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.

Monday, May 10, 2010

The Yin and the Yang of Prom

WESTON, CT - The year is 1974. It is a week before high school graduation and the night of the Weston High School Junior-Senior prom, held - ironically, as it will turn out for me decades later - at Waveny Mansion in New Canaan. The prom planning committee has chosen to be decidedly 1970's rebellious, declaring the attire for the event as semi-formal, thereby sparing the boys from adorning powder blue tuxedos with wildly wide lapels and shirts as frilly as a pirate's. It also means that the girls are free to wear dresses that will be decisively un-gownlike (my own frock was a full length, midriff bearing polyester number featuring garish red and blue flowers on it; my date wore a brown-and-white checked blazer, chocolate brown pants that matched a ridiculously broad chocolate brown tie topped off with a tie-clip fit for a grandpa). As it is 1974, the legal drinking age is 18. Pre-prom cocktail parties are thrown by someone's parents, and after sipping on an alcoholic beverage, the prom goers drive (!) to restaurants for dinner in neighboring towns. My group went to a popular steak house in Westport where we proceeded to order at least two pitchers of beer and one of sangria. And then drive to New Canaan, no questions asked, no adult eyebrows raised, nary a parent questioning the behavior. There was no alcohol served inside the prom venue, although booze was easily available in virtually any vehicle parked in the Waveny lot. The teachers and parents chaperoning prom occasionally troll the parking lot and around the grounds, but to the best of my recollection, no incidences are reportable or reason for punishment. Now here's how you know it was really the early, free-spirited 70's: at one point, my boyfriend and I were standing outside the mansion chatting up a favorite teacher. And the boyfriend and our teacher shared a joint; true story! But that was then, and this is now. My daughter, a junior, had her prom last month. The price of her prom dress was pretty much equal to my own high school clothes budget for the year. She had her hair professionally styled. Due to unfortunate sunburn marks from spring break, she had to have a spray tan. Thank goodness we wear the same shoe size, because this whole deal was costing unfathomable amounts of coin, therefore I insisted that she sport the same heels that I had worn to my high school reunion last October; there was some poetry to that. Nine girls got ready at our house, and then their dates and assorted parents came by for pictures and refreshments. We did not serve alcohol to the parents, and - obviously - not to the kids. But I did hear the girls chatting about a post-prom party ostensibly being hosted by one girl's parents at which alcohol was to be served to the teens in attendance. I was stunned as I heard the details. Allegedly the guests were going to be sleeping over, thereby avoiding any drunk driving exploits. That tidbit hardly made the whole thing sound like a good idea. There were several of my classmates who didn't remember, still can't fully recall, exactly what occurred at the end of our prom night, and even some moments during the dance, due to the booze consumption. Which is really too bad. The prom, especially the inaugural one, is one of those special rites of passage during high school; beforehand you envision the magical-ness of it. Even if it doesn't live up to one's rose-colored projection, it is still a fun evening. Or should be. Lacing it with drugs or alcohol can often veer the experience into unfortunate and decidedly un-fun territory. I am glad that NCHS employs a breathalyzer at the prom door. You never know when the proverbial few bad apples might ruin the night for a few good eggs. As I watched my daughter and her white-tuxedo- clad date (with tails, no less!), I was at once wistful and tearful. Happy tears laced with the expected "I-can't-believe-she's-so-grown-up" mantra. And she was going to remember her prom. My wish is that your teen stays safe on Senior Prom night. Oh - and in fashionable attire as well!

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Mother of the Year: Me!

There needs to be a "Mother of the Year" award and I need to win it. Maybe "Mother of Many Years." Here's why:

Aside from the usual wiping of tears, lending a shoulder and an ear, going to every football/basketball/baseball game, lending (i.e. GIVING) money to whichever child may need or request it, etc. Since 2007, I have gone with my daughter to, at last count, 11 Jonas brothers concerts/events, not only in Connecituct and New Jersey, but also Washington D-frikkin'-C. The Hannah Montana concert, one Miley as Miley and not Hannah concert, the Jonas Brothers movie, the stupid Hannah Montana movie and the Miley "Last Song" movie. I have had to go because my daughter doesn't have her license (even though she is breathing down Birthday #17's neck).

I got out of seeing Nick Jonas solo this past December because: A) We could only secure one ticket, and, B) The concert was in NYC and she could take the train in.

This afternoon she has requested seeing the Miley movie for a second time, and because the theatre is a good 15-20 minutes plus from our home, and driving back and forth doesn't thrill me, I am having to endure the movie one more time; it's the lesser of two evils. I think...?

