As graduation season approaches, I feel the need to apologize: If you are one of the generous friends who gave my daughters a graduation gift, you can stop holding your breath for that thank-you note. It’s probably not coming. I’m sorry.
I have moved my daughters in and out of dorm rooms enough to know that the tidy boxes of note cards I gave them upon high school graduation have barely been touched, and the lists of gifts and givers we made together are certainly lost – likely used as scratch paper for keeping score at drinking games Freshman year.
My children’s spotty thank-you note habits are some of my most embarrassing failures. I still cringe when I see someone who attended my daughters’ graduation parties. Odds are, they gave my kid a gift or a check and have not heard from them since. And when I recall that I received a thank-you from THEIR child, the humiliation is worse.
Of course I REMINDED (nagged) my girls to send notes when they were under my roof. But as we know, with that first change of address goes any parental control we thought we had. (It takes a few years, but you’ll get used to it. I promise.)
To be fair, my daughters weren’t total slugs. I know they TRIED to write notes before they left for college, because I found several to-do lists in their handwriting beginning with: 1. Write thank-you notes. 2. Buy stamps.
And I know they STARTED a note or two, because as I cleaned out their childhood desks, I came upon evidence of their efforts: I found notes artfully scrawled that had not made it into an envelope. I found completed notes sealed in addressed envelopes, merely missing a stamp. And I discovered stamped envelopes that never made it out the door for want of a complete address or zip code. (We’ve all been there, right?)
Not completing thank-you’s should be particularly embarrassing to MY daughters, because I actually wrote about it in a book, Do Your Laundry or You’ll Die Alone: Advice Your Mom Would Give if She Thought You Were Listening.
I put it this way.
#63 THANK YOU NOTES ARE ALWAYS IN STYLE.
It will always be difficult to know what to do and say when someone disappoints or hurts you. But when someone makes a good difference in your life, the one right thing to do is to make absolutely sure that she knows it. Say “thank-you.”
Say it like you mean it – with sincerity, details, and reasons that will convince your recipient that she is Nobel-worthy and that you did not merely recycle the note thanking Aunt Ruth for your birthday cookie bouquet.
Every once in a while, write a “thank-you” note as if you’re competing for a prize. Compose it with care and purpose and literary flourish, as if your future depends on it. Make it something that the recipient will want to keep on the nightstand or tucked away, like a treasure to cheer her when she thinks her life has not mattered.
Isn’t this the real point?
We shouldn’t want our kids to send “thank-you” notes merely because we taught them to or because it’s good manners. We want them to be truly grateful – and to know how gratitude expands when we express it. But, alas, much of that lesson may not happen on a parent’s watch.
As with so much that we mothers drill into our children, at some point we have to stop wondering if they listened and stop looking for evidence that our rants “took.” Manners will always be in style, but we will not be around to be the style police. And deeper lessons await them on their journey into adulthood.
So, my friends, I’m not judging you by your kids, and I hope you won’t judge me by mine. I join scores of mothers the world over in assuring you that I know my children appreciated your gift and the part you played in their lives. And, if you didn’t get a thank-you note, or if they put their feet on your furniture, or if they didn’t put their napkin in their laps, of COURSE, I raised them better than that.
Part of this article was excerpted from the book Do Your Laundry or You’ll Die Alone: Advice Your Mom Would Give If She Thought You Were Listening.
My most painful parenting moment, bar none, was the night I accidentally told my eight-year-old that there was no Santa Claus. The day after Christmas, she had seen some toy boxes in the garage, which matched the gifts so perfectly assembled under the tree the previous morning. As I tucked her into bed that night, she probed gingerly.
“Mommy, I saw the boxes in the garage.”
“What boxes, Honey?”
“For the doll house and scooter. You told us the elves made them.”
I know now that she was expecting that I would disclose some special, sparkling secret about elves… their tactics of managing on-site assembly, perhaps.
