The College Tour 101

My alma mater, Fordham University.

My alma mater, Fordham University.

Sniffing The Elixir Of The College Experience

I’ve trekked through snow, ice, gale winds and smoldering heat all in the pursuit of the “right college.” First for a college that would propel my daughter and now launch my son into a functioning member of society, the son who calls me when he sees a spider, proof that we all have our dreams!

We’ve seen storied buildings, soaring sustainable ceilings, charming ivory encased stone edifices, professional gyms…even a planetarium! Two kids, two years apart I’ve been on over 20 college tours. Tours that have left me, at times, exhilarated, bored and befuddled. The $64,000 question, and tragically in many cases the price tag is: “Where will my child thrive, be happy, get excited about learning, make friends and find a major for a successful life?”

To gain the best insight for your college tour hit up their website to learn about academics and essentials. The information session, which is usually emceed by a faculty member or admissions representative, will review the basics. If you’ve done your homework you can dig deeper with questions. It is also here where you will hear some erudite quotes about the world today.

The tour is conducted by a student who has experienced the positives and negatives of the school, so ask away. Topics to consider:

  1. Housing – Find out where freshmen live. I’ve found “freshmen only” dorms are wonderful for forming friendships. Don’t assume anything, there are schools that don’t house freshmen on main campus or they will show you the best upperclassmen dorms and skip freshmen housing. Find out where upperclassmen live. Housing can be complicated, get the facts before you commit.
  2. Social Life – Ask what students do on weekends, your child may not forgive you but hey you’ll be separated next year! There are parties on every campus, but insights into cultural events, clubs and school offerings will provide a general overview of options.
  3. Greek Life – Ask the guide, how pervasive Greek Life is and when rushing occurs. Many students thrive in Greek life while others stay away; consider how your child would manage in a school where a high percentage is involved. Beware of rushing before second semester where your child will have to make decisions before settling in.
  4. The neighborhood – Find out how involved students are outside of school and address safety concerns.
  5. Career Planning/Internships – I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the number of tour guides who have had internships. Granted these students are involved but dig a little deeper to find out about where they’ve interned and their experiences.
  6. Students – Observe students walking around, eating at the dining area or in the library to get a feel of the culture and how your child fits in.
  7. Majors – Ask about popular majors and if your child doesn’t know what they want to major in pursue a college with a broad spectrum of majors.

The overall tone of the tour will give you a good idea of how vested the school is in attracting quality candidates. I’ve seen it all from being addressed by savvy professors to a tour given by a clueless freshman who made us wait outside in the snow for a van that passed us by. College is a big investment so before writing that behemoth check get the facts!

Eradicating High School Behavior

small_430162762One Woman At A Time

The other day my daughter made a comment to me about a situation at college. She bemoaned, “It’s like high school all over again.” I advised her that she has the control to change every situation as my mind wandered off to the many times, as an adult, I have thought, “high school never dies.”

I didn’t attend a traditional co-ed high school, so without boys and all of the sports and interests that align kids today it was pretty mild. Yet, my kids enjoyed the full kahuna of groups, cliques and posturing. In my daughter’s case we watched enough of Mean Girls for total immersion in High School 101. So I began to mull the events in my life that prove the inner workings of high school never truly go away…

  1. The Senior Community – My father was losing his mind to dementia and a newbie in his senior community decided it was funny that he kept waiting for a car to bring him to the airport for a trip to Rome. One day this woman asked about his plans and began to laugh a la Regina George. So I approached her little clique, determined to ensure he wasn’t going to be her punch line anymore and said, “I assume you all know there are no travel plans and he is not well.” I walked away and said to my niece, “high school never dies.”
  2. The Group – I’ve always been an equal opportunity kind of gal with friends of all ages but this whole idea of being friends with your children’s friends parents doesn’t always work. Sometimes you’re late to the table and a crew of women has already formed a group and well you’re just not invited. This whole grouping concept, which seems to be a social norm in high school as well, is counter to the kind of friendships I ever had which are open and inclusive.
  3. The Opportunist – Oh, how high school rears its ugly head. Someone is showing a strong interest in friending you, play dates with your children seem to be increasing as well as phone calls. In the back of your mind you are thinking, “Isn’t this nice or not.” When the dust settles you find out that this person was jockeying for a favor. It’s important to note that this type typically moves on to new prey fairly quickly once they have no use for you.
  4. The PTA – There are those that volunteer for the pure joy of it and those that think volunteerism will bestow privileges for their progeny. Lest I say anymore…
  5. The Judger – I was told once that my suit was nice but the color was outdated. This was at a nursery school function. I had two children 22 months apart, I was barely functioning and happy the suit fit. Was I concerned that the fashion police was going to issue a ticket in the form of a “friend” who judged everything from my clothes to my car?

