Parents of Teenagers: You need a hug

(an edited version of this essay now appears on http://www.grownandflown.com)

About 14 years ago, I sat in a church service with my husband and tiny  daughter.

My mind settled on the family in front of us.  Two parents and three teenagers. I have thought about this family so many times over the years and even more often recently.  It was the early service.The teenagers were awake but looked rumpled. Two boys and a girl.  And I looked at them with envy.  That woman, the mother, she had done it.  She survived (it appeared) 17 years of raising children at least.  I had just barely begun.  And she got three teenagers at church sitting with their parents on time.  One of them had their head on her shoulder!  She did something right.  They looked like the perfect family. How did she do it?

Now I am moving into that stage.  I have two teenagers and an eight year old.  (Yes, we do teach family planning courses for couples who enjoy weird challenges and intricate school schedules and carpool planning that would make your head spin. Contact me for details)

Let me tell you something.  I had no idea about the teen years.  None.  This is some PhD level crap to deal with and I have a 4th grade level of preparation.  I am stunned and overwhelmed by the twists and turns of parenting teenagers.  This is hard work.  DIFFICULT.  Mental Jedi level parenting.  Nearly all of the stereotypes have really become true to one extent or another and I just didn’t want to believe it. All of that was surely not going to happen in this family. Pfffft.

They are moody. The moods.  Wow.  It feels like hugging some cacti over here. Lately I feel the need to announce that I might hug them.  It goes like this. Hey, it will be ok.  I’m going to move toward you now.  I’m going to hug you.  It’s happening.  I’m your mother and since I birthed you I feel you owe me this much.  Feel free to stand there woodenly and hold your breath until it’s over.  But make no mistake.  I am going to hug you…3,2,1.  

It’s hard not to take things personally when they are so crabby.  It’s a combination of their random malaise and my lack of sympathy that causes the rift.  I mean, sometimes their day- to-day lives are akin to what I associate with the afterlife.  Pick ME up in sub zero temps in a warm car within 34 seconds of my activity ending.  Hand me a cocoa.  Heaven.  Force ME to go to bed at a reasonable hour in fresh sheets in a clean room.  Heaven. Wash my clothes. Invite my friends over. Make me breakfast. Make my friends breakfast.  Leave me alone when I’m on a Netflix binge. Give me cash from time to time.  Ask me how my day was and soothe me when it wasn’t a good one. Heaven, heaven, heaven. And yet, I sometimes still get the large moods all up in my face.

They are self-focused.  They stand at the epicenter of their very own universe.  If I had a dollar for every time “It’s not all about YOU” was uttered in this house (by us parents) I’d have enough to actually visit the epicenter of the universe and fly first class.   The narcissism works against them.  I try to point out that literally nobody else notices their hair/skin/scowl/braces/pants/test grade/shoes/mistake/social gaffe because all THOSE people are self-obsessed too.  They don’t believe me.

They do stupid things.  Their friends do stupid things. They all are doing stupid things together.  (I’ll choose not to elaborate…wherever your mind is running off to right now-it likely happening with my kids, your kids and/or the kids they know or it will or it already has)  And they think nobody will know about some of these bad choices and parents will never find out which is just so painfully naive.  Newsflash: Everyone will know (faster and wider spread with the assistance of social media) and all parents find out everything eventually.  Whether we find out within minutes of the event or on our deathbed…we find out.  We parents are just one generation older who already did all the stupid things or were with other people while they did them.  Hellooooo. We invented and perfected stupid just like our parents did before us. Duh.

They think I am yelling if I ask them something or tell them something.   Example:  Could you please bring these dirty clothes to the basement so I can wash them?  This is met with large sighs, hunchback body language, eye rolls, a chorus of “I KNOW!!!!” and this…”You don’t have to yell at me!”  Um-what?  I wasn’t yelling.  Why would I add to the din of this house with yelling?  When I yell, you will know.  I could blow the roof off with the yelling. Do not test me.  You know not what I am capable of with yelling.


They act like typical teenagers.  They play their music.  Loudly. Early in the morning.  I  have some negative feelings toward Lil Uzi Vert at the moment.  Will he be the Prince of their generation? Nope. No he will not. And yet I suffer through him now.  They watch tv. Some of it is absolute crap. They know things about the Kardashians. Makes me want to cry. My son recently answered a geography bee test question correctly.  He learned the answer by watching 324 episodes of Modern Family.  I’m so proud.  They leave water bottles everywhere.  They argue with me for sport. They leave food wrappers on the floor of their rooms.  They fling their shoes in every corner-and sometimes they reek. They embarrass me sometimes.  I embarrass them sometimes.  We are in a cycle of mutual inadvertent embarrassment.  They get mad when I take their photo.  (see above) They eat all day.  A meal schedule means nothing to them.  A sleep schedule means nothing to them.  I’m awake when they are asleep.  They are awake when I am asleep.  They change their minds on a whim.  Their phones are an appendage.  They move chargers around the house and then lie about not moving the chargers.  They wear earbuds around and then act surprised when they can’t hear us.  They glom onto a ‘catch phrase’ and can’t stop.  If my son doesn’t stop saying the word ‘savage’ soon…I’m going to attack him ferociously.