But I mistook her question; I thought my smart, old-souled daughter was telling me the jig was up, demanding the truth about Santa Clause and the whole holiday hoax. I had so dreaded this day that I jumped too quickly to rip off the Band-Aid. “Okay, you’ve caught us.” I confessed – but not nearly so directly as that. I used a mishmash of syllables that I forgot seconds after they left my lips, making it nearly impossible to remember precisely what I had given her little mind to process. I only remember that my words felt immediately like a butcher knife, puncturing the airy, glitter-coated bubble of Christmas magic that Tess had breathed into being since she was three.
It happened too fast. From her strong, curious sitting position, my flannel-clad angel melted back onto her pillow as sadness overtook her. She locked eyes with me as the sobs seized her, as if she knew she was about to be overwhelmed by a grief she could not manage.
Quickly, I tried to backpedal. “Oh, no honey…I didn’t mean parents ARE Santa… I meant to say ‘parents HELP Santa.” I could feel my heart racing and my voice shaking, so I slowed down to seem casual. “Santa sometimes makes mistakes…or leaves boxes for later. Santa needs so much help…so many kids…” But the damage was done. Tess tried to act as if she was satisfied with my protestations. But those minutes became an ugly, scary redaction on a once-perfect story, and I read the pain in her for weeks.
I kicked the Tooth Fairy out of our house with equal elegance.
For our family, the Tooth Fairy accompanied her modest cash with tiny notes, written on wispy pink handmade paper – very unique and fairylike. When a girl found a note from the Tooth Fairy under her pillow, there was no doubt it was from a magical being. Unless…she was a particularly curious 6-year-old who found the other half of the sheet of fairy paper on her mother’s art desk later that week. Busted.
My daughters’ childhoods were, thankfully, free of real tragedy. So losing these magical visitors were big losses – the first they had endured in their brief lives. And I hated that they were my fault. How could I play so fast and loose with my part of these childhood staples?
Childhood is fleeting, and cutting it short seems tragic. Because as soon as children understand what being human really is, the losses come fast and furious. Magic evaporates. Mystery hitches a ride with Rudolf. Heroes fall off their pedestals, and princesses become people we don’t want to grow up to be afterall. The wonder and whimsy and magical potions leak out of life, only to be replaced by responsibility, reality and doing your own laundry.
But I could never join the camp of those who say that a parent who supports the Easter Bunny and Santa Claus is lying to her kids, or damaging them. It’s all in how you play it. If I could go back in time, I might be a little more careful, but I would keep every magical visitor on the guest list. Heck, I might even invite the Elf on the Shelf to our house, and he has a terrible reputation for outing parents. (All my friends hate him.)
Now 24 and 21, my girls tell me that the losses of childhood were entirely worth it. A she-ro who falls off her pedestal is better than no she-ro at all, they say. And finding out that parents helped the elves do their work? Well, that just makes parents seem more fun and magical. That’s what they say now, anyway. But talk of such things is always a short, one-way conversation, and my daughters know better than to push it. Because there is still chocolate at stake.
When my youngest was home from college last Easter, she woke up to an Easter basket on the stairs and her favorite chocolate eggs hidden throughout the house. She got a full Easter egg hunt, with no sister to compete with. The Easter Bunny, my beloved spirit animal, scored another sweet, stealthy victory. My daughters do not question the Easter Bunny’s tactics, resources or gender identification. They have never asked whether the bunny has a helper or what her/his age cut-off is. The bunny, they know, adheres to that age-old parental pledge “if you believe, you will receive.”
And, p.s., since they are not children anymore, my girls must face the truth of the other age-old saying: “If you don’t want mom to eat your Cadbury eggs, you better hide them better than elves hide toy boxes.”
Becky Blades is author and illustrator of Do Your Laundry or You’ll Die Alone: Advice Your Mom Would Give If She Thought You Were Listening. It’s a wise, witty collection of coming-of-age encouragement, for the newly launched woman child in all of us.
It fits perfectly in Santa’s bag and Easter baskets … and under pillows.
Get yours at your local book store or right HERE.
