Wednesday, October 27, 2010

No more hovering: You’re grounded mom and dad!

“Less is more; hovering is dangerous; failure is fruitful. You really want your children to succeed? Learn when to leave them alone. When you lighten up, they'll fly higher. We're often the ones who hold them down.” -Time magazine 2009

Are you a “helicopter parent?” Maybe even just a little bit? It’s okay to admit it. Really. That’s the first step: Recognizing it. And then learning to abstain as much as you can, or as much as possible. Heck, I have been known to strap myself into the cockpit on more then one occasion, certainly when my children were younger and I seemed convinced that they couldn’t possibly advocate for themselves (and, often, they simply couldn’t, so grabbing the wheel of the heli was the absolute best course of action; sometimes I even parachuted in).

It’s parental instinct to want to help your child, protect her, right a wrong - actual or perceived - and make sure he is doing the next right thing; basically to want the best for your kid. Sometimes, though, especially when your child is a teenager, the parent’s idea of the best may not necessarily be what’s best for the child. We need to check our motives when the situation warrants, whether it’s the grades they can or cannot achieve, which sport to play, which dance to dance, to what college - if any - they choose to apply.

Simply put, which battles do we fight for them, and when do we let them fight their own?

Here’s an anecdote I can offer: In high school, my son Kenny was the only player on the soccer team he was a part of, who after four games hadn’t seen a minute of playing time; he was upset. He was a good athlete and there didn’t appear to be any rhyme or reason for the coach overlooking him. Even his fellow teammates were puzzled. The thing is, my son is quiet by nature; even though he can feel an inequity, he is not one to make waves with authority. By the time the third game came and went, we encouraged him to ask the coach to put him in or, at the very least, question why he wasn’t playing. The fourth game was also played minus Kenny. On the sidelines I was livid and the old mother bear began to growl, ready to pounce. My intellect kept reminding me that this was high school now, don’t say a peep, but my emotional self was wanting to punch the coach in the face. I joke, I joke, but I did want to say something in a kind but firm manner.

After the game I began striding towards the coach but my son grabbed my arm and cried, “Don’t!” So I told him either he says something in practice the following day, or that I would. Really, it was high time for my kid to man up, so to speak. I knew it wasn’t my battle. I hoped against hope that Kenny would find his voice, and therefore be able to stop gathering splinters on his backside. The next day he did find that voice and I could tell from the way he carried himself that it had empowered him of which I was both proud and relieved.

By high school, our children need to do things without our hand-holding, such as advocating for themselves with teachers, administrators, or guidance counselors. Certainly we can step in at times, and are on occasion even asked to by the folks at school. But we need to try and let go, loosen the reins a bit.

Just for the record, even the whole college search and application process should be something in which our teen take more of an active role. Out of that hovering habit, I began the Google and Naviance searches, informing my junior and now senior daughter of some college options which might be of interest. And then it dawned on me that I am not doing her any favors, and I cried, “Wait! I am not going to college, you are. Become invested in this process or dad and i won’t become invested in it, figuratively and literally.” Viola`! Backing off resulted in her moving ahead.

And moving ahead all on their lonesome is what they have to do in order to pilot their own course and fly into their future, whether it is the next day, or the next year.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Back like Favre: Parenting teens a bumpy ride

As Eminem says: “Now I’m back...” Why do I quote Eminem instead of Arnold Schwarzenegger in terms of “I’m back?” Well... because I am back; the Brett Farve of columnists, and because Eminem is popular with teens, silly and this is going to be a column all about teens and the myriad wonderful, wacky and “oh-my-gosh-why?!” things that they do. It’s also about how you, the parent, can survive those seven years of teen-ness.

I have two teens living under my roof right now, and have two sons in their mid-to-late 20s who had to pass through the teen years in order to get to their current, mostly mature ages; “mostly” being the operative word. True, all four children also had to mosey through infancy, toddlerhood, elementary school and the sixth grade to get to those teen years, and I am therefore qualified — as it were — to discuss all of the trials and tribulations of those particular ages. But trust me: No stage, absolutely no stage of their growth and existence is as crazy-making as the teen years. None.

