Thursday, January 30, 2014

High School Drama Department


Ah, don't you just love small town politics? In a town like ours, fairly affluent, fairly educated, they are particularly ____________. (Insert adjective of your choice: entertaining, frustrating, bewildering, or my recommendation: frrrrrrrkin' mind-blowing.) 

Right now, there's a major storm brewing at my daughter's high school. The relatively new principal (it's January; he started in September) is proposing to take away science labs, increase class length, decrease "passing time" in between classes, and change the tech and arts graduation requirements.

Many parents and faculty have issues with all this. How will our children compete in college admissions for science-related courses of study? Can a student who doesn't test well but shines in practical exercises still succeed? Don't AP science students have a minimum lab requirement or else they can't take the test? (News to me.) And, perhaps most important ...

When (oh when) will our children go to the bathroom?

Seriously, most teachers won't let kids leave during class. They (the kids — teachers too, maybe) are expected to use the facilities during passing time. But, with about 1,080 students and 89 faculty and 15 bathrooms and 3 minutes ... well, you do the math.

It isn't funny. 

Well, not really anyway. 

But it is really, really the most exciting, contentious, dramatic thing that my daughter and her peers have dealt with this year. (Except, of course, for the infamous sports bra incident in November.)

Yesterday, the principal met with all the students, divided into four separate sessions throughout the day. This morning, he presented his plans to about 120 parents, including my husband. Tonight, there will be even more (I'll be there myself with my daughter).

Did I use the word "dramatic?" This is drama. And, the kids are jumping right in.

When my daughter got home yesterday afternoon, we were treated to a line-by-line reenactment of the meeting she had been to. Supposedly the principal didn't treat the kids with much respect. In his defense, they apparently didn't treat him with much either. I don't agree with his plans (or his approach to communicating them; from what I've heard there's a bit of a "my way or the highway" attitude). But, I do think that children, even teenagers — wait, especially teenagers, need to be polite and respectful of their elders, educators and authority figures. As you can imagine, the hashtags, Instagrams and memes circulating this morning are pretty brutal.

On the flipside, I'm proud of my daughter for standing up for her beliefs (hopefully in a respectful manner). In fact, I'm rather floored that a girl who finds it difficult to sit at a cafeteria table with kids she doesn't know, was willing to ask some tough and informed questions of her principal. I want her to take an active role in her education. I want her to push back. I want her to demand her rights. Yes, at times I even want her to "stick it to the man." 

Just not in those words, okay?

If you enjoyed this post, I invite you to order a copy of my new book Lovin' the Alien at www.lovinthealien.com.  
 

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Choice And A New Generation

This week our family had midterms. Maybe I should say that my teenage daughter had midterms but, in truth, they affected all of us. Between quizzing her on vocab for English and monarchs for World History, driving to and from exams, and providing nutritious study food, like microwave popcorn and tortilla chips, my husband and I were very engaged in the process.

The other day, I was en route to pick her up after her last test at 12:30 pm. I had some time to kill before a conference call, so I texted her ...

Me: Can you take a study break for Chinese food with me?

Her: pls!

Note the enthusiasm and politeness. Note the lack of capital letters and vowels.

After our lunch, she asked — nicely — if we could stop at a local ice cream parlor for dessert.  I was pretty full but sent her in with $6, expecting change. (Yeah, right.) She returned with an enormous cup: cake batter ice cream with warm cookie dough topping. This, naturally, prompted a familiar, if impromptu, mom soliloquy along the lines of "When I was your age ..."

"Y'know," I told her. "When I was your age, we didn't have those flavors. If you wanted cookie dough, you actually ate cookie dough, not cookie dough topping or cookie dough ice cream. The only ice creams we had were vanilla, chocolate and strawberry. Maybe coffee and chocolate chip. And some sherbets."

She listened, nodding courteously, as she savored her rather disgusting cup of ice cream.

"The biggest deal," I went on, encouraged by the unusual absense of sarcasm, "Was when Baskin Robbins opened on Broadway between 70th and 71st. They had 32 flavors! Your grandparents raised my allowance to 35¢ so I could get a cone every week."

