The Ten Commandments of Teenage Girls

I recently did a quick scan of the book, “Chicken Soup for the Mother’s Soul”: 101 Stories to Open the Hearts and Rekindle the Spirits of Mothers and all I have to say is, they don’t have a clue about what it’s like to be the mother of a teenage daughter (which makes sense, considering the two main editors are men and that contributors include Barbara Bush and Joan Rivers– when you have servants to help you out, I don’t think you go through the same thing as the average American mom.) It’s going to take heartier soup than that to rekindle this mother’s spirit.  And pretty much every mother that I run into lately who, like me, happens to be the mother of a teenage girl, could use some “re-kindling”, since they are either pulling their hair out on a daily basis or quietly seething on the inside at the pariah they’ve become in their daughter’s eyes.  I know, I know, it’s supposed to be a developmental phase that they eventually grow out of, but while we’re there, it’s not fun, and it’s hard to stay upbeat when that teenager is continually trying to rain on your parade.  With that, I offer my own “Fried Chicken Soup for the Souls of Mothers of Teenage Girls”:
The Ten Commandments of Teenage Girls
1.) Thou Shalt Not Talk to Me if at all possible.
2.) If I speak to you, don’t answer with anything I might find weird or embarrassing.
3.) Thou Shalt Not Talk to My Friends, but if you do, pleeeeese don’t try to say anything humorous.
4.) Thou Shalt Not Wear Anything I Don’t Approve Of, and my fashion preferences can change on a daily– no make that hourly– basis.
5.) Always remember that you grew up in the Dark Ages, so you know nothing about anything.
6.) Thou Shalt Not Sing, Dance, or Basically Do Anything That Reveals That You Are a Real Human Being With Emotions–  and God help you if you cry for any reason.
7.) Thou Shalt Not Ask Me to Dress for the Weather- remember: I’d rather freeze to death than compromise my fashion sense with something practical like a coat or gloves, unless they happen to have designer labels that everyone can see.
8.) Thou Shalt Not Suggest Any “Good Books” or Movies– if you liked them, they must be awful.
9.) Thou Shalt Not Expect Me To Like Anything You Cook.  Even if I do, I won’t tell you.
10.) In spite of my attitude, Thou Shalt Make My Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner, Buy My Clothes, Pay For All My Lessons And Activities, Drive Me To All Those Activities, And Be There To Pick Me Up When They’re Over.  Oh, and don’t be late.

I modeled after God in choosing ten, but please feel free to reply with more (after all, teenage daughters can be more demanding than God!)

Behavior Charts, Reward Tickets, and Cold Hard Cash

Remember that politically correct name someone came up with for “housewife” several years ago, so a stay-at-home mom would have something sophisticated to put on a resume? “Domestic Engineer”.
Hah, hah, just like “Sanitation Engineer” for a garbage collector or “Entertainment Specialist” for a stripper.  I didn’t give the words much more thought…until recently.  As I write for this blog, I realize that I’m always looking at situations and trying to “invent” a better way to do things, especially at home. A real domestic engineer, I guess… or behavior engineer.

One of the “inventions” I’ve been working on for a long time is a reward system for good behavior and good habits.  It’s a challenge to make it “one size fits all” with more than one child, because each are wired differently.   What is a reward for one child may not work for the other.  And as they grow older, what they once considered to be a reward is no longer that.

I started with one of those pre-printed charts with stickers when my oldest was around four years old– you know, the ones where a child get stars for making their bed, brushing their teeth, not putting the cat’s tail into the Playdough Fun Factory… It worked for about a week.  Once the novelty wore off, she wasn’t interested. 

The chart was soon replaced by a six-page “catalog” I created, with pictures of items to be earned by accumulating varying amounts of reward stickers– prizes as simple as Pop Rocks and a Beanie Baby on up to a trip to the circus and a coveted Easter dress.  As she filled up the pages with stickers, she could see herself getting closer to her goals.  First she went for the candy, then the Easter dress.  She was going to bed without a fuss, arguing less, making her bed.  “Have I got a system for you!” I remember proudly telling a friend.  Hah! Famous last words.  After she earned the dress, everything else paled in comparison.

