Thursday, April 28, 2011

Kissing an Icon Good-Bye

It's one of the most famous photographs of all time. V-Jay Day in Times Square by Alfred Eisenstaedt appeared in Life magazine a week after Japan surrendered in 1945. The black and white picture shows a young sailor passionately — and spontaneously — kissing a nurse. The contrast between the dark and light of their uniforms, as well as the way their bodies curve together and around each other has led some skeptics over the years to ask whether the scene was staged. In the decades since the war ended, multiple men and women have come forward claiming to be the subjects.

Today, in Sarasota, there's a 25-foot sculpture of the kiss by John Seward Johnson II, aptly titled Unconditional Surrender.

When my in-laws picked us up at the airport on our recent visit, they made it a point to drive by this impressive piece of public art on the way to Long Boat Key. Of course, my husband and I recognized it immediately. But, my daughter was confused.

"It's awk-ward," she said at first, singsonging the word's two syllables. For those of you who don't have a tween, the word "awkward" doesn't always mean clumsy or difficult to deal with. These days, it means exposed. Like someone who arrives at middle school and doesn't realize that their underwear is showing. Or someone who posts how they feel about a crush and then the crush in question happens to see the post. Awk-ward!

Of course, there were four full-grown adults in the car, eager to explain the statue and what it meant. My in-laws were just kids during World War II, but certainly aware of what was happening overseas. They remember V-J Day firsthand, as I'm sure my own mother does. And, in all fairness, there are likely more retirees in Sarasota County than tweens.

"It was an amazing day because the war with Japan was finally over."

"During World War II, practically everyone had a brother or son or husband fighting overseas."

"People were celebrating in the streets all over the country."

But, my daughter wasn't buying it, and our conversation moved on to details about our flights and the latest family gossip. A few days passed.

The next time we drove by the statue, we were on our way back from a field trip to the Ringling Museum. There were tourists taking pictures at the base of the statue, some hamming it up for the camera by adopting the iconic pose. We drove on.

The last time we passed by was on our way back to the airport. This time, my daughter made a declaration, "I don't like it." I asked her why, and she explained that the sailor had no right to kiss the woman. He didn't know her. You can't just attack strangers in Times Square. She's obviously not embracing him back. Duh.

"And, look at his left hand. He's making a fist."

I took a closer look at the image. My daughter was right. The sailor is holding the woman with one hand around her waist and the other under her neck with her head resting in the crook of his elbow. His hand is clenched into a fist.

And, what of the so-called surrender? The nurse's right leg is raised in what a young Anne Hathaway called a "pop" in Princess Diaries. Hathaway's awkward (as in, clumsy) Mia was hoping that her foot would pop when she shared her first kiss. But the figure in the sculpture, as well as the mystery woman in the photograph, may just be caught off balance.

I know the original photograph, and a similar image of the same unidentified models captured by U.S. Navy photo journalist Victor Jorgensen which ran the next day in the New York Times, is near and dear to so many people's hearts. In fact, I believe that the majority of the retired sailors and nurses who have claimed to be the people in the picture actually believe they are. The day and image are burned into the collective memory of the greatest generation and its baby boomer descendants.

But, my daughter brings up a good point. At age thirteen, she's living in a world where only some people in our country are at war. She doesn't have a relative or friend serving overseas, and she cannot relate to the mass jubilation her grandparents lived through 66 years ago.

And, she has been taught that she owns her body and that no one is allowed to touch it without her permission.

Whether they've just won a war or not.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Radio Gaga

In 1983, Pat Benetar warned that "Love is a Battlefield." In our family, battles often happen on roadtrips because each of our cars only has — gasp — one radio.

I like soft rock; give me a little Elton John or Fleetwood Mac and you have one very happy mamma. My husband prefers classic or album rock, a little harder, longer hair, more guitar riffs. Then, there's our daughter.

Our daughter is a tween living in the greater Boston area. She recognizes no station other than KISS 108!

