Trust me when I say this is information every parent should know; it’s why I agreed to partner with Med-IQ to spread the word. But first, let’s talk about what exactly inflammatory bowel disease is because I am a stickler for defining terms. It must be all of that time I spent in medical school.
It’s important to understandthat inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is NOT the same as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). The “I” stands for very different things, butI often hear people using “inflammatory” and “irritable” interchangeably.
IBD (remember, “I” = inflammatory) is actually a collection of diseases, the two most common of which are Crohn’s disease (CD) and ulcerative colitis (UC).
CD is inflammation that can affect any part of the gut, from the mouth all the way down to the anus. It can progress from mainly superficial inflammation in the lining of the intestine to a deeper inflammation that burrows into nearby organs or through to the skin. There can also be scarring that narrows the intestines and causes blockages that can lead to hospitalizations and surgeries.
UC is inflammation that is confined to the large intestine (colon). Complications can include toxic megacolon (an emergency condition where the colon dilates), and in the long-term, colon cancer.
IBS (remember, “I” = irritable) does not involve inflammation, and having IBS does not make you more likely to develop other colon conditions like UC, CD, or colon cancer. Although IBS can produce cramping, abdominal pain, and diarrhea like IBD, it does not have the IBD symptoms of bloody stool, lack of appetite, weight loss, and fatigue.
So now that we know exactly what we are talking about, let’s discuss why it should be on your radar as the parent of a teen.
Nearly 25% of people with IBD are diagnosed during childhood or the teen years.
In 2015, 1.6 million people were treated for IBD, and 80,000 of those were under the age of 18.
Taking these numbers into consideration, it is important to also understand that adolescents have a way of adjusting to a “new normal” when they don’t realize what they are experiencing is unusual. For instance, they may have diarrhea so routinely (and associate it starting with something they ate so completely) that it’s just a way of life for them that they never think to mention. If you hear frequent complaints like “my stomach hurts,” it’s time to dig a little deeper.
Ask about the following symptoms, and remember these can fluctuate over time:
Urgent need to move bowels
Abdominal cramping and pain
Sensation of incomplete evacuation (feeling like you have to “go” even after you “go”)
There are also non-specific symptoms associated with IBD including fever, loss of appetite, weight loss of 5% of body weight, fatigue, night sweats, and loss of a normal menstrual cycle. You can also experience joint pain, eye inflammation (uveitis), painful lumps on the shins, and mouth ulcers.
If your child appears to have even one of these symptoms, it’s time to make an appointment with your doctor because fast and aggressive treatment with immunomodulators or biologic agents can induce remission, heal the bowel wall, and reduce the number of future hospitalizations and surgeries. Starting with these agents improves the overall quality of life more than past therapeutic strategies in which treatment would start with less-intensive therapies and only “step up” if symptoms didn’t improve. Common prescription medications to treat IBD can be found here.
To prepare for your appointment:
Be aware of any pre-appointment restrictions (like fasting)
Write down symptoms
List all medications
Schedule a family member or friend to bring along
Write down questions to ask the doctor
There is a fantastic app for tracking symptoms called GI Buddy.
More general information about IBD and preparing for appointments can be found on the Mayo Clinic website.
Useful information is presented during this Q&A Session with IBD expert, Dr. Hanauer. I especially found the probiotic discussion informative.
If your child is diagnosed with IBD, support groups are available:
Remember, knowledge is power and early, intensive treatment can not only improve your child’s quality of life right now, it can reduce complications later down the road.
I was compensated by Med-IQ through an educational grant from Takeda Pharmaceuticals U.S.A., Inc. to write about the signs and symptoms of inflammatory bowel disease. All my opinions are my own.
Furthermore, this post does not constitute medical advice or diagnosis. Contact a medical professional with any symptoms, questions, or concerns.
Links are being provided as a convenience and for informational purposes only; they are not intended and should not be construed as legal or medical advice nor are they endorsements of any healthcare provider or practice. Med-IQ bears no responsibility for the accuracy, legality, or content of the external site or for that of subsequent links. Contact the external site for answers to questions regarding its content.
I’m not much for the Black Friday hoopla, but I can get down with Cyber Monday. You can’t beat shopping in your pajamas or while you’re at work . . . on break of course. So I’m making lists and checking them twice and hoping I can get some steals and deals for my teen girls. Even if these gifts don’t go on sale, there is a price point for everyone. All gifts have been Daughters of the Sisterhood approved, so behold in no particular order . . .
A card game about kittens and explosions and sometimes goats. I mean, what more can we say? If we didn’t have you at exploding kittens, we should have nabbed you at goats.
In this highly-strategic, kitty-powered version of Russian Roulette, players draw cards until someone draws an Exploding Kitten, at which point they explode, they are dead, and they are out of the game — unless that player has a defuse card, which can defuse the Kitten using things like laser pointers, belly rubs, and catnip sandwiches. All of the other cards in the deck are used to move, mitigate, or avoid the Exploding Kittens.
