Putting Fit Fun Back in the Family Vacation

Written on July 23, 2014 at 5:17 pm , by

By Julie D. Andrews

Recently, on my first trip to the Hawaiian Islands, I was gob-smacked at the number of families there. Not just there, but there doing things together, active things, outdoor things of the adventurous ilk.

As soon as I checked into the Westin Maui, I began noticing a trickle of active families, which soon intensified and wove its way through my entire stay. There went a mom and her teen son, jogging in the cool, early morning along a coast-hugging path (not a trophy, blonde-bombshell mama, by the way). Trailing behind her boy, she beamed a prideful “I know, can you believe this young man is my son?!” look as I scooted past. There glided a father and teen daughter kayaking, ricocheting unscripted giggles and smiles, not an eye roll in sight. While outrigger canoeing with friends, I saw swarms of families snorkeling together. Even when I was mountain biking, siblings sloshed by me, tires whipping mud, racing to trail’s end.

This struck me—particularly because, one month before, while biking in Acadia Park, I had not seen this. Retirees and couples biking, yes, but families, no. What I saw instead shocked me: throngs of massively overweight families, slogging to restaurants more slowly than the elderly, ordering fried everything with fries on the side for dinner and bacon with whipped-cream pancake stacks for breakfast while I cringed nearby. “Huh?” I puzzled to my boyfriend. “We’re in Bar Harbor. Bike, kayak and rock-climbing-gear rentals dot every corner. What gives?”

I recalled a Carolinas family vacation years back with my parents, siblings and nephews that fell during marathon training. I had my running gear on, happily about to launch. “What are you doing?!” the group asked, astounded. “You are on vacation,” they said. I went anyway, even convincing my sis to join me for a power-walk-run the next day. Still, everyone around me viewed exercise as work, part of a regimen. But by that time in my life, all I saw it as was playtime.

I know we don’t want to hear this. It sounds like blame (far too harsh and unfair a word, so I prefer “awareness”), but a mound of evidence shows that parental decisions and behaviors significantly affect a child’s lifestyle choices.

It’s easy to blanket-blame fast food or video games for childhood obesity, but a University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill study found that while fast food contributes to unhealthy kids, the core culprit in childhood obesity is dietary habits children observe and learn at home.

Research suggests that the earlier kids learn healthy behavior, the better, according to the NIH, and experts recommend that most kids exercise at least 60 minutes daily. Plus, another study found that kids whose moms not only encourage them to exercise and eat well but model such behaviors are more likely to be active and healthy.

Sneak fitness into your family vacation this year. Offer suggestions, and let your teen decide. Some possibilities:

• Rent bicycles (have your teen map a route)
• Park the car, replenish water bottles and walk everywhere
• Try a beachfront yoga class
• Take morning or evening jogs/walks
• Rent canoes, rowboats, kayaks
• Take surfing or paddleboarding lessons
• Scuba dive
• Hike
• Play tennis or golf
• Pack a frisbee, paddle balls and swimsuits
• Splash. Sweat. Fall. Rekindle the playful spirit within you and, I promise, your teens will take note.

 

Julie D. Andrews is a writer living in New York City. Her new book, Real Is the New Natural, dismantles the negative, destructive messaging about body image and beauty bombarding us daily under the guise of health. Moms are calling it an excellent vehicle for propelling discussions about tough topics with their daughters.

 

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You Make It, We Post It!

Written on July 21, 2014 at 12:36 pm , by

They say the way to someone’s heart is through their stomach. Instagram user @loveonafarm went straight to the source with her take on our Mini Blueberry Pies, sweetening up the shape and forgoing the original’s pop sticks. She said the “super easy recipe” made for a “delicious little DIY Monday!” Can’t say we disagree!

Watch a step-by-step video on how to prepare this dessert here.

 

 

Want to be featured here as next week’s chef?

Here’s how: Make a Family Circle recipe, take a photo and share it on Instagram by tagging @FamilyCircleMag and #FCMADEIT.