No indoor voices, please. There seems to be some unwritten rule that you have to practically yell KISS 108! whenever you say it.

At any given time, KISS 108! has only about a dozen songs in rotation. This means that if it's Tuesday afternoon and you are driving to and from the stable for a riding lesson, you're likely to hear the same three songs, four times apiece. Do you know what an "earworm" is? Well, if you don't, try listening to KISS 108!

Sometimes, they break things up a little. They'll play a timeless deep cut classic like Katy Perry's Teenage Dream, which is almost a year old. Can you believe it? I actually have no issues with Ms. Perry, although I'm a bit confused by her choice of spouse. Perry is bright and creative, and she writes her own lyrics which always wins big points in my book. Her song Firework is an anthem urging misfit young people to have faith in themselves. Her earlier songs I Kissed a Girl and You're So Gay may be politically incorrect, but you have to admit they're funny.

So, when KISS 108! plays a Katy Perry song, I'm down with it. When they play something by Ke$ha? Uh ... not so much.

Ke$ha, described by Glee's airhead Britney as someone who has "been a cultural icon for weeks," seems to be building her career on the tried-and-true values of sex and booze. Seriously, based on her hit songs Tik Tok, Take it Off and We R Who We R, we can only assume she is both a slut and an alcoholic. Also, sometimes she wears blue lipstick, which makes her look like the cadaver of someone who was both a slut and an alcoholic. My daughter doesn't agree with Ke$ha's values (or lack thereof), but she likes the music.

This particular mom will be very happy when Ke$ha's 15 minutes of fame are over. The millions she's already made will pay for an awful lot of "bottles of Jack," with which she allegedly brushes her teeth. Ouch.

And, no posting about contemporary radio would be complete without a mention of that queen of bizarre Lady Gaga. Again, the woman is a singer and songwriter, and from what I understand a talented and serious musician. (My six degrees of gaga separation story is that my sister-in-law's mother remembers teaching piano to a little girl named Stefani Germanotta — how cool is that?) Many of her songs preach a kind of girl power, although her attitude about her own sexuality is a bit suspect. I haven't had to explain to my daughter what "I'm just bluffin' with my muffin" means and I'm not looking forward to the conversation. Most of the men in her videos end up dead, poisoned or incinerated by a lethal blast from her brassiere. And, speaking of the House of Gaga, the Lady G. dresses even more outrageously than her pop music grandmother Madonna. After all, Madonna always tried to look good even when she was wearing party hats in unexpected places. Gaga, on the other hand, doesn't seem to mind looking hideous, like a demon or an animal or an alien. She actually wore a dress made out of meat to the MTV Video Music Awards. Was it a comment about the objectification of young women in entertainment? A protest against industrial farming for PETA? I don't get it.

And there's the rub (no pun intended). I don't get it. When my daughter begs for KISS 108!, my husband and I react differently. He resists and then when he finally gives in, he makes fun of the singers and the songs. I let her listen, happy that she's still willing to sit in the car with me without retreating into her iPod earbuds. Like my husband, I really don't like most of the music that comes on. But, I've realized that if I say anything, anything at all, it will simply confirm what she already believes: that I just don't get it.

So, to quote the Go-Go's, rather than Gaga, when we listen to KISS 108!, and we will, "my lips are sealed."

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Dr. Jekyll and Miss Hyde

I only have one child. But in essence, I have two different daughters.

First, I have the sweet daughter who went shopping with me while we were on vacation. My birthday happened to fall during our week in Florida, and my daughter and I went to St. Armand's Circle — an elegant shopping district across the bay from Sarasota — to celebrate. She had secured some funds from her father (who did not mind missing the expedition in the least) and was prepared to spoil her mother thoroughly. In fact, I had to be very careful because anything and everything that I happened to admire in passing was pounced upon. "How about this? Do you want this for your birthday?" We finally landed on a lovely pinky ring with a black pearl, white pearl and tiny diamond chips. We celebrated our success with a couple of Caramel Frappucinos at the local Starbucks (another part of the outing that would not have tempted my husband).