By Becky Blades
For seven years now, a family of robins has chosen the eave over our front door to build its summer nest. When my two daughters were little, we used to spy on the birds through the transom window, watching the mother’s spring nest-building through the weeks when she laid and guarded her eggs. We waited for the turquoise eggs to crack open, for naked, begging babies to fill the nest.
Mostly, the robins delighted me, but as the novelty wore off, the nest became less of an enchantment and more of an annoyance. Smears of mud and grass stuck to the window, egg shells blew out and littered the porch, and then, of course, there was the poop.
This past fall as my daughters left—one for college, one for her first big job in New York City—the symbolism of the nest struck me anew. One morning when I walked down the stairs and saw the empty nest through the window, I drew a deep breath, and tears came to my eyes. I sat on the stairs in front of the window and had my first good empty-nest self-pity cry.
I had seen a mother create a home and push her babies out of it year after year, and it had never occurred to me that we had anything in common. In that moment, I felt one with every mother in the universe.
This little story is excerpted from “7 Whispers From the Universe that Say It Will Be Okay” on Oprah.com. Read the full article HERE.
Becky Blades is author of Do Your Laundry or You’ll Die Alone: Advice Your Mom Would Give if She Thought You Were Listening, wise and witty collection of counsel for launching loved ones.
I have two daughters, and by external, American, first-world standards, they are both plenty successful. I always encouraged them to set high goals, to go for the gold, and to excel at a few select things. I also encouraged them to try lots of things, to collect experiences and skills.
Now, with one in college and one a year out of college, I look back at our parenting with some regret.
The pressure my daughters put on themselves was much more than I put on them. But by sending them to tough schools and cheering them on in sports and grades, their dad and I were, in many ways, saying “more, more, more!”
When my oldest daughter was a senior in high school, I filled a journal, which turned into a book full of advice and admonishments. Titled Do Your Laundry or You’ll Die Alone, it contained some sections that were silly, some that were downright snarky and a few that were sappy and serious. Even during the process, I was aware that listing advice had an ugly dark side. Telling people how to behave and how to view the world assumes they are not already dazzling right where they are.
So I ended the book with an important disclaimer.
#269. Enough already.
You are entering a stage of life that is all about adding things. You’ll be adding credentials to your resumé, skills to your repertoire, and friends to your contact list. You’ll be testing your capacity, finding just how much you can hold and control, how much you can do and know.
Know this first: you are enough.
Right here, right now, you know enough to make your way in the world. You have enough to succeed. You hold enough to find happiness. In the family, friends, and faith you possess right now, you can live a life that billions around the world would envy. Most important, you are all you need to be. To God, to those who love you, and to the truth within yourself, you are already enough.
When I finished the book and passed it on to editors for review and corrections, one of the editors responded with an emotional e-mail. About #269 above, she said “If my mom had ever said these words to me, I think my life would have been profoundly different. She never said it.” she wrote. “This was all I ever needed to believe, and I wanted to hear it most from my mom.”
Let’s not forget to tell our children they are enough already. Before they graduate, before they get a job, before they feel like they can take on the world, they need to believe they don’t really NEED any of it to earn our love and acceptance.
By Becky Blades
When my two almost-flown daughters land at my house for the summer, it is a new era in mother/daughter coexistence. They have their lives, I have mine. (I also have my own favorite yoga pants, which I’m determined to keep track of. I’m watching you, girls.) We romanticize about how it will feel having them home, but summer is far from a Gilmore Girls episode.
To guarantee we have some fun time between the fights about the laundry, my daughters and I decided we should plan some fun one-on-one time – out of the house, where a mom is so easily distracted by the things her daughters promised to do yesterday. My daughters recommended some mother/daughter dates. Check out what my girls have come up with!
And check out my book, Do Your Laundry or You’ll Die Alone. It’s 270 mother/daughter conversations waiting to happen.
