Hilltown High School Students Mobilize to Support Democracy

Members of Model United Nations Club Raise Awareness

The entrance to Gateway Regional High School in the Hilltowns features student words of support for Hong Kong protesters.

Hong Kong. A city of more than seven million people, is a global financial center known for its film industry and manufacturing sector. And more recently, known for the protests that have brought tens of thousands to its streets, all demonstrating for free and fair democratic elections. Recently, students at Gateway Regional High School in Huntington, MA, put together a campaign to raise awareness of the events in Hong Kong and to show support for the pro-democracy protesters half a world away. Senior, Cory Bisbee,  had followed the protests closely and decided to start organizing a group of fellow classmates to address them after police shockingly used tear gas and pepper spray on the protesters.  Read the rest of this entry »

Write Your Way Through Long November Nights

Western Mass Offers Writing Outlets for a Creative Hibernation

In a nutshell…National Novel Writing Month

November in New England brings shorter days, colder temperatures, and barer trees. For some, it signifies the seasons’ slow transition into winter, and marks the time when we begin to hibernate indoors, nestled in sweaters and clutching mugs of tea and bowls of soup. If you’ve got a good indoor project to work on, all of this hunkering down may not be a bad thing – even for families.

This November, early hibernators can make good use of their indoor time by participating in one of two fantastic writing projects that will be taking place! Offering opportunities for writers of all ages to craft either a new novel or a collection of poems, these writing opportunities come at a perfect time of year. We’re all preparing to head indoors for a while anyway, so why not begin a long-term indoor project at the same time! Read the rest of this entry »

New York Times Summer Reading Contest for Teens Inspires Literacy via Current Affairs

New York Times Summer Reading Contest for Teens

For many teens, summer can be a whirlwind of activity – between outdoor explorations, visiting friends, working on hobby projects, and maybe some volunteer work or a part-time job, there often isn’t much free time left! However, many schools send students home with a list of books – some required, some suggested – that they are to read and fully digest during their break from classes. Adding some educational material to the summer isn’t a bad thing – though teens can be very busy, it’s also quite healthy for them to stimulate their intellectual curiosity. School lists can include everything from Fyodor Dostoevsky to Barbara Kingsolver, and are compiled with the students’ learning and growth in mind.

The New York Times is, for the fifth summer in a row, offering an additional way for teens to learn and grow through summer reading. However, instead of focusing on major literary works, the program uses the Times’ own content as “required” reading. The New York Times Summer Reading Contest asks teenagers to read at least one interesting news item per week, and to share a brief piece of writing about why the piece sparked their interest. Open to students ages 13-19, the contest allows for one entry per week – meaning that students are welcome to read as many pieces as they want, but that they must choose a single one to write their submission on. After the week has ended, one student opinion will be posted on the New York Times website!

Read the rest of this entry »

Parenting Possibilities: Keeping Our Kids Safe

Keeping Our Kids Safe: Other Persepectives

Is education, communication and an expectation of responsibility around alcohol more useful in keeping our kids safe than raising the legal drinking age? Shana shares her thoughts and invites readers to share their thoughts too.

My almost 10 year old has been curious about alcohol lately. The other day he picked up my glass and asked me what I was drinking. I just answered him honestly and said that it was hard cider and explained that it was like regular cider with alcohol in it. He asked if he could try it and I said no.

After that moment I reflected on whether it would not have been so bad if I let him have a sip. The idea stuck with me. It made me think about the various approaches to alcohol and youth around the world. It seems apparent that U.S. teenagers have some of the highest rates of alcohol abuse in the world. The U.S. is also only one of seven countries around the globe that has chosen 21 to be the legal drinking age. Every other country either has a younger legal age or no minimum age.

I realize that this subject may trigger some of you. I write these thoughts not to profess I know what is best but to bring my perspective to the table. I also chose this subject to generate a conversation as I can imagine many parents feel concern about alcohol use and their kids. As a parent, I would give my right arm to know that my future teenage sons will sail through their adolescents with no issues around alcohol but I am also realistic and frightened that that will probably not be the case.

So as parents, how can we keep our kids safe?… Read the rest of this entry »

Hindsight Parenting: Cutting Cords

Five Things Hindsight Has Taught Me About Cutting Cords…and Cords That Cut

We all have heard the term, “cut the cord,” and most seem to generalize it to birth and our children’s transition to adulthood. However, that phrase is so much more. So-Much-More. Here are 5 things I have learned about cords and cutting:

Cutting the cord often signifies an ending–for the parent–but it is truly a beginning…for the child. The first time the cord is cut is literal and physical, but a beginning, a beautiful beginning. The tiny infant emerges from the dark in which he or she resided for nine months. It is his or hers first sweet breath of Earth’s life sustaining air. It is the eyes first experience of incredible and illuminating light. It is the ears first chance to clearly hear the veritable voices that will fill his or her head and heart for years and years to come. Cutting the cord frees the child so that he or she can be wrapped in the loving and awaiting arms of a mother who will cradle him or her in literally and figuratively for the rest of her live long life. It is often the first monumental and significant task of a father who with scissors in hand and tears in his eyes releases his child into the world. Cutting the cord is a beginning…

Read the rest of this entry »

ARTeens: Art Program for Teens in Franklin County

ARTeens: Free Art Program for Teens at The Art Garden in Shelburne Falls

Franklin County teens have a new after school option this school year!  The Art Garden, a community-supported art-making studio, is hosting ARTeens, a free after school art program in Shelburne Falls.  Co-facilitated by local artists Phyllis Labanowski and Jane Beatrice Wegscheider, ARTeens offers local middle and high school students a space to exercise their creativity, try out new materials, and work on skills in creating a variety of different styles of artwork.

Held on Tuesday afternoons from 3-6pm, the program begins on Tuesday, October 22nd and will run in three different six-week sessions throughout the school year.  In order to participate, interested teens must complete an application (a short and simple one!) including basic information about themselves and their artistic interests.  Applications must be submitted by Monday, October 7th, and students will be notified about participation by Monday, October 14th.  While the series is free for Franklin County teens, those residing in other counties may be able to tuition into the grant-funded program.  Students at Mohawk Trail Regional School can utilize bus transportation from the school in order to get to The Art Garden; others will need to arrange their own transportation…

Read the rest of this entry »

Trail Crew Work Opportunities for Teens in the Berkshires

Teen Trail Crew Work Opportunities this Summer

Many teenagers do their summertime growing-up while working for minimum wage.  Structured activities (such as part-time jobs) with specific and clear expectations provide teens with more than just something to occupy their time – they learn responsibility, methods of effective communication, punctuality, reliability, and other useful real-world skills.  Important though such attributes are, most of the jobs available to teens involve spending time indoors (often hours on end) and, with the current economic climate, jobs for even the most inexperienced workers are hard to find.

While a first paycheck can be an important rite of passage, the Appalachian Mountain Club offers teens an incredibly worthwhile alternative to working retail or foodservice.  Teens looking to acquire life skills while accomplishing something both tangible and meaningful can participate in the AMC’s Teen Trail Crew weeks in south Berkshire County this summer. Participation in the program means working hard from Monday-Friday to help maintain and improve AMC trails, as well as working as a group to pitch tents, make food, feed a campfire, and completing all of the other tasks that come with wilderness camping.  Typical projects include moving rocks, cutting trees, and using tools to build trail features (including bridges and walk boards).

Read the rest of this entry »

Equality for All: Spoken Word Video Contest for Western MA Youth

Hampshire County Law Day 2013
Spoken Word Contest for Middle & High School Youth

Hampshire County LAW DAY 2013: A Spoken Word Video Contest for Middle & High School Aged Youth. — Spoken word poetry is a powerful, high energy form of storytelling intended for onstage performance. It has ties to hip hop, modern poetry, postmodern performance and monologue theater, as well as jazz, blues and folk music.

As we teach our children how to conceptualize the world, they are most certainly forming their own opinions about what it means to live and exist within it.  We give them lots of information on the past, and perhaps even more than that, we give them advice and guidance for navigating today and the future.  We share with them critical information about our history – both as individuals and as a country and culture – and we try to help them make sense of it.  Whatever they gain from it, they then use to find their own place in the world.  But rarely do we ask them to tell us what it means to them.