This daughter made several appearances during our vacation. I stood beside her while we watched dolphins playing at dusk. We raced together to get back to the air-conditioned rental car before our ice cream cones melted in the afternoon heat. We rode bikes side-by-side through a mangrove swamp. We counted gecko lizards and collected shells. We made microwave popcorn and convinced my mother-in-law to watch an episode of Glee. (The grandmother in question enjoyed all "the singing and dancing." Happily, she didn't pick up on the more off-color bits of dialogue.) We looked at the new issue of Seventeen and agreed that the "most embarrassing" stories in the 'Traumarama' column were pretty silly, but that the Converse All-Stars were pretty cool and she probably needed a couple of pairs for the summer.

It's very easy to like this daughter and, indeed, I like her very much.

Then, I have my daughter's dreadful doppelgänger. She probably didn't want to feel left out so she made several appearances on our vacation as well. Often, technology was involved. If our perfectly lovely daughter was texting a friend, for example, and we innocently asked her to put her cell phone away because we were driving along a particularly gorgeous stretch of beach at sunset and didn't want her to miss it ... POOF! Daughter number one would magically disappear and in her place would be the other.

Daughter number two has the same green eyes, the same shoulder-length blonde hair. She wears the same clothes and answers to the same name. But, we are not so easily fooled. The exasperated sound effects, the over exaggerated eye-rolling, the car door slamming, the bedroom door slamming, the bathroom door slamming ... these precious attributes belong to her and her alone.

Impervious to mortal hours, the other can show up at any time. She can as easily appear at the breakfast table when we insist that she can have chocolate chip muffins or a pop-tart, not both, as she can show her face at bedtime when we declare lights out after she's had two full hours of the latest volume of Gossip Girl.

She is smart, this second daughter. She doesn't hesitate to use her rapier wit or to boldly point out injustices to us, her oppressors. She can be ungrateful. She can be surly. She can whine, whinge and mutter vaguely veiled swear words under her breath with the best of them.

This daughter can be very difficult to like.

So here's what I do ...

When the other takes over, I tell myself that it isn't her fault. My darling daughter is still there beneath the curling lip and furled brow. She's just temporarily possessed by a blonde, green-eyed tween demon. With the proper rituals — and depending on the situation (and my fortitude), these could include consequences or capitulation — the demon eventually goes back to wherever she lives when she's not inhabiting my daughter's size 0 Abercrombie jeans.

Being the mother of a tween is a bit like bargain hunting. You get two for the price of one.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Letting Go at 30,000 Feet

Last week, we packed our bags and left New England's never ending winter for the perpetual summer of central Florida. My daughter's middle school had Spring Break, and we were eager to take advantage of it. (My in-laws have a 2-bedroom bungalow right on Sarasota Bay, and, to be honest, we were eager to take advantage of it as well.)

Our flight was at 6 a.m., which meant we had to leave for the airport no later than 4:15. This particular mom was not looking forward to it one bit. After all, getting my daughter out of bed on a typical weekday — at the relatively civilized hour of 6:30 — is anything but easy. Her alarm goes off and she's allowed one "snooze" cycle. Then, I come in with my best Carol Brady impression.

"Good morning, honey!" This is usually met with ... silence.

"Okay, sweetie time to get up now." More silence.

"C'mon now, I mean it. You have to get up." At this point, she'll actually acknowledge I'm there with an elongated groan and something along the lines of "I hate mornings!" or "Why do I have to go to school?" or "I'm so-o-o-o-o tired." Eventually, I have to pull the covers off and turn the overhead light on full blast. She begs for a few extra minutes after which she promises to get up. However, I know from past experience that leaving while she is still on the bed is a major mistake. So I stay and I nag and I stay and I nag and she eventually puts her feet on the floor. Once she is vertical, I can go downstairs and make breakfast and lunch for her. Ain't life grand?

