Off the Mat: Autumn Autonomy

Autumn Autonomy

“Safety is what we want for those we love. Autonomy is what we want for ourselves.”   – Atul Gawande

My childhood yard held ample trees: the willow planted in the wet culvert that didn’t grow gigantic like we’d hoped. The huge blue evergreen. The fragile mimosa we were chastised for climbing. The red maple I practically lived in the summer I turned eight. Read the rest of this entry »

My Teenage Hypochondriac

Hypochondriac

Dictionary.com defines the word hypochondriac as someone who is excessively preoccupied with and worried about their health. But really I didn’t have to look up the definition. I could have told you what that meant without even turning on the computer. You see I grew up hearing that word over and over again. One of my grandmothers was afflicted with this disorder. I distinctly remember the phone ringing at all hours of the day and night, my grandmother on the other end needing to speak to my father—right away—lest she die while waiting for him to get out of his easy chair. I often listened to conversation after conversation between my mother and father about these phone calls and the imagined diseases and maladies that always came with them. The first time I heard the word, “hypochondriac,” I immediately ran upstairs to our shelves of books to pull out ol’ Webster’s and looked it up, and although the definition wasn’t comprehendible for such a young mind, I knew that the connotation of the word was not a good thing.

And so, it was no surprise to me when one of my sons started displaying the same signs and symptoms of my grandmother at a very young age. (Dear geneticists, if you are looking for your next gig perhaps locating the hypochondria gene would be a worthwhile venture. Trust me, the people who endure the drama would forever be in your debt.) And because of my experience with good old Grandma…I was prepared. I knew the remedy to such nonsense. Ignore it. Plain and simple. Put no credence in any ramblings of a neurotic son.

I have to tell you that most of the time, pretending that I didn’t hear statements like, “Mom, I think I have MERSA.” Or “Mom? Could I be dying of a heart attack? My chest is really tight.” Or “Mom, I’m pretty sure that I have some kind of cancer. Feel this lump! Am I going to die?” worked for the most part. And if ignoring didn’t stop it, usually a simple, “No you don’t have cancer.” Or “No you aren’t having a heart attack.” Or “No, you do NOT have MERSA” coupled with an “I promise” did the trick. For years I fended off affliction after affliction after affliction by using just these strategies, and for years that simple promise worked because…well…it was a promise that was really never broken. He never did have cancer or a heart attack or even MERSA and so those promises held enough credence to calm the obsessive compulsive consistent and constant health related panics. That is until…  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 »

“You’re Grounded!” Taking Away Teen Privileges

Who Am I Punishing?

When I was young it was the telephone, time inside, or the dreaded television punishment that had us shaking in our boots. Three measly things our parents had to choose from to use as fear tactics to get us to behave. I can still hear my mom’s voice saying things like “That room is a mess! No telephone for a week!” This punishment never affected me too much. After all, our house was miniscule and for most of my life we just had one phone in the kitchen. The cord (although colossally stretched) didn’t reach my room and so privacy was nil. Therefore, I wasn’t a big phone fan. If my grades were less than what my parents expected, I would typically get grounded for five weeks. This consisted of the inability to leave my home, go outside or hang with friends until the grades were up. Secretly I relished this punishment. I have ALWAYS been a homebody and this kind of discipline tactic allowed me to sit in my cherished black pleather bean bag in the finished basement and watch TV for hours.

Back then, I guess the worst thing that my parents could do to me was to take away the TV. That was like death. No Little House on the Prairie on Monday nights? No MASH? No Wonderful World of Walt Disney? Even worse was not being able to watch my stories. (That was what my mother called them.) After all everyone knows if you miss a day of General Hospital you’d never be able to figure out what was going on because the plot was so complicated! (Snicker.)

Today however, it is different. There seems to be a veritable smorgasbord of punishment choices for mothers like me to choose from. No Facebook, no AIM, no cell phone, no computer, no texting, no Xbox 360, no Playstation3, no WII, no skyping, hand over the IPod Touch, give me the car keys, even the old standby, no TV. I could go on and on. My boys rue getting new privileges and toys because as they say, “I LOVE to take things away from them.”