When we teach students about things like feminism, civil rights, tolerance, and equality, the topics become important to them not when we teach them, but when they find a way to connect to them.  And what better way to find out what they’ve learned than to ask them to share what these things mean to them?

The upcoming Hampshire County Law Day (which will take place on May 1st, 2013) is offering an opportunity for middle and high school students to do just that.  Youth interested in making themselves heard can create an original piece of spoken word to the Northwest District Attorney’s Citizen Advisory Board – pieces will be reviewed by the board and three students will be given the chance to share their voice and their perspective during the event.  Held to celebrate the steady development of equality in America, the event focuses on the same ideals shared by those who wrote the Emancipation Proclamation 150 years ago, as well as followers of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., whose famous, “I Have a Dream,” speech took place 50 years ago.

Submissions to the contest should be in video form, as the most important element in spoken word is the delivery of the poet’s work.  The deadline for submission is 4pm on Tuesday, April 23rd.  For more information about both the contest and the event, including specific content guidelines for submissions, visit northwesternda.org.

Hindsight Parenting: Special People

Special

When I meet up with those who are disinclined to do what is best for my child, it is probably time to find someone else to do that particular job, or time to find another group in which she can take part because there are many special people out there who are willing to do what right no matter what. And our special daughter deserves those special people in her special life because, after all, she’s so special …to us.

She’s just a girl. Not special. Not any different than any other toddler. She’s infatuated with Princess Sofia and Doc McStuffins. She has a stuffed lamb, Mi Mi, who she can’t be without. She adores her daddy and loves playing school because her mommy is a teacher. She’s a pint size philosopher who packs a punch with wise words that are seemingly beyond MY years. But she isn’t special. She’s just another child in a world of children.

But to us, her father and me, she is everything. She is quite extraordinary and yes…she is special; special in ways that are too numerous to ever recount in a single post let alone a single novel.

But she also has special needs. She needs help making her muscles strong; to get her core to fire, her left thigh to not fail her, her ankles to hold her steady. She needs help getting her fingers to work in a coordinated way so that pulling a sticker off a paper isn’t a monumental marathon-like task. She needs wait time so that her mind can map out a succession of movements. She has needs…special needs.

Over these last few years, I have been awestruck with the humans that we have encountered; professionals whose sole desire is to get her to develop to be her best self. On the way to stronger muscles and more coordinated fingers, they have taught her the satisfaction of persistence, the wonderful feeling of meeting goals, the necessity to pay attention and follow directions and the invaluable knowledge that a desire to work hard even if it is inconvenient or difficult is one of the most important characteristic one could possess. For these humans who have a constant presence in my daughter Ila’s life, I am more grateful than I could ever pen. Our daughter is special, as special to these helping humans as she is to us.

As with most toddlers, she belongs to many different types of groups. Each “group” has a leader. And while many are willing and able participants in our quest provide every opportunity for Ila’s brain to develop new pathways for movement and the processing of that movement, unfortunately, we have also come across humans, adults, who see our daughter’s special needs as a burden; “an extra thing to do.” Read the rest of this entry »

Hindsight Parenting: New Year’s Resolutions for Parents

Leaving Stressors Outside the Front Door for the New Year!

January; the month of promises to change, to improve, to start anew. We usually are gung-ho, walkin’ that treadmill, drinking those smoothies, foregoing those nasty cigarettes for…well…awhile. But let’s be honest, Hindsight tells us that we rarely CHANGE…I mean REALLY CHANGE. Pretty soon that treadmill is collecting laundry that hasn’t quite dried, those smoothies are impossible to drink because the blender is broken and what starts as just one cigarette while out with friends goes right back to a pack a day habit (Yes, my dear friend whom I love to pieces…I am talking about YOU and those blasted cigarettes. I want you to live a long life…so sue me!)… Read the rest of this entry »

Hindsight Parenting: Five Christmas Wishes

Happy Holidays, Everyone!

Our friend, Hindsight has been really busy this season. He is working overtime reminding me of the mistakes I made over the many Christmases with my sons. He’s reminded me of the ridiculous pickles I had gotten myself into, and the misery irrationally placed upon me because of perceived have-to’s and should-do’s. And like the loyal friend that he is, he has taught me much this season, or I should say he has taught me much ABOUT the season; what it is and what it isn’t. He’s reminded me that Christmas means magic and love and togetherness. It means traditions and family and bustle and wishes, most of all wishes. I’d like to share the wisdom Hindsight has imparted to me over these past few weeks, and because he tells me that those Christmas wishes are an integral part of the season, I’ve decided to pass on his knowledge in the form of a wish list for you… Read the rest of this entry »

Hindsight Parenting: Learning & Practicing What Not to Do

The Experience of Hindsight

Hindsight. It isn’t just for parents who have raised children for 10-20 years. It really is a super power that ANYONE can have. Making friends with and becoming wise because of Hindsight can happen to each and every human who has ever made a mistake or has been dissatisfied with any aspect of their lives. John Reyes once said, “Over the last few years my education was not from books, it wasn’t from some fancy Ivy League School masters degree program; it came from my own personal experiences which were costly…but priceless in things I learned.” I am sure that Reyes, in this quote, was talking about my friend Hindsight. You see we have all experienced things were not proud of, not fond of, things we wish we could have done over. It is that EXPERIENCE that brings Hindsight to our front door. And if we are lucky enough to have the universe hand us a situation where we can choose differently, where we can be wiser, where we can look back upon what didn’t work and do things that will work instead, then we should consider ourselves very lucky. Very lucky indeed, because it is within these moments in which we gain a modicum of wisdom and, yes, maturity as well.

This is the sort of experience that I was faced with Tuesday night when my presence was summoned to a certain institution because choices made by a beloved son. He was in trouble, real trouble and as I quickly changed out of my pajamas and threw on a pair of sweats and a sweatshirt it dawned on me that I had no compass as far as how to act, what to do, what to say when I arrived and laid eyes upon him. Should I be supportive, emotional, firm, rejecting? How? How should one act towards her child when he’s acted without though, putting him and others at risk?

Dealing with Hindsight as much as I have, I recognized that familiar “no compass” feeling as a sign that somewhere deep in the recesses of my cavernous soul, I knew that I didn’t want to act in the way that I was “taught.” My upbringing was one in which you never brought shame upon your family. That making a consummate mistake would be enough for one to be cut off. Aunts, uncles, even a grandmother was held at bay and sometimes never seen because their choices and life styles were deemed not good enough or perhaps not worthy of familial fuzzies. Being at the stinging end of these rejections for immature and reputation damaging choices that I had made, I knew that hurt and damage that complete and utter rejection could cause. What’s more, the message that that rejection sent was one in which the reject felt that they were and would always be the sum total of those mistakes; nothing else, not flesh, not bone, not good deeds or intelligence, not talent, not human….just bad choices worthy of rejection. And as I drove towards the institution that I had been summoned to, I was sure, absolutely sure that I didn’t want to act like that. My son has troubles, makes poor choices, sometimes seems like he is drowning in anger and rage, but his sum total is much much more than this turbulent time. And yet, familial learning is so deeply entrenched that Hindsight may be able to help you know what you DON’T want to do, but it may not be able to help you with what you DO want to do.

So before I entered the building in which my son sat clearly troubled, clearly IN trouble, Hindsight reminded me that although HE may not know how I should act, someone that I had in my life was ALWAYS willing to help shape and mold me and give me a compass that always seemed to point me in the correct direction. So despite the late hour, I dialed her number, presented my dilemma and she, as usual, lovingly, patiently and firmly pulled me up by my bootstraps and gave me concrete directions on what my role as his mother needed to be. So I turned off the ignition, blew my nose and wiped my tear streaked face. I took a deep breath and walked up the ramp with Hindsight’s hand on the center of my back and my right hand firmly squeezed into my husband’s left hand. The automatic doors swooshed open, I was ushered into a room to find a crumbling son seated in a chair.   Read the rest of this entry »

Science Quest at UMass for Teens

UMass’ Science Quest
Saturday, October 27th

Science Quest is an exciting opportunity for high school students to visit the UMass Amherst campus and engage in hands-on science activities, demonstrations, and guided lab tours. All presentations are organized by UMass faculty members and designed for high school-aged students. Science Quest is a one-day free event happening on Saturday, October 27th in Amherst.

