My daughter is home from college for the summer…and she’s kind of being a jerk!

Dear Dwonna:

My daughter has moved back from home for the summer (she’s a junior at the U of Memphis), and although I love her a lot, she’s not always pleasant to be around. She’s used to being on her own when she’s away at college, so she doesn’t really want to follow the house rules (which are minimal, by the way—be home by midnight, dinner at 6 with the family, keep your room and common areas clean). She also can just be kind of a jerk sometimes. Any advice you could give to help me deal with her until school starts again in August (and she leaves!) would be wonderful.




*I’ve asked my former student, Jennifer Cooper, to answer this question since she has a daughter home for the summer from Austin Peay State University in Clarksville, Tennessee.*

Dear Robert,

As parents, we try to teach our children to be independent and self-sufficient.  We push them to do well in school, respect their elders, and to work hard to accomplish their dreams, among many other things. Raising decent children is hard to handle at times—the first boy/girlfriend break up, the last minute assignments we stay up all night helping them with, the sicknesses and injuries that keep us worried—but we signed up for the task when we had children.

When high school graduation rolls around, we are both happy and sad to have that day arrive—our babies have grown up and will be heading off to college.  We have faith that the things we taught them will empower them to become responsible and independent.  Soon after the shock of them leaving to live in the dorm wears off, we reclaim our lives and the space they occupied…to some degree. We clean the house and straighten the area they vacated in a whirlwind.  Our tidy lives begin to feel like it did before they were born.  Although we miss them terribly, let’s face it: we are a bit relieved. Then the inevitable happens—the end of the spring semester and summer vacation.

My daughter arrived back home like she left—in a whirlwind of clothes, dorm room accessories, and frenzy. At first, I was fine with this because my baby was home. My daughter did what I raised her to do, so why was I so upset when shortly after she come home for the summer? I was upset because I did not raise her to be disrespectful, slovenly, or a “jerk.”



My daughter and I are experiencing some of the same issues—the mess in the bathroom and bedroom and the attitude. We managed to get through the bumpy road by talking and through compromise. I made her the independent person she has become, but I also had to remind her that I am not her “friend” or “college roommate” and as her parent, respect is not asked for but demanded.

Still, we have to understand that our children are basically adults, and we should approach them as adults and speak to them like we would other adults. Granted, our children are staying in our homes and should abide by our rules but sometimes we forget that the babies that needed us to tie their shoes and hold their hands are grown up.

Is it worth a long and hard battle to have them home for dinner every night?  Only you can answer that, but a compromise might be in order.  Your daughter must remember that the home she stays in (rent free) is not a dorm room where she can come and go as she pleases. That being said, your daughter is an adult and as a junior in college, you might ask yourself if a midnight curfew is reasonable. I appealed to the technology of my daughter’s generation and requested text messages (because we all know it’s not cool to be 20 and have to call home to check in) when she was going to be late or not home for dinner.  I approached it with tact by reminding her that as a parent it is my job to worry about her until the day I leave the earth. I take my job seriously. Additionally, it is respectful to let me know if she is coming home late so that I don’t fix enough dinner to accommodate her or worry about who is walking through my house during the wee hours of the night.

I sat down with my daughter and explained all of these things to her in a calm and reasonable manner so she could understand the reasoning behind my “demands.” During this conversation, I also listened. She is an adult and a curfew of midnight seemed a bit unrealistic when she has grown accustomed to staying at the library all hours of the night. I had to learn to compromise and let some things go because she is on vacation, and her “job” is finished for a few months. She deserves to relax.

However, relaxing does not include treating the other inhabitants of the home poorly. You might get a nanny cam or secretly tape her interactions with the others in the house, and then you can play these for her when she is calmer and more open to truly seeing her behavior. I once held a mirror to my daughters face to show her the expression on her face that was less than complimentary during a conversation. In this age of technology, we have done our children a disservice by allowing them to communicate completely through text messages where tone and expression are often missing elements. Often, our children have no idea they are actually being disrespectful to us.