I try to explain that I am not the one doing the taking but instead they are the ones making the poor choices that cause the privileges to vanish. They insist that I am the only mother who sees these new fangled toys and communication systems as things to hang over their veritable heads.

In a rather heated discussion between me and my 17 year old he insisted that taking away say the computer did not in any way coincide with motivating him to do his homework. He revealed that my tendencies to forbid the things that entertain him are not logical consequences for his lack of effort. Another startling revelation that came out of the argument (okay who am I kidding it was a shouting match) was that the very fact that I punish him in that way makes him dig in to the trenches a little deeper and refuse to do the very thing he is being punished for. He’ll show me. The problem is…  as far as grades… he’s doing himself in. In reality the bottom line is that I have already taken and passed high school courses. His decisions-poor or good-affect his life, not mine. But isn’t it my job to be the guide when the decisions he’s making are detrimental to his future?

It is absolutely positively impossible for me to know that my son is down in the “Teenage Palace” playing on the Xbox with friends, chatting on Facebook, or simply watching TV when I know that his math teacher is afraid he might not pass the class due to the fact that he NEVER (ok, rarely) does his homework. Life just doesn’t work that way. We work first and play when our responsibilities have been fulfilled. Isn’t it my job as a mother to teach him that? Some say I should let him hang—that failing grades are the logical consequences of not doing school work. But the thing is failing grades have consequences too. No college, no scholarships = no empty nest for me. I want him to be successful. Surely teaching him to have some semblance of a work ethic is a necessary thing? Was that meant to be a question? Let me try that again. Surely teaching him to have some semblance of a work ethic is a necessary thing! (She says emphatically. Well sort of emphatically. Ok… you are right. I am just not sure.)

Here’s the thing: I vacillate constantly on this subject, not sure if I can find a happy medium. It doesn’t feel right to do nothing. My son has already proved that if that is the case, he’ll do nothing too… happily… with NO reservations. But it isn’t working with me on his tushy 24/7 either. All that gets me is a kid out for revenge on his nagging mother. Lately I have tried a sort of medium—A nonchalant mention to do his homework before playing here, a suggested nudge to do a weekly internet game for Spanish there. He nods his head as he confidently states, “Got it under control ma.” Then I hear the distinct tone of the Xbox turning on and the familiar murmuring of game communication with friends. I grit my teeth. I stomp around. I spout to whoever listening. I lock myself in my room for an hour or two hoping that at some point he’ll dive into the required work. I tiptoe toward the Teen Palace door and open it slightly. The sounds of guns and aliens and bombs and other video game noise fill my ears and make my temples throb. I tentatively ask, “Got that work done Aid?” “Nope!” He responds sarcastically. “Nope. I. Don’t.” And then I lose it. The rationality of letting him learn from logical consequences flies out the window. The temperance of taking a medium stance hides in a corner of my enraged mind. And then I do what so many mothers have done before me. I scream out that ancient aphorism used for hundreds perhaps thousands of years by mothers all over the world, “You are grounded!”

“From what!” He yells back.

“From the Xbox for a week!”

Hey! It could have been much worse! He could have lost the TV.


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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    The End of the Happy Cluttered Household

    It’s Memé Clean!

    One summer, when the boys were little… say around 10 and 7… we had quite a fly problem in the house. It seemed no matter what I did — spray, fly paper, clean, clean, clean every day — there seemed to be more and more flies bouncing off the windows and zoom-buzzing by my head, seemingly taunting me with their existence. I became obsessed with ridding the house of them and spent hours on end… (Okay… it SEEMED like hours) with a New Yorker magazine rolled in my tight fist trying to sneak up on the little buggers to whap the life out of them. (Dear Editors of The New Yorker, please don’t let the fact that I used your literary greatness to squash flies influence your decision to one day let me write for you. I hope you can empathize with me after reading this column. And HEY… if you happen to like the writing… give me a call!)

