traditional celebrations or simply everyday life. Anna Quindlen says the problem is not living in the moment, failing to treasure the now over the later, and, of course, she is right. But an equally big challenge is even recognizing childhood’s important moments as they are happening.

With great thanks to our friend and photographer, TBKilman, whose beautiful images provide the illustrations for so many of our posts.  The photo above, a family “moment” is one of our favorites. 

 

On Remembrance Day, Thoughts on Living in London

Lisa writes: Living in London for twelve years was an unforgettable time in my life and, looking back, there are many things I miss. Today, on Remembrance Day, my thoughts take me there.

Remembrance Day, poppies, living in London, Kate Middleton, Prince William

1. The richness of the English language.

I have no facility with foreign languages yet living in the UK I felt as though I had relearned my own. Every day someone used a word I had to think about, or used a word I knew in an entirely unfamiliar context. Every day my vocabulary and use of the language were enriched in unexpected ways.

2. Living in London always holds surprises.

Turn a corner and there is a tiny church, so small and perfect that if you were in a rush you would never see it. Look straight ahead and you could miss a row of mews houses tucked away down a narrow alley way. I could walk down the same street over and over and each time find something new.

living in London

 3. I never knew the back story.

I lived in a world where people made constant reference to cultural touchstones that I did not posses. It was like being a foreigner, but not a foreigner, like being on the inside of the jokes, about half the time. Struggling with cultural context is always eye-opening.

Covent Garden soaps, London

4. Brits make fun of themselves.

They are masters at self-deprecation and the understated compliment, fine arts that I came to truly appreciate.

5. National elections are short.

British elections last for a month, or maybe two, and then they are over and done and the topic is not revisited for many years. I feel in this, Americans have much to learn.

6. School uniforms are perfect.

Nothing is easier for a mom than school uniforms and since every kid in the country wears them…no discussion, no complaints. And my sons looked adorable in their jackets and ties.

7. I miss the poppies on Remembrance Day.

The difference between America and England is that Americans think 100 years is a long time, while the English think 100 miles is a long way. I read this Earle Hitchner quote shortly after arriving in Britain and it stayed with me every day. Almost 100 years after the Armistice Britains wear poppies because 1918 was not ancient history, 1066 was. History In Britain is a living thing and I am reminded of that every November 11, RemembranceDay.

Tower of London by Ian Capper

Photo Credit: Ian Vogler, Daily Mirror: High Street Kensington Underground Station 7th Nov 2013 The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge Join RAF personnel to sell Poppies today ahead of remembrance Sunday.

Photo Credit: Ian Capper, Tower of London, copyright by Creative Commons.

 

The More Things Change…

Lisa writes: Growing up in the 1970’s, in a swirl of social change, it was easy to see that the world we would inhabit as adults would be radically altered from that of our childhood.  So far, this has proven to be true. But humans only change so fast and there at things that remain unaltered and leave me wondering why.

vintage-couple1
 

Marriage

Ask a group of married woman what the most important decision of their lives was and a large number will say it was the choice of a spouse.  Yet women wait for men to ask them for their hands in marriage.  We grab the reins of our lives pursuing education and employment and in both we demand to be treated as equals.  And then, we wait…for a ring, for a proposal, for him to make up his mind…and leave this crucial moment in our lives in the hands of men.

Sports

Title IX was passed in 1972, thereby requiring that girls have equal access to athletics from kindergarten through college.  We urge our daughters to participate in sports and stand on the sidelines cheering them on.  And, yet, the audience for and interest in women’s sports is a tiny fraction of that of men’s athletics.  We give women’s sports our money, but not our interest, why?

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When the Pilot Says…I Have Some Bad News

Lisa writes: Last night I flew home from Chicago with my blogging buddies, Mary Dell and Theresa. We were there for BlogHer13, a long, exhausting and truly wonderful conference and, by the time we boarded the plane, we were ready to embrace our families and our beds. We had rushed to O’Hare, eaten foul junk food and were cruising at 30,000 feet when the pilot announced through the staticky PA system.  “Folks, I am afraid I have some bad news.”

some bad news, BlogHer13, Cleveland, flying into Cleveland

 

From that point a garbled message ensued. For a moment, I wondered why pilots in the Midwest seem to address passengers as “Folks” and in the East we are elevated to “Ladies and Gentlemen.” But then I realized that he had said, “Bad News.”  Bad news in flying covers a wide range of possibilities in my experience.  Bad news has been a 20-minute delay or some turbulence ahead.  Bad news was once the back door left unsealed and the plane not pressurized.  But this bad news was not that bad news. It was the dreaded words, “We have a mechanical problem and are headed back to Cleveland or Chicago.” It is never comforting to learn that the pilot does not know the plane’s destination.