This Mother’s Day, my daughter surprised me with this special gift: an article to post on my blog. Thank you, sweetie.
by Taylor Kay Phillips
It was a broken record, as only a mom can perform. So predictable and repetitive that even though I heard it coming, I was still surprised and annoyed. “Oh we can make that,” my mother would say. In response to every purse I wanted to buy, every beautiful, leather bound journal I tried to bring home, even pairs of jeans that had been pre-distressed or patched for an additional 35 dollars.
It seemed like everything I wanted, my mother believed she could make herself – or, worse, that we could make together. It drove me insane. That’s not what I wanted. I wanted something new. I wanted something other people had. I wanted it the way it had been made in factories and shown to me on TV. I didn’t want to make it – it was already made.
But then when I was 12 years old, I got cast as Marian the Librarian in the Music Man. It was a lead role. I was over the moon. But I needed a costume befitting of a librarian in 1920s Iowa, and most costume shops stocking outfits of that kind couldn’t accommodate a not-so-slightly overweight 7th grader. We went to three stores. I cried in the dressing rooms of them all. Finally, instead of a fourth costume or thrift shop, my mom pulled into JOANN’s. “This will be better,” she said. “Go pick out a fabric you want, then we’ll look at patterns and find one that fits the show. This is what real actors do anyway,” she said, “they have someone make their costumes for them.” I showed her a high-waisted skirt outfit in a deep navy blue. “We can make that,” she said.
Every day when I came home from rehearsal, she was in her studio making the dress I’d spent days crying and searching for. And in the end, everything was perfect. I had even sewn a bit of the hem.
My mom ended up making all of my most emotion-plagued costumes in high school theatre: a skin-tight leather cat suit, and a beautiful blue 1930s engagement dress, to name two. And every process was the same: the store-bought outfit wasn’t as right as it could be. “We can make a better one,” she’d say. “We can make one that won’t feel like a compromise. We can make one perfect for you.”
Throughout the years, my mom has been a lot more than a costume designer. She was an interior decorator when I wanted denim wallpaper (“look, I can just do this cool paint treatment and it’s the same thing”). She was a barista when I developed a Starbucks habit (“Tay, look I got all the stuff to make White Mochas at home so you don’t have to spend 4$ every day”). She was a filmmaker when I turned 18 (“Look everyone, she WAS the cutest toddler in Montessori school.)
The first week of my freshman year of college, my mom sent me an email. It was clear that she was afraid that being half a continent away, I would not find a customized, right-sized source of all the things she had been doling out for 18 years: guidance, encouragement, snarky cautionary tales . . . and love. So she made it for me. With the subject line “Do your laundry or you’ll die alone,” the off-to-college letter had 172 line items of advice – loving advice, funny advice, essential advice – all the advice my mom would have given if she’d thought I was listening. But then, 1400 miles away, on my iPhone (which she’ll be scandalized to know I was reading at the dinner table) I was all ears.
I read the book-length e-mail with a slightly homesick relish, knowing that my mom had spent the last 18 years of her life walking past advice books, off-to-college books, self-help books, mother-daughter love books and thinking “I could make that.”
I wrote her a letter back. I told her she’d made an incredible thing. And I lamented that my needy self was off in Massachusetts where I couldn’t ask her to sew anything . . . and that my overpriced coffee addiction was my own problem. I told her this list was funny and uplifting and book-worthy – that publishers would absolutely want it. And I challenged her to make it in time for my younger sister’s high school graduation two years later.
Publishers didn’t bite. But my mom made it anyway. Cover design, art work, illustrations, type design and all. She self-published, but with a flourish and attention to quality that set her book apart from other self-published books.
Four years after that first e-mailed letter, I was home in Kansas City, a college graduate preparing to move to New York for my first real job. I had seen a sketch comedy show a summer before, and my sister and I decided to make one ourselves to produce in our hometown. My family was sitting on the patio of our favorite coffee shop going over show bits and discussing the KC Royals chances in the 2016 Playoffs when my mom got an email. It was a publisher.