Those first few months of life with colicky kids, exhaustion and sleep deprivation in general? Tame compared to the sleepless nights presented by loud sleepovers that haunt, annoy and frustrate one deep into the wee hours of the next morning. And then your teen starts driving, breaking legal and parental curfews and ignoring the sound of their cell phone ringing as you frantically call to find out where the heck they are, and why. So you are forced to sit up past 11, 12 or one o’clock, fuming and frightened, until they casually and defiantly saunter through the kitchen door.

Potty training? Please. A walk in the park when confronted with the ca-ca you must occasionally clean up due to a lapse in judgement from the teenage brain; part and parcel of the teen years, and a real, scientific truth about adolescents and their brain function. Scientific or not, the mess can be more foul than the dirtiest of diapers and soiled Pull-Ups.

But, of course, it’s not all sturm und drang. It’s really wonderful when your newly minted teen begins to morph into their young man or woman-ness to be. There’s something about the manner in which they begin to carry themselves that signifies a burgeoning sense of self-confidence. Even the beginnings of pulling away from Mommy and Daddy, those baby steps of independence, while a little disconcerting to the mommy and daddy, also brought me to a new level of growth as well; they were/are growing up and becoming a more fully formed person, in turn helping me to form a new identity.

After about age 14 or 15, I also delighted in the return to a bit more pleasantness in conversation. The “I hate you’s” (yes, yes, it can happen) and “You’re so stupids” become less a mantra and more of a once-in-a-blue-moon vent. I noticed — and dear Lord, please let Jack return to his boyhood sweetness soon — that around sophomore year I was actually, if only occasionally, complimented and my opinion or help was now sought out after a few years drought.

At any rate, although I am no teenage parenting professional expert by any stretch of the imagination, I am nonetheless a seasoned veteran, and I hope to offer pointers, pondering and predicaments to aid all of us in the care and feeding of the teen wolf.

Someone once commented that “raising teenagers is like nailing Jello to a tree.” Perhaps it is an apt metaphor — and a hilarious one at that — but maybe together we can, in fact, actually nail a bit of the wiggly stuff to a tree. We’ll at least give it a shot!

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

One Coming, One Going

My younger two kids started school today. The youngest faces his freshman year at New Canaan High, essentially beginning his journey through high school, and my daughter began her senior year, basically the commencing of the end of her journey.

It was a bittersweet, gulp-down-the-emotions morning for the mommy as I watched them get out of my car and head in the front door, with nary a glance back at me. I felt proud, anxious, relieved and flabbergasted that somehow, after 27 years of motherhood I now stand four years away from the infamous empty nest of which I hear tell.

One coming, one going. In June of 2001 I first had one coming and one going in a bit more of a spectacular and daunting fashion: My oldest son was graduating high school and a school system after 13 years, and my youngest son was going to enter kindergarten that September. I was looking at going all the way through for the fourth time; those 13 years never loomed so long and large!

But now they are wrapping up maybe faster than I am ready for? I mean I comprehend that Jack is only a freshman, but those of us who have had a child go through high school before know that the time really zips by, almost in a flash. There they are, all kinds of gangly or awkward, short or tentative as ninth graders, still rather baby-faced, and then - BAM! - they appear on the eve of senior year all grown up, whiskered and brawny, female figured, filled out and sassy and chomping at the bit to get the hell outta Dodge!

I will treasure this year though, observing Jack navigating his way around the social and academic maze of high school, and watching Jess anxiously as she tidies up her final year, emerging a more confident, settled and fully formed young woman on the cusp of, well... greatness.

One coming, one going. And one mother holding a handful of hope.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Lazy kids in summer

Okay. So we are officially in those "lazy, hazy days of summer." Heat, humidity and horrendously bored kids.