Last night during the Presidential debates, Trump was accused by Rand Paul of “junior high” behavior for his predilection of judging candidates by their looks. This behavior is just everywhere and now I’d like to add “we all know what they say about people who peak in high school”!

Applying to College: Round Two

5427517501_79340c3ac2_m-1Watch out College Process

You know how it is with the first one. You walk around with sanitizer 24/7, ban sugar consumption and delude yourself that you can protect your progeny from all evil. Number Two is a different story.

Number Two is applying to college this fall and since I still have lingering post-traumatic stress disorder from Number One’s senior year, she’s now a college sophomore, I’m heading into this terrain with a brand new mindset.

Last time I absorbed, inhaled and feared the massive amounts of information headed my way. From college nights, websites, computer match-ups, articles and other parents proclaiming they knew better, the process owned us. This year I vow to:

  1. Ignore the college tsunami of information. For every truism that was out there I could hold up examples that negate it. Lesson: Mind your own business and schools fill up with many different kinds of students and yes some of it is not fair. So, if you want to give a reach school a try, why not, it’s only money and keep your checkbook open.
  2. Hand the reins to Number Two. During round one, I was too involved. I enjoy my sanity too much for that to happen again.
  3. Keep my mouth sealed. Remember naming your baby? Everyone wants to know your choice and then they will tell you what they really think. There is so much more to consider in choosing a college than impressing others, like programs, grants and distance. So you won’t have to ask when we meet in the supermarket: “My Second is not going to Harvard.” The 5 percent acceptance rate got in the way.
  4. Not spend my year in fear. Go through the process once and the curtain has been revealed. Colleges play games like sending out free applications as a ploy to lower their acceptance rate so they place better in the rankings race which is so flawed that’s another article. The lesson here is that colleges are harboring their own fears, managing a business to pay for rock walls and group study rooms. The hype is everywhere, so remember they need you just as much as you think you need them.
  5. Demand more for my money. From a recent Washington Post article: “…everyone, except for the super wealthy, is having a hard time paying for college. Tuition has risen faster than the rate of inflation. Wages certainly have not kept pace with the costs of college, neither has any form of financial aid.” Enough said.
  6. Like my child. When child Number One went off to college; I was too exhausted to enjoy many of the milestones.
  7. Develop a new kind of kitty litter with college mail. I threw this one in to make sure you were paying attention!

If there is anything I learned during this process two years ago is that shedding the pomp and circumstance of finding “the perfect school” is an absolute necessity. You may believe one school will set your child on the correct path but there is no school that will magically achieve this. This is your child’s job and whether you see it in them already or you’re still waiting, this is what we all should get worked up about – helping them build the skills to succeed. Deciding on a college is just the beginning!

photo credit: <a href=”″>The Fighter</a> via <a href=””>photopin</a> <a href=””>(license)</a>

Digital Age Discontent

file6681269982727“Men have become the tools of their tools.” – Henry David Thoreau

I’ve adapted to technology but I do recall a time where documenting every restaurant meal, new haircut or your pet’s cone of shame would have put you in the minority. In those days, I survived and thrived, and sometimes in the wee hours of the night or when I’m facing the “beach ball of death” on my Mac I wish someone would take me back to a place where I don’t have to see these messages:

