Back-to-School Shopping With College Tech Needs in Mind

This is a sponsored post* Mary Dell writes: The page on the family calendar may be labeled August but, whenever I see that word, my mind reads back-to-school shopping. The countdown is now merely days, no longer months, until my husband and I drop off our youngest at college. Shopping for freshman year  has been unlike any other that has gone before and, although we are now fairly organized, one final line on the dorm to-do list remains. I want to sit down with our daughter and review the technology she is taking with her and upgrade or adjust where needed.

camus, back-to-school shopping

If you have a teenager at home, you already know how dependent he is on tech devices for both his social and academic life. Our kids going off to college will take their handhelds and their habits onto campus and will immediately plug into the college’s network. (BTW, one bit of advice is to have the phone number and email address of the IT department handy in case the process is not exactly seamless.)

I envision my daughter on move-in day carrying a box up the stairs to her dorm room with as much care as if she was holding a beating heart for an organ transplant. Inside will be a laptop, chargers, surge protector, printer, USB drive, a portable external drive, a tablet with bluetooth enabled keyboard, ear buds and noise-cancelling headphones. Her smart phone will be in her back pocket.

She will set up her desk while my husband and I struggle to make up the twin bed in the crowded space. college, freshman year

Though her collection of electronic gadgets may sound excessive, on this subject, she is a typical college student: According to The Chronicle of Higher Education:

In a survey conducted this year by the education-technology organization Educause, 76 percent of undergraduates reported owning a smart phone, an increase of 14 percentage points compared with the previous year. Fifty-eight percent said they owned at least three Internet-capable devices.

As a result, this has led to explosive growth in the demand on Internet at schools:

Campus-technology officials say they struggle to maintain and expand wireless-network capacity in heavily taxed locations, such as lecture halls, common areas, and sports venues. They are excited about integrating wireless technology into classroom learning, but worry about safeguarding personal and research data increasingly viewed on mobile devices. Underscoring their concerns are budget realities and an obligation to transparency and collaboration.

Until my daughter is settled at school, and connected to her college’s network, I’ll wait to see what the quality of the WiFi is for her. If it seems lacking, I already know one tech solution. At BlogHer14, a recent blogging and social media conference, NETGEAR gave Grown and Flown a mobile hotspot, the  AT&T Unite Pro by NETGEAR.   Since I needed to use a laptop and smart phone during the three-day event and had a long flight from New York to California  to get there, the device became a life saver. Here’s why:

  • 16 hours of battery life
  • Battery Boost that can charge a phone
  • Mobile WiFi wherever wanted and needed
  • Capacity for up to 15 devices
  • Secure network with password protection

There were no WiFi black holes, no expensive hotel WiFi up charges, no need to find a Starbucks to get online, no frantic searching for outlets to charge my phone. I was hooked and I began to imagine all the applications for my college daughter:

  • She would have the ability to access WiFi regardless of where on (or off) campus she might be, even on football game days when tens of thousands of additional fans converge on campus and compete to get online.
  • As long as she had the WiFi hotspot device with her, there would never be a time when she would be unable to power up her phone, so important for her safety.
  • She could share her WiFi with her roommate or study group.
  • In the future, if she lives in an off-campus apartment and/or studies abroad, her connection could travel with her.
  • Finally, she would always be able to Skype or FaceTime with me!

So when move-in day arrives, I will be taking the AT&T Unite Pro with me since I have become spoiled using it while on the road. If she discovers that she needs enhanced WiFi for college, I will send it to her, overnight. If that’s the case, I know exactly what will be at the top of my Christmas list this year. *Disclosure: This is a sponsored post and I received an AT&T Unite Pro mobile hotspot as part of my sponsorship. My words are my own.



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Parenting: It Is Not My Job

Lisa writes: It is not my job.

Being a parent is a really tough job. Many argue that it is the toughest job. Yet, speaking only for myself, I made parenthood far harder than it needed to be by taking on jobs that were not mine. My job is to love and care for my kids, to make them feel safe and teach them to navigate the world into which they will venture. My job is to teach my sons the set of values, rightly or wrongly, that their father and I hold dear. My job is to launch educated, good, responsible men.

girl in snow

That is a tall order without adding a whole list of other parenting challenges, that frankly I am not certain can be achieved.

It is not my job to find my child’s “passion.” Passion by its very nature is deeply personal and individualistic. One person simply cannot find it for another. If my kids want one, they will have to find their own Not everyone has a passion and the notion that everyone does is a middle class artifice of the late 20th century. I promise, many people have lived and died having wonderful lives without beholding a “passion.” I do not have a passion, and honestly, I am okay.

