Thursday, June 30, 2011

Packing Envy

Ahoy, mates!

In less than 24 hours, my tween and I are supposed to leave for a 7-day cruise to Bermuda. We'll be sailing with my dearest friend and her 18-year old (whom my daughter idolizes). Our plans include lying by the pool with stacks of chick lit books, indulging at the midnight chocolate buffet, visiting the famous pink beaches, and dressing up for high tea at one of the island's fancy schmancy hotels.

"La dee dah."

I say "supposed to leave" because I'm not at all confident that the trip is going to happen. I haven't even begun to pack yet and the prospect is ... well ... daunting.

Have you ever noticed that the idea of "time off" is a little misleading? I find that you tend to smush two weeks of work into the week prior to the break; then you have to work doubly hard the week thereafter to catch up. So, with a little simple math, you're really doing four weeks worth of work in three. Granted, during the week in the middle you get to lie around on a beach towel with an umbrella in your drink. But, still. It hardly seems fair.

So, you might assume that I haven't started packing because I've been in pre-vacation work-my-tail-off mode. Indeed I have been, but, that's not the real reason. The four of us are sharing a tiny cabin and we agreed up front that we would pack light. Now, I'm stymied. How can I fit seven days and seven nights of cute cruise outfits into one little roller bag? How many shoes do I need? How many purses? Should I bring a hat? Am I really going to work out every morning? If so, I practically need an extra suitcase just for my size 10 sneakers.

I know, I know. These may seem like very silly questions and I may seem like a very silly woman. But, my concerns are real to me. My suitcase has been sitting — accusingly empty — in my bedroom for several days as I ponder.

In addition to my own packing, I have to tackle my daughter's. (I know from experience that letting her take care of it without me would be a mistake — we'd end up with 21 tee shirts and 2 pairs of shorts. Or vice versa.) But, that will be a piece of cake. After all, there will be 'less there there.'

Swimwear, for example. According to our itinerary, we're "at sea" three days. This will give the moms plenty of time to lie around with the aforementioned umbrella drinks. And, the girls will pretty much live in bikinis. Oh, maybe they'll pull on a pair of short shorts when it's time for lunch. My point is, there won't be a whole lot of fabric going on.

Compare this now to my poolside attire. My bathing suit (which, according to the tag is going to make me look "Slimtastic!") is much more, shall we say, substantial. Basically, you could take the fabric in twelve bikinis, sew it all together, then add some underwire and spandex, dye the whole thing black and you might get close. Plus, I need a sarong because no matter how slimming the suit is, it doesn't hide my thighs. And, I also have to have a long tee shirt dress for walking to and from the pool ... or over to the bar.


Or consider tops. The tween and teen will no doubt sport adorable tanks. Me? Not so much. These days, sleeves are a grownup girl's best friend. The same holds true for bottoms. While Abercrombie's shorts are short and getting shorter, I prefer Talbots' elegant capris. Again, that's just more fabric to pack. And finally, we have to plan for evening wear as well. We have invitations to the Captain's champagne reception. It's very exclusive — just the Captain and the four of us ... oh, and the other 2,800 guests. The girls will probably wear flimsy little sundresses. I'll be in black silk trousers and an embroidered jacket.

Do you see what I mean?

The fact is, 13- and 18-year olds can show a lot more skin than I can in my late 40s. They aren't self-conscious about their bodies and they shouldn't be. But, no matter how much yoga I do or how many Zumba classes I take, at this stage in my life I feel the need to cover up a bit.

It is what it is.

At my daughter's age less is more, and at mine more is necessary. (Puh-lease, don't get me started on how our cosmetic cases differ.) I just have to stop stressing and start packing. After all, this time tomorrow I'll be lying by the pool with three of my favorite people. And, assuming I can fit everything, I'll be there in my bathing suit, sarong and tee shirt dress.

Chances are, I can probably find a little extra room in my daughter's duffel.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Playback When It Matters

"Hello? Hello? Is anyone in there?"