It’s family-friendly for ages 7 and up, super portable, and provides hours of fun.
And if you have a mermaid tail you might as well complete the look with the pillow. These things are addictively relaxing. You rub your hand over them to change the pattern and color of the sequins. Your teen could probably use the good, clean stress relief.
Flavored water is all the rage, and infusing it yourself is more economical and healthy. This 32 oz beauty comes in a variety of colors and features a securely locking lid so that your hydration doesn’t leak all over your backpack.
Honestly, you’d have any teen girl at Bluetooth speaker, but combining it with an adjustable color night light is so cool it will elevate you into the realm of best gift-giver ever. Even comes with the USB and AUX cords, and you can never have enough of those.
This little gift is affordable, but bursting with “wow factor.” My daughter uses her’s to listen to music in the shower because she can control it with voice commands. She also calls out to add things to her calendar or one of her lists. Honestly, this gadget would really be a winner for anyone on your list.
I cannot say that these are affordable, but they will make you a hero. With the lack of headphone jack on the iPhone “version whatever,” maybe you could say they were practical? Maybe even necessary. Suuuurrree.
These things are so popular. I can see why. They keep your drinks hot or cold for hoooouuuurrrrss. One thing though, the lid is not leak-proof, but no one seems to care. After much research, this is the link on Amazon for the authentic product.
If you don’t understand the now defunct social media platform, Vine, you are definitely not going to understand the appeal of this book. I might not have even included it on the list if my college sophomore daughter had not just given it to her high school junior sister for her birthday. They LAUGHED and LAUGHED. One warning, it does have strong language and themes, but for under four dollars you can buy yourself the title of coolest aunt ever.
So while the previous book was for the older teen set, this one works well for the younger ones on your list. Just a well-written book where the characters’ voices ring true, especially the main character, Plum. What I appreciate most about this book is that the parents are not banished to the sideline as doofuses. They are a real part of Plum’s life, and of the story. In all, the relationships and story line make this an authentic, fun read.
If you don’t know that teen girls love socks, you don’t know teen girls. One of our previous gift lists was pick up by CNN and we were raked over the coals for socks being a crappy gift. Not. True. Trust us.
This post contains Amazon Affiliate links which means I get a few coins to complete my holiday shopping at no cost to you!
The first time your college student comes home for break is a time for celebration. All of your chicks are home under one roof! The world as you’ve known it for so many years is back as it should be. Or is it? While you have been home adjusting to familiar routines and spaces without your child, they have been cultivating a whole new life! They have enjoyed freedom! Choices! A lack of supervision!
While you have remained the same, they have simmered in a pressure cooker of decisions and responsibilities that sends them back expanded and changed. Conflict can spring up if you expect their new wingspan to squeeze back into your nest in the same old way. This conflict can be further intensified if your child cherry-picks exactly what “an adult” is.
As with most things, honest communication of expectations can make the transition smoother for everyone. I started off the conversation over the phone with my freshman daughter before she came home for her first break . . . before we butted heads over differing assumptions of what our relationship as parent and child was now. I think starting it over the phone made it go smoother because she was on her own turf and able to control the length and intensity of the conversation. It was a preemptive move before we were in the heat of the moment. However, no time is a bad time for an honest, respectful conversation. If Junior is on his way home as we speak, carve out some time to talk, just not as he walks through the door.
So how did I kick off this conversation? I started by complimenting her responsible handling of her school work and job, and then I just asked her how she thought she had changed. I asked her what she thought being an adult meant. We discussed how being in the rarefied university environment meant she is not facing all of the challenges that might be upon her once she is really out on her own—everything from meal prep to mortgages.
I had heard nightmare tales of kids bursting through the door thinking rules about curfew, respect, and drinking no longer applied to them. I made sure to discuss what I like to call “The Realities of Adulthood,” the version of grown-up beyond what a child imagines. Being a real adult is not about getting to do whatever you want to do, it’s about being responsible enough to complete all that you need to do.
For example, it’s not about getting to stay up as late as you want, it’s maintaining a schedule that allows you to get your stuff done. And REAL adulthood is being denied sleep and forging on anyway. Furthermore, it’s not about controlling your time and doing what you want when you want, but losing control of your time to your responsibilities. And most importantly, drinking doesn’t make you an adult, but being responsible about it does (and remembering the legal drinking age is 21).
Having freedom doesn’t mean disrespecting others in the household. Because of our open conversation, she acknowledged appreciation for her safety nets instead of slashing them out of resentment. She does have pressures and obligations, but not to the degree she will have later on and she is grateful for that.
We came to the conclusion that she is an adult with training wheels . . . and she was just fine with it. Heaven knows she is pedaling faster and steadier every day.
What’s the one reason you should let your kids watch 13 Reasons Why—the story of why Hannah Baker committed suicide?
It’s because they’ve already watched it.
By the time the school emails and letters were spawned from the reports on CNN, NPR, The New York Times, and the like, that barn door had been opened and cued up for a month.