It is not my job to build my kid’s self-esteem, but rather to give them the tools to earn it for themselves. Self esteem results from setting challenging goals for ourselves and then accomplishing them. Sure, the recognition of others helps, but only if we know it to be genuine (and kids can see through this at a shockingly early age.) So I can encourage my kids to set themselves goals and to stick with them, but I cannot bestow self-esteem upon them, that they will have to earn it for themselves.

It is not my job to be my kid’s companion. I love being with my kids, and since they entered adolescence, I suspect I love being with them a whole lot more than they love being with me. When they were small they would demand my attention  and I felt that I failed them when I didn’t keep them company or play with them as they wished. In doing that, I took on a job that was not mine. Kids need their parents for love, comfort and guidance…playmate on demand is simply not in the job description. It helps to remember that the happiest people are those content with their own company.

It is not my job to make my kids happy. I am pretty sure if I could have figured out the key to happiness, I would have sold it and funded their tuition. My notion of happiness is not static and it has evolved over my life. I know that getting what you think you want does not always lead to happiness. I know that money can buy peace of mind, a sense of security and freedom from certain hardships, but it cannot touch happiness. I know that true happiness is looking at the world through your own lens, not the one handed to you by others, even your parents. And as the mom of three I know that happiness is so different for each child that even if I had the power to bestow it, which I certainly do not, it would consume my every waking minute repackaging it three times over. Finding happiness has been a lifelong, and not always successful journey; I really don’t have the runway to find it for four people. So my kids are going to have to do what I and every other person did, and find it on their own.

My job was to model and teach impulse control and deferred gratification. None of us can always get what we want. The Stones taught me that, and it is my job to pass this along to my kids.

My job was to give my sons relationships that would last a lifetime, people who they could turn to in need. That is what family and close friends are for. But far more than teaching that people will always be there for them, I hope I have taught them to be there for those they love. 

My job was to teach them right from wrong in a world that may well contradict my message.

My job was to make sure that my kids launched into the world as well-educated and well prepared as they could be.

My job was to make them flexible and unencumbered by the past, prepared for a world I have not seen.

My job was to teach them that quitting is sometimes, but rarely, the answer. We do not learn persistence (and grit) by doing what we love. We learn persistence by doing what we don’t love.

Being a parent calls on every physical, intellectual and emotional resource we have. It is a long complex process and I, for one, made it a whole lot harder than it needed to be. As parents, we pondered how our own parents had it so much easier, how life was simpler and they found raising us far less challenging. We hear this question often and assume it was because we were raised in simpler times that demanded far less of parents. But maybe it is otherwise. Maybe our parents had a better sense of what was possible for parents to achieve. Maybe they knew what was their job and what, as children, was ours.

girl playing in snow



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The Real Reason I Love Longhorn Football

Mary Dell writes: Fall is my favorite season. Along with the just-turning foliage comes the return of my preferred spectator sport – Longhorn football. My passion stems from the Friday Night Lights elements of my upbringing and the four years I spent in Austin as a student at the University of Texas.  I am a genuine Texas fan and spent many happy game days at DKR – Texas Memorial Stadium.  But the real reason I love Longhorn football is that our son 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, he 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.

[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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Motherhood: It Doesn’t Get Easier

In the world of blogging about motherhood, there are few writers who make us laugh at our mom selves with more genuine skill than Jill Smokler, aka “Scary Mommy.” A mother of three (5, 7, 9) and mega-successful blogger, Jill’s first book was on the New York Times bestseller list.  Her second book, Motherhood Comes Naturally (and Other Vicious Lies,) is equally entertaining and genuinely hilarious in detailing all the ways motherhood doesn’t get easier!

Mary Dell was lucky enough to meet Jill this week at Alice’s Tea Shop on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. Afterwards, Grown and Flown created a list of “Vicious Lies” for the teen years and a few reality checks on motherhood.

Motherhood Comes Naturally

1. Kids need to be grown and independent by the time they leave for college, able to balance their checkbook and do their own laundry.

Reality Check: Some kids are independent at six, others find their independence for the first time at 2 am in the laundry room of their dorm when they do not have a single item of clean clothing left to wear.

2. Going back to work will be a snap once your kids are in school all day.

Reality Check: Years out of the workforce will mean you have to relaunch. Few jobs end at 2:30 pm right around the corner from the carpool line.  Sick days, snow days, vacations and summer…don’t worry you just need a back-up plan for about 200 days a year.

