Parenting Columns

The following columns were written for the New Canaan Advertiser newspaper in Connecticut between 2004-2014. Called "Parenting From the Trenches," these columns addressed all manner of topics regarding raising kids — timeless themes, really — and featured anecdotes about my children. Although some columns refer to people, places and things back in New Canaan (Conn.), they are nevertheless  applicable to Jackson, Wyoming, and other Teton County towns. Joys and struggles with kids are universal.

Catch your kids doing something good


    Everybody needs a little pat on the back, especially our children. Yet there is a fine line between praise for praise sake and an acknowledgment of real achievement or a good deed.

     Pre-schoolers need to know they are doing a good job with potty training, reciting the alphabet, getting dressed, sharing toys, eating their veggies and the like, so that they keep on undertaking these essential life skills. Obvious compliments continue as a child grows for things such as homework accomplished (although at some point you kind of need to quit doing that, because completing homework is something that one simply needs to do, period), being kind to friends and/or siblings, scoring a goal, giving a good performance on stage, or winning an art, music or academic contest and the like. Even being well mannered should be cited with a smile and exclamation of "I'm proud of you."

     Applauding actual achievements or good behavior is essential for building self-esteem. But to glorify almost everything they do ("Oh honey! You remembered to chew your food!") may lead to a child's sense of entitlement or a bloated sense of self.

     If your kid is clearly not cut out for singing or dancing or, say, baseball, you don't want to totally dash their hopes or tell them point blank, "You stink,"  (siblings, sadly, seem very capable of verbalizing that assessment), but you might want to instead gently steer them towards another venue or art or sport.

     Not all of my children were the best at certain things. We encouraged and supported them when they wanted to play a particular sport, for example, but if and when it became clear that they were, uh, awkward, shall I say, we didn't overly gush and give them false hope; they almost always figured out for themselves that the sport in question may not be their forte`. The next year we would simply suggest another sport or activity in which they might be better suited and find more success in, ergo, gain more self-esteem.

     Nobody's perfect, even our children. Messes are going to be made, decisions may have disastrous results, grades can slip, mediocre performances in sport or in the spotlight will occur. Nagging about the negative can have long-term effects. More then once I've had to remind my kids that it is not they who are the disappointment but, rather, it is/was their action that is causing my disappointment. Sometimes I can see they have understood that distinction. When it appears that perhaps they cannot, damage control of sorts needs to be implemented.

     "This may not have been terrific, but that (action, comment, etc.) was great; I'm really impressed by you on that score."  A quick salute to a positive can often encourage your child to take the initiative when next they are faced with a situation that could rapidly turn from not-so-great to worse.

     Nobody likes to be "yelled" at, yet eventually kids, teens and sometimes, adults, discover that doing the next right thing is the better part of valor.

     Catching your child doing something good applies to offspring of all ages. Example: Although I am not wild about 24-year-old Kenny's choice of rambling the country sans employment, I do offer props (and I am sincere!) about his travel website, his creative skills and his ingenuity in general; he needs to know I love him, even if I haven't embraced the whole "hobo" thing. Last week one of my teens got an "A" on a test in one subject, and a much lesser grade on another, yet I managed to put the undesirable result out of my head, instead throwing a mini parade in regard to the "A."  It's progress, not perfection.

     Extol your sweetie pie's actions and accomplishments when you can — and when they are real. If you role model giving compliments and cheers, maybe, just maybe, your child will one day do the same toward you.

     I'm pretty much still waiting for those "yay's," but they will be uttered. Someday. Right?




Ready, Set, Let Go


"Letting go doesn't mean we don't care.  Letting go doesn't mean we shut down.

Letting go means we stop trying to force outcomes and make people behave." ~ Melody Beattie


    Perhaps one of the hardest lessons in life a person faces is letting go; letting go of people, places, things — even ourselves at times — as well as emotions or feelings.  As a parent, the ability to let go as opposed to hanging on is especially, and keenly, agonizing.

     I left claw marks on Blake, 26, and Kenny, 24, not only as they left the house for the Marines and college, respectively, but also as they entered their 20's.  I watched helplessly as my authority, responsibility and influence seemed to vanish as vapor. I had to reluctantly allow them to explore, perhaps flounder, face fears or dangers, and make decisions based on their needs, not my desires. Letting go completely ebbs and flows within my heart and in my inherent actions.

