How Well Meaning Words Can Invisibly Cripple Students- A Personal Journey Turned Mission


It was overhearing my Mom’s innocent statement to my Dad that influenced my actions for most of my life.  Learning about Fixed vs Growth mindset during my coach training changed my life.   As I work with students, I see that so many of them are self-limiting because they believe that they don’t have the abilities.   It’s especially painful to hear the source of their beliefs.  It’s often well-meaning teachers and their loving parents.  I know that it’s unintentional but a random comment can invisibly cripple the student.

Read on to learn about my own journey and also check out Carol Dweck’s article.  It’s why I believe that helping our students develop a growth mindset infrastructure is one of the greatest gifts that we can give them.  It epitomizes what it takes to be UNstoppable in academics and life.


Innocent comment changes my life

I was raised to believe that your intelligence was fixed and measured by the standardized IQ test of the day.  In fact, I remember the exact moment that Fixed Mindset was cemented into my brain.  It was an innocent comment by my Mom.  I know that she never ever intended for me to be self-limiting.    She was a good and loving Mom who would do anything for her children and had high hopes for my future.  It was her own belief system and the results of my standardize test that was passed on to me when I overheard her talking with my Dad.

“ Debbie’s not as smart as Jim but she tries hard.” 

I can tell you exactly where I was, what I was wearing and where she and my dad were sitting.  That’s how earth shattering of moment it was for me.    I bet if I could ask her about it today, she would tell me it was meant as a compliment because I know how much she valued hard work.  However, that one sentence has stuck with me through most of my life.

I took it to mean that I was not smart and therefore hard work was all I had going for me.  

Each and every time I struggled with a subject in school I would use that as supporting evidence in this fixed mindset hypothesis.

This did not stop me from setting  some pretty high goals for myself.  I racked up numerous awards and milestones hoping that it would disguise that I wasn’t smart.   I worked hard, really hard at life.    However, when I bumped up against areas where I struggled I chalked it up to not being smart enough.  Time to redirect because the smartness wall was immovable.

So when I was training as Life Coach and we began working on Growth Mindset, I had to face my own fixed mindset demons.  I did a lot of soul searching.  I was worried that I too had passed the fixed mindset onto my own children.   I read research that supported the idea that you can really learn anything.   I had a lot of coaching around my fixed mindset.

Slowly my fixed mindset muscle started to relax as my growth mindset muscle strengthened.  Being totally transparent, I know that fixed mindset still creeps up on me when I approach something that seems scary and hard.  Which is why I was relieved to read  that Carol Dweck believes we are a mixture of fixed vs growth mindset as humans.  She suggests that we must continue to nurture growth mindset.  We are a work in progress.


Fixed Mindset Hindsight

My “ Fixed Mindset hindsight” is what drives me.  It’s the reason I’m passionate, bordering on fanatical, about helping my students embrace their own Growth Mindset vision.  My hope is that they will never arbitrarily limit themselves based on a belief that they lack what it takes to make their dreams and goals a reality.  It is why I am an academic life coach.  It is why I rebranded my business UNstoppable Students.

It is personal and it is my mission to impart Growth Mindset to our students.

Are We Loving our Kids to Failure?!


I talk to a lot of amazing parents.  I can literally feel how much they want their kids to have it all…to be happy, successful contributing young adults.  I’ve never talked to a parent who didn’t want the best for their kid and wasn’t willing to pull out all stops to help.  However, is it possible that that unbridled love for our kids is actually hurting them more than helping them?

During a coaching session, I asked a college student what he really wanted to do about a certain topic.   After a long dead uncomfortable silence on the phone I pinged “Hello, are you still there?”  A meek response.  “Yeah.”  So I repeated the question again.  And his response really stopped me in my tracks.

I really really don’t know.  See I’ve never been sincerely asked what I really wanted to do.  I’ve always been told by others, my parents, teachers, advisers what I should do to become successful and in their minds happy.”

This was a student who I knew loved and respected his parents and didn’t want to disappoint them.  I knew he had amazing parents who dedicated their lives to helping their kid in any way that they could.  But somehow all of this mutual love and respect had short changed the student.


I knew where we needed to focus our work.  Our future sessions focused on helping him dig deep, and honestly struggle to find that internal core of who he wanted to be….not what, but who.  From there he needed to hone that vision, strengthen his resolve and translate that into actions that he could take to become his unstoppable self.  We were on a march of self-declaration and independence.