Now almost a year later, the second edition of her book has just come out from a mainstream publisher – with a silky hardcover and an intro that refers to me as a “young professional” instead of a “college student.” It’s the new, legit, fancy version. It came with an advance and a royalties contract and agent negotiations and a barcode that includes the Canadian dollar amount. It is something new, something other people will have, something made in factories, and something that will be seen on TV.
And just last week, while sitting in that same coffee shop, my mom got another e-mail – from Oprah’s Book Club! This week, Oprah.com sent an e-blast to millions of subscribers with the following subject line: “Advice You’ll Wish You’d Gotten Earlier in Life.” In the article, Oprah’s Book Club listed 13 pieces of my mom’s book, and told everyone to buy the book. Not bad for a do-it-yourself author.
I’m so glad that moms all across the country will be buying this book for their daughters and giving them the chance to read my mom’s wonderful, witty advice.
But there will also be moms who take one look at the cover, put the book down, and head straight over to the craft store to get teal construction paper and instructions on horizontal vs. vertical binding strategies.
Those daughters are lucky, too.
Take a peek at the book my mom made: Do Your Laundry or You’ll Die Alone.
Taylor Kay Phillips is a writer and comedian in New York City. She does everything her mom tells her to, but usually five years late.
We are in the thick of it. That month when the junk mail is sprinkled with graduation announcements and party invitations, often honoring people we don’t even recognize. Do you take a gift to the party? Do you send cash and a card? Do you call your neighbor to see if she has a niece named “Wendy,” because maybe you got her mail by mistake?
Gift giving has always been difficult, but it seems to be getting tougher to know what’s best to give among far-flung friends, mixed families and expanding casual networks. And it gets even more complicated when you really CARE.
While graduates overwhelmingly prefer receiving money, and people overwhelmingly like giving it, that only makes things more complicated. Few of us know how much cash is appropriate, and we often feel that money or gift cards alone are too impersonal.
I did some homework. As you can imagine, there’s no easy answer. The amount of money that feels right depends upon: 1) the type of graduation, 2) how close the relationship is, and 3) how much the recipient needs the money.
But in general, according to a study by Hallmark:
• 95 percent believe money is an appropriate gift for graduation from high school or college
• $25 is about average for a close friend (or child of a close friend)
• 67 percent believe that $50 or more is appropriate for a close relative
• $20 is the average for a not-so-close friend
• And many would give no gift to a not-so-close friend, but they might send a card.
Once you decide how much cash to give, the perfect gift can be achieved by adding something meaningful or personal – something that shows your heartfelt hopes for the graduate at this important life milestone.
Like Hallmark, I believe that this extra something should be in the form of a sentiment . . . an expression that makes a connection.
That’s why I like books – some particular books, that is – that seem just right for the occasion.
So if you’re like me, you’ll order a book online immediately upon receiving the graduation announcement, or wait until the last minute, and head out for that graduation party taking the route that goes by a bookstore and the ATM.
Don’t worry, no one is getting hurt. But moms everywhere understand why I had to resort to cheap laundry scare tactics.
When my youngest daughter graduated from high school, I released my first book, Do Your Laundry or You’ll Die Alone: Advice Your Mom Would Give if She Thought You Were Listening, a fun little book with an all-too-relatable back story:
Like so many parents, as I prepared to let my first daughter go off to college, I worried. I could not help but wonder if my values and teachings had made it through the noise of the past 18 years. Did she hear the rules of thumb and the cautionary tales? Were they even relevant? Did she know what she needed to know to take care of herself in this digitized, super-sized world?
Did she know that high fructose corn syrup is bad for you and sitting still in the quiet is good for you?
Did she know to give the elderly and infirm her seat on the bus and not to give money to a crack head?
Did she know how to do her laundry? The bleach splotches on her towels gave me my doubts.
As every mother of a daughter knows, at some point, girls stop listening to us, usually right about the time the important stuff comes into play. It is frightening not knowing which important lessons they heard and which ones ended up on the cutting room floors of their busy, short- attention-span lives.