Boarding the plane, the three of us made a new friend, noted cookbook author and blogging chef, Katie Workman.  Five minutes into the flight, we had filled in each other on our experiences at BlogHer13, where she had been honored.  In fifteen minutes we had covered husbands, kids, careers and our blogs and, by the time of the Bad News, we had known each other forever, which turned out to be a good thing.

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Sally Koslow Writes the Book on Reinvention

Mary Dell writes: Sally Koslow is a friend and was my writing teacher at Sarah Lawrence College.  The story of her success, including the publication this month of The Widow Waltz, and dark moments of her career are an inspiring story of reinvention.  She spills all:

Sally Koslow, Sally Koslow's The Widow Waltz, reinvention, summer fiction

 

From Sally Koslow:

Once upon a time—a long time, 30+ years—I was a magazine editor, the job for which I felt I was born. A shy kid, I learned to manage that handicap as I scaled the consecrated trajectory of high school newspaper editor/college English major/hometown newspaper intern/college town newspaper obit writer/moony poet. By the time I presented my still-reserved Midwestern self to Manhattan’s Conde Nast–which I was too big of a yokel at 21 to realize was the ooh-la-la of publishing companies–I had a fat portfolio of clippings. They helped land a job at Mademoiselle, a powder puff-y magazine with a literary edge: Sylvia Plath had once been a guest editor and the masthead prided itself on back-in-the-day, publishing the likes of Truman Capote and W.H. Auden and at the moment, Barbara Kingsolver and Jane Smiley.

In the 70s intense female ambition hadn’t yet reared its feverish head. No one expected to reach the top fast. Or ever. This allowed me to loll around MLLE until after having a child at 28, I became a freelance writer. When my son was four I returned to another magazine staff and began to rise in various ranks until McCall’s anointed me as its editor-in-chief in 1994.

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Chobani: Nothing But Good

Lisa writes: I would not buy a product simply because the founder is a small businessman who has a passion for entrepreneurship and who donates 10% of all the proceeds.  I would not buy a product simply because the company has invested in the towns in which they have their plants and the employees are insanely passionate about the company.  I would not buy a product because they have a trendy new store in NYC that sells flavors and combinations that make your head spin.   Or would I? One word, “Chobani.”

What if it tasted amazing and had incomparable health benefits?  What if it was fat-free, portion-controlled, all real and came in flavors like Pomegranate and Passion Fruit?

Chobani Greek yogurt, Greek yogurt, calcium for women

At Grown and Flown, you are not used to hearing us talk about products, but there is one product that Mary Dell and I are so obsessed with that we had to explore further. Their stylish website was a perfect place to begin.

When we discovered a shared craving for the little cups of yogurt and fruit we set out to meet the Chobani people who make our day, every morning.  You might call us Yogurt Groupies.

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College Graduates in the Age of Harry Potter

Mary Dell writes: Congratulations to the college graduates in the class of 2013. In addition to having their degrees in hand, they also have the distinction of spending their childhoods during a time that could forever be known as “The Age of Harry Potter.”

My son, one of these nearly 2 million graduates, texted me from the processional line forming on the far side of the college quad, “here with the faculty wearing Harry Potter robes.”  His analogy was apt.  Not only did he and all of his friends have on black gowns, but the array of academic regalia included shockingly colorful decoration. On graduation day, a history professor might lack only a wand to complete his transformation to real life Hogwart‘s teacher.

Academic Regalia for faculty, faculty robes at graduation, college graduates, graduation procession

It is no wonder that Harry Potter images came readily to mind. For once upon a time, in the fall of 1998, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone barreled into the US. From it’s September 1 release date, our son’s generation (and their parents) began to fall under J. K. Rowling’s literary spell. Here are ways their childhood was uniquely enhanced by her creativity:

Reading Harry Potter became a family bedtime tradition.  None of us dared miss a single adventure during those wonderful read-aloud days.  As each new book in the series was released (1998-2007)  families clamored to midnight bookstore openings or sat on doorsteps, waiting for the Amazon package to arrive.

