Nothing like receiving a notice from GoDaddy.com that the company is discontinuing all their Quick Blogcast blogs, to spur me to finally post again!! According to my blog “dashboard”, it’s been 701 days since I last posted. WOW. To say I’ve been busy would be an understatement, but it’s the main reason I haven’t posted since the summer of 2012. At first, it was a case of writer’s block– I got to a point where I just couldn’t think of anything to write, and I always told myself if the inspiration wasn’t there, it was time to stop. It didn’t take too long to get inspired again, but by then, I had boarded the Busy Train, and it was picking up speed.

Not only was I offered numerous freelance writing assignments that summer, but my mom moved from being 13 hours away from me to 7 minutes away, and anyone who has moved a parent out of a house they’ve lived in over 50 years knows the work and time involved with that. It didn’t help that the company who ran mom’s estate sale ripped her off royally– I began an investigation worthy of CSI that continued for months.  Meanwhile, my older daughter started her senior year of high school, and anyone who’s gone through that as a parent knows the work and time involved with that, too! Yep, I had two “seniors” on my hands– an almost 18-year-old who was still learning to drive via the lovely “parent taught” option, and an 88-year-old who was learning to navigate her car in an unfamiliar city. (Once, I found myself riding shotgun and teaching both on the same hot summer day, one in the morning and one in the afternoon!! Can you guess which driver made my knuckles the whitest?)  Within about four weeks, I sat in two different DPS offices helping each get their Texas Driver’s License.

Longtime readers will remember I often said if I didn’t post for awhile, my kids have left me speechless. And that was another reason for this blog hiatus.  Allison, my oldest, got “senioritis” so bad, it left me truly out of breath.  If I’d posted that fall, the posts would have all been downers, and I didn’t want to subject my readers to that, or my daughter to all the negative words that would have spewed forth in print, if I’d even had the energy to write…in a nutshell, the used car we’d bought off Craig’s List for her to drive was a privilege for her, not a right (as she thought it was), and that privilege got taken away at a head-spinning pace, as curfew was broken again and again. She’d brave it through an embarrassing week or two of Mom and friends having to drive her everywhere, then get the car back, and break curfew again, often on the very weekend she’d finally gotten the car back. I was often confounded.  She got a dream job at a cool boutique, but didn’t like it, and just quit asking for hours.  Also, as happens to many seniors, she didn’t care about homework or grades any more, since colleges mainly determine entrance eligibility from grades and GPA only through the end of the junior year of high school.  But I cared, and with every email and phone call from teachers letting me know there were missed assignments, etc., I worried. “Do you really want to go to summer school and not graduate with your class?” was a common exasperated question that year, from me to her.

Meanwhile, my younger daughter was caught up in drama with 8th grade cheer and trying to raise, on her own, around $1,000 to go on a solo Girl Scout Destinations trip to Costa Rica. I helped her with the paperwork and attended meetings to find out more, not to mention I was still the Scout leader of her troop…the troop definitely met a lot less that year! She babysat like crazy, worked at Destinations cookie booth sales and sold old doll stuff on ebay, to raise the money…

And then there were the college applications and essays, the college visits, the college acceptance letters (hooray!),  senior photos, more college visits…we finally donated the “aravan” to charity and I got another used minivan, this time with lots of mom-friendly additions like in-floor storage and automatic doors. (I felt like a flip phone user who’d just traded up to a Blackberry! Yeah!)  In the spring, my mom got a fracture in her spine, involving me being at her side at doctors’ offices, and also that spring I became president of the local chapter of NCL, the mom-daughter organization I blogged about in an earlier post (What possessed me to VOLUNTEER to add one more thing to my plate? I remember I kept telling my husband, “I’ve been president of organizations before. Everyone else has the really hard jobs, I just manage them– I want to give back to this organization– it will be a piece of cake”…famous last words…)

Mom was in so much pain and could hardly walk that she wasn’t able to attend graduation or the graduation party we threw in our backyard. But Allison did graduate, and with honors– go figure!! This was followed closely by a two-week family trip to visit our French exchange student in Paris and my sister in England.  The planning for that family trip was done by me, with much of the planning going on right in the midst of college visits and graduation plans and everything else, including a memorable day when all four of us waited for hours together to get our passport photos renewed…

Mom improved; Ben Arffleck, our poodle (yet another senior!) got most of his teeth pulled, and just when I thought I’d get back to the blog again, after we returned from Europe and Emmie was off to Tennessee on a church mission trip and then to Costa  Rica, I spent many hours in emergency rooms and doctor’s offices with mom once again, this time for an intestinal bug that just wouldn’t go away. “I feel so bad I’m tying up your time like this,” Mom would say, but really, her problems couldn’t have come at a better point in the year. My kids didn’t need me at the time, NCL doesn’t meet much over the summer, and my writing jobs were manageable. I can give you all kinds of time, I said.  The blog will just have to wait.

And so it has, for another long, busy year, a year that involved taking our oldest child to college, helping the other child get started in high school, helping oldest child transfer to another college mid-year, watching my mother-in-law pass away too quickly after being diagnosed with cancer, writing lots of freelance assignments, volunteering at church and numerous other organizations, planning a family reunion, and steering the NCL chapter, whose membership is bigger than any other I’ve helped steer before (over 220 members). I had cut down on my volunteer work since elementary PTA days and had forgotten that when I take on a leadership position, usually I don’t just do “what’s required”– I go the extra mile, which means lots of extra time involved.  I think I did a good job as NCL president but I’m glad it’s over!  This summer, Mom’s health is up and down, but she’s managing, my oldest has a summer job and my youngest stays busy with dance, driving school, and teaching guitar lessons.