Overall, remember that she is an adult and some compromise may be in order to keep the peace. However, she is staying in your home for the summer, and ultimately you get to make the rules. Open communication is the key in our home, though it is often prefaced by “I know you are an adult; however,….”

If these things fail to work, you can always offer some tough love and ask her to pay rent since she wants to treat your home like a hotel J. Or, you can always ask her to move out and pay rent to someone who doesn’t have to put up with her nonsense.

Good luck!




Breastfeeding Mom at College Graduation

Dear Dwonna:

What do you think about the woman who was photographed breastfeeding her baby at her graduation ceremony?




Dear Carly:

Here’s a brief background. On May 22, 2014, Karlesha Thurman received a degree in accounting from California State University, Long Beach, and after crossing the stage and returning to her seat, her friends said that they wanted to meet her daughter, Aaliyah. After getting her daughter from her mother, Thurman said that three-month-old Aaliyah “became fussy.” Thurman then began breastfeeding her daughter, without covering up and without apologizing.

“I did it to show it’s natural, it’s normal, there’s nothing wrong with it,” Thurman said. “I didn’t even know there was a big controversy about breastfeeding in public until all this happened,” she continued. A photo of Thurman breastfeeding at her graduation ceremony went viral, and some supported her while others condemned what to many people is a natural bonding experience between mother and child.

Let me first say that I have no children, and perhaps my choice to remain childless colors my views about this situation. However, simply because something is “normal” or “natural” does not automatically make it something that should be done in public. Would Thurman have changed her daughter’s smelly diaper in front of everyone if that had been the reason for her baby’s fussiness? After all, peeing and pooping are natural and normal, too, yet we expect parents to retreat to a private area when changing their child’s diapers.

May I ask why it would have been so difficult for Thurman to at least cover up while she breastfed? Why hadn’t she pumped earlier and used a bottle so not to have to whip out her breast and breastfeed around other students who just came to celebrate their graduation from Cal-State, Long Beach and not sit next to a baby and her breastfeeding mom? I imagine that somewhere in the building there was a bottle since Thurman’s baby had been in the care of her grandmother prior to her having retrieved her.

For some, Thurman’s “act” was a welcomed event, as pediatricians work to encourage more black women to breastfeed. Said Dr. Lori Feldman-Winter, a pediatrician at Cooper University Hospital in Camden, New Jersey: “It’s a wonderful image because it brings together the fact that’s she’s educated, and is going to be an educated professional, and black and choosing to breastfeed…. It’s just nice to have more and more role models of black women breastfeeding.”

Listen, it’s nice that Thurman wants this photo to dispel the stereotype that black women don’t breastfeed, but she doesn’t curry any favor to those who point out that being another black woman who has given birth out of wedlock fulfills another stereotype, too. I understand why more and more women of all colors are choosing to breastfeed in public, perhaps they are doing it as a protest or simply out of sheer necessity. I’m a proud feminist who does not want to “shame” mothers who choose to breastfeed in public, but what is so shameful about covering up when public breastfeeding really is the only option? 


 While normalization of public breastfeeding is on the rise, there are still women who feel uncomfortable nursing in public for fear of judgment of others, and with the recent backlash against Ms. Thurman, it’s no wonder why. This woman was doing nothing but feeding her child, and it has erupted into a social media frenzy with both supporters and naysayers. Not only is the law on Ms. Thurman’s side, but she was only doing what is natural: feeding her hungry child.

Breastfeeding can become complicated. Sometimes baby can’t use a bottle (my 8-month-old breastfeeding baby still hasn’t figured out the concept of a bottle), and sometimes mothers don’t respond to breast pumps, sometimes babies just prefer the comfort that only a mother can give. Regardless of the reason why, it is nobody’s business but Ms. Thurman’s if she chooses to nurse her child, no matter where she chooses to do so.  Remember when people couldn’t even show their ankles in public?

