Posts Tagged ‘gratitude’

When Your College Kids Come Home for Winter Break: Expectations vs. Reality

The anticipation was high. I hadn’t seen my baby (i.e. my 18-year-old college freshman) in two (2!!) months and he was finally coming home. I expected family dinners and family game nights, trips together into the city to see a play, late night conversations and laughter.

And then there was reality.

Ok, it wasn’t that bad – there were plenty of moments of togetherness – but my Norman Rockwell reunion was not to be. My son had friends to see and sleep to catch up on. Treks into the city were not on his “to do” list unless, of course, they involved his girlfriend.


I’m on my 4th winter break (my baby is now a senior in college) and I can tell you it’s much the same as it was when he was a freshman. And, although I know better, I can’t help but hold out hope that every break will be a little different. So here are the top expectations I have every year for my college kid’s winter break and what I should know by now but clearly don’t:

Expectation 1: The first night that my son is back home we will have a long family dinner where he will tell us stories about school and his friends and we will all stare at him with adoration and laugh at all of his funny tales.

Reality: We eat dinner together. It takes about 10 minutes then his friends come over to pick him up and he leaves with promises to tell us stories when he comes home (and that doesn’t happen because I am old and asleep by 11).

Take away: But at least we shared a meal!

Expectation 2: We will all gather together to watch a holiday movie, snuggled up on the couch sharing a bowl of popcorn.

Reality: Everyone agrees to watch a movie but no one will agree on what movie. I feel dissension in the ranks so I demand that they stop bickering and watch Elf/White Christmas/Bad Santa and like it – damn it! About 30 minutes in I notice that my husband is asleep and the two boys are watching something entirely different on their respective computers only glancing up once or twice to watch the movie.

Take away: But at least we are in the same room!

Expectation 3: We will decorate the Christmas tree together – sipping hot cocoa and reminiscing as we pull out ornaments.

Reality: I tell everyone we are putting up the tree. Everyone says they can’t at that moment and I have to wait. So I wait. About an hour later I ask again and get the same answer. I insist we put the tree up NOW, reminding my family that it only takes 15 minutes – tops – to pull out the tree and hang the ornaments. I am met with more resistance. I threaten to cancel Christmas. Everyone begrudgingly walks to the living room to put up ornaments and I am sad because this was NOT what I wanted.

Take away: I should put the tree up by myself. Of course that would result in whining from my family that I didn’t wait for them so basically it’s a no win situation. Maybe I should invite friends to help and offer wine?

Expectation 4: I love going out for breakfast and he loves to eat so I will take him to this great breakfast place I used to go to in college that has the most amazing, over-sized, gooey, iced cinnamon buns.

Reality: He sleeps until at least 1:00 pm. every day and the restaurant closes at 2:00.

Take away: Take him to lunch or dinner.

Expectation 5: We all go Christmas shopping together!

Reality: We buy everything online because after one trip to the mall I remember how much I hate being at the mall around Christmas.

Take away: Start shopping around Halloween?

Expectation 6: We will head to the city to see a play/ eat dinner/see the Christmas lights and it will be magical – just like when they were little.

Reality: When the kids were little heading into the city to see a play/eat/see the decorations was usually a nightmare and did not improve when the kids became teenagers who would rather have been hanging out with their friends.

Take away: Let them bring friends and give them LOTS of advance notice and constant reminders or you will be met with: That’s tonight?!?! when it’s time to leave.

Expectation 7: I will miss my kid when he goes back to school.

Reality: I will miss my kid when he goes back to school and I will forget all about my failed attempts at togetherness which is why I repeat them Every. Single. Year.

Take away: Look for the spontaneous moments of togetherness and don’t worry if your plans fall off the rails.


Wishing you all a very Merry Christmas, the happiest of holidays and a wonderful New Year!



On CollegiateParent – How Holiday Traditions Change As Kids Move Away

I am pretty excited to introduce a new collaboration with a site for parents of college students. CollegiateParent is a great resource dedicated to helping parents navigate their child’s college years from move-in day through graduation and beyond. I stumbled on the site when I was looking for some college specific content before my younger son and I set out on college visits but I kept returning to the site for the parenting advice.