She continued nodding. And eating. I dropped the subject, but couldn't help thinking about the ridiculous number of choices my daughter's generation has. Not only ice cream combinations we never dreamed of (Ben & Jerry's S'mores, anyone?), but media and entertainment too. 

Growing up in New York City in the 70s, we had three national networks, one public television station and two independents (channels 9 and 11). These last two played syndicated reruns of network shows and one of them, 11 I think, had the now famous "Yule Log" on Christmas eve. Compare that rather limited offering to my daughter's options today. We have over 1,000 channels on our digital cable. Plus DVR. Plus streaming Netflix. Plus On Demand. Plus DVDs. Plus, plus, plus.

Then, there's the actual television box. We had one set, in the living room. Today, we have three (living room, family room and kitchen). But, if you add all the devices through which we could watch a program, we have many more: three computers, three smart phones, one iPad ... and a partridge in a pear tree.

Wow. Look how far we've come! I mean, choice is good, right? Not always.

Sometimes this bombardment of options seems unnecessary at best. More often, I think it creates anxiety. "OMG. What am I missing???" It's impossible to watch every show, stay up with every new fad, try every flavor of ice cream (well, I guess you could try).

Whatever happened to sitting quietly with a book (there are 1,335,600 titles available on Kindle, give or take ten thousand)? Whatever happened to having one single conversation with one person rather than participating, simultaneously, in a half dozen group chats (in between texting, tweeting and twerking)?

Choices aren't going away. In fact, thanks to digital living, our choices will continue to grow exponentially every year. I just need to choose to get over it. 

But, there's consolation. You see, some things never change. With myriad options at my daughter's fingertips, I still get the same teenage lament my mother heard thirty-five years ago. 

"I'm so bored."

If you enjoyed this post, I invite you to order a copy of my new book Lovin' the Alien at www.lovinthealien.com.  

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Why Is This Boy Smiling?

A lucky paparazzo once earned $250,000 for a shot of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie on vacation in Namibia. (Interestingly, "Brangelina" had already turned the tables on the celebrity photo business back in 2006 when they sold their own photos of their newborn to People for $4.1 million.) Stalking and shooting and selling famous people is big business.

But, I have a feeling that whoever took today's hottest picture of a star didn't make quite that much. Google "Bieber mug shot" and you'll come up with 9.2 million hits. 

"Say cheese."

My teenage daughter was never a big fan (a "Bieber Fever Belieber Believer" or whatever Justin's groupies are called). Sure, we watched the tribute Glee episode together, but otherwise, she could take him or leave him. So it isn't as though we're emotionally vested in the young man's health and well-being. Still, every time these stories pop up in my Facebook feed, I get a little more disgusted.

Let's take a quick look at some of Bieber's accomplishments, shall we?


Bieber is the youngest recording artist ever to have five number one albums.

His "Baby" made history as the top-selling digital single, receiving Diamond status by the Recording Industry Association of America after going platinum twelve times.

Never Say Never, Bieber's concert documentary earned more than $99 million in worldwide box office.

Whether you like his particular brand of pouty pop or not, the boy has proven himself from a sales perspective. He's a big thing with lots of fans (63,695,453 on Facebook alone). And, based on his most recent ... er ... accomplishments, he truly does "believe" in all his own hype. For example, and this is all within the last month:

Bieber is under investigation for "egging" his neighbor's house, causing $20,000 in damages (all right, how big were these eggs?). 

When the police arrived to search his house, they found drugs. They originally said it was cocaine, but it appears that it was only a form of ecstasy known as "Molly." (Phew, what a relief.)

He recently texted full-frontal pictures of his penis to on-again/off-again girlfriend Selena Gomez with such endearing comments as: "Cum on, don't tell me you don't miss this," and later, "Can't hear you cuz of all my cash, babe! You’re only famous cuz of me … Go f*ck someone else. Keep that talentless p*ssy away from me!” 

And he wonders why she's off-again?

Earlier this week, he visited a number of strip clubs in Miami to distribute 75,000 $1 bills. And this morning, he was arrested.