Their friends are everything. This I remember well. It’s hard to shine a light on the fact that some of these friendships will be lifelong.  They might have a friend now that would walk through fire for them.  They will see them through good and bad and they will have their back and it will be unfathomable how life could continue without one another. Other friendships are all drama and destructive and exhausting and an avalanche of negative bull$h*t and when they finally figure it out and walk away, it will be like removing an anvil from their neck.  And sometimes as a teenager, you can’t figure out which friend fits into which category and it might take years to gather enough evidence to sort it out.

They think I “just don’t understand.”  And I don’t.  I don’t understand all of their experience and I really wouldn’t want to.  I remember the teen years but it this ain’t your mother’s teen years. I think it is worse.

My 15 year old often puts in 16 hour days.  She isn’t running a Fortune 500 Company…just going to high school.  On December 15th she was at school by 7:30am.  She had something before school during ‘zero hour’.  She had 6 classes (complete with tests/lecture/notes/presentations) and then went straight to dance team prep for a jazz meet.  She danced her time slot at 7:10.  Then she ran down the hall, changed into her orchestra dress and jumped into her spot in the concert orchestra (rocking some serious eye shadow and fake lashes) to play the violin at 7:43.  (We are now at 12+ hours spent in that building) Then she ran back and changed back into her warm ups to cheer on her team in their dances and be present for awards.  Then she hauled 50 pounds of cookie dough (music fundraiser), dance team bag, costumes, school backpack, etc. into the car to head home.  Home at 10pm.  Then she ripped out her bun form and hairnet and peeled off her false eyelashes at the kitchen table and ate something and finally sat down to start START on a few hours of homework.


OH MY GOD.  Who can live like this?  The teenagers.  They live like this.  A lot of them.

I’ll tell you, the modern teenager has full days but sometimes I wonder how much living they are doing.  They are on some sort of high speed treadmill and it’s nearly impossible to step off of it. The intensity level of school, activities, friends is relentless.  When they say “I don’t have time” they actually mean it.  They run out of hours in their day-often.  In some ways, it’s no wonder they shut down and lose civility once they get home.  This is the last bastion of relaxation.  Home.  Where people love you but then nag you about picking up your wet towel.

Needless to say, I have had to adjust my expectations.  A lot.  It is not my carefree adolescence of the 80’s.  They can’t just complete their homework on the bus or skip it all together (like I did).  They don’t have 45 minutes daily to devote to outfit selection and hair prep (like I did).  They can’t bomb 3 tests and make up the points with cute extra credit or daily work (like I did). The pressure they feel is product heavy and process light.  Achieve, achieve, achieve.  There are posters at our local high school boasting that it has been ranked “One of the most challenging high schools in America.”  Maybe that inspires?  It only depresses me and I don’t even have to go to school there.  Teenagers are under a lot of stress.  I had stress in high school…92% of it was self-inflicted.  I wasn’t bombarded by a competitive results focused message from my parents, my friends, my extra curricular,  my school district, my phone.  The pressure is taking a toll on their mental health.  How could it not?  It has somehow become my job to be the counterweight to ALL OF THAT and foster a “do enough” approach.  I never thought that would be my role.  I never thought I would want them to achieve less and work on cultivating more joy.  I thought I would be cracking the whip.  But the world is already set on whipping them.  They need encouragement.  They need a freaking break.

And this stage isn’t all bad.  They are fun.  So much fun.  And funny. Oh my God…funny! I enjoy their stories and they read better than any screenplay or novel.  I can’t even tell the stories here or they’ll never speak to me again. (I asked)  I should get a Finsta.  I could tell all my secrets there.  But I wouldn’t.  All that can be screenshot and saved-and it is.  I can talk to them now about the big things and be straightforward and they get it.  In some ways, I can be more myself than I could when they were little.  Occasionally they do their own laundry and cook their own food.  I love watching them learn.  Sometimes minor miracles happen and they load the dishwasher or help a neighbor or play with their little brother or make a positive but tough choice without input or without a death threat from me.  And sometimes they show glimmers of the adults they will soon become and it gives me great hope and energizes me to last through the day.

I think about that family in church.  Maybe one of the kids had to be dragged out of bed to make it on time.  Maybe one had been grounded for a week and slept in the clothes they were wearing. Maybe one was there of his own free will but was about to pick an epic fight on the ride home. Maybe all three of them had headphones in the entire ride to and from.   Maybe that mother was just sitting there for one quiet hour like I do now and think…

-Well (*sigh)…at least we are here.

What I did on my summer vacation

This summer kicked ass.  Not like…”Dude, this summer was so kick ass.”  More like…”Wow. This summer really kicked me in the ass.”   If I were returning to school tomorrow and had to write the 80’s classic “What I did on my summer vacation” essay, it could be easily summed up with eight simple words:

I spent my summer vacation in my car. 