My first piece as a freelance contributor for the site is about the shift that happens to your family traditions when your kids leave for college. Even though I expected some changes when my kids got married or moved away I was a bit thrown that we were expected to adjust long before either of my boys had even graduated from college. You can read What Happens to Family Traditions When Your Kid Goes to College here.



Happy Thanksgiving!


It’s the Holiday Season and, Really, Whoop De Doo* Because Well, Ugh.

I’ve asked around and it feels like there’s an epidemic of apathy this holiday season. It doesn’t matter what holiday is being celebrated it seems like everyone I talk to is trying to wish the holiday season away as quickly as possible.

All of a sudden Christmas and Hanukkah are days away and I am scrambling and stressed and wondering how the hell it’s the end of December already. I blame the mild temperatures in Chicago, where I live, for tricking me into thinking that the usual snowy holidays were months away instead of weeks. Or maybe it was the Chicago Cubs’ World Series win that made me feel like the end of the world was fast approaching so why bother with the gift shopping. Or maybe it’s just the news.

All I know is that I have a shopping list that needs to be dealt with, a closet full of presents that need to be wrapped, a stack of Holiday cards that need to be addressed and mailed, and absolutely zero motivation to tackle any of it.

What’s a girl who usually loves the holidays to do?

I’ve checked in with other folks who are feeling the madness and asked them how they are putting the “Happy” back in Happy Holidays. Before you go to your room and stay there until January 2 you might want to try some of these ideas first.

  1. Buy less stuff. In other words, stop shopping now. I need to stop looking at gift lists. Every time I do I find another thing that would be perfect for only $25.00! Do you know how quickly a bunch of useless $25.00 gifts add up? Ridiculous. Just stop.
  1. If you’ve already done most of your shopping try a trick that works well when you are preparing for a trip. Travel experts agree that if you lay out all of your clothes when you are packing you can usually put away half of what you thought you would need and still have too much. It’s the exact same thing with presents. Right now, put all of your purchases on the floor and return half of them.
  1. Plan an experience instead of buying more stuff. Fewer boxes, better memories.
  1. Skip the holiday cards if you haven’t made them or bought them already. You could send something to the relatives who never see your kids but do you really need to send one to all of your kids’ friends? One friend just posted a picture on social media of the holiday card she is sending to her far-flung family and friends. Another friend is opting for Happy New Year cards instead. If all else fails and you still want to send a card you could pull a Julia Child and send out Valentine’s Day card.
  1. Find time to spend with family that doesn’t involve gift giving. Watch a movie, cook together, play a game, go for a walk.
  1. Volunteer. You’ve probably heard it before but helping others really helps put the stress and the excesses of the holidays in perspective.

Wishing you all the best for this holiday season!


*This is an actual song made famous by Andy Williams minus the “ugh” part

Our 2016 Favorite Things Holiday Gift List!

Yes, I know, there are a million gift lists out there right now and they all claim that they are the “Only lists you’ll need!”

I make no such proclamation.

I am simply offering up my family and friends’ favorite things* ala Oprah, sans the free giveaway because, well, as much as I would LOVE to give away everything on the list to everyone, I ain’t Oprah.

Instead, I hope that you can find something on the list to make your holiday shopping that much easier or at least get inspired by something you read. Because, to be honest, as much as I adore a gift list (and I read EVERY SINGLE ONE that I stumble on), I have rarely found the PERFECT gift. I have, however, found a perfectly good gift often by following a link provided on the list and tripping over something else on the page. So think of this as a treasure map of sorts – maybe you will find what you are looking for on this page or maybe it’s just a step in the right direction.

You’re welcome.

For the teen/college kid who is upgrading his wardrobe:

The Timex Weekender Watch

This is not a break the bank, pass-down-for-generations watch but a casual piece of jewelry that tells time. And the best part about this watch, besides the really reasonable price, is that you can easily add a different band and it looks like a new watch! Multiple presents!


For the kids who are constantly complaining that the WiFi is soooooooo slow:

A mesh networking home Wi-Fi System.