  1. “Safari Can’t Find Your Server” – My MacBook has aged or maybe it’s my internet provider who is going through their own midlife crisis, thanks Netflix, but whatever the reason this message keep popping up on my computer: “Safari can’t find your Server.” If there’s been a “server” in my house and if this “server” is hiding I implore you to come out. I can assure you that you will be a welcome addition to my world and as long as my meals are lukewarm, but served to me, I will be elated.
  2. “You Haven’t Logged Your Dinner” – The year I paid for the Weight Watchers app would have been better spent on a pair of leather boots. I attempted to reach lifetime membership but I broke up with their app and downloaded My Fitness Pal for free. The point is to track your meals and I often lose steam by dinner. I now receive alerts telling me that I haven’t logged in dinner. Well, maybe I’d like to keep that to myself. Perhaps I don’t want to share that I inhaled 50 pistachio nuts or smothered artisanal cheese on a rosemary, olive baguette before dinner so ponder that the next time you stalk me for my dinner log!
  3. “Storage Is Full” – My Iphone is on the way out since upgrades are stolen from you in the middle of the night in my household. “Storage is Full” when I attempt to take a photo of the dog looking cute or the dress I’m considering purchasing, events I would never dream of documenting when photos carried some import. So now it’s not just my kitchen cabinets that need to be decluttered.
  4. Facebook Notifications – I’m a magnet for folks who tell me their secrets in store lines, various offices and when I’m trying to buy a pair of shoes but it’s the endless oversharing of happiness on Facebook that puts me on edge. I’m happy you are happy but please let’s have some balance here – either mess up your hair in some of those pics or let us in on the secret that you don’t really know all those good looking people!
  5. “You’ve Got Mail” – I’ve never been a numbers person, so AOL stop counting how many emails are sitting in the account I escaped from by creating a new account that I attempt to keep under 500. If you’ve just asked me for my email because you are a manning the register at Ace Hardware I’m sorry I responded as though you asked me for my kidney.

So before “Big Brother” was a reality TV show, this omnipotent force introduced by George Orwell spooked me. Fretfully I have to advise that the time has come and the “server” I never met has been abducted, I’m now forced to report what I had for dinner, Marie Kondo lives in my phone, happy perky people have invaded the planet and if I open one email a day I might catch up before the “beach ball of death” stops spinning!

6 Signs You’re Stuck In The Middle!


Portrait by my son who beautifully captures the Mom “worried/weary” look!

It’s not easy being in the middle. Yet, this is precisely where many Boomers sit, part of the sandwich generation where raising children and caregiving for the elderly intersect. As older parents ourselves we’ve find we’ve landed on the corner of helping our parents who are living longer and teens and young adults who seem to need a lot more assistance than “back in the day.” These hurdles are not for the faint of heart and on any given day you may very well find yourself:

  1. Managing sobriety – Wondering if the quip your doctor made about your mother enjoying her drugs (true story but not mine, although my father once told me he saw a mirage in my den) is something you need to add to your “worry list” or should you just keep hoping your teenager hasn’t slipped beer into the basement yet.
  2. Serving as the “grand purveyor” of lost and found – You’re either chasing canes or searching for that “school form” – you know the one that was due yesterday. If you’ve ever searched for a cane in Costco or scooped up a water pill before the dog inhaled it you know what I mean.
  3. Embracing telemarketers – A ringing phone, yes we still own landlines, in the evening incites paralyzing fear. These are the times you embrace your alma mater’s 100th appeal, celebrate your plumber’s anniversary special or fall for “don’t hang up you’ve won a free timeshare.” You’re so relieved you’re not dealing with an accident you may consider that timeshare.
  4. Fighting losing battles – Your advice will be resisted on a daily basis – well one set can’t hear and the other tunes you out. While on a mission to teach my father about meal planning, apple pie is not dinner, I come home to a teen who gorges on snacks and leaves a meal, I didn’t want to make in the first place, untouched.
  5. Holding the keys – This is why your salon visits have doubled. Passing the keys to one set, while simultaneously trying to abscond with aging parents’ car keys are formidable tasks. This is where you sigh and thank the Gods for hair dye.
  6. Facing the unknown – Whether you are waiting for SAT scores, college decisions or the results of yet another medical test the unknown silently torments you.

Yet, we muster courage on a daily basis to guide teens or young adults and assist elderly parents. Sometimes being in the middle is a good thing, your wise self knows escaping high school was the best thing that ever happened to you while spending time with the older set allows you to evaluate the time you have now. So if you suddenly find yourself humming “clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right, here I am, stuck in the middle with you…” – you realize maybe it’s not such a bad place.