It's a great source of pride for her that she refuses to smile from the time I drag her out of bed until she leaves the house. (It's a great source of pride for me that she has never been tardy.)

Interestingly enough, on day one of Spring Break, there were far less complaints at 3:45 than I normally encounter nearly three hours later. Hmmm ... can it be possible that the prospect of seven days in Florida was preferable to the prospect of seven hours at school?

We made it to the airport in plenty of time and had an uneventful flight to Washington D.C., where we changed planes for Sarasota. The second flight was a bit delayed, so we bought some Cinnabons and Dunkin' Donuts, and picked up the new issue of Seventeen magazine. (This, my friends, warrants an entire blog post all its own.)

No matter, a mere 30 minutes late, we were boarding. My husband suddenly remembered to mention that our seats weren't together. And, I — just as suddenly — went into automatic pilot overprotective mom mode.

I jumped in a bit too quickly and confidently. "Don't worry, I'll just ask someone to switch with me. It's no big deal." Then I looked at my daughter and saw ... sheer panic.

She was most definitely worried. And, she most definitely thought that it was a big deal. But, sitting apart was not the problem. Obviously, I was the problem. And what was worrying her was not the idea of sitting alone or next to a stranger. It was the idea that I was going to embarrass her, publicly humiliate her, treat her like ... gasp ... a child.

There was fear in her eyes, but she tried to keep her cool. "It's okay, Mom," she muttered quietly but sternly. "Really, it's okay."

I followed her down the jetway and mentally walked through different scenarios. Determined to give her the autonomy she was asking for, I was equally determined to shift gears and rearrange seats if I had the least doubt about whomever she was next to. She went to her assigned seat, tucked her bag neatly under the seat in front of her, and pulled out her book and iPod. She didn't look up as I walked past to my own row.

The flight was fairly quick and I was able to work my way through two back issues of the New Yorker. I confess that I scanned the plane for the back of her head a couple of times. And, I think I heard her order a Coke from the flight attendant. When we landed, passengers filed out row by row and I lost sight of her as a crowd filled the aisle collecting carry-on luggage and eager to leave the plane.

But as I stepped out of the jetway and into Sarasota Airport, she was waiting, smiling, just as though she had never left me.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The Allure of the Other Mother

When did it happen? When did I lose my cool?

I'm not talking about the last time I blew up because of dirty clothes on the floor, crushed Pixie Sticks in the backpack, or because someone insisted on going out in 18-degree New England weather sans coat. Happily, things have been fairly peaceful here lately in all of those departments.

No, I'm talking about something deeper: my very identity as a hip chick, a happenin' parental unit ... a cool mom.

My quest for coolness began many years ago. When we moved into our house, we gave our daughter the master suite. (Okay, I confess the decision had a little something to do with the bright pink carpeting and woodwork left by the previous owners.) I thought that she could fill the room with toys while she was younger, and eventually make it a hangout for her teen friends when she reached high school. Sort of like the time Greg and Marcia argued over the attic on the Brady Bunch. As an only child though, my daughter wouldn't have to fight for her groovy pad. It would be hers, all hers.

My strategy worked ... for a while. The room has a vaulted ceiling and exposed beams and we hung fairy models from them. She had plenty of space for a large dollhouse and a legion of Barbie dolls. We hosted elaborate costume tea parties at a cunning hand-painted table and chair set. There were countless playdates and sleepovers.

As she got older, we redecorated to suit her evolving tween taste. Fairies and princesses were retired and replaced by Breyer horse models. The room was repainted and recarpeted in a pretty ice blue with only the tiniest pink blush left in a few places around the windows. She has books and magazines and iTunes. And, even though I'm a stickler for parental controls, she has a very nice Apple laptop available everyday (until 8:00 p.m.). I also stock our pantry downstairs with favorites like cheese popcorn, Oreo cookies, ramen noodles and even the dreaded Fruit Roll-Ups.

With all of these tween creature comforts, I would expect our home to be the after-school destination of choice for my daughter and all her BFFs. Wouldn't you?