Maybe you think you deserve the award. Tell me why in the comments section!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Mom's Nite Out Event in Waterford!

On Thursday evening, May 6th, the Crystal Mall in Waterford, CT is hosting a FREE "Moms Nite Out" -- a celebration of motherhood for moms and moms-to-be.

From 4 to 8 p.m. moms can enjoy free pampering, giveaways, makeup consultations, mini facials and massages, menu tastings, seminars on health and beauty and much more! The first 100 guests will receive swag bags with items and offers from event participants. In addition, guests will have the chance to enter-to-win a trip to Aruba!

The Crystal Mall is located at 850 Hartford Tpke., Waterford.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

COLUMN: Watching Your Child Wheel Away

Watching your child wheel away

We give our children roots and wings; often those wings come in the form of either two or four wheels of freedom.

The bicycle is our child's first taste of the thrill of the wheel. We start them on tricycles and/or "Big Wheels," sort of two-wheeled bikes-in-training. It's easy for them. Fun. They can go as fast as their chubby little legs will allow. When their legs grow a bit longer and leaner, we graduate the child to a big kid's bike with training wheels. Again, it's a relatively comfortable feat to master.

The expression, "it's as easy as riding a bike," is really kind of absurd, as any five-, six-, or seven year-old learning to ride a bike without training wheels can attest. Don't you remember your own first time those handy-dandy metal security blankets came off? Do you recall your child's first attempt to go training wheel-less? Definitely not easy. Hard falls. Nasty scrapes. Head in helmet bonking down on pavement. It's probably the first time your little cherub may mutter, "This sucks!"

But once it is mastered, when that moment of realization hits you that mom or dad is so not holding onto the the back of your seat, the joyous sensation is intoxicating: You're free! Look at you go! The breeze hits your face, you balance like a pro and you don't require no stinkin' trainers or parental palm to get you going.

With a bicycle, you don't necessarily need your mom to drive you up the road to your friend's house. Maybe you live near your town's center and there is a relatively safe route to the candy store. Or, as you progress through elementary and middle school, your parents allow you to bike to the land of academia.

And eventually, you turn 16, and you succumb to the siren song of the shiny, four-wheeled mode of transportation parked in the driveway. The automobile! So much cooler and faster than your bike, not to mention it's a better way to travel when it's raining.

And you - the parent - quickly discover that helping your child learn to ride a bike is a piece of cake compared to teaching him how to drive a car.

I have maneuvered through this process twice before and am in the midst of Driving 101 with the third child. It is frightening, thrilling, other wordly and ultimately, joyful. Such a shared milestone, not unlike that first pedal without the training wheels. When you finally get them to the DMV, they pass the test, and are standing up against the blue (or is it a pinkish hue now?) backdrop for their license photo, it's a teary-eyed moment: pride, fear and unbridled love.

At 16 or 17, your kid is on the move without you, heading down the highway that will eventually lead to college or another chapter that doesn't necessarily involve them living with you full-time anymore. They will still need you, of course, but they will not need-need you. You aren't the sole wind beneath their wings, as they learn to roll with whatever comes their way in the fresh land of freedom.

"Look ma! No hands!" cries the new bike rider with astonishment and bliss.

The new driver lowers his or her car window down, waves and gives you the thumbs up sign as they make their way down the driveway, no longer required or requiring you as co-pilot.

Or so it appears. Don't be fooled or saddened for long. For those wheels which seem made to roll away actually do the reverse as well, returning to the eager palms (and arms) of their parents.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Losing My Authority?

Both of my teens just wandered into the kitchen, Jess headed for the fridge and Jack to the pantry where various chips live.

"Dinner will be ready in about an hour," I sort of whined. "Please don't eat anything!" Once upon a time they would have reluctantly, yet affirmatively, obeyed. And now? Fughettaboutit. Jack grabbed the Doritos with a flourish and an evil laugh; at least Jess sauntered out of the kitchen with a container of blueberries. Healthy. Not a totally awful "appetizer."

But... there was this parting remark from her regarding the dinner menu: "Steak?! I don't like steak! And when have you heard me say I like baked potatoes? Ugh!"

This is what my thought bubble read: "Tough nuts, sweetheart!"

Once upon a time, they started their homework when I firmly suggested it. Ate what I put on the dinner table. Went to bed and turned out the light when I told them it was bedtime. Put on a freaking coat when the temperature dipped below 60-degrees. I seem to have very little authority left. Even when I say "please," sometimes at a normal decibel level and often quite loudly.