Not to be defeated, domestic engineer mom then came up with “Kid Tix”– pre-printed tickets to earn for good behavior (yes, I had too much fun with my computer and printer) which my daughter could use to shop at the “Kid Tix” store, a store I would set up in our bay window at the end of the week, with a few small items I’d purchased.  She couldn’t wait until I’d pull the curtains to reveal what was on that window ledge.  Definitely fun and effective at first, but too hard for Mom to keep “fresh”, so that idea joined the others in File 13.

Eventually, all this evolved into an allowance system we originally called “Behavior Dollars” (now we just call it allowance).  My younger daughter was mature enough for it by the time we started and participated whole heartedly.  It’s worked really well to help shape good behavior in her (and some in her sister) and is a great consequence tool for sibling fighting.

How our allowance system works
Basically, you pay a set amount of allowance at the end of every week, but the kids can lose dollars each day until Payday for various “infractions”–  not making the bed ($1), clothes left on the floor ($2), bath towel left on the floor ($2), lights left on ($1 per light), shoes left around the house (50 cents per shoe).  We keep a white board on the fridge to keep track.  If they hit their sibling or name call, I remind them that $1 now goes from their allowance to the siblings’s (this especially has worked good in the car, when it’s hard to separate them when fighting.) The perpetrator usually stops, since she doesn’t want to keep making the other one rich.)  Rare is the week when either one earns their entire allowance but sometimes one of them gets close.

Once they’ve earned money, we allow them to choose how to spend it– another good thing about this reward system.  It gives them life lessons in real world money management, about making good and bad choices with it (“So you want to dump all your money into The Claw at CiCi’s Pizza? Well, I wouldn’t, because it’s set up for you to lose, but if that’s what you want to do, go ahead…”) We pay for their needs and they pay for their wants (as long as it’s not a live animal, a tongue piercing, or a Red Rider BB gun…). Sometimes they amaze me, like
giving their own money to charity (and it means so much more when it’s their own!).  To take the whole money management thing a step further, my husband even did a “loan” once with our older daughter, charging interest and late fees– surprisingly, she paid it off pretty quickly.  And how many adults do you know who still don’t get the hang of that?! (Um… I think that’s one of the reasons why we’re in a recession?)  Anyway, at ages 9 and 13 they both had “junior bank accounts” at the credit union, complete with their own debit cards.  Guess who has saved money and who hasn’t? 

Maybe I should make one of those “catalogs” again for the teenager– it will have one page, with a picture of a nice used car on it.  Maybe she’ll have enough stickers on it by the time she goes to college…



Uncool Hands

I went naked over 10 years ago.  Naked hands, that is.  No more soaking in pink solution and breathing in air that comes with a warning label.  No more long, polished fingernails in colors like Chick Flick Cherry or Blushingham Palace.  Ever since, it’s just been clip, file, and (sometimes) buff.  And done by myself, I might add.

It was sort of an act of freedom and defiance, I guess,  like when someone decides to go bra-less– only the end result isn’t as gross.  While other moms worried about looking flawless (a common malady in the South), it just seemed ridiculous to be the mother of young children and try to maintain perfect-looking hands when those hands were digging through toy boxes, cleaning out guinea pig cages and strapping in car seats on a daily basis.  My smooth, perfectly polished nails would last about 4 minutes, the time it took to walk out of the nail salon, open the car door, and attempt to un-jam my cup holder due to a crayon that had melted underneath. Who needs the extra stress?

“Going naked” was also an act of love.  It was definitely difficult, almost cruel, to fish Barbie shoes and pennies out of my toddler’s constantly curious mouth using hands that sported dagger-nails, not to mention trying to deftly maneuver a pair of tweezers when removing splinters.  So I whacked, and never looked back.