It doesn’t matter that you have controls on your Netflix account, or that your child doesn’t have a smartphone, or that you have drawn your line in the sand over what is appropriate viewing. Your child has gained access even if they had to watch it in ten minute increments on Billy’s iPhone before batting practice. This show is that much of a phenomenon.
Think I’m wrong? Just ask your kid, “Hey, what does ‘here’s your tape’ mean?”
And believe me, I know the issues with 13 Reasons Why. I already visited this fun house seven years ago when the novel was assigned to my daughter for a book report in seventh grade. She was twelve and her teacher RECOMMENDED this book. Yeah. I spent two days skimming it and gathering age appropriate information on sexual assault and suicide so I could have discussions with my daughter to give her some context for the book’s themes.
I was not pleased . . . but I am grateful. This was my wake-up call: I was no longer my daughter’s filter for the world. My control had been evaporating since the moment she stepped foot on the bus for kindergarten, but I had been too busy to notice just how gossamer it was. Fast forward to when I found out my other daughter had binge-watched “American Horror Story” at a sleepover, and I was primed to accept that forbidding books and shows was like the Little Dutch Boy trying to plug the holes in the dyke. Just when you think you have it covered, another one springs up.
There is a real danger in forbidding certain shows, books, and movies, too. If your child has to sneak behind your back to be part of the pop culture tsunami, you’ve closed off the possibility of discussion. Worse yet—in the case of “13 Reasons Why”—maybe they’ve only had time to sneak the brutal rape and suicide scenes without any of the context of the rest of the series.
I am not campaigning for or against kids watching “13 Reasons Why.” That is already being covered in the news outlets by experts and playing out in PTA meetings across the country. I am acknowledging that it simply is, and it has to be dealt with.
I urge you as a parent to watch it, invite your kids to watch it again with you, or at the very least watch the documentary at the end, “Behind the Reasons,” together. This documentary was filmed as a tool to help parents and teens frame the mindset of the artistic choices made by the creators, and to encourage those at risk to speak up and seek help. This show needs that explanation and discussion. There are some very useful talking points available from the JED Foundation, a teen suicide prevention group, and there is crisis help information on the 13 Reasons Why website.
This is arguably a dangerous series for at-risk youth, but it is not going away. Many summaries of the series claim that the story ends with Hannah’s suicide, but it actually doesn’t. It ends with one of the students reaching out to reconnect with a girl who was once his friend.
This series provoked tears, anger, frustration, outrage, and indignation in my own daughter. However, when asked what she got out of it, she replied, “Well, we all need to be nicer to one another.”
Oh, sigh, It really is all about us, isn’t it? Let’s just say this: it’s a whole lot easier commiserating over things like sippy cups taking over your kitchen and goldfish crumbs smashed into the carpet of your minivan than failed drivers’ tests and low SAT scores. Some of this stems from the truth that your child does not necessarily want you spilling all the details. Respecting your child as a person means that you could and should put a lid on it.
Some of it though comes from a desire to not be judged as a mom. Different methods of handling potty-training or toddler meltdowns can be entertaining. Different methods of handling teen drinking can cause an uproar at Girls’ Night Out. In any case, It’s the height of irony that at the moment when you probably need it most, moms can have a hard time finding support from their tribe. Heck, even finding time to get together with the busy schedules that accompany teen parenting can be challenging. In any case, it can make traveling this stretch of the parenting highway a little lonesome.
All of these ladies are our buddies from our young mom days. It’s tough to find time to see each other but when we do, it’s like no time has passed.
2. You won’t always like your kid.
Love them? Of course! Like them? Well, let’s just say it’s complicated. Kids trying to figure out who they are means that often they are unrecognizable to you. The girl who ate twenty hot dogs at the county fair is now a vegan. But that’s not even the worst thing. The real sticking point comes when she decides to take down the family holiday meal. The 360s that happen can be disorienting, but they are also oddly comforting. There were parts of every stage and age of parenting that weren’t fun or funny. The same is true for the teen years.
But some things never change. Pumpkin patches are always fun.
3. You will feel like you are doing it wrong.
Just know that the moment is coming when you will feel bad about yourself, your kid, every decision up to this point, all of it, every last thing. These are the moments when you will lean into your loneliness from your friends, your sense of alienation from your child, and just need a major chocolate fix. Take that moment to exhale, breathe, regroup. You and your child will live to fight another day. More likely, tomorrow will be rainbows and sunshine, because that’s how things go on Planet Teen.
But they can also save the day, like at Grandmom’s 90th birthday party, and that will make you feel better about all of it. Promise.
4. Things will go wrong.
In the time I have been parenting teens, we have had concussions, car accidents, break-ups, break-outs, heartbreaks, and losses. Expect that balls will get dropped, mistakes will be made, and fenders will be dented. It makes it so much easier to take that phone call when it comes. One of my favorite professors said that a great gift to give a child is a back door. Come up with graceful ways to help your child retreat from situations that get out of hand. Give yourself and your child grace when they do.