3. It gets easier.

No, not for a minute. Sure, your little kids may not have slept, may have barfed in your hair and thrown tantrums in the grocery store, but teens still throw up, only now it is a much bigger worry and good luck picking them up and putting them in their rooms when you want to change their behavior.

[Read more...]



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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 pieces laid out the opposing viewpoints on chasing admission to an excellent college.

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.

But there is a third perspective, I believe. There is a series of reasons why attending an excellent college is enriching for a student’s life that has nothing to do with jobs or careers, prestige or contacts.  College is about the four years, not just the rest of life.

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



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Golden Birthday

Mary Dell writes: “Golden Birthday”  was an unfamiliar term until our daughter recently clued me in,  “Mom, that’s the birthday when your age is the same as the date on the calendar. So, when I turn 17 on November 17th, it will be my golden birthday.” Not sure where I will get my information after she goes to college, leaving me in my empty nest!

Yellow roses, birthday roses, dozen roses

In anticipation of her upcoming GBD, I began thinking about birthdays past. When my sister and I were little, our parents hosted traditional, circa early-1960s, parties at home with our school friends and neighborhood kids, cake and ice cream. During my teenage years, my girlfriends  all held slumber parties to celebrate our big days. Though it meant we could be served alcohol legally, I don’t recall any special drink-fest marking our 18th birthdays. Neither do I think 21 was any different from 20 or 22.

But as my 25th year drew to a close, I was in school far from my Texas family, feeling homesick and stressed-out from classwork. On October 26th, my GBD, a gorgeous bouquet of 26 yellow roses arrived at my dorm room. Neither my dad nor I knew it was a “golden” day for me; he simply wanted to me to know he was thinking of his daughter and sending love, long-distance. This was a birthday I never forgot.

By 30, I had graduated and moved into Manhattan. A group of friends threw a party, making me feel like I had dropped onto a Woody Allen movie set, in a good way.   Five years later I married and moved to the suburbs. So long, Woody!

At 39, I was pregnant with our second child and began to plan my 40th birthday “bash,” dinner out with my husband and our five-year old son. I remember what I was wearing – a pink maternity dress – and recall how the three of us celebrated.  My husband had a glass (or two) of red wine and our son and I, ice cream.

Our daughter was born three weeks later and she remains my very favorite “birthday gift.”  The yellow roses come in second.

So, in three weeks, our now nearly grown and flown daughter will receive roses from her father. While I’m not sure what color he will pick, we all know how many he will send.

special cupcake, gold cake,



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Cheating at School – Start the Discussion Early

Lisa writes: The first few weeks of school are special ones.  Kids are still finding their way among classmates while trying to gauge their teachers’ approach and expectations. Slates are clean and possibilities hang in the air.  Parents often take the time to express to their children their own hopes and concerns for the school year. In looking back, I wonder why I never discussed cheating at school.

Cheating in school, academic dishonesty, cheating, EDS, educational testing service

I start every September giving one son the you-must-do-your-best talk.  Another son has just outgrown the annual you-need-to-be-more-organized talk and the third I prodded to move out of his comfort zone socially and extra curricularly.  But I can say with some certainty that I never kicked off a school year with a conversation about academic dishonesty. And in the wake of cheating scandals this year at Harvard University, Stuyvesant High School, and a Long Island SAT testing center, I am pretty sure I missed an important opportunity here. Did I fail to discuss cheating at school because I didn’t think it was a problem in their classes or was it because I didn’t think it would be a problem for my child? [Read more...]



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I Photographed My Children at All the Wrong Times

Lisa writes: I photographed my children at every big moment in their lives, the staged spectacles that seem so important at the time. We know that we will want to see weddings and showers, births and birthdays, school performances and graduations again and again.

I photographed my children, children swinging, siblings

Recently I was watching the video of a class performance of one of my sons that took place 12 years ago. There he was, his little seven-year old self, sitting among his classmates, singing away at the top of his lungs and glancing over occasionally to see if I was still watching. His smile, to me, was the most beautiful thing on Earth, and the little movements that I know so well yanked hard at my heart.

But in a blinding flash I knew that I had recorded the wrong thing. For although I thought this concert was a big moment, one that I would want to revisit, I now see that I was entirely mistaken. There are moments I want back, moments I would give anything to relive, and they were not staged, not expected and I never saw them coming.

I took pictures of our sleeping children either crashed on the couch, in their car seats or their cribs. But never once did I bring a camera into our bed. If I could do a deal with the devil, I would transport us back to mornings where all three of our kids had climbed into our bed. In turns we had awakened and dozed and I would open my eyes to see arms and legs, wrapped in little boy pajamas draped over my husband and myself. This moment exists only in my mind’s eye and I want it back.