One of the frustrations of mothering a tween is that you hear yourself talking and talking and talking (and talking and talking), but you don't get much in the way of feedback. You are continually faced with the same decision ... Do you acknowledge that no one is listening? Or do you keep talking?

I'm of the keep talking mindset myself. It might be that I have a classic "the show must go on" attitude from years of theatre training (and some performances in fairly empty theatres). It might be that I'm afraid of the silence that would pervade my home if I shut my mouth. Or, it might be that somewhere inside this tired old mom, there is still an optimist.

I figure that if I keep going, something I say will eventually sink in.

So, I duly praise the good report cards, tell my daughter ad nauseum that I'm proud of her, recite platitudes about hard work and treating people with respect. I make observations about politics, media, fashion, and the teen celebrities who are held up as role models.

To her credit, my daughter doesn't usually interrupt me, point out that I'm repeating myself, or even roll her eyes. She just goes about her business. Like all of her generation, she is an accomplished multi-tasker. She can text a friend, listen to music, flip through the latest issue of Seventeen and still, apparently, hang on my every word. Or not. It's hard to tell because whether I'm asking her to pick up her pajamas or I'm revealing the mystery of the sphinx, her reaction is pretty much the same. As in ... there is no reaction.

One of the topics that I feel compelled to lecture on over and over and over again is feminism. I came of age in the 70s and some of my role models were Gloria Steinem, Betty Friedan and Barbara Seaman. I was a junior volunteer on Shirley Chisholm's campaign; I have a treasured copy of the first issue of Ms. magazine. And, it worries me that my daughter and her friends assume that they won't face any discrimination when the Equal Rights Amendment, first proposed in 1923, still isn't part of the Constitution.

In addition to the issue of gender equality, I am often confronted with examples of socially accepted exploitation and violence against women, whether they show up in music videos, reality shows or tabloid headlines. I think it's my duty to point these things out to my daughter so that she stops and thinks about them. I'd like to hope that someday she and her peers will be in a position to change their society.

Recently, my daughter and I were listening to Kiss 108!, the local pop station, much adored by the tween crowd here. Rihanna's latest song "S&M" was playing. The song is certainly catchy (all my Zumba teachers are using it these days) and its risqué premise and lyrics assure that it gets a lot of airtime.

The song, as the title implies, celebrates sadomasochism. The lyrics include, such poetic lines as:

"Feels so good being bad (oh oh oh oh oh)
There's no way I'm turning back (oh oh oh oh oh)
Now the pain is my pleasure cause nothing could measure ..."

And the catchy chorus (which has all the middle age matrons in my Zumba class chuckling) is:

"Cause I may be bad, but I'm perfectly good at it
Sex in the air, I don't care,
I love the smell of it
Sticks and stones may break my bones
But chains and whips excite me."

Now, I'm not a prude and I can appreciate that consenting adults have a right to any fetish that makes them feel good. But, this is where we have to look at the bigger picture. Early in 2009, Rihanna's boyfriend Chris Brown may or may not have roughed up the then 20-year old singer enough that she landed in the hospital instead of at the Grammy Awards. Domestic violence, which is still treated by the media and the police as some less serious subset of assault and battery, is rampant in this country. And, horrifying as it may sound, incidents of boyfriends beating on their girlfriends (and far less often, the other way around) start with teens. According to the Journal of Pediatrics, two in ten teen girls say they have been physically or sexually abused by a dating partner.

Isn't there something wrong then when Rihanna, a woman whose bruised face was plastered on newspaper front pages two years ago, sings of the joys of chains and whips?

So, I was about to launch into yet another of my speeches when my daughter interrupted.

"This song really pisses me off," she told me. "She could make a difference and instead she's just making money."

As you can imagine, my heart was filled with pride and I felt as though all my years of talking had been worth it.

But, she had said her piece. And, before I could even nod my head, she went back to her iPhone.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

School's Out and I'm Feeling a Little Schmaltzy

Yesterday was the last day of school.