Oh, I’ll admit, I’ve had a few manicures over the years (people do give them as gifts), but they’re still hard to maintain.  A mom just keeps using her hands, only in different ways.  Now I’m sewing on Girl Scout badges and toe shoe straps, helping to glue down Science Fair projects and making batches and batches of Chex Party Mix.  And picking up 26 boxed lunches for the Jr. High pop choir. And helping my 10-year-old play the piano.  And typing this blog.

I’ve grown to like the clean, simple look of my hands. And every time I look down on those hands, I am reminded of the sacrifice I made a long time ago.  Definitely a constant personal symbol of being a good, involved and engaged mom, and a reminder to smile when my kids try to make me feel like I’m not.

But my toes? They’re decked out in a lovely shade called  “Chocolate Shake-speare”.

To Practice or not To Practice

Both my daughters have taken piano lessons.  The older one started in late second grade, and after two and a half years, when it looked like one or both of us was going to get seriously hurt from the battles that raged over practicing, I let little sister take her place at lessons, on a gray winter day when big sister refused to go.  It was a no-brainer.  Little sister was dying to start– she’d been sitting at the piano and “pretend” playing for months, only her pretend sounded pretty good compared to the cantankerous banging made by most 7-year-olds– so it wasn’t too tough of a decision to let her start a year earlier than I’d planned.  She walked proudly down the street with me to the piano teacher’s house and was so excited to get her own music.

Three years later, she plays like someone with six years of experience, but hates to practice almost as much as her big sister did!
“Why don’t you just let her quit?” say both my husband and my mother, who can’t stand to hear her cry, and who, I might add, never played piano. But quitting piano won’t be happening anytime soon, due to several reasons.  One, even though Emmie hates practicing, she really does like to play, as evidenced by the fact that whenever she sees a piano at a church or someone’s house, she loves to sit down and entertain.  She’s proud that she has a “repertoire” of several memorized songs.  Two, I won’t let her quit because it became evident pretty quickly that she has a gift in playing and memorization.  Third, many adults tell me they wished their parents hadn’t let them quit piano. Fourth, most of her practices go pretty well.  She only melts down once in awhile.  And last but not least, we have a deal– she gets to participate in something that she really wants to do (gymnastics) as long as she keeps up with what mom wants her to do (piano).  So on days when she screams that she wants to quit, I say fine.  We’ll call the gym and quit gymnastics, too.  And some days she wants to do that. But after she sleeps on it, she forgets all about being mad. 

I thank my friend Gabe Meadows for that last piece of advice.  He had an “agreement” with his son, Mark, who is now studying at Johns Hopkins University and has a growing music career (check out his great jazz CD at  Mark was Emmie’s first piano teacher and, like her, had a knack for piano but hated piano practicing when he was a kid.  Gabe let Mark participate in sports (Mark’s first love) if he stayed with piano “until he was 18”.  (Mark says he really didn’t like to practice until he was about 13!)  In addition to having a CD, Mark has won many music contests and received numerous awards, not to mention being paid to play some pretty nice gigs!

I remember I hated practicing, too.  I took lessons for eight years, and 9th grade was when practicing started to mean a whole lot more, as I was accompanying choirs and friends in contests and I sure didn’t want to fail in front of them.  It was so much fun to be an accompanist, that working on a song over and over through practicing was, while not exactly “fun”–  very satisfying once you get it right.

So I think if you have a child that hates practicing an instrument, he’s just like most kids.  If left to their own decision, most kids would probably quit.  Parents have to decide if it’s worth continuing– does the child have a gift? Is it a skill you’d really like them to have? If so, strike a deal.  (Or offer an incentive for good practicing– I used to use Little Debbie’s Snack Cakes… )

And, contrary to what I heard a sports radio personality once say, that no one ever plays piano once they become an adult– people really do keep it up.  My brother has never stopped playing, even though he’s a photographer by day.  I LOVE to play.  Whenever I can find that elusive window of free time, that is…