Students learn about a wide variety of STEM topics in school – everything from the periodic table to the Pythagorean Theorem – but often aren’t shown the interesting, practical, and often surprising ways that STEM topics can be applied to real life!

High school aged youth are invited to UMass’ Science Quest, an annual free event that offers students the opportunity to learn firsthand about science research, the practical applications of science knowledge, and the creativity that STEM work sometimes allows!

At Science Quest, students can take a tour of the school’s physics lab, to see how nanoscales are made; learn about both the political and technological sides of biofuels, solar energy, and fuel cells; and see crazy (but science-based) demonstrations of peanut butter being turned into a powder, ice cream made using nitrogen, and more!  The event will also include a panel discussion with current UMass students pursuing degrees in a variety of STEM-related fields, as well as a Q+A with UMass faculty and staff on the university’s programs and studies of STEM in higher education in general.

Registration is required – students may attend as part of a school or homeschool group, or on their own.  Science Quest will take place on Saturday, October 27th from 9:30am-4:30pm at UMass’ Integrated Science Building (661 North Pleasant St.) in Amherst, MA, and includes free registration, parking and lunch. Limited travel funding and PDPs for teachers is also available. For more info visit  www.umass.edu.

Teens Require a Balance of Unconditional Love & Firmness

Raising Children: Love, Limits & Lessons

The Northampton Bike Path and Stubborn Teens

According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, 52,000 bicyclists were injured in traffic accidents in 2010 and a huge percentage of that number reflects those who were not wearing helmets. Taking this into consideration, we decided we were not willing to accept the risk of injury to our teen.

You might be thinking, “What the heck does the path and teens have in common?” It might be a stretch, but bear with me. You see, it all started when I took my grandkids on a walk on the Northampton Bike Path one day. I love that walk and if you’ve never been, the next time you’re in Northampton, go check it out. Using the trail, one can get from downtown Northampton to Look Park, Leeds Village and even all the way out to Station Road in South Amherst, using the Norwottuck Extension Trail and the Norwottuck Rail Trail. There are even future plans to extend it out to Williamsburg someday.

While I was on my walk that one day, I noticed a group of teenage boys riding their bikes. They were all dressed in a way that their peers would consider them to look cool, except for one thing; they all had bike helmets on. The boys appeared to be around the same age as our 14-year-old who has been trying to avoid wear a bike helmet this summer. This lead to a conversation my wife and I had recently, about how we were going to reintroduce this matter to our teen, now that she has taken a new interest in riding her bicycle to her friend’s house. She’s one of those stubborn types who focuses excessively on her appearance, especially if she’s leaving the house. We remember her going through the tween years, refusing to wear a coat when it was cold or rainy because it wouldn’t look cool (glad that one is over). Now we’re going to have to tell her that she’ll have to wear a helmet when she rides her bike. We know that one’s not going to go over well!

According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, 52,000 bicyclists were injured in traffic accidents in 2010 and a huge percentage of that number reflects those who were not wearing helmets. Taking this into consideration, we decided we were not willing to accept the risk of injury to our teen.  When we arrived home, we announced to her that a helmet would be necessary for all future rides. She of course threw a fit as we expected, and announced she would not be wearing a helmet. We allowed her to express her opinion and then went about our day. We know that our lack of arguing with her may lead her to think that we’ll cave, but we won’t. In a few days, I’ll offer to take her to the store so she can pick out a better fitting helmet and again, I’ll be ready for her to object and refuse to go.

The next time our 14-year-old wants to ride her bike to her friend’s house, we’ll gently remind her of the new rule and she’ll most likely respond by throwing a fit over it. That’s what many teens do. My wife and I will remain calm and stand our ground, that’s what effective parents do. Based on past experiences with her, she will probably refuse to ride to her friend’s house all together before retreating to her room. A few hours will pass and then she’ll reemerge from her room, reluctantly asking that we take her to the store to buy a helmet. She’ll be grouchy for most of the day and we’ll read texts from her to her friends about how horrible and over protective we are (yes, we monitor her texts with her knowledge).

Creating rules and limits effectively requires a balance of unconditional love AND firmness, with plenty of room for our kids to object. We should also allow their objections to occasionally change our minds if appropriate. In each situation we should allow them to disagree, state their case, and then take their points into consideration before both parents emerge as a team to deliver the final verdict.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Bill Corbett

Bill is the author of the award-winning parenting book series, Love, Limits, & Lessons: A Parent’s Guide to Raising Cooperative Kids (in English and in Spanish) and the executive producer and host of the public access television show Creating Cooperative Kids. He is a Western Mass native and grew up in the Northampton area. As a member of the American Psychological Association and the North American Society for Adlerian Psychology, Bill provides parent coaching and keynote presentations to parent and professional audiences across the country. He sits on the board of the Network Against Domestic Abuse, the Resource Advisory Committee for Attachment Parenting International, and the management team of the Springfield Parent Academy. Bill’s practical experience comes as a father of 3 grown children, a grandfather of two, and a stepdad to three, and resides in the area with his loving wife Elizabeth and teen step daughter Olivia.  You can learn more about Bill and his work at www.CooperativeKids.com.

[Photo credit: (ccl) Anita Hart]

Q&A: Dating

QUESTION AND ANSWERS

“Depends on the type of date,” writes Lauren Koblara Kostantin. “A group outing like to the movies or mall or someplace, maybe 14? One on one? I’d say 16. That being said, my son is only 3 so I guess things could change in 10 years.”

At what age do you think dating would be appropriate for your child(ren)?

  • Brianna Lamke writes, “35”
  • Ilyza Sarah Earle writes, “LOL, what a question! I second that, 35.”
  • Meg Lefkowitz writes, “Group dates at 14-15, depending in maturity of the kid. Single dates at 16-17, again depending on maturity.”
  • William Cortis writes, “I agree with Meg. Maturity and responsibility play a huge role in the factor.”
  • Kara Kitchen writes, “Group dates or chaperones at 13; 16+ for single dates or in cars driving… But we’ll see in three years if we stick to that, lol! We have twin boys, don’t know if I would say the same w/girls…”
  • Karina B. Heart writes, “So many factors come into play when answering this question. Each scenario is different. I trust my daughter (15), but I also know that things can quickly move beyond her ability to navigate. I have to have met her date and his parents. At her age, “dates” are limited to short intervals in a public place (not movie theaters) where I’m within a few minutes drive and reachable by cell phone. “Hanging out” can happen at home in public areas of the house and never behind closed doors. She hasn’t seriously dated anyone yet. Holding my breath and trusting her good judgment!”
  • Carrie St John writes, “The group dates at 14. 16 for solo dates assuming you meet the other teen first.”
  • Robin Morgan Huntley writes, “I think that it depends a lot on the types of social interactions that a kid has as non-dates – I grew up in a rural area where the only thing I ever did was have.friends sleep over, and I didn’t start “dating” until my potential dates were old enough to drive me (17, in my home state’s case). However, I think that when I have kids, if we live someplace like Northampton where they can walk into town with friends, getting ice cream or coffee as a date would be acceptable at an earlier age (15-16) since it wouldn’t require letting them ride (or drive) with a new, young, and likely nervous driver.”
  • Kristen Handschuh ‎writes, “15/16″
  • Lauren Koblara Kostantin writes, “Depends on the type of date… a group outing like to the movies or mall or someplace, maybe 14? One on one? I’d say 16. That being said, my son is only 3 so I guess things could change in 10 years :)”
  • Karen Dearness writes,“16”
  • Suzanne Hall Howell writes, “I have told my children they are not allowed to date until they get married, and they are not allowed to get married until they are 35… every mother I tell that to, thinks its a great idea, the kids, not so much.”
  • Sonya MacPhail writes, “It depends on the maturity of the child.”
  • Kimberly Kelly writes, “Never! Lol, but 14 with supervision would be acceptable!”
  • Erica Wise writes, “They can date whenever they want, it’s just that what the date consists of and who goes on it with them will change with age. Mom drives until I trust them to drive themselves, I’m thinking maybe sometime after college. ;)”

[Photo credit: (ccl) dans le rêve]

Online Science Fair For Teens

Everyone has a question. What’s yours?
Google Science Fair 2012

Calling all curious kids!  Google is hosting their own science fair for kids ages 13-18!  Students who enter are asked to develop a project based on a question of their own, then design a website giving information about the project and create a video or taped presentation about their work!  Kids can enter alone or in groups of two or three.  The contest is just like a regular science fair, except that kids will be presenting their work online instead of in person.  The deadline is April 1st, meaning students have just over a month to develop their question, do research, and find concluding information.  Students can pursue any question they want, so long as they’ve developed it themselves!  The science fair provides kids a way to exercise creativity within the realm of science- an opportunity that isn’t often provided within a traditional educational experience.  Kids will learn to ask and answer their own questions, set goals, and carry out independent work and research.