I should be cutting my two teens some slack and I have been. A bit. After all, Jack spent one month at Teton Valley Ranch Camp each day riding horses and/or hiking, plus an assortment of other activities; up early, out in the sun. No phone, no computer, no television, no video games and no music. Ditto Jess, who hiked and camped in the back country of the Tetons for 12 days straight (add "no showers" to her litany), and then spent three days hiking to and summiting the Grand Teton, and back down again. They both were deserving of some R&R.

So I have given them two weeks of said rest and relaxation. And now I want them to see more action!

Jess actually needs no encouragement to contact friends and meet up with them. But it's a record that skips (please tell me, dear reader, that you are old enough to understand this metaphor? Do you remember vinyl? And how a scratch on the record would make the needle skip over the same part again and again and...again?) Anyway, her days and nights follow a never-changing pattern. She is too bored to know how boring the pattern is: sleep until Noon - even though she asks me to wake her at 8:30 or 9 a.m. and then keeps requesting the wake-up call in hourly increments (yes, I know I shouldn't allow this; maybe I'm guilty of lazy-syndrome too!); then eat, shower, check her Facebook and Jonas Brothers updates, and ask me to drive her into town to meet X, Y and Z friends for dinner. Back home at curfew. This is followed by phone calls to seemingly the same people she was just with, all the while glued to the computer and the statuses. Sleep. But not until 2 or 3 a.m. Awaken. Repeat.

"Change it up!" I cry. "Have people over here! Go to a movie! Take the train into the city!"

She did have to take a quick summer school course - online, no less, in a very flexible move provided by New Canaan public school's summer enrichment program. But even doing this simple thing was procrastinated by laziness. Ah well.

My fairly newly-minted teen, Jack, has adopted the lazy attitude, too. Wake up, waffles, ESPN; the broken record. He's certainly not interested in doing an organized activity after his time at camp, but even the suggestion of calling a couple of friends is usually met with a grunt. Of course in his defense a lot of his pals are out of town. Still.

I recall those summer days of yore when boredom would occasionally force the kids into the spirit of entrepreneurship, and rickety stands to sell lemonade or water or Gatorade would appear at the end of the driveway.

Or there were moments when Jess and Jack were younger and I could entice them to spend a little time re-arranging their bedrooms or organize their drawers in preparation for the upcoming school year. Ha! Fat chance of that now.

"Clean your room young lady, or you are not going into town!"

"But it's suuuuuuummmmmmmer!"

The clothes get rearranged from the floor of the bedroom to the floor of the closet. Ditto with Jack.

They used to beg me to go to the town pool; we now have one of our own which - oddly - they rarely use.

They are now too old to think going to Lake Compounce with mom is a viable idea, and Lord knows the movies with mommy on a hot summer's day or night is a hideous prospect.

I suppose I should lighten up a bit. Like they both say, it is summer. Better to be lazy in August then lazy come September. And I should also enjoy the down time where I am not shuttling from one child's activity to the next, nor is laundry such a must, and food shopping and cooking are additionally overrated on a soggy, muggy day, air-conditioned store or car be damned; it's still too bloody warm.

Perhaps these lazy, hazy days are Mother Nature's way of helping us to slow it down, take it easy for a month or two. I should just let the kids be, and turn off the pre-programmed tape that insists that there be structure and accountability. Several weeks of whatever the spirit moves is allowable.

See? I even chose a fairly lazy topic for this column, too!

Monday, June 28, 2010

Mom Here, Mom There...

This is how last Tuesday went down: I am out here in gorgeous Jackson Hole, with two weeks alone before my husband and daughter will join me and then a week after that we pick up Jack, our youngest now 14, who attends Teton Valley Ranch Camp for a month. Older son #2 had hitched his way up from Utah to spend a couple of days with me, and in the wee hours of Tuesday's dawn, I agreed to drive him four hours to the closest major highway in Wyoming so that he could start thumbing his way back East.

