Friday, February 21, 2014

Blogging About Teens Is A Combustible Thing

Teens are like fireworks - ready to explode!

Recently, a friend on Facebook was lamenting about how difficult the teenage years are for parents and how, in stark contrast to the number of women blogging about their kids' younger years, there aren't that many of us blogging about the teens. I often mention Junior, who is 13, but I understand why there aren't more of us writing covering this time of life; there are multiple reasons, including, but not limited to:

  • We're busy because kids at this age are busy. I'm driving Junior to friends' houses, activities, etc.

  • In addition to our teen, we often have other kids, and keeping the family in check is hard. Schedules are, once again, hectic and trying to keep track of who is where is a challenge.

  • The potential to wound your kids psychologically is enormous, never more so than when they're teens. This embarrassment factor, which can be fun and powerful, can also be damaging to parent-teen relationships. As parents, we realize that our time with these changlings is extremely limited and I, for one, don't want to mess that up by ticking Junior off too badly.

  • They're volatile and bat-shit crazy at this age. Their hormones are racing around, their bodies are topsy-turvy, their relationships are confusing and there's a lot of pressure at school.  Basically, they're tornadoes with legs. Who wants to unnecessarily be on the wrong end of that?

  • What goes on the Web, even if it's taken down, stays on the Web. I, for one, don't want to say the wrong thing which can somehow become a permanent part of Junior's digital footprint.

  • Kids change less quickly during the teenage years than when they were toddlers. The changes are ultimately larger, but they can also be more subtle and less observable when you're with the kids on a daily basis. 

  • Parents of these kids may be in denial. I don't want to think about Junior growing up and moving away and if I don't write about it, then I don't have to face it...until it becomes absolutely necessary.  

  • Many people re-enter the workforce (as I'm trying to do) when their kids become teens and just don't have the time.
So I, for one, choose to write about my teen in limited doses, focusing more on how the changes in him affect me, how they're a part of my parenting journey. These are bittersweet years, unlike the predominately joyful first few; they are to be savored and sometimes, just endured.

No, there aren't as many moms writing about teens, so listen to those of us who do (and remember that in addition to the blog you're reading right now, I write another one: Even if your kid is little, your time is coming.  Learn from those us in the midst right now.  And bring cookies. 

Thursday, January 16, 2014

The Results Of The Latest Daddy-Daughter Olympics

Welcome To The Daddy-Daughter Olympics!

 Every weekend, it seems, Diva challenges her exceptionally in-shape father to another round of Daddy-Daughter Olympics. I decide on the events and serve as the judge. Below are the events, their descriptions, and the outcomes from the latest competition:

  1. Bottom Scooting
    In this match, participants scoot down our hallway on their bottoms. The first one who makes it back to the starting point, wins. 
    Result: Father squeezed Daughter gently against the wall and was sent back to the beginning. Daughter overcame a fit of giggles and easily won.
  1. 1-Handed Swiffing
    In this struggle, each person must maneuver either a dry Swiffer or dust mop around the dining room or living room floor using only one hand. The person with the cleanest floor wins.
    Result: Daddy clearly worked toward an immaculate floor, but since he shamlessly blocked his competitor's tool, was disqualified. The 8-year old was the winner.

  2. Sock Sorting
    Since everyone wants matched socks, but no one wants to pair them up, this event consisted of whoever could match the most pairs of socks, correctly, in 5-minutes.
    Result: Dad came back down to the living room in 2 minutes with 3 pair of socks, confident that he had won since Diva was matching willy nilly. What he didn't know was that his rival had gone back and accurately matched the socks. Result: Dad – 2 pair, Diva 10. Captain Confident conceded.

  3. Who Could Put On The Most Clothes In 30 Seconds
    This was a game of volume and dexterity to see who could put on the most clothes in 30 seconds.
    Result: Father was a whiz at piling on the t-shirts, but Diva (aka The Fashionista) pulled ahead by piling on tank tops which were quicker to pile on. Final tally: Dad – 10 shirts + 2 pair of pants, Diva – 14 shirts + 3 pair of shorts + 1 pair of pants.