     As a mother, I have been trained to fix. I fixed hunger by offering bottles of formula, snacks and meals. I took care of discomfort by changing a diaper, burping, administering to tummy aches and boo-boo's, proffering my shoulder to cry on, or my side of the bed on which to snuggle. I went to bat with teacher troubles, mean kids, unfortunate situations. But once a child leaves the house, after they then they reach the milestone of age 21, it is no longer my job to fix, to restore, to protect.  Even for the children yet to leave the nest, it has been uncomfortably necessary for me to back off, step aside... let go.

     When my daughter, Jess, went off to boarding school for a year-and-a-half, I had to turn the reigns of her day-to-day over to the school deans, headmasters and teachers, who acted "in loco parentis."  It was an initial torture, and then actually, a bit of a relief (she is a teenager, after all). Now she is back at home and back at the high school. And I am trying to resist wearing a Harry Potter-like "cloak of invisibility" and be by her side as she negotiates the social and academic minefield from whence she once fled.  But in letting go, I am reminded of the strength of her spirit now. I remember that when she left for boarding school I passed on to her a Carl Jung saying which in and of itself is really about letting go of what and how we may perceive ourselves: "I am not what happened to me. I am what I choose to become."

     Jess overcame and became. And she continues to define herself and not allow others to apply their own label to her. I like to think that we have inspired and inspire one another to shake off that which is not important in the bigger scheme of things.

     It is, of course, not always easy to see the forest for the trees. To recognize when to hold 'em, or when to fold 'em.  Sometimes my grip on my kids is so tight that it hurts.  Yet at the same time, I comprehend the word serenity and I know peace. It occurs when I loosen my hands and exhale, knowing that I am not as in control of their destinies as I once so fiercely believed.

     All humans need to fail in some way, shape or form so that they may grow; become stronger, better. Sometimes sadder, but wiser. We have to learn to let go of resentments: Resentments are like taking poison and expecting the other person to die.  I was harboring one against someone recently, and the result was it was eating me up and taking up too much space in my head rent-free. The way in which I was able to let it go was to speak with the individual, who clearly hadn't died from the poison, in a calm and loving way. Was I still sadder? Yes. And wiser, too. That's the key.

     It saddens me to imagine that I am an unemployed mother to Blake and Kenny, these young men well into their 20's. That image, that reality is false. Of course I am still their mother! Of course they will still consider my opinions, suggestions, offers for aid both financial and emotional. And even though my two teens at home often hallucinate that I am no longer of use (except as a chef and a taxi driver and a human ATM), my heart and sensibility reassures me that they, too, need me for so much more than that.

     "Some think it's holding on that makes one strong; sometimes it's letting go."  

     Be a strong parent. And avoid the obvious claw marks whenever possible.





Mom, yes. Room service, no!

     Oh dear, I have inadvertently created a monster. Or two.
      I have allowed my teens to bring a bowl of cereal, ice cream or pasta up to their room while they study or watch the television. Sometimes they bring the food upstairs themselves and occasionally I will prepare their craving and deliver the snacks.  But last week my daughter took it a step too far: She left her empty bowl, milk glass and a crumpled up napkin outside her door. Her closed door.
     What does she think I am, room service?
     When children are wee, most of us don’t allow them to have food anywhere but in the kitchen. As they start to get older, we might bend the rules a bit — a sippy cup in the playroom, a bowl of popcorn while watching a movie in the den, that sort of thing. Usually the drill is that the child is responsible for bringing their empty juice box, Gushers wrapper, banana peel or apple core, etc., back into the kitchen, specifically to the waiting and welcoming garbage can.  And, in our house, that happened. Sometimes. But not always, and by “not always” I mean not without much screaming on my part and procrastination from the kids. And in our new house, where the line between kitchen and family room is literally blurred, they felt as though their snack remnants were already in the kitchen, when in fact the plates, napkins or juice boxes were left abandoned and forlorn on the sofa, the rug or the coffee table.
    I would love to paint a picture of darling, responsible, tidy and parental law-abiding teenagers, but, honestly, I can’t.  Frankly, if I did have perfect children than I would be out of the job of writing this column, and it’s kind of nice to have this gig. Plus, something tells me that I am not the only mother who discovers day old, macaroni-and-cheese encrusted bowls on their child’s bedside table, or depleted Capris Sun pouches perched atop a dresser. Although I may be the only mom whose daughter leaves her meal remnants sitting outside her door to be collected and brought down to the kitchen without so much as a $5 tip!
    Of course it goes without saying that I have enabled this behavior by impulsively fetching and clearing, in part due to the former college waitress in me, another part disliking messes, a splash of wanting to do whatever I can to please despite their ungratefulness and a dash of the unexplainable.
    If you are a parent without a teen in your household yet, let this be a cautionary tale: Hold a figurative gun to their heads while they gather up their trash and walk it to the kitchen sink or rubbish container.  Unless they are ill or have suffered an injury to their leg, they can darnn well clear out the snack remains themselves.   