My, my they do add up. Today's stunts comprise their own list. Let's see, illegally drag racing. Driving under the influence. Resisting arrest. "What the f*ck are you doing?" he demanded, prior to being cuffed. Apparently, he has decided that he is above the law.

So what's next for young Justin? A new haircut maybe? Another number one album? Or a continued spiral down? Things don't look good. In fact, he makes Miley Cyrus look positively Disney, doesn't he? As a mom, I hope he can get his act back together. But, I have my doubts. 

Maybe I'll just wait for the E! True Hollywood Story. At the rate he's going, it should be out by ... oh ... next week.


Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Driven to Fears

Yesterday, my teenage daughter left the house at noon and climbed into a car with two young men. This might raise the eyebrows of most moms, but in my case it also raised my blood pressure. Significantly.

My daughter was going for a driving lesson.

Not just any lesson, mind you, but a two-hour trip to a major highway a few towns away. This learning to drive thing is taking years off my life!

Granted, she has already passed her permit test. She has already sat through thirty hours (thirty hours!) of driver's education. She's had six hours of professional instruction (plus three in the backseat "observing" other students). And, seemingly countless informal practice sessions with her father and her aunt. My daughter is bright and capable, careful and sober. In fact, one teacher told her she did the best rotary he'd ever seen, and another that she was a "parallel parking pro."

So why am I a basket case?

First, I'd like to blame my upbringing. Growing up in midtown Manhattan, I was rarely in a car, much less behind the wheel. This was the norm, not the exception. I don't know of a single classmate who graduated high school with a license in her wallet. Many of my hometown friends still don't drive. For myself, it wasn't until I moved from my Back Bay apartment to a Boston suburb (at the age of 28) that I finally learned.

Today, I consider driving a necessary evil. Give me a public transportation system any day. (All right, maybe a Zip Car on the weekend.)

Not so, my daughter. Growing up outside of a city, she has been looking forward to saying "hello" to her license and "bye-bye" to her lovin' mother. In March, once she (assumedly) passes her road test, she'll be taking herself to and from the stable five times a week. I won't know what to do with all that extra time. Of course, technically, I won't be able to do anything because I'll be paralyzed with fear until she returns.

Another reason I'm so nervous is that about two weeks before my daughter passed her permit test, I was in an accident. Nothing major, but enough to rattle my nerves. A woman in a humongous (or so it certainly seemed that morning) SUV ran a red light and blindsided me at a busy intersection. I wasn't hurt, but she did manage to rack up over a thousand dollars in damage to the front end of my car. I found myself a much more timid driver for a couple of months afterwards. This can't have helped as I pictured my girl behind the wheel.

I've only driven with her twice. The first time, it was just the couple of miles from her grandmother's house to ours. I almost had a heart attack — seriously. The longest ten minutes ever recorded, let me tell you. The second time was a couple of months later. We were heading down to New York City for New Year's. My husband pulled over at a rest area on the Mass Pike (THE MASS PIKE!!!!!!!) and let her drive the twenty miles or so to the next rest area.

Where was I through all this? Curled up in the backseat with my iPhone earbuds in, listening to music, eyes closed, with a pillow over my head, and praying to God, Buddha, Yahwe, Allah ... pretty much anyone who would listen. 

When we finally pulled off the highway (did I mention it was THE MASS PIKE?????), I sheepishly congratulated her. "I'm really proud of you," I told her, breathing deeply to quell my hyperventilation. "It's not you," I shrugged. "It's me."

But, that's the thing. I've come to realize it isn't just me. Despite an urban upbringing and the recent fender bender, it isn't just me. Every mother with whom I've compared notes (and there've been several) went through — or is going through — exactly the same reaction. Younger moms. Older moms. Calm, cool, collected moms. Moms who have picked up their daughters' front teeth off a skating rink floor, popped them in milk and driven them (teeth and daughter) to the ER.

Here's what I hear most often ... "Oh, I can't drive with her. I let her father do it." Hallelujah! I'm not alone. This anxiety is clearly bigger than I am.

Somehow the idea of our babies (yes, sorry honey, you will always be my baby) driving runs counter to everything we know, believe and hold dear. Before they even leave our wombs, it's our job to keep them safe. How can we do our job when they get behind the wheel and drive away?