Check out Lauren Hodge of Pennsylvania, who was inspired by dinner with her family to ask questions and develop a project for the Google Science Fair last year… and won!

To learn more about the contest, visit www.google.com/sciencefair.

Spoken Word: Nurture & Empower Individuality

Embracing Difference Empowers Individuality

Although all of my previous posts have dealt with the lessons I learned and taught inside my classroom, some of the most profound moments have come when my students walk out of these doors to create the next chapter of their lives.

Today I received an email from a former student simply entitled “Thank You.” When I saw who the sender was, I couldn’t help but smile.

Here was a girl who nearly everyone had written off in high school, even her parents. When she first walked into my classroom, she carried the stigmas of being not smart enough, not pretty enough, not good enough. Through her essays and journal writings, I got the sense that her confidence and self-worth had been constricted and strangled by many strands of these thick and heavy “nots”. Ironically, and thankfully, the strongest strand that weaved its way throughout all of her writing was that of hope.

The semester that she was my student just so happened to be the one that I chose to teach from Jean Auel’s, The Clan of the Cave Bear. Themes of Love and Power and Feminine Strength filled the classroom everyday, and I found that this seventeen year old student related to the traits of individuality, perseverance and honor exuded by the main character in the story.

As her peers, parents, and even other teachers continued to label her as academically and socially unmanageable, I hung on to that glimmer and spark which still shone bright in her eyes just behind her veil of insecurity and self-doubt. Along with honest and supportive feedback regarding her coursework, praise for her efforts and pride for her accomplishments were all she heard from me on a daily basis. Over the course of the term, her writing became more insightful and her discussions more expressive. She was beginning to shed the heavy burdens of self-deprecation to reveal her true identity which had been forced to hide in the shadows for so many years. She was growing up, and embracing her positive changes.

When she graduated, I held on to the hope that she would have the strength to maintain out in the real world, for she would be surrounded once again by those who would rather ignore her than try to get to know her.

A year after she walked out of my classroom door for the last time, I received her email and was reminded once again that instead of shunning those deemed different, we should nurture and empower their individuality. For these will be the ones who shine the brightest in our lives.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jeff Winston ♦ Teaching Teens: Lessons I’ve Learned in the High School Classroom

Jeff Winston writes our monthly column, Teaching Teens: Lessons I’ve Learned in the High School Classroom, illustrating the life lessons that he taught, and just as often learned, both in and out of the classroom. Jeff has lived in Easthampton since 2007, after moving up from Philadelphia with his wife, Alli, and their 3 dogs, Murphy, Zoey and Maggie. Jeff has a private tutoring business, Tap Your Truth, specific to enhancing writing and study skills, focusing on empowering individuals through their own written and spoken words. Jeff writes a blog called Better Out Than In…, a place to read creative expressions of his life’s experiences, samples of his student’s work, and tidbits that will enable readers to gain insight into their own lives.

Spoken Word: Teens Define Responsibility

Defining Responsibility

My ultimate goal as a teacher was to turn teens on to themselves and to guide each of them to their own unique value in this world. One of the paths that I chose to accomplish this was through the texts that we explored.

In my last post, I illustrated how each of the “four obstacles” that Paulo Coelho expresses in his book, The Alchemist , could be applied to our own lives. One of the other books that I loved to teach from was Into The Wild, by Jon Krakauer, as I found that the themes and life lessons expressed within would be of much value to my 11th and 12th grade students.

One of the major themes I cover while teaching Into The Wild is that of Responsibility. Inevitably the class breaks into two factions: those who believe that the protagonist, Christopher McCandless, died on his journey in Alaska because he was irresponsible and reckless, and those who admire him for his courage and independent nature and blame his death simply on an unfortunate accident.

Trying to get teenagers to speak effectively on topics that they are passionate about can be quite the task, as they tend to simply rant narrow-mindedly about their viewpoint without any real meaty substance to support their opinion. In all discussions, I take the middle ground, many times playing devil’s advocate while instigating arguments for both sides of the coin. Especially when it comes to discussing their thoughts on “responsibility”, I try to get them to think deeper than their surface level which is mostly made up of ideals they’ve learned from their parents or peers, or their stubborn denouncements of those very ideals.

Today during this class discussion, all of the above is being highlighted, and the volume is getting louder and the voices more animated by the minute.

In a brief moment of regrouping, one of my students raises her hand.

“What exactly does responsibility mean, anyway?” she asks. “I mean, who’s to say that what you deem responsible I won’t deem careless. For example, I’m sure that Chris believed that he was being responsible as he trekked out into the wild of Alaska alone, but I just think he was ignorant to the power of nature and was simply gambling with his life. So, how do we truly define responsibility?”

These are the moments that I relish, when the student becomes the teacher.

“How many of you define responsibility with a positive connotation?” I ask.

Out of fifteen students, only three have their hands raised.

This brings us to the next question.

“For those of you not raising your hands, why do you view responsibility as a negative ideal?”

In an instant, hands shoot into the air… Read the rest of this entry »

Another Misguided Parenting Technique

The World Can Be Tough

The world can be tough. If you are soft or Pollyanna-ish, it can really do a number on you. I am beginning to believe that in our current days one of the most important things we can do as parents is to prepare, not shield, our children from the unfair and sometimes downright cruel things that take place whether worldly or locally, whether in families or with peers. Building an armor of awareness and teaching strategies for handling strife to our children, in my opinion, is paramount parenting. I just wish someone had told me this 17 years ago.

Raising my sons, I did nothing to prepare them for the inevitable hardships and the unjust. Instead when bad things happened, I wanted to spare them any negative emotions and so I sugar-coated, coddled and downplayed anything that might make them upset or uncomfortable or unhappy. Let me give you some examples:

  • “Gannan, you should have won that baseball game. That umpire was blind! Little Johnny was safe!”
  • “What do you mean the teacher yelled at you in front of the class? Just because you didn’t do your homework doesn’t mean it gives him the right to humiliate you!”
  • “Oh Aidan, of course they like you. They probably just didn’t invite you to the birthday party because they could only choose a couple of people.”
  • “I know you don’t like to read, so why don’t I read to you.” (Ugh. And I call myself a teacher?)
  • “Just tell them I needed a little more time in the hospital. Don’t mention my heart failure.”
  • “Just don’t talk to them anymore because they let you down.”
  • “He didn’t really mean it when he called you that name.”
  • “He didn’t really mean it when he made fun of you.”
  • “You didn’t make the team? I’ll have your step-dad call the coach. He’s a friend of his.”
  • “You are scared of not winning? Then you don’t have to compete.”

You get the idea. I spent the majority of those boys’ lives, trying to keep them from hurting. As if that is what a good mom does. (There’s that blasted phrase again! See previous column!)

Like so many other misguided parenting techniques, this one while it soothed in the moment has lasting consequences. My boys, you see, are absolutely, positively, and completely unprepared for anything bad to happen to them. The problem is that the older they get, the less natural it is for their mother to step in. Therefore that means that the consequences stay the consequences.