    It may not be too late for me to enforce the bring-it-up-take-it-down rule. Yelling at teens never works, so that method is a no-brainer not to employ. And although my teens have decided to be selectively lazy, I think I shall nevertheless ask them to bring the leftover gook back to where it belongs only twice. I will then grit my teeth and let their crap build up to the point where their rooms resemble that of a complete isolationist, or strung-out crack addict or a wildly depressed person who has lost the energy to move, until they cannot stand the squalor and finally take it upon themselves to remove the finally offending garbage.
    In the immortal words of John Lennon: “You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.” Admit it, some of you have also reached the end of your rope. Heed my advice — the slothful teen can be tamed and taught more responsible behavior. Room service exists only in hotels and resorts, not in your home.
    Now, if you’ll excuse me, the impressive tower of empty soda cans in my 14-year-old’s room is just begging for me to kick it down.




No more hovering: You're grounded, mom and dad!

"Less is more; hovering is dangerous; failure is fruitful. You really want your children to succeed? Learn when to leave them alone. When you lighten up, they'll fly higher. We're often the ones who hold them down.”  -Time magazine, 2009

    Are you a “helicopter parent?”  Maybe even just a little bit?  It’s okay to admit it. Really. That’s the first step: Recognizing it. And then learning to abstain as much as you can, or as much as possible. Heck, I have been known to strap myself into the cockpit on more than one occasion, certainly when my children were younger and I seemed convinced that they couldn’t possibly advocate for themselves. Often they simply couldn’t, so grabbing the wheel of the heli was the absolute best course of action; sometimes I even parachuted in.
    It’s parental instinct to want to help our child, protect her, right a wrong — actual or perceived — and make sure he is doing the next right thing; basically to want the best for your kid. Sometimes, though, especially when your child is a teenager, the parent’s idea of the best may not necessarily be what’s best for the child. We need to check our motives when the situation warrants, whether it’s the grades they can or cannot achieve, which sport to play, which dance to dance, to what college, if any, they choose to apply.
    Simply put, which battles do we fight for them, and when do we let them fight their own?
    Here’s an anecdote I can offer: In high school, my son Kenny was the only player on the soccer team he was a part of, who after four games hadn’t seen a minute of playing time, and he was upset.  He was a good athlete and there didn’t appear to be any rhyme or reason for the coach overlooking him. Even his fellow teammates were puzzled. The thing is, my son is quiet by nature; even though he can feel an inequity, he is not one to make waves with authority. By the time the third game came and went, we encouraged him to ask the coach to put him in or, at the very least, question why he wasn’t playing. The fourth game was also played minus Kenny. On the sidelines I was livid and the old mother bear began to growl, ready to pounce. My intellect kept reminding me that this was high school now, don’t say a peep, but my emotional self wanted to punch the coach in the face. I joke, I joke, but I did want to say something in a kind, but firm, manner.
    After the game I began striding towards the coach but my son grabbed my arm and cried, “Don’t!”  So I told him either he says something in practice the following day, or that I would. Really, it was high time for my kid to man up, so to speak. I knew it wasn’t my battle. I hoped against hope that Kenny would find his voice, and therefore be able to stop gathering splinters on his backside. The next day he did find that voice and I could tell from the way he carried himself that it had empowered him of which I was both proud and relieved.
    By high school, our children need to do things without our hand-holding, such as advocating for themselves with teachers, administrators, or guidance counselors. Certainly we can step in at times, and are on occasion even asked to by the folks at school. But we need to try and let go, loosen the reins a bit.
    Just for the record, even the whole college search and application process should be something in which our teen takes more of an active role. Out of that hovering habit, however, I recently began the Google and Naviance searches, informing my senior daughter of some college options which might be of interest. And then it dawned on me that I am not doing her any favors, so I cried, “Wait! I am not going to college, you are. Become invested in this process or dad and I won’t become invested in it, figuratively and literally.”  Viola`! Backing off resulted in her moving ahead.
    And moving ahead all on their lonesome is what they have to do in order to pilot their own course and fly into their future, whether it is the next day, or the next year.