Let’s consider this: unless you are 25-year-old Karlesha Thurman, this doesn’t affect you at all. Why is everyone getting so fired up about a woman feeding her baby? It’s sad that no one would even have batted an eye at her giving her infant a bottle, yet she has quickly become an internet sensation under fire for her healthy and natural choice. That picture was beautiful, in my opinion, and that’s about as far as I’ll go to worry about it. I’m so proud of her for finishing her degree with a kid. It’s hard to do. I graduated last spring with two toddlers and pregnant with number three. I start my graduate degree in the fall, and I’m nervous about juggling schoolwork and three crazy kids. I digress.

Let’s all get back to worrying about Rhianna walking the red carpet naked—I mean, wearing Swarovski crystals that show off her nipples, butt crack, and pubic area—and leave Thurman alone. Because for some people it’s totally okay for Rhianna to prance around naked in public for millions to see, yet some of these same people condemn Thurman for having simply nursed her baby in public. 

Priorities, people. Priorities.


Target, Home Depot, Gun Control, and Open Carry Laws

Dear Dwonna:

What do you think about stores like Target and Home Depot allowing customers to openly carry guns?




Dear Alexander:

Here’s a little background for those who are unfamiliar with the controversy regarding Target and Home Depot and their “open carry” guns policy.

Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, a national mom’s group that “advocates strong gun regulation,” persuaded Starbucks, Chipotle, Jack in the Box, Sonic Brands, and Dallas-based Brinker International (which owns Chili’s) to ask its customers not to openly carry their rifles into their restaurants. They next focused on Target stores after the group Open Carry Texas (which says that it is an “organization dedicated to the safe and legal carry of firearms openly in the State of Texas in accordance with the United Stats and Texas Constitutions and applicable laws”) staged several demonstrations to promote its agenda. Demonstrations also occurred at Target stores in Alabama, Ohio, North Carolina, Washington, Wisconsin, and Virginia.

Two weeks ago, about 150 “Open Carry” supporters gathered at a Home Depot parking lot in North Richland Hills—a Ft. Worth, Texas, suburb—to push their beliefs in the Second Amendment. Home Depot corporate spokesman Stephen Holmes told The Dallas Morning News that “while The Home Depot allows customers to carry legally permitted weapons into its stores, we do not allow solicitation or organizing by third parties on our property.”

In criticizing Open Carry Texas’ campaign, the NRA said, “Using guns merely to draw attention to yourself in public not only defies common sense, it shows a lack of consideration and manners.” The NRA has finally said something with which I can agree.

Target spokeswoman Molly Snyder said, “Target does not sell firearms or ammunition and, as it relates to this issue, we follow all state and federal laws.” However, Snyder would not respond when “asked if Target would request customers not bring guns into its stores.” “Gun extremists have been using Target stores to promote their agenda of intimidation,” Moms said. “American moms,” they said, “will not shop where our children and families—including our teens who work at Target—are not safe.”

What do I think about this? I have been to Target just twice since they announced in December 2013 that the credit and debit card information of as many as 40 million customers was compromised between November 27 and December 15, the busiest weeks of the Christmas shopping season. Target would later announce a few weeks later that “an additional trove of personal information—like email and mailing addresses—from some 70 million people had been exposed as well.” While twice I was willing to give Target another chance after their data breach, their decision not to prohibit the open carrying of rifles into their stores means that I will treat Target like I do Walmart—it will be a store that will never get my business.

While I’m not so naïve as to assume that people are not carrying weapons (concealed or not) when I go into other stores, too many people with mental health and/or anger issues are carrying weapons and putting all of us in danger. And, to the NRA who says that a good guy with a gun can stop a bad guy with a gun: it’s getting more and more difficult to distinguish between the good guys with a gun and the bad guys with a gun. This sad reality came to light this past Sunday. In Las Vegas, a couple who were bent on “starting a revolution” murdered two police officers who were eating lunch at Cici’s pizza, and then walked into a Walmart where they shot someone standing by the front door. This couple then committed suicide in what police are saying was a suicide pact.