In this particular season of parenting, with a 15, 12 and 7 year old, our family finds itself wanting to go in 5 different directions and apparently four of us expect I’m going to drive everyone to and from.  I was just not home very much this summer and when I was, it was for a 92 minute interval to drop off groceries, drop off a kid, drop off the dog, start a load of laundry and pick up the next round of riders to get them off to their next marvelous event. I’m like an über cab that also provides you with petty cash and a ‘making good choices’ lecture.  Summer was full. Very, very full. (I loathe people who say they are busy.  Who isn’t busy? So I try to say full to convey gratitude, weight and still troll for sympathy)

In the best moments of the summer, I really felt like my kids were able to experience things that they will remember for a lifetime.  The school year is such a grind and I really want their summers to be for exploration and recreation and rest and earning some money (when possible).  We spent an unbelievable amount of money on camps this summer between all 3 kids.  I do know the exact amount but I’m not going to publish it.  I’m neither proud nor do I want it carefully documented.   The actual cost needs to fade from memory because it was a necessary evil. It meant they could try things without a giant time and/or financial commitment during the school year and see their friends and try something different and get out of each others hair (this is critical to my summer survival).  There was sailing camp (1 week Pram, 1 week Hartley rec, 2 weeks Opti learn to race!), scouts camp, dance camp (twice), vacation bible school, basketball camp, ninja warrior camp (no-I’m not kidding), YMCA day camp and old school church camp (which my son rated an 11 out of 10). There was some serious fun that was had.

In the worst moments of the summer, I felt like I was running a tiny Make-A-Wish chapter in my own family, yet none of the participants were terminally ill and they all had complaints to file.

Summer as always is far too short and fleeting so I am going to choose to remember the good and forget the rest.  This is what I am choosing to remember about the summer of 2016.

This is the summer my two eldest children passed me up in height. I went from the second tallest to the second shortest in our house just in the last 10 weeks.

This is the summer that each of the big kids took the little one on bike rides and walks with “NO parents”.  He found this quite adventurous.

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This is the summer I read The Boxcar Children and Pippi Longstocking to the youngest and he loved them as much as I wanted him to love them.

This is the summer that it was both a royal pain in the butt to drive my daughter and her cadre of friends everywhere and it was special because I know next summer she will be driving herself and I will miss her even more.

This is the summer that my older son and his friends biked (so adorable…shhhhh…) with fishing rods and bait in tow to fish under the bridge, off the dock, at the beach.

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This is the summer that I sat on the front step with my daughter until nearly midnight talking about all of the important things while the only other sound was the cacophony of frogs.

This is the summer that it rained so much that we grew accidental large strange powdery mushrooms in the backyard and my husband spent hours (days really) trying to eradicate the local vole population.

This is the summer the 7 year old requested that his stuffed animal Bunsers come and watch him play soccer.

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This is the summer that my two eldest starting getting along better. Neither of them take things as personally anymore.  They had some really nice moments that I witnessed.  Some inside jokes.  Some genuine give and take ‘asking for your opinion’ exchanges.  Some bonding over music.  It was like watching 2 caterpillars morph into 2 butterflies.  Butterflies that get along. It was strangely breathtaking.

This is the summer that we went to Madeline Island for the very first time and the little one went on a paddleboard by himself for the very first time. Also-I can’t explain his biceps in this photo.  I guess if you run everywhere and you have 0 percent body fat you are blessed with those.

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This is the summer that my 12 year old turned to me and said, “You are a pretty baller mom.” I’m quite flattered.

This is the summer that our 9 year old goldfish died, the front porch got redone, we had 3 monarch butterflies in the front garden, we were out on the lake frequently, the kids lost one fishing rod and broke another, our next door neighbor got 2 tiny daschund puppies, the boys obsessed over Pokémon go, we put up the new tree swing, Grandma moved just 3 miles away, we spent 8 hours in a row at the beach several times, my daughter and I did yoga on stand up paddle boards, I baked pies and sourdough bread, the youngest wore a swimsuit sans underwear to church, we went to 2 wedding receptions, we played cards and Ticket to Ride together, we went on bike rides, we drove long distances to try new doughnuts, we took naps in the middle of the day.

My 3 kids are not so little anymore.  It seems that each day is packed with activity without many long pauses…This is the new normal and I’m not entirely sure I like it all the time but I think they would say it was a very good summer.  And if the summer I envisioned had more long walks, quiet contemplation and unplanned stretches of time…

 

My summer starts tomorrow.

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Groversary

We have officially been dog owners for 12 months. Here are 12 things I have learned so far about owning a dog.