This is getting depressing.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Can these two BE any different?!

My son Jack's 14th birthday is on Monday. If he were his sister, Jess, the party or sleepover with friends would have been planned for weeks now; Jack only today got around to grunting the info to only two friends. Jess would have tried to invite at least a half dozen.

Jack's birthday gift list was short: just two items, and pretty affordable. My daughter has champagne taste.

Fridays here in New Canaan mean hoards of middle and high school kids head into town to eat, giggle, hang at Starbucks, blah blah. Jack can take it or leave it. When he does partake, and I spy him on the sidewalk in a gaggle of teens, there is jostling and loud laughing by the others, and Jack stands there with a shy smile, amused, observing. Jess never met a Friday in town she didn't like. Since 5th grade! She is the most animated sweetie pie on the planet; one of those jostling and laughing.

My older two are the same way - almost polar opposites. Kenny is the more flamboyant, outgoing one, and Blake is also the observer, keeps his thoughts close to the vest.

It never fails to cause me to scratch my head.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

A College for All?

Most high school juniors - or seniors in the first semester of their last year in school- are routinely asked my adults: "So, where are you looking at schools?" I admit it, I ask. But sometimes I stop myself and rephrase, "What do you think you'll do after high school?" Because not every kid takes those steps towards a college or university. Some take a "gap year." A few just go right into a job. Maybe their parents can't afford to pay for college. There are those who decide to pursue an art they are passionate about (acting, music, etc.) Or, they join the military.

I am sensitive to this because my oldest went off to Marine Corps boot camp a month after high school graduation. He and I both endured our fair share of wide eyes, some shocked and confused, when the "where are you/where is he applying/going to?" questions came fast and furious, and the answer was: "the Marines."

My second oldest when to college, but it was not a traditional ivy-covered, four-year institution. He knew where his passion lay - recording music - and his guidance counselor found an accredited school where he would - and did - four years of college in two, graduating with his Bachelors at age 20!

Now my daughter, a junior, is starting the college quest. Kind of. She's not an A student, more like a C. Or C-ish. And she too is not sure she wants a "traditional" school. Yes, I get a little uncomfortable when other parents inquire after rattling off the names of very good, great and popular colleges, and I stammer or change the subject. Or, I simply say what my daughter told her dad and I: "There's a college for anyone; why do you think it's a reflection on you if I don't go somewhere 'good'?"

Out of the mouths of babes.

Think about it: Are you going to think lesser of someone you have thought highly of, when they in passing mention the college that they attended?

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Truce Called


My son and I have "let it go." It's "water under the bridge." And all things like that.
Arguing with a United States Marine isn't always the smartest thing. But I am still calling this a slight victory for the momma.

I think all children know - in their heart of hearts - when they have hurt their mother's feelings, and even if they don't come around to actually verbalizing "I'm sorry," their actions can give them away: a hug, a favor unasked for, a quick snuggle, or a meaningful look, mouth turned down the tiniest bit at the corners.

Amend made. Apology accepted. And move on with love.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Sons, Daughters, Mom's Birthday

March 3: Who knew that a day that I am really not super thrilled to acknowledge on a vanity level, yet one that still makes me feel special, would actually cause me to feel pretty low?

March 3: It's my birthdate; my birthday. I like birthdays at face value - it's YOUR day! Celebrate another year of being alive! (But just don't go announcing how many years unless you are south of age 30, or north of 90.)

March 3, 2005: My mother died of ALS. I walked into her room at the hospice care center and the nurse pulled me aside and whispered, "It's probably going to be today." Her words slammed into my chest. I wanted to whimper, "But it's my birthday." Instead, I waited a couple of hours and mentioned it casually to her and we both shared a horrified stare. And so it went. My birthday would forever be linked with my mom's death. Then again, my birthday is also forever linked with my mom living, ergo, giving me life.

So, last week my birthday dawned, with the usual - and unusual - mix of emotions it now brings. There were some very random birthday cards left for me in the kitchen from my husband, youngest son, Jack, 13, and daughter, jess, 16. In the card, ostensibly "from Jess," she wrote: "Daddy picked this out; sorry!" Later on, my second oldest son, Kenny, 24, phoned me from the road - which is now his life - to wish me a happy day. When Jess came home from school, she presented me with a gaily wrapped gift: a fragranced candle which read on the outside: "What would you attempt to do if you knew you could not fail?" She knows how much I love candles and sayings like that which make one pause and consider.