The Las Vegas ambush precedes the shooting of two priests at the Mother of Mercy Mission Catholic Church in Phoenix, Arizona, in which one priest was killed and another left in extremely critical condition; a shooting at a high school outside of Portland, Oregon, in which a 15-year-old student and the gunmen were killed; a shooting at Seattle Pacific University in which a student was killed and two others were wounded; and Elliot Rodger’s mass murder of six innocent people (three were stabbed) in Santa Barbara, California. Few of us can forget what happened on December 14, 2012, at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut, where Adam Lanza shot and killed 20 children and 6 staff members before killing himself. There have been some 74 school shootings since Sandy Hook.

I could continue to list all of the incidents of gun violence in this country just in the last year, but that list would, unfortunately, get tiresome and repetitive.

Though fewer than 12 people die during a mass shooting, that is just a fraction of the 32,000 Americans who are killed by firearms. The fact is that in the United States some 33 people are killed every day by a gun, and of those 33, 7 are children. Some 33 people are dead because of a gun: Every. Single. Day. And, most of these shooters obtained their weapons legally. We have a gun problem in this county, and putting more guns into the hands of the “good guys” will not solve this bloodshed.

Immediately after learning that his son Christopher was one of the victims of Elliot Rodger’s shooting spree, father Richard Martinez chastised “craven, irresponsible politicians and the NRA” for this latest gun tragedy. “They talk about our rights,” Martinez said. “What about Chris’s right to live? When will this insanity stop? When will enough people say, ‘Stop this madness!’ Too many have died. We should say to ourselves, ‘Not one more!’”

The fact is that some people’s unhealthy obsession with guns and what they regard as their “right to openly carry” is quickly getting out of control.


I can’t stop the leaders at Target, Walmart, and other stores from prohibiting customers who want to openly carry their weapons, but I can choose not to spend my dollars at their stores. Though I don’t pretend to have the answers for what will end the murders of innocent Americans by people legally and illegally carrying guns, arming more people is hardly a viable solution. However, passing sensible gun control laws, requiring more stringent background checks, and shoring up this country’s mental health system are good places to start.








My Friend’s Baby Has Down Syndrome….What Do I Say?

Dear Dwonna:

My friend just had a baby with Down syndrome, and I don’t know what to say to her. I don’t want to tell her I’m sorry because all babies are a blessing, but saying “Congratulations!” seems awkward. Any suggestions?




*My former student, Shauna Thompson, has answered this question for me.*

Dear Jewel:

I gave birth to a baby girl with Down syndrome nine and a half months ago, and the range of emotions I dealt with ran high and low.

During my pregnancy, I found out there was a possibility that my daughter might have Down syndrome based on ultrasounds and blood tests, but she wasn’t fully diagnosed until a week after she was born. I didn’t tell many people before and right after she was born because I didn’t want anyone feeling sorry for me. I wanted people to accept her as she is, love her, and be supportive—and most were! There were only a few people who said they were “Sorry.” Flinching at their comments, I took a deep breath and told them that they need not be sorry at all because there was nothing “wrong” with my baby girl. She has an extra chromosome. That’s really it.

When you see your friend, you are correct that saying “I’m sorry” wouldn’t be the best thing to tell her. It creates a negative environment for everyone, and this is what you don’t want to do. When my husband’s grandmother came to the NICU to visit my daughter, she asked us, “Can the doctors fix her?” Don’t ask questions like this either. If anything, you want to be positive by saying congratulations, which is appropriate in my humble opinion. Your friend just carried and gave birth to her baby, so you are really saying congratulations to your friend and her child.

There are other things you can say: “He/she has so much hair!” “Look at those eyelashes!” “Oh, those pouty lips!” “Precious! Look how he/she sleeps!” You know, the positive statements that deflect anything negative. Do not mention anything that defines her baby as a disability, such as “It will be hard on you.” Or, “Don’t expect him/her to be animated for the first six months.” Yes, I was told these by nurses, of all people.

Also, don’t say negative things about the baby’s appearance: “Why is there a tube up his/her nose?” “Will his/her eyes slant up like that all his/her life?” or “Why can’t she take a bottle yet?” Please … just be positive.