5. Things will go right.
The stars will align just so sometimes. At these moments, the grumpiness will recede and all those forgotten aspects of your child’s character will shine through. Forget everything that went wrong. Revel. A lot. Take a picture when you can.
The infamous New Year’s Day hike. Every last teen was not having it, but then the winds changed.
6. Sometimes you will like them so much it hurts.
They are going to be hard to take sometimes, but they are also going to blow your mind with hints of the amazing things to come. Because crowing from the rooftops about their awesomeness is frowned upon by said offspring, you might feel lonely in this knowledge. However enjoy your moment and spread the news surreptitiously. Recently, one of my friends commented about a teen playing kindly with her tween at a swim meet. She was surprised and impressed. While I was happy for her experience, I wasn’t as taken aback by it. I made the point that I have never NOT seen a teen be generous to a younger child they knew. Teens like to keep their goodness simmering below the surface of potential peer review, but there is so much good news to be found. Celebrate the small victories and point out all the good you see.
She did not have to ask them twice to play with her.
7. Sleep will be a luxury again.
Sure you are prepared to lose some zzzzs waiting up for driving teens or worrying about college, but you might not know how much. Adjusting your parenting to adolescent biorhythms means late night Netflix binging and baking chocolate chip cookies at eleven o’ clock at night. All of this is to say that being ready to drop everything and hang means that you might want to invest in some industrial strength under eye concealer too.
Who could say no this face? Why, of course, I will make cookies with you after my bedtime!
8. Friends reign supreme.
Happy families know this. Happy families honor this. Happy teens reward your attention to this important truth.
As you can see, we weren’t really holding back so much as pacing ourselves to reveal the full picture of what it’s like parenting on Planet Teen. In spite of everything, we really are pretty happy here. We think you will be too.
Why are we starting college tours for our second daughter during her sophomore year?
It’s not to freak out my friends or make them feel like they’re behind.
It’s not to draw the scorn of those who are silently screaming: “WHY WOULDN’T YOU START EARLIER?!” (I will go on record saying to chill with the tours starting in grade school.)
It’s because this IS my second rodeo. The April of my first rodeo—also known as my oldest daughter’s senior year—had us zipping up and down the East Coast with her college decision coming down to the May 1st wire. My brain wants to shutdown and take a nap just remembering it.
See, I was so intent on avoiding the competitive college stress spiral that I may have underestimated how little time there really was. I realized that maybe, just maybe, the parents who I thought were zealous were just good planners. I was also lulled by my daughter’s methodical selection of schools based on the major she wanted to pursue. She was so focused on what each college offered that it almost seemed beside the point to visit them.
But most importantly, we didn’t start touring before junior year because of good ol’ run-of-the-mill naiveté. IT WAS MY FIRST TIME! IT FELT LIKE WE WERE GROPING AROUND IN THE DARK!
Most college advice found on the internet was too intense, and while the guidance office was fantastic at meeting deadlines, it was a little light on the guidance. Even friends were not much help. It seems like the college application process is a lot like childbirth: people forget the hours of labor and only remember the outcome. I mean seriously, my daughter ended up at the perfect school for her so I could be spouting “all’s well that ends well” and calling it a day. Luckily for you, I am cursed with a mind for remembering hardships, blessed with an ability to learn from experience, and overflowing with a passion to share what I know. Apparently, I also have a wee flair for the dramatic.
Why I Now Think Touring in 10th Grade is Swell
It all comes down finding free days on the calendar.
You need to tour when students are there. We learned the hard way that a campus can have a drastically different feel when it’s devoid of life and bustle. It’s really the difference between looking at buildings and truly experiencing the campus vibe. So. This strikes holidays, most of December and January, the school’s spring break, and summer from available tour dates. Remember too that spring session often ends at the beginning of May. Now if you’re driving past a school on your summer vacation and want to take a peek, don’t let me stop you, just think twice before making any costly special trips. Even summer session is not the same.
Shifting your child’s focus.If your kid hasn’t already experienced the college process with a sibling or friend, it may seem very unreal to them. Touring some beautiful campuses can be just the ticket to make your literature-loving child realize that chemistry does indeed matter as a means to an end.
Tip: If the times for tours seem to be full for your desired date when you check online, call the admissions department. More times than not, they are very accommodating.
Junior year is crazy crammed . . . andstressful. There’s SATs and ACTs, regular sports and clubs, travel teams, AP exam prep, proms, driver’s ed, and driving tests . . . to name just a sampling. Couple this with the hardest course load your child is likely to face in high school, and your sweetie might not have a day to spare for college tours. On my junior’s few scheduled days off that coordinated with the college calendars, she just wanted to catch up on her work and sleep.