  1. When the kids lie to your face and say they will “help with the dog” and you know in your heart that it will be all your responsibility but they look so earnest and sweet and you want to believe them. Trust your gut.  Those sweet cherubs are completely full of crap and yet you will be in charge of picking up ALL of the crap.
  2. Rescue dogs can be fearful.  They can be afraid of expected things like thunder and fireworks and car alarms.  Also, they can be fearful of unexpected things like falling acorns and boys and wind and a weird sound 20 miles away and 1000 other things yet to be discovered.
  3. Our dog came with a file and a given name.  Grover.  We were very high and mighty and let him ‘keep his original name’ because we didn’t have the deep need to name him something we chose.  Because we are mature that way.  Also-there is no way the five of us could agree on a name.  So now we call him Grover and Groves and Grovey and Grove Town Brown and Groveydoodle and G-Money. And Boodler. And the Boodle Boy. And occasionally Mr. Fluffnuts. He responds to all equally.
  4. You CAN teach an old dog new tricks.  Grover was 7 when he arrived.  But when I pick up my keys he races to the door and plants himself in front of the garage door.  If he refuses to eat but I say, “Grover…do you want a treat?”  He peeks his head around the corner. After the years in a mill in seemingly terrible conditions, at our house Grover changes position based on the sun.  He loves a good sunbeam.  He is learning.
  5. I thought the kids would be disappointed.  Grover doesn’t run up to greet us.  He runs upstairs if the kids have friends over and it gets loud.  He freaks out if you are male and try to pick him up.  He only will ‘play’ late at night and only if he is in the mood. He almost never barks.  He is just himself.  Quirky.  The kids are not disappointed.  They talk about how hard life must have been for Grover in the puppy mill.  They are patient with him.  They pontificate on what might have happened to him.  They want to make up for it.  They worry about him when the weather gets bad and anticipate his fear.  They celebrate the tiniest of successes. They have grown in empathy.
  6. You tell yourself you will not spoil the dog and you just spoil the dog in ridiculous ways including but not limited to: (sprinkling favorite treats over his food, pointing a space heater at him after a bath so he doesn’t get cold, bringing him on errands so he isn’t lonely, turning on white noise during a storm to help calm him, buying him 46 different treats to try to find what he likes best, leaving blankets in ALL his favorite corners so he is cozy, getting a teeny tiny dog life jacket in case he ends up on a watercraft?, leaving the television on when you are gone but choosing Paw Patrol and Mutt & Stuff and other shows you think he will like based on his vast experience with television, etc.)
  7. Owning a dog has set off a Yorkie themed episode of Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon.  As in, now that we have one we notice everyone on the planet who has a Yorkie, has a rescue dog, photos of Yorkies, people carrying Yorkie’s through the airport in leather boho bags, Yorkie greeting cards, people who have mixed breeds with a Yorkie and speculating on the Yorkie side personality traits.  Yorkies.  They are everywhere now.
  8. I decided one year ago to save every receipt for “Grover related expenses” to see what the actual cost of dog ownership is.  Mistake.  It turns out I don’t want to know.
  9. It is JUST as thrilling to take the dog in for a haircut as it is to get one yourself.  Also-it costs the same and yet he smells far better for far longer.
  10. You will look into the eyes of your dog and you will sense on a cellular level that he is thirsty and you will buy a $6 artisanal spring water at Whole Foods since that is where you are. Later you will realize that if it were your own children, you would have told them to “just calm down and wait until we get home.”
  11. Other people who have rescue dogs are right.  It does get better.  They make great strides. Maybe we make great strides.  They do become ‘an entirely different dog’ after a year.   We have often found ourselves catching Grover ‘acting exactly like a dog’ and calling everyone else in the family over to witness it.  We shriek- “HE’S DRINKING WATER!” It’s very exciting.
  12. I am still officially not a dog person.  I’m not snuggling up with other dogs. I’m not excited to meet a new dog and have it jump around and lick my hand.   I’m not planning my next 4 dog breeds to own.  However, I have become a Grover person.  I so love Grover.  I have no regrets.

Delta Chi Latte: Accepting late pledges

I have never had a huge group of friends.  I have many good friends.  Cherished friends. But generally, even as a little girl, my friends were not all friends with each other.  The biggest group I was ever part of was maybe three or four girls.  Groups of friends in elementary school formed pretty naturally driven by activities or geography or moms.  But by middle school I had narrowed the field quite a bit.  I think I almost preferred it that way.  I’m a secret introvert and even now if I go to a party where I know I have to make small talk with 30 people, I feel a little ill.  I want to grab one person and hold their face in my hands and discuss their relationship with their mother at length.  I know.  Now you won’t invite me for coffee.  It’s ok. I just generally suck at making ‘light conversation.’

In late high school when we were actual women making friends with other women, I had one ‘best friend’ and we floated between groups of other friends and hung out with a group of boys as a duo. This totally worked for me.  The guys were a blissful counterweight to any drama she and I might attempt to stir up.

1989 and 2014 below…


College was similar.  Again, I had lots of women I spent time with but not a sorority atmosphere certainly. I have several friends from those four years-but they aren’t friends with one another.  I found my future maid of honor in college.  We disliked each other a great deal the first few weeks of freshman year.  She found me bold and over confident.  I found her shy and irritatingly not wanting to be the center of attention.  Plus, she wore mysteriously preppy rugby shirts and I was trying out my REI meets goth look with all black clothing, dark red lipstick and hiking boots.

We must have pushed past all that since now she is the executor of my will.  Below you will find a montage of our early relationship and no, no alcohol was involved in striking any of these poses. Sadly, no mood altering chemicals were involved when I chose any of those haircuts either.  I can own it.

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Then I made “couple friends” and anyone who is over 14 knows how difficult that is to navigate.  The odds of both people in one pair really enjoying both people in the other pair are well…let’s just say even match.com or tinder wouldn’t dare try to code that algorithm.  And then large groups of couples who all enjoy hanging out together?  Even more tricky.                                                                 (note: 3 of my favorite couples to hang out with in our 20’s…all divorced now-maybe it was me?)

Graduate school.  In two years of seeing the same people every.single.freaking. day, I made a few friends.  Three.  And I made one lifelong close friend.  We were like hecklers at a comedy club except we were in Psych classes.  I’m not sure everyone appreciated our bond.  We thought all of the same people were exactly the same kind and same amount of crazy.

Work.  Various settings.  Various people.  Please.  I have yet to find an adult human who relishes attending their own company party let alone hang out with their co-workers every weekend. Worlds colliding.  It rarely works out ideally.

Church.  Surely church is filled with a lot of nice women.  I never did find 6 that all wanted to hang out together though. Never.  Acquaintances yes. Cohesive friend group?  Nope.

