The Good Life: May is the Perfect Time…

The Good Life: A Year of Thoughtful Seasons by Sarah Mattison Buhl

May is the Perfect Time…

34936077296_53780f7eb8_nAccording to the Old Farmer’s Almanac, the month of May is significant. The Celts traditionally celebrated Beltane on the first of May, later known as May Day: a day half-way between spring and summer which welcomed the return of earthly fertility in the form of flowers. Modern pagans still believe that it is a day when the veil separating them from the spiritual world thins, making May 1st powerful for enchantments, similar to Samhain or Halloween. Northern Europeans still celebrate Walpurgisnacht (also known as Vappu or Walpurgis depending on what country you are from) with dancing, bonfires, and sprigs of tender flowers to ward off “evil” and welcome the sun’s return. Read the rest of this entry »

Teens 101: Getting Things Done

Creating a Different Way Forward

“No one lies on their death bed and wishes they spent more time at the office.”

My dad shared that adage with me at some point in my youth, which was ironic, because my dad sure did spend a lot of time at the office when I was a kid. Luckily he’s not yet on his death bed, and has been making up for it.

Now I share it here, with next generation irony, because my office is wherever my computer is, and I sure do spend a lot of time at it. I am in no position whatsoever to remind anyone that there is more to life than working, because lately, working is my life.

But of course it isn’t. My children are my life, my husband, my family. This is what matters to me. So why is it so hard to put my work away and be with them?  Read the rest of this entry »

Teens 101: Supportive vs. Antagonistic Relationships

Adults v. Teens: The Fight Where Everyone Loses

Negative exchanges occur between young people and adults every day.  We accept it as normal for some relationships to be antagonistic, at least some of the time.  These exchanges might feel inescapable or even necessary, but they are also counterproductive, not to mention unpleasant.  What are the effects of antagonistic relationships?  What would it take to maintain supportive relationships between adults and teens and reduce or even eradicate antagonism?

A story from my childhood: Read the rest of this entry »

Teens 101: Allowing our Children to Choose What’s Best for Them

All the Things We Thought Were Important

To bush or not to brush. To mitten or not to mitten. Is it worth the fight and sometimes unhappy kids? Learning to listen and allow my kids to make their own choices allows them to make choices that are right for them.

When my kids were little, we had some friends who never made their kids brush their hair.  They didn’t have dreadlocks- it wasn’t a cultural or aesthetic choice, it was just a choice not to argue about it.  Combs were offered and suggested, but in the end the family went out and about happily whether or not the children had combed hair or snarls.

At my house the children did not go out happily, nor did they go out with snarls in their hair.  Frequently they went out with eyes red from crying after lots of fussing and fighting about hair brushing.  Their hair got brushed because I am bigger and stronger and insistent and have the car keys.  But it was sometimes awful.

Then we’d be out and see these other kids with their messy hair, and who cared?  I didn’t.  I didn’t judge those kids or that family.  I noticed, in an amused sort of way, and then the very next day I went back to fighting with my own kids about their hair.  A model of another option was right there in my life, but I didn’t consider it.  I wanted calmer, happier interactions with my small children, but not so much that I was willing to be seen in public with them looking unkempt.

Was that for them?  No.  That was for me.  That was all ego.  I couldn’t be the mom with the kids with messy hair, and if that meant some crying and screaming before we went out, so be it.  Somehow I thought it was that important. Read the rest of this entry »

Debut of Teens 101: Hacks, Ideas, Commiserations, and Small Wonders

Adolescents and Squirrels

This adolescent period is a clunky time for all mammals- one long and clumsy transition. As adults, our role is to walk the impossible balance of supporting just enough challenge and exposure so that they can gain necessary skills, with enough safety and protection to prevent injury.

I’ve never really been into squirrels. Never thought too much about them except to avoid them on the road. But suddenly this spring I’ve found myself fostering two baby squirrels, from a nest narrowly saved from a chipper on my husband’s job site.

I’m a sucker, and I’m a mother. You give me a small, helpless, hungry thing, and I feed it. With the guidance of a wildlife rehabilitation professional and the internet, we’ve managed to grow a couple of happy, healthy squirrels, and they’re almost ready to go back out into the world on their own.

I don’t usually work with squirrels. I work with teenagers. I am currently parent to two teens, as well. And now some adolescent squirrels, too. Adolescents at every turn.  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 »

Q&A: T(w)eens and Leg Shaving

QUESTION AND ANSWERS

Brooke Norton writes, "I remember my mother giving me an electric razor with safety guards that did next to nothing."

J.W. writes, “Has anyone yet dealt with their t(w)een aged daughters wanting to shave their legs? My 13yo daughter has recently asked if she could. At what age do you allow a responsible girl to shave her legs? And how do you address the self-image issues that surrounds this topic with them? Any advice from parents who have already gone through this ‘rites of passage’ with their daughters?”