Memories of a working mom

    Once upon a time, I worked full-time while I pretty much simultaneously raised my children, first one and then eventually four (at least until the youngest was three years old). Sometimes I marvel at how I did it, often I am relieved that I have not had to do it over the past decade, and occasionally I long for those days, especially for the days during which I ran my own company.
      I worked out of financial necessity after the birth of my first child as his dad was usually not-so-much working full-time. And once I became a single parent with two toddlers, I didn't have the option of staying at home, even part-time. It began to wear on me, physically and emotionally, as I would hop a 7:30 a.m. train from Westport into Manhattan and often not return until 7:30 in the evening, getting very little time to spend with my two young sons. And so, when they were ages four and six, I decided to work locally; County Kids magazine was born.
    Working initially out of my house, I was able to see the boys and participate more in Blake and Kenny's lives, and they became my wee helpers in the early days of the publication. I would bring them with me as I drove around Fairfield County distributing the magazine to stores, libraries, schools and such, often allowing them to carry the bundles of County Kids inside for a dollar a drop; they loved it.
    As the magazine grew and I hired other moms to work part-time selling advertising space, they too brought their infants and toddlers on sales calls. This was done primarily due to the lack of childcare (nor was that really needed since the job was hardly a 40-hour gig). Bringing along one's child also served as a perfect sales gimmick, as it illustrated to the potential client that the rep was their market, too. They read the magazine and bought the products advertised within.
    As tricky a juggling act as it was being both a full-time worker and a more-or-less full-time mom, the hours spent in the office with other mothers was precious. We shared stories of raising children, enduring our husbands' real or imagined foibles, we laughed deeply and often, and no day was boring or mundane. The friendships I was forging and the professional camaraderie made the job seem less like a job, and more like a privilege.
    As I mentioned before, my memories are priceless gems: painting the office walls a bright hue of yellow — "County Kids yellow" we dubbed it — only to discover that the color was what was causing some employee's younger children to poop their diapers upon entering, as apparently that yellow stimulated the bowels; the dancing gaily around desks during the stressful production week; the love and support that was afforded me via car phone on the bleak November morning in 1996 when I learned that my father had died during my long drive to Virginia where I had hoped to visit with him before he died; and the can-you-top-this childbirth tales that never failed to horrify our college intern.
    I eventually sold the magazine when Jack was in nursery school and Blake was starting high school, effectively embarking on my first taste of all day, at home motherhood. Jack and Jess, too young at the time of my retirement to recall those County Kids days, just know that today my work entails not only tending to their every whim and need at a moment's notice, but also as your faithful columnist and now fledgling web site owner.
    Sitting here crafting this piece in my pj's, I am grateful for that, and do not entirely miss the days of commuting into the city in dresses, panty hose and heels. At County Kids we would wear anything just short of pj's, and for that experience I am thankful as well. 
    Working mom and stay-at-home mom. I've done each because: A) I had to, and B), I wanted to. Each choice boiled down to this: I did it for my kids.
    We all do.


The 'oy!' of boys

    I have three sons, two in their mid-20's and one a young teenager. That amounts to drama cubed. Heart-stopping episodes and head-scratching times three. I also have a daughter, but she is a drama of a different flavor; the sort of drama that as a fellow female I can easily relate. But the boys? Oy!
    My sons have provided me with over a dozen frantic trips to hospital emergency rooms. I receive very little information about any significant females in their lives, nor even basic information on their whereabouts in the world at times. They smell funny. Ergo, their bedrooms smell funny, foreign. Their feet grow at ridiculously fast paces. They eat too much, too quickly, and leave the empty boxes, wrappers and containers in the cupboard or in the refrigerator, or lounging on end tables, or perched on window sills, which is infuriating on several levels. One of which being they will complain about there not being any more cookies, chips, cereal, or soda,, yet heaven forbid they actually open their mouths to inform me of this until they are once again ravenous.

"Mom!" Kenny used to whine. "There's no food!"

    I would walk into the kitchen to find him standing in front of the pantry, doors flung open. Pantry, full of food.

"What are you talking about?! Look at all of that!"

"I need good food. Food I can eat," he'd claim.

"And what would that be, pray tell?" I would ask, exasperated. "Give me details and when I go to the store next I will buy it."

"You know," he'd reply, grinning and walking away from the kitchen. "Good stuff."