When this realization hits one or both of these boys, they crumble like a two-day old sand castle. Ummm….it’s much more dramatic than that. Let me try that again…They implode like a dynamited city building during a controlled demolition. There’s a lot of noise and all that is left is pieces after the dust settles. I realized a few years back that I had created this monster in the boys and have worked diligently to reverse it by slowly and gently introducing life skills that will help them with the old “life isn’t fair” adage. Trying to work against mindsets that expect things to go their way has been a difficult task, but one that I think is imperative if they are going to be successful human beings. So, like any other parent who has to right a wrong, I push along, hoping that through consistency even though they are ever so close to adulthood that a mind shift will take place. A perfect example happened a couple of weeks ago with Aidan. Believe me, it was excruciating for me not to try and fix the problem for him, but I dug in with nails and teeth and limbs and instead tried to teach him the necessary strategies to stand up for himself.

Aidan is working this summer at a very popular pub in a horse-racing town not too far from here. He was extremely lucky to get the job as bus-boy and food-runner. The pay is amazing, and I grew up with the owners so he is comfortable with his bosses. The first night was highly anticipated for its potential to earn a great amount of tips as this is THE pub that the racing clientele flock to after a long day at the track. Even I was excited for him as he left that first night, and I waited up to find out how he made out.

Hearing the car pull up in the driveway late that evening, I sat up a little straighter on the couch eager to give him my full attention. He opened the front door and I expected him to bound in with tales of cash, of tray carrying, of flirting with the waitresses and swearing with the cooks. (I know…I really need to reign in the imagining part of my brain.) But what came through the front door wasn’t at all what I expected. Read the rest of this entry »

The Bloomin’ Onion

An Awkward Dance

Yesterday I saw my youngest son for the first time in five weeks. He wasn’t away at camp or on vacation, and he still lived just a mere 7 miles away with his dad. But for reasons I won’t go into here, he didn’t want to see me or any of us who lived in the little house in which he used to reside. So it came as a surprise when he called wanting to attend his big brother’s play with me.

Just before I left to pick him up I was nervous as a middle-schooler going to her first dance, a combination of giddiness and anxiety crashed around in my stomach. He came out to the car hiding under his bangs which were down to below his nose. The mom in me wanted to shout, “Ever heard of a hair cut??” But the middle- schooler just wanted him to like me. So I put on a cheery smile and tousled that long hair and said, “Hey stranger! I am so glad to see you.” He blew the hair out of his face but avoided my gaze. Staring straight out the front window of the car smiling awkwardly as if he cut out a picture of the Cheshire Cat’s grin and pasted it on his face he answered, “Yeah.”

Luckily the drive to the theater where the play was being performed was a short 60 seconds, but the silence that loomed in the car made it feel like 60 years. So much to say, and yet I was so unsure of how, when, or even if I SHOULD say it. As we approached the school, I mustered a few comments about someone taking my secret parking spot. Perhaps I tried too hard…perhaps it was too cheery, but I got a multi-word response–progress.

Sitting down in the auditorium, I glanced up at the clock and realized that we had 30 minutes until the show started. Thirty minutes—an eternity with the way things were going. Still in middle school mode, my palms sweat and I searched for something “cool” to say–some area of conversation that we could find common ground, but my mind was blank. No. Not really blank. It was filled with all the things I wanted to say, needed to say, wanted him to hear, needed him to hear, and all of that was too loud and drowned out any clear thinking.

I was sweaty. I was mad at myself. I felt like a fool. I mustered a “How’s work?” question. He turned toward me, still not meeting my eyes, but answered in a short paragraph. Once again the silence loomed over us and I began to chastise myself. Then…well then Mark arrived, and well, I can only describe his appearance as a gift from the Universe.

Read the rest of this entry »

Trial and Error Parenting

What Makes a Good Mom?

Do you have a running reel in your mom brain?  You know what I mean.  Words that you say to yourself, questions you are constantly posing, reprimands with which you punish yourself?  Maybe it’s just me.  Maybe I should be called Sybil.  Who knows?

My running reel is lengthy and complicated and persistent, and includes a pesky question that really has become my mantra for motherhood.  “What would a GOOD mom do?”  I am not sure about other moms, but quite often I’d come up blank on that question.  Typically when coming up short with an answer, I’d ask anyone who would listen to the situation what THEY would do if they were experiencing something that I was with my teen boys.  I was perpetually gathering knowledge with that constant question dogging me; “What would a good mom do?”

But lately I have been pushing against that question.  I guess you could say I was questioning the question.  I am starting to believe (after extensive research on my part…after all I have been mothering those boys for 17 years) that it may not be the correct question to ask when trying to parent or solve those adolescent problems and dilemmas that often show up.  As I said previously, if I came up blank when trying to solve or do the “right” thing for my boys, I would go out into the world and ask other mothers.  But I wouldn’t just do that, I’d read every book, article, and website on the subject, and I would try it all—like cutting open Grandma’s feather pillow in a windstorm…I’d fling out my good intentions and hope, pray, that one of those feathers would land in the right spot.

And that is just it…when searching for what a “good mom” would do I would get as many answers as there are feathers in that pillow.  Could all the moms, books, articles, websites, be right?  Could they all be wrong?  When trying to mother under the guise of “What a good mom would do,” most of the time I was more confused than when I started searching for answers and strategies.  And I am sure that to those two boys of mine I seemed schizophrenic, non committal, flighty.  I mean if one thing didn’t work within what seemed to be a goodly amount of time, then those rules went out the window only to be replaced with something else.  And if that didn’t completely work…which often times it wouldn’t…some new technique would come to take its place.  When those boys are thirty, I hope against all hope that they’ll be able to look back at this trial and error type of parenting with a fondness and understanding that I was trying.  REALLY.  I was trying.

Nowadays, I am still trying-just in a different way.  Read the rest of this entry »

Parent for a Day: A Teen Lesson Plan in the Birds & the Bees

My Back and Help Please Instead of the Birds and the Bees

Our teens are bombarded with images…constant pictures, messages, videos, television shows that promote promiscuity and sexual exploration. I recently ran across a particular show that glorified teen moms, and while the show didn’t sugar coat the trial and tribulations that come with parenting, the mere fact that these teen couples are on a very popular television station makes it tempting for other teens to replicate and mimic or be like their new favorite reality stars. But it isn’t just reality shows that sends our teens wrong messages, there are actually television series out there that are written around the idea of high school students sleeping with various members of their clique or group. The most recent one (that thankfully was canceled due to losing many sponsors) was called “Skins.” This was the tagline that accompanied their website, “Be it sex, drugs, the breadth of friendships or the depth of heartbreaks, Skins is an emotional mosh-pit that slams through the insanity of teenage years. They’ll crush hearts and burn brain cells, while fearlessly confronting every obstacle head on…or slightly off.” These kinds of messages constantly bombarding our teens fuel their natural curiosity and raging hormones, setting them up to perhaps face horrible consequences.

Now, I’m not a prude, not prudish one bit. How babies are made was a discussion I had very early with both of my sons under the assumption that it was essential for the conversation to happen when what Mama said still held water. Safe sex methods are also topics of conversation in my household because, of course, knowledge is power. I want my boys to be armed with as much knowledge as possible so when the day comes (and moms-the day WILL come) they will know how to be sure that their health and future aren’t ruined because of one hormone-raging-devil-may-care-all-encompassing moment of teenage passion.

Hey, I was a teenager once. (Yes boys REALLY I was.) I remember how difficult it was to be in those types of situations and fight against peer pressure, and well, body pressure. I remember. (Don’t you?) I remember all reason and clear thinking flying out the window of that parked car…ehem…and so I know…I know that abstinence is unlikely, which of course opens up a world of possible trouble for THEM and a world of worry for ME.

So as my son’s relationship with his girlfriend develops and moves towards their half year anniversary (eons for teens!) I find myself worrying more and more about what that closeness means. I also find myself unable to find the right words, the right way to broach the topic with my son. (Shocking isn’t it? ME not being able to find words??? Someone call the papers!) But as it turns out, I really didn’t need to after all. Sometimes fate intervenes and reminds me that ACTIONS speak MUCH louder than words.