The Search For Dad

photo-1On becoming what you need…

For as long as I can remember, my brother wandered. He never sat but paced back and forth, so it made sense that he followed his sense of wanderlust. Yet, I secretly knew he wasn’t just someone who loved to travel and see new places. He also didn’t possess the naiveté of a tourist, who shared photos of their journeys, and allowed yearly vacations to fill photo albums. No, he was moving, pacing, thinking and trying to outpace his desire to change his past – but he knew all too well there was no way back.

My brother’s father died when he was three. When you lose a parent that early you lose a piece of yourself as well. It’s not just the isolation of knowing that your friends have two parents but the knowledge that you will never share an ice cream cone with your Dad, have him teach you to ride a bike or have the chance to stare at his angered face when you dent his car. The years of adoration, rebellion and gift of loving acceptance were never an option for him. The senseless arbitrary unfairness of life ushered him to keep moving. This roving, sensitive brother of mine became my idol and in an ironic twist a second father. I saw the missing piece he yearned for, very early on, as he shared his love of books and reading and mocked my taste in music.

Ours was a little universe of broken pieces. After his father’s death, my mother married my father and my twin sister and I were born. Ten years our senior, he was a babysitter and antagonized us with endless tickling. Years later, he brought me on my only college tour and advocated for me to make a better college choice. He took my sister and me to museums and the beach and although he sometimes forgot to feed us he nourished us with the outside world. He somehow knew what we needed and threw pillows at my sister and let me browse through his books. When our family suffered the untimely death of my mother when he was 21 and we were 11, he left for graduate school in California. Postcards filled us in on his travels which led him to cities across the U.S. and ultimately Europe. He traveled forward and in the past, finding long lost relatives and becoming the keeper of memories and old family photographs.

An aunt once advised me that there was too much pain for him here and he felt the need to flee but I knew, at the ripe age of 11, standing in his room weeping at my concurrent losses, and gazing at his Don Quixote poster that he possessed what he was searching for. He had already gifted it to me and when he had his children the light went on again. As a new father, he balanced sensitivity with warding off worry. He was a kind and gentle father to his children when they were young but avoided hovering, knowing all too well the need to build resiliency. He lovingly continues to share his love of travel, photography, food and life. Fathers come in all shapes and sizes and though he was my brother, he was a beacon of light for me – precipitated by the light that went out for him too early in his own life.

Thanks For Rejecting My Kid!


This is for all the folks who have rejected my children, whether deserved or a biased assessment, I’d like to express my gratitude.   My kids accuse me of bragging about the hoops I jumped through during my childhood and though it was a different world theirs is far too easy sometimes. To truly develop skills to become an adult, rejection is a necessary evil. Starting as early as grade school through high school, here are some rejections I’m thankful for:

  • The Dreaded Cut – Thanks for allowing my child to see that sometimes you’re just not good enough or sometimes you should make the cut but for reasons beyond your control the spot was not yours for the taking. Picking up the pieces is what life is all about. Most kids are able to assess their performance honestly and this is a prime time to “talk.” I once heard one of my children say, “What can I do, sometimes life isn’t fair.” A great and necessary lesson to which I added, “One person does not define you.” There’s so much value in acknowledging you may have to work harder, accepting that the tides won’t always go your way or choosing another path.
  • The Friendship Dump –  I’ve found that friendships that last are often developed in middle or even high school. Hanging out with your friends’ children may work but beware kids often move on and develop their own friendships. Don’t be surprised if your child is dumped or your child does the dumping. I’ve witnessed this with both my children.  I worried but in the end I’d like to say thanks. When you lose friends, you become more empathetic and open-minded to others. This is also a prime time to teach sensitivity.
  • Losing & Failing – These are not textbook rejections, but still disappointments that make kids feel inferior. If your child is winning all the time, that’s a problem. My sister and I played cards often when we were growing up and she was always won. It was irritating but it was just not my thing. Losing allows you to learn about yourself, your capabilities and skills. Let’s talk about grades. First of all no child should have their self-esteem tied into their academic performance or any activity. Secondly, you don’t want them to fall into the trap of expecting perfection all the time. So what if your child always earns a 100? Praise them for their hard work and find appropriate challenges for them. Believe me this child won’t always achieve perfection and you don’t want their world to implode when it happens.