Alas, no.

Like most tweens these days, my daughter's schedule is what could be described as "over committed." Nonetheless, she manages to hang out with friends and classmates on a pretty regular basis. I'll get a text or (less often) a call asking if she can go to so-and-so's house to work on such-and-such a project. Sometimes I push back and chirp "Why don't you guys come here instead?" But, sadly, and despite my most chipper chirping, nine times out of ten they end up at the home of the other mother.

Of course, this hurts my feelings more than I can ever admit to my daughter. (Hurt feelings are so uncool!) My best friend, who has already navigated the tween and teen waters with her own daughters, comforts me by explaining that all kids prefer to go to the other mother's house rather than their own. If this is indeed the case though, wouldn't the other kids prefer the other other mother's house and wouldn't that sometimes be mine?

Maybe they will all want to come to my house if I can make some adjustments. From what I've observed, here are some tried-and-true ways to be a cool mom:

• DO permit unlimited use of electronic media all day, everyday
• DON'T enforce a bedtime
• DO have a trampoline in the backyard and
• DON'T set limits as to how many tweens can jump on it simultaneously
• DO allow your tween and her friends to watch Sex and the City (the un-cut HBO version)
• DON'T worry if your tween is on her third can of orange soda
• DO invest in a Nintendo Wii and an Xbox 360 and a PlayStation 3
• DON'T hover in the kitchen while they're making cookies
• DO refrain from asking "How was school today?"
• DON'T ever sign up to chaperone middle school field trips

Um, I'm afraid I DO see a problem here. I DON'T think I can make that many adjustments.

Fortunately, being a good mom is more than a popularity contest. Of course you want your tween daughter to be happy, but you also want her to be safe and smart and healthy. That means being uncool sometimes. The same friend who tried to cheer me up also suggested that "If they like you all the time, you aren't doing your job." And, being a mom is a job.

I'm cool with that.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Pass the Popcorn: Tangled

About ten years ago, when my daughter was finally old enough to go to the movies, I took her to see Monsters, Inc. We bought a nice bucket of popcorn and some bottled water, and we smuggled in some M&Ms. We settled into out seats and I remember being excited to experience her first big-girl, big-screen movie together.

Um. Not exactly.

We lasted all of 4 minutes. If you remember, the premise of Monsters, Inc. was that there are indeed monsters who hide under children's beds. They scare the kids and then use their screams to power a monster city. They wear portable tanks that hold and transfer the screams and these tanks have a little red gauge on the side. Well, my daughter didn't understand that the tanks were for the screams; she thought that the monsters were draining the children's blood. She practically climbed over my shoulders to get out of the theatre. And I was left thinking, not about our nice afternoon at the movies, but rather about what a horrible mother I was to have subjected her to such a gruesome experience. I was sure she would be scarred for life.

Happily, she did eventually recover. Over the years we enjoyed many movies from animated modern classics like Toy Story and Finding Nemo, to live action fantasies like Princess Diaries, Freaky Friday, and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. (And at home, of course, like any self-respecting middle-class American girl, she amassed the complete Disney princess collection on DVD.)

Going to the movies today is different. On the one hand, we have a somewhat broader range of films to choose from. But on the other hand, it gets harder to agree on what to see. There don't seem to be very many romantic comedies anymore — or, at least, not very many that don't include fairly crude adult content. In my mind, there's a pretty big divide between When Harry Met Sally and No Strings Attached. And, while it's easy for me, at 40-something, to admit that I enjoy a clever animated feature, my daughter has to be über vigilant about appearing too childish.

OMG, what if a friend saw her go into the movie theatre to see a cartoon? With her mother!!!

As Ratatouille would say, "Sacré bleu!"

So, it was with great surprise (and even greater pleasure) that I agreed when my daughter suggested we see Tangled. Not sure what precipitated the request — an amusing trailer, a friend's recommendation, some adolescent nostalgia for simpler times? I didn't ask.