School staff tell me that parents need to stand down and let their kids discover and experience life for themselves.  We need to let them develop life resiliency.  I heard from parents that this is such a hyper competitive world, especially college admissions, that it’s too risky to let their kid fail and fall out of contention.  They want to do everything to help their kid stay on track….although they realize this is a crazy and it is driving them crazy.


So I know that none of this is earth shattering new observations and I don’t have a magical pill.  But what I can share is what I discovered about overriding my own loving parenting persona.

My daughter declared that she was going to run home from college…NYC to San Francisco…by herself with all of her needed belongings in a jogging stroller.  My loving parenting needle was off the charts and my brain was working overtime on how to 1.change her mind or 2.  Stop her.   Here are just a few of my over parenting mind chatter:

  1. It’s impossible to run 26 miles per day for months. It will destroy her body. She’ll never be able to have kids
  2. It’s dangerous out there. She’s a 23 year old woman.  Something or someone bad is going to happen.  We won’t be able to sleep for months.
  3. She’ll miss the good job hiring window and will be unemployed… forever
  4. Where will she sleep, how will she finance this….We are done paying.
  5. Why, Why? Why!

So once I got my head to stop screaming at me, I realized that those fears were about me.

  1. I couldn’t run those miles,
  2. I was afraid of all the bad things in this world,
  3. I would be embarrassed that my Phi Beta Kappa daughter was unemployed
  4. I couldn’t envision such a large multi month adventure.

Bottom-line, I was too buttoned up and responsible to take several months off to run.  This was crazy thinking that was about me and not about Christina.

My daughter was marching (or in her case running) to the beat of her own drummer.  The experiences she would have: Good, bad and probably really ugly where hers…not mine.  I could over parent her and rob her of that life defining experience BUT was that really the best thing for my daughter?  If I truly truly wanted what was best for her it was to let her take charge of her life…scary, risky and failure prone as it may be.  It was not for the faint of parenting hearts…and it wouldn’t stop us from worrying.

So off she ran completing 3128 miles of solo running in 150 days.  She had terrible days and she had great days. There were times she wanted to quit, but she never did.  In the end, this journey has defined who she will be for the rest of her life.  UNSTOPPABLE.  Which is exactly what I had hoped for my daughter….and myself.

Be Careful What You Wish For

How we can learn to dream big from our kids

I realize that I have been missing in action for several months.  Fair to say, I was being schooled on the trials, challenges and joys of being a supportive parent of an independent highly ambitious, 23 year old daughter…but I mean that in the best of ways.  I have learned more about parenting and myself this year than I have learned in the proceeding decade.  More importantly, I believe that this journey happened for a reason: so that I could take my life coaching for students to another level.

First a little background:

Like most parents, we have always told our kids that they can do anything that they set their minds to.  In my mind, I wanted them to not be afraid to become engineers or executives, be good at a sport or even run a marathon.  That was the boundaries of my ‘dreaming big’.  However, we have been blessed with three kids who take ‘dreaming big’ to a level I can barely comprehend.  Growing up they were always aiming high on their academic goals, athletic goals, community service projects, etc.  It was nothing that I couldn’t handle or that was too far out of my comfort zone.  I was always their chief cheerleader and wingman.

As our kids matured into young adults, their dreams have been getting bigger and bigger.  So big that it really scares me at my deepest core.  It involves risk where they could be hurt or even killed.  To be clear, these are not risky dreams like extreme sports or cliff jumping.  These are big noble dreams that will benefit others.   Each of the kids focused on different big dreams but each intent on making this a better world.

So it was in March of 2014 that my concerns about the decision to raise independent big dreamers hit an immovable brick wall name Christina (our youngest).  This particular big dream had been born when Christina was working on her bucket list in 2013 while surfing Facebook.  She saw a post about a woman who was running across America to raise funds for a noble cause.  That struck two cords with Christina:

1. The physical challenge of running over 3000 miles solo   2. The humanitarian cause of making a dent in her goal to raise $1M for charity during her lifetime.

And so it was added to her bucket list.  She mentioned this to us several times but, of course, we dissuaded her, debated her, and ignored her over the course of the pursing year.  Personally, I had hoped that she would lose interest or maybe fall in love with a high tech job opportunity. Nope, nada, not happening. Our daughter was an independent young woman and there was no changing her mind.  In March of 2014, the reality of this undertaking and our lack of control was becoming very real.  She emphatically stated that she was moving home from NYC via a 3,128 mile solo run from the shores of the Atlantic Ocean to the shores of the Pacific.  She was logging daily multiple hour training runs, researching the supplies she would need and sent us the Google Map of her route.

