Category Archives: Raising Teenagers

WAHM on the Run: A New Approach to Ending Arguments and Getting Older Kids to Be More Responsible

If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times: Moms (or Dads) of teens (and other kids that try their patience) need a place they can retreat to, at a moment’s notice, to get away from them.  To think before flying too far off the handle.  To de-escalate a situation, eliminate whining and cut the exchange of words short, with the promise of discussion at a calmer time.  To be alone in order to come up with really good consequences for certain behavior rather than “grounding them from everything for life” in the heat of the moment.  In other words, when the kids are too old to “go to their rooms” for a time out, you need to go to yours. Or take a walk outside.  Just get away… only, sometimes that’s not so fun to go to your room, like when your husband hasn’t picked up his underwear and socks for awhile… and, kids can still knock on your door.  Or yell outside it. Or worse, kick it. (Nothing makes a defiant kid madder than to have a door shut in his/her face!) And, while going outside can be refreshing, sometimes it’s too dark to walk, or the weather’s bad.  And again, kids can follow you  (no, let me re-phrase that…they will follow you!).  So I must say, once my husband gifted me with a laptop almost two years ago, it turned out to be the gateway for another kind of “parent retreat”– I’ve been having fun discovering all the local places that have free WiFi, good coffee, and long hours.  Lately, thanks to a nifty carry bag said husband got me for Christmas, that laptop, plus my planner, phone, and a couple of books, are “ready to go” at a moment’s notice, and I head to Starbucks, the public library, or other local spots, and take my work on the road.

It’s been interesting– I can now tell you which Starbucks within five miles of my house (and there are 10) has the most power sources, which are the least crowded at certain times of the day, which give you the most privacy, which have the best tables on which to work, and which ones have the best lo-carb food selections.  I can also tell you the best spots to get work done at the library and which coffee is the best out of their machine. I am a Freebirds Fanatic, a “My Panera” member, and carry a Cup of Joe punch card from Corner Bakery. 

While I haven’t gone to any of those places enough for their staff to know me by name, they might soon, because I’m thinking of making my office-away-from-home a regular gig.  At least in the mornings. 

See, as kids get older, they need to take on more responsibility, but I think when you’re a Stay At Home Mom (SAHM) or Work at Home Mom (WAHM), they get short-changed a little on this. Because they assume that because you’re home all the time, you can always be their emergency back-up.  Not only are they more forgetful on remembering things because they always think there’s the slight chance Mom might bring to school whatever they forgot, they get lax in other areas as well.  They head to the school nurse’s office for minor hurts, not major.  They run late to school more often.  Did they miss their ride with Dad? No worries, they think, Mom is still at home and she can drive.  It doesn’t matter that that’s a waste of gas, that Dad goes right by their schools on his way to work…and Mom doesn’t.  The important thing is that Mom is there.  Did they “sleep in” and decide to skip a couple classes? Well, good ‘ol Work-At-Home-Mom is there to take them in the middle of the morning so at least they can sashay in and make it on time for third period.  No thought is ever given that maybe Mom has better things to do than re-arrange her schedule to accommodate theirs. But of course she will, because she doesn’t want kids lazing around the house all day!  (And as far as us using grounding, phone gone, etc. as punishments for being late or missing classes? Hasn’t changed the behavior!)

I’ve seen miraculous things happen on those rare days when I’ve had early meetings outside of the house.  The kids seem to move a little faster. They know Mom is going to be gone “all morning” so they get their act together.  There is no “sleeping in”, no whining to Mom about how they’re-running-late-so-could-she-PLEASE-make-them-a-lunch… On those days, things happen the way they should for two teens.  They take on more responsibility. So I’ve decided I’m going to re-create that scenario as often as possible from now on and start heading out each morning, whether I have a meeting or not, before the rest of the family crew is scheduled to leave, and head to one of my trusty offices-away-from-home. Which means I’d have to get there pretty early, but that’s okay– my favorite Starbucks opens at 5!  True, that means I’ll have to spend at least a couple dollars each time (I’ll take a tall regular of the bold Roast of the Day, thank you very much!) but it will be worth it.  I think it will force my kids to be more responsible on a regular basis and I will probably get more work done as well.  And if my husband (or child) calls to tell me that one of them “missed the boat”, oh, well, I guess I’ll just spend that day out. Maybe I’ll keep a duffel bag filled with workout gear in my car so I can head to exercise class in between stops at my “offices”…  

Does that make some of you sad, thinking I’m going to be missing out on those June Cleaver, stay-at-home moments by not being present when my family leaves for the day? I’ve had plenty of those moments. Of smiling and waving to the car as it backs out of the driveway; of running after it with shoes or lunchboxes or hairbrushes in my hands; of having crispy bacon or freshly-baked chocolate chip muffins ready for husband and children as they pass thru the kitchen on their way out the door…but in the sitcom of my life, kids being routinely late to class or skipping them all together is much more serious business than smiling and saying, “Wait ’til your father gets home.” And since our school district’s rules on unexcused absences are ridiculously lenient and aren’t providing the “natural consequences” that I’d hoped, this June Cleaver is going to have to go away.  Literally.  (But I still plan to hug each family member every morning before I do…)