Feel free to not say anything and just smile and/or give your friend a hug. This might be the best thing to do if your friend is not happy with the chromosome results. Let her know you are there for her. Sometimes with the diagnosis of Down syndrome, there are other medical problems that parents have to deal with— heart defects, intestinal defects, and cleft lip, among other issues. This is probably the area where most people feel the need to say that they are sorry, but there is no need to say you’re sorry simply because your friend had a baby with a heart defect. Be supportive and listen to your friend. She will have to accept her baby eventually, and she will.

Ultimately, with any negative or positive statement, you are setting up your relationship with you and your friend’s child. Acknowledge and read about the disability. If the baby has no other defects other than an extra chromosome, like my daughter, a “Congratulations!” is more than sufficient! In fact, that baby will be a major blessing to his/her parents and to you!




Help! My husband is deploying!

Dear Dwonna:

I’m a 23-year-old woman married to a soldier, and my husband just left for a 9-month deployment. I stay at home with our two-year-old son, and I’m wondering if you have any tips for how to get through his time away.




*I asked my former student, Bethany Kavanaugh, to answer this since she is a military spouse.*

Dear Missy:

First, let me say thank you to your husband for his service to our country, and thank you for supporting him on the home front. It’s a difficult situation to be in, and sometimes it can be incredibly overwhelming. 

When your significant other deploys—regardless of how long he’s gone—your immediate reaction is to sit on the couch, wail loudly, eat Ben and Jerry’s, and watch horrible Jennifer Lopez romance movies (speaking from experience here). It’s okay to feel sad. It’s okay to feel upset. Don’t feel guilt for having these feelings; your husband—the person with whom you want to spend the rest of your life—is now gone for an extended period of time. There’s a void, and it’s okay to be upset about that. 

At some point, however, you’re going to have to put the Ben and Jerry’s down (Milk and Cookies is my favorite flavor) and carry on. I’m not going to feed you some nonsense about the fact that this is your time to learn how to be independent, because when my husband was gone, I still screamed at the top of my lungs when I saw a spider and tried to get someone else to kill it for me. My toddler wouldn’t do it for me, but that’s a different story.  However, these are some methods I have put to use, and I hope that they will help you too.

Here’s my go-to list to make it through my husband’s deployments:

Get into a routine. Find a pattern that works for you and your son, and stick with it. I have three kids, and sometimes the only thing that gets me through the day is looking forward to their bedtime every night. I love my children, but I also love the peace and quiet that their bedtime brings. Having a routine will also make it much easier on your son; he is going to recognize that his dad is gone even though probably won’t understand it. Having a routine has always been important to me, and I can’t stress that enough.

Make a friend. I’ve never been one for FRG meetings; in fact, I tend to avoid them. However, I almost always find someone whose husband is also deployed, and we get together and do things to keep ourselves and our kiddos occupied. It’s so much easier to do our husbands’ deployments together! Still, keep in mind that your situations are different. Just because she gets to talk to her husband on a certain day doesn’t mean you will get to talk to yours. Your husbands will probably be doing different tasks, and their schedules may not be the same. Your husband will talk to you when he can. Trust me. Husbands will stand in line and wait HOURS just to get a five-minute phone call with their wives. He wants to hear your voice just as much as you want to hear his.

Get active. Take your son to the park to play. Take him on walks. Exercise is great for both of you, and it will help the time pass more quickly.

Get a hobby. Make sure that you do something for you—knitting, gardening, scrapbooking, or whatever you’re interested in. Just make sure that each day you devote time specifically for yourself. It will keep you sane. I play softball every year, and I have a babysitter who watches my kids so I can have some much needed time away from my little monsters…I mean, darlings.

Plan a vacation. One of the things I love to do is plan a trip for when my husband comes home. Most soldiers get 30 days of leave after redeployment, and our family always takes a trip. Even if it’s a trip back home to see family, we make a point to do it and have a great vacation. I map everything out because I’m a planner, and it keeps me occupied. Plus, planning a post-deployment vacation gives you something to look forward to and to be excited about.