What Happened After My Son Said, “Mom, I’m Going to Do Something Really Stupid”

Written on July 17, 2014 at 1:31 pm , by

 

Full disclosure: My boys have committed countless ridiculous, embarrassing, dangerous and stupid acts that I’ve never shared publicly. And it’s been tempting. After all, I’m a parenting expert and I have children who never seem to miss an opportunity to make me feel how ironic my professional title is. But I do honor my children’s privacy, and I do recognize that it may be especially irritating to have me as a mother. So I’ve kept the “mom” sharing to a minimum.

But two weeks ago, Elijah, my 13-year-old son, lit a smoke bomb not seven feet from me. In my living room. Just to be clear, “living room” means “inside my house.”

You light a bomb in my house, I get to tell the world.

The official reason I’m doing this is because my husband, James, and I thought a lot about how to use this experience as a teachable moment. It’s also an opportunity to practice what I preach. But the other reason is that it just makes me feel better to share with other people how mind-blowingly stupid my boys can be.

Here’s how the whole thing went down:
After spending the day playing in a basketball tournament, Elijah brought two teammates back to the house with him. A couple of hours later, I was sitting on the couch next to Elijah when Miller, an exceptionally nice kid, told me he needed to go downstairs because he “didn’t want to keep his mom waiting” when she picked him up. He really said that.

A few minutes later Elijah said to me, “Mom, I’m going to do something really stupid.” I immediately responded, “Whatever it is, don’t do it.”

But for some reason my radar was down so I didn’t pay attention when Elijah left the room shortly after making this declaration. When he returned a few minutes later, he nonchalantly walked by me and set off the smoke bomb. Immediately, blue smoke filled the room, and then the house; which caused all the smoke alarms to go off. At that exact moment, Miller’s very nice father and his two adorable younger sisters rang the doorbell.

First, I focused on damage control. Turn off the alarms, get the nice family out of the house, and then deal with the real problems at hand. I still had Jackson, Elijah’s other friend, in the house. I didn’t want to lose it in front of him because he’d already seen me truly rage—a few months before, at 3 a.m., in my bathrobe, no less (due to another mind-blowingly stupid thing my younger son, Roane, did involving a rug and salsa, but I digress). Determined to keep myself under control, I calmly asked Jackson to walk home and brought Elijah into our room—where James was trying to calm himself down—for sentencing.

Here’s the challenge. In these moments, when emotions are at their highest—

  • embarrassment because of the nice family at the door
  • fury at your child, and
  • the glaring realization that you might possibly live with the world’s worst roommate, who might burn your house down if you stop paying attention for five minutes

—it’s really hard to think clearly and act maturely. But you have to if you want any chance of getting through to your child and keeping your sanity.

In the five minutes between getting everyone out of the house and talking to Elijah, here’s what James and I decided were the most important things we needed to communicate.

  • We both accept that our children are fascinated with fire and what happens when things explode. That is why we have educated both of them on fire safety and fireworks. Unfortunately, that doesn’t always translate into good judgment on their part.
  • We recognize that we can’t leave Elijah unsupervised in the house until he can prove he has better judgment. That will take time—which is annoying but true.
  • Because Elijah demonstrated disregard for the safety of our home, he will be responsible for the majority of its upkeep in the hope that he’ll appreciate to some extent how hard it is to maintain a house and what a colossally bad idea it is to burn one down.

I know Elijah respects us. I know he has a degree of fear of us. But he has yet to experience the horror you feel when something you’ve done goes terribly wrong. Not all 13-year-olds are like this, but he is a supremely confident man-child who has never been able to just take someone’s word for it. Since he was 2½ and stuck a metal shower ring into the heating system and short-circuited the electrical system of our house, he has been an “experimental learner.” So my goal is to get Elijah to connect his higher processing with his let’s-see-what-happens-if-I-do-this thinking. That’s going to be one of the main objectives of his adolescent development.

But it’s going to be a long road. I kid you not, today—not two weeks later—Elijah woke James from his Saturday afternoon nap and asked, “Dad….Dad…Dad…Do we have any flammable liquids in the house?”