As her college graduation date approached, we continued to try to talk her out of this solo adventure.  Friends and family members implored us to ‘stop’ her.  My husband had dreams that we were grilled by the news reporters on ‘what were you thinking letting your 23year old daughter run alone across America?’ We investigated hiring a security guard to follow her.  We were scared sh*tless.  I was feeling like a terrible Mom.

But Christina stuck to her plan and the unwavering belief that she could do what had only ever been done by two other women. On July 7th she dipped her toes into Atlantic Ocean and began running. The 3,128  miles journey would take 150 days and the obstacles were inconceivable .   She ran anywhere from 22 miles to 43 miles per day pushing all of her supplies in a baby jogging stroller she named Thor.  She ran heavily traveled roads with small shoulders, major interstates, dirt roads in the middle of nowhere, big cities with high crime rates, through 116 heat in Iowa,  food poisoning in Indiana,  thunderstorms in Nebraska,  50 mile per hour wind gusts in Wyoming and snow in Nevada.  She relied on strangers for help along the way often not knowing where she would be sleeping that very night. I was glued to SPOT, her satellite tracker that let me know where she was every 5 minutes.

I was thousands of miles away watching this major adventure unfold, feeling helpless and many times literally worried sick.  What was this Mother to do?  Where had I gone wrong? I was a mess.  I questioned my chosen profession of being a life coach for young adults.  How could I coach students and other parents when I had really screwed this up?  However, it was in one of those questioning moments that my coaching training kicked in.  I started to journal and respond to the questions that I often ask my clients.  How could I change my perspective on this situation?  What was another way of looking at this journey?  What were my limiting beliefs and assumptions around Christina’s run.  What was I really afraid of?   Was it about me or about Christina? What were the outcomes that I could control that would make this journey less scary.

What I realized reading my notes was that it was my fear and frankly, my own limited thinking that this dream was just too big.  Her eldest brother was her lone supporter from the very beginning.  As he told me, “If we tell her NO she will do it twice.”  He encouraged us to get with the program and see how we can help make this a safe journey.  I realized that it was time to put my intent where my heart had been for so many years.  This was about helping our daughter live HER DREAMs…not ours It was about putting our actions behind those words that we had so often preached.   It was time to put on my big girl panties and be brave and bold.   So I made a conscious choice to change my perspective.  I focused on the fact she was doing this to raise funds for an amazing cause and amazing people.  ( I researched and found ways to make her journey easier, safer, and more impactful.  I chose to throw myself into this once in a life time journey even at the expense of growing my business.  And, an interesting thing is happening along the way.   I expanded my horizons and started to think of bigger dreams for myself. I broke through personal barriers and became more brave and bold.  My faith in American people was renewed.

At the end of the day, Christina did exactly what we wanted our kids to do.  She made a difference in this world….not in a small way but in a very large, challenging and inspirational way.  What’s not to be proud of?  My fears were quieted.  It was amazing personal growth opportunity as her biggest cheerleader and wing person on an adventure of a life time.  I just needed to buckle my seatbelt and hang on for the E ticket ride.  So my advice to fellow parents is to choose your messages carefully and be prepared to back up your words. Our kids are listening when we preach….so be careful what you wish for!

Veterans Day: Reflections From A Military Mom

It is only in the last 18 months that I have gained an appreciation for the courage and sacrifices of our service personnel and their families.  I have always been very grateful for those who protect us on our homeland as well as abroad.  I know that they are underpaid, live in minimal housing without many personal choices or freedoms.  But it has been my initiation into the military mom club that has given me a deepened awareness for their personal sacrifices and more importantly the disruptive impact on the entire family.

Good Morning America just did a two-day special on the effects of deployment on families.  I can’t image missing the birth of your first born, or having to be a single parent while worrying about the safety of your spouse.  When we marry, we expect that our spouse will be beside us to share in the good times and support each other in the difficult times.  I treasure being able to crawl into bed at the end of a difficult day and have the warmth and comfort of my husband beside me.  That is a luxury to military families…not the norm.