  4. Hopping On One Foot
    Participants were asked to hop down the hallway and back on one foot.
    Result: Father initially pulled out strong, but decided to cheat half way down the hall. After he checked his opponent into the wall not once, but twice, he was declared a cheater and Diva won. Shame on you, Dad!

  5. Egg On A Spoon Relay
    Challengers were asked to maneuver an obstacle course while balancing a hard-boiled egg (Thank God!) on a teaspoon. Whoever made it back to the finish line without dropping the egg would win.
    Result: Father had a commanding lead, but then decided to viciously throw his opponent's egg to the floor. Disqualification was met with an understanding nod, and Diva won.

  6. Who Could Draw The Best Snowflake
    There are paper snowflakes hanging on the windows of my house. Participants merely had to draw one.
    Result: Father drew a dandelion (?????). Daughter followed directions and drew a snowflake...with a snowman...and a sled. She won. He was recommended for a psychiatric evaluation.

  7. Remote-Controlled Car Obstacle Car
    Members had to maneuver a remote-controlled dune buggy around an obstacle course. Whoever did it in the least amount of time would win.
    Result: This proved tough because the cars drive erratically. Father, for some psychotic reason, threw a blanket down in his opponent's vehicle's way. Daughter won.

  8. Best Of Three In Go Fish
    Three rounds of Go Fish were played. Whoever won 2 out of 3 would be declared the victor.
    Result: Card Shark of a Daughter beat senseless, but at least honest, Dad.
  1. One-Legged Balancing
    Participants had to balance on one leg while standing on a step-stool. Whoever could balance the longest would win.
    Result: Father pushed the 8-year old over several times. Diva won.

Please check back in for another, inevitable, round of Daddy-Daughter Olympics!

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Midway Between Major Religions – Unitarian Universalism Works For Interfaith Families

As I've stated on this blog before, my family is an Interfaith one. My husband is Jewish, I am a former Catholic. We have chosen to raise our children Unitarian Universalist, or as my husband calls it, “the I'm okay, you're okay religion.” I think our minister would agree with that.

Our church's mission statement includes the idea that we “explore religious and cultural traditions so that we may honor our differences and our common ground.” As an interfaith family, we do that. My kids are well-versed in both Jewish and Christian principles and are comfortable being both. In 6th grade religious ed, my son spent the bulk of the year visiting various houses of worship to learn, straight from the congregants themselves, what the different religions believed. Family members were encouraged to attend and we went everywhere! From many different denominations of Judaism and Christianity to a Buddhist temple, our group traveled and were welcomed warmly by representatives of the different belief systems. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience and it was amazing!

My husband feels comfortable in the church since the view of God is a personal one and that's respected at UU. No one there tells you what to believe – you need to discover it for yourself. There is no right or wrong, no pressure to believe one thing or another. Words of wisdom may come from The Old Testament, New Testament, Torah, poetry, songs, or a multitude of other sources. We celebrate Chanukah, Christmas, Kwanza, Samhain, etc., understanding that the body of our congregation comes from a plethora of belief systems.

I love UU because it recognizes that beliefs are fluid – what you feel certain of today may not resonate with you as you age. It treats you as an intelligent person who is capable of deciding what feels right. Doctrines are not passed down, rather, they evolve as we evolve. As far as my kids go, they're going to decide what they believe on their own, because even those individuals who are exposed to the strictest dogma must come to terms with their own principles. UU gives my children the tools and the room to decide. It points toward different traditions and says, “Go forth and learn. If you decide to come back, we'll be here.” There's no guilt involved; there is, however, the idea that you are accountable for your own actions. That's just responsible living.

Yes, my husband still goes to Temple on the Jewish High Holy Days; it's his tradition which he proudly upholds. My son, by his own choice, attends those services with his dad. He chooses to acknowledge that he is part Jewish, however, it has been his choice alone not pursue it further.

I find it fascinating that my kids have decided that they believe in an afterlife. Their images of Heaven are surprisingly strong and vivid, as I learned when two elderly family members died. My son said he's confident he'll see Grandpa again. His faith helped him through the grieving process. My daughter believes in reincarnation; I cannot say whether she's correct or not, but it's certainly her right to believe.
Unitarian Universalism blessedly affirms that.