I sound like I know what I’m talking about, don’t I – but I really don’t. However, someone who does know what he is talking about suggested a mesh networking system to extend the Wi-Fi in our house. As much as I would like to say that our family spends oodles of time together reading and talking and not staring at screens, I can’t. Most of the time everyone in the house is streaming a video, playing video games, listening to music and sending and receiving texts/emails/documents all at the same time. So the WiFi doesn’t always work. And it doesn’t always work in certain spots. Hence, the constant complaining.

(Actually this also qualifies as a gift for the parents of the kids who complain that the wireless is so slow because they won’t hear the kids complain anymore…)


For the kid (or adult) who is always leaving things behind:


Just attach this bluetooth tracking device, set up the app and you are good to go. No more lost coats, backpacks, keys…


For that same kid who gets lost and might need to find his way home:

Latitude and Longitude key chain


Ok, so this is more of a sentimental gift than an actual map, however, for the kid who is already away from home or leaving soon, this key chain says you will always help her find her way back home. (It’s still helpful, of course, in case they do forget your address and need to type the coordinates into their GPS).


For the kid who gets lost and has a flat tire:

AAA membership

Roadside assistance is not sexy, but when your kid is stranded and needs his car towed he will LOVE this gift.


For those times when you need to call for a tow truck but your phone is dead:

The LifeCard Power Bank cellphone charger

The credit card sized charger is being touted as the “World’s thinnest power bank,” which is great if you don’t want to lug around a heavy extra charger (and, really, who does). There is a tradeoff though: it’s small size doesn’t give my Iphone 6 a full charge but it will give it a boost. (FYI -the charger needs to be charged, too. I always forget that part and wonder why it doesn’t work).


For family movie night – inside or out:

A Home Theater Projector

Now THIS is really my favorite thing. I love movies and there is something so fun about being outside on a beautiful night watching a movie on a big screen – even if that screen is just the side of your house. You could get all of the accessories if you want (tripod screen, special speakers, designated stand) but our set up is pretty bare bones – no sheet, just the wall, and our kids’ old guitar amp for sound (although it also worked with a Beats Pill). Popcorn, however, is mandatory.


For your friend or relative who is always on the go:

Corkcicle Triple Insulated Water Bottle and Thermos

The Canteen comes in assorted colors and sizes and is great for staying hydrated on the fly. FYI – the 25 oz. thermos holds a full bottle of wine for the beach, an outdoor movie, or a tailgate…just saying.


For your friend, the world traveler:

A luggage tag that says it all

Although I am strictly a carry-on girl, I have one of these tags on my bag and it makes me chuckle every time I look at it.


For your ADULT friends who are tired of playing the kids’ games:

Cards Against Humanity

We borrowed this game from our oldest a few years ago and we laughed so hard we bought our own. It’s always good for hours of laughter but only if you are not opposed to raunchy, sometimes inappropriate humor. This is NOT a game for little kids as one of my friend’s thought – the manufacturer recommends this for 17 year-olds and up. Little kids should stick to Apples to Apples for now.


For the buttoned up folks in your life who like to flash a little leg every now and then:

Stance Socks


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The men in my house do not wear flashy clothes – they are jeans and t-shirt kind of guys. But their socks?  They have prints ranging from Darth Vader to the Chicago Cubs to bold Hawaiian flowers and multi-colored stripes. So, if you need something for a Sports fan, or a runner with a penchant for Star Wars, or a fashionista who appreciates a “Sassy Minnie” Mouse, you will find something for everyone, even for a golfer who loves Caddyshack. Really.


For the friend who needs an instant vacation:

Cocktail Kits

Nothing says, “Take me away!” like the smell of fresh limes, mint and a little rum (or maybe that’s just me). The Urban Agriculture Co. offers six grow your own cocktail kits like Mint Mojito and Basil Bourbon Smash. Each set includes one herb grow kit, a muddler, a mason jar cocktail shaker and straining spoon. Ahh…


For that certain someone who needs to wear corrective reading glasses but doesn’t want them to look like corrective reading glasses:

Eyebobs glasses.


The ad says it all…


For your furriest child, aka the dog:

The Tuff Guy Tony squeaker mat from Outward Hound.

