5 Things Your Middle Schooler Is Doing Right Now

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middle-school

As a middle school teacher, I assure you that the modern day middle school experience is every bit as awkward as yours was. Since you’ve probably blocked out those memories, here’s a refresher on the five essential activities of the middle schooler.

1. Finding out some piece of fascinating, yet grotesque and terrifying knowledge about sex. Elementary school playground talk bordered on the silly and patently false; No one freaked out when Cindy McClanahan told everyone that sex was when a girl and a boy licked each other’s butts, because no one thought that was actually true. Same when Billy Gibbs said that all the families in the neighborhood had two kids because wives got pregnant by eating one of their husband’s testicles. But middle schoolers are seeing more mature films, having more unsupervised time online, and hearing more from their older siblings, so their sex talk has the air of authenticity. I’ll never forget the slumber party conversation during which I first heard of a blow job. Purely speculative, of course—my cadre of friends and I were still trying to get boys to notice we existed—but I was dumbfounded. What? People put… that’s a thing? So make sure you don’t talk about anything sexy around middle-schoolers. They’re already traumatized.

2. Being hopelessly, obsessively in love with someone. Middle-schoolers are notorious for being fickle, but what their affections may lack in duration, they make up for in intensity. The Adored One may be someone your child has never interacted with, doesn’t currently interact with, and will never interact with. He or she also might be a giant fuck-up and the last person you’d ever want to see your child wed. Don’t sweat it. Once high school comes, he or she can move on to more terrifying people who might actually impregnate, or be impregnated by, them. You’re welcome.

If there’s one thing that defines a middle-schooler’s existence, it’s this senseless, aching passion known as a “crush.” My seventh-grade crush had long hair and an earring and smoked cigarettes behind Turner’s Bowling Alley, where I saw him every Saturday morning for Youth Bowling League. I would follow his movements with my eyes while Def Leppard’s “Love Bites” evoked in me a curious feeling I now know as “sexual awakening.” In my journal, I lamented the impossibility of our union; he was a rebel, I was a nerd, and we’d be forever fettered by the labels society had imposed upon us. He had a longtime girlfriend whose bangs were formidable in both size and stiffness. In 1989, this meant she was an alpha female. So I stayed to myself, drawing hearts on the cover of my journal with nail polish and obsessively calculating and recalculating our compatibility using a time-tested formula based on how many letters our names had in common.

For most of my middle school career, though, my crush was my academic rival, whom I inexplicably failed to woo by beating him twice in the school spelling bee. Although he lived in my neighborhood, the only time I ever came close to talking to him was when my parents drove by his house one summer day and he was outside shirtless mowing the lawn, whereupon I screamed and ducked behind the passenger seat. We did finally share a painfully robotic slow dance at the eighth-grade formal, but were “cut in” upon by a popular girl. She finished the dance with My One True Love while I went home to pack for the National Spelling Bee. The local paper ran a full-page photo of me with a mouth full of braces and my arm around an unabridged dictionary, which I’m sure made me irresistible to every boy in the eighth grade.

The moral of these stories is, there’s nothing you can do as a parent to control or even mitigate the vicissitudes of love. Just remember not to talk about anything sexy, ’cause it’s gross.

3. Contending with some sort of physical calamity. There are so many of these in preadolescence—acne, orthodontic torture devices, changing in the locker room, the first menstrual period, random classroom boners. But what I remember most are the fashion calamities. At no other time in life will people look as completely ridiculous as they do in middle school. The evolution of my fashion sense in middle school went something like this:

Sixth grade: Hmm, my parents are largely picking out my clothes for me, but these hand-me-downs from a slightly older family friend obviously are not working out. You know what will fix that? A giant bow on my head for picture day, and silver shoes from Payless Shoe Source. There. Now you’re stylin’.

Seventh grade: Buy me whatever anyone else is wearing. I don’t know why people are doing this with the bottom of their jeans; just leave me alone. Yes, I need two pairs of socks. In contrasting colors.

Eighth grade: Now that I’ve almost got this figured out, it’s time to switch things up a bit. A skort in a loud, hideous print? And a matching one for my best friend? All we need is matching t-shirts decorated in puffy paint. I think we all can see who’s the trendsetter here!