This week we're celebrating Chanukah and lighting the menorah. In a few weeks, we'll attend Christmas Eve service. We are an interfaith family. For us, it's not an either-or. It's all inclusive.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

A Sensible Approach To Gift Giving

Even without the extreme force-feeding of Christmas that's currently going on in America, our family is usually thinking about gift-giving right about now. My daughter just had a birthday, another family member has one coming up, plus we celebrate Hanukkah in addition to the Yuletide. That's a lot of gifts in a very short period of time. Fortunately, our gift-giving traditions are as old as my marriage.

In our early days, my husband and I continually missed the mark when we were shopping for each other. Though our intentions were loving, we inevitably wound up gently asking the other for the receipts each time one gave the other a gift. For me the clincher was hubby's giving me duck canisters (yes, canisters shaped like a duck family wearing little sailor suits) for one of our anniversaries. Practical, yes, romantic, no. Shortly thereafter we put into place a procedure for gift-giving that GUARANTEES that: a) the buyer isn't wasting money getting the giver something he/she doesn't want b) the recipient gets what he/she wants. Here's how it goes:

The person who will receive the gift gives the giver a list of three things that she wants. In my case, I include the store or website where a gift can be found, pricing, the size, color, etc. If possible, I also include a picture. This makes it VERY easy for the giver to either shop on his own or take the kids to the store to get it. If the giver wants to purchase more than one gift on the list, no problem, but we're sure to get something we want. Genius, right?

And since we celebrate both Christmas and Hanukkah, we've made Hanukkah “the literary holiday” with each of my kids getting a book on the first night only. The rest of the holiday gifts wait for Christmas morning. My husband, who is Jewish, also gets one present the first night of Hanukkah.

As for Christmas, the kids get three gifts: one from us and two from Santa plus filled stockings. Since we have a very small family, there is no fgift overload. And we make sure we participate in our church's Mantle Of Giving where we purchase one toy and a book for an underprivileged child.

No bank accounts are broken, the kids know the holidays do not revolve around getting, and everyone is happy. Of course, one of the more fun traditions for us is the wrapping. My husband, by his own account, is not a great gift-wrapper, so unless we have a large supply of gift bags or he cajoles the 8-year old, who wraps better than either her father or brother, into helping, he's on his own. And he's come up with some imaginative wrapping. From brown grocery bags to newspaper, to wrapping a gift in his bathrobe, his gift wrapping is always amusing. My favorite was the time he wrapped one of my gifts in our dog's holey, smelly, dull, brown blankie. I have no idea what he gave me that year, but the wrapping was hilarious.

Using the List approach has diminished the amount of gift-giving stress immensely. And, again, it makes sure that everyone is happy because if they're not, it's because the recipient mistakenly mislead the giver. Try it and let me know how it worked for you!

Thank you for reading! And please visit my other blog at

Sunday, November 10, 2013

It MUST Be Me...

Our family caught with friends and acquaintances this summer.  These are people we like and generally respect; however, I’m flummoxed by responses to some of their children’s behavior and by what they ask their kids to do.

Case in point: Bob and Carol (not their real names) are lovely people whom we’ve known for many years. Their son is Little Timmy, age 7. The other day, Carol told me that their sweet little boy:

• Regularly strips down naked in the house and then jumps up and down on the couch in front of a curtainless window.
• Likes to periodically pee on the front lawn.
• Goes around the house and finishes all the half-full wine coolers he can find.

Carol thinks this is very funny; so funny, that she posts Timmy's antics on Facebook. Bob works late and, although he hears about these little episodes, isn’t around to correct them.

It must be me, because I find Little Timmy’s behavior disturbing. Since Timmy is 7, I would think he should know better and if he doesn't, he’s obviously not being appropriately corrected. I’m just thankful I’m not the neighbors.