I’ve been thinking about the importance of rejection because the focus on performance in my suburban town is seismic. I’ve also been reading stories of college suicides. These are students blessed with outsized talent who feel stuck in a maze of high performance. These actions represent a small percentage but there’s a larger majority of teens, college students and young adults who face disabling anxiety because they are in a race to keep up with unrealistic standards.

Don’t swoop in to fix every taxing situation your child faces.  I say bring on the rejection, the nepotism, the losses, and failures – and once again thanks to those for those rejections!


Keeping Up With Caitlyn Won’t Be Easy

1586972480_0dc49d8d7d_nWhen Bruce Jenner’s photos started popping up everywhere my first thought was, “Ok, why does Caitlyn Jenner look so much better than me?” I texted several friends and posed that question. One friend said she looked better than all the Kardashians and another jested she wanted her plastic surgeon’s number. As the day went on another friend queried on Facebook, “How come Caitlyn looks better than we do and she’s only been at it a year or so?!?

Of course we know when you have her resources, Annie Leibovitz photographing you and the magic wands of Vanity Fair how could you not look fabulous. Like most of us, I’m happy for her and she does look great but it is just the essence of her veneer that is bothering me. The vast majority of comments have commended her on her outside shell and let’s be honest other than Hollywood most 65-year-olds do not remotely look like Jenner. Yet, it’s hard for me to get past the fact that if she truly wanted to be taken seriously beyond her exterior she wouldn’t have posed a la Marilyn Monroe. In essence she has created a new image and standard to live up to. I empathize that she’s in the public eye, a society that couldn’t believe Susan Boyle could sing like an angel. We judge and we judge hard and women are judged the harshest. Plus, we’re still fighting objectification and equal pay from Madison Avenue to board rooms across America.

As a middle-aged woman I don’t want to be judged by how I look on the outside. It is likely that Jenner is making up for lost time and with unlimited resources and time perhaps she will keep up the race with Father Time. Yet, I believe most us by the time we hit middle age are happy to settle for looking our best, making the most of our genetics and focusing on who we are beyond our shell. This has become my mantra as I age. Mother Nature has also provided some nice perks like worsening vision. The gift of motherhood has also humbled me in ways no other role I’ve ever held has. I’ve learned that perfection in any area of your life is typically doomed.

For me, middle age is a time of wisdom and light and for those seeking to enhance themselves that’s fine but I’m aging with the notion that I’m good enough. I don’t have a career predicated by how I look. Most days good enough is I’ve covered the grays, exercised, eaten well, limited sugar and treated myself kindly. Women have long struggled to be viewed and respected for who they are and not what they look like and aging in a society that worships youth and beauty is not for the faint of heart.

I’m not judging her and I always loved “it’s a never too late story” but her positioning is worrisome. I hope Jenner doesn’t become a slave to her outer shell, as it stands keeping up with Caitlyn won’t be easy…as most of us know.

photo credit: <a href=”″>rouge</a> via <a href=””>photopin</a> <a href=””>(license)</a>


Words Are My Diamonds


“Good words are worth much, and cost little.” – George Herbert

We just celebrated Mother’s Day and I requested “words” as a gift from my children. Words are important to me not just because I’m a writer but because after the flowers die, candy is eaten and gifts put away “words” last a lifetime. Though the card was store bought, my son told me how he felt about me including inside jokes and humor but also observations about our relationship. He had me teary eyed after the first sentence.

To write and be able to express yourself, show someone you love and appreciate them is a task everyone is capable of. I’m hoping he will write heartfelt cards to the future love of his life and his children. I’ve saved all of his cards so someday he can peruse them and travel the journey of his childhood from baptism, birthdays, holidays and more. I’ve written letters and kept journals for each of my children. In the so-called connected world we live in, writing may seem passé but for me each crafted word means so much more than a typed out sentence somewhere on the internet or even a sparkling diamond. For those who have received love letters, which I hope is not a thing of the past, the tangible joy of reveling in that moment and feeling loved is priceless.