Boys, at least, don’t have to contend with makeup. One day in eighth grade I put mascara on my eyebrows. I have no idea why I did this. The boy who would later become my best friend, with a candor I’ve come to appreciate in a gay man, said, “Oh my God; what did you do to your eyebrows?”

I shrugged. “Just something different, I guess.”

He continued to stare at my face. “You look like a vampire.”

Your parental responsibilities on this one are pretty light. Let your kids wear whatever. If you have to go to the mall, just walk far behind them. That’s what they want anyway.

4. Struggling to navigate a barely navigable social hierarchy. If you have a middle-schooler, he or she is probably being threatened or socially excluded somehow. And chances are, he or she is threatening or excluding someone else. I don’t necessarily mean “threatening” in an overtly physical way, the way I was threatened by the biggest girl in seventh grade, nicknamed “Beef,” who vowed every day to beat me up in the locker room. She also enjoyed torturing me by putting my ink pens down her pants, which I had done absolutely nothing to warrant. (Except, I suppose, being a small, timid overachiever who named her ink pens. But that’s neither here nor there.) “Threats” in middle school can be, and often are, unspoken, leveraged by those with social power. And since what middle-schoolers desire most is social approval, those unspoken threats can be very compelling. Daily, middle-schoolers are getting thousands of (sometimes conflicting) social messages: If you do this, people will like you; If you do this, people won’t like you. Above all, the object is to conform, to blend. Not to stand out, and not to look weak. Middle-schoolers need to be babied sometimes, but they can’t risk letting anyone see it.

With such enormous social pressure, is it any wonder that middle-schoolers sometimes feel that pressure from their parents will take them over the edge? Parents want them to be mature, but not to grow up too fast; some kids are given the responsibilities of adulthood before they’re given the rights, some vice versa, and some are given both way too soon. I’ve seen enough kids cry in conferences to know that many do want to please. They just can’t please everyone, enough, all the time.

5. Worrying about being normal. This is one thing you, as a parent, can do something about—nonverbally, verbally, whatever way you can. Middle-schoolers need reassurance that they’re OK. And that it’s all going to be OK, even if it seems weird and horrible right now.

In fact, that reassurance may be the single most important thing you can give. So give it liberally.

But don’t talk about sex. That’s gross.

10 Benefits to Having Teen Boys

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teen-boy-awesome
Gone are the days when I was chasing my three active boys around the playground, or wiping their chocolatey mouths or their cute, little butts. Although two of my three boys are now teenagers, my house is still chaotic, dirty and noisy with a large dose of testosterone pulsing through it. Still, there are times when I long for that phase of them being young again, when I could pick them up and kiss their pudgy cheeks. Yet, I’ve recently discovered that being a mom to teenage boys has benefits that I never would have foreseen when they were little guys…

1. I don’t have to bug them to take a shower. Teenage boys want to look and smell good. No more fights to force them to actually wash their bodies. They have girls to impress!

2. I can curse in front of them. For me, the mom with the potty mouth, this is a huge benefit. If I let the F-bomb slip, instead of receiving a judgmental, “Mommy said a bad word” I’ll likely receive a high-five.

3. I don’t need to buy them clothes. Three rotating outfits will be fine. They care about how they look, but not THAT much. And their clothes pretty much work year-round. T-shirt and shorts are status quo, and when it’s real cold, a pair of jeans or athletic pants and they’re all set.

4. I don’t have to have “the talk” with them. Yeah, I’m leaving all the embarrassing discussions to Dad. He can review puberty, shaving, and any talk about testicles with them. Sorry, not my department.

5. They’re never too cool to hug their mom. They may go through a few years where hugging dad feels awkward, but mom never gets rejected.

6. If I don’t feel like talking, I can get away with it. Teenage boys are not the most prolific creatures. Sometimes grunts and one-word answers are all you’ll get. And if I’m in a bad mood or it’s before 7am, I’m the same way and essentially mute. My boys never even notice.

7. They are stronger and taller, so I have a built-in helper. Need something off the top shelf? Need some furniture moved? No problem! A teenage boy seems to happily oblige if it means showing off their new and improved muscles.