Neighborhood.  No.  We live on a street that ranges from newly married to retired couples. There are no block parties.  No progressive dinners.  No pool parties.  Last year we had 0 trick or treaters.  One banner year we had five.  They must have gotten lost. My closest neighborhood friend lives next door and I surely couldn’t have survived the last 18 years without her but we have our differences.  She is 69.

So-over the years when I see on social media photos of 8, 10, 12, 15! women together on trips or dinners or book clubs or scrapbooking weekends or reunions or 5k’s or wine tastings or etc…I always think…really?  How?  How did I never end up having a group of friends?

And then I realized I have one now…my first friend group.  At 44 years old.

I have finally found my sorority.  Accidentally.  It’s my ‘mom friends’.  The extensive group of women who surround me who are raising their children alongside me are my tribe.  Phenomenal, intelligent, strong women.  They know me.  They know each other.  We have a lot in common and the kids bond us together even though some of our kids are different ages and don’t even hang out with one another.  Doesn’t matter anymore.  They are women who work outside the home and women who work inside the home.  They have one child, they have four children.  They are single, married, widowed, divorced.  They are estranged from their parents, have ailing parents, have dead parents, have under involved parents, have over involved parents, all while parenting their own kids.  A few are over the top optimistic and a couple are intensely sarcastic and a couple are so wicked smart and a couple are wild procrastinators. They are volunteers and coaches and organizers and entrepreneurs and piano teachers and writers and religious and not religious and some are great cooks and some are ultra crafty and some exercise and some talk about exercising but never actually do and some are loud and outgoing and some aren’t and I value and cherish them all for their gifts and their challenges and their grit.

These women, they make my life so much better.  My circle of trust.  They make the grind of life tolerable.  They are my go to when I have a question about what the heck is wrong with my kid(s) or to tell when something goes well with my kid(s).  They celebrate my successes and lament with me when it all goes to shit.  Some of them I see in person 3 times a year, others I see weekly.  We go on mom field trips and do important ‘doughnut research.’  It is my first experience of having a large number of women who make me feel “we are in this together”. I have 20+ women who would drop everything and pick up my son if I needed it.  I would do the same for them.  They are my emergency contacts.  I have cried with them in Target.  In Target.  Right there next to the light bulbs and laundry detergent and bananas.  That is friendship.  It is an intricate but strong and supportive web of friendship that holds me together some days during these intense parenting years.

These women…they teach me.  They educate me on camps to look into, where to buy something for less, why a particular teacher is so valuable, what to open my eyes to and when to shut my ears.  NO KID REALLY NEEDS TO BE 6 YEARS AHEAD IN MATH.  They know stuff.  They recommend books and doctors and websites and restaurants.  They gently explain the reality of why I could never actually survive being a hockey mom and how many things are likely going to turn out just fine and probably don’t need my micro-management.  They point me in the right direction when I need to get whipped about something and present convincing arguments for when I really need to calm the hell down.    (It’s almost always the second one)

This photo was taken on my birthday last year.  Not even nearly everybody who is important to me is in the photo (obviously)…and I didn’t even have a chance to talk to everyone this day and hold their face and delve into their inner soul.  But it’s ok.  They know I care what happens to them.  I’ve got their backs.  I’ll catch up with them at school or on the soccer field or in the church parking lot or over lunch or maybe at Target.

We will cry at Target.  Together. Sisterhood.

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I am a Cross Country running champion (spectator)

If you are a parent, one of your primary jobs seems to be serving as a witness to the lives of your children.  I’ve witnessed a lot.  Although if you ask my youngest son, he will tell you I missed one preschool field trip to the apple orchard and ALL the other moms were there and he was completely and utterly alone.  So-we both have to live with that failure.

So far, my children have participated in what feels like 1,000 school, church and extra curricular activities that include t-ball, soccer, football, dance, choir, scouting, orchestra, cross country, knowledge bowl, and a few others I have blocked from my mind.

A lot of it has been fun.  Some of it has been not so fun.  Some of it has been downright irritating.  I’m not a great spectator because I lack a fiery competitive spirit and yet am sitting amongst the superfans.  I don’t care who wins.  I don’t get any great thrill when one team wins over the other or when one person beats out all the others.  When I watch the Olympics, and I LOVE the Olympics, I fall in love with the personal back story of all the athletes.   I will always root for the person with the toughest personal history every time. I will pray for the athlete with a compelling twist in their journey where they almost didn’t make it to compete after years of effort. I will root for the athlete who tells a story about how his mom drove him to practice for 15 years without complaint. (maybe I’m rooting for her)   But I’m not a great spectator. My cheers are very vague, “Oh go YOU!”

Until I discovered my love of spectating at cross country meets.

At most kid sporting events, you can hear spectators cheering/yelling at the kids, yelling at the coaches, yelling at each other. There is lots of yelling.  More yelling than cheering sometimes.  It took up all my yelling energy just to get everyone clean, packed, dressed, fed and in the car and at the destination on time. I suspect by the time we arrive at the event, I’m all done with yelling. It’s time for me to sit in my chair with an iced tea.  But I can hear a lot of other parents that have plenty left in the tank to scream on the sidelines. Calling plays. Making position suggestions. Lamenting the amount of play time doled out to their kid.  Complaining about the referees’ ability, a particular call, their age.  Screaming at their own kid to PUSH themselves.  Reminding their kid (loudly) that they will get ice or or $5 or other such incentives if they score.  I heard a coach on an opposing soccer team tell his team, “Swarm them like angry bees. Swarm them!”