This past Sunday, friends of mine from Florida were coming for a cook out. I am always so happy when they visit and I wanted everything to be perfect for them. So, I went overboard. Making macaroni salad, cleaning our outdoor porch, rearranging the furniture that inhabits our backyard space, a little landscaping, dip-making, keeping Ila entertained made for one-pooped-mama. As it neared the time that they would arrive, I went to tidy the kitchen. I filled the dish washer and bent down to put the detergent in, and snap. I mean SNAP! Something on my lower back plucked like a guitar string and down onto the ceramic tile I went, paralyzed with pain that radiated from my back to my hips and down my legs. I couldn’t move.

After an initial panic from my teen (he thought I had a heart attack) he eventually came around to asking what I needed. After he helped me off the floor and onto the couch, I burst into tears. He then begrudgingly (after all he IS a teenager) inquired how he could help. I am POSITIVE he regrets that phrase…but hey, he asked so I went with it. I immediately turned into the couch dictator instructing him on how to clean the microwave, mop the floor and pick up Ila’s toys, and although my understanding friends rescheduled our visit, Aidan wasn’t off the hook. Thirty minutes after my fall, my 22 month old woke from her nap and that is when the real work started.

Read the rest of this entry »

Motherhood: Get Me Off This Ride!

Crazy About Being A Mom

So I have been struggling with what to write this week because, well honestly, I don’t want to sound schizophrenic, psychotic, crazy, loony tony…you get what I mean. You see looking over that last few columns it sounds like life has just been peachy here in teenage boy land. But well that just not true. It truly is a see saw here, or a roller coaster, or our household is bipolar. I don’t know, I can’t think of any other analogy for “up and down.” But would you know what I mean if I said that Paula Abdul’s “Two steps forward, three steps back” song plays over and over in my mind lately.

I mean there seems like there is so much to celebrate. And I have mentioned those. I mean there’s the new girlfriend who really and truly is every mother’s dream. There’s the fact that Aidan got a job. Then of course there is my determination to be at peace with Gannan’s decision to live with his father (and well, gulp, live LIKE his father as well.) There’s the fact that we are planning for college and prom has come and gone. Summer is here and with it comes new jobs for each boy making them independently wealthy and in need of less gas money.

But with every good thing, every rise of the roller coaster, height of the see saw, every manic mood (okay, I’ll stop with the analogies,) there is something or some things that inevitably pulls me back down to the depths of despair and blackness and worry. No it’s more than black desperate worry. Quite often it is anger and frustration and an incredulous feeling that those teenage boys could be so damn disrespectful, so damn exasperating, so damn stubborn and entitled.

Here’s an example: Read the rest of this entry »

A Possible Remedy for Mom Guilt

Guilty Mom

I can’t watch the new Rice Krispies commercials.  They make me sick with guilt.  Do you know the ones I am talking about?  They usually portray a very attentive mom and a toddler/preschooler on her lap.  She is helping the child stir marshmallow into the bowl of Rice Krispies.  She’s talking quietly, face beaming.  The child is enraptured by his or her mama…and after watching this mommy bliss the tag line says something like, “The best treat is the one you get at home.  Rice Krispies.  Childhood is calling.”

It’s commercials like these that cause me to feel completely inadequate in the mommy area.  I mean it isn’t that I didn’t bake with my kids.  (At Christmas time it is a family tradition to bake treats together.)  It’s just that honestly (well, I vowed to be honest…) life wasn’t really like this in my house.  In MY house if we made Rice Krispies treats the scene wasn’t ANYTHING like the link above.  It was madness.  It was chaos.  It was fighting.  (I want to put the marshmallow in.  NO I want to put the marshmallow in.)  It was screams of agony when the comb came out to saw away at sticky hair.  It was more marshmallow on limbs and naked stomachs than in the bowl.  (Hey! How else could the boys try and stick their belly buttons together like some kind of twin super heroes?)

Connecting with as many moms as I have connected with over the years, I know, (intellectually I know) that most households are more like mine than the commercials we see on TV.  But still.  But still…somehow that mom guilt-guilt that my sons didn’t have an idyllic family life–eats away at me.  It has an uncanny ability to withstand any attack by rational thinking or clichés.  “I did the best I could with the circumstances that I was in.”  OR “I grew as a human being and righted many parenting wrongs so that they weren’t detrimental to my children had they continued.”  OR “No mom is perfect.”  OR “Experiencing hardship puts hair on their chests.”  (Okay…maybe not that last one…)  ANYHOO…the fact is that looking back over the years should be a celebration.  Momentous occasions to revel in overcoming strife, making good decisions, and equipping my boys with the will and the smarts to become adults.  And, damn it, I did that.  Those boys are good kids.  They stay away from alcohol and drugs.  They are empathetic to those less fortunate.  They have optimism about changing the world for the better.  One’s personality lights up a room.  One’s brain will figure out how to light a room using less energy.  There is so much good.  I am not sure why I (and many moms like me) can’t just concentrate on that.  It’s the bad….and you all know there are a few minor imperfections that those sons of mine acquired over their relatively short lives…that causes me a great deal of guilty rumination.  My mind’s running reel of shame sounds something like this, “If only I had….If I had just insisted on….If I could go back I’d….How did I miss that….I wish I had…”  Sound familiar anyone?

It’s an age old question isn’t it?  How to get rid of that pesky mom guilt?  If I made a sort of cathartic list would that help? Read the rest of this entry »

When Teen Boys Are Left Alone You Never Know What Will You Come Home To

Together for Better or for Worse

I used to be afraid to leave them alone—together. It seemed that every time I went grocery shopping, to the dentist, over to a friend’s house, I’d come back to what was equivalent to Armageddon. Chairs would be tipped. Food on the counter, on the table, down the stairs, all over the basement couch. Wrappers littered the living room floor, the front steps, the driveway, front lawn. Something was always broken; mirrors, furniture, windows, toys…limbs. Occasionally, while I was gone my cell phone would ring and when I’d answer it, there’d be blood curdling screams on the other end. One boy was threatening to kill the other. One son had pummeled another. Most of you might’ve jumped from the dentist chair, left the groceries in the middle of aisle 12, or politely told the friend that you had diarrhea and took off fast in your car towards home. And…like you…I would do the same thing. Right-down-to-the-diarrhea.

So for awhile, I stopped leaving if they were both home. I held up like a trapped animal in my tiny master bedroom, ears perked, legs ready to run to break up a fight, mouth ready to scream to halt some destructive action. My husband and I were prisoners because of my “fear” of what might happen if I wasn’t there to control the outcome. My sons’ hatred for one another wasn’t going to ruin the house or the things I worked so hard for. I was determined to have a “happy” house. I was tired, so tired of the fighting and the bickering and the chaos. I was frustrated with their disregard for the peace I so desperately demanded.
Like I mentioned in the column last week, peace did come — however, not in the way that I expected. Gannan moved in with his father. Many said to me I should rejoice in the freedom that his absence offered. No longer would I have to worry about the violent fights and the shouting matches that had so permeated seemingly most moments of the day. But, I didn’t feel that way. I couldn’t see ANYTHING positive in Gannan’s leaving. Mothers are the greatest martyrs. They love. Even in the face of the most horrific pain, they still love.

Over the last 6 months, we have seen Gannan periodically. Every other weekend he came to “visit.” Most times, I didn’t have to worry or even think about that old problem of not being able to leave the house. Aidan, after all, has a very nice girl friend, and so much of the weekends were spent with her somewhere (ANYWHERE) but home. But last week, Gannan’s father went away and Gannan stayed with us for a longer stretch of time than those brief weekend “visits.”

Days before he came, that old fear began to creep into the cob webby part of the corners of my mind. I started to steel myself on the notion that for several days I’d once again be a prisoner in my house so that I could be there to control my sons’ behaviors. To be sure they walked the line. To be sure they stayed away from each other. To be sure that there was peace in the house.