Tuff Guy Tony and his friends, Lars and Hank, have 11 squeakers (but they aren’t annoying, I swear) and, more importantly, they look hilarious. Even though our dog’s “Tuff Guy” has lost a little of his stuffing and he’s missing an eye, our pooch still carries him around and sleeps next to him.


The gift that keeps on giving:

Subscription boxes

Remember when the only subscription boxes you could give involved oranges and grapefruit sent from Florida? Now you can send just about anything and extend the holidays for a little while longer (which is just the way I like my celebrations: 3-6 months long). Last year we gave our younger son a three-month gift subscription to Loot Crate, “the Geek subscription box for gamers and nerds.” Big hit. I also sent my boys three months of beef jerky. Yes, 3 months of jerky. Fights ensued.

There are boxes out there to fill every interest including my faves, coffee and book subscriptions (hint, hint), and most subscription boxes can be set up for a single month delivery or up to an entire year of monthly gifts (a whole year of celebrating!).


For the soundtrack of your life:

Spotify gift subscription

Technically this isn’t a subscription box but it works the same way – a gift every month! Sure, you can sign up for Spotify for free but the premium account gives you on-demand, ad free, and offline music.  There are student and family accounts available, too.


For the Host who appreciates your sweet and spicy personality:

Honey and Syrup and Sriracha – oh my!

Forget the tired and sad bottle of wine that your friend will just repackage and bring to the next party she goes to; give her spicy maple syrup for her Christmas morning pancakes and you will definitely be invited back.


For some family togetherness:

Take a vacation. Anywhere. Drive or fly, it doesn’t matter, just try to get away – together. With one kid in college and one just a year and a half away from leaving for college, family time – forced or otherwise – is a rare commodity in our house. Even though family vacations aren’t always perfect, a few days away from the distractions of “real life” is a great gift for everyone in the family.


Feel free to share your favorite things in the comments section – I’m always on the lookout for the perfect gift.

Happy Shopping!




*Isuckasaparent and Connie Lissner receive no compensation for any of the products listed above and make no representations or warranties – either explicit or implied – as to the products listed herein. I just like them and I hope you like them too.



My College Junior Won’t Be Home For Thanksgiving (And I Don’t Like It)

I’ve always loved Thanksgiving. I love the food, I love not having to run around and buy gifts for everyone, and I especially love the warm and fuzzy feel of gathering together and being grateful. Over the past few years, however, the holiday has changed for us. Extended family members started traveling out of town for the holiday or had to split time with other parts of their respective families. That meant that our little nuclear family had to switch it up a little, either celebrating with friends or going out to dinner. Those changes were initially met with some trepidation:

What would it feel like to be with friends instead of family?

Sort of the same but without the traditional fights from years of baggage being brought to the table.

Will a restaurant meal be as satisfying as a home cooked meal?

Surprisingly, yes, even more so without all the clean up.

This year, though, I am not going to cope as well with our newest adjustment: our oldest son is studying abroad this semester and he will not be with us for the holiday.

I don’t like it.

When it first hit me, I worried about him more than us, of course. Would he be homesick if he wasn’t with family for the holiday or would he even notice that it’s Thanksgiving because he’s in a foreign country where they don’t celebrate? Should we yank his little brother, a junior in high school, out of school for a few days and spend a ridiculous amount of money to fly there and spend the holiday with him? Should we fly him home??

Before I started checking flights, I checked my sanity.

Sure, I recognize a slippery slope when I see one. First he’s overseas, then he is too busy with schoolwork or some internship that keeps him out of town, then some girl comes around and demands that he spend Thanksgiving with her family. Next thing you know, my husband and I are alone, eating a Thanksgiving-themed TV dinner while watching football with the dog.

But, really, what can I do about it? I’ve been in those shoes and missed holidays with my family because of work or my spouse’s family obligations so I know it’s just a matter of time before he will be in the same boat.