"Will you ever drive with me?" my daughter sulks.

"Yes," I tell her. "Soon." Well, someday.

Maybe we aren't just practicing for her real driver's license. Maybe we're practicing for her real life.

If you enjoyed this post, I invite you to order a copy of my new book Lovin' the Alien at www.lovinthealien.com. 

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Slammed!

The first poetry slam took place in Chicago at the Get Me High Lounge (love the name) in 1984. This is both a happy and an unhappy coincidence. Happy because it was the year I graduated from college. Unhappy because — oh! — how my bookish high school classmates and fellow English majors would have shone!

Since then, poetry slams have become a badge of the proud poetic nerd. Especially now that the Internet affords such a huge audience. (Think of the web as the world's largest coffee house with hundreds of millions snapping their beatnik fingers in appreciation.)

Competitive poetry performance? What better way for women to express themselves!

Here are two of my favorite performance poems. As the mother of a teenage girl, these have a profound message for me. They are variations on a theme, one written by newcomer Savannah Brown, and the other by a veteran slammer, Katie Makkai.


Brown is just seventeen years old and she wrote her epic in response to a video that a sixteen-year-old boy, Nash Grier, posted on Vines. It was called "What Guys Look For In Girls." It wasn't exactly upbeat — or respectful.

The backlash was so great that Grier has removed the offending post and unplugged his YouTube account. (Yay backlash!)

Here is Brown's response:


When I first learned that no one could ever love me more than me
a world of happiness previously unseen was discovered
because somewhere along the line of aging and scrutiny and time
I was taught to despise myself
but I made sure I kept myself beautiful so someone would love me someday
so I could belong to someone someday
because that's the most important thing a little girl could ever want, right?
I was thirteen the first time I was embarrassed about my body
of course it would not be the last
and I remember stuffing my bra in the morning 
with tears stinging my eyes 
hoping, praying to something that I could look beautiful enough today, braces and all, for the ruthless boys
who mercilessly told me I was worthless
because my boobs weren't big enough
and I would go home and put on a sweatshirt with my eyes closed,
deny myself the right to be shown myself,
because I didn't dare want to insinuate beauty 
in regards to something so insulting as my body.
But I mean we all end up with our heads between our knees
because the only place we'll ever truly feel safe
is curled up inside skin we've been taught to hate
by a society that shuns our awful confidence and feeds us our own flaws
and sometimes when I need to meet the me that loves me, I can't find her,
a reminder that the mirror is meant to be a curse so I confine her in my mind 
but when when he or she shouts let me out
we're allowed to listen.
But it's met by a chorus of conceited
egotistical 
narcissist 
but since when was self solicitude a sin?
since when was loving who we are made an offense by morons that don't matter
change this physicality and that one, don't you shatter the illusion you could ever 
be anything beyond paper fine flesh and flashy teeth and fingernails
echoic accusations of not good enough, never good enough
have you ever felt so numb that it hurts
entertain me
whore
you can't surrender to them 
you gotta remember you're the only thing you'll ever truly have
and no I don't mean your body because someday it'll go bad no matter what you do
I mean you
I mean the way your bright eyes go wild when you smile
and how your laughter's so melodic it's a song
I mean the way your creativity's a compass that leads you to what you love
and you don't need any miracle cream to keep your passions smooth, hair free
or diet pills to slim your kindness down
and when you start to drown in these these petty expectations
you better examine the miracle of your existence
because you're worth so much more than your waistline
you're worth the beautiful thoughts you think
and the daring dreams you dream, undone and drunk off alcohol of being
but sometimes we forget that
because we live in a word where the media pulls us from the womb
nurses us
and teaches us our first words
skinny pretty skinny pretty
girls soft quiet pretty
boys manly muscles pretty
but I don't care whether it's your gender, your looks, your weight, your skin, or where your love lies 
none of that matters because standards don't define you
you don't live to meet credentials established by a madman
you're a goddamn treasure whether you wanna believe it or not
and maybe that's what everyone should start looking for.