The stakes are lower. Yep, this also has to do with the calendar; hear me out. When you tour a school as a junior, and especially as a senior, the pressure of getting in can loom heavy. We did not tour some of my daughter’s “reach” schools because she thought it would be too disappointing if she didn’t get in. This left us with at least three schools she needed to see after she got accepted in March. They weren’t close to each other—or us— and it was a struggle to see them before commitment day: May 1st. We all agreed that if we had toured some of them in sophomore year, the pressure would have been reduced.
Location matters. If my daughter had visited Boston University in February of her sophomore year, I doubt she would have applied to any school north of the Mason-Dixon line because the cold stunned her. Instead, we were trying to book hotel rooms during the Boston Marathon because that was the only open weekend for us in her senior year. See? Still about the calendar.
Just look at her middle school room redo. How did we not know she was destined to fly south?
One disadvantage of touring in 10th grade: your child might not be focused enough to know their desired major. Tours of specific departments really are invaluable in the selection making process. But even so, the general tour will help your child decide if the school makes their list. Also, school doesn’t necessarily need to be in session for department tours to be informative. Those sessions are more about the facilities, professors, curriculum, and advisers.
So the countdown is on again: we are sending another kid to college. While this means that already tight spring schedules just got “sweet-cheezits-loosen-that-buckle-please” uncomfortable, there is a silver lining here: it’s not quite as rough the second time around. Now don’t get me wrong, I still get a little catch in my throat thinking that this time next year I’ll be the only girl living here besides the dog. And I will miss having my girl’s special blend of spunk and sass on the daily too . But having been in this place before means that I can lean into the excited part a little more than I did the first time around. We can hang out in all the upsides of this big new step for her without wallowing too long in the emotional messiness for me. If I have to keep sending kids out into the Great Beyond known as college, I might as well share some of the things I learned sending another kid to college.
1.There’s more financial aid.
This silver lining that came with the shiny acceptance letters was much appreciated. Oh, the joy! If I could have fired cannons into the air, I would have been that obnoxious neighbor. With one son currently residing on a campus, the gods of FAFSA were kind and benevolent in ways they had not been before. As a mother who will have a child (or two) in college for the next twelve years, this was the best gift ever.
2.There’s less angst.
When I was sending my oldest to college for the first time, I wrote about our emotional fall (read: MY over-the-top emotionally splashy fall), my resolutions (which should have included not tearing up every five seconds), and some things I needed to say to him (cue the tissues) before he crossed that stage into the brave new world of college. I couldn’t imagine my everyday world without him in it. Furthermore, I was bucking at the very idea of it altogether. My people took some time getting used to our new normal too.
Ellen, in her way, was less fraught in the build-up to college, but she wrote beautifully about the change for her household when her daughter came home for Thanksgiving. The truth is that having your child move up and on is a big change. But the more beautiful truth is that moving on doesn’t necessarily mean moving away. We parent differently the ones who aren’t in our nest, but parent them we still do. Exhibit A: the 19 year old calling home from his Canadian Spring Break, because his route home was literally closed due to a freak March storm.
“Help me, Mom and Dad, you’re my only hope.” Nah, he didn’t say that exactly, but that’s what I heard. They are still ours; we are still theirs. Time, distance, and a college dorm room doesn’t change that. Acknowledging this makes it easier to go to the college’s Accepted Student Day and imagine it as your child’s home away from home for the next four years.
3.There’s a different list of Must Haves/Would Likes/Etc
The first time around, my son had a very specific dream of sports journalism and we were laser-focused in our search. While my daughter can fill out a March Madness bracket with the best of them, she has different aspirations. But the college list we built this time wasn’t only different due to intended major. My son liked smaller schools; my daughter thought the bigger the better. He was open to rural; she was insistent on a city. What I really loved this time around was seeing the way she was already starting to spread her wings as she focused on what was important to her. The conversations that evolved over college catalogs were enlightening and let me into her head a little.
4.There’s a better To-Do List
The really great thing about doing this a time or five is that you learn a thing or two. Like . . .
Just how important it is to try and get an ACT and SAT in before the end of Junior year. Honestly, if you have a child on the advanced math track, you could even think about scheduling at the end of sophomore year. Ideally, the best time is when your child has finished Algebra II, and it’s still fresh in her mind.
Create the high school resume as you are living it. No joke. My high school sophomore just pulled up the document he started and added his winter volunteering and sports. It’s so much easier to build as you go.
Build relationships with mentors. College recommendations are important elements of the application. When they come from someone who knows, understands, and likes your child, they could tip the scale to your child’s favor. I encourage my kids to write thank you notes to every coach, teacher, and advisor. When they reach out years later for a letter, hopefully, the gesture will resonate and help that adult remember them positively.
Focus on moving your needle forward. The first time around, we bowed before the cult of the almighty resume. While it IS important, my time spent with many a college
recruiter has changed my thinking. Resumes should tell a story of personal growth, not just be busting at the seams with activities. To that end, we talk to our younger kids about following ideas and exploring pursuits. “You love boats? Have you tried to get your boater’s license?” “You love basketball but didn’t make the team? What else can you do?” In both cases, my kids responded in ways that made them more interesting in person, not just on paper. We also push them outside their comfort zones. “So your friends aren’t doing it? Tell me again why you don’t want to.”