Wake Me When This Trend Is Over: Teens in Sleepwear

Have you noticed the latest sign that our great nation is taking yet another step toward being an “idocracy”? Teens wearing sleepwear.  All day, instead of “regular” clothes.  I first noticed it last month while shopping at Target—a couple checkout aisles over, a girl and her mom were talking loudly and getting ready to empty their cart onto the checkout stand. I think the girl had forgotten to get something and was wanting to go back out into the store.  She was dressed in full flannel pajamas, pants and top, with slippers on her feet, and wearing a short winter coat. At first I felt sorry for her. ‘I wonder if she just got checked out of a teen psychiatric ward of a hospital,’ I thought.  (Seriously, that’s what I thought!)  But then I remembered the fuzzy slipper craze from a few years ago, when kids were wearing that kind of footwear to school.   When I got to the car, where Allison was waiting, I asked her if wearing pajamas was a new fashion trend.  “No, why would you think that?” she said, annoyed. When I told her what I’d seen, she told me that was ridiculous, and she’d not seen anyone dressed like that at her school.   Emmie said the same when I asked her at home.  But a few days later, I saw this, an article from the Wall Street Journal online( that goes into detail about the pajama and loungewear craze among teens “across the country”.  ‘Aha!’ I thought.  My hunch was right!

“Now what do you say?” I asked my girls. “You’re crazy!” they said.  Then in the car one day, we saw a teenage boy walking down the street in pajama pants, and then an editorial appeared last Saturday in the newspaper written by an area teacher. “The Pajamification of America must stop,” wrote third-grade teacher Evan Engwall in the Dallas Morning News’ Viewpoints section. He’s been noticing the trend just like me, and chalks it up as another extension of the growing trend of informality in American society as well as purposely driven by the fashion industry.  (The WSJ article mentioned above cites Abercrombie and Fitch, Victoria Secret’s “Pink”, and Aeropostale as some of the retailers who are promoting pajama/loungewear looks. )

Allison finally admitted that a friend of hers wears pajama pants to school a lot, “but I think he’s just being lazy, not trying to be fashionable.” Um, knowing this kid, I think she’s wrong.   And I’ll bet there are more just like him.

At first I was surprised that the school allows it. Then again, they’re usually more focused on making sure skin is not shown, whether via short shorts, sagging jeans, or low-cut, spaghetti-strapped tops—at least flannel pajamas are usually  modest.  But good grief—what I’ve seen is just about the height of sloppiness.  And yet educators are worried that too many kids aren’t college-ready or job-ready when they leave 12th grade? What’s wrong with this picture?  Besides, how can teachers have a “Pajama Day” as an incentive for good behavior or good grades when the kids are wearing them every day already?

I’m also surprised that any parent allows it, especially if they foot the bills for their kids’ clothes. They’re letting their kids go out in public like this? Engwall has noticed “pajama people” in airports, attending soccer games, everywhere…

Engwall says one sure way to kill the trend is if adults start following it.  But I couldn’t do that. I don’t want to look like a lunatic, and I sure don’t want to wear a bra under PJs.

Maybe we ought to just leave it alone and see it as a statement, that kids today are just too stressed out, busy and sleep deprived from activity-filled schedules and mounds of homework that they might as well just walk around in pajamas…  ? Yep, there were the Baby Boomers, the Gen Xers, and now, the Pajama Generation…

Empty Promises: Are We Failing Our Kids By Telling Them They Can “Do It All”?

In January and February, it’s “roll out the red carpet” time here in North Texas for area middle schools, junior highs and high schools.  Which means if you’re entering one of those illustrious institutions next fall, you get to attend a welcome night at said school, and if you already attend one of those schools and are involved in any elective/extracurricular activity that can “show off” in three minutes or less, you are invited, sometimes required, to be a part of this welcome.  And if you’re a parent of a kid in one of these categories, you attend, too, to sit on gym bleachers and either learn (“Umm, is that a beard and sideburns I see on that senior?”) or watch your child perform (“Should I wear my photo button?”).  Over the past six years that I’ve been attending these dog and pony shows, one mantra has been repeated louder than any other.  No, it’s not “Hooray for Making it This Far” or even “Our School is the Best!”, it’s “You Can Do It All!!”  To further underline this, coaches and administrators take to the microphone again and again to point out those students who are obviously involved in more than one activity: the drummer who’s also wearing a cheerleader uniform; the student government member who’s wearing a volleyball T-shirt.  Some kids are active in three or even four major activities.  Or more.  Having one child in jr. high and one in high school, both who perform in various groups at welcome night, I’ve heard the message again and again over the last couple weeks, so much that it made me want to scream.  But, somebody else was already screaming.  It was a principal, loudly informing the crowd as if she was at a political rally: “WE’RE NOT GOING TO TELL YOU THAT YOU CAN ONLY DO ONE THING! HERE, WE ENCOURAGE YOU TO BE INVOLVED IN AS MANY ACTIVITIES AS POSSIBLE!” She went on to say something about how we all know that “an involved kid is a kid who keeps out of trouble”.  (Thunderous applause. Cue the orchestra next, who’d picked out their best catchy rock song to play…) 

I just shook my head, because I now know all too well that this kind of almost maniacal encouragement by the schools, that our kids should get involved in numerous electives/extracurriculars, does not come with the coordination and support from the schools that’s needed for a plan like this to work well, and our kids suffer as a result.   They naturally want to participate in as much “fun stuff” as possible and so they happily buy into this “do it all” message, yet at the same time, they’re expected to get all their homework done every night or face detention the next day; get in trouble if they nod or fall asleep in class from staying up late and doing that homework; and get good grades or risk not getting into the college of their (or their parents’) choice.  The unsympathetic demands on today’s “involved” kids are incredible.