    Anyway, one morning, I noticed a couple of flies coming from our finished basement (otherwise known as the boys’ encampment).  That was puzzling because the boys had just given it a good cleaning. I inspected it myself. I had been impressed that even the sticky spots on the coffee table had been wiped away clean. The flies couldn’t be originating from this room… or could they? My super-mommy-sense was tingling and despite the horrific screams from the voice of reason in my brain (“For the love of god don’t go down there!”) I let my feet take me down the stairs. When I got to the bottom, I started sniffing. Don’t ask me why. It just seemed to make sense. If I could find something that smelled, perhaps I could find the source of the flies. As I mulled around, nostrils flared, bent over at the waist lifting pillows, hefting the couch to see underneath it, I became more and more convinced that I was not going to find anything that could produce that amount of flies. After all, to the naked eye, everything was orderly, tidy and quite clean. As I trudged up the stairs seemingly defeated, I noticed a pair of flies soaring out from behind our console television. Again, despite the terrorized screaming of my voice of reason, I walked myself back down the stairs to inspect. What I found dear readers shook me to the core, made me double over with nausea, and caused purple rage to blast like a freight train to my throbbing temples.

    When I became a mother at the young age of 23, I can remember that my one goal… the single goal I had was to not be a slave to the cleanliness and orderliness of my household. Growing up, the spotlessness of my childhood home was such a major thing. With four girls, my mother (whom my boys call Memé) quite often would become extremely irate at the messes we’d leave. Looking back, we didn’t appreciate how difficult it must have been to be sure the tiny three bedroom cape we lived in was tidy. But, what stuck with me was the constant tension that it caused and so, I was going to be a “different” mother. Not live in filth mind you, but to at least teach the boys to relish the clutter, convincing myself that a cluttered well-lived in house meant a house full of love. Had I steered them wrong? Could that be what caused the sight in front of me?

    Then of course there is that age old adage that boys — if left to their own devices — will live hand and hand with filth and garbage. I mean how many of us have heard of the horror stories of a bachelor’s apartment? Not one respectable woman would be caught dead in said apartment’s bathroom. Men and boys just seem to have an affinity for the gross and disgusting. Could that affinity be what led my boys to think that sight before me was an acceptable method of making sanitary?

    All right you’ve been patient with my diversions and have waited long enough. It is time to reveal the revolting fly-breeding scene that I discovered some ten years ago perpetrated on an innocent house at the hands of my marauding little men. It seems that my sons believed the old saying “out of sight, out of mind” and had been piling all the basement garbage for god knows how long behind the console television. No no… don’t misunderstand me. There was NO garbage can there. Nope, just TV wires, an electrical TV cord and a carpeted triangular piece of floor. But you couldn’t see any of that because the trash was vast and waist deep. To the point that all the scraps of food, paper, soda bottles, used tissues, candy bar wrappers and any other item of trash a boy could possibly conjure up was LEVEL, that’s right I said LEVEL with the top of the television and buzzing with flies.

    Well what happened after that will forever remain locked in a vault of untold stories of the Fisher household, but let’s just say there was a lot of tension reminiscent of my days as a young girl growing up in my childhood household. I invoked many phrases and tones of my dear mother, the boys’ beloved Memé, that day and every day since. But still getting my sons to clean thoroughly has been an uphill battle and one I worried would never be won. Each cleaning day would bring such carnage that I dreaded each and every moment of it. It was as if the boys were blind to what needed to be tidied. They’d call me downstairs, chests puffed out at the pride of a job well done just for me to burst that bubble and point out that the rug looked like the streets of Time’s Square after the ball had dropped. “But we vacuumed!” they’d exclaim as if that made the debris disappear. “Did you turn it on before moving it?” Was a favorite response of mine.

    But this Christmas Eve my choice to leave the “happy cluttered household” behind and to take on a more dictatorship stance on the cleanliness of our home paid off in a big way and gave me some hope for the character and the capabilities of my eldest son. In preparation of guests, I insisted that he clean the basement. After an hour or so he came up the stairs looking like a rooster crowing about the “fantastic” cleaning job he had accomplished. I tentatively descended the stairs bracing for the fight and the eye rolls that would inevitably come. But to my astonishment the room was spotless; miraculously spotless-not even an ounce of Times-Square-confetti-like paper on the carpet.

    “Aidan, this is REALLY clean! Nice job! I exclaimed.

    “It’s ‘Memé clean’ isn’t it mom?” And so it was. Mom would be proud.