The first movie came out in 2001 and a real little boy replaced our imaginary Harry. The three stars of the show, Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson, were born in 1989, 1988, 1990. Had any of us lived in their neighborhoods, our same-aged children might have been playmates. Instead, the actors devoted a decade of their lives to entertaining our kids…and the rest of the world.

Harry, Ron, and Hermione, Danielle Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, college graduates

The last movie, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2, was released in the summer of 2009, shortly after ‘13’s completed high school. We saw the movie as a family and the parallels were not lost on any of us. Tears were unavoidable while I watched Harry, Ron and Hermione complete their Hogwarts days. Having observed them grow up on the big screen, I would miss seeing more of them. It was akin to how I felt about my son and his friends, also moving on from high school.

college graduates, Harry, Ron, and Hermione, Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson

In real life, college tour guides began to include any building that looked remotely like Hogwarts. In December ‘09, The Choice blog in The New York Times quoted then-senior, Lauren Edelson. She explained why so many of the collegiate volunteer guides pointed out Hogwartian similarities: “Most of us have grown up adoring Harry Potter and, through J. K. Rowling’s books, we’ve escaped many times into the world she created.” There could be no argument on Harvard’s tour, peeking inside Annenberg Hall, the freshman dining room.

Annenberg Hall at Harvard, Harvard college tour, college buildings that look like Hogwarts, college graduates

The imaginary sport of Quidditch became real. Never underestimate the power of bored college students to create an enduring tradition. The sport that began at Middlebury College in Vermont in 2005 is now played at 1000 colleges and high schools. The first Quidditch World Cup competition was staged in New York five years later.  As the IQA website states, it is “The only fantasy sport that will make you break a sweat.”

Childhood bookshelves have a set of first editions.  The first book, published in the UK as Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, had a production run of only 500 copies and is an extremely rare collector’s item. Though the millions of copies printed for the later volumes have little value beyond their price, perhaps the sale of a set of seven original hardcover Harry Potters might one day help with a future grandchild’s college tuition, if a desperate need arises.

Harry, Ron and Hermione have all graduated from their Harry Potter lives.  Daniel Radcliffe is a film and stage superstar. Rupert Grint is better known for his work in indy films. Emma Watson is both a muse for Burberry and a film star, starring in Bling Ring, a film about thieves preying on celebrities opening June 14.   They have moved beyond the film series like our own college graduates are doing now, just with incredible wealth and fame!

The Harry Potter era was concurrent with childhood for this class of college graduates. Though pop culture will forever sprout stars and trends, will one ever equal this phenomenon? Furthermore, with the growth of e-readers and decline in bookstores, there will be no mass excitement of rushing to buy the latest volume at the stroke of midnight. Yet, Harry Potter is a masterful work of fiction and will endure for generations because of J. K. Rowling’s words on the page.

If and when my son has his own child, I hope to be able to participate in a read-aloud journey with my future grandchild. Oh, the stories I can tell her about her dad and the age of Harry Potter.

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Fatherly Sayings for Father’s Day

Mary Dell writes, thinking about Father’s Day: From the very moment we become parents, we nourish our baby with words.  We coo and sing lullabies to our newborn and delight in his every linguistic response. Soon we add expressions – sometimes those we learned from our own parents – to teach a lesson or impart a value.  At this, my father excelled, and I know I am the better for it.

father's day, dad and daughter, father and daughter

Dad was a country-boy at heart and had a folksy way of speaking.  A petroleum engineer, he traveled around the world analyzing oil and gas fields. Whether he was in a boardroom on Wall Street or sitting at our kitchen table talking to my sister and me, he remained grounded by his boyhood in Pecos, Texas. As Father’s Day nears, I remember him and his favorite fatherly sayings:

He was pragmatic – he owned his own business, managing it amidst the extreme cyclicality of the energy industry.  “The sun don’t shine on the same dog’s tail all the time” was both his worldview and how he helped his daughters cope with their own periodic disappointments or moments of good fortune.