As the mother of a military kid, I am immensely proud.  But, it has not been easy for me.  Regardless of their age, we still worry about your kids.  Now my worries are bigger than I ever expected.  I’m no longer worried about his academics or even finding a job.  Now I literally worry about him suffering a terrible life altering injury, being mental damaged by war, or if I will ever see him again.  My worries of past seem so light and simple.  I remember being so wound up about which college he would attend, if he would graduate with a GPA that would get him his dream job or even if he would find the right spouse.

I have also had to change who I am as a person and a proud Mom.  I have always been a photo nut and I can no longer share pictures of my son. I’ve always been one to openly share the journeys of my kids.  But now, the less that I say about him the better for his safety.

I have to find peace in not knowing where or what he is doing. I can’t even ask about the weather.  I can’t talk about what little he does share with us.   In some respects it is like he has become our friendly family ghost.   We are never sure when we will see or hear from him next.  When he is with us it is beyond fun, amazing and memorable.  We laugh joke and are a normal family.  And then he is gone again with no trace that he has been with us.

But at the end of the day, I know in my heart that my son is doing exactly what he wants to do.  I am firmly convinced that he was brought on this earth to be a protector.  He is courageous and determined to make this world a safer place.  He is standing on the shoulders of thousands who have gone before him.  He stands beside thousands of brothers and sisters who are equally devoted.

I am proud to say that I am a Military Mom; a role I never expect to take on.  I will do everything I can to support my kid and all those other sons and daughters who give me the privilege and honor of Freedom.   I will continue to pray for their safety and for the safety and comfort of their families.  They are all truly heroes and I cannot adequately thank them for their service to our country.

God Bless this amazing country…Land of the Free, because we are the Home of the Brave!

Parents: Getting honest with “your” college Intentions

Parents: Time to put on your thinking cap.

Parent Check-in- getting clear about your intentions and thoughts

It helps for you and other decision makers to think through your thoughts, ideas, non-negotiable boundaries and emotions.  Being clear about your intentions is great for defusing detrimental emotions and can help you avoid putting too much weight on the outcome. If you have a spouse or ex-spouse, you might want to talk through some of these ideas after you have completed your individual check-ins. This is an opportunity to really tap into your true thoughts, beliefs and desires so that you don’t unknowingly send conflicting messages to your student.

The following 10 prompts can help with this process:

  1.  Distance: How far can my student go from home?  How comfortable would I be with my student out of state, across country?  Is this just my parenting comfort zone? What are my concerns about the student being far from home?
  2. Personal Standards: What are your personal minimum requirements for the college? Must it be a 4 year institution, single sex, private, public, nationally recognized, research based, etc?
  3. Finances: What are my plans for financing the college experience?  Do I plan to use loans? Must the student work to help pay for the expenses? Are scholarships essential?
  4. Our Time Together: What are my expectations for the student coming home for visits, holidays, and summers?
  5. Personal Wisdom Factor: What were my college experiences?  What were the best parts and the parts I would like to forget?  What might I have done differently?
  6. Perception: How emotionally tied am I to where my student goes to college? Is this about how others will judge me or is it about making the best choice for my student?  Be truly honest to yourself.
  7. Footsteps: Do I expect (want) my kid to go to my alma mater or a family legacy college?  Why?
  8. Field of Study: Do I have expectations of what my student will study and become?  If so, where does that expectation come from and why am I so invested in this choice?  Is it about me or about what they want to do?
  9. Goals: What are my goals for my student going to college?  Am I realistic about their academic abilities so that I can help set them up for success?
  10. Parent Participation: What is my role in the college application process?  Where can I bring the most value?

6 Tips for Being a Rock Star Parent During Finals Week

Are you feeling stressed, like you are the one going through finals? Are you worried about your kid and how they will survive these couple weeks of hell? Do you just wish that it would be over so that you can get everyone home and you can start to enjoy the holiday spirit? Parental Final Stress is real – especially the first couple of years that your kid is away at college. With 32 rounds of parental finals under my belt, here are some suggestions to help you navigate those turbulent couple of weeks.

1. Send them a goodie bag that includes something that will countdown the days until they are done with finals. For this season of holiday finals, I usually send them an advent calendar but I have also done the old fashion paper chains with a link for each remaining day, or even inexpensive countdown clocks. Be sure to include snack foods that require little preparation but bring them some comfort. Hot Chocolate and homemade cookies are my kids favorites. Including an extra $20 bill is also a welcome rescue from the dwindling funds. I’ve even included ‘pin the tail’ on the donkey targets with a note to insert the name of their ‘less favorite’ professor or most dreaded class.