Twelve years earlier, Katie Makkai expressed similar issues about the word we all use a thousand times a day with our little daughters: "Pretty." (Warning, there is some adult language here — but in my opinion, it's appropriate.)


When I was just a little girl, I asked my mother, “What will I be? Will I be pretty? Will I be pretty? Will I be pretty? What comes next? Oh right, will I be rich?” Which is almost pretty depending on where you shop. And the pretty question infects from conception, passing blood and breath into cells. The word hangs from our mothers' hearts in a shrill fluorescent floodlight of worry.

“Will I be wanted? Worthy? Pretty?” But puberty left me this funhouse mirror dryad: teeth set at science fiction angles, crooked nose, face donkey-long and pox-marked where the hormones went finger-painting. My poor mother. 

“How could this happen? You'll have porcelain skin as soon as we can see a dermatologist. You sucked your thumb. That's why your teeth look like that! You were hit in the face with a Frisbee when you were 6. Otherwise your nose would have been just fine!

“Don't worry. We'll get it fixed!” She would say, grasping my face, twisting it this way and that, as if it were a cabbage she might buy. 

But this is not about her. Not her fault. She, too, was raised to believe the greatest asset she could bestow upon her awkward little girl was a marketable facade. By 16, I was pickled with ointments, medications, peroxides. Teeth corralled into steel prongs. Laying in a hospital bed, face packed with gauze, cushioning the brand new nose the surgeon had carved.

Belly gorged on 2 pints of my blood I had swallowed under anesthesia, and every convulsive twist of my gut like my body screaming at me from the inside out, “What did you let them do to you!”

All the while this never-ending chorus droning on and on, like the IV needle dripping liquid beauty into my blood. “Will I be pretty? Will I be pretty? Like my mother, unwrapping the gift wrap to reveal the bouquet of daughter her $10,000 bought her? Pretty? Pretty.”

And now, I have not seen my own face for 10 years. I have not seen my own face in 10 years, but this is not about me. 

This is about the self-mutilating circus we have painted ourselves clowns in. About women who will prowl 30 stores in 6 malls to find the right cocktail dress, but haven't a clue where to find fulfillment or how wear joy, wandering through life shackled to a shopping bag, beneath those 2 pretty syllables.

About men wallowing on bar stools, drearily practicing attraction and everyone who will drift home tonight, crest-fallen because not enough strangers found you suitably fuckable. 

This, this is about my own some-day daughter. When you approach me, already stung-stayed with insecurity, begging, “Mom, will I be pretty? Will I be pretty?” I will wipe that question from your mouth like cheap lipstick and answer, “No! The word pretty is unworthy of everything you will be, and no child of mine will be contained in five letters.

“You will be pretty intelligent, pretty creative, pretty amazing. But you, will never be merely 'pretty'.”

The Afghan Women's Writing Project, a collective of women who risk their lives (quite literally) to write poetry, states that:

"To Tell One's Story Is A Human Right."

Right on, ladies. Write on.


If you enjoyed this post, I invite you to order a copy of my new book Lovin' the Alien at www.lovinthealien.com. 

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

For the Love of Chocolate

Last week, my teenage daughter had her annual physical. She was checked out from head to toe (much of the exam took place while I was in the waiting room; this in itself is a fairly new development and another reminder that she's a young adult now). 

The doctor asked about her activities, her grades, and at one point she turned to me and asked if I had any concerns about nutrition.

"Um ..." I stalled. Would she call Social Services if I came clean about the vast amounts of chocolate chip cookie dough ingested in our house?

"She has a sweet tooth," I offered up coyly. In all fairness, though, I quickly added the caveat "She gets it from me."

My daughter is trim, slim, and exceedingly healthy. She is rarely ill (just check her school attendance record). She's extremely strong for her size and, according to her multiple President's Awards for Physical Fitness, one of the fastest runners in town.

I say all this (more like brag about it) out of self-defense. Yes, I admit that I let my daughter have sugar and chocolate sometimes. Okay, often. Okay, every meal. So sue me.

We all have our vices. Most of us have addictions too. I've always figured that — in the grand scheme of things, in the terrifying teenage world of drugs and alcohol — chocolate ain't so bad when it comes to chemical dependencies. 

