The Great Graduation Gift List

Lisa writes: It is graduation time in my house, times two. And, Mary Dell’s family is rejoicing in a commencement as well. While we have been here before with our older kids we were stumped for ideas of gifts and reached out to our band of experienced moms for some wonderful suggestions to create this graduation gift guide.

graduation, cap toss

We have included gifts for both high school and college, for both young women and men. We have covered a broad array of price points and tried to include both the practical and the frivolous. Have a friend with a grad this year? Please share this post with them.  And, if you have more great ideas to add to our list,  we would love to see your suggestions in the comments. 

The number one gift for graduates is money. It is what they ask for most often and what is proffered. As a nation we will give about $5 billion in graduation gifts and 58% of this will be in cash. But if money is not on your list, or you are looking for a more creative way to offer it, here are 38 suggestions from our friends and family.

1. Tuck a Check Inside Do Your Laundry or You’ll Die Alone: Advice Your Mom Would Give if She Thought You Were Listening by Becky Blades, and you’ll be giving your grad what she wants but doesn’t know she needs: her mother’s loving counsel. The beautifully illustrated book covers topics from laundry to forgiveness to creative living. Directed predominantly at young women, my college boys laughed out loud and read it cover to cover. The best part: pages to personalize. All this wit and wisdom is available for $13.99.

Do Your Laundry, Becky Blades

2. And for Help with that Laundry. We love this suggestion from Bespoke Custom Gifts. A personalized laundry bag with instructions and the meaning of those tricky laundry symbols printed right outside. Any mother who has received a phone call from a laundromat knows the value of this great idea. We ordered one as soon as we saw them.

3. Monogrammed Towels or Towel Wraps. Now that they are setting their own laundry schedule, kids can never have too many towels. Monogrammed towels will not get nabbed in the dorm laundry or city laundromat.

laundry bag, Bespoke Custom Gifts

4. Who Are We Kidding? Tuition, room and board, spending money for four years…that was the gift.

5. Dorm Essentials. At some point every high school grad seems to find themselves in The Container Store, Bed, Bath and Beyond, or Target searching out XL sheets and an array of storage items. Gift certificates from these national retailers will get them on their way. Items can be ordered at your local store to be picked up later in the store closest to your child’s college campus.

6. Wheels. College grads moving to cities with limited public transportation will rejoice over any help with car insurance, payments, or money towards a car lease. For some, those days of walking are over.

7. Two Wheels. College kids on bicycles is an idyllic image, but not if your kid’s bicycle was the small one they got for the holidays in sixth grade. If they are going to attend a university that is suited to a bike, and most are, this may be the single most useful gift you can give.

8. $50 in Quarters. Think of it as a year’s worth of laundry without wandering the dorm every week or two looking to see who can change a couple of dollars. But we did hear something about a quarter drinking game….

9. It’s Always Coffee Time. College kids pushing though late night studying or graduates who are now waking early will appreciate their own single serving coffee maker. Keurig makes all different size machines for any dorm room or apartment. This is a gift that saves time and money. If your graduate is a tea drinker a small electric kettle is just the thing, here is a $58 version that comes in four colors, including lime green.

10. Money Disguised. If handing over a fist full of dollars is not what you had in mind, turn that cash into silver coins or a mint set from the year your graduate was born. The coins are commemorative, can be save and cherished, or turned right back into needed cash.

11. Overnight bag. It might be time to stop using grocery bags as luggage. A small canvas duffel or tote will come in handy on visits home, away for weekends or traveling to, hopefully, job interviews.

Filson bag, duffle bag

12. Help with Student Loans. A full 70% of college students graduate with debt and the average loan burden approaches $30,000. Any and all help with those payments is truly a graduation gift.

13. The Party. Graduations are a time for families to gather and celebrate. They are milestones of great meaning and joy, but that doesn’t mean the festivities are free. As parents,  the party can be a gift to our kids they will never forget.

14. A Journal. A beautiful blank book, given in advance of a graduation party, can be passed among the guests. The real gifts are the thoughts and bits of advice that family and friends can record, making this a gift both deeply personal and meaningful.

15. A Beautiful Piece of Jewelry. Graduations are one of life’s big milestones and, as such, perhaps a moment for a first piece of real jewelry. A set of pearl earrings or subtle gold necklace can be worn on special occasions or taken out for job interviews.