Because this is what mommies do: go that extra mile (or in my case over 200 extra miles!) for their kid. Conveniently, Jack's camp was midway between where I dropped Kenny off near Casper, and Jackson Hole, so I planned on stopping by for a quick peek and a hug from Jack, and drop off a few fun items for him.

I got Kenny to his asked-for destination, snapped a picture of him with his backpack containing what he terms "his life," gave him a strong embrace and got back into the car with tears streaming down my face as I watched him in the rear-view mirror, thumb out, hopeful. And so vulnerable. Just like saying "goodbye" to his older brother, Staff Sgt. Blake Flannery (just to be official about it!), it never gets easier, as I wonder and then try to banish the fleeting thought that it might be the last time. I said a prayer and drove on, back towards Jackson.

Although it had only been 10 days since I had last been with Jack, I was still pumped to catch a few minutes with him. Minutes after arriving at the camp, I met his counselor and he led me across the green to Jack's cabin, the same one that my daughter Jess had been in during her "Wrangler" year; each summer the campers are put into adventure groups according to age and experience the prior season.

Jack's counselor, a friendly and amiable young man whose name I have somehow forgotten because I am old, haha, held open the door to the cabin. The campers were all in there, doing daily clean-up. Jack was standing there by his bunk, broom in hand, and didn't blink, didn't widen his eyes, didn't smile and generally didn't look the least surprised - not to mention pleased! - to see me pop in out of thin air. Inside I bummed out, and knew instinctively not to hug him in front of the other guys. I felt decidedly rejected. How is it that one kid was effusively thankful to have been with me for a couple of days, and the other wishing I would just disappear?

Within a minute, maybe two, we ambled back across the green to my car, chatting about his recent 4-day pack trip with the horses and the Lakers recent reclamation of the NBA title. Pushing 14-year-old boy bravado aside, I went in for a quick hug and when I pulled away he grinned the grin of the youngest child, allowing me a brief glimpse of the little boy who loves him mommy in spite of his need to break away, at least in front of his peers.

I headed back down the dusty camp road with a smile. Until I got a phone call from my husband regarding the shenanigans of our daughter, 17, and freshly freed from her junior year in high school. Turns out a small "pool party" at our house the first afternoon of her summer vacation and yielded the absence of three beers from our heretofore securely locked garage-living fridge.

"What should I do?" the other, on-site parent asked. My response was both incredulous at the inquiry and not altogether friendly and sweet.

"Are you kidding?!" was one of my responses. "Get a new lock, pronto,let her know that you have caught her and read her the riot act. Duh!"

"Maybe you should call her, too," he half-asked, half-begged though I am positive he didn't realize that was the tone he had adopted.

And so, from 2,000 miles or more away, I had to help lay down the law, in spite of the fact that in absentia, there was pretty much no way to enforce it or police it, live and in person. Still and all, the mom goes the extra mile and I gave it the old college try, insisting that daddy knows exactly how many beers are in that refrigerator and please don't put yourself, your friends and us in danger.

"Okay mommy," she suprisingly agreed. "I miss you and I love you." Awww, I can always count on my only daughter to come through with the fondness, even in the face of an mom ultimatium.

So there you have it: three of the four children settled or sent on their way or dealt with. Three kids asserting or attemting to assert their independence.

Sigh. I have said it before and I will always postulate, that raising children never gets easier. Just more, um, interesting.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

High School Graduation: A Parent's Primer?

Depending upon your child's status - only child or youngest - it is here, graduation, the last high school event you will attend as a spectator. Your grad-to-be is a whirlwind of conflicting emotions: excited, happy, melancholic, confident, nervous, wary, maybe even a bit incredulous that the day is finally here; you of course, are containing those same feelings.

As soon as the first five or six notes of "Pomp and Circumstance" are played, you will either be swallowing a lump as big as a baseball, or you will be full on leaking tears, perhaps a fist pressed against your mouth, or dabbing a tissue about your eyes either frantically or with discretion, as you crane your neck or strain forward seeking to spot your grad walking jauntily into the stadium or auditorium.