A seventh grader left my house at 6:45 am for a pre-school pancake breakfast at a friend's. An eighth grader returned at 3:15 pm, having "hung out" at Starbucks en route. She didn't look any different. She was no more (but, thankfully, no less) interested in her devoted mother. And still, this was another milestone in the endless string of events big and small that mark our journey together.

By this time, however, I know better than to point these things out. Why give her yet another example of just how schmaltzy I am?

It's a tradition in our family that my daughter gets to choose what she wants to do for dinner after the last day of school. In years past, we've had fish and chips on the harbor, pizza at Bertucci's and a pu pu platter at a local Chinese place. When second grade ended, we went into Boston and visited the aquarium so she could pick up a penguin hand puppet like the one her teacher had used with the class. They had taken turns bringing said penguin home and writing about his stay with them in a special diary. Its name was Fluffy or Puffy or some such thing. It amazes me that I can't remember now, since life in Mrs. J's class pretty much revolved around when you got to bring him home and what scrapes you could get into together.

Stop me now or I'll get schmaltzy again.

This year, I suggested another trip into Boston for pasta and pastry in the North End. We were all set until we realized that my husband had Peter Gabriel tickets for the same night. I decided to give the guest of honor a choice: she and I could go together or we could time shift the celebration until her dad would be available too.

"We can wait," she shrugged. "It's no big deal."

Let me explain that in the past, it would have been a very big deal indeed. My daughter loves the concept of tradition. In fact, she will often allude to something as a "tradition" that would never have occurred to us. Like "But, it's our tradition to stop for a McFlurry on the way home from so-and-so's house." "It's a tradition that we listen to the entire first season of Glee when we drive up to Vermont." Or, "Eating two bags of microwave popcorn is a tradition when we watch What A Girl Wants." Last day of school celebrations have always been important.

Not so much anymore, I guess.

Her new laissez-faire attitude certainly made my life easier. It's been a particularly cold and wet season here, and yesterday was no exception. Parking in the North End is stressful and expensive. And, I had several dueling deadlines for clients — my time would be much better spent sitting in my office and working rather than sitting in traffic on our way into town.

Still, I felt, as I so often do, that another piece of our life together was breaking off and disappearing. From experience, I've found that when these rituals fall by the wayside due to some random, seemingly inconsequential decision, they don't come back.

There it is again, the schmaltz.

I decided to give it one more shot. "What would you like to do this afternoon? Do you want to go anywhere? Watch anything? Have anything special for dinner?"


"You just want to hang out and do nothing?"


So that's what she did. I didn't ask her to go through the year's worth of schoolwork that had been dumped on her carpet. I didn't insist that she put away the clean laundry that was piled on her bed. I didn't tell her to stop playing games on her iPhone or texting her now eighth-grade BFFs. I served up an easy but tasty dinner, which we ate together at the coffee table in front of the TV.

After ten months of seventh grade, I figured she'd earned the right to be a little lazy. And, after ten months of seventh grade, I've earned the right to be a little ... well ... schmaltzy.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Allergy Season

They say, "The apple doesn't fall far from the tree." Well, I inherited many things from my late father. Good things, like my love of Shakespeare. And, not so good things.

Like my allergies.

Let's see ... I'm allergic to cats, hay, pine, cats, dust, pollen, feathers, cats. (Oh, did I mention cats?) I sneeze. I wheeze. My eyes puff up and water. Sometimes I get hives — nice red ones on my face and neck. I have seasonal allergies and situational allergies. For example, if in any season I'm in a situation where there happens to be a cat ... well, you get the picture.

Happily, I don't have any of those carry-an-EpiPen-in-my-purse-or-risk-certain-death allergies. I can eat peanuts and shellfish, although probably not together (yuk!). If I'm stung by a bee, it will hurt like hell but there's no need to rush me to the nearest emergency room. So, even though I should probably buy stock in the Kleenex company, I've always considered my allergies to be a nuisance (albeit, a big fat one), but nothing more.

My husband is not allergic to anything. Nothing, nada. So, early in our relationship, it distressed him to see me sniffling, scratching and rubbing my eyes. His attitude was, 'If it's broke, fix it!' He urged me to make an appointment with an allergist.