16. Let the Tailgating Begin. A small portable grill works either outside the stadium or on an apartment rooftop. Grill tools need to be part of this package.

17. Unbreakable Cups. Tervis makes 329 unbreakable mugs, with school logos. College kids are not the most careful with their possessions, so heavy emphasis on the unbreakable.

18. Gift Cards for Local Eateries. For many kids graduation means a new city, either for college or a job. Gift cards from local restaurants will be a great treat in the new neighborhood.

19. Personalized Belts. Smathers & Branson, a luxury retailer of needlepoint goods, will make a personalized belt with meaning for your grad. They also sell wallets, key fobs, hats, flasks and coasters all embroidered with Collegiate or Greek Logos.

default-hero

20. Get Rid of the Backpack. For kids facing their first real job, a brief case, good handbag or okay, an upmarket backpack, might be the thing to send them on their way. Quality leather goods do not come cheap, but the last for years to come.

21. Fleece blankets, with Monograms or Photos. One of my friends gave fleece throws in college colors with their embroidered monograms to our kids and all their friends. With drafty dorm rooms or extra friends spending the night, this is a gift that will get used. Shutterfly will put your photos on a machine-washable blanket for $43.

22. Gym Membership. For those leaving the college campus the days of free exercise facilities might be over. Give the gift of health and fitness, or at least a place to de-stress after a long day at the office.

23. Wallet or Business Card Case. Something everyone needs and it can be upped with a gift card inside.

24. Campus Gifts.  For high school or college grads, sweatshirts or other item from their to-be alma mater or for high school grads, a gift certificate to the college bookstore are classics.

25. Manners Never go out of Style. Personalized stationery may not make them jump for joy but they will never again have the excuse, “I had nothing to write a thank you note on, so I sent an email (or worse, a text!)”

stationery, note cards

26. J. Crew. We are pretty sure that it is not possible to have too many J. Crew gift cards. College grads need clothes for the world of work and high school grads may need warm weather gear now that they will be doing much more walking.

27. Experiences, Not Things. Tickets to concerts or shows, or if your budget stretches to accommodate it, a trip. Many parents mentioned the lasting joy of a post-graduation trip if it fits into the family finances.

28. Money Lei. Feeling crafty? Take those dollar bills and make a traditional lei. One part origami, one part Hawaiian necklace. a quick search on Pinterest will show you a 100 different styles with instructions.

29. Tools of the Trade. Unassembled furniture? A hinge that is coming loose? A small but well equipped tool box might just be what your grad needs. Here are suggestions from The Container Store.

30. The Classics. You can never go wrong with these tried and trues. Watches and pearls might go to the office the first week of the new job, or be tucked away for the first special occasion, but this is the gift that lasts a lifetime.

31. Family Photos. They may have snapshots of the family in their phones, but that is not the same as a beautiful professional photo for their wall or desk. Consider a family photo shoot, complete with family dog, before the kids leave home.

32. Lean in for Graduates. Sheryl Sandberg has rewritten her manifesto for women’s empowerment for the 20-something set. For any young women just starting out, here is a road map.

33. A Picture is Worth….iPhoto, Shutterfly and WeMontage all offer parents an easy way to create a book of memories. Our computers are jam-packed with photos waiting to be liberated. We can pull them off our kids’ Facebook pages and upload them into a perfect keepsake.

34. Time to Make a Home. Think about vouchers from Ikea, West Elm, Crate and Barrel, Design WIthin Reach or Sleepy’s. Credit at any of these stores, or many others, will be appreciated by anyone with an empty new apartment.

35. Their Life on the Page. What are you going to do with all those old report cards and iffy school photos? Here is a chance to put their lives on paper and make a scrapbook with mementos you have saved for years. This is not a last-minute job, but more like a suggestion for parents of juniors.

36. Cookies. Who wouldn’t love a voucher from mom for baked goods that will be sent the following year?

chocolate chip cookies

37. Family Memento. Grandparents looking for gifts might consider some of the family mementos or jewelry that their grandchildren can treasure forever. Passing on family heirlooms (and we use this term broadly) is a moment with meaning for both generations.

38. Steal a Little Time. Finally, one of our wonderful readers suggested something that tugged at my heart. For kids graduating college with jobs, the days and weeks after graduation will be one of the last extended periods of time they will have. A one-on-one parent and child trip, even just an overnight, is an opportunity that will not soon arise again. There really is nothing like the gift of memories.