Families evolve – something no one tells you when you have little kids. Sure, they tell you things will change when you get more sleep or when the kids are in school for longer than two hours a day and you can actually run more than one errand, but no one explains what it feels like when the kids move on with their own lives. Even leaving for college doesn’t qualify as moving on; they come back—a lot…at least at first. But then, suddenly, you see a change. It’s not really sudden, though; it was happening all along but you just didn’t notice it. Maybe the texts and calls asking for advice don’t come as frequently, or at all, or you notice a level of confidence – and competence – that wasn’t there the last time you saw him or her.

I visited my son in Europe a month or so ago and I cried when I left him. Big, gulping, worse than when I left him at college sobs. It was not because I was leaving him in a foreign country as much as it was because he was perfectly fine and capable navigating this foreign country without me.

Of course, I want him to be able to separate from me and be independent – it’s what we’ve all been working toward but, wow, it’s like a punch in the gut when it happens.

And it happens.

So, you accept the new change in the family dynamic and you adjust, again, until the next seismic shift and so on and so on and so on, always hoping your family, whatever that ends up looking like, will still kinda feel like a family.

At least that’s what I keep telling myself.

So, this year my son will not be home for Thanksgiving because, geographically, it’s not realistic…and we will adapt. One day, however, he may be just a couple of towns over with his significant other’s family and (in case my kids are reading this) I will most likely be sitting at home splitting a store-bought turkey sandwich and a bag of sweet potato chips with my husband, thinking about the time when we were all together…

Just kidding, kids. You know I would never eat a store-bought turkey sandwich. 😉

(Here’s hoping Mom guilt works).


What I Have Learned After Nearly 19 Years of Parenting

Usually, after 19 years on a job, you begin to feel pretty competent. You move through your daily routine with some sense of mastery, some confidence in your abilities. Even if there is a little hiccup in your daily schedule you know, from years of experience, that you can figure it out.

And then there is parenting.

No matter how many years you are a parent you never really know what you are doing. How can you if the job description changes every day – ok, every minute – and the other people you work with don’t follow the rules??

I didn’t realize how little I’ve learned over nearly two decades until I was surrounded by new-ish parents who thought that I had a handle on this parenting gig.


To their credit no one asked me any specific questions but they did sigh longingly when they said that it must be easier now that my kids can take care of themselves and I can sleep through the night.

Again, ha!

I didn’t burst that bubble, though (FYI: teenagers do not take care of themselves and what parent of a teenager actually gets sleep??). I figured that these young mothers didn’t need to worry about the teen years while they are chasing their toddlers around Starbucks and tending to screaming infants.

It did make me realize, however, that there are a few things I’ve picked up along the way. I wrote them down as proof that at this moment* I think I’ve learned something.

  1. Your kids are listening even when you think they aren’t. I’m not talking about eavesdropping (although they tend to do that as well so you have to be careful when you are talking on the phone). No, I’m talking about those times when you are doling out unsolicited advice about dating or drinking or you are nagging them to do work instead of playing video games. One day they will see the value in your advice and they may even thank you. Maybe. But don’t hold your breath for their thanks.
  2. It’s ok to apologize. You will make mistakes…all the time. It’s healthy for your kids to see that you are not perfect and that you are human. This doesn’t mean that you should keep making the same mistake every day and keep apologizing for it, but, if you make a bad call, yell when you are having a bad day or give crappy advice – apologize and talk about it.
  3. Yelling doesn’t help.
  4. Humor is so important. My boys and I have so many silly inside jokes that make us crack up all the time. I love those moments and I love that connection. My boys may shake their heads when I make up a song about the dog or when I think I’m being “punny” but I see them smile occasionally. I hope those moments outweigh all of the times I nagged them about their homework.
  5. They will dislike you at times especially when you enforce a rule that pisses them off – like taking away a phone when they forgot to call home or not letting them go out when they break curfew. They will get over it. As long as my responses to their infractions are reasonable I can walk away and know that I’ve done my job. Every now and then I say things like, I am taking away all of your electronics for three months because you were 5 minutes late! That’s when an apology and, sometimes, a sense of humor come in handy.1351263042664_4136006
  6. Family time is sacred. Whether it’s dinner or breakfast or a family movie night, shared family experiences are glue.
  7. Take lots of pictures, write things down, make a video. Not of every moment because some moments are definitely worth simply sinking into, but, know this: you will not remember everything. No matter how many times you think, I will never forget this moment, you will. And, the pictures, notes, videos are as much for your kids as they are for you.
  8. Let them fail – often. You’ve probably heard this a lot by now but failing is not the new “f” word. I am so guilty of trying to save my kids. Trying to protect them from every contingency, every physical scrape, every emotional let down. I dole out advice, say no to seemingly dangerous activities and guess what? Even as I’m running interference for them, they’ve suffered injuries and set backs – and that’s ok.
  9. They need you as much when they are 19 as they do when they are 2.
  10. They love you even when you suck as a parent.