Stand for Jada: Social Media Stands in Support of 16-Year-Old Rape Victim

Written on July 16, 2014 at 4:41 pm , by

 

It’s the kind of news that makes moms shudder. Jada, a Houston 16-year-old, was drugged and raped at a party with fellow high-schoolers, but didn’t even know it until the video of the assault went viral. But it gets worse: Peers started mocking her online, posting images of themselves—under a hashtag that won’t be repeated here—unconscious on the floor in the same pose as Jada. It’s incomprehensible how cruel people can be, how cavalier, and how little they think about the consequences. After Jada told her story to the Houston press, they contacted one of the posers, who said he didn’t know Jada but was bored and wanted to wake up his Twitter feed. But here’s the good news: Jada’s supporters created a hashtag of their own, #jadacounterpose, tweeting images protesting the alarming, persistent problem of campus rape. No one should suffer what Jada did. And all of us should stand behind her.

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Kitchen Fails

Written on July 15, 2014 at 11:32 am , by

Do you have fond childhood memories of cooking? My mother taught me to bake and I grew up believing all children enjoyed helping out in the kitchen.

Then I became a custodial stepmom to five kids.

Even though I’m not a great cook, I enjoy my time in the kitchen. But somehow, I’ve got a house full of kids that can’t follow a recipe.

This might be my fault. When we first became a family, there seemed to be more voluntary help with cooking. There were a few kid cookbooks and some recipes they liked to make. Gradually, that all fell by the wayside.

Was it because now I had a spot in the kitchen where before only Dad did the cooking? Perhaps. He still does most of it, but I do my share—though he’s bolder about “requesting” their help than I am.

They seem to think they can perform a chore so badly that we’ll never ask them for help again. The youngest girl has been pulling this stunt for a while with regards to prepping green beans, but every time her dad makes them, he pulls her into the kitchen.

Dad: Eventually, you’ll get so good at this that you won’t have time to complain.

Or maybe it was math that drove them away. In a family our size, standard recipes don’t cover us. We have to at least double them; inevitably, this involves multiplying fractions. Our middle girl was thrilled to help make the pancakes until this realization dawned on her.

She yelled out from the kitchen, “Daddy’s making me do math! On a Sunday morning!”

Whatever the reason, I have marked the gradual decline in interest that all the kids have in cooking. Only the 18-year-old has learned that if you can bake, you can always make yourself a treat. She has a recipe I refer to as “Get Your Own Cookie!” It makes one.

I’ve witnessed more interesting kitchen fails than I ever anticipated. One of the girls made chocolate chip cookies and forgot to add the sugar. Not coincidentally, this is the same girl who once sent over 18,000 text messages in a single billing cycle. Her cookie mishap was due to textbaking.

Our green bean girl made the same recipe and neglected to add both the salt and the chocolate chips. When the boy made it, he interpreted “1¼ c. flour” to mean “a quarter cup of flour.” His cookies turned into some kind of brittle that the kids then chipped away at until we threw it away.

Last week, I was out of time and left the 18-year-old a recipe for turkey meatloaf to make for dinner. When my husband called to check in, they were eating leftover pizza. The meatloaf was dubbed a fail.

Back home, I discovered the turkey exactly where it had been in the fridge, but now wrapped up. The failed meatloaf was there too. It smelled great, but had no turkey in it.

Me: So what happened with dinner?

#2: I followed the recipe. It just didn’t turn out right.

Me: Umm…you didn’t put any turkey in it.

#2: Yes I did! I measured it out on the scale.

I cocked my head.

Me: It should have taken the whole package.

#2: The package was six pounds. It called for 1.25 pounds.

Me: No, the Costco package of four is six pounds total. Each one is a pound a half but we just use the whole thing. Didn’t it seem like not very much turkey?

#2: Umm.

Me: I think maybe you measured ounces. Or grams. Or something.

#2: I don’t really know how to use the scale.

Or, apparently, how to conceptualize weight.

This is the same girl who graduated a few weeks ago with academic honors. She even got to wear a medal for it. Some of her academics required her to do measurements and weigh things and perform calculations. I’m positive of this.