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Early Decision: Based on a True Frenzy, a Conversation with Lacy Crawford

Lisa writes: Lacy Crawford is the author of the wonderful new book, Early Decision: Based on a True Frenzy (William Morrow.) For fifteen years she served as a discreet college admissions counselor to the super rich, shepherding their children through the maze of applications and essays. From August until acceptance, two or three times a week, she worked with students helping them research schools and draft, rewrite and polish their essays. While Lacy was employed by parents to guide their children, it is clear that those who hired her were in great need of her help as well. (BTW, Lacy can be reached via twitter at @Lacy_Crawford)

Early Decision, Lacy Crawford

After years of working with high school seniors Lacy faced an even more daunting task, filling out applications for nursery school for her own baby. “I’d been secretly judging these parents for ten years,” Lacy recalled in an interview with The Daily Beast. “But there I was, ready to step on the same moving walkway, and I thought, ‘I know how this ends.’ This ends with me hiring someone like me to get my kid into college.” It was then that she began to take the notes that would turn her very real experiences into a superb work of fiction.

Mary Dell and I met Lacy at the book salon of the incomparable Aidan Donnelley Rowley and, while I politely bought the book as I love to support authors, I had no intention of opening its cover, or even taking it out of the bag. [Read more...]



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Never Again Will I…

Lisa writes: My youngest son heads off to college sometime in August. When he finally slams the screen door, he will be emptying the nest my husband and I began to fill 22 years ago. With his departure, I reflect on a few things that, frankly, I am more than a little ready to let go. While everyone I know is already sick of hearing how much I will miss him, here are a few things that I will never have to do again:

sons, family, brothers

Sit in a car outside a school, gym or private home, waiting. In my car, in the dark, by myself.

Quiz anyone on vocabulary words. My husband has all the words he needs.

Worry about who is in whose bedroom, which door is opened or closed, and what other parents’ rules are for their kids who are in my home. Once you have lived out from under our roof, your personal life is your own.

[Read more...]



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College Admissions: Don’t Go It Alone

Mary Dell writes: Dear Moms, We feel for you, we really do. Since your kid entered kindergarten, you have probably heard that nothing in parenting compares to the stress of college admissions. Few of you have arrived at this stage without feeling a degree of anxiety now that it is your child who has begun to think about life after high school.

college admissions

Lisa and I are two moms with five kids between our families. Our youngest are high school seniors who have the end in sight. “The end” is not only college application season, but also their high school years and childhood in general. Letting them go is part of the college process and one reason why it feels so painful. In fact, we could sit right down and weep between now and graduation but, instead, we want to throw an arm around your shoulder knowing that it is you who needs support right now. So we offer advice, a digital hug, from two moms to you:

Looking for colleges is a family matter.

Do not feel remotely guilty being involved, despite experts who may tell you to let your child “own the process.” It is their search, but parents should be there to lend an ear, a hand, and a credit card as needed.

[Read more...]



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Getting Kids to Work Harder in School: A New York Times Motherlode Rebuttal

Lisa writes: This week on the New York Times Motherlode parenting blog, author/teacher/parent Jessica Lahey* wrote her regular Parent-Teacher Conference column on the question “How Can You Make a Student Care Enough to Work Harder?” The post argues that parents of an unmotivated high school student who has failed a midterm exam should “back off” and allow the student to feel the natural consequences of his poor performance.  While it is an intriguing question, I find myself in sharp disagreement with Jessica, and the many experts who appear in the New York Times column alongside her, about getting kids to work harder in school.

 

school, motivating students

 

Most of the commenters seemed to disagree with the educators as well. Many parents deal with this issue at one time or another and struggle to know what is best. We would love to hear from readers about their experiences.

1. Do kids care about school and does that matter?

The first problem lies in the question. It would be great if kids cared about school. It is pure joy to see your child find a subject or teacher who captivates him and then watch his immersion into a new field of learning. Although we cannot force our kids to be interested in something or make them care about a certain subject or class, we can make them care about doing well. And sometimes, that will just need to be enough.

[Read more...]



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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.

[Read more...]