He was sympathetic – “Hard to get all your raccoons up one tree” was his way of saying that he understood the frustration of not achieving goals, whether they were mine, his corporate ones or those of a hunting dog.

He was kind – Dad was one of the least judgemental people I have ever known and approached everyone he encountered as an equal: “We are all ignorant.  We’re just ignorant about different things.”

He was optimistic –  “Even a blind sow can find an acorn from time to time.” He fully believed that acorns were there in abundance, waiting to be stumbled upon.

A family friend once described my father to my mother this way: “Jimmie would smile at the devil.”  He was good-natured, curious about people, and found striking up conversations with perfect strangers the most natural thing in the world.

dad and daughters

On Father’s Day, I feel the loss of Dad in my life but am grateful that he lived until 80, long enough to know my two children. On occasion, I pull out one of these phrases to use with them. They knew their grandfather well and recognize his words. They smile in response, sharing a memory of Dad.

The Generation Gap Isn’t What it Used to Be

Lisa writes: The generation gap that separated me from my parents was defined by our views on music, sex, skirt lengths, the Vietnam War and Richard Nixon’s presidency. My whole goal in shopping was to buy things my parents hated. But my children and I like the same music, have similar politics and shop for clothes in the same stores. The issues that separate me from my offspring are of an entirely different nature.

Where has the generation gap gone?  Once defined by cultural touchstones and political splits, the gap that divides the generations is now far more subtle, defined by differences in outlook and attitude, rather than fundamental beliefs.

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My sons think nothing of leaving the house and venturing out in public in their PJ bottoms. This has been a recurring nightmare of mine since 1971.

I use cash. They use credit for any purchase over 24 cents.

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Watermelon Margaritas and 11 Other Recipes for Memorial Day Weekend

Mary Dell writes: At the end of every month, I tear off another page of our oversize family calendar and toss the tattered sheet away. April lands in the recycling bin and I am gleeful. There, on the last line for May, is the gateway to summer: Memorial Day. This is the weekend that changes our cooking — kitchens are transformed as we uncover the backyard grills and take the heat outside. With longer days and warmer temperatures, I am drawn to traditional southern and spicy Southwestern dishes. If you’re planning a party, why not greet your guests with a tray of watermelon margaritas? I can guarantee the cookout that follows will be memorable.

Memorial Day Weekend, American flag, Memorial Day cookout, cookout recipes, watermelon margaritas

1. Lemonade with fresh mint

Mix together the juice of 10 lemons, 6 cups water, 1/2 cup sugar, 3 sprigs mint. Adjust to taste and add 8 sprigs of mint. Refrigerate and serve in tall glasses with a sprig of mint in each.

2. Watermelon margaritas

This recipe is from the late, great Gourmet magazine: Cut up a watermelon into cubes, place in Ziplock bag and freeze overnight. Place the frozen watermelon (5 cups), 1 cup Tequila, 1/2 cup Triple Sec, 1/2 cup fresh lime juice, and 1/4 cup sugar in a blender and blend until the consistency is slushy. Best watermelon margaritas, ever!

3. Crudite with a yogurt-based dipping sauce with chipolte pepper

From Chobani Yogurt’s website: In a blender, puree 2 cups nonfat plain yogurt with 1/2 cup salsa, 1 can chipolte pepper (halved and seeded), with 3/4 tsp salt. Chill overnight.

4. Deviled eggs

Hard boil 9 large eggs for 11 minutes and place in a bowl filled with ice-cold water. Peel the eggs, halve them and remove the yolks. Mash the yolks with a fork and mix with 2 tbsp mayonnaise, 1 tsp mustard, 2 tbsp heavy cream, salt and pepper. Fill the cooked white egg halves and top with a sliver of jalapeno.

5. Guacamole

A classic from Helen Corbitt who ruled the roost at Neiman-Marcus for years: Mix together 2 cups mashed avocados, 2 tbls lemon juice, 1/2 tbsp grated onion, 2 tbsp chili sauce, 2 drops Tabasco sauce, salt to taste. Serve with a selection of white and blue corn tortilla chips.

6. Grilled, marinated skirt steak

My tried and true preparation for fajitas: Combine 2 cups picante sauce, 1/2 cup vegetable oil, 2 tsp lemon juice, a dash of pepper and a minced clove of garlic. Place a pound of skirt steak in a ziplock bag, pour in the marinade and refrigerate for 3-24 hours. Grill 6-7 minutes a side and slice into thin strips. Serve with warm tortillas on the side.