The name for the song (actually entitled "Pomp and Circumstance Military Marches") was taken from Act III of Shakespeare's "Othello:"
"Farewell the neighing steed and the shrill trump,
The spirit-stirring drum, th'ear-piercing fife,
The royal banner and all quality
Pride, pomp and circumstance of glorious war!"

It may not be a total stretch to think of high school, of those teenage years from 14 to 18, as a sort of war, a war of words, of will and of wisdom. And not just between parent and child, but also between student and teacher, student and student, maybe even student and themselves.

As you sit there at the ceremony, filled with pride and awe, you might also be fast-forwarding a month, six, or eight weeks ahead to when your high school grad becomes a college freshman and you will have to face the empty, half empty, maybe a quarter empty, nest. My two oldest graduated from New Canaan High in 2001 and 2003, and so I have had a my nest emptied piecemeal; my daughter will graduate next June, and my baby will christen my nest officially empty in 2014.

Some words of advice are in order. Number 1: Seek out other moms and dads who are in the same newly rocked boat, as well as those whose children - as well as themselves - have gone before you. Support is always a good thing. Number 2: Do not turn your child's bedroom into a guest room, office or home gym. Not yet. For the next two or four years, they will still be coming home for holidays and the summer and do not need to feel as if you have discarded them, not to mention all of their stuff, their memories, their childhood. And one last recommendation: If they don't declare a major right away, or if they change from one to another, do not push them, and do not panic. All children - whether they are five or 25 - need to find their own way, feel it out. They felt enough parental and societal pressure pre-graduation. Ease up and allow them to flap their wings.

A lot of seniors may have known as freshman where they wanted to attend college, and perhaps a majority saw that goal come to fruition. Conversely, there are those who will make do with a second or third choice for the time being; or maybe they will grow to love where the fates led them. A few of you will have graduates who will be taking a 'gap" year before college, and there will be those who intend to pursue something else altogether; no matter what your child chose to do, you should be as proud of the daughter who wants to work with gardens and ivy as the son who studies at an ivy covered campus.

My oldest chose not to enter college before the military. This was not a popular, nor understood by the majority, choice at all. But I felt so fortunate that I had a child who knew - and who had known - exactly what he wanted to do with his life, even, as I said, it was an unusual, hardly traditional for our area, decision. Maybe your child has selected the road less traveled, too. Be happy.

Be happy all of you, for although we may think of the words "graduation" and "commencement" and envision an end, the meaning of the word "commencement" is: "an act or instance of commencing; beginning."

May your child's beginning be a wonder.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Stalking the Jonas Brothers

Okay, I recently went way above and beyond the call of motherly duty last week. Way, way, totally astronomically above. So above that if my daughter doesn't one day realize it, then... well something unpleasant will befall her (grin).

Jess is obsessed, OBSESSED, with the Jonas Brothers. She went to meet them back in 2007 when they were playing small crowds and was hooked. I have taken her to well over a dozen of their concerts or appearances, in 2008 she camped out all night with a girlfriend in front of the studio where Regis & Kelly is taped in the hopes of scoring tickets the next morning (eventually joined at midnight with other insanely loyal fans), and it paid off with front row seats. Also in 2008 she was named the Jonas Brothers "Super Fan" by Forbes in their summer Entertainment issue. It goes on... and includes what I call - and others concur with this description - stalking.

The JoBros were to make an appearance on "Good Morning America" on May 21st, which also happened to be her 17th birthday. "I've got to go the concert! And I've got to go to their hotel the night before so I can see them!" she cried. "And then I will go line up at the entrance to Central Park at midnight."

Say what?!

"There are no guarantees that you will see them at their hotel, and, over my dead body - and maybe yours - will you be hanging out in Central Park all night! Are you crazy?" But I knew the answer. Yes, yes she is crazy, as only a teenage girl with a starstruck, large crush X3 can be.