As a peace offering, she left a whole plate of brownies (recipe properly doubled) on the counter.

I’d call that meatloaf a win after all.

GET YOUR OWN COOKIE!

2 tbsp butter

2 tbsp granulated sugar

2 tbsp brown sugar

2 tbsp beaten egg

½ tsp vanilla extract

¼ cup flour

2 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder

½ tsp baking soda

¼ tsp salt

¼ cup chocolate chips

  1. Preheat oven to 350°.
  2. Cream butter and sugars in a bowl with fork. Add egg and vanilla.
  3. In a separate bowl, combine flour, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt. Add to wet mixture; fold in chocolate chips.
  4. On a cookie sheet covered with either a silicone sheet or parchment paper, place batter in center and bake 14–15 minutes.

Makes One. Don’t Share.

JM Randolph is a writer, stagehand and custodial stepmom of five. She lives in New Jersey with her family and blogs at accidentalstepmom.com.

 

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You Make It, We Post It!

Written on July 14, 2014 at 10:00 am , by

Pesto chango! Instagram user @zibs mixed up our Kale-Walnut Pesto, including pine nuts. The photographer clearly knows how to capture a picture-perfect food shot, styling her sauce and crusty bread next to our July issue.

Get inspired by more creative recipes for quick and easy snacks, desserts and drinks, here.

Want to be featured here as next week’s chef?

Here’s how: Make a Family Circle recipe, take a photo and share it on Instagram by tagging @FamilyCircleMag and #FCMADEIT.

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Would You Leave Your Kid Alone in a Car?

Written on July 10, 2014 at 2:01 pm , by

Imagine this scenario: You’re pulling into a parking space so you can pick up Chinese food for dinner. As you glance into the backseat, you can see that your adorable (but extremely energetic) 3-year-old twins are finally asleep and safely strapped into their snuggly car seats. And you wonder: Should you wake them up and bring them into the restaurant with you, or dash inside for just a minute, leaving the kids inside the car alone? You’re parked right in front of the restaurant’s door. What do you do?

The truth is, if we haven’t all made the dash inside, we’ve at least thought about it for more than a second. However, many parents don’t understand the cause for concern until it’s too late and they’ve received a reprimand from a concerned citizen, been handed a summons from an unforgiving police officer, or experienced a tragedy that will be hard to forgive themselves for.

While the specific laws and age limits for leaving a child alone vary from state to state, I imagine some parents are thinking: “I know my kid” or “No one can tell me what to do with my own children.” Actually, communities and institutions can and in my opinion should. Some parents need care instructions for their kids. Common sense and parenting skills are not a given. If legislation or consequences keep one child safer at the expense of another parent’s inconvenience, so be it.

Now here’s my confession: Years ago, I left the motor running and my twins strapped into the backseat of my cool minivan on a hot summer day. Pulling right up to the front door of a local Chinese restaurant, I quickly ran in to pick up my order. It took a minute for me to find out the food wasn’t ready. Then I pushed open the front door to see my now moving minivan rolling past me with one of my 3-year-olds at the wheel.

I panicked, crushing my shinbone as I swung open the door and put my foot on the brake. The car went from neutral to park. In shock, I said to my daughters, “Girls, what happened?” My level-headed, still-strapped-in daughter, Taylor, said, “Erin drive.” Erin, my sweet and funny aspiring daredevil, just smiled. I was dying inside but so grateful that a tragedy had been averted. And I have never left a child of mine in a car or unsupervised since.

While it’s true that parenting skills and styles are very individual, there is always one constant: the responsibility we have to protect our children and not expose them to potentially dangerous situations. You may believe that they’ll be just fine in your absence, but—speaking from personal experience—in lieu of a crystal ball, think safety instead.


Opening Minds with Skype in the Classroom

Written on July 9, 2014 at 8:00 am , by

Sometimes I’m stunned by the myopic viewpoints my daughter encounters in school, and so is she. I’ve gone to a lot of trouble to help both my kids see past their own small world to understand global issues. We travel as much as we can. We watch programming from other cultures. We read. And we explore the Internet with an eye to the larger, diverse world.