Does that mean I FINALLY have time to get back to the blog? Well, for now, I need to at least transfer all my old posts to a WordPress blog before they disappear.  There will probably be a link to that blog at uncoolmom.com after tomorrow. After that, we will see! I’m encouraged by all the traffic this blog has seen even when I haven’t been “tending” it.  And I do have so many good things I want to share, none the least of which are the changes that happen to your relationship with a child as they finally mature into adulthood.  If you ever read my “manifesto” which was eter
nally parked on the sidebar of the blog, do you remember what I said about not being a wimpy parent and worrying so much about being “friends” with your child, at the expense of raising children who have no tough consequences for their actions and who then can’t deal with the real world? And that if you are a loving parent with integrity, that someday your child will be your friend? Well, it’s really happening. I was right!  I’m not so uncool anymore in the eyes of a certain college girl!  However, the name of this blog won’t change, as my other teen gets upset and rolls her eyes at me on a pretty regular basis right now.  Stay tuned!

Craving “Constants”

As the oldest child approaches senior year of high school and the youngest breezes through junior high not far behind, a mom can get pretty sentimental, y’ know? It used to be that even when the older child went through big changes, I still felt connected to the “younger child years”, because my kids are four years apart in age.  For example, when Allison became “too mature” to enjoy going to the neighborhood pool every day in the summer, I’d still get to sit at that pool on summer mornings, with other moms of young kids, as Emmie took yearly swim lessons.  When Allison and her friends were old enough to go to the mall by themselves, I’d still accompany Emmie on shopping trips.  I had one foot in kid-land and one foot in teen-land.  But this summer I am acutely aware that I have both feet pretty well planted in teen-land now, and it’s kinda sad. They don’t need me as much.  My oldest had an internship at a local theatre from 10-5:30 every day and used public transportation to get there, and is now in New York City for two weeks taking part in a pre-college program for high school students (yes, I did want to bawl my eyes out after helping set up her dorm room, telling her good-bye, and walking away on the streets of NYC alone, but I also was so excited for her, I held it together).  My youngest has been spending a lot of time away from home by babysitting and being on a swim team, and spending her own money at the mall…without mom in tow.  She recently spent a week in Joplin, Missouri, helping her church youth group repair tornado damage.   Whenever either girl is home and has free time, she usually wants to make plans with friends. 

Some may think I should be doing cartwheels of happiness over their growing independence, and I’ll admit there have definitely been days when I do (well, mental cartwheels at least…I’m a lousy gymnast) but at the same time, summer has called up powerful memories of time spent together, and of me coming up with all sorts of camps and activities for them to do, and there’s an underlying sadness that we’ve passed through a certain point of no return (underscore that with the fact that as this summer began for me, so did hot flashes…)

So with all this change happening, I find myself noticing and taking comfort in “constants”—any place or thing or event or ritual that has been around since the kids were born.  Things that have remained pretty much unchanged over the past 13-17 years.  Which have been hard to find, when I put my mind to it.  We don’t live in the same house…most of the girls’ old clothes and toys and games have been given away (with some exceptions—see my last post)…their first pets have gone to pet heaven… birthdays aren’t celebrated with parties as much anymore (“Mom, I’d rather have the cash instead”) and Christmas and Easter celebrations seem to change every year.  Our annual trips to Grandma’s house in Iowa end this summer, as she’s moving to a retirement community not far from our house here in Texas…heck, even Spongebob has “left the building”, replaced by Tivo’ed episodes of “Dance Moms”. Yes, my husband and I have raised our kids in only one community, but a lot has changed within it as well.  So much of what was a part of our family’s early years has either gone out of business or moved away: Paint ‘n Party; Discovery Zone; favorite restaurants; the shaved ice stand; the neighborhood grocery store, where Allison once fell out of a shopping cart (on Andy’s watch, I might add) and where we knew all the checkers’ names… the neighborhood parks are still there, but the play equipment has been updated with newer, safer, plastic versions, or not replaced at all (no more merry-go-rounds, “jungle gyms”, or rocket ship slides)… I used to find comfort in the fact that the city rec center where Emmie still takes a gymnastic class is the same rec center I took the girls to the splash playground and to “Mommy and Me” classes when they were preschoolers…but the wrecking crews recently set up shop in the parking lot and the facility will soon will be torn down, moved and re-built. 

Geez, isn’t there anything that’s remained the same? I did manage to come up with a few stand-outs, listed here in no particular order:

  1. Luby’s Cafeteria.  Still in the same location, still serving up LuAnn platters. And there are those rolling high-chairs lined up in the corner, just like I remember…
  2. Broadway shows and music.  So glad I introduced Allison to this at around age 2 or 3 in an attempt to expose her to music that both parent and child could enjoy together.  Rock was too adult for toddler ears, Barney was too toddler for adult ears, but selections from “Cats”, “Oliver” and “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” were the perfect fit.  When little sis came along, she couldn’t help liking them, too.  We still all enjoy going to shows together and listening to the music, and both girls have been in community and/or high school versions of Broadway shows as well. I am so thankful that both high school and community theatre is still thriving in North Texas.
  3. The city library…still there, along with the same librarian and her turtle puppet that still entertains children at “Lapsit” storytime…and there’s still a wonderful  Santa’s Village that’s set up outside the library every holiday season.
  4. Our minivan, still running at almost 214,000 miles.  Purchased before Emmie was born.  And no doubt somewhere in a forgotten crack in that van lurks cookie crumbs from a long ago Happy Meal…
  5. Our church–  though new additions have been built and some staff has changed, many  “constants” remain, like the fall pumpkin patch, Vacation Bible School for kids, Sunday morning pancake breakfasts, and lots of people who have watched the girls grow up.
  6. The 4th of July—Every year we celebrate the 4th of July in the same way: driving to watch a morning parade in the Lakewood neighborhood of Dallas, in the front yard of longtime family friends, and afterwards heading to the park where the parade ends, to endulge in a free snow cone, bottle of water, or cup of beer, depending on preference (and age!) and watch a guy dressed like Uncle Sam hand out awards for the best parade entries.  After that, it’s back to our friends’ home for brisket and a potluck of sides and desserts, alongside many of their other friends and family members.  All their lives, every Independence Day, our kids have sat on the same curb and caught candy thrown from the floats (with the exception of the two times when they were a part of the parade), gathered in the same dining room for lunch, and posed in the same yard for photos.   The same yard where Andy and I sat when we were dating, the same yard where Andy’s late grandmother chuckled as she wore a white straw hat with balloons on top, the same yard where baby Allison and I once wore matching bandana-print dresses.

Yes, amidst all the changes, I’m so glad that some things stay the same.  I don’t know what the experts would say about the value of raising your kids in one to
wn, or keeping the same die-hard car, but plenty has been written and discussed about the importance of traditions, and how if you don’t have any, you should start some.  Traditions “enhance children’s emotional well-being by helping to create feelings of security, continuity and identity,” writes Leah Davies, M.Ed., former Child Development instructor at Auburn University, at her website kellybear.com.  I couldn’t agree more. But I would expand that to say that traditions are important to everyone’s well-being…especially menopausal moms of teens.

How To Help Your Teen Be A Successful Babysitter

Now that my 13-year-old, Emmie, is a bona fide, certified, babysitter (she took a course at a local rec center in May), she’s been trying to build her business and get jobs (saving for an iPhone can be a powerful incentive…).  After she created a flier, gathered email addresses and sent out the flier, she has started to get calls. So I thought it was time to pass on to her what my childhood friend, Trisha, passed on to me and what I’d already passed on to Allison: the secret to successful babysitting. Trisha was a very successful babysitter; I took her advice and was booked solid almost every weekend evening (at least a Friday or Saturday night) during my junior high and early high school years , and in summer, some weekdays and evenings as well. 

So what’s the secret?  Bring your own “stuff”.  Yes, that’s it in a nutshell—bring a bag with toys, games and books that you used to play with. And if you have enough stuff, you can bring something different each time, for awhile.    It’s a wonderful thing, and the kids you are babysitting LOVE it. And so do the parents.  It sets you apart from other babysitters, especially the gum-smacking, I-really-don’t-want-to-do-this, I’d-rather-text-or- watch-TV bunch of babysitters.  ‘You care enough to pick out special books and toys from your own closet and bring them along?’ marvel the parents. ‘You’ll share your toys with me and I don’t have to play with the same old stuff?’ marvel the kids. The kids will rave about you to their parents and the parents will call you again.  It happened for me, it happened for Allison and it has already happened for Emmie.

Which is why we parents shouldn’t throw (or give) all of our kids’ childhood stuff away as they get older. Do you have a potential babysitter among your children? I was already saving a few of my kids’ toys for my great-nieces and nephew to play with when they come for a visit, so I saved a little bit extra just in case my kids were babysitters:  some toy cars and a plastic play mat emblazoned with a town and roads; classic board games like Chutes and Ladders; Colorforms; wooden puzzles; some dress-up clothes; lots of books; a tabletop puppet theatre…

There’s also a lot of kidstuff still in the house that I meant to get rid of but haven’t gotten around to purging, that has turned out to be great for babysitting…when Emmie got a job the other day as a mother’s helper and needed to accompany a parent and two kids to a doctor visit, she looked in our old “road trip” cabinet and hit the mother lode of all kinds of magnetic toys– Magnadoodles, magnetic “paper dolls”, and a game called Tickle Bee, to name a few. They were perfect for her to entertain the kids during the long car ride to the doctor’s as well as the waiting room…When she got a job watching a child at a baby pool (while the parent was nearby watching another child), I climbed a ladder in our garage just before she was to leave for the job and found a bag of our old tub toys on the shelf, which thankfully hadn’t been put in a recent garage sale.  Emmie picked out several things which the child (and every other kid in the pool) thoroughly enjoyed: a small inflatable fish, a “whale pitcher” with a “strainer hat”, an empty plastic “Mr. Bubble” bottle that doubles as a boat…

Though one might think that the novelty of “someone else’s toys” wears off, I don’t remember that ever happening, since the toys aren’t stored at the kids’ homes.  You just rotate them to keep things fresh.  Kids start requesting certain favorites. And, hopefully their positive feedback will inspire your teen to find even more creative ways to entertain kids, such as food art (like pepperoni pizza “faces” and cutting lunchmeat and cheese with fun-shaped cookie cutters for open-faced sandwiches), throwing a birthday party for a doll or pet, and photography.  One family still remembers the time I dressed up their kids in wigs and western wear and tried to snap a frowning “tintype” style of Old West photo… It didn’t look so great taken with a Kodak Pocket Instamatic, but it was the thought that counted…

Wake Me Up Before You YOLO: What parents should know about the latest teen trend in risky behavior