  • Jody Hadden writes, “My daughter is eleven and is already shaving/waxing. I think it depends on how fast they develop. Mine definitely needed to start. We talked and I showed her how. Shes a lot less self conscience about wearing shorts and tank tops now. She was embarrassed before and it was hurting her self esteem.”
  • Amy Meltzer writes, “I still remember the battle with my own mother around the same age. She said no, I did it anyway. I’m likely to say yes when my daughter asks, even as I continue to point out the many examples of women we know (including mama, from time to time) who either don’t shave, or rarely shave. I hope my daughter will grow up to have evolved ideas about femininity, but forcing them on her before she is ready won’t accomplish that.”
  • Tricia Love Walsh writes, “My conundrum is actually coming from the other direction… My 13 year old has not started shaving and has not mentioned an interest in it. Sometimes I wonder if I should encourage it (worrying that she may look unattractive to peers) or if I should just leave it alone since a woman really has every right to not shave. If I suggest shaving would I be shoving her into that ridiculous American sexy woman ideal?”
  • Annie Bob DeCoteau writes, “My daughter just started this summer. She just turned 12. I told her for now we just need to do below the knee. Her hair is very blond. But she has been asking since winter. I think I would have let it go if she didn’t ask. It wasn’t too too bad. Maybe you should ask her her feelings on it. If she doesn’t care then don’t push it. It’s most important how she feels about herself.”
  • Carrie St John writes, “If she asks, why not? Such a tricky age. Peers. Desires to fit in. So much more going on in her life than the right to choose and parent/adult ideas of femininity as mentioned above. Why not let her try? Is it better to impose ideas or let her figure it put? Seems simple.”
  • Brooke Norton writes, “I remember my mother giving me an electric razor with safety guards that did next to nothing.”
  • Glenda Spurling writes, “I remember when this topic came up in our home. but my daughter has two homes… one household said not until she gets her period, ours said why keep her from growing up. We let her at the age of 13. The world of girls is an unbelievable world… I recommend every parent reading: The Wonder of Girls. We want our children to stay little and young but watching them grow up and embracing it will create a better relationship for everyone. We are raising children to be healthy adults who we hope will make good choices for themselves. Let them get there, safely and reasonably, and they will want you to be there with them the whole way through.”
  • Laura Lucchesi writes, “Show them how! Or they will do it anyway! If they come to you, it’s because they really want to know more about it. Peer pressure can be a real reason, would you rather they do it with some other child?”
  • Judy Pancoast writes, “Our daughter is a dancer who began to be embarrassed by the increasingly dark hair on her legs at age 11. Rather than stick to some pre-set idea about the age at which this should happen we got her a razor and showed her how to use it. It’s not really that big a deal. At 17 she is still a sweet girl who said to me the other day, “I can’t believe I have to start looking at colleges. I feel like I’m still 14!”. So don’t make a big “rite of passage” thing about it and everything will be cool.”
  • Dana Wilde writes, “I think just keep a lighthearted open dialogue about it, encouraging her to articulate what she thinks about it and why she wants to do it. It’s also key to honestly explore and process any of your own issues/judgments ahead of time, so that you can really be present and helpful for her. I’d let her “try it out” to see whether she likes it/doesn’t like it, checking in to see if she has any misunderstandings about it as anything other than a personal style choice that you can pick up and drop whenever you feel like it. The most important thing is generally treating her in a way that reflects her value/goodness/intelligence AND having a variety of different female role models around her who have healthy relationships with their own bodies/choices/happiness/r​elationships. I don’t have a teenage girl, but I was one.”

[Photo credit: (ccl) Todd Ehlers]

Q&A: What to Do With Teens Reluctant to Participate in Family Outings

QUESTION AND ANSWERS

What do families with TEENS do when they do not want to participate in family outings or summer vacations? Do you force them along? Let them stay at home? Find outings that appeal to them? Bring along a friend?

  • Glenda Spurling writes, “We always (usually always) have her go, memories are being made, and always let her bring a friend. Usually the same friend will go, our family members know her friend (by this point) and have made their own personal relationships with our daughters friend. ‘The more the merrier'”
  • Megan Rubiner Zinn writes, “All of the above.”
  • Amanda Saklad writes, “We have a ‘tween’ (age 11 1/2) and he is CONSTANTLY complaining about going places with his younger siblings (ages 6 and 9). I force him to come along and he usually ends up enjoying himself. I TRY to find stuff that appeals to such a wide age range, but tend to go with the younger stuff. When he is a little older, I’d probably let him stay home for certain outings. I find that OUTDOOR places work best for the age spread.”
  • Kara Kitchen writes, “My parents let me bring a one friend-only consolation…”
  • Jo Duran writes, “Lesson Learned: If I could do over, I would have forced my oldest to go. Bring a friend too if there is one to bring. Feel like things would have been a lot different had we done so. As parents, we are compelled to want to give our kids everything we didn’t have as kids. Not always a good idea. Besides, look how good we turned out. :)”
  • Sue Lowery writes, “Bringing a friend makes so much sense – they have someone to relate to during the trip, and you have much less pouting! I have never regretted having my kids bring a friend. That said, I am talking about driving vacations, not plane tickets. But I think the same thing would hold true.”

[Photo credit: (ccl) Ed Yourdon]

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 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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  • 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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  • 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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