Get thee to the multiplex!

Tangled was adorable. Always a bit wary of the sexist undertones in many of the beloved fairy tales, I was happy to find Rapunzel as brave and spunky as her hair was long. In fact, she's evolved into Rapunzel-Ninja; in various sequences, she uses those fabled tresses as a lasso, a whip, a swing, ropes, a winch, and a hook. In one of many twists on the familiar source material, this Rapunzel isn't exactly rescued by a prince. She effectively captures a young thief, Flynn Rider, while he's breaking and entering her famous tower, then allows him his freedom in exchange for his helping her get out and see the world.

The script is very funny, the songs very enjoyable, the mood swings and teen angst Rapunzel feels very familiar.

The Disney team wisely made Rapunzel a quick, contemporary heroine with lines like "Best! Day! Ever!" that could have easily come out of a Sponge Bob episode. And, she isn't simply being whisked out of danger by some random, albeit royal, guy. She's on her own quest to start living the dream she's nurtured in her heart for 18 years. I can imagine that a lot of live action teens and tweens can relate. They too are eager to get out of their parental towers and start down the path to their real lives.

Of course, there are still a few issues with this reimagining. Rapunzel is pretty pretty with eyes so wide they would make a lemur jealous. And she has one of those over-exagerrated Disney princess bodies. Her waist is approximately the size of her neck and, in case you were wondering, it's not because she has a big neck. Her entire plight derives from a crazy old lady's obsession with staying young and beautiful.

And, one more thing. The magic hair is lustrous and blonde while it's enchanted — then drab and brown when the magic is gone. This seemed like a very unnecessary way to remind us that blondes have more fun. As a brunette, I for one was ready to take issue.

But, the good people at Disney pulled it out. Flynn, whose real name is Eugene, looks up at her (she has just saved his life, sacrificing her mane to do so) and slyly comments ...

"Did I ever tell you I've got a thing for brunettes?"

So we all lived happily ever after ... after all.

Friday, April 8, 2011


Reader, I fought the good fight. In my heart of hearts, I sincerely do believe in the value of grammar, spelling, punctuation, capitalization. I love a thick book; I revel in a well-turned phrase. I have resisted change with every fiber of my learned and literate being. But, I give up.

If you want your tween to listen to you, you have to learn to speak their language. You have to use their preferred communications channel. You have to shun the Queen's English in lieu of the brave new world of acronyms we call ... text talk.

Until my recent surrender, a typical post-school text dialogue with my daughter might have gone something like this:

Her: hi
Me: Hi honey. How was school today?
Her: k
Me: How did you do on the French quiz?
Her: k
Me: Where are you?
Her: strbks
Me: When will you be home?
Her: 4
Me: Okay, have fun. Say "hi" to Mary for me. See you soon. xxx
Me: Hello?
Her: bi

Clearly, my preference for formal prose was not working in my favor. As you can see, I lost my daughter's attention a while ago. Besides, my middle-age thumbs can't keep up with all those letters, punctuation marks, spaces or my iPhone's awkward shift key. So, I am throwing in the towel, and now I must learn a whole new language. You're invited to come along.

When traveling in a foreign country, it's helpful to have a dictionary in the back of your guide book. The land of tween is no different. Here's an abbreviated glossary of texting abbreviations to get you started:

ayt = are you there?

b = be

b4 = before

bbfn = bye bye for now

bbl = be back later

bcuz = because

bf = boyfriend

bffs = best friends forever

c = see

da = the

d8 = date

dnt = don’t

dznt = doesn’t

eva = ever

g2g = got to go

gf = girlfriend

hw = homework

im = I am

lol = laughing out loud

lmao = laughing my ass off

lmfao = laughing my f*cking ass off

mos = mom over shoulder

np = no problem

nvr = never

nw = no way

omg = oh my God

p911 = parent alert

pal = parents are listening

plz = please

pos = parent over shoulder

ppl = people

r = are

rite = right/write

skewl = school

sry = sorry

sum1 = someone

sup = what's up?

tmi = too much information

ttfn = ta ta for now

ttyl = talk to you later

ur = your, you are

w8 = wait

wb = write back

w/e = whatever

wtf = what the f*ck!

y = why?