Case in Point: Our 17-year-old is currently involved in drill team, theatre and choir. All the drill team and choir kids were highly encouraged to try out a couple months ago for the school’s annual musical– this year, our high school is one of only a handful across the nation who have been granted the rights to produce “Phantom of the Opera”, so it’s a big cast, and all who made it in, including my daughter, are very excited to be a part of this special show.  School administrators likely approved it because it would be not only a phenomenal experience for the kids, but a huge feather in the school’s cap, a public relations gem, that has already generated media attention. So, with all that in mind, you’d think that teachers, coaches, etc. might give the kids involved some breaks.  Several nights the kids have rehearsed until very late (my child didn’t get home until about 11 last night; for others, it was well past midnight) as is expected, especially the week before the show opens.  Our daughter said she couldn’t do her homework between acts as she was always either changing costumes, doing her hair, or helping others with their hair and costumes, and so around midnight, she settled in here at the house to finally work on some physics.  Yet she was still expected to be at drill team practice at 7:25 a.m. the next morning, as she is on every school day for the next several weeks…and she is just getting over a very nasty bout with brochitis, so what she really needed was a good night’s sleep…and I just read a quote from Dr. Oz about how people who get less than six hours of sleep a night have a 50% higher chance of getting viral infections…but drill team “contest” is coming up soon, and there’s lots of work to be done…

Second Case in Point: Our 7th grader started off her first year of jr. high this past fall with a bang.  She was fired up about being involved in as many activities as she possibly could and was determined to do good in school as well.  She made “A” team volleyball; made the top band; earned first chair in the percussion section, being told she was “the first 7th grader anyone could remember” that’s beaten out the 8th graders; participated in choir; auditioned for “Encore” (the “Glee/New Directions” of her jr. high) and earned a spot in that; ran for an office in choir and made that; did respectably on the Cross Country team; and kept up her grades, not to mention participated in several activities outside of school.   At one point in the fall, she was assigned her first big jr. high class project, involving a lot of research, printing, cutting, and pasting.  I was pleased by the way she planned ahead, starting well in advance (over a week before the deadline) and worked on it every day, squeezing it in among all her activities.  Yet the night before the project was due, after coming home from playing in a volleyball game, she was still working on it. She worked until 1 a.m. and finally decided to go to bed and finish it in the morning. Which meant she would have to skip her weekly percussion sectional, a group class, scheduled for 7 a.m.  She finished her project, but a few hours later was notified that because she’d missed the sectional, she’d been dropped to last chair.  LAST CHAIR, which in her section is eight spots down from the top.  She dejectedly told me after school that day that she knew she’d probably never make it back to the top during the school year, no matter how hard she tried, because they don’t have chair tests that often…and I thought, this kind of punishment from a program who once told her, “You Can Do It All!” …???

It’s definitely time for administrators, teachers and parents to take a hard look at the messages they’re sending kids and how they’re following up on that message. For starters, can’t parents “just say no” when kids say they want to “do it all”? Well, it’s tough.  We say to our kids, “How can you?” and then they remind us of the numerous upperclassmen who were trotted out and praised mightily on welcome night, who appear to “do it all” and are alive to tell about it.  Kids figure, if that high school boy and girl can do it, so can I. And the parents let them give it a try…It’s not until the kids and parents are knee-deep (or is it waist-deep?) in several activities that we realize that “lifestyle” is a lot harder than it looks, and a lot harder to change.

As mentioned earlier, to help ease the pain of a
multitasking teen, there needs to be more coordination of schedules and sharing of information between coaches, directors, teachers and administrators.  Surely in this computer age there’s a way to at least coordinate activity and testing schedules.  For example, when football players, trainers, cheerleaders, band members and the drill team are required to be at an “away game” on a Thursday evening, from right after school until late at night, couldn’t teachers at least push their Friday quizzes or tests until the following Monday, or extend the Friday due date for a major project? Should kids really even have homework due on a Friday like that? 

At the same time, if administrators are going to keep using super-involved kids as examples of how to be a good, well-rounded high school student, then they also need to let them inform the newcomers, both kids and parents, how it’s really done so they can make more informed decisions when choosing classes, and get needed tips to help during the year.  Let us have a Q and A with those high-achieving kids. Let us find out about how they cope, or maybe how they don’t cope.  Are all of their core courses advanced? Do they have room in their schedule to attend tutoring, or have they had to hire a private tutor in order to keep up their grades? How much sleep do they get on average? Do they have a job? How do they handle all the fundraisers involved with their various activities? How do they stay organized? How do they keep up with basic stuff like keeping their room clean and doing laundry? (Our high school has just started a once-a-week class for freshmen called S.O.S., which brings in senior girls and boys to teach about how to be successful at the school, and I’m hoping that what they cover is similar to what I’m talking about…)

More than anything, I think we need to start valuing quality over quantity. If a kid is involved in only one, maybe two, activities, yet does them well, and keeps all their grades at a B or higher and manages to “stay out of trouble”, isn’t that praise-worthy? Isn’t that the kind of kid who’s probably the most balanced, because maybe they’re healthier, and maybe they’re also spending time with their families and friends, or exploring their community, or just enjoying life instead of being stressed-out all the time?