Here’s something else I don’t understand: Betty Sue (again, not her real name) is 11, a fine, sweet girl who lives a few houses down from me. I recently saw her strolling up the block carrying a 6-pack of beer. She was carrying it to another neighbor’s house where Mom and Dad were partying with friends on the front lawn. Apparently the party needed more alcohol and who better to fetch it than an 11 year old? Putting aside the fact that we live in an upscale suburb and that the adults were partying on the front lawn like a bunch of frat boys, it must be me who thinks is inappropriate because clearly, Betty Sue’s parents did not.

I do not consider my husband and I prudes. Ok, so we regulate how much sweets our kids have (my daughter has notoriously bad teeth) and how much video they watch lest their brains become mush. But I hope that’s responsible parenting. My children can choose to be naked…in the bathroom and in their bedrooms. And they are free to pee…in the bathroom. No, they cannot drink alcohol before the legal age (besides it being the law and unhealthy, we’re hoping to avoid the temptations of liquor until they’re older). And we would certainly never ask them to fetch alcohol for us; it just seems inappropriate.

My children are well aware of parenting styles we like and do not like. We’ve talked about stuff we deem appropriate and things “we, as a family do NOT do.” Lastly, we’ve discussed that adults parent their children as they see fit and we parent our children in accordance with our belief systems.

Based on what I’ve been told and seen, clearly, many others do not agree. I shake my head pretty often at what others permit their kids to do.  It must be me.

Monday, November 4, 2013

In Defense Of (Some, But Not All) Soccer Moms

Soccer Mom on the field at dawn.
It's the crack of dawn on a Sunday morning when I'd rather be sleeping. My plan today was to roll out of bed at 8am, have coffee, go to church, and spend the day reading the paper while my husband takes the kids out to the park. Instead, I'm bundled up in sweats and my winter coat. I have a warm woolen hat pulled down over my ears and if I could curl up into the fetal position I would. Instead my hefty bottom is plunked down into a folding canvas chair while a blanket from the car is swaddled around me. I am at my town's soccer playoffs watching my son. I am a soccer mom.

Now the term “Soccer Mom” has a negative connotation. It broadly refers to an American middle-class, suburban woman who spends a lot of time transporting her school-age children to their sporting events or other after-school activities. Sometimes she's portrayed in the media as being a bit neurotic and overprotective of her brood as she drives her minivan or SUV all over Suburbia. And, according to Wikipedia, “soccer moms are sometimes accused of forcing their children to go to too many after- activities” and “over-parenting them in concerted cultivation rather than letting them enjoy their childhood.”

While I have no doubt that that last part about over-parenting is true in quite a few cases, I need to defend those of us mini-van driving parents who do schlep our kids all over the place. Most of my peers drive our kids to places the children themselves want to go. As my husband pointed out to my wee folk a few weeks ago, without any prompting from me, “If your mother wasn't around after school, you two wouldn't be able to do half the things you like to do including having playdates and participating in sports!” When I was growing up, not only did my mother lack a car, but there wasn't the enormous assortment of extra-curricular activities my children can choose from today. How lucky today's youth are to be able to pick from a menu of classes and sports that suit their fancies! And as for the schlepping, do you really think I want to spend most of my evenings hauling kids to soccer fields and gymnastics practices? I would rather be home, cooking dinner and getting my brood ready for bed instead of driving and waiting for them to be finished. I, and women like me, do it because we want our children to try new things and be able to pursue what they love.

When bored, my 8-year old decided to roll down the hill.  I would have barfed...

So there I was, with 30 or so other parents, accompanied with my husband who was frantically trying to keep the 8-year old amused. The field we were sitting in was damp and wind whipped through my layers and my blanket. My hopes soared or sank with every soccer ball my son kicked or missed. I bit my tongue when parents from the opposing team gleefully cheered their sons on to win the town's championship. And I mentally slapped them silly with an invisible 2'x4' when they sarcastically taunted the losing team with “better luck next year.” Bite me, you *(&! twits!

When Junior's team lost, I cried inside and hugged him outside. He'll be back next year because he loves to play. I'll be back on the field because I love him. And this week, like most, I'll spend my evenings schlepping my very talented 8-year old to and from gymnastics practice, not because I want to, but because she loves the sport. Like most parents of budding athletes, sports is time-intensive and expensive, but we do it, not for ourselves, but for our children. Yep. I am, indeed, a soccer mom and proud of it!