My daughter has described in-class worldviews that are so insular—limited by teachers’ less-expansive experiences—that I’m frustrated. Although I know there are simple technical tools that can transcend those limitations, most teachers look at me with annoyance if I suggest them. I realize that teachers have concerns and time constraints I know nothing about. But I recently sat in on a demonstration at a Skype in the classroom event in New York where teachers from remote, rural and deeply impoverished areas were—for free and using equipment they already have—exposing their students to cultures from all over the globe. Why aren’t my daughter’s teachers doing this?

These teachers—from Ohio, Pennsylvania and Kenya—don’t have any special grants or more time or equipment than anyone else. In fact, they probably have less than most. They just said yes. Then they clicked, chose an expert or classroom to connect with, installed Skype (free) and set up a laptop in their classrooms. That opened up the world for their students, changed the way they teach, and inspired the kids in their classrooms and, often, in classrooms on the other side of the world. Some did group projects with students in other countries, some played 20 questions with kids from a completely different culture, and some connected with thought leaders who let the students ask them questions. All the speakers are invited by Microsoft (and vetted), the connections are teacher-to-teacher so it’s safe for everyone, and there is no cost. Why aren’t my daughter’s teachers doing this?

If the answer is “We don’t have the resources,” I’d like to point out that Jairus Makambi, director of the The Cheery Children Education Centre in the heart of the Kibera slum in Nairobi, Kenya, has almost nothing. Kibera is home to about 1.5 million people; it’s one of the largest, poorest slums in the world. But Makambi’s students have had the opportunity to Skype with 70 schools from 30 different countries using only a laptop and a dicey Internet connection. It has opened the eyes of those children to a world beyond the abject poverty they live in and allowed teachers around the globe to help Makambi teach subjects he has neither the materials nor the knowledge to take on. “This experience is phenomenal,” says Makambi. “It is promoting global integration and appreciation of cultures that transcends the trivialities of race while inculcating in our students the spirit of global citizenry that is essential in this rapidly globalizing world.”

Why aren’t my daughter’s teachers doing this?


Great College Bargains

Written on July 8, 2014 at 5:02 pm , by

College can be pricey, but that doesn’t mean you can’t find ways to save. We rounded up some of our favorite deals below.

Books

Visit chegg.com for better deals than at your school bookstore, or download the free Amazon App to scan barcodes and compare prices.

Dorm Supplies

PBteen gives students 10% off their order with an .edu email address or a valid college ID. pbteen.com 

Electronics

Apple Education offers special education discounts and a financing option that allows students (or parents) to pay for Apple software, Mac computers, and select accessories over time. apple.com

Best Buy sends coupon codes for deals on MacBooks and other tech devices to students who enter their .edu email address. bestbuy.com 

Other

The free College Discounts app (iTunes and Google Play) gives students deals for popular local businesses around campus. The app currently features more than 50 colleges.


Summer Must-Reads: 8 Books for Your Beach Bag

Written on July 8, 2014 at 4:27 pm , by

There’s a lot of things I love about summer: the warmth (it can never be too hot), the long days and the amazing books. I’m like a kid in an ice cream shop unable to decide on my favorite flavors. In no particular order, here’s what I’ll be devouring.

 

Calling all fans—and fans-to-be—of Rainbow Rowell! The author of the acclaimed YA crossover Eleanor & Park dials it up in Landline (St. Martin’s Press), a back-in-time story of a magical phone that is also an honest, bittersweet depiction of grown-up love and marriage.

Emily Giffin scores again by bringing her discerning understanding of matters of the heart—as well as small-town football—to The One & Only (Ballantine), in which Shea Rigsby must learn to stop living her life on the sidelines.

It’s no mystery why Liane Moriarty is a summer staple: She takes hyperparenting down a notch with wit and compassion but still keeps it real. In Big Little Lies (Amy Einhorn Books/Putnam) she throws a dead body into the mix.