8. I can finally have privacy in the bathroom. Nothing scares a teenage boy more than seeing his mom naked. He will do anything and everything to avoid this from happening. You can enjoy long, hot showers or take a magazine to the porcelain “throne” and I can promise you, you won’t be disturbed like you were when they were younger.

9. I can read their minds. If one of my teens is upset or stressed or worried, I can see it immediately. Teenage boys may hold it together for their friends, but in front of mom, they are as transparent as water.

10. I can feed them Hot Pockets, frozen dinners, or leftover Chinese food and they won’t care. Teenage boys are hungry all the time, so as long as you keep a steady stream of food going into them, they won’t care if it’s home-cooked or straight from the box. Carbs are carbs and that’s all that matters to them.

As of now, I’ve got no complaints being a mom to teenage boys. But, one year from now when my oldest will be learning to drive, my list will change and so will my attitude. Please send me valium now, because that’s one teenage milestone I’d rather not face.

How To Wake A Sleeping Teenager (Without Starting World War III)

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Unmade Bed

When I hear parents of young children talk about how their kids are up before the sun rises, and how they can’t wait until they’re older so they can get some extra sleep, I empathize. Then I tell them not to wish it away too quickly, because sweet toddlers in the pre-dawn hours beat grumpy-teen vampires any day of the week.

When my sons were little, they were early risers too, though luckily, they didn’t feel the need to do somersaults the moment they opened their eyes — a big help since I was often up late doing freelance work.  Still, 6 a.m. came awfully soon. To ease our way into the day, television shows like Sesame Street, Mr. Rogers, and Arthur were my drugs of choice, along with my mother-in-law’s video gifts of SpongeBob SquarePants and Yu-Gi-Oh! – both shows I swore I’d never watch but ended up doing exactly that, laughing along with the boys. On the rare occasion that they overslept, I couldn’t — certain that there was something wrong, I’d sneak into their room to check to be sure they were still breathing.

Years passed.  And as they did, the boys woke later and later, until, as children tend to do, they became teenagers, and the only part of the wake-up routine that was familiar was the checking-to-make-sure-they-were-breathing part.

Today, I’m a self-certified expert in How to Wake A Sleeping Teenager. Hundreds of hours have gone into my training. Here’s what I’ve learned:

Don’t Do This:

1. Take away privileges. When you’re frustrated, it’s tempting to show who’s boss. But the reality is that they’re teens for seven years. And sometimes longer. Pretty soon they’ll be muttering, okay, whatever. And you will be too.

2. Buy multiple, creative alarms. They will tune them out and make them part of their dream sequences which they will tell you about in elaborate detail, usually when you are driving them to whatever it is they are late for.  Not even an alarm that sounds like a rooster, or one that recites lines from classic movies in ridiculous voices, or one that says wake up in progressively louder voices. I have tried them all.

3. Send in the dog. This will backfire because it will make them happy and when they are happy, they feel cozier, and when they are happy and cozy they go back to sleep because they want to keep dreaming.

Do This:

1. Quietly open their bedroom door, head to the kitchen, and fry up some bacon.  You won’t have to say a word. Swear.

2. Piss them off. And believe me, this will be easy to do, regardless of how well-meaning you are. Try coming into their room and raising the blinds, or turning on the light. Or cheerily saying, Good morning, sweetheart. Or better yet, if you’re in a house with two levels, call their name from downstairs, which will sound like a yell because it is after the first few times you say it nicely.  They will then sit up and yell back one of two things: WHAT? Which will piss you off because they know very well what, or I’M UP MOM! which they are not, because if they were, neither of you would be yelling. Word of warning here — these methods are guaranteed to rouse them, but will also excite the bear in them and they will not be nice again until they have eaten.

3. Text them.  Why would they hear a text ding or feel its vibration if numerous alarms don’t work? I have no idea.  They are the next generation and they have been rewired — trust me on this.  But here’s the thing…in your text, you have to offer to take them to Subway because it turns out vampire teens will wake for Subway.