So after my daughter got settled in her dorm, I sent her a care package that made ME feel better: stain remover, sorting directions and some freshly folded pieces of unsolicited advice. I packaged it in small installments, added some art, and tossed in some comic relief.
She read it all. And I can breathe a little easier.
Now you can pass on my 270 tidbits of advice to your favorite launching loved one for graduation or summer break.
I raised children who would do anything to get out of doing laundry. I know they don’t come out of the womb this way, so I take some responsibility. And I have spent the last few years desperately trying to correct my bad parenting.
With my daughters now 20 and 22, I am throwing in the towel . . . the wet towel I found on top of my daughter’s favorite jeggings. (I need to stay out of her room when she’s home for the weekend.)
My oldest daughter just left for her first big job in New York City, and we had our final laundry discussion. It was time for me to admit that, although laundry is important, she can find ways to escape it.
Here are three ways to get out of doing the laundry:
1. Pay for laundry service. I’m told laundry fluff and fold services are not as expensive as one would think. One of my favorite writers, Emma Johnson, author of Wealthy Single Mommy says she gets her laundry done in New York City for $25 a week. In my hometown of Kansas City, you can pay $20 or so for a couple of average loads. If you’re trying to build a career or just HATE doing laundry, your time is easily worth it.
2. Partner with a laundry lover. Some people actually ENJOY doing laundry. They use words like ‘calming’ and ‘therapeutic’ when they talk about folding and ironing. If I had to find a mate or a roommate on matchmaking site, I would look for one of these people. If you ARE one of these people, you definitely should work this into your profile. (But be careful to consider what kind of person you will attract if you lead with it.)
3. Die. We have to talk about last resorts. Laundry is hard to escape. Dying is the surest way to get out of both doing laundry and needing clean clothes. While it may seem offensive to bring death up as an option to young people, we have to be real here. People under 22 believe they are immortal; and somehow that same twisted perception allows them to believe that clothes left hanging over a chair long enough will become “aired out” and that, somehow, that’s as good as clean.
Clearly, the list of ways to get out of doing laundry is a short one. That’s the point. With coming of age comes realizing that a few unpleasant things are just a part of life. Whether we are 20 or 55, we must embrace life’s unpleasantries. Or at least build them into the schedule and the budget.
This article is inspired by the book DO YOUR LAUNDRY OR YOU’LL DIE ALONE: Advice Your Mom Would Give if She Thought You Were Listening, written and illustrated by Becky Blades. It’s a freshly folded collection of life’s inescapable truths.
Some of us are sending kids off to college, some are sending them off to jobs. And some of us are beginning our own new adventures.
School and jobs are scorekeeping places, but growing up is about knowing when to measure and when to just live.
When my two daughters walked off the graduation stage and then out from under my roof, real life started. I hope they realize that growing up means measuring things differently.
Let’s help our kids remember:
Life will not grade you, but it will test you.
Coming of age means saying good-bye to feedback for all the work you do. You won’t get counted for attendance or get extra credit for neatness. But showing up neatly will be the least that is expected. You will not know how you’re doing compared to others or how many points you need to pass. You will not know your place on the curve, and it won’t matter anyway.
Don’t worry, you’ll get used to it.
To get us through the swings and misses of growing up, we sometimes comfort one another with assurances that certain things don’t really matter.
The truth is, it all counts – the good and the bad and the barely visible. It counts how we treat people we’ll never see again and how we treat people we see every day. It counts how much we try, how much we lie, and how much we rationalize by saying it doesn’t count. It all goes into the layered, luminous masterpieces of the people we are. It doesn’t make us good or evil or stupid, but it does count.
Counting isn’t everything.
Don’t keep score in friendships, families or romance. It doesn’t work.
Scorekeeping has its place. And yes, the numbers can be important now. But we know they won’t be forever. Let’s hope one of the things we all learn in school is that life is more than keeping score.
Portions of this article are excerpted from Do Your Laundry or You’ll Die Alone: Advice Your Mom Would Give if She Thought You Were Listening. Get the book here.