    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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  • Can Teen Boys Feel Empathy?

    And Then They Grow Up….

    (Photo credit: Logan Fisher)

    Something happened this week in my home.  Something so rare I am afraid I may make other parents of teen boys jealous.  But then again, telling you about this rarity make give some of those same parents some hope for the future.  What I have to tell you might shake the teenage world as we know it.  It is so earth shattering, earth shaking, earth quaking that what we know about the adolescent boy might forever be changed by the news I am about to share in this one column.  Are you ready?  I’ll try to say it quietly so as not to startle those understandably skittish parents of teen boys.   Come closer so you can hear me.

    My sixteen year old spent the entire week being…dare I say it???  Being….oh I can’t believe what I am about to write!  Being…human.  Human?  Hmmmm.  That might not be the correct word.  Let’s try another one…kind?  Or how about…thoughtful?   Of course there is always….Pleasant.  Heck why don’t I put them all together.   Ok.  Let’s try this again.  My sixteen year old spent the ENTIRE week being humanly kind and pleasantly thoughtful.  Yes.  That’s right.  I said ENTIRE, and I meant ENTIRE.  He didn’t have one moment of his typical hibernating-bear-meets-man-eating-lion-meets-the-king-of-the-world-centers-around-me behavior.  Not. One. Moment.

    What could have caused this scarce occasion?  It could be that in two months, Aidan turns 17 and is turning a corner on adolescent selfishness.  It could be that he is trying to prove that he is responsible with the impending license looming, but to be honest with you, I am not sure either of those are the reasons.  I think the real reason is much more profound which is why the revelation is to me so earth shaking, so moving.

    I think, in fact I am pretty sure, this new found sweetness has to do with empathy.  Did you hear the collective gasps?  Empathy?  In a teen?  NO WAY!  But, dear readers, I am certain that this is true.  Let me explain. Lately I have been feeling low.  I mean REALLY low.  I know what you are thinking.   All moms have ups and downs…but this particular low has been bottom dwelling.

    Many changes have taken place in this house during the last year–most out of my control–and the pile has begun to weigh me down sitting on my chest like one of those barbells that super lifters lift.  You know the ones I am talking about.  The ones with the weights on each end that look like an 18 wheeler’s tires.  I have done my best to try and keep my chin up and to keep a smile on my face for the sake of my family.  (Don’t all moms do that?)  But if truth be told, it has been very difficult to hide the misery that I am wallowing in lately.  Could Aidan’s personality shift be due to the fact that he has sensed that his mom needs some positive energy?  Wouldn’t that be wonderful?

    Listen to this list and YOU decide!

    1. On Saturday, my husband suggested a jaunt down our local highway to visit my very favorite store (a store that has a particular December holiday in its name.)  He thought that maybe it’d cheer me up.  As we were packing the baby bag, Aidan said, “Where you going mom?”  I said, “Shopping in Colonie.  Nothing you’d be interested in.”  To my surprise he answered, “Actually, I’d love to come.  Would you mind?”  Mind?  Would I mind?  Since when did that matter?  I stood speechless. He took the toy from my hand and finished packing his little sister’s bag.  On the way down the highway and on the way home, he sang happily to the Sesame Street CD that played repetitively never once asking to listen to his own music.  He had full-sentence-conversations with us at lunch and happily filled the cart with knick-knacks for an hour and a half at my favorite store.
    2. All week when I said, “Do you have homework?”  Instead of the usual eye roll and heavy sigh.  I’d get an enthusiastic, “Oh yeah!  I should probably do that now.  Thanks for the reminder mom!”
    3. Every Tuesday I typically take the baby to visit my parents.  This week, Aidan asked to go with us.  He ASKED to go.  On the way home he told me how much he enjoyed going and suggested that he come every week.  That evening, he genially carved pumpkins with his baby sister and step father.  That moment is worthy of a column in itself.  One I promise to write.  You can see a few pictures of our fun above.  It was just special a special moment.  Purely special.  One that was full of happiness.  One that lifted me.
    4. Yesterday, after receiving bad news in the mail, I was particularly teary, unable to hide the anguish that was mounting.  Standing at the microwave watching the vegetables steam, tears streaming down my face, I felt two arms wrap around my shoulders from behind.  “I love you mom.”  Aidan whispered quickly.  He hugged me firmly and walked away, and just like that the tears were gone.
    5. Today, before leaving to spend the weekend with his dad, I took Aidan for a quick parallel parking lesson.  We talked about his day.  He took my pointers and used them.  He tried over and over to perfect this tough driving maneuver, never once losing his temper or complaining.  Getting out of the car he thanked me for taking him and once again hugged me sweetly.  “I love you mom.”