4. If all else fails, bring out the big guns; Turn on the cartoons. They secretly miss them. And the chance to slow the world down and watch them with you.

5 Ways Toddlers Are Easier Than Teens

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toddler-boy

Oh, mommies. I read so many blog posts and articles about the trials and tribulations of raising toddlers. And YES, oh sweet 18-month-old Jesus, YES they are all spot on: having a toddler (or two) at home is kind of like having the most obnoxious, handsy, drunk frat guy at the party living with you 24/7. Parenting the two, three and four year olds deserves its own special child-proofed circle in Hell some days.

But let me tell you something, ladies. There will come a day when you look back on these years with something that feels like wistfulness. A longing, even.

Because that pea-soup spewing, head spinning, chicken nugget-clutching abomination in the car seat behind you is going to be a teenager some day.

And then things get really fun.

I can’t write something like this without first pointing out the merits of teens. They are a wonder to behold. Watching your own little flesh and blood bundles navigate the treacherous teens transports you back in time. You get to relive your teen years, good or bad. Every single thing you did as a teenager comes back to either haunt you or to give you fodder for speeches and diatribes and guilt trips to lay upon your own teen.

You can have actual conversations with teenagers, which can be cool. They can do things like drive and tie their own shoes and use the stove without supervision. Most of them are adept at personal hygiene and rarely need help in that area, except when they scream from the downstairs bathroom that they need a towel.

Don’t get me wrong: I love my teens. Which is good, because at the moment, I have four of them living under my roof. We have some good times, the five of us. We have interesting debates, we watch The Walking Dead together, some days our coexistence feels a lot like harmony.

But the past few weeks have been a doozy. I’ve gone apeshit with my teens for being…well, for being teens. The low point was the night I spent an hour driving around like a tourist in the dark, trying to find the restaurant my 17 year old daughter and her friends needed to be picked up from. My girl called and whined, “OMG mom, we’ve been waiting, like, forever! When will you be here?” I screamed back: “I CAN’T FIND THE MOTHER-EFFING RESTAURANT!”. I heard muffled teenage giggles and realized with a hot, shameful horror that I was on speaker.

Yep. I’m that mom. The spastic f-bomb dropping one. In my defense, I’m also the one who always lets the kids have oodles of friends sleep over and I provide donuts in the morning. Bacon if I’m feeling generous. That redeems me, right?

But a few mornings ago, I got to thinking of my kids as they used to be. I actually got moist eyes thinking about my restaurant-going daughter as a toddler. She’d wear these stretchy knit headbands all the time, so that she looked like a mini-John McEnroe. She loved wearing her older brother’s training pants and we’d often leave the house with her wearing Batman undies beneath a sparkly tutu. She was obsessed with backpacks, so much so that I took to calling her “Packy” and at any given moment she’d have one strapped to her back, stuffed with toddler treasures.

I then remembered her tantrums. I remembered the poopy pants and the croup and the sibling rivalry and the endlessssss bedtimes.

But still…for just a moment, I kind of wished I still had toddlers. And I came up with a few reasons why TODDLERS TOTALLY TRUMP TEENS:

1. SLEEPING: I’m sure you’ve heard of the book “Go the F*ck to Sleep“. Get ready for the teen version I’ll be writing called “Get the F*ck Up, You’ll Miss the Bus”. Seriously. These people sleep like vampires. Sure, no more being awakened by two scary eyeballs peering at you from the side of the bed at 5:00 a.m., but waking a teenager is kind of like reenacting “A Weekend At Bernie’s”. God help you.

2. INAPPROPRIATE USE OF TOILETRIES: Oh it’s so funny when Junior gets into your lipstick or maxi pads and makes an adorable mess. Sometimes you take pictures of them and post it on Instagram. But get ready for the waves of nausea when you find your good bottle of body lotion under your teen son’s bed. Alongside two dozen wadded up tissues. You won’t be so quick to post those pictures, my friends. I learned this one the hard way: HIDE THE EXPENSIVE LOTION, LADIES!  Suave and St. Ives from here on out.