Might not make for a very exciting dog and pony welcome show, but it sure would be a meaningful one…

The Circle of Pride and Embarrassment

While I generally have an “I don’t worry about what people think about me” attitude, it’s funny that when you have kids, you do care about how they “show” in public, in part because you feel like their actions are a reflection of your parenting skills. You wince when they’re young and throw tantrums in Target, pick their nose while walking down the aisle during a wedding ceremony or point a finger at a stranger in a parade and yell out something brutally honest (“That man is HUGE!!”).  And you rejoice when they remember to say “Thank you” to Grandma, sing a song perfectly at a recital or run to greet you in front of school with a big hug.  I hope I never forget the time when Emmie and I were sitting in a bookstore coffee shop– I was looking through a stack of cookbooks and she was engrossed in one of her Rick Riordan novels, when all of a sudden she looked at me and my books and said, “I am so glad I have a Mom that cooks, and plans out all of our meals, because a lot of people don’t do that very much anymore.” Yes, I about fell off my chair at that sign of appreciation, and yes, the elderly couple walking past our table right at that moment almost dropped their lattes in astonishment, then offered some words of praise to both Emmie and me.  It was a proud moment and I think it made that elderly couple happy, too…

Of course as your kids get older, you hope for more and more proud public moments and less red-faced ones, and generally that has happened for us…but because of Emmie’s size, I realized the other day that we’re in a unique situation. 

See, because she’s very petite for her 13 years, she looks a lot younger.  Which would be great if she was auditioning for a TV show.  But in everyday situations, when people don’t know her age, it can look like we’re raising a veritable wild child.  The other day, a young mother was in the grocery checkout line behind Emmie and me, with a little girl sitting in the childseat of her cart.  And there was Emmie, in an Aerosmith shirt and “fashionably ripped” jeans, a bit of smudged mascara under her eyes, grabbing a tabloid and chatting to me about Chaz Bono, obviously knowing who he/she is and asking questions that anyone around could hear, and me answering her, then answering her questions about the next tabloid subject– I could see the mom noticing her and the checkout dude chuckling, and that’s when it suddenly struck me that they both probably thought she was 9 or 10 (or younger), and maybe they even thought I was one of those (gasp!) “loose” parents, letting my kid grow up too fast…and for the first time in a long time I felt a twinge of red-faced embarrassment…’Some parent I must look like,’ I thought.   

“Let’s put the magazine back,” I told her, trying to save face.  “Most of that stuff isn’t true anyway.”  I secretly wished Emmie would start humming “Jesus Loves Me” or turn and give the young mom a big grin so at least she could see that she had braces on…

Little did I know I would soon be giving Emmie something to wince about.  As we left the store, we passed a group of high schoolers studying at a table in the grocery store’s Starbucks, and I recognized several that I hadn’t seen in ages, kids who’d gone to elementary school with Allison, and I smiled and spoke to a couple of them as we passed.  When we got home,  Emmie went straight to Allison.  “Mom said hi to some of your friends at the store!!!” she gushed.  “She thinks she’s so cool!! It was soooo embarrassing!!!” 

The Last Official Day of Being a Kid

Announced the other day by Emmie, the day before her 13th birthday: “Today is my last official day of being a kid…that’s kind of sad.” I could have said something sage about how “13 is just a number” or “everyone should honor their ‘inner child’ no matter how old they get”, but I didn’t…I didn’t want to minimize the wiseness of her observation, because it’s true in a way.  Plus, the whole concept of a “last official day of being a kid” intrigued me… I thought back to what I might have been doing on mine…was I dreading another awkward day of 7th grade? (Thanks to the magic of the Internet, I pulled up a ’74 calendar.  The day before my 13th birthday was a weekday, a Friday.)  Was I lugging my snare drum case down the long flight of stairs to the jr. high band hall, trying not to hit anyone along the way? Was I looking forward to being the first among my friends to serve that new food called a “taco” at my upcoming slumber party? Did I fall asleep that night listening to Tony Orlando and Dawn on the radio? 

The “last official day of being a kid” ought to be marked with more fanfare than that, maybe by doing lots of “kid things”.  Like eating a popsicle, coloring with crayons and playing with Play Doh. Or singing Sesame Street songs or Eddie Coker tunes as loud as possible. Or watching old videos of “Bananas in Pajamas”, “Arthur”, or “Teletubbies”…Too bad it was raining on Emmie’s “last official day”, or else I would have encouraged her to at least go jump on our backyard trampoline…

It’s definitely a transition time for the mom of that about-to-be-13-year-old as well, especially when it’s the youngest child. Shouldn’t Mom mark it or commemorate it in some way, too? Maybe grab your child’s hand as you walk from the car into the grocery store– unless they’ve long ago told you to stop. Maybe play a certain board game one last time with your child, a game you’re about to give to Goodwill, like Scrabble Jr. or Chutes ‘n Ladders. Or maybe, go on a bike ride together…

Just when I thought Emmie’s “last day of being a kid” would come and go pretty uneventful for both her and me, something unexpected happened just before she was to head to bed.  A wail was heard from the bathroom, where she’d been taking a shower.  And it wasn’t “Dad!” or “Mom!” or the more hip “Hey, Pat!” she’s been taking a liking to lately, but a full blown “MOMMY!!” She ran out of the bathroom, bypassed her hero, Dad, and ran straight upstairs to find me. She was soaking wet, wrapped in a towel, shaking and squealing.  “I cut myself!!!” she cried, “and it won’t stop bleeding!” While I was thrilled she’d come to uncool me for help, I was also thankful, when I saw the blood, that I didn’t live in a country where I might have been forced to choose EMT as my profession. She’d sliced off a one-inch by one-half-inch piece of skin near her ankle while shaving, and the bleeding, raw layer of skin that was now looking back at me had me near-fainting. I felt a shiver run from my head to my feet.  But I remained totally calm, acting like some true first aid pro, having her elevate her leg and foot, grabbing a wad of Kleenex and pressing it hard against the wound, having her keep up the pressure while I rifled through a cabinet looking for First Aid cream and bandages. We used up a lot of Kleenex before I found the right stuff.