Ever heard of YOLO? If you haven’t and you’re a parent of a teen, you need to wise up.  It’s an acronym that means You Only Live Once and it was popularized in a song by Canadian rapper Drake last fall, tattooed on actor Zac Efron’s hand, hashtagged by millions of teens on Twitter and immortalized in their Facebook posts as well.  When I first heard Allison’s friends tease her that she was all about YOLO, I actually thought that was a good thing, like the “Carpe Diem” motto that Robin Willliams implores his students to follow in the movie Dead Poet’s Society, a movie that Andy and I showed to our daughters not too long ago…it also seemed related to my personal favorite movie line, “A life lived in fear is a life half-lived” from the movie, Strictly Ballroom… But I guess another motto I should memorize (because I keep forgetting it) is “parents are clueless” because, as Washington Post style writer Maura Judkis put it in an article dated 4-6-12, YOLO is short on the noble idea of living life to its fullest and is more focused on brash decisions and their consequences…it’s used as an excuse for bad or risky behavior, or to play mean pranks. She lists examples of recent YOLO Tweets from kids that include things like “switching seats while the car is going 100” and “peeing off a hotel balcony”.  What she doesn’t write but what has become a scary “sidebar” of this phenomenon is that kids try to copy each other’s YOLO feats and even “out-YOLO” each other.   

We found that out unwittingly a few weeks ago.  Early one Sunday morning, Andy obtained our 17-year-old’s cell phone (while she slept) so he could look at it to properly order a new battery for it online, and decided to check her texts and Tweets while doing so—we were concerned with how late she had been staying out (we’d never had to set a curfew in the past) and he was curious to see if he’d be able to tell what time she’d gotten in the night before.  Not only did he discover her ETA was about 2:30 a.m., he also discovered she’d ridden with friends to Oklahoma and back, about an hour and a half (82 miles) up the highway, to explore the Choctaw Casino Resort and Tweet photos of their adventure, with a YOLO hashtag, of course.   “Words cannot express the good time we’re having,” read one Tweet.  After we gave her a consequence (grounding for a week), tears were shed, and phone calls were made to all the other parents involved (some were concerned, come weren’t), more unnerving details came to light. We found out that, after a pair of Seniors had YOLOed and Tweeted their way up to the “Welcome to Oklahoma” sign a week before, that Allison and her Junior and Sophomore friends wanted to do the same…and that on the previous Thursday, the night of the last day of school, they’d attempted to do just that, starting their trip to the Sooner State at the spur-of-the moment time of 2 a.m.  Their plans were thwarted around 3 after a small town Texas cop pulled them over and gave the driver a ticket for going 10 over the speed limit.  He told them to turn around and go home (can you believe he didn’t also ticket them for curfew as well as not having a seatbelt for every passenger?!!), and so they did, possibly hitting a coyote on the way, but vowing to return. Which they did on that infamous Saturday night, after they’d attended a couple graduation parties.   They couldn’t find the welcome sign at the border, but when they saw a sign advertising Choctaw “only 15 more miles” away, they decided to “go for it” and do something better than the Seniors.

“But Mom, you should be happy that nothing bad happened!” I heard.  “We didn’t get hurt! We weren’t drinking or doing drugs! We were just having fun!”  And of course I got an earful of how I probably never had fun so I wouldn’t understand…

Not understand? Of course I can understand how fun and exhilarating and grown up that must have felt. They explored a luxury hotel.  They rode the elevator to the top and looked out the windows at all the neon wonderment below. They chatted and laughed with a wedding party on the elevator.  They walked around the pool.  They drove on the highway for three hours, Broadway music blasting and voices singing (these are theatre kids, keep in mind).  All by themselves.  But it was after midnight, and it’s a FACT that a high percentage of people who are on the highways during that time have alcohol in their systems (or something else), especially in rural Texas and Oklahoma! Who wants their kid sharing the road at night with a bunch of drunks?!

“But we hardly passed any cars,” she said.  “There was no one on the roads”.  Great, that really made me feel better…”What would you have done if the car had engine trouble?” I asked her. “Or gotten a flat tire? Would you have called us? Would some crazed perv have pulled over to help you out?” She didn’t know what to say.

And it wasn’t just the lateness, or the highway driving, that Andy and I were concerned about—but also the lies that several of the kids, including ours, told their parents about where they’d been, and the money that had been given to them for dinner and graduation gifts that had gone instead toward financing the gas.

Yes, kids will be kids, like they always have been., in every decade.  But what this new breed of thrill seekers has that their phonebooth-stuffing, drag-racing counterparts of bygone days didn’t have is an instant way to brag about their escapades, making copy-catting all the more likely, and more widespread.  “Mom, we’re LEGEND now!” Allison explained, as if that might make me think differently.   A few days later, more area teens YOLOed their way to Oklahoma late at night and Tweeted about it. 

And apparently, now the YOLO craze has hooked up with the “bucket list” fad for even more fun (no doubt fueled by the once-popular MTV show The Buried Life and the 2012 NY Times Bestseller of the same name, where four college friends travel across the country checking off a wish list and help others check off theirs).  Just last Thursday morning, Emmie walked into the kitchen and announced, “I want to go cliff diving” and handed me a long list she’d spent at least an hour compiling.  “2012 Summer Bucket List” it said, and listed 101 things, from baking banana dessert in a solar oven (she doesn’t even like bananas!!) to dip dying her hair, to “sending a message in a bottle”, to the aforementioned outdoor diving, all things she wants to accomplish in less than three months.  Apparently Allison is working on a list, too, and had shown little sister some Facebook photos of some of her friends diving into cold, clear blue water on private property in a nearby town. “It looks so fun!” exclaimed Emmie. 