3. HOMEWORK: Your toddler has none. Boom. Teens have a lot of homework and while you may not be asked to help out with it as they get older, you will certainly have to hear them bitch and moan about doing it.  And you might have to run damage control when it’s 10:00 p.m. on a Sunday night and they magically remember that they have a ginormous project/paper/4-course meal to prepare for culinary class. I actually lived through the 4-course meal thing. Thank God for a best friend who can cook like a boss and who doesn’t even blink when you call her, sobbing, and ask if she can “HELP US MAKE A FOUR COURSE MEAL” at 10:04 p.m. on a Sunday night.

4. AXE BODY SPRAY: You think you’re sick of smelling poo and pee and sour milk and ketchup? Just wait.

5. SLEEPING (YES, AGAIN):  When you have babies and toddlers, you want to sleep but you can’t. When you have teens, you finally can sleep but you don’t want to. Because teens go out. Without you! And sometimes, you don’t know exactly where they are, or who they’re with. Out of sight definitely DOES NOT mean out of mind when it comes to being the parent of a teenager. Out of sight means your imagination goes into overdrive and every worst case scenario unfolds in your head with ugly clarity. Visions of abductions and choking are now replaced with nightmares about drinking and drugs and sex. You don’t mentally exhale until you touch base with your teen/baby.

You will never know the true power of  texting until you get the one that says, “Hi mom, we’re fine. On our way home.” Or even the one that says “U totes need 2 chill, mom”.

Those are just five ways toddlers are easier than teens. Now, we could flip this around and go all Opposite Day and say Oh yeah, Jenny? Here’s how teens are easier! They can talk! They don’t crap their pants! They don’t crawl into bed with you and lose control of their bladder! They don’t need their hot dogs cut into non-lethal bite-size chunks! They don’t cry at Target! They don’t wear snowsuits! They don’t go boneless and refuse to move in the middle of your Mommy and Me class, the one with the perfect women who silently judge your sub-par parenting!

And you know what? We’d be right. Having kids is hard. It doesn’t matter if your charges are tiny and have soft little feet or if they tower over you and sometimes startle you with their man-voices.

IT’S HARD.

Just different kinds of hard, that’s all. And here’s a little secret for you, something I think about when my four teens are all seemingly conspiring to make me insane:

If you look hard enough, you can still see your toddler. It might be the curve of a cheek, it might be the way they twist their hair, it might be the way they sleep with their mouth open and one hand curled up near their face (yes, it’s okay if you sneak a peek at your snoozing teens, people…just not when they have friends over. Or in their dorm rooms.). You will glance at your beautifully awkward teen and the toddler they used to be will jump out of nowhere and shout “BOO! I’m still in here, mommy! Miss me??”

And when you do get that glimpse of what once was framed so beautifully in what is yet to be? It takes your breath away. In that glimpse you begin to understand what all of those annoying-but-well-meaning old mamas are trying to say when they blather on about how fast time flies, and how we should enjoy it while it lasts.

For a fleeting moment, you see the gorgeous, bright arc of parenting. Its beauty is often hidden under layers of monotony and stress and life…but it’s there. And it’s bigger than you could ever imagine.

So, here’s to all of us and our sometimes-impossible children, big and small. May they always keep us tired and worrying and cleaning…

and loving.

Texting Your Teen, A Lesson of What NOT To Do

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teen-boy

I was walking a friend through the process of setting up a Facebook account and had just said, “The most important thing to know is that everything you post on your wall or anyone else’s can be viewed by everyone who likes you,” when a little popup appeared notifying me that my 13 year old son Keenan had updated his status.

“Keenan is horny.”

“I’ll call you back,” I said.

I reread Keenan’s status and saw that his younger brother’s friend had already read and commented on Keenan’s status with, “Wow.” Panic set in as I begin imagining all of the parents of our kids’ friends reading about my 13 year old son’s desire to have sex with their daughters. I started to write a comment of my own that went something like this, “You are soooooo grounded you…”, but remembered reading an article about Facebook no-nos if you want your kids not to hide their account from you and decided against it.

Instead, I formulated a brilliant plan. One that would mortify my son beyond words. One that would cause him to think these things through in the future and NEVER embarrass himself or his loving mother on Facebook again.