It pains me to report that OMG and LOL were recently added to the Oxford English Dictionary. So, clearly, there's no going back now. But, maybe that's all right. After all, languages are fluid phenomena; they evolve with the issues of the times and as civilization's thought leaders add new words. (Just ask Shakespeare ... or Sarah Palin.)

In that spirit, I'd like to suggest adding a few tween momisms to the language of text talk:

dyhw = do your homework

gopc = get off the computer

waj = wear a jacket

gocp = get off the cell phone

cyr = clean your room

2mm = too much makeup

And my favorite ...

biss = because I said so

That's all for now. I encourage you to study this list; I'm going to test you later. But, don't worry ... spelling won't be counted. bb4n

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Teenaged ... and Knocked Up?

I know I have a lot of family and friends who read "Lovin' the Alien," so let me quickly reassure you ...

No, no, no. No, no, no. I'm not going to be a grandmother anytime soon.

Happily, my daughter is still much more interested in horses than boys. In fact, she has avoided all but one of the middle school "TGIF" dances this year. (The one she did attend, because I insisted she try it, was "so-o-o-o boring.") She has boy friends but not boyfriends, and in this department at least, is in no hurry to grow up.


That said, I worry about all the teen pregnancies she's exposed to. There's ABC Family's The Secret Life of the American Teenager, in which poor Molly Ringwald (that's right, John Hughes' little darling from Pretty in Pink) does become a grandmama before her time. This is not a fitting fate for an 80s teen queen, is it? To add insult to injury, the new mom in the show is played by a lovely young actress, Shailene Woodley, who is a very familiar face in our house. Back when my daughter was still enamored with American Girl dolls, Shailene played the brave young patriot Felicity in a TV movie produced by Julia Roberts. We watched this movie on DVD ... oh, about 200 times.

Then, there's MTV's 16 and Pregnant. In each episode, we meet a different teenage mom-to-be. We follow her story as she deals with morning sickness, math tests, adoption decisions, getting kicked off the pep squad. These girls aren't airbrushed models; their stories aren't happy or easy to watch. No doubt, the MTV executives would be the first to defend the show by pointing out just how difficult these girls' lives are. And yet, they're on TV. They have their 30 minutes of fame along with their stretch marks. In our media-obsessed culture, I'm afraid that even a brush with stardom means more than an untelevised functional young adulthood.

And, MTV has followed up the success of 16 and Pregnant with another original show, Teen Moms, in which girl-mothers learn to breastfeed while they earn their GEDs. Again, even as the audience watches the eponymous young mothers struggle, I imagine that there's some degree of envy. "Sure, she and her baby are on welfare, but wow, she has her own TV show. Gyp!"

In a way, the shows are the best of both worlds for today's lowest common denominator viewers: reality show voyeurism that stems from underage sex.

For the record, I'm not a prude, and I don't believe that I'm shielding my daughter from information she needs. In fact, we've faithfully followed Glee — from cheerleader Quinn's discovery that she was pregnant through to the birth and subsequent adoption of her daughter. We recently watched Juno, which, in my opinion, presents a very balanced story about what happens to a smart girl who makes a dumb mistake but takes responsibility for it. In both cases, our watching together created valuable opportunities for dialogue, or as they say, "teachable moments."

Last month, the PTO at my daughter's school hosted a parents' meeting to discuss the health ed sexuality curriculum. They explained that, in addition to teaching about the physical and emotional changes that attend puberty, they talk about decision-making and strategies to delay behavior when a student doesn't feel ready. Hallelujah! This makes so much sense to me. I don't believe that preaching abstinence is an effective approach (after all, teen pregnancy is not a new issue). With hormones raging, "Just say No" is a bit naive. Instead, let's give young people a sense of control over their bodies and a way to say "Not now. Not yet."