*This is subject to change at any moment.


How about you? What have you learned from #parenting?


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Yet Another Thing I Will Miss When My Kid Goes to College

We are less than a month away from the day that we leave our older son behind at college and head home to a slightly emptier house.

In order to avoid thinking about that for too long, I have been putting my energy into dealing with all of crap that needs to be done before he leaves for school: dorm room shopping, doctor’s appointments, haircut appointments, clothes shopping and, as a last-minute stressor, wisdom teeth extractions.

I’ve also been cleaning out closets, reading articles about easing the transition, and trying to get a prescription for Xanax to help with my separation issues (just kidding – I actually bought a case of wine).

I am going to be ready…or so I thought.

This morning I found a box of donuts and a bag of gummi candies on our front porch. They were from my older son’s friends. Apparently, he’s been having a rough week that I was unaware of. Yes, I knew about his sun poisoning and previously mentioned wisdom tooth pain, but the other part of it—the possible end of a long-term relationship—I was not privy to. He turned to his closest friends for that support and they rallied.

See, the best way to cheer up my 18-year-old is to feed him, so that’s what they did.

I cried.

My son has the nicest friends; they really look out for each other. But, more than that, they are really a great group of kids to have around…and they are leaving, too.

I’m going to miss having them around.

I may bitch and moan occasionally because they are at our house a lot, but I really only care when I’m in the mood to sprawl out on the couch in my stretched out yoga pants, eat cookies and watch bad TV. (I try not to do that in front of the kids lest they think that’s what happens when you’re older than 45, move to the suburbs and have kids. I don’t want to scare them).

The reality though is they usually don’t mind if my husband and I are around—yoga pants and all. They sit with us and even invite us to play board games or poker with them. Once, when a couple of the boys were hanging out with us, one of the boys told my husband and me about his plan to go to Las Vegas with our son for their 21st birthdays.  “You should come, too,” he said.

“You probably won’t want your parents with you in Vegas on your 21st birthdays,” I explained smiling as I pictured the scene.

“Why? You guys are cool,” he said. And he meant it!

No, really. He meant it!

I could have cried but that would have shown him how un-cool I really am.

The fact that these boys don’t want to flee when we walk in the room is only one of the reasons that I like them. They work hard at their jobs and at school, they do charitable work without being hounded and they are respectful of our home. They may eat all of the ice cream but the bowls are in the dishwasher when they are done and the counters are wiped clean. I can’t get my 14-year-old to do that; hell, I can’t get my husband to do that!

But the best thing about these boys is that  they are really, really nice to my youngest son.

That wasn’t always the case with my oldest son’s friends but, somehow, over the years, the friends who were mean to his little brother stopped being part of his posse.

I know it’s not easy to have a little brother around all the time (I’m a little sister, after all) but no one seems to mind him or, if they do, they don’t let it show. Half the time, a couple of them will be hanging out with him in our family room while the rest of the group is in the basement. Other times they invite him to join in. Just the other night my husband and I came home and found our youngest beating the older boys at poker, the next day he was playing tennis ball golf with them, and, as I write this, one of those boys—his “brother from another mother”—is working out with him as he prepares for soccer tryouts.

I’ve been worried about how my youngest is going to handle the separation from his brother but I didn’t think about how he might deal with the separation from his brother’s friends.

Thank God for social media…

I, am only “friends” with one of the boys on Facebook (his request, not mine) so I will have to get my information from my kids or hear snippets when they are back for school breaks.

In the mean time it will be odd—and a little quieter—without them around.

They will be missed.


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