I picked up my cell phone and with a grin that maker’s the Joker’s look pretty, I texted him these four words, “How horny are you?”

I could barely contain my giggles.

That’s right kid. Don’t ever underestimate the reach of a mother’s eyes.

Within seconds, Quick Draw Mcgraw hit me back with, “WHAT????????”

As if. Now I was fuming. How dare that little twit act like he didn’t know anything about it. I could see his circle face in my head. That’s the one where his eyes and his mouth are all open at perfectly gaping proportions causing him to look like he has three circles on his face. That is his lying face. Every. Single. Time.

Feeling quite smug, I texted him back, “I saw what you posted on Facebook.”

He responded with, “What are you TALKING about???????????????????????”

It was at this point I began to feel a little tightness in my chest and my breathing started to get more labored than the day I delivered him because this one tiny thought popped into my little pee brain. Is it possible he didn’t post it?

I sheepishly texted him, “Ummmmmm. You see, your Facebook update says you are….well, ummmmm, you know….horny.”

Then there is a mortifyingly long wait and I get this text. “OMG. I would NEVER put that on my Facebook. My friend did it. I checked my Facebook on his phone and forgot to log out. OMG. I can’t believe you text me that.”

Sweet blindness causing mother texts. My unsuspecting teen was walking along innocently with his friends, all smiley faced and happy to be alive, when he looked down and without any provocation or warning, received a text from his mother asking, “How horny are you?”

I spent the rest of the afternoon wondering how in God’s name my child would ever be able to look me in the face again without needing to run to the bathroom and empty the contents of his most recent meal. I picked him up at his bus stop and was encouraged to see that he made eye contact with me without turning three shades of green as he departed the bus.

He tossed his backpack into the back of the car, came around to the front, opened the door, took one look at my, “I am such an idiot” face and busted out laughing until tears were streaming down his face. I joined in and we sat there for several minutes laughing so hard we could barely breath. Which was clearly fake laughter intended to ensure we didn’t have to speak to each other. We didn’t.

As I drifted off to sleep that night, I kept thinking the same thing over and over again, “No 13 year old boy should EVER receive a text from his mother saying, ‘How horny are you?’”

This post is the post that started Ooph. Well, more precisely, it is the moment that made me realize parenting teens was not something I was going to be naturally good at. I would need to study, do homework and most importantly, rethink every text I would ever send to my teens EVER again.

Raising Teens Is Letting Go

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Raising Teens

I have two almost 15-year-olds. When they were little I remember hearing people say, “Little kids, little problems. Big kids, big problems.” I thought they were crazy. I imagined a time when I could run to the store without a car seat in each hand. When they could cut their own food and would actually eat it so I could eat my dinner.

I imagined sitcom-like exchanges amongst them and their friends in my spotless kitchen after school. In my head they would be perfectly self-sufficient young people, capable of making the right choice at the right time.

I could hardly wait. It seemed so easy.

I am ready to admit that I was wrong. It is not easy. Being a parent to a teenager makes you question everything you thought you knew about raising children. It makes you wonder where you went wrong when they were little and why on earth you decided to have them in the first place.

You will also spend lots of time wondering how a boy who was once so sweet and cute can smell so bad. Or how a girl who once loved only you can look at you with the kind of disdain you reserve only for skinny women with perfect shoes.

There are no clear guidelines on raising teenagers. They are individuals, struggling to figure out the world and their place in it. As a parent, your job is to be there when they want you to be there.

Be there, when THEY want you to be there.

My Aunt Jan, who raised six daughters, told me that you have to be around all the time for teenagers. That way, when they are ready to talk, they’ll talk to you, if not they’ll talk to someone else. I would amend that to say they’ll talk to their friends and all their friends are stupid.

Seriously, every one of them. My children have friends who I love. Friends who are welcome in my home every day, any time. But they’re teenagers and they’re stupid.

My teenagers are stupid too.

When you have teenagers, the hardest but most important thing you will do is let go. When they want to go to the movies with their friends, at some point you have to let them. If they want to walk up to the soccer field by themselves, or worse in a car with another teen at the wheel, you have to let them.