US Mail flat rate boxes are my go to for everything I send my kids. You can print the label with postage from home and the boxes are free at all post offices. I have a supply in my closet and it makes it very easy to send goodies to the kids. You just drop the prepaid labeled box at any post office counter (no need to stay in line) or give to your postman. (

2. You may get what I nickname “911 calls”….the call when they tell you how much their life sucks and they just can’t imagine that it will ever get better. Listen and don’t panic. Just let them talk. Affirm that you love them and can’t wait for them to be home. Don’t try to fix their problems unless they ask for specific help. Usually, they just want to vent or do some recreational bitching and know that they are still loved.

3. Text or post on Facebook funny messages, meme or cartoons throughout finals week. For just a few, brief seconds it will relieve their stress and will also confirm that you love and are thinking of them and really understand what they are going through. Even a text wishing them luck on a final or “I believe in you” goes a long way in letting them know that they will survive. Google “finals week comics” for ideas.

4. If and when you do talk with them, build up what you are going to do once they get home. We make a big point that the family holidays are waiting to start until they are done with finals and home. That way they don’t feel like they are missing out on family stuff. It is already hard when roommates finish finals early or they see on Facebook that ‘everyone else’ is out and partying. They feel like the only one left studying, and with dorms empty, it can get very depressing.

5. By all means, do not tell them that it is their fault their life sucks. Do not preach that the reason they need to pull all nighters is because of too much fun and not enough study. The right time to have that discussion (and it should be done with a positive spin) is at the beginning of the next term. They know what they could have done differently and in most cases they are kicking themselves for that behavior.

6. Last but not least… To make you feel better and relieve your frustrations, you might make your own “I told them so” call to one of your buddies. Remember, as the parent of a college student, one of your most important responsibilities is being their cheer leader and soft landing spot during stressful times… that is particularly true during finals weeks. Do what you need to to make sure you stay in that space. Your next coaching opportunity will be when they are really to begin the next term.

For possible ideas of how to handle that next step click here.

How to transition with grace, ease and even delight from Thanksgiving’s house full of college kids back to an empty nest on Monday

How do you transition from a full house to empty house again?

I remember the day I first realized that I was empty nest.  You would think that it was after our last kid had moved on to college in August.  For some reason, that never occurred to me. Maybe it was because the kids had been coming and going with their busy schedules that I was no stranger to an empty house.   I remember feeling alone, the house being quiet, clean and the refrigerator remaining full.

I was excited to visit each of our college kids during their parent weekends which allowed us to travel to Tucson, Chicago and NYU in a very short period of time.  Still no conscious recognition that I was an empty nester.  I purged closets, cleaned out drawers, painted the baseboards and had lunch with friends.  My life was no less busy but I did notice that I watched the clock waiting for my husband to get home at night.

It was now November , still no self awareness of the empty nest even though our freshman was showing signs of  homesickness.  All three kids flew in for the Thanksgiving holiday at different times.  The first arrived on Monday night and the last arrived on Wednesday afternoon.  The house was once again ramped up to full of energy, laughter, chaos, dirty clothes and mess.  I couldn’t have been happier.

I remember entering the kitchen to find all three kids standing looking into an open refrigerator.  They were just staring into the refrigerator with big smiles on their face.  My inquiring mind wanted to know what they found so interesting.  They jokingly called it the Church of Frigidaire.  It had been summer since they had seen a refrigerator full of real food.  The two elder students were kidding their younger sister.  In previous years, she had told them they were crazy…but now she knew the beauty of real food and had joined their religious celebration.  After a moment of thankful prayer, they grabbed food and took off for opposite ends of the house.  Fortunately, I had spent the previous week baking and cooking some of their favorite go to foods.  I took satisfaction in their delight.

The rest of the weekend was a blur of laughter, cooking, storytelling, football games, Christmas decorating and of course laundry.  I felt whole.  I was a mother hen with her chicks and I felt needed and loved.

All too soon Sunday arrived and the kids packed to return to their respective universities across the nation.  It turns out that all of their flights left at approximately the same time so we would make only one trip to the airport.    The car was loaded with suitcases, care packages of food and three well feed and clean clothed kids.  I had made dozens of trips to the airport to drop off kids the past four years so I was on autopilot.  As the car came to a stop, the doors swung open and ALL THREE KIDS jumped out of the car, grabbed their suitcases, gave me a kiss, high fived each other and took off for their check-ins.