By nightfall, I had not heard from my oldest son, Blake, now 26 and a Marine living in San Diego. Nada. Not a peep. And he doesn't have the excuse of being in Iraq in combat this year. In a knee-jerk reaction, I posted the following on his Facebook page: "If I weren't born, then you wouldn't have been born. That is your only hint about what today is."

Suffice it to say that we are both pretty angry with one another at this point. His last words to me were something along the line of if he can't remember his OWN birthday why should he be expected to remember anybody else's?

Clearly birthdays mean more to females than males. Or most males? Some?

Mom's special day is easier for a daughter to acknowledge, than a son?

I want to call a truce.

What do you think?

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Safer to Drive High?!

Heard the most absurd thing from another mom of a teenager today. My friend's daughter had two friends stop by after school while she - the mom - had left to run an errand. Upon her return, the two girls were gone and in their place were the following items in the sink: 4 bowls that had been full of Kraft Mac'n Cheese, and 2 with remnants of ice cream. On the counter sat half a dozen "Gushers" wrappers.

"What's all this?" the mom cried to her daughter. "Can't you all put these in the dishwasher? And what's with all the pigging out?"

"It wasn't me that ate all of that!" her daughter cried. "Sara and Emma were hungry!"

Then the mom paused for a light bulb moment; the visiting girls had the munchies from smoking weed. And, one of them was driving her parent's car while impaired.

"Oh, I get it. They were high? And they had the nerve to come to OUR house to satisfy their munchy cravings? And then drove?"

Her daughter looked her right in the eyes and said matter-of-factually: "Do you know that people drive safer when they're high?"

True story. It sends shivers down one's spine.

Monday, March 08, 2010

Hop to it, kids!

Six long weeks ago, I fractured my ankle and tore up some tendons and ligaments, rendering me one-footed and crutch-dependent. My two teens at home have been stunned at having to do things for themselves - like laundry and dinner - and grumpy about doing simple chores that we should have had them doing all along: feeding the dogs and taking out the kitchen trash. Wah-wah kidlets! You are freakin' 13 and 16, a hair's breath away from 14 and 17: man and woman UP!

My not being able to drive has been a terrible inconvenience for all, and both Jess and Jack continue to whine about why I don't just drive with my left foot. You can imagine WHERE I want to place said foot.

My hope is that they and their father, will appreciate all that I normally do, now and after I am a two-footed human being again, sometime by the end of this month. Stay tuned for that near-impossibility. Not my walking again, but rather, the undying appreciation.

Saturday, February 06, 2010

Catch your kids doing something good

Everybody needs a little pat on the back, especially our children. Yet there is a fine line between praise for praise sake and an acknowledgment of real achievement or a good deed.

Pre-schoolers need to know they are doing a good job with potty training, reciting the alphabet, getting dressed, sharing toys, eating their veggies and the like, so that they keep on undertaking these essential life skills. Obvious compliments continue as a child grows for things such as homework accomplished (although at some point you kind of need to quit doing that, because completing homework is something that one simply needs to do, period), being kind to friends and/or siblings, scoring a goal, giving a good performance on stage, or winning an art, music or academic contest and the like. Even being well-mannered should be cited with a smile and exclamation of "I'm proud of you."

Applauding actual achievements or good behavior is essential for building self-esteem. But to glorify almost everything they do ("Oh honey! You remembered to chew your food!") may lead to a child's sense of entitlement or a bloated sense of self.

If your kid is clearly not cut out for singing or dancing or, say, baseball, you don't want to totally dash their hopes or tell them point blank, "You stink," (siblings, sadly, seem very capable of verbalizing that assessment), but you might want to instead gently steer them towards another venue or art or sport.

Not all of my children were the best at certain things. We encouraged and supported them when they wanted to play a particular sport, for example, but if and when it became clear that they were, uh, awkward, shall I say, we didn't overly gush and give them false hope; they almost always figured out for themselves that the sport in question may not be their forte`. The next year, we would simply suggest another sport or activity in which they might be better suited and find more success in, ergo, gain more self-esteem.

Nobody's perfect, even our children. Messes are going to be made, decisions may have "disastrous" results, grades can slip, mediocre performances in sport or in the spotlight will occur. Nagging about the negative can have long-term effects. More then once I have had to remind my kids that it is not they who are the disappointment but, rather, it is/was their action that is causing my disappointment; sometimes I can see that they have understood that distinction. When it appears that perhaps they cannot, damage control of sorts needs to be implemented.

"This may not have been terrific, but that (action, comment, etc.) was great; I'm really impressed by you on that score." A quick salute to a positive can often encourage your child to take the initiative when next they are faced with a situation that could rapidly turn from not-so-great to worse.