They might act like fools in the movie theater. They might use language that you find appalling. They might drive faster than necessary, without wearing a seat belt.

Then again, they might not.

All you can do is hope. Hope you’ve loved them enough and taught enough to be brave in the face of peer pressure. Smart. Kind.

You will not always be confident that you have succeeded. If you’re anything like me you will spend hours worrying, crying, reading parenting blogs and books. Hoping for some sign that you did it right.

Then one morning your son will go to church with you and you’ll realize he is wearing clothes you would have picked out. But you didn’t. You’ll overlook the fact that his pants are hanging a little bit low. He’ll ask if he can light a candle for your sick dog. You’ll notice that the adults at your church smile when they see him and your daughter. That they want to talk to them.

You’ll realize that your kids have great manners. That even though they give you the stink eye 23 hours a day, they do actually know how to act out in the real world.

Try not to cry. It will just embarrass them.

Buying Condoms for my Son (AKA Courage in Parenting)

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buying condoms

My oldest son is sixteen and has a girlfriend.  How this happened, I have no idea.  Didn’t I just bring that swaddled lump home from the hospital?  Wasn’t it just yesterday that he was mooning over Blue’s Clues (and I was mooning over Steve Burns)?  Wasn’t it just recently that the most stressful speck on the horizon of his childhood was signing him up for t-ball?

I blinked, though, and here he is – more man than boy, navigating his first teen romance.

I was sixteen when I had my first serious (okay, my first) boyfriend.  My mother took me to the doctor to get a prescription for the Pill.  Looking back, I now understand how difficult that must have been for her.  I think the tendency for most parents is to want to keep our kids young and innocent.  It’s painful letting go of them, step by step, watching them grow into their own lives and away from us.  We dole out lectures and try to lay down rules meant to keep them safe, and if we are honest, meant to feed our illusion that we remain in control of the choices they will make.

As much as I’d like to keep my son young and safely tied up in my apron strings, I realize that it’s folly.  He is growing up, and he is making his own choices more and more.  The best I can hope for is that his dad and I have instilled in him the values that will dictate good decision-making on his part.

It was actually two of my close girlfriends who informed me one night over dinner that, now that my son had a girlfriend, and being of the age he is, it’s time to buy him some condoms and have that talk with him.  Not the sex talk – the birth control talk, the protection talk.  I was horrified.  Although I remember what my own mother did for me, I wasn’t prepared to deal with this with my own children – let alone my son.

But the more I contemplated it, the more I realized that they were right.  I could live in denial that my son was even thinking about sex; I could try to convince myself that his relationship with his girlfriend was innocent and platonic; I could close my eyes to the fact that when I was sixteen . . . But it was no use.  The inner voice that spoke the loudest in my head was the one saying, “Yeah, and while you’re busy trying to fool yourself, he could be getting her knocked up.  At sixteen.”  And the imagined implications of that scared the daylights out of me.  Two young lives potentially detoured irrevocably, forever.

I had the birth control talk with my son – a straightforward, brief monologue on my part which (hopefully) hid my wrecked nerves, while he stood with a stricken look on his face, very much like a deer in headlights.  But even after the talk, I realized that, at whatever point in time he actually decided to become sexually active, it was highly unlikely that he would have the means or the nerve to procure condoms himself.  And if one thing led to another, as they so often do . . . well, one time is all it would take.

The next time I went to Target, I had condoms on my mind.  I couldn’t bring myself to go down that aisle, though.  For the next few weeks, the condoms mocked me every time I ventured into Target.  Eventually, I was able to casually push my cart down that aisle, glancing at the condoms in my peripheral vision as I glided by.  Finally, a few days ago, I once again found myself at Target.  “This is it,” I told myself.  “This time, I’m doing it.”

I approached the aisle.  I ventured a casual glance to see if anyone else was in the aisle; when I found it empty, I rolled my shopping cart down the linoleum and stopped in front of the condoms, and promptly began to hyperventilate.  Words jumped out at me in neon script: “Pleasure Pack,” “Easy Glide,” “Ribbed for Her Pleasure,” “Fun Colors!”  Holy mother of god!  I don’t want to think about my son having fun!  Or pleasure!  “Don’t faint, don’t faint, just breathe, nice and easy . . .” I told myself.  Finally, at the bottom of the display were the no-nonsense, plain condoms.  How many to get, though?  Crap!  Six?  Twelve?  I finally decided on the economy pack of thirty-six – not because I wanted him to have that much sex, but because I never wanted to find myself in this aisle on his behalf again.