If you've never been to an allergist, here's what you're missing. Allergists use a very primitive and particularly painful diagnostic process called "the scratch test." I sat in a comfy chair and placed my bare arms out in front of me, palms up. A nurse (who, in my memory at least, is the definitive doppelgänger for Young Frankenstein's Frau Blucher) then "scratched me" with needles that had been dipped in 48 different allergens. Then, the fun really started.

Basically, the patient (that would be me) has to sit still for twenty minutes while the allergens take effect. My forearms almost immediately began to burn, itch and swell up. The entire purpose of the test is to gauge the reaction to each individual allergen, so it's important not to scratch or move, lest the results be compromised. Twenty minutes can be a long time. When mine were up, Frau Blucher returned. She took one look and hurried out of the room to get two of her colleagues, because — and I quote — "The pine hive is the largest one I've ever seen."

What can I say? I've always tried to be an overachiever.

So, now that my allergies were official, the allergist met with me to discuss a plan of action. He suggested that I control my environment (duh) — get a high quality vacuum and dust-proof mattress cover, stay out of homes with cats (I repeat, duh). He gave me a prescription for allergy medicine and asked me to call him in two weeks to report back on how well the new pills worked. When I called, I explained that the new pills didn't seem to work as well as the over-the-counter antihistamine I had always used. His expert medical opinion was that I should go back to my old pills. And, we were done.

Bottom line? 48 hives and $300 later, I was right where I started. (Although, I did have my new found fame as the record holder for the largest pine hive to keep me satisfied.)

When my daughter was born thirteen years ago, we wondered whether she would inherit my world-famous allergies or my husband's utter lack thereof. As she grew from baby to toddler to little girl to tween, we were thrilled to see no evidence of allergies whatsoever. She adores cats and has a knack for earning the instant trust of even the most timid ones in our neighborhood. Seasons come and go with nary a sneeze. And, she spends more time in haylofts than she does in her own room.

So, we assumed we had dodged this particular hereditary bullet. But now ... I'm not so sure. My daughter suddenly seems to have developed some allergies. I've been keeping a list and here's what she appears to be allergic to:

• Hangers, and in a related allergy, clothes hampers
• Getting out of bed in the morning
• Making that same bed once she does get out of it
• Anything for breakfast more nutritious than Pop-Tarts
• Listening to my radio stations in the car
• Listening to stories about me when I was thirteen
• Listening to pretty much anything I ask her to do

As I reflect on this list, I realize that there is a common thread here. Maybe my daughter is only reacting to one allergen. And, unfortunately, I don't think there's a pill for it. When she's a little older, she can control her environment (an out-of-state college looks likely). Until then, no scratch test required.

Just as I've had to learn to live in a world with pine and dust and cats, my daughter will just have to deal with the irritant that is her mother.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Between a Rock and a Science Project

Earlier this week, I was driving my daughter home from one of her riding lessons. It was about 6:30 in the evening. "We need to stop at the bird sanctuary," she told me. "I have to take pictures of rock formations."

The bird sanctuary in our town is out on a peninsula that has a light tower, some yacht clubs, and beautiful big houses (they were once Summer "cottages" — you know, cozy weekend digs with twelve bedrooms and private docks). It's really lovely and it's only a ten-minute drive from the downtown neighborhood in which we live. No problem, right?

Well, I had been stuck at the stable for nearly two-and-a-half hours. Loving Frank, the wonderful novel based on the story of Frank Lloyd Wright's mistress, was sitting in a tote bag on my bed along with a brochure I needed to proofread, my journal and the latest issue of The New Yorker. We had run out of the house in such a rush that I'd left them behind. Allergies prevented me from hanging out inside the stable. And, I had tried watching my daughter's dressage lesson, but I had forgotten bug spray as well as reading material and the mosquitos chased me back into the car. Suffice it to say, I had just had a fairly long afternoon and would rather have headed straight home.