“Cliff diving?!” I asked. “Are you kidding???” I tried to explain the dangers, the possible permanent paralysis, the staggering medical bills that could put us in a homeless shelter…not to mention the fact that going cliff diving would happen only “over my dead body”… 

Maybe I should plaster David McCullough Jr’s now-famous commencement  address on each daughter’s bedroom wall.  The well-crafted speech, given this year by English teacher McCullough to the senior class of Wellesley (MA) High School, went viral recently (you can read a transcript of the speech at this link) and includes a few moments talking about the pitfalls of YOLO.  McCullough says the acronym should be YLOO, or You Live Only Once, to encourage people to follow their passions and live extraordinary lives rather than do rash things that might end it. But would my daughters even “get” it? And how many of those Wellesley seniors even payed attention, or even took his words to heart? Aren’t most kids programmed, especially nowadays, to throw caution to the wind and believe they know more than adults?

Yes, kids will be kids, so parents must be parents, even when things get so exasperating you just want to throw your hands in the air and say, “I give up!”  As much as kids act like they don’t want rules and they extol the virtues of DGF parents (that’s teenage Tweetspeak for “Don’t Give A F–k”), those DGF kids will tell you, once they’re adults, that they’d wished their parents had cared enough and had the guts enough to set some rules.  And ironically, as Andy and I have been setting new rules and limits, we’ve found that the modern technology that has added a whole new dimension in parenting headaches can also be a parents’ best friend, giving them tools Cliff Huxtable could only dream of… Are you away from home but want to make sure your kid makes curfew, or comes home after school when you’re at work? There are nifty door sensors you can stick on your doorframe that can alert your cell phone if someone doesn’t  enter the house by a certain time…or if they do.  Need to take your teen’s phone away as a consequence for bad choices but don’t want a big “hand over your phone” confrontation? We’ve found several apps that enable you to “lock it out” or unlock it at your convenience, from your laptop, computer or phone. Want to know if your kid’s car (or phone) is where they say it is? There are simple tracking devices and apps that can let you know.

Some may think “tracking” is going too far—but tracking doesn’t mean being a control freak. Parents can only do so much…and besides, parents need to allow some freedoms or risk their kids becoming unable to function properly as adults.  At some point, you just have to pray that kids will take your advice and make smart choices.  (And, hope they don’t see the latest issue of Texas Monthly magazine sitting in the rack at the grocery store check-out: FREEDOM! blasts the cover headline, with a photo of a highway unfolding in front of the reader, as far as the eye can see.  The subheads: “16 Summer Drives” “From the MOUNTAINS to the COAST, get off the BEATEN PATH and onto the OPEN ROAD”…)

Are Teen Hang-outs An Endangered Species?

The title of this post is a question that has been on my mind since before I had kids, when I first moved to this suburb almost 19 years ago and was surprised at how early the “sidewalks rolled up” around here.  Whenever Andy and I were out for the evening and wanted a late night dinner or snack, we were hard-pressed to find any eating establishments open past 9 p.m.  And sometimes when we’d head to a little mom and pop restaurant in the neighborhood for an 8 o’clock dinner, by 8:15 we’d be the only patrons there, and even though their closing time was posted as 9, mom and pop would literally sit at a table near the kitchen, turn their chairs in our direction and stare at us until we finished, as if they were saying, ‘hurry up, we want to go home.’  It was weird, not to mention a little creepy (but their food was good, so we kept going back).  I thought of area teens.  ‘Where do they go?’ I wondered.

This question has come up again these past couple of weeks, as both my girls have been spending more and more time out of the house on weekend evenings, with friends.  During that time, Northpark Mall, arguably the nicest, classiest mall in the entire Dallas/Ft. Worth metroplex and the mall of choice for many kids in our community, announced that from now on, anyone 17 and younger cannot be at the mall after 6 p.m. unless accompanied by a parent.  Minors are allowed to be there unaccompanied only if they are going to and from the mall movie theater, and they can only enter and exit through a specific door.  Though neither of my girls said they’ve seen teens causing trouble at the mall in the evening, my first thought was that this new rule is no big deal, but then I stepped back and looked at the reality of our bigger picture in North Texas and I didn’t like it at all. 

If kids can only go to movies and can’t hang out strolling at the mall afterwards, where else can they go? To a local restaurant, like we did when I was a teen? Well, even though that afore-mentioned mom, pop and their restaurant are long gone, and restaurant hours in our suburb have improved a bit, there are still quite a few “early closings”, and choices narrow down drastically after 10.  What about a bowling alley/laser tag center? Or a “jump town” (trampoline fun centers that are increasing in popularity)? These are great for younger teens, but the older teens have “been there, done that”. 

There is the “teen rave club” I read about in the local news…but you would NEVER want your teen to be there, a “girls gone wild” atmosphere where drugs and alcohol flow freely to minors… and, since we’re near a college with a large international population, there are also several hookah restaurant/lounges, places where patrons sit around tables with a communal water pipe in the center, filling their lungs with smoke from flavored tobacco, puffed through one of the water pipe’s many tentacles….A recent news story showed that while minors are admitted to hookah lounges, they aren’t supposed to be allowed to smoke, although it’s possible that some do.  But even if they don’t, who would want their teen to be in a SMOKING lounge inhaling second hand smoke anyway?? But the lounges stay open until 2 a.m., hours that have no doubt fueled their increasing popularity.