Plan out care packages. My husband has told me that when soldiers get care packages, it’s like Christmas. My husband was in an area where running water and hot meals were few and far between, so he really looked forward to what I had to send. I always stuffed the flat rate boxes completely full of goodies. Some people like to plan out theme packages. I sent him a package every two weeks so that he always had something to look forward to, and I had fun buying everything and putting it all together. You can go online to and have them ship a bunch of flat rate boxes straight to your house for free.

Chronicle your son’s growth. During one of his deployments, my husband didn’t have access to computers for Skype, and his phone calls were also rare. But, I know that he missed not being able to watch his kids grow, so I took pictures like a madwoman. I then got prints of them and kept them all in order in a photo album so that when he came home, he could flip through and see how our much our children grew during the year that he was gone.

If you need help, get help. Sometimes military spouses get overwhelmed with the Superwoman sticker that gets slapped on their chest when their spouse leaves. It’s okay to feel overwhelmed. Don’t think that you have to be perfect. My husband is gone right now, and I have days where I cry. I have days where I mentally kick him for having to leave. I have days where I consider buying a one-way ticket to anywhere but here and wonder if my neighbors will notice if I just leave the dogs and kids at their house and never come back. I have days where I feel so depressed that I can’t even bring myself to get off the couch, and I don’t even have Ben and Jerry’s to comfort me.

However, the most important thing is that while it’s okay to feel this way, it’s also important to get help if these feelings get out of hand. Please find a good therapist if you’re getting too overwhelmed or sad. It could be depression or anxiety, and I would much rather you get help for this than struggle on your own. You do not have to be stronger than you already are. It’s okay to get help.

Military OneSource ( offers free therapy with a referral. Simply call (800)342-9647 for a confidential referral and to receive a list of counselors in your area.

Count down the days. I had a chalkboard on which I wrote the number of days until my husband came home, and the kids and I updated it every morning. My sister-in-law made a HUGE paper chain that went around the entire house, and she let her daughter pull a link off every day. I know people who put marbles in one jar and move the marbles from a full jar (Days to Go) to an empty jar (Days Down). It’s especially helpful if you get your son involved because it makes it easier for him to have something tangible to see. Plus, when you’re down to the last 60 days or so, the days seem to go by much faster than in the beginning!

I hope that the next nine months go smoothly and quickly for you and your son.  Deployments can be sad and lonely, but for how rough they can be, just know that welcome home ceremonies are twice as exciting. When you finally get to wrap your arms around and watch the smile on his face when he gets to hold his son again, you will forget all about the fact that he’s been gone for so long.

Good luck, and know that I’m rooting for you!



Advice for Graduates That I Wish I Had Received

Dear Dwonna:

Last week I graduated from high school, and I was wondering what advice you have for the class of 2014.


Ann B.


Dear Ann B:

My nephew graduated from high school two weeks ago, too, and I now have a new appreciation for parents who worry about their kids. I worry about what my nephew will do now that he is a “free” man because the world can be very unforgiving for those who don’t lay the groundwork for planning their future now.

I don’t remember feeling any such angst for myself when I graduated from high school 28 years ago. (Wow! Has it really been 28 years since the Moline High School Class of 1986 received our diplomas at Wharton Field House on 23rd Avenue?) In fact, I remember feeling excitement. I was excited that I was finally getting away from what I believed were controlling, overbearing, and plain ole’ mean parents to embark on my next adventure at the University of Iowa. I had a plan to study medicine or law—I had grown up watching “St. Elsewhere” and “L.A. Law”—and I was ready for the challenges that awaited me.

But, the world has changed a lot since 1986. There was no Facebook, no Snapchat, no Twitter, no Instagram, and so there was very little worry about competing with “friends” from high school. Though many of us promised to keep in touch after the all-night graduation party at the newly-remodeled YMCA, we did not. Thus, we did not know what each other was doing, and I was able to just “do my thing” that summer and at the University of Iowa without worrying and wondering what my friends from high school were doing and wondering if I was doing as much as they were. There was no need to try to “keep up with the Joneses” since I didn’t even know where they were.