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Dance is no better.  Studio dance culminates with a recital. There is a quiet subversive chatter at those events.  Kids didn’t get the part they wanted.  Kids got put in the back that should have been in the front.  Wrong kids featured.  Kid with poor attendance got the lead. Music choice sucked. Recital is too long. Teacher wasn’t good so choreography is too hard/too easy/too jazzy/too old/too young/too much.  (I should know the teacher critiques-I taught dance for years.) I love watching dance.  But even I find it difficult to watch a 3 hour recital where I can see 2 minutes of my child after they have put in a year of instruction.

I watched competitive dance this year for the very first time. That’s a whole new world.  It’s not your mother’s dance team.  There are some phenomenal dancers on high school dance teams.  Seven, eight, nine consecutive pirouettes.  Please.  I bow down to you.  However, I sat next to a mom who clapped when a student on a different team fell down.  Seriously.  She clapped.  She followed it up with verbally blasting her own daughter because she missed a turn.  We can’t be friends now. Ever.

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Music.  Generally not too bad.  Choirs is virtually painless.  Orchestra?  It’s almost an endurance test in the early years.  Have you heard a 9 year old try to play the violin? I have.  Two different kids.  Please no. No.  My daughter has played for 6 years now.  I have to say…it didn’t sound like music until 7th grade. That was year FOUR for those of you keeping track.  Even at the music concerts there is chatter about private lessons, what ensemble group to audition for next year, who got the solo, first chair, practice habits.  I’m coming clean.  Kids in this house-they didn’t get in their 5,438 minutes of music each week.  Never.  Math comes before music. I can’t fight ALL the battles.  I’m only 1/4 Chinese rendering me virtually useless when it comes to being a Tiger Mother.

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Knowledge Bowl.  Have you witnessed this craziness?  Hundreds of kids from everywhere battling it out to answer questions like, “In what dystopian novel could you find the quote ‘We stand against the small tide of those who want to make everyone unhappy with conflicting theory and thought'”?  Buzzers are rung all over the room while I try to think of more than one dystopian novel.  Wow.  By the way…It’s from Fahrenheit 451.  These kids are middle schoolers who are well versed in Bradbury.  I was reading the Sweet Valley High Series in 6th grade.   Those crazy Wakefield twins and their romances NEVER said anything deep or memorable and I liked it that way.  Hundreds of parents are walking up and down the hallways watching kids answer questions and discussing how their school runs practice, what teams are the best, and other things I’m not interested in.

This brings me to Cross Country.  Watching cross country is my thing.  Finally, I’ve found my sport.  Truth be told-I cried at nearly every meet.  Cried.  This is why.  It’s all outside at a school on (mostly) lovely fall days for about an hour.   They run in huge groups divided up by grade and gender.  I can pick out a couple of kids I know in the blur that go by but I’m keenly watching for my son who is fairly easy to pick out since he refuses to wear actual running shorts because (“Mom-they are insanely short”)

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On both sides of the course, the spectators watch and wait and cheer.  And everyone cheers and claps and smiles.  For everyone.  I learned some things from the high school runners who were there watching the younger kids.   They yell, “Pace yourself!”  “Pass a couple!” “You’ve got this!” “Go go go!” “Finish strong!”  Now I say those things.  I can belt out a really good “pass a couple”-it’s such a reasonable cheer for a non-competitive person.  And when they are finished…many of the runners go back to cheer on those behind them…their teammates and those who are competing against them.  And some of the kids have buddy runners who run with them and encourage them to keep going and to finish. This makes me cry every time.  The kids who need the extra help giving it everything they have and the kids who are giving the extra help giving it everything they have make me cry in equal measure.  And everyone cheers those kids on until the very last one crosses the line.

This. This is what appeals to my deepest sense of what I think is right and important about athletics.  Participation.  Being part of a larger team.  Belonging to the group.  Get out there and do something and try even if you are not first, or second, or twelfth.  Do this with joy.  Do we not all benefit when everyone crosses the finish line?   The pure joy of participation is not exclusively owned by the winners.

Next up for my professional spectator role: Track!?  My son said he would like to try track.  I said, “Great.  I’ll sign you up. What made you decide to try track?”  He said, “It sounds fun.  It’s all the cross country kids.”   I hope he does his very best.  I hope someone in front of him is pulling for him and mostly I hope he turns around at the finish line to root for anyone still running.

I plan on swarming them all with cheers. An encouragement swarm. Finish strong!

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If these children are our future-I hope I go deaf soon.

This post was created with the full consent of my daughter. Names have been omitted to protect the guilty but I know who you are and I forget nothing.

I needed to apologize to my teenage daughter the other day. It was a really nice moment. For her.

So…it’s nice when you recognize something about your child that is also like you. When it’s positive and fun. She likes to sing loudly to pop music and enjoys sparkly nail polish and has some good one-liners.  ME TOO.  Yay us.

When it isn’t so great a quality…maybe not so flattering-it’s humbling and it can cause alarm bells and you can take it on as a campaign to root it out of them.  My girl. My happy, joyful, animated, teenagery girl can get really irritated sometimes.  Sometimes, when people cross a line with her or cross her, she will get mad.  And when she is mad at you, she can go into a little dark place in her mind to process things and if you are on the receiving end of this-it’s quiet time for you. Crickets.