Should teens just gather at someone’s house? If that can be a house with adult supervision and safe, fun, legal things to do, great—but too often, that’s not the case.  Private homes seem to be the location of some of the worst trouble that kids find themselves in—think about kids recently busted for alcohol possession in our community, or the teenage son of major league outfielder Torji Hunter who recently made the news for a rape allegation.  Where were they when their alleged crimes occurred? At someone’s house, right here in North Texas.  At a house where either parents weren’t home, or parents were home and were encouraging the partying, or they were looking the other way and not staying on top of things.     

The bottom line is, teens, especially older teens, need a place to go at night on weekends, without Mom and Dad at their side.  A place that’s away from home.  A place where they can “see and be seen”.  Because the need to “hang out” with peers away from home is in our DNA; it’s part of the necessary transition from childhood to adulthood that has long been present in our history, from barn dances to soda shops to driving endlessly up and down certain streets to walking the malls.  Even in this age of technology-loving, socially-impaired couch potatoes, teens still like to gather.  They need to gather.  College should not be the first time they learn what it’s like to “go out” on their own. 

But the more we as a society restrict teens from feeling welcome at “decent” places, the more they will go to places that aren’t so decent, or safe.  

Outsmarted and Outfoxed: When Kids Call Your Bluff

Dana Macario at the mom blog “18 Years to Life” recently wrote an account of how, to teach her kids to pick up their toys, she and her husband gathered up all the toys strewn about, stuffed them into large trash bags, put them in a closet and told their kids that for each night they picked up the rest of their toys, they could earn back one of the “hostage” toys. Logic would dictate that the kids would want their toys back badly, and it would take so long to earn them back, that once earned back, the kids would think twice in the future about leaving them lying everywhere. Logic would say this was a great way to teach kids a lesson in being neat without having to nag, “Pick up your toys!!”  Only Dana’s kids chose not to earn their toys back. They’d keep leaving out toys, and got them taken away. When one night they did pick up their toys, her husband offered them the choice of a chocolate or a toy, and they both chose the chocolate! So now Dana is left with several bags of unused toys, a less cluttered home (bonus!!), kids who have shown they don’t need a lot of “stuff” to be happy (double bonus!), and an impending garage sale.  Definitely not the outcome she expected, but an interesting one nonetheless.

Dana’s story reminded of me of when Allison was around 10 or 11, Andy and I decided to try something similar in an attempt to get her to keep her room picked up. Too many clothes were lying all over the floor, so we bagged everything up that was on the floor and put it in the attic, and told her that as she kept her room picked up, she would earn back the clothes, one piece at a time.  Surely a clothes fanatic like her would care a lot about getting them back, since all that was left behind were a just a few items. But darned if she didn’t keep throwing those clothes on the floor, and wore the same pair of jeans for about a MONTH, no doubt to show that by golly, no one was going to “make” her do anything.  Seriously! I remember the jeans well, because they had a peacock embroidered on one leg…

I’m a longtime fan of the Love and Logic series of parenting books and CDs, and “logical” parenting in general, but any parent who tries to teach logical lessons needs to realize, if a successful outcome depends on a kid acting in a certain way, the lesson can backfire. But when it’s just the parent involved in a consequence, it works.  For example,  if a child disrespects a parent while a parent is driving them somewhere, the parent can do numerous logical things that are great consequences but that don’t depend on any predictable actions from the child–  the parent can pull over to the side of the road and wait a few minutes or longer until the child calms down;  the parent can turn the car around and drive home, telling the child he/she will not be going to that activity; the parent can say they are not providing transportation to the next scheduled activity, etc.   Nothing is required of the child in return– the parent is simply saying, through their actions, “If I’m not treated with respect while I’m doing such and such for you, then I’m just not going to do such and such.  I’m taking care of myself, I’m not allowing myself to be treated badly.”  Does the success of that “technique” depend on the kid not ever disrespecting the parent again? No.  You hope the child will learn from that incident to be respectful in the future, but if not, you just repeat your actions the next time the disrespect is shown, and are a success every time because you are showing your child that you are taking care of yourself.  And, you are teaching that actions have consequences. 

When kids’ actions are an “expected” part of the outcome, beware. One of Love and Logic’s well-worn “success” stories/teaching tools is how one of the book’s authors used to fight with his kids about bedtime, but everything worked out just peachy keen once he started telling them they could stay up as late as they wanted. The first night of their new-found freedom, they stayed up real late, and were so tired the next day at school, it was a beautiful lesson learned.  No more fighting over bedtime, and the very next night and every night from then on, the kids got to bed at earlier bedtimes, on their own, because they didn’t like the way they felt when they were tired the next day.  Well, la-dee-freakin’-da.  I seriously wonder if that really happened.  Both of my kids, who have very different personalities from each other, often stay up late on school nights, and are very tired the next day, but only once in awhile do they ever put two and two together, that if they got more sleep, they’d feel better the next day.  I quit fighting with them about bedtime long ago, but the “logical” outcome is only a sweet dream…

Kids, God bless their creative, independent souls, are unpredictable, which a lot of parenting authors probably don’t want us to believe.  Many kids will and do outsmart the “pat answers”, the books and TV therapists who think they know it all, and even outsmart us when we think we’ve come up with something original.  That doesn’t mean we can’t keep trying to teach our kids lessons, but when we do we need to have our eyes wide open, being honest with ourselves about our children and thinking about what to do “what if” a child’s actions don’t go as we’ve planned.  Are we really prepared to deal with Plan B?  If not, does our original plan need to change?