I threw the box in with my paper towels and cereal and Pine Sol and diapers, and made my way to the front of the store to pay.  My heart was thumping and I felt very close to tears – this was some kind of bizarre milestone in my childrearing career, for sure.  Of course a twenty-something guy manned every open checkout lane, only recently out of high school themselves, no doubt.  I briefly felt embarrassed about my loot, but I couldn’t worry about what the cashier might think for too long.

I deposited the box of condoms in my oldest son’s bathroom and sent him this email:

Son,

Up on a high shelf in the cabinet in your bathroom, you will find a bag.  Inside the bag is a box of condoms.

I realize that just reading this will probably horrify you – your mom buying condoms for you??  Blech!  I know.  Believe me, it wasn’t any easier for me to buy them than it probably is for you to be reading this.  However, as uncomfortable as it might make either of us feel, the fact is that you are of a certain age when things might happen, and because I love you so very much, and care so much about your well-being and your future, as a responsible parent, I have to ensure that you are protected. 

This is not permission from Dad or me.  Sex, as we have talked about before, is a huge responsibility with tremendous implications, and the truth is that it’s best left to adults.  I hope you will wait.  But to count on that would be unrealistic; I realize that you will make your own choices in this regard, just as I did when I was your age.  The best I can do is to encourage you to make those choices with intelligence and respect, and armed with protection.

This is an informational video about how to use a condom:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EdSq2HB7jqU

I love you.

Mom

We haven’t spoken of it since. He didn’t acknowledge my note, but I didn’t expect him to. Every once in a while, I catch a glimpse of that Target bag up on a high shelf in his bathroom cabinet. And I know I did the right thing.

Where’s My Puppy?

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puppy

Coming home to your child is so much fun, isn’t it? If your child is under 10, they are usually so happy to have you show up at the door, they often come to you! “Hi! Where were you? What are we going to do? Can you feed me? Wanna play? Come see the bone I dug up!” Having an elementary schooler or preschooler is like coming home to a healthy golden retriever puppy. They nearly knock you down in their exuberance to be with you.

Coming home to a tween or teenager is another experience entirely! An hour or so later they may wander into the kitchen and say, “When did you get home? Is there anything to eat?” Or, they may not have noticed that you weren’t home in the first place. If they do notice, they’re most likely to express their impatience “Where have you been?!” and follow it up with a complaint or demand. Having a tween or teen can very much mimic owning an opinionated, cranky (but hungry) Siamese cat.

This transition from exuberant puppy to cranky feline causes a lot of parent distress. After all, it’s not like we get any warning. Oh sure, our friends with older kids tried to tell us. But, seriously, their kids? Ours are never going to be like THAT.

A stark difference between owning a cat and puppy is that cats are harder to train. But train them we must, since we can’t return them to Animal Friends and try a nicer one. Although, on that note I’ve heard you can get an exchange student from another country in high school and then try to ship yours off to an unsuspecting family in Sweden or Mexico who will probably have pretty low expectations of an American teenager… Anyway, since we are likely to live with them for the better part of six years of cat-ness, we can’t give up on them or they will at once flounder AND terrorize the household.

It’s not possible to train a cat the way one would train a puppy. Puppies respond well to rewards and punishments (in theory). Cats respond to negotiation and some diplomacy, when they can be bothered to respond at all. Cats sense respect. Even when we don’t appreciate their behavior, if we have real love and respect for them they are far more likely to comply with our terribly unreasonable and annoying requests. Yell at a cat and it will stare at you like you have three heads, before putting in its headphones.

The trick to coming home to a tween or teen is to embrace your cat-owning existence. And to hold in mind the strange truth that a well-cared-for and disciplined cat will eventually change into an adult human you can admire and respect. Even better, one that appreciates you and comes to the door to meet you.