There are genuine, actual, honest-to-goodness benefits to eating chocolate. Really, check it out. (Remember, if it's on the Internet, it must be true.) According to some reports, chocolate is actually a health food. All right, so maybe these reports are funded by chocolate manufacturers ... still, it does a mom's heart good to know that she is providing her offspring with sound nutrition. For example ...


Women who eat chocolate during pregnancy are happier (well, duh!) and have happier babies. (For the record, my daughter was a very happy baby.)

Regularly eating chocolate inhibits the production of stress hormones. Less stress means you're less likely to eat ... well ... chocolate. So, apparently, it's a win-win.

Small amounts of chocolate decrease the risk of high blood pressure and heart disease. (Okay, how small?)


Something in chocolate called flavanols can help reduce the risk of sunburn. (And, no, you don't have to rub it all over you at the beach. Unless you want to.)

Dark chocolate actually decreases cravings for sweets (sweets like chocolate, I suppose).

Chocolate can suppress coughs as well as codeine. (Uh-oh, I think I feel a cough coming on. Quick, pass the Godiva!)

Dark chocolate helps prevent diabetes (and not having diabetes makes it easier to enjoy things like — you guessed it — chocolate).

Drinking cocoa (liquid chocolate) increases your brain power for two to three hours.

And, the pi├Ęce de r├ęsistance au chocolat? When we eat chocolate, it contains an amine called phenylethylamine. This releases neurochemicals norepinephrine and dopamine. This, in turn, triggers the release of oxytocin, testosterone and endorphins. (Are you getting all this? There will be a sophomore Honors Chemistry quiz in a minute.)

Essentially — chemically — eating chocolate is the same as falling in love. So, no need to call Social Services; I'm an amazing mother. I ply my daughter with health food and I enable her to feel not just good, but head-over-heels terrific.

What can I say? Better living through chemistry.

If you enjoyed this post, I invite you to order a copy of my new book Lovin' the Alien at www.lovinthealien.com. 

Monday, January 13, 2014

College Visits Part 3: Touring In a Winter Wonderland

This past weekend, we went off for our first ski trip of the season. The drive up to Vermont was long and cold and boring and unpleasant. But, it was a veritable picnic compared with what we woke up to Saturday. Freezing rain. Black ice. In the words of Seinfeld's soup nazi:

"No ski for you!"

The good news is that I would have company all day. The bad news? I would have company all day.

I gave up schussing several years ago. Even in the finest conditions, I find it scary, expensive, scary, cold, scary, uncomfortable, and scary. (Did I mention scary?) So, you might think that ski trips would be dull, right? Wrong! As soon as I wave my husband and teenage daughter off to the mountain, the fun begins. Yoga at the resort's spa (with an extremely handsome instructor), a nice sauna or hot tub, steaming cups of coffee, an afghan (blanket, not canine) and some book I've longed to read but haven't found the time. If I feel like it, I meet the intrepid athletes for lunch at the base lodge restaurant. If I feel like it, I browse some of the boutiques in the village. If I feel like it, I go for a long walk through the woods.

I say, "if I feel like it," because, essentially, I don't have to do anything unless I feel like it. Heaven.

So, not this trip. We toasted bagels and hung out with our friends until late morning, catching up and sharing funny things we found online. (Between the four adults and one teen, we had five smart phones, two ipads and three laptops.) Then we piled into an SUV and headed north for lunch and shopping.

After some "artisanal" pizza (if that's not the most overused word of the century, I don't know what is), we drove into Burlington. With one college-bound teenager in the car and two more back home (our friends have twin boys), we decided to look at University of Vermont.

If you've been paying attention, dear reader, it won't surprise you that our first stop was the UVM Equine Center. My daughter has already toured the enormous UKY and the tiny Otterbein. With nearly 13,000 students, UVM was right in the middle. In fact, if Goldilocks visited the three schools, she might declare it to be "just right."

This particular Mamma Bear was pleased to see how enthusiastic her cub was. I know it's her decision, not mine. I know that Kentucky and Ohio are only a few hours away by plane. But, the prospect of my daughter staying in New England, attending a school I can actually drive to, and maybe even joining us for future ski trips ... well, can you blame me for smiling?