    This annoying and confusing scenario is currently being played out with Jack, the one boy remaining in my nest. He will become indignant that I haven't returned from the grocery store with his beloved Gushers, or pretzels or chocolate milk, yet when I checked inventory before leaving, said items were still present and accounted for.  Why I am surprised that food vanishes in a whirl after raising two sons before him is a bafflement, but clearly I am constantly astonished anew.
    The breaking and tearing and slicing of body parts on boys has been more drama than I believe I can handle and yet, each time it happens, I somehow manage to survive, right alongside of them. Kenny has broken his tibia twice, his wrist once, and several fingers were broken and smushed once when Blake — accidentally, on-purpose — slammed a door on Kenny's hand when they were ages eight and six, respectively.
    Thirteen-year-old Jack's more dramatic injuries have included a significant, nine-stitch worthy, accidental gash to the upper forehead from a golf club-wielding Jess six years ago, the top of his middle finger being inadvertently sliced off by a heavy door two years ago (and luckily being sewn back on in the E.R. after yours truly found it smiling up from the pavement), and, most recently, he received 27 stitches to his cheek after a freak accident in his cabin at camp in Wyoming last month.
    I sit or stand by them as they lie on the table in the hospital, gripping their hand as they are stitched or cast or prodded, blinking back tears as they try and do the same. I try not to vomit or faint. I smile though my heart is aching.  There is no chapter on how to do this in any of those "What to Expect When..." tomes.
    There has been no manual to prepare me for a son going into combat, or for one who wanders aimlessly through and around the United States, or Canada or Mexico; when Kenny is traveling outside of the U.S. he does not have a cell phone with international call capability. I am at the mercy of him perhaps gaining some Internet access and posting a status that he is, blessedly, still alive.
    Blake, by virtue of his profession in the military, will not communicate with me for weeks and on occasion for a couple of months, and I always feel that this is drama I could well do without.
    "Boys will be boys,"  the adage goes, but it is not specific as to what the boy will do or say to bear out the expression.  Parents of boys learn pretty early on though, I think, that boys actually do not always say, share or emote in a similar manner to girls, to daughters. Sons may tend to be a bit more spontaneous, reckless, fearless.
    That said, sons are just like daughters in their ability to at once break — and fully fill up — your heart. Neither the male or the female of offspring corners the market on that.







Students on bored
    During one of those gross, incredibly hot, humid dog days of mid-August, I asked Jack and a friend if they were looking forward to going back school, now that they were going to be eighth graders. Big Men on the Totem Pole. Kings of the School, etc.  (I know, I know... as if they were going to pipe up with anything but a collective groan).
    "I wish I were going to kindergarten," Jack's friend mused.
    "Not me," said Jack. "Kindergarten was lame. All you did was learn that two plus two equals four and have nap-time."  Spoken like my true eager-to-learn youngest. At least that is how I have chosen to look at him through my rose-colored shades and all.
    "Actually," he amended, "we didn't need the stupid nap-time then. That was dumb. We weren't even tired. We need nap-time now because we have to get up at 6:15 in the morning! They should give us nap-time!"  His friend hooted his approval of this thought.
    If any members of the Board of Ed are reading this, and can rectify the matter, Jack would be pretty pleased. And napt-ime might be more feasible than the later start time thing.
    I believe many parents pose the same question to their offspring and friends of their offspring as I did above, because — really and honestly now — it is we who are excited and looking forward to school starting.  It's not that we wouldn't mind maybe another few days of summer, but after eight-plus weeks of kids under foot, maybe whining hither and thither about being bored, the structure of a school day and the six or so hours of not being on call loom pleasantly welcome.
    Even though our child may not openly (or at least enthusiastically) cop to being excited for the new year ahead, he or she is usually anticipating some aspect. There's the stunningly big-kid feel the just entering kindergarten child experiences; the trepidation the incoming middle schooler tastes; the relief at not being a freshman that the high school sophomore enjoys, or the pure giddy yet at the same time terrifying sensation inherent in the senior-to-be.
    Just as it isn't always so easy to get a kid to admit to their anticipation of returning to school, so to is it not such a piece of cake getting them to reveal how said school days are going for them.
    Ask, "How's school?," and be prepared for "good," even if it wasn't, or "boring," even — again — if it wasn't.  Occasionally the response may be: "bad."  But do not ask "Why?" because nine out of 10 times, you won't get an answer. At least not right away. Although your brain is screaming, "Why-why-why, oh my god why, what happened?!" please resist. Instead, try in a less inquisitive, less frantic manner the following: "Oh, that's too bad, honey. Well, if you want to talk about it I'm here. All ears." Either they will launch into it, or they will wait a few beats, or maybe even a few hours.