Nobody likes to be "yelled" at, yet eventually kids, teens and sometimes, adults, discover that doing the next right thing is the better part of valor.

Catching your child doing something good applies to offspring of all ages. Example: although I am not wild about 24-year-old Kenny's choice of rambling the country sans employment, I do offer props (and I am sincere!) about his travel web site, his creative skills and his ingenuity in general; he needs to know I love him, even if I haven't embraced the whole "hobo" thing. Last week one of my teens got an "A" on a test in one subject, and a much lesser grade on another, yet I managed to put the undesirable result out of my head, instead throwing a mini parade in regard to the "A." It's progress, not perfection.

Extol your sweetie pie's actions and accomplishments when you can - and when they are real. If you role model giving compliments and cheers, maybe, just maybe, your child will one day do the same toward you.

I'm pretty much still waiting for those "yay's," but they will be uttered. Someday. Right?

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Moms Gone Wild

"By and large, mothers and housewives are the only workers who do not have regular time off. They are the great vacation-less class."
Anne Morrow Lindbergh

Yes, I am a mother, to four fine children. For over 26 years now, my maternal instincts have been in overdrive and there is no foreseeable finality to that. It never gets old, this motherhood gig, but it does - on occasion - make me weary. And that is when the mom becomes the woman becomes the girl. And she goes wild.

Every year for the last decade, my college roommates and I get together for a long weekend. We have convened in such locales as Martha's Vineyard, Jackson Hole, Chicago, New York City and Las Vegas (twice). We doff our mommy hats and become 20-something college kids, sans work, husband, offspring (okay, we do check in a few times; we're not completely irresponsible!). Still. For four days we do what we want, when we want. Nobody whines "Mom!" or "Honey!" We smile at the handsome men we pass, and in Vegas we squeal at nearly-naked men at Chippendales-type clubs. We stay up way past midnight, giggling and weeping and philosophizing. We do not change diapers, or wake up early for bottles, school buses, or cranky, sleepy teenagers. We rock and we roll in the symbiotic rhythm forged long ago as girls on our college campus in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts.

The magic and memories that are created during these annual escapes help us to rejoin the sorority of motherhood with renewal and a reaffirmation that we are, in fact, women first.

"Mrs. Evans." "(Blake, Kenny, Jack, Jessie)'s mom." I am those, I am her. But first, I am Julie.

Sometimes I forget.

This past year, I enjoyed the mini-reunion with my roommates as well as a milestone high school reunion. Both were essential in reclaiming the girl within the woman within the mother.

In July, there was a warm-up of sorts to the "official" October reunion. Dozens of former students at Weston High School circa 1970's, met up in Westport at Splash bar. Two of my girlhood friends stayed at my house for the weekend, and it was as though time had stood still as we primped to leave. I poured myself into a slinky, red-salmon sundress and the three of us jumped into my Mustang convertible, leaving my two bemused teenagers in the dust, as it were, as we headed off into the sultry summer evening.

Upon our return home about one in the morning, Jess and two of her friends were still awake, a bit dumbfounded that we three old broads were nowhere near ready for sleep.

As they rehashed their own evenings, so did we, roaring with laughter out on my porch, until Jess inquired at three a.m., "Mom, when are you going to bed?!"

"When I'm good and ready!" I replied, relishing the role reversal of sorts.

At the big reunion in October, only three wayward souls brought their spouses to the event. Thanks mainly to the advent of Facebook, most of us didn't need to steer conversation in the direction of what one did for a living, marital status, or how many children one had produced, because we had already done our due diligence online. For a night, we weren't defined by career, spouse, or offspring accomplishment. Instead, we essentially transported ourselves back to a simpler time and sat lazily around linen topped tables as if it were the high school cafeteria. We casually draped ourselves across one another's laps or shoulders; this was not done in an adulterous fashion, but innocently, nearly out of old habit.

We unearthed the boy inside the man, and the girl inside the woman, in a way that no one in our present lives could or can do. It was a precious evening. And for this mom of two current teenagers, going back to the future turned a key into understanding better the teen that I was, with the teens that I had produced.

Going "wild" for a night or two is something in which I believe mothers need to indulge. I don't mean flashing your boobs in an inebriated state, of course, but rather flashing your girlhood with eyes clear and heart wide open. Mothering yourself, if you will, while not abandoning the mommy-hood that is as deeply ingrained in you as anything else.

Check back in with the girl who became the woman who became the mom. It's a priceless vacation.