Our daughters are so lucky to have the choice to wait. Recently, I volunteered to help a friend with a website for a school in East Africa. Because of this school, girls have an opportunity to get an education rather than become wives and mothers at 13. I was talking to my daughter about it. "Can you imagine?" I asked her. "Do you think you're old enough to be a mother?"

"Mom," she told me, "I'm not even old enough to have sex yet."

From her mouth to God's ears.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Orange Food

There's something strange about the first time your child goes away without you. Whether it's skiing for a weekend with another family, an overnight trip with a Brownie troop, or — as in our case — a getaway to a New Hampshire lake house with a beloved aunt. It makes you wonder. What will she see? Who will she meet? Is she staying up too late? Waking up too early? Brushing her teeth?

Neurotic mom musings aside, these events carry a lot of emotional weight. They remind us that our children are individual people, who will live their own individual lives, not just extensions of ours. The child returns with stories to tell and, thankfully, glad to see you again, but you can never capture everything they experienced. And some of those experiences can alter things forever.

I was happy to let my daughter go off with my sister-in-law. Not only is my sister-in-law smart and loving and one of the most capable people I know, but I could count on my daughter having the kind of fun she doesn't have with me. A mother/daughter book club, a matinee, an art project? I'm your gal. But jumping off rafts and chasing each other on jet skis — yikes — not so much.

My daughter returned home safe and sound with nothing more serious than a few extra freckles. She did, however, come home with a new love ...

Orange soda.

I confess, I am no health nut. I consume more than my share of semisweet chocolate, caramel coffee drinks and white wine. But, we drink very little soda and none of it, until that fateful trip to New Hampshire, orange.

Why did it bother me so much? I'm sorry but there is simply something wrong with a drink that turns both tongue and teeth neon. I came of age in the 80s and wore my share of day-glo; but I've put those days behind me and would rather not be reminded of them when my daughter opens her mouth.

So, I tried to replace the drink with orange-flavored seltzer ("too plain") and orange juice with sparkling water ("too pulpy"). I finally gave in, provided that she drinks sugar-free variations. Maybe the chemicals that make it sweet will counteract the chemicals that make it orange and neutralize the whole experience.

Regardless of how nutritionally sound my logic may be, soda is not the only orange consumable my tween daughter craves these days. In fact, we could plan an entire menu in monotone:

For a starter, we could enjoy goldfish crackers. What was once a mom-sanctioned staple of toddler diets is now more orange than ever thanks to the introduction of the Flavor Blasted Extra Cheddar! variety. Although it doesn't affect the teeth quite like a nice cup of orange soda, your tween will have orange fingertips for the rest of the day.

For an entrée, let's go with Kraft Macaroni and Cheese. After all, "It's the cheesiest." Trying to combine convenience with some semblance of nutrition, I used to buy Annie's Macaroni and Cheese — hey, it was "homegrown" and "organic" and I paid extra for it at Whole Foods. But, very much in keeping with her introduction to orange soda, once my daughter tasted Kraft's bright orange alternative, she was hooked.

A nice side dish? How about Cheese Doodles. So tasty, so crunchy, so orange. And so many varieties to choose from: Cheetos, Cheese Curls, Cheese Balls, Cheese Puffs. My daughter isn't the only fan apparently. When Cheese Doodle inventor Morie Yohai died at age 90 last year, his obituary appeared in The New York Times. And, March 5th is National Cheese Doodle Day. I kid you not.

Onto dessert then. Tonight's specials include Circus Peanuts, candy corn, mellow cream pumpkins and orange Pixie Sticks. Mmm, mmm, good.

You may notice a few items that are conspicuously absent from our menu. Like oranges, carrots, tangerines, sweet potatoes. I'm afraid you're missing the point. Those foods are naturally orange. They don't have any extra sugar or extra cheese. And, most importantly, eating them would make a tween's mother extra happy.

Where's the fun in that?