    I was mute, the breath taken away from me quickly by the gesture of warmth and encouragement.  I could only smile a very real smile and nod vigorously as he got in the car to leave.  However had my voice not disappeared during that tender moment, the words I would have spoken would have been simple and to the point.  I would have answered quietly, “I know you love me Aidan.  I know.”


    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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  • Teen Boys and Their Friends … Sometimes Not So Easy

    Okay, Okay… Ease Was the Wrong Word!

    Two weeks ago I wrote about the ease of boys friendships, but many parents privately called me out on it.  They disagreed that it wasn’t as cut and dry as I claimed it to be.  This of course caused me to think deeper about the topic, and I have come to several conclusions:

    Boys are more inclusive but they can become exclusive, just not in a girly type way.   Their friendship groups tend to form around the activities or sports they play.  Much of their lives revolve around these activities or sports and it seems to be more pronounced the older that they get.  For instance, my son Gannan had a very tight peer group in elementary school.  These guys hung out during lunch and played every game imaginable everyday during recess.  They saw each other at the limited sports opportunities that were available for their age group (soccer in the fall, Little League in the spring.)  They attended each other’s birthday parties and spent weekend nights playing man hunt in the dark.   But as they got older and the opportunities vaster, Gannan’s friends have split off into sub groups.  Some play football in the fall, hockey in the winter, lacrosse in the spring.  None, not even the boy who picked him up at the starting line years back, runs track.  The names of the boys Gannan talks about now, sits with in lunch now, texts on his phone, I hardly recognize.  His peer group has changed because his hobbies and interests moved down a path that those elementary buddies didn’t take.

    Then there is my other son, Aidan.  His experiences with friends have been altogether different.  Last week when I said that girls can be downright mean, I was purposely ignoring (perhaps because it is so painful) the horrific bullying that Aidan went through during his elementary years.  Perhaps this needs a whole column in itself, but it is worth mentioning here that boys absolutely can be mean as well. Read the rest of this entry »

    Teen Boys and Their Friends

    Boys and Their Friends: A Drama Free Zone

    When I was a “tween” and adolescent girl, it was difficult to maneuver and understand the nature of my friendships with other girls. The cattiness and moodiness, the cliques and the clashes, the fakeness of friends who pretend camaraderie just to gossip behind your back made being friends with girls a maze of confusion. Most times it felt like a lead jacket of the mind constricting movement of thought. Don’t get me wrong, I too definitely partook in that kind of behavior. It was what you did when you were in a group of girls, a sort of pack mentality–Plain and simple, girls back then could be mean! Unless I am grossly mistaken, I think that kind of churlishness continues today. I see it quite often in my classroom and out on the playground. The unkindness of adolescent girls may even happen at a greater rate nowadays due to the greater ease of communication thanks to technological advancements. Heck, those pesky adolescent behaviors persist even with some GROWN women. Gossiping about how absolutely horrible someone’s children are to one set of friends, but taking a trip to the apple orchard with that very same family as if spending time with them was nothing but pure joy. Friendships between teen girls–between women–are difficult at best.

    Not so with boys, in my opinion. Boys just seem to not possess the drama gene that girls tend to have. They can fight, but minutes later head to the ice cream stand together. They don’t gossip… because if they have something to say it is done to the friend’s face in a way that is laughed off instantly. They don’t tend to be cliquey…Hey the more the merrier…playing touch football or a pick-up game of soccer takes a lot of people! Friendships between adolescent boys– between men–seems so much less complicated and so much more inviting. As evidence of what I am espousing, please read the following story of an extraordinary event that I was privileged to witness. With all the other complications that come with raising adolescent boys, thank heaven for the ease of their friendships.