Take younger siblings on college trips. It’s nice to have time alone with your child on these visits too, but if you have siblings that aren’t that far behind, it’s a great opportunity to get a two-fer. The conversations about the school will differ of course, but they are valuable in helping create those future lists. An addendum: if you are already planning travel near a college, swing by and check it out even if it’s just a walk through campus.
5.There’s better downtime
Knowing how things will change means we leap at chances to create memories
together when we can. Whether it was doing an escape room together, hitting the road, taking an international trip, or even just hanging at home watching movies, we focus less on ourselves and more on just being together. Most of the time. We are a regular family and sometimes retreating to our individual corners save lives. But we ARE mindful of our time now in ways that make for an overall better family life.
While it’s true that my family will not be off this college-launching ride for awhile, it’s definitely more fun the second time around. We are happier sending another kid to college not because we love her less, but because we are appreciating the moment more. This time around we have clearer eyes to see what lies ahead: a chance to watch her knock it out of the ballpark. Watch out, world, she’s on her way! Stay tuned for what I learn as we launch 3, 4, and 5!
Oh, you know how we love a good booklist! In fact, our last one was so chock full of good reads that you might want to give it another look. As Erin is currently teaching middle school, we thought it was time to put together a list for the younger set too. Sometimes, tweens are hard sells on a book, but these reads are so good, their stories so compelling, that even the most reluctant reader will succumb to their charms. So here it is: a tween booklist guaranteed to hit that reading sweet spot for your favorite young reader!
Um, an enchanted harmonica. Say what? Trust us on this one. Ryan’s magical tale that spans multiple generations and travels across continents is a new classic. The book dives right into some of the thornier aspects of our history and brings a wide-eyed, open-hearted approach. Sometimes this makes for heart-wrenching reading, but ultimately the story is a triumph and a powerful reminder that we can overcome all with love.
Beautiful and moving, this story set in the shadow of World War II is an inspiration. Our hero Annabelle must withstand the local bully, Betty Glengarry, but her actions set in motion a larger, more important story that one of bullying. This remarkable story is “To Kill a Mockingbird” for the middle school set
Caveat: please read this one before you hand it to a child younger than middle school. That being said, Park handles what could be a very violent book with grace and care. Told from two vantage points and set in 2008, the book follows Nya, a young girl from Sudan who has to fetch water for her village and Salva, a young Sudanese boy whose village is attacked by the rebels in 1985 and who ends up fleeing across the desert to a refugee camp in Ethiopia. This story has true elements to it and the heartbreak of this African village is certainly real, but it’s also an important beautifully rendered account that kids will read quickly.
This book is a true classic and even won the Newbery Award. Set in the South during the Great Depression, this book is hard but hopeful and the characters are bright and entertaining in the face of tragedy and racism. You will appreciate the warm ties and truths as your kids will identify and cheer for the family.
This book is just a great time. Funny, chocked full of adventure, and filled to the brim with heart, there’s nothing not to love here. But the magic is in our protagonist, Tiffany Aching, who sets out on a mission to become a witch. The six inch high tiny but fierce fighting men who assist her help create the magic here. If funny fantasy were a genre, this book would be at the top of it.
Set on our beloved Eastern Shore of Maryland, we would probably have a little love for this book even if it wasn’t so deftly knitted together. Luckily for your young reader, this story of a tragic kayak accident is powerful in and of itself. The moral questions the protagonist Brady must answer as he uncovers the truth behind the accident propel this story past the regret and sadness to another place. As the author steers Brady through some tough moral dilemmas without losing any of the suspense, you are reminded over and over again why the book won the honor of being named a Black Eyed Susan book.
This Texas Bluebonnet Award winner is a wonder in and of itself. The central character August Pullman has a facial deformity which has prevented him from attending a regular school. When he does finally become a student at Beecher Prep, this buoyant tale takes off. Augie just wants to be treated like everyone else, but, well, everyone else might not be ready for that. Told from the perspective of Augie, his classmates, and his family, this anti-bullying story never comes off as preachy, but does allow room to talk about fears and prejudices and, ultimately, the power of kindness. Wonder of all wonders. A must read for all middle schoolers!
Wow. Just wow. This book sticks with you. Melody is the smartest kid in school, but she can’t talk or walk, so nobody knows. When she finally finds a way to communicate, she seems on her way to fulfilling her dream of just being a “regular” kid. But, sigh, middle school is hard, yo. Frank and open, this book takes us inside one girl’s journey with cerebral palsy and, even with detours into some heavy stuff, we are all made better from the trip.