The equine center was gorgeous, and the two work-study students we ran into were informative and welcoming. They suggested we stop by the student center too. I could tell that my daughter was imagining herself there. I tried not to gush too much.

We spent the bulk of the afternoon in downtown Burlington. It's a great little city with shops and pubs, coffee and Ben & Jerry's ice cream. My daughter raided the local Urban Outfitters, our friends looked at ski jackets, and I bought a hippy-chick batik skirt (when in Rome ...). Again, I could tell my daughter was projecting how it would feel to live near this college town. Again, I held my peace.

On Sunday morning, the sun came out. It was too late to ski, so my girlfriend and I ran into the picturesque town of Warren for some quick shopping. We both found great things on sale, and as we were paying, the clerk overheard us talking about the impromptu college visit.

"You never really get over it," she confided. "Mine is ... well, she's 31 now. But I still remember how hard it was. No one really warns you, and you're supposed to keep your chin up. But, you never get over it. Then they come back and they're an adult."

My friend, nodded and I knew she was thinking of her boys waiting back at home. "I know I'll cry every day," she said.

I agreed, and mentioned the end of a wonderful movie, Enough Said. At the airport, as they watch their daughter leave for school, two parents (amicably divorced, but that's a different part of the story) comfort each other: "We made a good person."

I think we've made a good person too. And, somehow I'll survive this parting that's ahead. It occurred to me, as it often does, that having a child is the greatest act of faith. 

If you enjoyed this post, I invite you to order a copy of my new book Lovin' the Alien at www.lovinthealien.com. 

Friday, January 10, 2014

Lyrics, Only Teenage Lyrics

Several times a week, I drive my teenage daughter to and from the stable where we board her horse. At this point, with the permission (and permit) of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, plus several hours of professional instruction under her skinny little belt, she could actually do the driving. 

Except she can't. Because I'll have a heart attack. And then where would we be?

I could write an entire post — multiple posts, really — about the sheer and almost illogical terror I'm experiencing when the fruit of my womb is behind the wheel of my car. And, I'm sure I will. 

But, not now.

Right now, I want to talk about another rite of teenage passage. Song lyrics, those anthems of angst that define today's adolescents just as they did when you and I were sixteen.

You see, on one of our recent car trips, the oldies station (yes, I'm an oldie, I admit it) was playing The Who. I was singing along without much thought, when I realized how silly I (not to mention Roger Daltrey) sounded:

Don't cry
Don't raise your eye
It's only teenage wasteland

I'm nearly 52. (Holy crap.) Daltrey is nearly 70. (HOLY CRAP.) Meanwhile, the only teenager in the picture was quietly texting in her seat, ignoring  her mother, ignoring the ancient rockstar, ignoring all that teen trauma from long, long ago.

I wasn't a huge Who fan (although I did see the Tommy movie a couple, well several, okay about a hundred times). My teen years were all about Elton John:

I'll be a teenage idol, just give me a break
I'm gonna be a teenage  idol, no matter how long it takes
You can't imagine what it means to me
I'm gonna grab myself a place in history
A teenage idol, that's what I'm gonna be


And Meatloaf:

Ain't no doubt about it
Baby got to go out and shout it
Ain't no doubt about it
We were doubly blessed
'Cause we were barely seventeen
And we were barely dressed

Of course, my daughter and her friends have their own musician gods and their own anthems of angst. Today's pop music includes countless songs about the trials and tribulations (and torture) of being a teen, about first love, about partying. For example, "Up All Night" by One Direction, "Teenage Dream" by Katy Perry, "We Are Young," by Fun.

Or anything at all by Taylor Swift.

My daughter's musical tastes run more toward small, indie groups. She and her BFFs go to a concert every month or so (long nights of fun for them; long nights, period, for the parents). "Their" bands often open for better known acts. On more than one occasion, they've gotten to meet them, take selfies, snag a broken, autographed drumstick. 

Good times.