For my graduation present, my parents gave me a set of navy blue American Tourister luggage, and they told me that whatever fit into it I could take with me to my dorm that August. I took classes that I thought were interesting, and after realizing that I wasn’t very good at chemistry, I decided that being a doctor wasn’t in my future. I loved reading and writing and arguing with people, so I majored in American Studies and minored in African American Studies because the professors in those disciplines taught me how to think—and not what to think—and how to make connections between the events of the past and of the present. Graduating from college was a no-brainer because my parents had drilled into my head that I would finish my undergraduate degree in four years, and I did.

However, my impending graduation from the University of Iowa caused me some angst since I didn’t really know what I would do with a bachelor’s degree in American Studies, so I decided I would do something practical and go into teaching. My mother had been a teacher and it seemed like a stable career that I might enjoy, so I applied to MAT programs so that I could get certified to teach. I received a full scholarship to Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, and after completing the master’s program, I began my teaching career in Fairfax County, Virginia, where I taught 9th-and 10th-grade English and also coached 9th-grade girls basketball and boys’ and girls’ track for three years. I left teaching and then spent the next seven years at the University of Texas where I finished my PhD in American Studies; I have been an English professor at Austin Peay since my graduation in 2001.

I write all of this to say that although it probably seemed like I had a plan for my life after high school, I don’t think I really did. Well, I didn’t. I was kind of a naïve 18-year-old black girl who didn’t yet realize that she didn’t have the requisite skills to be a doctor (well, at least not an M.D.), but I did have a goal for finishing college in four years. The University of Iowa was a great place to grow up, and I met wonderful people like my friend Brian who helped me stay relatively sane my first year of college by listening to me blabber on about the same boring stuff. I also had wonderful professors like Dr. Robert Weems and Dr. Mae Henderson who helped me select a major that was right for me. Seek out those people who will be honest with you to help you discover who are and what you might do with your life. Brutal honesty with the goal of helping be your best self beats a “yes” person who enables you to do little with your life.

If you don’t think you’re ready for college, get a job. I worked at Hardee’s for two years while I was in college, and nothing shored up my resolve to do well in college than working as a cashier at a fast-food restaurant. If a decent and/or well-paying job isn’t in your cards, join the military. You can see the world and get real-life skills that you can apply towards a college degree later. As Malcolm X once said, “Education is the passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to those who prepare for it today.”

Don’t get pregnant until you’re much older (and married), and don’t get anyone pregnant until you can adequately support a family. Don’t expect the government or your family to help you while you get it together; food stamps, Medicaid, and Section 8 housing vouchers are for people who really need them. Learn how to take care of yourself while you still can. Don’t get in trouble with the law, and pay your bills on time. You’ll be glad you have a good credit score when you’re ready to buy a car or a house.

One of the most important things to remember is to always have a plan for what you want to be doing when you’re in your 30s and 40s and beyond (even though those years seem so far away). Start saving for your retirement, even if it’s just a little bit each month. So much of what you do now will set the table for what happens to you 20 years from now. You will find that the years seem to go by much more quickly than they did when you were a teenager.

Remember to share what you have learned with those around you. Be a role model. Be compassionate to the homeless and the downtrodden. Be an inspiration. Be kind. Forgive yourself. Forgive others. As Maya Angelou said, “It’s one of the greatest gifts you can give yourself, to forgive. Forgive everybody.”

Do not measure your success by how big your house is or how expensive your car is. Instead, treasure your relationships, but don’t let your friends talk you into doing something stupid that could have lifetime consequences. If you must get a tattoo, get ones that you can easily cover. Without stating the obvious, neck and hand tattoos will limit your future job prospects because people will question your judgment. Yes, folks will judge you even if you really are a nice person who just so happens to have a tattoo on your forehead.

Do not think of your graduation as the end of your learning. Ask questions of yourself and to other people. As one Chinese proverbs says, “He who asks is a fool for five minutes, but he who does not ask remains a fool forever.” Keep learning. Keep thinking. Keep trying.