A young mother going blind is no laughing matter, except, incredibly so, it is in Nicole C. Kear’s courageous, relatable and, yes, truly funny Now I See You (St. Martin’s Press).

 

Looking to connect with your teen and enjoy a great read? Turn to these four not-so-young-adult options. They’re guaranteed to give you something to talk about.

 

In Conversion (Putnam), Katherine Howe conjures up a spooky story of afflicted modern-day high school girls alternating with the actual account behind the accusations that led to the Salem witch trials.

Megan Abbott’s The Fever (Little, Brown) is a darker, more disturbing brew (parents, especially, may shudder) as a group of teenage girls’ maladies reveal secrets and deception.

Cammie McGovern channels her knowledge and passion for special-needs kids in Say What You Will (HarperTeen). Amy is trying to break out of the confines of her cerebral palsied body. Matthew is secretly trapped by the rituals of his OCD. Brought together, they push each other to overcome their fears and embrace life and love.

The deservedly best-selling Wonder by R.J. Palacio (Knopf Books for Young Readers)—required reading for every family—doesn’t just get you talking, it gets you thinking, feeling and rejoicing.

 

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5 Smart Ways to Score Freebies

Written on July 8, 2014 at 11:01 am , by

By Anna Davies

There’s no such thing as a free lunch, but by being creative, you can turn up plenty of ways to get a meal (and gym membership, theater tickets or groceries) without opening your wallet. “Not only have people become more savvy about finding bargains, but businesses have realized the value of their relationships with their customers, who can act like an informal marketing department,” explains Clare Levison, author of Frugal Isn’t Cheap: Spend Less, Save More, and Live Better. Try these real reader strategies to score—and save—big.

“Like” a Great Service

Following a business you love on Facebook or Twitter can be an excellent way to get insider info on special sales. But for even more deals, ask the company how you can help. Gina Lincicum, 41, a mom of three in Washington, DC, became a mystery shopper for a local restaurant chain. “I earn a free meal, plus $10 or so for filling out a questionnaire about my experience that usually takes 10 minutes to complete. I keep track of my mileage to and from the restaurant for my taxes, so I get a little money back that way too.”

Swap Skills

Think beyond trading carpooling for babysitting duties:  Bartering can also be  used to score major discounts on dental appointments, music lessons and other small-business services. Hope Hunt, 39, from Williamsburg, Virginia, saves $674 a month on tae kwon do and gymnastics lessons for her four children. “I work in technology, so I offer website design, blog setup and networking support in exchange for lessons,” Hunt explains. Not sure what you can offer? Look around and see what’s not available.

Volunteer

Tickets to museums, aquariums and theater performances can be scored for nada by giving your time, explains Laura Wallis, a mother of two and creator of the money-saving site Momsgonnafindout.com. “Check local attractions,” she suggests. “Usually nonprofits will be happy for an extra pair of hands.” Often you’ll have to attend a training session and make a specific time commitment, so this is a great strategy if you’re truly passionate about an organization. Bonus: If your teen has a volunteer-hour quota at school, joining you helps her while giving you two a chance to hang out.

Join a Focus Group

Offering your opinions on brands can be valuable if you’re savvy about sifting through opportunities, explains Wallis. “Some pay people in product, but others offer $20 to $150 an hour for your time.” Sign up at paidfocusgroup.net. Once you’re approved, you may be inundated with responses, so create a secondary email address and alternate phone number (such as a free Google Voice number that directs to voice mail). “Some focus groups are conducted via email or telephone, so you may not need to live in the area to participate,” says Wallis.

Complain the Right Way

It’s tempting to fire off an angry email—or unleash a few all-caps Tweets—when you’re confronted with subpar service. But taking a few deep breaths before eloquently explaining why you were disappointed helps you and the company in the long run, says Adi Bittan, CEO of OwnerListens, which offers an app that lets customers send private, anonymous feedback to business owners. “When consumers are legitimately dissatisfied, they will frequently get money back, gift certificates, samples or replacement products.” However, Bittan cautions that vague complaints aren’t likely to go far—even if you have a large following on social media. “Companies want to make things right, but they’re also wise about people using their social networking platform only for freebies,” Bittan says. “They can easily tell, based on a person’s social media history, when someone is making up a problem in order to save money.”