She was grateful when I finally made the bleeding stop and she could go to bed feeling better.  I was proud of myself for remembering what to do, and for doing a good job in spite of my aversion to blood.  And yes, I also realized that having “Mommy” bandage up a shaving wound may have been a pretty fitting way to commemorate the transition from 12 to 13.

Homecoming 101: Short Dresses and Stripper Poles

Some words of advice for parents of high school girls who are going to Homecoming (and this probably comes too late for most of you since we’re right in the middle of homecoming season): be prepared to spend a lot of time shopping for “just the right dress” if she’s going to the Homecoming dance, since most of the dressy dresses that have been offered in retail stores for teenage girls over the past several years don’t pass dress code.  In a school, that is.  Or probably by your own standards as well.  But they’d fit right in at a “gentleman’s club”!

I remember being amazed two years ago during Allison’s freshman year how so many dresses she tried on were so short, they didn’t pass when she stood up straight, arms hanging down at her sides to do the fingertip test– school dress code dictates that, standing that way, dresses or shorts can’t be shorter than the tips of the fingers.  Heck, these dresses were barely covering her underwear– and she’s not a tall person! And many more dresses that she tried on barely passed.  Ummm, could you maybe wear shorts with that? Pair a dress like that with the ultra high heels the girls favor these days and the look has “hooker chic” written all over it….When our exchange student shopped for a Homecoming dress with her friends last year, I forgot to remind her about “the fingertip test”, but looking back on our early language barriers, I’m not sure she would have understood anyway…  “Shocked” is only one of many words to describe how I felt when she got out of my car to walk to the “group photo shoot” at the civic center fountain on the night of the dance.  It was the first chance I’d had to really see the dress on her.  I was sure we’d be getting a phone call a few hours later when school officials would refuse her entry to the dance (we didn’t).  Another local high school had just been in the news for refusing admittance to 50 girls– here it comes again, I thought.  I was embarrassed to join the group of parents gathering to take photos (including dads, some of whom I’m sure were drooling), many whom I didn’t know since Cleo was a grade ahead of Allison.  Gee, some “host parent” I turned out to be, huh? I thought.  I wanted to raise my hand and scream, “Yep, I’m the doofus that allowed that!!!” And I also wanted to scream, “Hey, she’s European, what did you expect??”

But no, sadly, Europe is not the only place with “relaxed norms” about kids and early sexualization.  Elsewhere in American Homecoming Fun Facts, I offer you exhibit B: stripper poles.  And yes, I get the doofus parent award once again… 

Years ago, I heard about the growing popularity of renting party buses for Homecoming and the “poles” on board.  Kids go to dinner and then the dance (and often, an “after-dance event”) in groups, and some rent expensive party buses to get them from place to place and split the cost 15, 20 or even 30 ways, depending on the size of the group.  And I’d heard that sometimes girls got “carried away” with the poles on board.  But as I’m hearing this I’m picturing a painted up school bus, like the Partridge Family bus or the On the Border restaurant bus that used to tool around downtown Dallas at lunch, providing free transportation to hungry office workers. And I’m thinking the poles are just jokingly called “stripper poles” by the kids, and that they’re actually the narrow metal poles usually located at a couple places on the sides of bus aisles, for people to hold onto if they can’t find a seat, and I’m thinking that girls can’t put on much of a show with those.  And besides, I’m thinking that surely there’s an adult on the bus besides the driver…What a doofus I am!  Recently when planning an event, I looked at party bus websites for the first time.  And you know what? They’re not painted up school buses.  They’re large luxury “limo vans” or motor coaches…and you know what else?  Almost every bus rental company proudly lists “stripper pole” as a feature on each of its buses…and from the photos I saw, the poles are not meant to steady yourself if you can’t find a seat, they’re not located along the sides.  They’re often right in the middle of a semi-circle of bench seats, so the “audience” is surrounding it, ready for a short-dress show. (Check out an example of a typical party bus by clicking here.) And, parent chaperones are either not present for the evening at all or ride in cars near the bus, so they have no idea what’s going on inside.  ARE YOU KIDDING ME? Do all these supposedly conservative parents here in North Texas not know that the inside of these buses/Hummer limos not only have stripper poles, but that they look like something off Girls Gone Wild, with “Flat Screen Plasma TVs, Surround Sound Audio System, Wrap
Around Leather Seating, Wet Bars, Colored Lights, DVD/CD/MP3 Players, Ice Cold A/C, Wood Floors, and Ample Cup Holders”?   No, I’m not saying that all the kids are giving each other lap dances while on board– I’m saying why give your money to a company that doesn’t mind if they do? I’ve heard enough stories to know that those kids are not all sitting on there singing camp songs… why give kids the opportunity to “perform” in that way?