Within moments she had convinced me to book a hotel room not far from where the Jonas Brothers usually stay (the Trump International Hotel), so that allegedly after she saw them there, she would come back to our hotel, catch some sleep for a few hours and then I would walk her over to the entrance to the Park in the wee hours, and make sure there were other insane teenage girls and their moms already camped out.

We arrived at the Trump at 4:30 in the afternoon, and clearly there were other girls just as stalkerish as she because when we arrived there were already over a dozen starry-eyed fans standing behind crowd-control type barriers on either side of the entrance to the hotel. It's like the Trump was encouraging it! I stood outside of the barrier as I knew I would need to break away from the madness from time to time, get something to eat or drink, go back to our hotel for a restroom break, etc.

For about an hour I chatted up a couple of paparazzi, the presence of whom energized the crowd into believing that the appearance of Kevin, Joe and Nick was imminent. Even I thought, "Cool. They'll be here soon and then we can leave, get room service, watch 'Grey's Anatomy..." Oh, how wrong I was. Ditto the paparazzi.

Long story short, at some point I brought Jess a sandwich and a chai tea from Starbuck's (which she didn't take more of a sip of because she didn't want to have to need to go to the bathroom and risk - gasp! - missing the brothers). I went back to the hotel about 6 p.m., returning at 7:30 because she wasn't picking up her cell phone, and I spent a good 20 minutes trying to remember exactly what she had been wearing, was her hair up or down... all the things I would need to tell the police in case she had been snatched from the stalk-the-Jonas Brothers-cage.

At 7:30 there had still been nary a sign of Kevin or Joe or Nick. Every time a black Escalade pulled up the crowd would inhale expectantly for a few seconds and then begin to squeal. Just before 8 p.m., "their" driver pulled up, but the car was empty. He hopped out and walked into the hotel which caused all manner of speculation, and primping and juggling for position behind the barriers. The front door to the hotel was held open by jazzily dressed doorman, and.... out came MRS. Jonas, their mom, no sons in tow; apparently they were still out and she was meeting them for dinner. She still rated some flashbulbs and a few cries of "Denise! Denise!" Then - poof! - she disappeared into the warm New York night.

By 10 p.m. I was growing very weary. Yet I figured I had committed X-amount of time to this already that I might as well try and stick it out for at least a half an hour more until they all came back from dinner. After only 15 minutes I told myself I would leave by 10:30, and at 10:23 the long-awaited car carrying the boys pulled up. A burly body guard jumped out first, demanding that those of us outside the barrier stand back (as if the paparazzi was going to do that!). The brothers main bodyguard Big Rob (very, very big Big Rob) opened one of the doors and stuck like glue to the middle, heartthrobby brother, Joe. And then Nick and Kevin (the oldest, newly married one) hopped from the SUV and I went momentarily deaf from the high pitched screams.

Luckily, Big Rob lead Joe right over to Jessie's barrier and since she was stuck up against it, she was able to snag a self-taken photo with the young man. And then, apropos of nothing or maybe everything, as a girl next to Jess pleaded for a photo, I stepped in front of Joe and said, "Hey, Joe. I need a picture with you. I'm her (pointing at Jess) mother." Jess poised her camera with very shaky hands and told him, "Yeah, she has gone to about 15 of your concerts, so she deserves this!" and she snapped the photo, while I stood close to the kid and grinned. Maybe it was a little creepy of me to ask for the picture, but as Jess put it, I deserved it, dammit!

Successful stalking complete, Jess and three of her new barrier friends came back to the hotel room to use the toilet and clean up a bit, before heading over to Central Park and 5th Avenue to wait through the night with about 200 other fans who came prepared with sleeping bags and even tents!

The payoff the next morning at 5:30 a.m. was a 6 rows from the stage standing position, close enough to count the beads of sweat on the Jonas Brothers and Demi Lovato.

As I waited for Jess to leave the venue, and she came happily - albeit sleepily! - walking out, she declared, "This is the best birthday ever!" And it was.