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Prom Commandments

Mary Dell writes: As the mom of a teenage daughter, I occasionally feel like I am parenting on a separate planet from my friends who have teenage sons.  At Lisa’s house, sports are in full swing, and the mountains of standardized tests and specter of finals loom ahead.  At my house, we have all of that plus what can only be referred to as high season for the high school prom.

For Lisa, it has been three sons, three trips through 11th grade and barely a word about the prom.  Fifteen minutes to rent a tux, a five-minute phone call to order a corsage and yes, the sum total of time boys spent on the prom…twenty minutes. 

prom commandments-prom date-high school prom

With the biggest attire decision a boy has to make is peaked lapel or shawl, there is little to talk about except for the invitation. The onus of asking, despite so much about our gender roles changing, still lies with boys so whom to ask and how, are the important questions concerning young men.

But at our house, talk of the high school prom pops up with my daughter’s group of friends with the regularity of a favorite TV show which, at times, the conversation resembles.

While I flip their post-sleepover pancakes and lean into the conversation, the girls talk about more than dates, dresses and updos. They recount episodes of “prama” and review and revise their plans for the big night. At each step, they carefully abide by an unwritten code about prom behavior that I believe is not all bad.

Here are what I have dubbed their “Prom Commandments:”

1. Be considerate

Think of the male ego in choosing the heel height that complements your date. Think of the photos which, in the words of one girl,  “you will be looking at for the rest of your life.

2. Be inclusive

It is not just you going to the prom but it is each of your friends. Much of the planning involves making sure that each girl has a date or, at least, a group to join.

3. Be original

If the girls in your school have created a Facebook group to which they post their dresses, check to see if the one you just fell in love with has already been taken.  With a few taps on the smart phone, the answer is available while you are still in the dressing room.

4. Feel pride

Prom is as much a photo-op as a night out, so your hair, nails, makeup… go ahead and schedule those appointments, but just don’t overdo it.

5. Plan ahead

Shop for a dress early before the most popular colors and sizes get snatched up.  According to The New York Times, the red carpet at the Academy Awards in February  kicks off the prom dress shopping season.

6. Be respectful

The senior girls signal the dos and don’ts about length of dress, for example, and who rules the prom committee.  It is their last dance and they deserve center stage.

7. Be practical

If wearing a strapless dress, get it fitted so you’re not pulling it up the whole night.

8. Be polite

Say “yes” to any boy who asks you to be his date, especially if there is an audience when he invites you.

9. Be confident

If you don’t get invited by a boy in your school, take the initiative to ask  a date, especially if you have someone in mind from another school.

10. Be smart

Obey school rules. Do you really want to get in trouble the last month of high school?

(I confess, the last one is mine.  As moms, we are allowed to dream, aren’t we?)

Yikes! The New York TImes has an article suggesting that to make a big splash when asking a girl, teenage boys are seeking out professionals, Prom is Easy: The Ask Takes Planning



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College Decision

Lisa writes: Over on the Motherlode blog at The New York Times, writers KJ Dell’Antonia and Hope Perlman discussed the importance, or lack of importance, in attending a prestigious college. The two thoughtful back-to-back pieces laid out the opposing viewpoints on chasing admission to an excellent college, a process that begins early in high school, versus chasing one’s passions and seeing where that might lead.
Perlman’s piece focused on the benefits that can accrue from attending a well-known college in terms of contacts, and later jobs, and despite hoping her daughter becomes a happy well-rounded adult, she would like her to have this opportunity.

Dell’Antonia’s rebuttal stated that ambition would lead to success and that it ultimately matters what you do with your education, not where you obtained it.  She theorizes that she will not care where her kids attend college when the time comes.

College, College Decision, College Admissions, Motherlode
[Read more...]



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12 Most Salient Ways to Help Your Teen Through Eleventh Grade

12 MostI am going through eleventh grade for the fourth time.

First, in the late 1970s, I endured it myself. Then as the mother of three I watched my boys battle through this long tough year, struggling with their academic and athletic schedules while trying to visit colleges, navigate a minefield of standardized tests, have a social life and learn to drive.

It is an exhausting process for both parent and teen, fraught with emotion as our kids prepare for the next stage in their lives. At Grown and Flown, I have explored my journey towards the empty nest and there is no question that 11th grade is the first step on that journey. Here are some suggestions to help them on their way: [Read more...]