Travel to other parts of the country. Travel abroad. Always challenge yourself, and do something every day that scares you. As First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “We gain strength, and courage, and confidence by each expression in which we really stop to look fear in the face…we must do that which we think we cannot.”

Find a job you love, and you’ll never work a day in your life.

Take good care of your body. Eat fresh fruits and vegetables everyday. Exercise for at least 30 minutes every day, and drink 64 ounces of water each day. Your body will thank you when you’re older.

Learn how to be alone without feeling lonely. If you don’t like your own company, how can you expect people to like you?

Do not let the behavior of others destroy your inner peace. A good yoga studio can be a wonderful sanctuary for when the world gets to be too much.

Don’t be a passive observer of your world. If you don’t like something, work to change it. Remember to take care of those who are unable to take care of themselves, and always defend the defenseless. Fight injustice wherever you see it. As Gandhi said, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.”

Rescue a dog (or three, like I did) from an animal shelter, and you’ll always wonder which one rescued whom.

Stay off Facebook and other social media. If you cannot disconnect from these sites, be smart enough not to post pictures of yourself drinking and smoking and partying and dressing like a skank. You are leaving a digital footprint, and you must be careful. Do not use Facebook to judge yourself with your classmates but instead use it as an inspiration to being your best self. Use it to stay in touch with those people you do like.

You will get over the bad experiences, the mistakes you make, and the bad choices you sometimes engage in, so don’t spend a lot of time beating yourself up over them. (Thanks for reminding me of this, Shauna!) Learn something, and move on. As Maya Angelou said, “You did then what you knew how to do, and when you knew better, you did better.” Over time, these bad experiences will be like scars: you will still see them but you will accept them as part of your life.

Breakups can really suck, too, but you will survive them, and you will eventually look back on your past loves as part of your life experience, too. “You, yourself, as much as anybody in the universe, deserve your love and affection.”—Buddha. Remember this when you’re feeling down.

Finally, as Mark Twain said to his wife after telling her that he had declared bankruptcy, “Cheer up, the worst is yet to come.” Seriously, though, the world can be a scary place, but it will be less scary if you prepare for it by learning a trade or going to college and not doing stupid things that cannot be undone.

“Let us endeavor so to live that when we come to die even the undertaker will be sorry.”—Mark Twain. Let Twain’s quote always be your guiding principle.

Baby in a Wedding Train

Dear Dwonna:

What do you think about the bride in Jackson, Tennessee, who strapped her one-month old baby to the train on her wedding gown and dragged her down the isle?




Dear Phil:

Here’s my short answer—it was both dumb and tacky and ridiculous.

The mother, Shona Carter-Brooks, told naysayers on her Facebook page that she and her husband Jonathan “do what we want, when we want, as long as Jesus on our side everything worked out fine and gona [sic] continue to be fine.” She added that the “infant was awake and well secured on my train.” To bring Jesus into a conversation when she already has at least one child out of wedlock (she also has another daughter) is kind of silly, and to suggest that she can do whatever she wants with her baby is even sillier. Is Carter-Brooks suggesting that she can beat and starve and sexually abuse said child because she has “Jesus on her side”?

Her wedding coordinator even went so far as to suggest that Carter-Brooks’ decision to drag her daughter in her train has “significant” historical value. “It indicates the dedication of her mother (and father) toward caring for her child and family…. A GOOD mother takes her child wherever she goes, even down the aisle,” wrote Kaye Jordan. Listen, a GOOD mother does not strap her daughter in her wedding gown’s train and then drag her down the aisle, and I agree with other commentators who have suggested that someone should call Child Protective Services.

Many conservative pundits have pointed out that we have gone from a society that used to shame women who had children out of wedlock to one that celebrates pregnant women in white wedding dresses and embraces including these children in weddings. I’m glad that we no longer shame women who have children outside of marriage, but more women need to take greater care in protecting their children from harm, and this includes not dragging them down the aisle in their wedding gown. A GOOD mother should protect her children from harm, and when she does something stupid like Cater-Brooks did, she should spend less time defending her dumb stunt and more time figuring out how to not do dumb things again.