I wonder where oh where in the world she learned this strategy?   Oh.  Me.

Now.  In her defense, she is a much milder person than I am.  Truly.  She is kinder, gentler, and more forgiving than her mother before her.  Always has been.  In fact, I am bookended by a mother and daughter who give second and third and fourth chances.  They are olive branch extenders. I am inspired by them but alas, I’m not them.  I’m more a “one and done” type of personality.  Show me who you are and I believe you.  Cross the line? Cross me?  I’ll prune the branch.  Snip.

My girl, she might take a cool tone with you.  I will ice you out for 50 years without another thought.  Sometimes it’s because I don’t want to say something I will regret.  Contrary to popular belief, I’m deliberate about what I say and calculated about who I am close with.  It’s not my fault.  My mother thinks I’m missing some standard issue ‘woman  gene’ that causes them to say yes to things, experience guilt and exude diplomacy. Apparently, I have been like this since birth. There is no known cure.

I don’t want her to be like me in this way.  I want better for her.  She is better.  She cuts people a break and is a more tolerant being.  The world needs this so desperately.  I want her to retain her sweetness and her extroversion and her true love of and interest in people.  I don’t want her to shut down and cut people off.  So I have been trying very hard (for years) to encourage her to work things out…with everyone.  This is both time consuming and frustrating but it’s well worth it to sort through the easy hurts and I have learned (baby steps) to do better myself.

But then…there is this issue.

I am absolutely horrified by how teenagers speak to one another.  It disgusts me.  It scares me. The language.  The name calling. The rudeness. The insults. The ridiculous comments on social media.  The ridiculous retorts to the comments on social media. The need to verbalize everything that passes through their minds to one another.   In the last few months, some people have said in person and texted some things to my daughter that are not great.    People she has just met. Some minor things.  A little crude.  But then…a couple of vicious things.  Vitriol.  Profane.  Bizarre.  They have said things that I have yet to unleash on anyone, for any reason.  But why?   Is it necessary to tell someone to “F-off” because they weren’t invited over for pizza?

Is it her? It’s not just her.  I’ve seen dozens of screen shots from her and her friends of these messages.  Group threads. Instagram.  Twitter.  It happens a lot.  The drama that begins in the virtual world is plentiful and relentless.  She assures me this is just ‘normal’.  She tells me people at school swear at each other.  Boys and girls alike call each other derogatory names. Girls call other girls terrible, deplorable names.  It’s the new status quo. Everything is out in the open now.

Someone asked her this year (IN PERSON) if she does extra squats at home to get that booty so she can ‘get more guys’.  Seriously?  First of all-No.  Wait. What???  Who asks that?  Who walks up to someone they barely know and opens a conversation with that?  Plus-would that work?  I should start doing squats. That’s not the point.  Sorry.

I have to ask myself why?  Why does this seem more intense than 25 years ago?

Some theories…

  1. Kids are lonely?  Alone.  On their own in their houses for hours on end with only their phone to entertain them and connect them to the world.  Bored.  They reach out into cyberspace but have developed zero true social skills?
  2. Kids have been trained to be bold through social media and anonymity and this is transferring to in person interactions?
  3. Kids have been raised worshipping people like The Kardashians and other ‘celebrated’ role models and think that it is cool and normal to speak to other humans like wild animals?
  4. Kids think there are no long term consequences?
  5. Kids have underdeveloped pre-frontal cortexes and just have bad judgment?
  6. Kids are broken, hurting, damaged?  Lashing out is the only answer?

And does it matter?  Does anyone care that I can’t stand it?  It doesn’t bother her nearly as much as it bothers me and that bothers me.  I’m sickened to think we are now in a world where F-You is tossed out casually with people you don’t even know.  Name calling might not seem like a big deal.  I guess. But can’t it be the seed of evil that flourishes into bullying?  Kids have taken their own LIVES because of what other kids said about them.  True things and untrue things.  Is it funny now for a girl to call another girl a bitch or a slut on Instagram with 1000 people to witness it?  It’s not a big deal?

Will we look back and think it was just part of growing up and the shortsightedness of youth?  We all say and do things as teenagers that we regret later.  Maybe.

Or… Is this the new normal?  Is this going to be a new generation that tolerates any and all rudeness?  Is the world just one giant comment section? Is there no room for simple disagreements?   Do we not care about civility because that gets in the way of our stalwart adherence to free speech?  Because we can say anything we should say everything?  I’m worried.

Are these kids going to be verbally abusive to their spouses, to their kids, to their friends and neighbors and employees?  Are these kids going to be the teachers and coaches and politicians and clergy who use verbal threats and rage and coercion to garner compliance?  Is this the beginning of how they will relate to the world as adults?

A couple of days ago things hit a high intensity level with this kid over text message.     My girl looked at me and shrugged and said….”Well. I’m just sending him the snowflake.”  I said, “What do you mean?  What does that do?”  She said.  “That’s my thing.  Like, I give up. So-you get a snowflake. I have nothing left to say.”  So she fired off a snowflake to him and then did her homework.