My friend Bob once tried to teach a logical lesson to his eldest son.  The son was scheduled to have a much-anticipated out of town sleepover with his younger brothers at Grandma’s but found out, just before he was to leave, that some friends were playing football in the park that evening, and had invited him to play. He badly wanted to go, as he didn’t often get invited to these gatherings and told his Dad that he didn’t want to go to Grandma’s.  His Dad was very disappointed in this but rather than saying flat out no, he told him, “Okay, if that’s what you want, then the entire sleepover has to be cancelled, because you need to be there to help out with your brothers, but you are going to be the one to break the news to Grandma, who is really looking forward to this, and you have to tell your brothers, who are also looking forward to this.”  Bob figured it would cause him to think twice about the consequences of his selfish intentions, and choose to go to Grandma’s.  He thought he knew his son pretty well. But, his son chose football, much to his Grandma’s, his brothers’ and his dad’s disappointment, not to mention his mom’s, who was looking forward to a kid-free weekend!

Some child development experts would say that Dana, Bob and I should be glad our kids “don’t fit the mold”, that they are unpredictable, independent thinkers who think outside the box.  These kinds of kids will be “the leaders of tomorrow” I once read, the entrepreneurs, the ones not afraid to do things differently. 

If that’s really the case, then I guess I’m gonna have two very successful kids in the future, because actions keep defying logic around here on a daily basis…

New Uncool Mother’s Day Gifts!

Just in time for Mother’s Day– new women’s tees at The Uncool Shop! I designed ’em and I think they’re much more chic than the previous ones– new fonts, several new V-necks in gray, black and white (or you can change them to make them whatever color you need) plus a new regular tee that has hearts instead of the “O’s” in the word, “Uncool Mom” (see below for snippets of a couple of the new designs).  The new regular tee is less than $12 and the new V-necks range from $16-19. And, until May 8th, you can get free shipping on any order over $30 with the code, MOTHERSDAY12. Click “The Uncool Shop” on the right-hand sidebar to order and to see more– there are still laptop cases, umbrellas and aprons in the shop, too! Paypal accepted!

Time for a Coffee Brake

When I first noticed the twitching, it didn’t alarm me much.  I was sitting in church and glanced down at my left hand, resting on my leg. My left thumb was moving side to side slightly, without me telling it to do so. Weird, I thought, but we all sometimes get unexplainable twitches, twinges or pains that end up never happening again and not amounting to anything, right? I moved my hand and the twitching stopped. But when the twitching happened again the next day, I took more notice.  I remembered Michael J. Fox talking about his early signs of Parkinson’s disease—didn’t he say it began with hand twitching? I consulted the Internet, which is where we all go to get a good scare whenever we need more medical information, and it confirmed my suspicions. Though Fox’s first twitches were in his pinkie finger, when I Googled “thumb twitching” and “symptoms of Parkinson’s”, it all seemed to fit together. “Twitching stops when you apply pressure to the hand”.  Yep, that’s me.  I started visualizing me breaking the news to my family after the diagnosis…I would have never imagined this particular affliction happening to me…I could see my kids being sad at first, then angry and embarrassed at their twitching mom in public…

I told Andy what was going on.  He was concerned, but lifted my spirits a bit by saying, “Oh, I’ve had that happen before—haven’t you? Sometimes that happens to me for two or three days– my thumb will twitch, and then it goes away.”  He figured it was just stress, or nerves…no big deal…guess he hadn’t consulted the great Google. But I moved on, hoping it would truly be no big deal.

The twitching didn’t stop after 2-3 days. It kept going, and got more frequent. What was once only something I’d notice a couple times a day became constant. Whenever my left hand was at rest, that thumb would start moving, wider and more pronounced, like some alien somewhere was pulling a string and moving it side to side. I’d be at a stoplight, or sitting at my desk, or lying in bed, and I could have been playing a thumb drum at the same time.  Even when I would press my thumb into the steering wheel or press it hard into my mattress so that the twitching would stop, I could still feel a pulsating sensation.  It was SO ANNOYING…not to mention making me more and more worried, and Andy, too.  I’d catch it happening and show him, like some freakish party trick.  “Whoa, there it goes—check it out,” I’d say.  But after a week, just when I was about to make a doctor’s appointment, it stopped.   And boy did it feel good.  My whole arm and hand felt liberated.  A couple days later, it started up again. Why???? I vaguely remembered one of the “other things” mentioned online as a possible cause of thumb twitching—“caffeine”.  Is it possible I didn’t have any coffee on those “twitch-free” days? I went back over what I could remember about the previous weekend…it was possible, but…I’ve been drinking coffee for so long, why wouldn’t I have been twitching all along? I dismissed that notion, and went right on drinking coffee and twitching and worrying for another week, too busy and too scared to make a doctor appointment. 