This book reads like Charlotte Rogan’s Lifeboat for the teen set. Poor Robie leaves Hawaii for a trip home to Midway when her plane goes down. Unfortunately, nobody really knows she’s missing or where to look for her. Oh, yeah, and she’s pretty much on her own adrift on a raft in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. It’s disaster lit at its best. Your older tween and teen will enjoy this fast-paced easy read.
This series tops the middle school lists. In this dystopian future world, society is divided into five factions named for dedication to five different virtues— (Candor (the honest), Abnegation (the selfless), Dauntless (the brave), Amity (the peaceful), and Erudite (the intelligent). This is the next series for any kid who devoured The Hunger Games and has been hankering for more of the same. This series adds some different elements that make it interesting for sure, but your child should probably have the same level of maturity to really enjoy it. Think of this one as upper middle school.
Set during the Middle Ages, Silvano is a guy having kind of a bad streak of luck. Wrongfully accused of murder, he is sent to a Franciscan House for his own protection. Posing as a young friar there, Silvano can’t help falling for the lovely girl in the nearby abbey. But he just can’t catch a break. More murders threaten to take Silvano’s freedom for good and keep him from his love. Unlike Hoffman’s popular Stravanganza series set in an alternate world that looked like Renaissance Italy, this suspenseful tale is actually set in fourteenth century Umbria. The historical element just adds another layer to this already rich story. Your young readers will swoon.
Ideal for all fluent readers, this series is a runaway hit. Luke is a 12 year old kid who has spent his life in hiding. The Population Police have dictated that each family can only have two kids. As his family’s third child, Luke’s life is in danger so he has never experienced many of the simple joys of childhood. As his world changes, he glimpses others like himself and launches a daring plan to come out of the shadows that gives energy and momentum to the series. Your kids will be so busy trying to keep up with all the plot twists and turns that they won’t even know they just spent their summer reading.
This recommendation cannot come without also calling attention to Anderson’s other wonderful titles Speak and Chains, both National Book Award finalists. Anderson is the master of historical fiction for the Axe and Aero set. This novel takes us to Philadelphia during the yellow fever epidemic is one of her best. Told from the point of view of Mattie Cook, this tale weaves a narrative around the real-life events and characters of the time. Anderson never treats her young readers like unintelligent ones so the language in the book is just as rich and interesting as the story itself. And there’s an appendix at the end with facts about the epidemic. Sqwee! To a certain reader, it’s kind of like getting a birthday cake on Christmas. Score!
This is an oldie but greatie. Several of us remember this book as one of our favorites from childhood and at least one of us taught this book to our students. Another Newbery winner, this book has been charming readers for over twenty-five years and it still reads as fresh and inventive as it did back then. Sixteen people show up to the reading of Samuel Westing’s will. Any of them could walk away with his millions. The fun is in the unravelling. An absolute delight to read!
Animal-lovers will flock to this book! Zelly is moving to Vermont and she desperately wants a dog. Her grandpa Ace comes up with a crazy scheme to convince her parents that she is ready for one: he makes her a dog out of an old orange juice jug. There is a lot to love about this book. The sweet but complicated relationship Zelly has with her grandpop Ace, her new friend who encourages her to stay true to her convictions even in the face of social pressures, and the subtle themes of responsibility and treating all people (even bullies) with respect woven throughout. The author even inserts some great education about the Jewish faith into the story as Zelly meets two families who are devout Jews in a town that where they are a distinct and noticeable minority. Kids will love the Yiddish glossary at the end!
So you had to know this book was special once you figured out that this sequel won the Newbery Honor Award, but it’s also pretty apparent from the moment you open the spine (without breaking it, of course) and settle into the pages. Thirteen year old Dicey and her three siblings were abandoned by her mother in a parking lot and she has heralded them safely to her grandmother’s house where this story begins. The truth and beauty of Dicey’s voice and story, the pace and strong characters, and ultimately the honesty that permeates from this fast-paced read are all part of its charm. Oh, and it was one of Erin’s favorite books from when she was on the cusp of teendom.
This funny, tender book about being true to who you are doesn’t ever come across as schmaltzy and boys will be laughing too hard at all the crazy adventures of Gabe and his friends at Nerd Camp to notice all the sweet stuff anyway. Gabe’s dad is getting remarried and he is getting a stepbrother who happens to be the very same age. This is great news for Gabe until he realizes that his new brother Zack is a cool skateboarder while he is, well, not. Gabe desperately wants to hide his geekiness from Zack and the story unfolds. In the end, this is a story about accepting yourself for who you are. It’s such a positive, upbeat story narrated by an engaging young voice that tween boys won’t be able to put this book down.
Oh, we love a strong female lead and this book has one in the firecracker protagonist named Mo LeBeau. Big on personality and heart, this book is also a full-blown mystery topped with a little Southern charm. As a read, it goes down like a smooth glass of perfect lemonade. Your kids will be charmed by the quirky cast of characters and the precocious but believable dialogue.