I had to laugh.  That’s my girl.  I mean, that is a strategy but not one that I would have come up with.  It’s a way to take a break from the tension in a thoroughly modern way.  And I felt urged to apologize. I told her she absolutely has the right to shut down sometimes.  Block people out. Ignore what they say. Walk away.  There absolutely still has to be a minimum standard of behavior.  She can’t take it all in and sort it all out.  It’s too much these days.  It’s on tv, on their phone, on 6 sources of social media, and even in person.  So-send up your big fat snowflake as many times as you need my love.  I am sorry.  I really had no idea how it was…It is a relentless siege of unwelcome and unwarranted opinion.  I am wrong and she is right and it doesn’t have to be either extreme of complete absorption or complete isolation.

Good luck world.  I can’t take it.  There is a growing list of kids that will never, ever be welcome in this home.  My line in the sand begins at my driveway.  My girl will likely forgive all of them eventually. That’s just her way.  And I’m grateful.

She is already handling the brave new world better than I am.

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Low Resolution for 2016


Brand New Year. Same Old Me.

I have always thought New Years Resolutions were stupid. Completely worthless and downright sad. All the December magazine covers are filled with stuff to buy and all the January magazine covers are filled with tips to pare down and simplify.  As if we should and can flip a switch on January 1st. I am also opposed to ‘words of the year’, ‘lists of things I’m giving up”, “25 things I’ll do this year”, “Insane weight loss/fitness goals”, “getting completely organized once and for all”, and any other complete attempts at overhauling one life in one year. The resolutions are so intense, so lofty, so unrealistic. After all, January 1 is just a day. Just a Friday.

Often, New Years Eve itself, the build up of anticipation of the MOST FUN NIGHT EVER headed into THE BEST YEAR AHEAD EVER ends in colossal disappointment, failed goals and a longer list of things left undone than accomplished. My word, the pressure!!??? Boo hiss.

*note I might be a tiny irritable writing this. Last night ended with my son throwing up at his friend’s house. The friend took it amazingly well. We are starting this year with a haze of Lysol through the house.  P.S. That actually is an excellent time to start a diet change. Post stomach flu. That is the original ‘cleanse’ to kick start fitting into the skinny jeans. I’ll let my son know that as soon as he can crawl off the bathroom floor. I digress.

Our resolutions are set so high.  This is why the nice people at the fitness clubs can’t find parking spots for the first few weeks in January. Wait until March 1st. Plenty of spots.  I’m guess I’m not much for ‘saving up’ for a change. I’m not doing anything new and exciting on January 1 per se. I’m not going to make a huge list and then kick myself for 12 months when things don’t get checked off of it. I won’t post an inspirational theme word or poetic quote in my house this year to remind me where I’m headed in 2016.

Honestly, what I should post is “PICK UP YOUR OWN SH&T and PUT IT WHERE IT BELONGS” but that would be more instructional for the whole family than personally inspiring for the soul. Plus, it wouldn’t work.  I  just don’t like the idea of waiting until a special day to make a change, work on an improvement, or just simply be better at whatever I am currently failing at. I must be less goal oriented and more working-on-it oriented. Any forward progress is still good progress.

The day to do any and all of those things is the minute it occurs to me.

Right this second.

I think I might think like this for three reasons. (getting meta here) First, I have been burdened/blessed with the gift of very little patience. This does not come in handy for marriage or parenting (ever) but can be pretty useful in executing a plan. Second, most times when I set a goal, it turns out differently than I expected and sometimes I’m so bent on forcing it to happen I nearly miss the better thing waiting in front of me.  Lastly, while I would give my left arm to have my dad back, having him die at age 57 is a good motivator to not wait until the mystical concept of a new year or when the kids are older or retirement to do things or be things or see things or go places or try something or make a plan that I could very well put into motion right now. It’s a good motivation to not wait until next week. Not only do you wish away the time you are in, you also have no guarantee you will be here to “do all the great things”. The sense of urgency is palpable.  What on earth are we waiting for?

Perhaps the best part of being middle aged is not giving a flying fig anymore.   When you are 25, you SAY you don’t care about what others think or what your station in life is or your expectations of 25 compared to the reality of being 25. You think you have plenty of time.

At 35, you start losing your conceited mighty grip on your grand plans realizing you are not in control of much and by now you’ve made some choices and picked some lanes and they cannot be undone which is both a minor relief and a minor horror.

At 45, hopefully you are over yourself enough to see that you just won’t be here forever. Are some things just a soul crushing disappointment? Yes. Did you mess up a lot and say and do things that you are embarrassed about? Yes. Are there things that simply can’t be fixed? Yes. Are other aspects of this life more heartbreakingly joyful than you could have ever anticipated? YES.  Did you make some good choices and tell some people how you felt and had some genuine moments of pure thrill and witnessed some near miracles and are filled with gratitude for those? Yes. Do you see where you sidestepped metaphorical land mines and paths that would have been and could have been so much worse? Lord, yes.

In retrospect, I’d say I made some progress in 2015. Some things got done. Others didn’t. I can live with it that way. I think my designs on giving an Oscar speech can probably be filed away now.  It would have been a kick ass speech. FYI.

Cheers to all of you in 2016. May this year hold everything you hope for. I hope your year is filled with goodness.  And if not, just start over on any day, at any time, at any minute. Get back up and just try again.  Have a new idea in April and try it out.  Forgive someone in October.  An average Tuesday can be an astonishing start to something fantastic.

No ‘theme of the year’ necessary.