My brother’s in-laws have a house with a hill sloping downward from their back porch. On a hot sunny August day they lined part of the hill with plastic and turned on the garden hose. My young sons and their cousins proceeded to ruin this patch of lawn by sliding down the slippery plastic, oh, I’d say 100 times. Every inch of their little bodies was covered in mud and I don’t know when, before or since, I have ever seen them so happy. I want to be at the side of that bathtub as I tried to scrape the layer of mud from their scalps and they told me again and again how it was the best day of their lives.

I photographed my children on the first day of school every year from nursery to 12. In each photo here is an expectant smile on their faces and they gleam with new haircuts, new backpacks and new clothes. But the moment I want back is a few weeks into one new school year when my eldest, a child who loved school, climbed into my lap one morning and told me he didn’t think he could go anymore and that he was just going to stay with me. It was one day in 14 years of education and as he sobbed in my lap, needing nothing more that my arms around him, I know that I would trade every shiny first day of school moment for a few seconds when my arms were the safest place in the world to him.

Prom pictures, I took conservatively a hundred. Slide a teenage boy into a tux and watch a miraculous transformation from scruffy adolescent to man-child in a matter of moments. I caught it all, and the bigger the event, the more I snapped the shutter. But the moment I want to relive is when my son arrived home late one night, weeks before the formal event, and recounted to me how he had gathered his friends to serenade his date into accepting his prom invitation. He had never really discussed girls with me and at the moment our relationship crossed yet another bridge towards the two adults we will be for so many years. We weren’t there yet, we are not yet there now, but that night we took a big step closer.

I have held my camera at the wrong moments, mistaking the pageantry of my children’s life for the moments I would hold dear. But parenthood never ends and tonight my husband was playing soccer with two of my teenage sons in our backyard. The three of them laughed and joked in the fading summer light and after two decades of being a mother I had the good sense to breathe in the smells of summer, let my heart fill with the joy of watching them together and bring my camera along.brothers playing soccer, practicing soccer,



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In Training for the Empty Nest

Mary Dell writes: Sitting on the sidelines, I have long been jealous of my husband. He coached our son in baseball and football, sports into which they both poured their high school energies. Our 16-year-old daughter is now in training for preseason soccer and I am finally sharing a sport – running – with my child. Since she will be off to college in two years, and we will have an empty nest, I am savoring these mother-daughter moments.

running with kids, training with your children, pre-season
Several times a week we drive to our high school track. After a little jogging and stretching, we sip from water bottles, our warm up now complete. I fumble with the earphones on my iPod while she races off, motivated by twin goals of a sub-seven minute mile and a spot on the varsity team. Waddling down the track, I admire my daughter’s athleticism and discipline. I can’t imagine what superhero capabilities the teenagers who compete at the Olympics are born with and perfect through their years of hard training.

The track is built around a football field and at times I can watch her running across from me, 100 yards of green space separating us. I follow her as she rounds a curve and disappears from my line of sight. She sometimes gives me a half wave as she speeds by. After she passes, I notice the rhythmic way her braided pony tail fans her back.

I go with her not only to get some exercise myself but also to act as guardian since it’s summertime and the track is usually deserted. While I never feared for my six-foot tall son when he worked out alone, I am reluctant to send her off, solo. Truth be told, I am a little reluctant to send her off at all. She is the baby of the family and when she leaves for college, my husband and I will remain at home in a house that will be so very quiet.

For now, I am in training with her as a runner. That is the official reason for our trips to the high school. My secret, unofficial reason is that I am training myself to accept how very grown up she is. We share the track and occasionally run alongside each other but I am neither pushing nor pulling her as I might have when she was a little girl, shy about joining the town soccer program. We are running our own, very independent, yet connected races. The training is good.



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A Hotel Room of One’s Own

Hilton Hotel, Blogher, A room of one's own, room serviceI feel like I should preface this with telling you how much I love my husband and kids but am going to skip straight over that and tell you how much I love staying in a hotel without them.  This little lick of luxury does not happen very often but when it does, I savor every minute.

What’s so great?



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Only as Happy as Your Least Happy Child

As a parent, are you only as happy as your least happy child, regardless of his age?

crying baby, vintage childhood illustration, only as happy as your least happy child

 

This is true in full and empty nests alike according to Karen Fingerman, University of Texas Human Development and Family Sciences professor. She speculates that parents are especially sensitive to a child’s failure simply because that indicates failure on their part: it seems to reflect the effectiveness of their child-rearing skills. Read about her study in

Parents’ Happiness Linked to Their Least-Happy Child’s | The Alcalde.



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