The first night, the boys begged me to let them play the X Box together. Nothing violent, just an innocent game of NHL. And sticking to my word (written in the last column) I tried to focus on the positive and gave them ONE chance to get it right. I didn’t hear from them for the next four hours. I take that back…I actually DID hear from them…but it was laughter and giggling and jovial competition that shot up the basement stairs like lightning. The next day, I got home from work to find them out into the street playing a game of one-on-one basketball. Humming the song, “You’ve got to ACCENTUATE the positive…” I pasted a smile on my face and asked who’s winning?  “Awww. We’re not keeping score. We’re just playing around.” Gannan replied as if non-competition was some sort of everyday occurrence.

That evening, I needed to run to the store. My husband was out, and once again, that old scared feeling took over. Instantly, my positive attitude melted away to the pushing resentment that seemed to enter every pore of me. Here I was again. Not able to leave my OWN home because those boys of mine fought as often as a child eats a peanut butter sandwich. However, a little bit of that positive voice remained and it whispered, “Give them a chance.”  Read the rest of this entry »

The Many Things Mom is to Teens Other than Mother

I Am Mother

I am not a woman. I am not a scholar or someone with even a brain for that matter. I do not have feelings, or a master’s degree. I haven’t lived a long life or gathered wisdom. I do not have anything to offer the world except perhaps Chap Stick in the winter, and ice cream money in the summer.

However, I AM a paycheck, backpack holder, note writer, Advil provider and a whole HOST of other inanimate objects and random people when it comes to my sons.

Sometimes I am an alarm clock. It seems that some days the only words that my 17 year old wants to hear from me is to tell him “when it’s time to leave.” Or wake him “up for school.” Or tell him “when dinner is ready.” Well, I AM slightly round and I have two hands and perhaps my voice is a little ringy and high pitched, so I suppose it isn’t a stretch that he mistakes me for a timepiece.

Sometimes I am a detective, scoping out missing items, solving puzzles and dilemmas. Why just yesterday I found my 17 year old sitting on my bed in my bedroom. He was looking serious. I knew that he needed my services. “Mom,” he said gravely. “I can’t find ONE sock. Not one sock ANYWHERE.” I took out my trusted magnifying glass and went to work. In the end, the socks I found weren’t a match, (ok– one was pink and one was black) but hey, my client wasn’t specific. Then came the puzzle; How to spare the 17 year old from the ridicule that might come if his buddies found out about his mismatched socks? This detective was able to solve that too. We covered them with his sneakers. Brilliant aren’t I? It’s all in a day’s work ma’am. All in a day’s work.

Sometimes I am punching bag–a punching bag that even after a brutal beating, still stands. Have a fight with your girlfriend? (“How was your day?” “Just shut up mom!”) *WHAP* Get a D on a Social Studies essay? (“Sweetheart, how did the social studies go today?” “Mom can’t you just leave me alone?”) *POW!* Get bullied by the local punk? (“I HATE you mom!”) *BLAM BLAM BLAM!* Don’t have any money to join your friends at the local Taco Bell? (“Why did I have to be born into THIS family?”) *KAPOWIE!* Luckily this particular brand of punching bag has an extremely thick skin!

Sometimes I am a stylist. I am often needed to remind about color combinations. That navy and black dilemma gets him every time. Before a date, I am outfit approver. For the record, my favorite is the mint green Izod Sweatshirt with the melon polo underneath. I am a hair stylist, trimming when necessary, shaving the backs of necks and making appointments at the salon for major reconstruction. I mend holes in collars where tags have been ripped out and sew on missing buttons. Recently my services were required for a more formal something. When shopping for a prom tuxedo, my opinion was actually asked for and used in the final decision.

I’ll admit that there are sometimes that the boys make me feel like an “it” –insignificant in this house in the world, in their lives. The car door that slams and leaves me saying “Have a good day,” to the air, the eye rolls, the disdain for any word that leaves my mouth, the fact that my mere presence sometimes seems like a colossal burden leaves me bitter sometimes, and I wonder what my purpose is. But as I reread this narrative, it dawns on me. Whether it be piggy bank or stylist, a safe place to figuratively punch or a skilled detective, a mother’s purpose is to be for her children what they need her to be at any given moment. And so I confidently add to my list of things that I am: Mother. Sometimes an unhappy mother, but mother no less.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Logan Fisher

Logan has lived in Glens Falls, NY all her life. By day, she is an educator with 20 years experience, a mom to Aidan and Gannan, her two teenage boys, a new mommy to a beautiful daughter, Ila, and wife to the love of her life, Jeffrey. By night, weekends and any spare time she can find, Logan writes. She loves memoir and also adores writing essays about the challenges of parenthood. This year she started a parenting blog called A Muddled Mother, an honest place where mothers aren’t afraid to speak of the complications and difficulties that we all inevitably experience. Logan has been published in various children’s and parenting magazines including Today’s MotherhoodEye on EducationFaces, and Appleseed.

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    Six Rules For Teens

    Bill Gates Would Make a Great Parent!

    I recently joined a blog network full of moms who write about their kids. Being new there and in order to find some connections, I started a discussion group called “Got Teens” for moms of adolescents. Pretty soon the moms started coming out of the wood work to join–mostly to commiserate with others about their teens. I have to admit at first it felt good to realize that the adolescent experiences that we have in our home are not unusual.

    Over and over I have heard stories of sons and daughters yelling and screaming at their parents, refusing requests and, of course, the daily, hourly-heck-by the millisecond-slamming of doors. At first, it satisfied me that perhaps I hadn’t done anything “wrong” when raising my sons, but instead perhaps it was generational or “normal” for kids between the ages of 14-18 to torture their parents with explosions that rock the house over something as simple as an innocent comment like, “Whew, Aidan your feet are stinky!” At first it satisfied me…at first, but then Bill Gates got involved and now I am back to thinking that parents of this generation ARE partially responsible for the lack of respect, lack of work ethic and just a general lack of politeness that perhaps other generations had to a degree.

    Bill Gates? You ask. Yes, Bill. Last week I received an “urban legend “ email that was an excerpt of a high school graduation speech that was supposedly given by Bill Gates, which was later proved not to be the truth. However, WHOEVER wrote the list was a parenting genius, pure and simple. In it was 11 things that are never taught in school (and I contend at home as well.) I will give you the link to the whole list at the end of the column, but I wanted to address SOME items of things of which I (and perhaps other parents…or maybe it’s just me…anyhoo…) was guilty of NOT teaching or allowing my sons to experience.

    Rule one was Life is not fair – get used to it! I get sweaty reading this one, mostly because I know that for many years I shielded my boys from the bad and unfair. Not only did I shield them from it, if something unfair happened, I would vehemently try and right it so as to spare them any feeling of discomfort. Although I meant well, it backfired on me and unfortunately my boys. Instead of raising obliviously happy-go-lucky sons, I instead created two little men who think that they are entitled for things in this world to ALWAYS be fair and equal. And, like Bill says, we know that just doesn’t happen. Instead of making things happy and shielding them from the sad, I should have equipped them with a sense of balance that sometimes things don’t work out the way we want them to, but there will be other chances if perseverance is their guide.  Read the rest of this entry »

    What’s Worse? A Group of Teens in a Car on a Saturday Night After 11… or the Imagination of a Worried Mom?

    Runaway Cars or Runaway Thoughts?

    What is it about teenagers that make any rational parent turn into a suspicious, hand wringing, worry wart? And what is it about a group of teens… in a car… on a Saturday night… after 11 that makes a mom sit on the edge of her bed, bouncing a nervous knee, chewing her finger nails and imagining all kinds of mutilating scenarios and terrible trouble that adolescent boys could get into?

    Perhaps it is all the horror stories we hear on the news. Perhaps it is because deep down moms know that the mere fact that they have a 17 year old means that there is bound to be trouble. Perhaps it is none of these. Whatever the reason or reasons, I was feeling the pressure of fret last Saturday night when my 17 year old climbed into what looked like one of those circus cars filled with a never-ending stream of clowns, except the clowns-in this instance-were a mixture of adolescent girls and boys four of them to be exact jammed into the crevices of a compact car. Did I imagine that the driver peeled out of my driveway? Maybe I should have looked to see if he left skid marks.