7. Tequila lime marinated chicken

This delightful dish comes from the Barefoot Contessa, Family Style Cookbook: Combine 1/2 cup gold tequila, 1 cup lime juice, 1/2 cup fresh orange juice, 1 tbsp chili powder, 1 tbsp jalapeno pepper, 1 tbsp minced garlic, 2 tsp kosher salt, tsp pepper. Place 6 boneless chicken breasts, skin on, in a Ziplock bag and pour the marinade. Refrigerate overnight. Grill skin-side down for 5 minutes, flip and grill another 10 minutes.

8. Green salad with corn and tomatoes

Mix a basic green salad, add wedges of tomatoes and corn shaved from the cob. Toss with a simple vinaigrette before serving.

9. Coleslaw

Place the following in a bowl: 1 head green cabbage, cored and finely shredded, 1 English cucumber, peeled and thinly sliced, 2 carrots, shredded. Bring the following to boil: 1/2 cup white vinegar, 1/2 cup sugar, 1/2 tsp salt for about 3 minutes. Whisk 1 tbsp Dijon mustard and 1/4 cup canola oil. Cool slightly. Stir in 1/4 cup heavy cream, 2 tbsp sour cream. Mix with the cabbage, carrots and cucumber.

10. Black beans

Rinse and drain 1-16 ounce dry black beans, soaked overnight in cold water. In a large pot, cover beans with cold water, add 1 peeled yellow onion, 4 cloves peeled garlic, and I bay leaf. Bring to a boil, lower heat and simmer for 40 minutes. Add Kosher salt during the last 20 minutes.

11. Southwestern rice

Heat 2 tbsp canola oil and saute 1/2 small chopped onion and 1 minced clove of garlic. Add 1 small chopped plum tomato and cook for 4 minutes. Add 1 cup white rice and stir to combine with onion mixture. Add 2 cups water, Kosher salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, cover, reduce to low and simmer 15-20 minutes. Fluff with fork.

12. Vanilla ice cream with berries

Strawberries, blueberries, raspberries and blackberries are in season, once again. Wash all, slice the strawberries, and serve along with vanilla ice cream. Adding chocolate sauce, sliced almonds, and whipped cream will transform a classic berry desert into towering sundaes.

Our friend and neighbor, Renee Cohen, is chef/instructor of CuisineArts Cooking School and supplied much of the culinary inspiration for this Memorial Day cookout.

 

 

Grown and Flown in Today’s Wall Street Journal: Cheating in School

Wall Street Journal, WSJLisa writes: Last Fall, in the wake of a number of high-profile cheating scandals, Grown and Flown examined cheating in school.  We were surprised by some of the facts we uncovered. Technology, academic pressure and changing attitudes have increased the incidence of cheating in school and made it even more important that parents discuss this issue with kids from an early age.  It was our good fortune that The Wall Street Journal found us and included us in an article this morning entitled “How Could a Sweet Third-Grader Just Cheat on That School Exam?”

cheating in school, Wall Street Journal, kids cheating,

In this wonderful piece, Sue Shellenbarger finds that cheating is tricky parental terrain “The line between right and wrong in the classroom is often hazy for young children, and shaping the moral compass of children whose brains are still developing can be one of the trickiest jobs a parent faces.”  Shellenbarger found that rates of cheating rose as kids moved into middle school and high school and thus the conversation needs to start when school begins, as early as kindergarten.

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Motherhood and the Empty Nest

Lisa writes: This morning, The New York Times posted a wonderful article, “After the Children have Grown,” about motherhood and the transition to the empty nest.  The author, noted psychologist Madeline Levine, confirms what Anna Quindlen has often said, that the real empty nest begins the day our youngest child graduates from college.  Yet Levine takes a different look at our children’s separation as not a single moment but rather one more step on a long path of pain and happiness that is parenting.  She explains,

Motherhood inextricably weaves growth and loss together from the moment of physical separation at birth to every milestone passed.

Yet she finds that, in some ways, parents are unprepared for this transition despite the fact that we should have seen it coming.

motherhood, empty nest, mothers and sons, after the children have grown

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