Every generation has its own soundtrack. And, every decade produces an extensive catalog of teen music. Years from now (years and years and years from now), my daughter will probably find herself driving her own teenager somewhere. A song will come on and — miraculously, musically — the years will peel away. She'll feel sixteen again, like I did a couple of days ago.

And the generation gap will never feel wider.

If you enjoyed this post, I invite you to order a copy of my new book Lovin' the Alien at www.lovinthealien.com. 

Monday, January 6, 2014

Affluenza and Other Epidemics

Have you heard the term "affluenza?"

It's a clever mash-up of affluence and influenza, but it isn't exactly new. In 2005, Clive Hamilton and Richard Denniss published Affluenza: When Too Much Is Never Enough. The book explains that people who "aspire to the lifestyles of the rich and famous at the cost of family, friends and personal fulfilment" create for themselves stress, depression and even obesity. Two years later, Oliver James, a British psychologist, published Affluenza: How To Be Successful and Stay Sane. He talks about "selfish captalism" or "placing a high value on money, possessions, appearances (physical and social) and fame." He also sees affluenza as an important factor in the rise of mental illness. 

Last month, affluenza was used as a legal defense in a Texas case involving a drunk teenage driver. 

Young Ethan Couch was caught stealing beer on a store surveillance camera before taking seven friends for a ride in his father's truck. He was speeding with a blood alcohol level of three times the legal limit (and traces of valium in his system too). He killed four pedestrians and injured another eleven.

Open and shut case, right? Wrong.

One word: affluenza.

You see, the young man had money. The young man had clever lawyers. And, the young man, according to those clever lawyers, had never learned right from wrong because he was brought up in such a privileged family and never taught to take responsibility for his actions. Rather than incarcerate this 'poor little rich boy,' he was sentenced to ten years probation and one year in a program for troubled teenagers.

Unbelievable, right? Just wait. It gets more so.

Cited as evidence were incidents from earlier in Couch's life. He started driving, illegally, at thirteen. At fifteen, the police found him with a naked, unconscious girl in his car. Rather than look at these past events as an indictment on his character or behavior (bad seed, anyone?), they were held up as part of the defense. Since he wasn't punished for those earlier transgressions, he shouldn't be this time either.

Does this kid have issues? Maybe. Is that mighty cold comfort to the families of any of his victims? Hell, yes. And if the judge, in all his wisdom, honestly, truly (madly, deeply) believed that Couch wasn't at fault because his parents didn't do their job, shouldn't they be held responsible? As in legally?

The whole story is stunning.

Affluenza is about the Twinkiest of "Twinkie defenses" I've ever heard. It's appalling really. And, it made me wonder where we draw the line. My own teen daughter does know the difference between right and wrong, and I believe (I know) she would never do anything as stupid, as destructive or deadly as this stupid, destructive, deadly boy. But, like most upper middle-class parents, I've tried to make things smooth for her.

I wonder sometimes just how far is too far.

What about those harmless white lies we tell on their behalf? Like when we send a note to a teacher excusing an absence (or the absence of completed homework).

And how about cheating? I know many (many) well-meaning moms who have edited their children's essays well past the point of merely proofreading. Not just schoolwork either, but college application essays.

Or when we drive over the limit with our teen in the car, aren't we showing them that it's ok to speed? And even more important maybe, aren't we telling them that it's ok to break the law?

How about when they see us, y'know, "fudge the numbers" on our income tax? Or drink or get high? What about calling in sick when we're ... well ... not?

We've all heard (and probably said) "Do as I say, not as I do." But, who are we fooling? Not our teens. Do we really expect our children to live by rules we aren't following? Wake up.

Stephen Sondheim wrote brilliant lyrics about this for his show Into The Woods. The song is called "Children Will Listen."

Careful the things you say
Children will listen
Careful the things you do
Children will see and learn
Children may not obey, but children will listen
Children will look to you for which way to turn
To learn what to be
Careful before you say "Listen to me"
Children will listen

Any children listening to the judicial system of the state of Texas last month learned an invaluable lesson.

Money walks.


If you enjoyed this post, I invite you to order a copy of my new book Lovin' the Alien at www.lovinthealien.com.