Erin’s kids have been known to fall asleep clutching spy goggles and our friend Mary’s son brought his spy watch kayaking, hiking, and camping last year. Boys LOVE spy stuff. So a book about a school for spies? It has Hogwarts for Future Double Agents written all over it. Even the hero Ben is a little Potter reminiscent. Slow to warm up to the spy stuff, Ben wins in the end—making friends, helping to uncover the hidden mole, and getting his spy groove on. This book brings the action, ninja stars, and combat simulation (in the form of paintball—of course) to the CIA Academy and kids who enjoy a witty tale with a side of suspense will be delighted. This would be a great read-aloud for younger kids too.
I do like a good party. I have even been known to go a wee bit overboard. Not like drop the down payment on a Winnebago overboard, but more like having fourteen four-year-olds crowded around my dining room table crafting with glue and scissors. Rest assured I drew the line at glitter. Never glitter. ::shudders::
For me, it all starts with a good theme I can sink my teeth into, but I am older and more exhausted now. Can you feel me? I now require my themes to be fabulous with a side of easy. So to that end, one of the easiest ones I have hit upon is a Flamingo Party. The best thing? It works for all ages and types of parties: birthday celebrations, baby showers, bridal showers, pool parties, and barbecues. One advantage to this theme is you can extend it cheaply and easily just by using color. Pink balloons, streamers, and netting can really extend the theme to fill your entire space.
My particular party was to celebrate a thirteenth birthday. For me it all begins with the cake . . . or in the case of the parties I orchestrate, cakessssssss.
Here’s the one I created for the family party:
Easy Flamingo Layer Cake
This cake is a great example of a wow factor that exceeds the effort. In other words, it’s easier than it looks. Always a bonus.
Next, frost it up with a base layer buttercream frosting.
Mix up a buttercream frosting and tint it with turquoise food coloring. You can find the food coloring I used here. Pssst, you can also use canned frosting. I won’t tell. Pillsbury even makes an aqua blue frosting that saves you all kinds of time.
If you need help with your frosting game, I recommend this tutorial. She mentions using a bench scraper to achieve a smooth frosting surface. I use this one.
The flamingo is made with fondant icing. I generally make my own marshmallow fondant because not only is it significantly cheaper than store bought, it is so much tastier, too. Your guests won’t be peeling it off into a discarded lump on the side of their plates.
I also find it more forgiving to work with. When you are rolling it and transferring it to the cake, I always have less frustration with breakage than I do with prepared fondant out of the package. This excellent video is EXACTLY how I make it.
She also has a video describing how to color it. Two caveats I have for that one, though. One, I almost always color mine by mixing my gel into the melted marshmallows as she describes in the beginning of her tutorial. It takes A LOT of kneading to mix color into a whole batch of refrigerated fondant. I’m talking kneading on the level of a P90X workout. And two, I always wear vinyl food prep gloves so that my hands don’t get stained.
One other tip: it’s not worth it to make black fondant. It takes forever and a ton of color to make it anything but a weird gray. I did it once, but never again. You can find it here. Keep in mind you can purchase a whole tub of white fondant, too, if you just want to skip making your own altogether.
I used leaf cookie cutters to make the feathers. I free-hand cut out the neck, used a small dish to make the circle for the head, and used the same dish to help gauge the size I needed for the beak. The eye was made from a dab of white buttercream and a speck of black fondant. Because the pieces are relatively small, it’s a much easier decorating process than trying to transfer an entire sheet of fondant to your cake. I have yet to be able to cover a layer cake with a sheet of fondant without curling up in the fetal position from the stress of it all. But just decorating with fondant pieces? That’s a hack I can completely manage.
Now remember I said cakessssssss? In my family, each birthday girl gets her own cake to dive into with abandon.
Fondant Flamingo Cake
This cake was also decorated with marshmallow fondant, but this one is all about the shape. I baked the body of the cake in a Pyrex oven-safe bowl. Once it was COMPLETELY cooled, I sculpted the body shape with a serrated knife making sure to carve out a complete shape that would work for the neck. The rest of the scraps went to the kids who were watching my every move.
The head is a cupcake. That little beaded necklace camouflages the joining of the head to the neck. Because this cake is personal-sized, I could basically pick the pieces up and wrap the fondant around them. In case you are new to working with fondant, you need to actually ice your cake with a buttercream first so that the fondant will adhere to it smoothly. I did not do that with the neck though. The fondant around that is very thick to achieve the rounded look I wanted. I figured there was enough cake-y goodness in the body and head to make it acceptable that the neck was just for decorative purposes.
And then there were the cupcakes . . .
Easy Flamingo Cupcakes
I’m going to be honest, by the time I got to the cupcakes I was TIRED. I ordered some pretty cupcake liners, some flamingo lollipops, let the kids ice the cupcakes anyway they wanted with the remaining blue frosting, and called it a day. See? Easy! You can’t accuse me of being a perfectionist.
But—and this is going to sound radical after the previous several hundred words—great parties need more than cake! Check out these fun ideas to rocket your party into the realm of success!
Flamingo Party Ideas
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