Parenting teens is not easy, especially when I often find candy wrappers strewn throughout the house and what looks like the aftermath of an earthquake in his room, I sometimes feel unappreciated. Of course, I know he loves me but even a Mom likes a little affirmation. He’s nearing the end of his high school career and the pressure of junior year has worn him down. I often feel guilty that we pepper him with too many orders and don’t recognize that he is still a kid, a teenager and that all this pomp and circumstance is not as important as launching a human being, one who thinks, loves and knows who he is, off to college. He is sensitive, kind and thoughtful and his words reminded me of that.

It’s hard to get children today to think about why they are fortunate. I tell my kids often, “There are starving kids all over the world” and they roll their eyes. I believe the act of writing, thinking about their message, planning it out and considering the receiver is a way for them to reflect on their life and the relationships they have. In this case, for my son to write about me I’m guessing that he thought about all that I do for him as a parent. His words confirmed that. For me, its confirmation that he is thankful and appreciates the home and life my husband and I have worked to create.

I didn’t have an agenda for any of this when I asked for words but I’m glad I did. In a time where kids are programmed worse than the Energizer Bunny, an opportunity to slow down, think about their emotions and relationships is time well spent – so the next time I find a sock in my dining room I may not have a coronary!


The Unsung Heroes Of Mother’s Day


file2801302980272There are all types of mothers and the honor of celebrating Mother’s Day should be theirs as well.

I just read author Anne Lamott’s view on Mother’s Day. She doesn’t celebrate the holiday nor has she indoctrinated her son to bestow her with fanfare. Her points include a forced type of sentimentalization and at worst a day for those who have lost moms, aren’t moms by choice or infertility, those living alternate lifestyles, women who have lost children or those who experienced damaging childhoods to feel left out.

I get it. In the 70s as a sixth grader who just lost my mom, I dreaded Mother’s Day. The question, “What are you doing for Mother’s Day?” prompted anxiety. While everyone was making Mother’s Day cards in class, I wasted time. My siblings and I felt alone and tended to ignore the holiday with an exception of a cemetery visit.

Despite my experience, I don’t entirely agree with Lamott. Our calendars should be slotted with a day to celebrate motherhood. I believe that all mothering whether biological or spiritual should be honored. I do, however, agree with Lamott that reaching “a level of love and self-sacrifice” is not exclusive to parents. So here’s my list of unsung heroes, whether they have biological children or not, who deserve recognition:

  • Aunts – Blood or honorary, many aunts have taken children under their wings by spending time with them or tending to their needs during troubled times. Love to all my aunts!
  • Teachers – The ultimate nurturers their job goes beyond teaching, touching lives in positive ways. Miss O’Farrell if you are out there, thanks for printing my poem in our class yearbook and making me believe I could write.
  • Siblings – Siblings often fall into a caretaking role, naturally or due to need. Here’s a shout out to my brother who, at 10 years my senior, often guided my sister and me.
  • Neighbors – For all those neighborhood “moms” who keep an eye out for the kids, bake cookies or simply impart a kind word a celebratory wish is in order.
  • Your Friend’s Mom – If my daughters’ friends need me, I would be there in a heartbeat!Love to my best friend’s mom who drove us everywhere and taught us to be brave!
  • Cousins – Spending time with younger cousins, caring about their life, sharing interests…cousins are often so much more than playmates.
  • Foster Parents – The unsung heroes for so many needy children.
  • Grandmothers – Many a wise grandmother has helped raise a child. I’ll never forget my grandmothers who came to this country as young mothers, and though they never worked outside the home, their work was cause for celebration.
  • Mother-In-Laws – Thanks for the jokes Rodney Dangerfield, but many of us have been doubly blessed. The years I lost with my own mother, I gained with a mother-in-law who taught me how to make chicken soup, was there for me when I had my babies and showed me the value of tradition.
  • Two Dads – If you are being raised or were raised by two dads, you were mothered (love that verb)!
  • Spiritual Mothers – A coworker or a friend who listens and has been there for you I would say a sappy Hallmark card is in order!

I’m sure there’s more to add to this list but my advice is to honor and acknowledge someone special in your life, who may not have taken a traditional path to motherhood, but helped raise, influence or love a child.

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