    Shaking his legs and arms in a runner’s fashion, Sean loosened up at the starting line getting ready for his school district’s annual mile race. His hands were sweating and his heart was pounding in his ears. Had this been a year ago, he would never have felt nerves like this. A year ago he was the best runner in school. This race would have been easily won…one year ago. But that was before Gannan arrived, a new kid in school. For the first time ever, someone’s hand slapped the school wall before Sean’s during their daily recess races. From that point on, Sean and Gannan were fast friends. Running was in their blood. They zoomed like lightning around the playground, around the block, around the town.

    Now, at the race, Sean was sure that his 3 year winning streak was going to be broken by his best friend, Gannan. Sean glanced over at him. He took some comfort in the fact that he looked as nervous as Sean felt. His head was down and his eyebrows furrowed.

    “Runners in line!” shouted the official. The mass of students pushed and shoved jockeying for a good starting position. Gannan elbowed Sean and gave him a look that said, “Let’s do this!”

    “Runner’s get set!” Sean’s heart beat almost drowned out the man’s voice, and then, “Bang!” The gun shot signaled the runners’ stampede, a burst of energy. Bodies shoved, legs tangled and in the chaos, Gannan tripped and fell. Sean ran a few paces before he realized what had happened.

    When it did register, he looked back to see his friend struggling to get up among the trampling feet of other runners. For a split second, Sean realized that this was the break he was looking for. If he kept running, he’d win for sure. A cold rush seeped into his heart. It didn’t feel right to win like that. A few more paces and Sean knew what he had to do. He turned on his heels and headed back against the stream of runners, a flying fish swimming against a fast current. It took just a few seconds to get to Gannan. Sean reached down and grabbed his friend’s forearm and picked him up. Their eyes met for a brief moment and then they were off, friend next to friend, running the trail together.

    Approximately five minutes later, as expected, Sean and Gannan were the first runners to approach the finish line. Side by side they ran–the perfect twosome. Both exhausted from the fierce competition, they ran in tandem. Gravel crunching under the weight of their dashes; left foot, right foot, left foot, right foot. Their breath mixed with the sound–crunch, whoosh, crunch whoosh. Most of the crowd was unaware of the circumstances before them, but still they sensed that something extraordinary was happening. Perhaps it was the mixture of pride and awe and tension and worry on the faces of each boy’s mother that gave it away. Maybe it was the pure elation of the coach’s cheers, “Yeah!! That’s the way to do it boys! Team mates! Team mates!!”

    Ten yards from the finish line a subtle change came over the pair. Gannan inched his way ahead of his friend just slightly–a hair here, a thread there…slowly solidifying his win. But just before the finish line Gannan hesitated and looked behind him. He was no longer sure if he wanted the win, not sure if he deserved it. After all, where would he be without Sean? How different would this race be had his friend not helped him escape the trample of the crowded starting line? As if sensing his doubt, Sean, shouted, “Run Gannan run!” Gannan’s hesitation melted away and reaching down deep found an extra spurt of energy. From his second place position, Sean’s heart burst with pride as he watched his best friend Gannan crossing the finish line in first place, knowing that he wouldn’t have it any other way.


    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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  • The Timetable of Growning Up

    On Their Terms

    I know this is a column about teenage boys, but indulge me a minute while I talk to you about my 11 month old girl. I promise it will be a nice segue into a “boy tale.” My daughter Ila has been slow to develop physically. She was a preemie and so we kind of expected that she’d be delayed somehow. Cognitively she has impressed us with her massive vocabulary cheered on by her ever adoring two brothers who think that she is the most brilliant baby alive. But, she was slow to gain weight in the first few months. She was extremely late to roll, and even when she finally did, it was only one way (a habit she continues to this day.) We never thought we’d see her sit steadily let alone push to a seated position…but those skills came eventually although not adeptly. This past couple of weeks however her physical ability’s flood gates opened. She reaches, she points, she bangs on her piano like Liberace, she crawls faster than our old dog can run from her and has now discovered the many virtues of pulling up to a standing position; all this done in a matter of three weeks. Unbelievable!