Just when I had had enough and even Allison was asking me to make the call, I imagined going to the doctor and paying for a visit only to have him ask me, “Have you tried cutting out caffeine?” I thought I better make a concerted effort to do that before tapping into our limited health insurance dollars.  Besides, I hadn’t really stuck to giving up anything for Lent yet, and coffee sounded like a good candidate for self-denial.  Something I really enjoyed but didn’t need…

And so, the next morning I didn’t have any of the pot of Starbucks Ground Breakfast Blend that Andy had brewed.  And the twitching stopped.  And the following day, I denied myself my favorite pastime once again, and still, no twitching.  And I mean none. No half-hearted twitches, no pulsating feeling, not even a slight tingle. Nothing. I haven’t had real coffee since mid-March, and I’ve had zero thumb twitching since then as well.  Even after Easter when I started drinking…wince…DECAF (which still includes a tiny amount of caffeine), no twitching!  So, even though Internet info caused me to worry unnecessarily, it also gave me the information I needed to figure out what was really going on. (I read further, and apparently too much caffeine can be the cause of “twitchy eye” as well!)  It’s hard to be a Decaf Drinker now, and hard for Andy, too, because he’s drinking it right along with me.  Did you know at most coffee shops, there’s only ONE flavor choice for decaf? The indignation! And, it’s harder now to “wake up” in the morning, but I’m just going to have to find another way, like GETTING MORE SLEEP…what a concept…

Meanwhile, around the same time I gave up real coffee, my oldest teen started getting “into” it.  (Well, if you consider “frappes” to be “real” coffee…)  Around here, going to Starbucks before or after school, or after a movie, is “the place to see and be seen” for teens, it’s like the “Peach Pit” or “Arnold’s” of the millennial generation… so naturally I guess many teens are developing an affinity for anything served by the java giant…coffee, tea, cake balls, indie music…Recently Allison was so motivated to try to stay more focused and awake in classes, she made me a grocery list of breakfast items that included more high-protein choices, like “spicy chicken biscuits”, and, bottled Starbucks Mocha Frappucino, “a lowfat, creamy blend of Starbucks coffee and milk”.  Hmmm…I read the Nutrition Facts before placing it in my shopping cart…20% RDA for calcium? I went for it, and soon every morning I’d hear the sound of the  blender as I walked into the kitchen, as she made her own frothy “frappe” with crushed ice and half of the bottled coffee mixture, and poured it into a tall glass.  I was so amazed and thrilled this was motivating her to get up earlier in the morning, I didn’t care that it was also starting her down Espresso Road, just like I did as a teen, first starting with the sweet-yet-wimpy General Foods’ International “Café Vienna” and ending up years later with a twitching left thumb and so loving coffee I even re-heat it after it has sat in Andy’s “Dad Can Fix Anything” mug for several days,  just so I can drink it as soon as possible in the morning and won’t have to take time to make a new batch…

But when Emmie grabbed one of the Frappuccinos the other day and happily downed it, I wondered if I, and our society, have truly hit a new low.  “You actually like it?” I asked my 13-year-old.  I mean, underneath all that sugar and milk, there really is coffee, and your tongue definitely notices it, bitter after-taste and all…she nodded yes as she slurped away, then reminded me of the “Reach” auctions that used to take place when she was in elementary school, where, at the end of the year, they got to use their “workles”, or points they’d earned for good behavior/good ideas throughout the year, and bid on items the kids would bring.  Each kid got to bring three items.   It originally was supposed to be items from home that the kids didn’t want any more, you know, kind of a “one person’s trash is another’s treasure” kind of thing, but over the years, the kids started bringing “new” stuff, like candy and soda, which would earn the seller lots more workles than, say, a used Nerf football.  The kids took note of what items brought in the most workles each year, and those items became, for many, the standard thing to bring to the auction.  Some of the highest bids always went to four-packs of…you guessed it…Starbucks Frappucinos.  “I saw lots of kids use their entire year’s worth of workles, like 2,000, to get Starbucks Frappucinos,” Emmie recalled. 

“How young were the kids who’d win them?” I asked.

“Sometimes, fourth grade,” she said.

“One Day On Earth” Premieres Today

Remember the 10-10-10 global film project in which my family and I participated? It was the first-ever simultaneous filming event occurring in every country of the world. Well, today is the worldwide debut of the finished film, entitled “One Day on Earth”. All over the world, the film is being shown at free screening events in theatres, cafes, churches, high school and college auditoriums—click here (or go to onedayonearth.org) for a list of cities/venues/times (make sure to scroll down to see the list).  Unfortunately, none are close to the Dallas area so I’m going to have to wait until it comes out on DVD.  I have no idea if any of our family’s footage made it in the final cut— from all the videographers, over 3,000 hours of video was submitted. 

If anyone recalls, we spent 10-10-10 on Amelia Island, Florida, on a family vacation (including our foreign exchange student).  I submitted footage of a sunrise at the beach, Emmie riding a bike, all the girls hanging out by the pool, a turtle walking slowing into the bushes, and someone high up in the air on a “beach sky bike” (or is it called a parasailing bike?).  After viewing the film’s promotional trailers, one might think my subject matter is trivial compared to the images of soldiers marching in North Korea, a homeless man in France, or the American woman holding her newborn infant, but I felt that anything submitted is just as important as the next.   It ALL happened on the same day, it’s all part of one story, so I would think One Day on Earth would want to include mundane as well as extraordinary things.  It’s mind-blowing to see what was going on at the same time that Emmie was simply showing her mom how she could dive into a swimming pool—many miles away, people were having a barbeque in Mozambique, and a woman was about to be married in Kosovo.  So, content-wise, we may have a chance, but video skills? Well, I don’t think that I and my non-professional Canon camera stand much of a chance(although one of the film’s editors did ask me to mail in all of my original footage after I uploaded some of it to their site).  But at least my footage is part of the vast One Day on Earth archives.  And I think it will be a great learning experience for the kids when they finally get to see the complete film.

If any of you get to see it, let me know what it’s like! Happy Earth Day!

If your kids think you're cool, you must be doing something wrong…