By the way, as I was researching the term “soccer mom” for this post, I found this great little story on the website

A mom was making breakfast of fried eggs for her young son. Suddenly, the boy bursts into the kitchen and starts yelling, “"Careful! Careful! Put in some more butter! Oh my goodness! You're cooking too many at once. TOO MANY! Turn them. TURN THEM NOW! We need more butter! Oh my! WHERE are we going to get MORE BUTTER? They're going to STICK! Careful! CAREFUL! I said CAREFUL! You NEVER listen to me when you're cooking! Never! Turn them! Hurry up! Are you crazy! Have you lost your mind? Don't forget to salt them. You know you always forget to salt them. Use the salt. USE THE SALT! THE SALT!!"

The mom stared at him. "What's wrong with you? You think I don't now how to fry a couple of eggs?"

The son calmly replied, "I just wanted to show you what it feels like when I'm trying to play soccer."

Thanks for reading! Come again, won't you?

Monday, October 28, 2013

The Mixed (Candy?) Bag That Is Halloween

My Diva wearing Junior's Halloween costume
So the biggest holiday outside of Christmas is three days away: Halloween, that formerly pagan celebration where parents spend mucho dinero on costumes the wee folk will wear for one day so they can go door-to-door begging for candy. I used to get really excited by it, but after spending 13 years of this celebration as a parent, I'm getting a bit weary. I mean, how much candy do kids really need?

The first Halloween we owned our house, I arrived home at about 5:30pm and was just getting out of my car when I heard a cry in the street: “She's home! Get her!” I looked up to find a gang of about eight kids, in costume, running down the hill toward me, their goodie bags open expectantly. I quickly hightailed it into the house and had about a minute before eight little fists began impatiently banging on the door. Talk about a Halloween haunting!

Maybe that's why I feel so ambivalent about Halloween. While I'm delighted that my children have so much fun dressing up and foraging for sugar, there are aspects of the holiday I'm not so keen on.  All of the comparing, for example.  Who has the “better” costume? Who gets the most candy? Who gives out the best candy? Who went out the longest? Which neighborhoods have the best houses from which to score the most/best candy? Why can't they just, as the kindergarteners used to chant, “get what we get and not get upset”?  Also, there is often an appalling lack of manners in the kids who come to my door.  Unless the kids are little with parents behind them prompting, I get a lot of kids at my door who don't even say “thank-you” for the candy I hand them. When I take my daughter out, if I don't hear her give thanks at every door, we stop and review. 

And there's the grossness of some decorations.  I blogged some time ago about how I didn't appreciate how graphic some of my neighbors made their Halloween decorations. They put out some realistic depictions of dismembered bodies that little ones found horribly scary and repulsed me. While I appreciate “freedom of expression,” I also think common sense is in order and wish people would refrain from displaying stuff that scars little kids. And to those who commented on that post that I need to “lighten up” on this attitude, please  list your phone number so that those parents whose toddlers are up at midnight, screaming because of the display on your lawn, might call and keep you up the way the memories of your display are keeping their kids up.

Still, Halloween is fun. Many of the costumes are cute and clever and it's adorable seeing the kids scamper up and down my block with looks of absolute joy on their faces. Then there's the post-trick-or-treating candy negotiations.  When my daughter was a toddler, before she could even read the words on the candy labels, she held her own as she and her brother gleefully surveyed their loot and then traded for whichever candy each liked best. My favorite part of Halloween is, of course, after the kids are asleep and I get to raid their stashes for Snickers or Butterfingers bars. 

No, the kids don't need candy. But in this day and age when kids are being forced to grow up so fast and when they're all virtually addicted to video screens, it's nice that they can have one day of wild abandon when they can just run around and be children. My weariness doesn't matter; those negative aspects of the holiday are purely my issues. One day in the not-to-distant future, I'll be one of those older people who smiles wistfully at the little skeletons and witches at my door, remembering my own wee folk at that age.  is Halloween is truly for the kids. I hope yours have a happy, happy day!


Thank you for reading!  Come again, won't you?