    What does this have to do with teenage boys you ask? (Here is the promised segue!) Aidan, my 16 year old, is having a “flood gate” summer of his own. Not physically mind you, (although I am not sure when he got taller than me. It seemed to happen overnight.) But like my 11 month old, things I worried would never happen for him; goals I thought he might never reach seem to have come upon him all at once. Read the rest of this entry »

    The Teenage Blame Contortionist

    It’s ALL Mom’s Fault

    My thirteen year old, Gannan, is a blame contortionist. Lately when something isn’t right, no matter his actions, no matter his mistakes, he very adeptly twists, turns and wrings it into something that I did wrong. Take last night for instance, he was hungry. (Not an unusual occurrence. Teenage boys’ stomachs are colossal chasms.)

    Gannan: What can I eat mom?

    Me: Well there’s goulash left over. There’s potato salad, pasta salad, chips, strawberries….

    My voice trails off as Gannan’s entire being begins to protest my food list. He begins with a gigantic eye roll. This is followed by a body wave meant to indicate his disgust. It starts at his knees. They contort into crooked angles and knock together in a haphazard way. He then bends at the waist and pitches his arms out in front of him. It ends as he stands up straight and places his hands in his long shaggy hair, tugging a little.

    Gannan: UUHH! There is NEVER anything in this house to eat. Why don’t you shop better? (Mom’s fault- number one for those keeping score.)

    Me: Gannan I won’t be insulted. Please go and quietly get your food or go to your room. Your choice.

    I listen intently as his feet pad down the hall. I hear the clanking of jars as the refrigerator door opens. Heavy sighs permeate the silence as he makes the all important what-to-eat-decision. All of a sudden fast feet pad back down the hall.

    Gannan: There are Pizza Hut bread sticks in there!

    Me: Yes. What’s the matter with that?

    Gannan: NOTHING! I love those. Why didn’t you TELL me we had bread sticks??? (Mom’s fault-number two. Put it on your score card.)

    This time he happily rushes down the hall. Jars in the refrigerator clang louder as the door is opened with great gusto. I hear the whisper of the miniature pizza box that holds the breadsticks as it slides off of the fridge’s shelf. A pause in the sound….and then….an exasperated “You’ve GOT to be kidding me!

    Feet pound down the hall back towards me.

    Gannan: Where’s the little cup of sauce?

    Me: There wasn’t any left to take home.

    Gannan: (Another body wave of disgust…see above, and then cue the whining.) Why does this always happen to me? Why didn’t you ask the waitress for more? (Mom’s fault-number three. Oh but there’s more!)

    His feet pummel the hall floor. A plate is yanked from its comfortable spot in the cupboard and the microwave door slams. I get more comfortable in my chair, hoping that the sustenance scene has played itself out.

    Losing my vigilance too soon, a hungry, ornery Gannan somehow shows up in the doorway; plate in hand, bottom lip drooping, eyes squished to slits, clearly out of his mind.

    Gannan: Why did you tell me to put blue cheese on these? They’re RUINED! (Mom’s fault-number four!)

    Me: (Stifling a snort.) What are you talking about Gannan? I never told you to…

    Not wanting to hear what I have to say lest it proves his ranting wrong, Gannan cuts me off.

    Gannan: This is just a waste of food. I’m not eating this. I’m going to my room where I’ll starve to death and THEN you’ll be sorry! (Mom’s fault-number five!)

    Me: I might not be sorry Gan….

    Gannan: Ha ha! Funny mom. This wouldn’t have happened if it wasn’t for you. It’s ALL YOUR FAULT!

    Like This!


    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.

    Communicating with Teen Boys in the Age of Technology

    Snakes and Snails: Teenage Boys Tales by Hilltown Families Contributing Writer, Logan Fisher

    When in Rome …

    At 9:00 in the morning in the middle of teaching my fifth graders a spelling lesson, I had a revelation that would change the way I parented forever. As with many discoveries that are eye-opening and cataclysmic, this one started from a seemingly banal conversation about the frustrations of parenting. It was on this very morning that my colleague burst into my classroom and announced, “Great news! Timmy has decided that he isn’t going to go to Alfred University in the fall!” Although I definitely detected the droll of sarcasm hanging off each word, I wasn’t quite sure how she wanted me to respond. After all, it had been just an hour before, over our morning cup of coffee, that she had shared the story of her son’s wonderful weekend visit to the college and the excitement Timmy felt over being accepted. How quickly things had changed!