I went through page after page of party bus websites.  Is there no bus rental company that offers anything a little more toned down? Well, one did offer a bus with a “removable pole”, but based on my past record of naivete’, it probably is removable so it can convert to a limbo contest…

Dieting With My Daughter: So Far, So Good

Looking back, I must say it really was genius.  To casually mention, in front of my teenage daughter, how interesting it is that my fitness instructor is doing the Atkins Diet to help lower her cholesterol and is losing weight as a side benefit– and my teen “grabbed it and ran”.  “Let’s try it!” she said.  She and I have now been following Atkins for about 7 weeks, and doing pretty good.  While I had a feeling that Allison would want to try it since she’s always wanting to do something different from the pack (last year she was a vegetarian and this year she bought clip-in hair extensions), and I knew she’d been wanting badly to shed a few pounds to get to a healthier weight, and I always thought it might be fun to diet together (my mother and I had tried a few diets together in the 70’s), and I definitely knew that if Allison was ever going to diet with me, her motivation would have to come from her and not uncool mom–  did I really realize, on that day back in June, all the possible positive outcomes of “lighting the diet fire” so that she could fan the flames? I’m not sure. But what a great decision it’s been, for several reasons:

1. A loud, persistent teen is a pretty good diet motivator.  For many years, I’ve been wanting to eat healthier, exercise more, and lose weight, but have always been “too busy”.  The energy of a demanding teenager is great energy to put behind starting a diet.  Once we decided to try this, I might still be waiting to buy an Atkins how-to book if not for her daily nagging: “Mom, have you bought an Atkins book yet?” “Mom, when are you going to buy the book?” “MOM– GO BUY THE BOOK!!” I bought it, and she read it first, on our road trip to Iowa in June.  Talk about having a personal trainer LIVING IN YOUR OWN HO– USE!!! Once she read the book, the next nagging I heard was, “Mom, when are you going grocery shopping?” “Mom, we need to stock up on certain things.” “MOM, WHEN ARE YOU GOING TO THE STORE??”

2. When your teen really believes in the idea of a good diet, the junk food goes away and the whole family eats healthier foods.  I remember Mom and I trying jicama and brussel sprouts when I was a teen, and fixing some for Dad…this summer, there has been no junk food in the freezer or refined white flour and corn-laden, salty snack foods in our pantry– no chicken nuggets or onion rings, no potato chips, pretzels, or cheese puffs, and I haven’t heard any complaints from Allison…or Emmie and Andy! I make (or buy) a different dip, hummus, or cheese ball every week and keep it in a divided tray in the fridge with plenty of baby carrots and other cut-up veggies, and that seems to be working as a “replacement”. 

3. Your teen’s well-being, and your own, improve when progress is made.  She’s been getting a lot of compliments from friends and I’ve been getting them from my husband– and I went clothes shopping the other day and discovered I’d gone down a size, for the first time since…I can’t remember when!  (The only drawback is that soon I might hear her say, “Mom, I need a whole new wardrobe!!”)

4. Dieting together can be a good bonding experience. I remember my mom and I kvetching together over The Scarsdale Diet, trying to get our mind off the fact that we felt hungry all the time and couldn’t stop thinking about food, and could hardly wait until the next meal.  That is definitely not the case with Atkins, but Allison and I do get excited whenever I discover a new lo-carb meal idea or snack food at the grocery store, and one day we spent a long time at Central Market together looking at all the vegetables, marveling at the names we never see in other stores, buying a few to try.  Also, I’ve started going to exercise classes three times a week (remember that “destination walking” I was trying to do? The summer heat sapped my enthusiasm for that even before the thermometer reached the 100s) and so far Allison has joined me a couple times for a Zumba class (what a hoot).  Our teamwork and bonding can also be felt when we eat with others who aren’t doing Atkins– it would be much harder to watch Andy and Emmie get pasta, rice or potatoes with their meal if we were the only one not getting it. It would have been harder to be at the wedding reception last week or the BBQ on the 4th of July and be the only one not piling their plate with tortilla chips or potato salad.  “Mom, what can we eat?” she’ll ask me in those kinds of situations, and I’ll let her know.  And, I think it’s good to have a diet buddy as we go through the phases and transition into “maintenance”– for me, it’s not so much of a “diet” any more as much as it’s a way of eating healthier (basically, no refined starches or sugars, high fructose corn syrup is BAD and don’t be afraid of good fats), and I hope as school starts and life gets back to old routines that I can help her remember this new one.

So much media air time and print space is often devoted to being uber-cautious about “teens and diets”, telling us again and again on how moms better not push their girls to diet or harp on their weight or they’re going to send their daughters straight into the throes of poor self image and anorexia. While I whole-heartedly agree (I have never once pushed or harped on this issue and do not believe that magazine model sizes are the epitome of beauty), I do think a lot of teens’ eating habits, lifestyles, and waistlines could use some help, and I think all the anorexia press has made some parents scared to even talk about nutrition with their teens or pre-teens.  More voices need to be heard about how to do this in a non-threatening way– like letting kids help with the cooking or grocery shopping, putting interesting nutrition articles on the fridge for everyone to see, or even, heaven forbid, talking about the latest healthy diet plan, and then agreeing to try it with them.  Or, maybe just making healthy changes on our own, in the hopes that other family members will follow.  Enthusiasm (and good results) can be contagious.

Teens and Interpersonal Communication: Not Very Personal Anymore

I’ve been thinking lately about the “lost arts of communication” that are becoming almost extinct among our nation’s youth. 