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What I Really Love about College Football

Mary Dell writes: Fall is my favorite season. Along with the just-turning foliage, comes the return of my preferred spectator sport – college football. My passion stems from the Friday Night Lights elements of my upbringing and the four years I spent in Austin at the University of Texas.  I am a genuine Longhorn fan and spent many happy game days at the UT Stadium.  But the real reason I love college football is that our son, a college senior, is a big fan, too.  Now a fun and shared pastime, following the sport during his teenage years was more like a lifeline that kept our relationship afloat.

UT Football, Longhorns, college football, UT stadium, Texas Longhorns

While he was in high school, our son developed the evasive skills that all teenagers acquire fielding questions from well-meaning neighbors, family members, and perfect strangers. Where do you want to go to college/ have you taken your SATs/ what do you want to major in? Against that backdrop of inquisition, we had moments when our disagreements over studying, tests, and college applications would have made for excellent reality television. More recently, we have had a few “animated discussions” as we both adjust to his young adulthood status. [Read more...]



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Surviving High School, It Begins in Sixth Grade

 

middle school challenges, junior highLisa writes: Ahhhh…the beauty, the certainty of 20/20 hindsight.  As my youngest nears the end of high school, I have reflected upon what qualities allow kids to perform at their best and enjoy their four years to the fullest. What were the most important things I could have done for my kids, starting in perhaps sixth grade, that would have impacted their chance of surviving high school and beyond?  Not surprisingly, they were not the things uppermost on my mind as my kids turned 12. If I had it to do again…

what to do in middle school

 

I would make sure that my child, if possible, 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 field hockey team or given a role in the school play.  I know educators often advocate the benefits of being well-rounded, but competence and accomplishment breed self-esteem and social well-being.

[Read more...]



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Half In, Half Out Before Our Daughter’s Senior Year

By Sue, A Grown and Flown friend: As we count down the days until the end of our daughter’s junior year, I find myself questioning my eagerness. Do I really want to wish this time away? Am I ready to face the reality of her senior year of high school and the end of our comfort at having her under our roof? Is it okay for me to look forward to getting through this incredibly demanding year so we can all breathe a little easier?

high school child, daughter, teen daughter, senior year

My emotions are mixed. While I feel as though I am ready for this rigorous, challenging and eventful year to be over, part of me is struggling to hold on to each and every moment.We are immersed in her junior year; yes, you read that correctly, we have discovered that while she still has one foot in our cozy family nest, the other is already on its way out. It is a time of delicate balance and the collective we is straddling two worlds. While it is indeed her junior year, our family is going through the ups and downs and in-betweens of this pivotal year, together. Soon enough, she will enter her last, her senior year.

Since September, I have found myself reminiscing on her early years, when every day seemed to bring a first; her first smile, the sound of those first babbles that morphed into words, the attempts to Commando crawl, the first time she sprung herself from the confines and safety of her crib, the first day of Kindergarten. We would eagerly pull out the baby book and take note of those exciting milestones. Newborn, infant, toddler, preschool, school age and now a group of stages that are not clearly defined—teenager, young adult, adult. None of these post-school tags seem to accurately describe our junior.

At times, I am reminded that she is indeed a teenager who still needs guidance and life lessons, although she would beg to differ—adamantly! On the other hand, I marvel at the way she handles herself and approaches the demands of a childhood that seems so much more complex and dynamic than ours. Is she ready for the next step? Have we done our job as parents in preparing her to take on the world without us?

I want to pull out that baby book again and write about all her firsts that are happening right now because she is making them happen: taking the SATs, getting her driver’s license, preparing for AP exams, visiting colleges, writing her college essays, meeting application deadlines, traveling abroad without her family.  She is hitting all these milestones and accomplishments while working hard at a demanding academic, athletic and extracurricular schedule. It’s all a balancing act as she manages these responsibilities while carving out time to enjoy being a teenager.

For the moment, our nest is still intact. I can feel the pulses of it changing, and in the not-too-distant future it will be incredibly different. I like to think that I can kick back and let it all happen,  soaking in all of the emotions, changes and milestones that are making us all feel a bit uneasy. Maybe it is the uneasiness that has pushed me to take the time to not only try to figure this out, but also allow it to take its natural course and remind me to be present. It’s not the destination, it’s the journey. Half in, half out—- she’s getting ready to fly.

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