    I asked, “How did you find this out?”

    “The same way I always find things out,” she quipped, “with a text message.” And to punctuate this fact she flung out her right arm, snapped opened her hand and allowed me to read the brief statement from her son:

    “Ma. I don’t think I want 2 go 2 L fred.”

    I could truly sympathize with my colleague. We had much in common. Both mothers of 2 teen boys, we often lamented about how we had no idea how to communicate with them effectively. Sometimes I felt that the boys and I were two different species living in completely separate habitats. When it came to communicating with them, I was an elephant, slow, gray and wrinkly, trumpeting my trunk, laboring each day. My boys were penguins, sleek and slippery, able to navigate two worlds, not cold seas and polar ice, but in this case, home and school with a technological ease that far surpassed this elephant’s ability. How could an elephant ever begin to comprehend the world of a penguin? How also could an Antarctic penguin ever fathom communicating with an African elephant?

    I empathized with her by saying, “At least your son told you. I am not so sure my teen would have told me at all!” This statement, however, did nothing to assuage her distress. Looking like all mothers do when they are disappointed and frustrated, she threw up her hands and stomped out of my room, but not before leaving me with just one tidbit…a tidbit that would change my parenting life as I knew it.

    “Well, just get him a cell phone with texting!” She said. “Teenage boys are better at faceless communication. Timmy proved that today!”

    And there it was, “faceless communication.” Maybe she had something there. Perhaps this was the answer to my communication problem with my sons. Were they more apt to talk to me if it was through an email or in a text? I decided to test my theory.

    At the end of the school day, I picked up my cell and text this message to my 16 year old:

    Me: How was school today?

    Much to my delight and surprise this is what I got back:

    Aidan: Gr8. I got 2 dance w/ Jane in gym. (The girl’s name has been changed to protect Aidan’s ego.)

    After deciphering the mystery language, I grinned from ear to ear. This was HUGE. His answer not only wasn’t the word “fine,” which seemed to be the only word in his dictionary lately, but I ACTUALLY got two details (a gold mine!) into his life. With his answer I now knew:

    1. He was dancing in gym. (But more importantly)
    2. He liked a girl.

    Those details felt so good, I was greedy for more. Treading lightly, not wanting to scare away the sleek penguin standing in front of me, I decided that there should be no sudden movements. So I texted back a question trying to sound as uninterested as I possibly could.

      Me: Oh. Is that good?

    I immediately received this response.

      Aidan: Yeah. But I have to see her n Spanish cls 2moro. How should I act?

    I have to admit, with this response I felt like I won the lottery. I mean, here I was meandering in the corridors of Aidan’s maze-like mind, AND the maze keeper himself was asking my opinion. I was giddy. The rest of the conversation went something like this:

      Me: If I remember correctly, high school girls don’t like it if boys try too hard. Just give her a casual “Hey.” (Alright, alright, I use proper grammar even when texting. I mean I AM a teacher.)
      Aidan: K. Thx. ttyl. (For those of you who aren’t fluent in text abbreviations that means “Okay. Thanks. Talk to you later.” Now you don’t have to look it up like I did!)

    Since this enlightening conversation was longer than any other conversation that we’d had in months, I decided to become a student of the technology that my boys use on a daily basis. For each fad or gadget I studied I’d find a way to use it to connect with my oh-so-elusive boys. I now have my own Facebook page that allows me to “message” them or chat in an instant way. I use their email accounts to send them lists or information that they may need to keep for the long run–like the high school final exam schedule I just sent off to Aidan. I have even learned about some of their favorite video games so that we have things to chat about. (You’d be amazed how many life lessons I can wring out of “Call of Duty!”) By understanding the boys’ techno-world a little better, I am able to use it to my advantage when it comes to communicating with them. To think-an elephant communicating effectively with two penguins! Someone call the San Diego Zoo!

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    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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