The most obvious, that has been going downhill for many years, is handwriting of course, both print and cursive, as our kids are asked to turn in school papers almost exclusively printed by a computer once they get into middle school/junior high.  They don’t write letters to cousins or “pen pals” anymore– a Facebook message will do just fine, and even summer camps have computers now.  E-cards have replaced birthday cards, e-vites have replaced invitations…so when they do get the chance to use their handwriting, it doesn’t look that great– most elementary schools these days find little room in their curriculum for perfecting printing or cursive.  (I actually took Allison to a couple of private handwriting classes when she was in 6th grade, I was so concerned at what I was seeing– it helped a little.)

Dallas Morning News columnist Steve Blow recently wrote about the dying art of handwriting and shared some eye-opening information–  the recently released Beloit College Mindset List, an annual tradition for over a decade that lets college professors get a better understanding of America’s incoming freshman class (born in 1992), had at the top of this year’s list (a list which also included “Fergie is a pop singer, not a princess”): 1. Few in the class know how to write in cursive.  And Blow has discovered that not only do today’s teens have a hard time writing in cursive, they can’t read it, either.  He writes, “Those of us who write in cursive may be a dying breed, but we’re not dead yet.  And it sure seems important for young people to be able to read the cursive in a teacher’s whiteboard notes, a boss’s instructions or grandmother’s letter.” 

And it’s still important for them to be able to write in both print and cursive.  Those kids who don’t seem to need handwriting anymore will fill out applications for jobs, colleges, drivers licenses, and sign all sorts of other important documents as well– and not all are on computer.  Allison recently had to fill out several of the aforementioned documents and I winced a little when I looked them over…guess her printing might still have been more readable than other applicants, as she still got the job…

The other lost “art” that has recently been on my mind is verbal phone skill.  Since kids text more than they talk via phone, this latter skill is really getting weak, I think.  And not only do kids prefer, probably 10 to 1, texting over talking, if they do have to make a call, it can ONLY be to another person’s cell phone.  Heaven forbid if they have to call a land line– it just won’t happen.  I used to think that was just my teen’s hangup, being shy about things, but recently I found out differently. 

See, Allison had her phone taken away by Andy a couple weeks ago for disciplinary reasons, for several days.  And during that time she was completely incommunicado with her friends. She was bored out of her mind, and wanted to call them to see if they wanted to see a movie, etc., but “couldn’t” call them from our home phone since their cell phone numbers were stored on her cell phone.  And she refused to call their home phone numbers. “No way,” she said.  “What if their parents answered?”
(Ummm…..what ever happened to, “May I please speak to ______?”
“I don’t know their home numbers anyway!” she said.  I told her about several places she could look, like that ancient relic The Phone Book, and also the church directory, and the school directory, all easy to access in our home…and of course the Internet’s phone number database.  It didn’t matter.   She preferred to suffer “in silence”.

She was sure she was going to have tons of messages on her phone when she got it back— “Everyone’s probably wondering where I am!!” she lamented. I doubted that, as I figured if they wanted to reach her bad enough they would call our land line.  Surely she was the only kid who refused to “phone home”.  I was wrong.  A few days into her phone-less life, the doorbell rang unexpectedly one afternoon and two of her friends stood outside.  They looked apprehensive.

“Hi, is Allison here? Is she okay?” they asked.
“She hasn’t been answering her phone for days so we were worried about her,” one said. 
“Or we thought she was ignoring us,” said the other. 
“We want to see if she wants to go with us to get snow cones.”

Allison was delighted to see them, and happy to be getting out of the house. As she ran upstairs to get ready, I talked to her friends as they waited.  I explained that Allison hadn’t had her phone for a few days.  “Why didn’t you call her on the home phone?” I asked.  They said they didn’t know the number.  I told them about that ancient relic, The Phone Book, and since they both attend our church, I mentioned the church directory, as well as the school phone directory. A “lightbulb” moment happened for them.  “Wow, we never thought of that!” they said.

We talked on. I said it was nice that they had surprised her like this.
“Is that okay to do?” one of them asked.  “I mean, people just don’t drop in on each other any more so we were kinda worried if we were being rude…”

Not at all, I said.  “I think it’s nice to be surprised by unexpected guests now and then, and so it’s okay to just knock on the door to see if your friend is home– if they’re not, it’s no big deal… and if they’re there but busy, they can just tell you…”  I generally love surprise visits and think it adds fun to an otherwise routine day.  And it also adds a measure of caring–  I think Allison felt extra special because her friends cared enough to drive out of their way to come and see her.

So I guess that adds two more methods of communication that are becoming extinct: surprise visits, and even simply knocking on a door, having to talk to whoever opens it.  Because most of the time when Allison or Emmie have friends coming by to pick them up, it’s all planned well in advance by text.  And when the friends arrive, they usually text “We’re here”…and Allison and Emmie walk out to the car.

The Texas Teen Driver Written Test: Could You Pass?

