Thursday, February 19, 2009

"Courage is fear that has said its prayers."
Encourage your child to be brave, to be passionate about goals; to hope for a dream.

The Cool Mom

I am not the "cool mom," at least not consistently. I think that I would like to be, although sometimes the "cool mom" is in reality more the aloof, "do-what-you-want-kids," lax disciplinarian mom. Considered "cool" by kids' standards, but often quite "un-cool" by other parents.

I overheard Jess and some friends talking about a party where there was indeed a parent present - a mother. I'm sure the teens parents felt reassured that the mom would police the kids to make sure no surreptitious drinking went on. However, perhaps in attempt to endear herself to the young guests, she told the half-dozen or so 15-year-old kids that they could drink, but just not "get wasted." I gasped upon hearing about this irresponsible insanity. "What a cool mom!" someone exclaimed. "My mom isn't that cool," another lamented. I wondered how neat they would have thought it was if one of the party attendees had gotten alcohol poisoning and the perceived cool mom had been arrested.

I wish our house was the kind that kids all wanted to come over to (though certainly not for the above reasons; God forbid!). No, I mean a destination that meant fun toys and apparatus, electronics and entertainment devices. I certainly see it as such, especially when compared to the house that I grew up in, and even the previous house we owned in New Canaan a scant four years ago. I recall being very excited that this new house boasted a finished basement, large playroom, including a bathroom attached; whoa! How decadent. But to my dismay, my bratty younger two have never entirely seen it that way. "It's gross," pronounced Jess when she was in seventh grade.

We have a trampoline in the back yard, a huge side yard where Jack and his sporty cohorts could have football and baseball games, plus a swimming pool. The basement features foosball and pool tables, an indoor plastic basketball hoop thing, and various video game systems. What more could a kid want, I ask? Well, according to Jack, we need an open space to play rug hockey like the trappings of his friend Eamon's basement (whose home is deemed the "cool house").
I believe Jack suffers from playroom envy. He has also complained about the television set in our playroom. So even though his dad recently won a nice sized flat screen in a raffle and replaced the offending t.v., the rec room is still not snazzy enough. Eamon's (or Drew's) is the place to be. I am always apologizing to their moms that we aren't reciprocating, but not for my lack of trying to convince Jack that it is the polite thing to do.

While Jess was in middle school our house was the go-to sleepover pad and I enjoyed getting to know her friends on a weekly basis. For one year Jess's bedroom was a very good-sized room above our garage and off the kitchen - the other side of the house from the master bedroom - so she could have the noisy nights, nab junk food at will, and we didn't have to keep imploring the gals to keep it down. So we were cool.

Perhaps a cool mom - or dad - is one who can be accessible not only to their child, but to their child's friends; not a buddy, but an easy-to-relate-to, trustworthy adult. I remember and cherish the couple of mothers of my girlfriends to whom I could confide concerns about my own mother, boyfriends, long-term wishes and goals. And yeah, a hip parent may also be the one that lets the sixth grader watch a PG-13 movie, stocks their pantry with Gushers and Oreos, offers a can of Coke over a juice box, or treats a gaggle of eighth grade girls to manicures and a meal in town unsupervised after dark. These lenient allowances may get them temporarily into hot water with the more conservative parent, but they aren't illegal, highly questionable actions.

So for now the place to hang out after-school is Eamon's and Drew's. I will embrace that fact because I think the boy's moms - Eileen and Robin, respectively - are pretty cool in and of themselves. I hope our playroom, our house, will be a draw again. My cupboards are stocked, my fridge overfloweth with soda. And in the spring, if you see me cruising around town in my convertible with a kid in every seat, please feel free to shout: "Well aren't you the cool mom!"

Friday, February 06, 2009

When a Child Grows Into (or Out of) Their Name

Pop and television star Miley Cyrus - who was born Destiny Hope Cyrus – legally changed her name several months back to: Miley Ray Cyrus. Her nickname as a child was “Smiley,” which was then shortened to “Miley.” At the ripe old age of 15, she decided to chuck the “Destiny Hope.” This move in part prompted my own 15-year-old daughter to change her name this summer. But not legally. No way.

When perusing a baby name book nearly 16 years ago, my husband and I came upon the name “Jessie.” Not “Jessica” but “Jessie;” it was its own listing. The definition of which included the fact that in Scotland, Jessie is the nickname for “Janet.” My husband’s grandmother was named Janet and she was, in fact, a Scot. So although we preferred Jessie we thought it was the hand of fate and family to officially name her Janet. But call her Jessie or Jess. Stay with me here… Until she started kindergarten at age five, she was known far and wide as Jess. But there were a lot of Jessica’s running around the playground by then, so to avoid confusion, we began to call her by her given name, as did the school, friends and family members. Except for me and her oldest brother Blake. We couldn’t shake the moniker Jess. So for 10 years, my daughter has seemingly been the only “Janet” under the age of 40, which has been kind of unique.

In early July, my kid asked me if she could legally change her name to “Jess Evans.” When I queried “why” she said that “Janet Evans” has been done already (referring to former Olympic swimming gold medalist Janet Evans), and that Jess Evans sounded like a good stage name. Let me be clear here – my daughter is not on the verge of becoming a famous actress, at least not yet. So while putting the kibosh on the legal action, I happily informed her boarding school, summer camp and family far and wide of her decision. Of course old habits die hard – as they did for Blake and me – and Jon and Jack are currently struggling with the name transition. (Poor Jack, 12, has known her as “Janet” his entire life!)

As they grow, children often prefer to be known as the shorter or longer version of their given names. “Mike’s” morph into “Michael’s” and vice versa. “Katherine’s” may go for the jauntier “Kat” as a teen, and then turn back to Katherine once they begin a career. I had a friend growing up whose name was/is: Mary Frances Gannon. We all called her Mary until high school when she impulsively decided she wanted everybody to call her “Fran.” A boyfriend after college had always been known by his middle name, “Tyler,” but when he became a police officer he felt his first name “Donald” sounded tougher.

Once people get to know me, “Julie” is shortened to “Jul” or “Jules.” During my sophomore year in high school I tried writing “Jules Butler” on the top page of assignments, but it didn’t take. Like my daughter, I asked my parents about legally changing my name and received the same answer she did (don’t you cringe when you hear your parents’ voices echoing in your own?). There were some teachers who – like my pals – called me Jules anyway, but I could never get it in print. Ah well.

I drove Jess up to her boarding school a couple of weeks ago and she was thrilled upon arrival to pick up her student identification card with the name “Jess Evans” boldly imprinted on it. She began this school half way through her freshman year last January, so she is still fairly new. And the name change has given her the feeling and attitude of a fresh start. She was beaming as I drove away as her roommate cried out “Jess! I’ve missed you!”

I don’t know if one day down the line she’ll revert back to being called Janet; that’s her call. But she knows she’s really always been – and will forever be - my Jess.