Wait, what had just happened?  Five minutes earlier we had been a family of 5 and now there were two parents standing by an empty car wondering what had just happened.  Tears filled our eyes; we closed the doors and drove off.  Not a word was said on the way home.  We entered the empty house to see the remnants of the Thanksgiving break  activities.   Slowly we began the clean up still not talking or looking at each other.

It was official, we were empty nesters and it didn’t feel so good at that point.  Monday morning would be even more difficult as my husband went back to work and the house was completely quiet and empty.  I spent the day licking my emotional wounds as I finished the clean up.  I knew that I needed a better plan for empty house syndrome.  I vowed that I would do things differently the next time this scenario occurred.

I came up with a plan.  I would have a special day planned for the first empty house day after a family gathering…especially when all the kids left at the same time.   I would treat that day as my own personal holiday where I rest, reflect, relish the memories and rejuvenate.  As a side note, I have found that it is a much easier adjustment if the kids leave at different times.

So for the last 3 years I have enjoyed amazing After Thanksgiving Empty House holidays.  As Thanksgiving is the beginning of the holiday season, last year I purchased tickets to Fioli’s Christmas Open House and Boutique for the following Monday.  I went with a friend to see the beautiful Fioli mansion decorated to the hilt and purchased some new Christmas decorations.

After a leisurely lunch, we headed back home.  I entered a clean, quiet home, brewed a cup of fresh tea, put on some Christmas music, started a fire and put my feet up.  I felt content, whole and at peace.  While I had enjoyed the most recent invasion of the kids for Thanksgiving vacation, I was glad to have my house back.  I was getting used to and enjoying the empty nest syndrome.  I realized that I loved both aspects of my life.  I loved the wild family times but I also appreciated my personal time and fulfilling my personal desires and dreams.

Empty nest is a wonderful time to get back to your life after so much dedication to your kids and their busy lives.   It isn’t the day to day empty nest that I find difficult.  It is the first empty house day  after a big family event that hits me in the gut.

How about you?  How do you feel when the kids leave after a family event.   Do you have a plan for your Personal After Thanksgiving Empty House holiday?  Please leave me a comment and let me know how you deal with empty nest.

Google Chairman Eric Schmidt: “Everyone Needs A Coach”

Why would I need a coach?

The advice that sticks out I got from John Doerr, who in 2001 said, “My advice to you is to have a coach.” The coach he said I should have is Bill Campbell. I initially resented the advice, because after all, I was a CEO. I was pretty experienced. Why would I need a coach? Am I doing something wrong? My argument was, How could a coach advise me if I’m the best person in the world at this? But that’s not what a coach does. The coach doesn’t have to play the sport as well as you do. They have to watch you and get you to be your best. In the business context a coach is not a repetitious coach. A coach is somebody who looks at something with another set of eyes, describes it to you in [his] words, and discusses how to approach the problem.

Once I realized I could trust him and that he could help me with perspective, I decided this was a great idea. When there is [a] business conflict you tend to get rat-holed into it. [Bill’s] general advice has been to rise one step higher, above the person on the other side of the table, and to take the long view. He’ll say, “You’re letting it bother you. Don’t.”

–Interview by Adam Lashinsky
CNN Money Series on Best Advice I Ever Got

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What I would do differently: Parenting a college student through Hurricane Sandy

As an earthquake prepared native Californian I was almost smug on being prepared for a natural disaster.  My smugness has turned to worry and humbleness this past week after Hurricane Sandy.   Our daughter is across country from home attending NYU and Steven’s Institute of Technology.  As hurricane Sandy approached we talked with her often on preparing with food, water, batteries and unplugging devices to protect from power surges.  As the storm approached she was hunkered down in her apartment, snuggle as a bug despite being in Evacuation Zone A.  During the storm, we received a couple of short text messages.  She called to tell us she was safe after the Con Ed transfer station across the street had exploded.  We got an all clear the next morning and breathed a sigh of relief that she had made it through the storm.  Power and water were out but that didn’t worry us.

So here is what we have learned this past week:  Preparing for the storm or disaster is only the first step in the process.  The real trials are in the recovery and getting back to normal…or in her case a new normal.