My 16-year-old finally got her learner’s permit the other day, taking over six months to finally complete the 6 hours of required online reading she had to do before applying (remember, we’re doing “parent taught”).  Based on the guidelines from the course we purchased, and the TX Dept. of Public Safety’s online instructions for getting a driver’s license, I told her she wouldn’t have to take a written test until she actually applied for a license, and a driving test then, too. Luckily, two days before we were to go in to apply for the permit, I found out, from another mom, that I was wrong. The written test was required for the permit.  “But it probably won’t be a big deal,” I told her. I couldn’t imagine they’d make it hard on someone who is just getting started learning to drive, who hasn’t even been allowed to get behind the wheel with their parents. Wrong again. A 30-question test awaited her, with most questions pulled straight from the 120 sample questions in the back of the Texas Driver’s Handbook. You can only miss eight.  (See the kind of stuff we first-time parent driving teachers are in the dark about??)  Needless to say, she didn’t pass. I wouldn’t have either.

Here are a dozen questions from the handbook, some of which were on her test– I’ll put the answers below them. Reply back and let me know how you did! (Facebook readers may have to go outside of Facebook in order to comment directly on the blog.)  (Oh, and by the way, she passed the test last Wednesday, which was especially great because on Tuesday, she found out she’d just been hired at her first paying job.  So let the driving practice begin!)

1.) When are you legally required to turn on your headlights? a.) At sunset  b.) 30 minutes before sunset  c.) 30 minutes after sunset d.) none of the above
2.) What is the maximum fine for a first-time DWI? a.) $2,000  b.) $4,000  c.) $10,000  d.) none of the above
3.) What results in a mandatory suspension of your driver’s license? a.) causing a serious accident b.) using a fake or altered ID/license c.) not following the restrictions on your driver’s license  d.) fleeing from a police officer
4.) When walking down the street, on what side of the road should you walk? a.) on the side where you are walking in the same direction as the traffic in the lane closest to you  b.) on the side with traffic going in the opposite direction in the lane closest to you  c.) Either side, it doesn’t matter
5.) What direction should you turn your front wheels if you are parked uphill next to a curb? a.)toward the curb b.) away from the curb
6.) What word on a road sign indicates a short state highway in a city or urban area?
7.) Within how many feet of a crosswalk may you park, when parking near a corner? a.) 10 feet b.) 20 feet  c.) 40 feet  d.) 100 feet
8.) What do you do when approaching an intersection if you see a steady yellow light? a.) Stop before the intersection  b.) Stop before the intersection if it’s safe to do so and if not, proceed with caution  c.) Proceed into the intersection with caution, stop and wait if you’re making a left turn  d.) all of the above
9.) When parked parallel, your curb side wheels must be no more than how many inches from the curb? a.) 6   b.) 9  c.) 12  d.) 18
10.) What is the minimum distance from a fireplug that a vehicle may lawfully park? a.) 5 feet  b.) 10 feet  c.) 15 feet  d.) 20 feet
11.) If a school bus is stopped and alternately flashing its red lights, what other cars must stop? a.) those approaching the bus from behind  b.) those approaching the bus from the front  c.) both a. and b. d.) None. You only stop if they flip out their “Stop” sign.
12.) When are accident reports required? a.) If there is $1,000 damage or more to a vehicle  b.) when a hit and run accident has occured  c.) If a vehicle is disabled  d.) all of the above

1.c (Huh?)
2.a  (but it could be c if there is a passenger under age 15)
3. b. (all the others are a possible suspension)
4. b
5. b (it’s “a” when there is no curb)
6. “Loop”
7. b
8. b
9.  d
10. c
11. c
12. d

A Tale of Two Phones

Can I get my phone today? Can I get my phone today? Can I get my phone today? Can I get my phone today? Can I get my phone today? Can I get my phone today? Can I get my phone today? Can I get my phone today? Can I get my phone today???

More than we heard, “Are we there yet?” on our recent road trips, the question/pleading/mantra/broken record of “Can I get my phone today?” has been heard daily around our house, and in stereo, since Cleo went back to France on Monday.  We were able to get a new, free phone from our cell phone plan when Cleo arrived last summer (she paid us monthly for calls/texting), and both Emmie and Allison were hoping it might become theirs when she left.  Emmie has never had her own phone but was told she could get one when she entered Jr. High this fall; Allison threw her own phone in anger a few months ago (it shattered) and she’s gone without ever since.

Even though Allison had purchased her phone with her own money when she was Emmie’s age, I think somehow they’d both forgotten that fact, and had come to believe that having a phone was their God-given right as teenage (and soon to be teenage) girls, rather than being a privilege to be earned–  so they were surprised later this week when Andy and I made the announcement that, though we wouldn’t charge them monthly for phone service, it would cost them each $60 if they wanted a phone.  We told them that the first one to pay us would get Cleo’s phone, and the next would get a new, similar version.  Luckily for Emmie, she’d been carefully saving for awhile, earning allowance and doing odd jobs (including a killer job of washing the aravan last week), so she was able to purchase Cleo’s phone last night. We figured perennially cash-strapped Allison would have to a.) do weeks of jobs around the house and earning allowance in order to pay for anything or b.) get one of the retail jobs for which she’s been turning in applications– but darn it if she didn’t “slide by” once again…Thanks to Target’s generous “no receipts needed” and no-questions-asked return policy, she decided she could take back a few things recently purchased there to come up with most of the money.

Should I celebrate the fact that my prodigal daughter is a creative thinker? Maybe, but what she didn’t figure into the equation is that she needs transportation to get to Target to do those returns, and she’d been with Andy when she’d made her recent purchases there and they’d been put on his credit card, so…

The yard sure is looking overgrown these days…and Andy says he sure could use some mowing help since he injured his knee playing softball a few nights ago…and it sure is a big yard…