    For the most part while Aidan was out, um, well being a teen, I distracted myself with dishes and the baby and folding laundry and writing. But in the quiet moments just minutes before his curfew my mind began to plague me with anxiety, especially when there was a jolt, a vibration and jingle of a bell. “It’s 11:15 who could be texting this late?” I asked myself when really I knew the answer in my gut. Shakily I looked down and Aidan’s text read, “Can I stay out ‘til 12?”

    I considered. I pondered. He is with good kids. He has never given us a reason to worry about poor choices like alcohol or drugs. And so, even though his curfew is 11:30 I answered,

    “Yes. 12. Not 12:05!”

    Feeling satisfied and trying hard to concentrate on the fact that my son was having fun and doing what kids his age do, I popped on the TV and snuggled down under my blankets. And then a jolt, a vibration and a jingle of a bell. This time, Aidan’s text read: “If I go to dad’s for the night, can I stay out later?”

    I read. I was puzzled. This is unexpected. I raised an eyebrow while I recited the text to my husband. He and I decide that we are not playing this game of back and forth between whichever parent is more lenient. I answered a resounding, “No! There is nothing that you can do after 12 that u can’t do b 4!”  (Getting good at this texting thing aren’t I?)

    I felt satisfied, but it only took one comment from my husband for the suspicion to creep into my bones and under my skin and swirl through my mind. “Why do you think he wanted to stay out later? He’s never asked for that before?”

    And my thoughts were off. The first imagined reason for needing to be out so late flashed through my mind — my son in a passionate embrace. Gulp. Yikes! I quickly wiped that thought away only for a whisky bottle in a brown paper bag being passed back and forth between the passengers and the driver to immediately take its place. Trying to calm myself down, I forced my hand to pick up the clicker and I absentmindedly started surfing through the channels. I stop at COPS. Oh good lord! COPS. THE COPS! What if they are in trouble with the police and he’s trying to hide it from me by claiming to go to his father’s house. Unfortunately, I hadn’t had a chance to talk myself out of THIS particular frenzied thought before a jolt, a vibration and a RINGING of a bell. My phone ringing. RINGING. No text. Actual voice to voice communication coming from my son’s phone. This must be serious.  Read the rest of this entry »

    Broken Bones and Teenage Boys

    Mother Called the Doctor and the Doctor Said, “No More…” Well You Know The Rest!

    As a mother of two teen boys I know a lot of things that I never in the world thought I’d know.  For instance, I know that young athletes play 6 innings of baseball in Little League and I can recite the names of every Yankee player on the team including all the relief pitchers.  I know that COD is not just a fish, but something that can unite a flock of adolescent boys and cause them stay up all night trying to “beat a level.”  I also know that it is possible to wear the same pair of socks two weeks in a row and not die of a skin disease. In that same venue, I know (only after standing in my boys’ bathroom last week on cleaning day) that there is actually a place in the world that smells worse than a gas station bathroom.  I have witnessed firsthand there are certain sounds that come out of a teenage boy’s body that can be so hysterically funny that a group of boys can laugh raucously about it for at least an hour, especially if one or more of them can imitate said noise.  But the most important tidbit that EVERY mother of teen boys should know is the phone number of their local orthopedic surgeon … by heart.

    Believe it or not study after study shows that girls on average break more bones than boys.  But I’d like to talk to the scientists who conducted these studies because they certainly have never lived in my house or my friends’ homes who have boys.  So many many stories I could tell.  Where to begin?  How about with this week’s break?  I got a phone call from Gannan’s dad a few days ago asking me for the name of the orthopedic surgeon I usually take my sons to.  I of course spewed off automatically his name, age, wife’s name, address, favorite color and gift he wants for Christmas…What??  Don’t judge… I see him more each year than I do some of my own family members!  In the same conversation Gan’s dad told me that Gannan had a possible finger break and that if he needed a cast he was going to refuse it.  When I asked why, he told me that it would prevent him from playing video games.  I still have the wound on my tongue from biting it so hard.

    Then there’s the infamous bike rodeo incident.  I think Gannan was 4.  I got a phone call at school from Gannan’s pre-school teacher.  She sounded frantic and a cautious… you know the kind of voice?  The one that says, “Please don’t sue us.”   For this break, (it was an ankle) it seems that little Gannan was exuberantly riding his training wheels through the parking lot when one of his feet slipped and got pinned in between the bike and the pedals—getting stuck there… stuck enough that they had to call the fire department to get him out.  When I arrived, the sight before me was akin to a scene out of some Denzel Washington movie.  Four fire trucks, an ambulance, concerned looking preschool teachers holding back a corral of screaming 4 year olds and several uniformed fireman with large tools surrounding my son.  Gannan was in full meltdown—snot hanging to his chin, crying… no no… wailing incoherently.  I ran to him like Lassie’s owner when Lassie came home.  Hair flying in the breeze, arms outstretched, moving piano music playing in the background—all, of course, in slow motion.  I dropped to my knees and put my arms around my tiny son and said, “There, there sweetheart.  Mommy is here.  Tell me where it hurts!”  Gannan immediately looked at me disgustedly (a look I have probably seen a million times since) and said, “I’m not crying ‘cause my leg hurts!  I’m crying ‘cause they’re taking apart my bike.”  Upon emphasizing the word “bike” Gannan started wailing again.  This would be the first of many breaks for Gannan.  Since then he’s broken a wrist, a collar bone, his ankle twice and an arm.  Heck we’ve been to the emergency room so many times, the doctors and nurses now recognize him and say things like, “Hey!  It’s the kid who loves to pogo stick!”  I really think it is time I get some revenue from my local hospital.

    However the worst break (or I should say BREAKS) we’ve had to deal with was the time that Aidan broke BOTH… I said BOTH of his arms.  It was a typical scenario.  I gave a direction.  Aidan ignored it.  Chaos ensued.  (Moms of boys all over the world are nodding their head right now!)  To make a long story short, we pulled in the driveway.  He ran, skipped and squealed towards our front yard tree shouting, “I am going to climb that tree!”  “DON’T YOU DARE!”  I said firmly as I hauled in the groceries through the front door.  I am a much wiser mom now and would therefore know that that phrase was not convincing enough.  If it happened now, I would have added “Or you won’t see the light of a video game for weeks.”  But live and learn!  Anyhoo!!  As I am sure you’ve figured out, Aidan climbed that tree and fell face first reaching out his hands to catch himself and breaking his right wrist and left elbow.  Of course two casts ensued, the ones that don’t allow the arms to bend.  When we returned home and for weeks later I found myself doing two things I never thought I’d do after Aidan’s second birthday.  The first was harmless—a job that no mother would object to doing.  Since my son could not feed himself, the task became mine.  Oh sure I teased.  Asked him what kind of baby food he liked best and other cheesy jokes like that, but meals became a wonderful way to spend time with my third grader.  However, the second job I was forced to perform due to Aidan’s unbending arms was no laughing matter and one that neither of us enjoyed.  Let’s just say that having to deal with a nine-year-old’s bathroom habits is NOT anywhere NEAR the pleasant experience a new mom has when changing her newborn’s diapers.

    With all these bone breaks, hospital trips, casts on arms and legs, there is one piece of knowledge that all moms know from the moment that their children are born; that no matter the way the injury occurred, no matter the number of trips we take to our local orthopedic surgeon, nothing compares to the worry, sadness and helplessness we feel when our children are hurting.


    ABOUT THE AUTHOR

     

    Logan Fisher

    Logan has lived in Glens Falls, NY all her life. By day, she is an educator with 20 years experience, a mom to Aidan and Gannan, her two teenage boys, a new mommy to a beautiful daughter, Ila, and wife to the love of her life, Jeffrey. By night, weekends and any spare time she can find, Logan writes. She loves memoir and also adores writing essays about the challenges of parenthood. This year she started a parenting blog called A Muddled Mother, an honest place where mothers aren’t afraid to speak of the complications and difficulties that we all inevitably experience. Logan has been published in various children’s and parenting magazines including Today’s Motherhood, Eye on Education, Faces, and Appleseed.

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