The storm was nothing compared to the obstacles that she is facing this week.  NYU has done a wonderful job of communicating their emergency plans to the students and parents.  Unfortunately, power was lost to most of the cell towers in Manhattan so I often know more about NYU plans than my daughter.

NYU set up a shelter for their students with power, water, wifi and food.  That was where she headed the first day after the storm to connect, charge her electronics, post to Facebook, and grab some food.  She returned home to sleep at her darken apartment.  We didn’t count on the number of people who would choose to go home.  For instance, her roommates were able to go home after the storm so she was left by herself.  This is a safety concern.  She treks 9 flights of darken stairs.  I never thought that evil people would want to take advantage of that situation.  In fact, she has faced two threats during that process.  There are no streetlights.  It is very dark and the weather is turning cold.

Another learning lesson has been with length of recovery. She prepared for 4-5 days without power or water.  However, it is going to take a lot longer than we expected.  This has a sweeping effect.     For instance the dorms emergency lights and smoke alarm batteries ran out after three days so NYU needed to evacuate an additional 6000 students into the already crowded shelter.  Food lines are over 2 hours long.  Red Cross shelters are also overwhelmed.  Power is still another 4-5 days out.  Nothing is open to purchase food.

In retrospect, I wish we had pre-established a network of local friends/family that our daughter could contact.  It is likely that someone on the network would be less affected and she could huddle there.  Or, if they were are all in the same boat, they could have picked one place and stayed together for safety in numbers.

Facebook has been a wonderful tool for getting the word out.  It has been better than email as you are able to cover a lot of people with one easy update.  Texting is also vital although cell coverage has been spotty.   I wish I had reached out earlier on Facebook for friends of friends in the area.  Emergencies bring out the best in most people and others go out of their way to help people in need.  This type of networking is difficult to do after the fact.  Ideally, I would have anticipated this before the storm.

If we had the option, I would have picked up our daughter.  It would lessen the pressure on the emergency systems and given all of us peace of mind.

I am thinking that there will be one more step to this disaster plan.  Once school reconvenes, I think that the reality of the disruption will cause a lot of stress with the teachers and students.  It may be hard to get back on track with homework, classes and life.  Everyone will be retelling their survival tales. Midterms will not seem as important after surviving a hurricane and the afterlife.

That will be the next time to step in as a parent and help sort and prioritize all the tasks which have gotten dropped during this struggle.  Term papers will still be due and schools are not sure how they are going to handle catching up other than going through the material faster.  I want to keep the communication lines open and just listen to our daughter’s concerns and help when she asks.  That is the best thing we can do to help our college student now and always.

We are on day 4 of this journey.   Our daughter is still looking for a place to stay at night until her apartment has power.  Until then, she gets back home during daylight and bolts the doors.  I am so impressed with her strength and resiliency.  While she is anxious, she is stepping out of her comfort zone and asking strangers for help.  She will survive this ordeal and be a better woman because of it.

As a parent, it is a helpless feeling because there is little that you can do to help and protect your student.  All we can do is offer advice, remain positive and acknowledge how our daughter is handling the situation.  I know that we will also survive Hurricane Sandy although with a few more gray hairs and ….a little better prepared for the next disaster.



Celebrating Family Special Days Virtually

If your family is like mine, we have a tradition of celebrating each other’s special milestones or accomplishments around the dinner table. In fact, one Christmas, when the kids were very little, we received a red “Your Are Special Today” plate. Since then, that plate has made dozens of appearances at our dinner table for birthday, anniversaries, school accomplishments, big sports victories, graduations and so many more. When the kids were little, they would squeal when the plate came out for them….as they have grown, the excitement is not as visible but the meaning is just as important. We are united as a family to recognize and celebrate something special for one of our Team Lee. As the kids are now away from home, our family dinners are mostly around holidays. However, I think it is important to hold onto family traditions…probably more so now that we are living in separate states. So it was time to get a little creative. My son just completed a major career milestone. This was huge for our entire family…but how do we celebrate his accomplishment. I took a picture of our table set with the special plate at my son’s spot. I baked a brownie cake, a favorite of our family, and divided it equally. With the magic of vaccum seal and the USPS fix rate priority mail boxes, each of our kids is receiving a portion of the brownie cake with a picture of our table setting. It won’t be quite the same but we will celebrate as a family…we are still a team bound together by our traditions and our dinner table….and never stronger. I challenge you to get creative and find a way to carry on a special family tradition virtually.