 


Letting Go of Your College-Bound Teen

Written on July 8, 2014 at 10:52 am , by

By Rob Lowe

Today is my son Matthew’s last night home before college.

I have been emotionally blindsided. I know that this is a rite many have been through. My son will go to a great school, something we as a family have worked hard at for many years. But looking at his suitcases on his bed, his New England Patriots posters on the wall and his dog watching him pack, sends me out of the room to a hidden corner where I can’t stop crying.

One of the great gifts of my life has been my two boys and, through them, exploring the mysterious, complicated and charged relationship between fathers and sons. As I try to raise them, I discover the depth and currents of not only our relationship but ones already downstream, the love and loss that flowed between my father and me and how that bond is so powerful.

After my parents’ divorce, I spent weekends with my dad. By the time Sunday rolled around, I was incapable of enjoying the day’s activities because I was already dreading the inevitable goodbye. Trips to the mall, miniature golf or movies had me in a lump-throated daze long before my dad would drop me home and drive away.

Now, standing among the accumulation of the life of a little boy he no longer is, I look at my own young doppelgänger and realize: It’s me who has become a boy again. All my heavy-chested sadness, loss and longing to hold on to things as they used to be are back, sweeping over me as they did when I was a child.

In front of Matthew I’m doing some of the best acting of my career. I smile like a jack-o’-lantern and affect a breezy, casual manner. Positive sentences only and nothing but enthusiasm framing my answers to Matthew’s questions.

“Do you think it’s cold in the dorms in the winter?” he asks in a voice that seems smaller than it was just days ago.

“Naah!” I lie, having no idea what his room for the next four years will be like.

This line of questioning is irrelevant anyway, as Sheryl is preparing for any possible scenario, as is her genius. We all have our strengths; among hers is the ability to put anything a human being could possibly need in a suitcase. Or box. Or FedEx container. She is channeling her extraordinary love and loss into a beautiful display of preparing her son for his travels.

The clothes are off the bed and zipped into the bags. The bed is tidy and spare; it already has the feel of a guest bed, which, I realize to my horror, it will become. I think of all the times we lay among the covers reading Goodnight Moon and The Giving Tree. I think of all the recent times when I was annoyed at how late he was sleeping. I’ll never have to worry about that again. I make up an excuse to leave and head to my secret corner.

For his part, Matthew has been a rock. He is naturally very even-keeled, rarely emotional. True to form, he is treating his impending departure as just another day at the office. And I’m glad. After all, someone’s gotta be strong about this.

I’ve been worried about how Johnowen, our youngest, will handle the departure of his big brother. Only two years apart, they are very close in that vaguely annoyed constant companionship that brothers can share (if they are lucky).

Now what will happen to their NFL rivalry and smack talk? The nightly ear-splitting deconstructing of Scandinavian dubstep EDM? The incessant wrangling about what guys and what girls are coming by and when? Life is breaking up the team that kept me in loving consternation until all hours of the morning and throughout those never-ending summer nights.

Our house is not the same now. Sheryl and Johnowen and I, overnight, have a completely different dynamic. Quieter, gentler, deeper in some ways that I cannot understand. Matthew’s dog, Buster, has stopped eating, which is maybe not a bad thing considering his weight issues. I had a 5:30 a.m. call on set the next day and I used it as an excuse to sleep in Matthew’s room. I told myself I did it to have some quiet to get to bed early.

My children have always made me feel. They have always taught me, changed me, always for the better. I hope I have been the best dad I could be and that I have succeeded more than I failed. Having them in my life turned me into a man. Now, with my long-distance longing and worry, covered by electric excitement about the future for Matthew, I realize that saying goodbye to him has turned me into a boy.

And now, we will both grow up.

 

Rob Lowe is a film and television actor and the author of Love Life (Simon & Schuster).