    Try not to pressure them, as whatever it was that is making them describe the day as "bad" is giving them pressure enough. Their definition of "bad" may more than likely equal a disappointing grade, or a confusing lecture, or a poor performance in gym class. Of course it could also be a bullying incident or an unrequited crush. When they are ready to spill, let them, resisting the urge to editorialize or "fix it" immediately (except in the case of taunting or physical bullying, of course).
    The other response to "How was school?" is the ubiquitous: "School is boring."  Sure. Of course it is, sweetie.  You are such a brainiac that you don't need to be learning anything new. You can read, write, solve mathematical and scientific questions in your sleep. Who needs to know about the history of this country or any other for that sake! Music and art? Pshaw  — you could teach the class yourself you creative king or queen of the world, you!
    "Boring" my backside.
    All of my kids at one time or another claimed to like recess the best. They expressed annoyance that recess stops in high school, until I would remind them of the free periods which would exist in their school schedule.
    "It's the same thing, only better," I said.
    And don't you know? Even the free period has been described as, wait for it... "boring."
    Maybe if those free periods were re-designated as nap-time?
    I think I'm onto something here.



When a child grows into (or out of) their name

    Pop and television star Miley Cyrus—who was born Destiny Hope Cyrus—legally changed her name several months back to: Miley Ray Cyrus. Her nickname as a child was “Smiley,” which was then shortened to “Miley.”  At the ripe old age of 15, she decided to chuck the “Destiny Hope.” This move in part prompted my own 15-year-old daughter to change her name this summer. But not legally. No way.

    When perusing a baby name book nearly 16 years ago, my husband and I came upon the name “Jessie.”  Not “Jessica,” but “Jessie;” it was its own listing. The definition included the fact that in Scotland, Jessie is the nickname for “Janet.” My husband’s grandmother was named Janet and she was, in fact, a Scot.  So although we preferred Jessie we thought it was the hand of fate and family to officially name her Janet. But call her Jessie or Jess. Stay with me here… Until she started kindergarten at age five, she was known far and wide as Jess. But there were a lot of Jessica’s running around the playground by then, so to avoid confusion, we began to call her by her given name, as did the school, friends and family members. Except for her oldest brother Blake and me. We couldn’t shake using the moniker “Jess.”  So for 10 years, my daughter has seemingly been the only “Janet” under the age of 40, which has been kind of unique.

    But in early July, my kid asked me if she could legally change her name to “Jess Evans.”  When I queried “why” she said that “Janet Evans” has been done already (referring to former Olympic swimming gold medalist Janet Evans), and that Jess Evans sounded like a good stage name. Let me be clear here: My daughter is not on the verge of becoming a famous actress, at least not yet.  So while putting the kibosh on the legal action, I happily informed her boarding school, summer camp and family far and wide of her decision. Of course old habits die hard — as they did for Blake and me — and Jon and Jack are currently struggling with the name transition. (Poor Jack, 12, has known her as “Janet” his entire life!)

    As they grow, children often prefer to be known as the shorter or longer version of their given names. “Mike’s” morph into “Michael’s” and vice versa. “Katherine’s” may go for the jauntier “Kat” as a teen, and then turn back to Katherine once they begin a career. I had a friend growing up whose name was/is: Mary Frances Gannon. We all called her Mary until high school when she impulsively decided she wanted everybody to call her “Fran.”  A boyfriend after college had always been known by his middle name, “Tyler,” but when he became a police officer he felt his first name, “Donald,” sounded tougher, more authoritative.

    Once people get to know me, “Julie” is shortened to “Jul” or “Jules.” During my sophomore year in high school I tried writing “Jules Butler” on the top page of assignments, but it didn’t take. Like my daughter, I asked my parents about legally changing my name and received the same answer she did (don’t you cringe when you hear your parents’ voices echoing in your own?). There were some teachers who — like my pals — called me Jules anyway, but I could never get it in print, so to speak. Ah well.

    I drove Jess up to her boarding school a couple of weeks ago and she was thrilled upon arrival to pick up her student identification card with the name “Jess Evans” boldly imprinted on it. She began this school half way through her freshman year last January, so she is still fairly new. And the name change has given her the feeling and attitude of a fresh start. She was beaming as I drove away as her roommate cried out “Jess! I’ve missed you!”

    I don’t know if one day down the line she’ll revert back to being called Janet; that’s her call. But she knows she’s really always been — and will forever be — my Jess.