However, I make it a point to support my daughter in all her academic efforts. So, off we went to the bird sanctuary.

It was a chilly evening and a little bit damp. I was wearing thick rubber sandals that are supposed to help my plantar fasciitis — one of my many stunning red carpet middle-aged mom looks. (Let's just say that if there had been any paparazzi at the bird sanctuary, I'd be on everyone's "best dressed" list!) I describe my fashion footwear, just to give you the full effect. My arches were supported but my toes were exposed and if I thought there were hungry bugs at the stable, I hadn't experienced anything yet. The bird sanctuary is a virtual swamp (all the better for the water fowl that live there) and the mosquitos were thrilled to meet my feet.

We marched on in.

Without sounding like too much of a nag, I tried to engage my daughter in a dialogue about the assignment. 'Turns out, it was a project called "Photo Evidence," and the seventh grade science class had to get outside and take pictures of different types of rock weathering. These pictures, along with descriptive paragraphs, were to be presented on posters. I wondered aloud when the science teacher had assigned this massive project (after all, I had known about it for all of thirty minutes). My daughter conveniently ignored the question and focused instead on the task at hand.

"Do you think this looks like a glacier erratic?" she asked.

Say what?

She rolled her eyes. "A glacier erratic," she repeated and continued to recite, "A rock that is much bigger than its surrounding rocks. A rock that was dragged along with a glacier until the glacier dropped it off."

"Oh," I nodded, "That kind of glacier erratic. I thought you meant the other kind. Yes, absolutely."

We spent another 45 minutes or so wandering through the jungles of the bird sanctuary. My daughter acquired photo evidence of wind and water erosion, mechanical and chemical abrasion, oxidation and lichen. I acquired mosquito bites. It was getting dark, and I eventually insisted that we leave the preserve via a side gate and return to the car by walking along the perimeter where there were houses and streetlights and sidewalks.

On the way back, I thought about homework. The role I play in my daughter's homework and the role my daughter's homework plays in my life.

It's a balancing act. You want your tween to do her own work, but you also want her to get the best possible grade. I try to enable my daughter, ensure that she has everything she needs to get the work done — supplies, snacks, Internet access, good lighting, a nice big (albeit perpetually cluttered) desk. I do proofread (I can't help it), but I try to circle back to her with directional feedback. "You need to check the spelling in the second paragraph," I suggest, still insisting that she locates and fixes the actual mistake.

I certainly know moms who cross the line, authoring more than they edit. On the flipside, my daughter has friends who don't seem to get any assistance at all.

It makes me wonder how the middle school expects kids to succeed if they don't have a computer. Or an English major mother who works out of a home office. Or a father willing to make an emergency trip to Staples for more index cards or poster board.

Or the ability to drive five miles to a bird sanctuary on a school night.

A recent article in The New York Times talked about a New Jersey school district that is re-evaluating its homework policies, in order to better balance study and play time. Similar proposals are being considered in California and Toronto. Kids do seem to have too much on their plates these days. Not only does homework take longer than it did when I was in junior high, but my daughter and her classmates are overcommitted with sports and other after-school activities. Nevertheless, until the system changes, we'll continue to plug away at the middle school curriculum together.

The "Photo Evidence" assignment was completed, like so many others — at the last minute and as a family affair.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The Accounting Firm of Tween, Tween & Tween

I once had a boss who described his philosophy of teamwork as a system of credits and debits.

Basically, you have an interpersonal bank account with each of your colleagues. If you do them a favor, put in that extra effort, or make them look good in front of a client, you get credit. If you need something from them or if you snap at them (because — hello? — maybe you're 8 months pregnant and they edited your copy without telling you), your account is debited.

This quid pro quo system, which he described in far more words than I've used here (and in one of those annoying I'm-going-to-speak-very-slowly-and-deliberately-because-I-think-you're-not-as-smart-as-me voices), always seemed a little cold. I mean, the accountability of it all appeals to me on some level. But, shouldn't a team work well together because we're all on the same mission? Or, gasp, maybe because we actually like what we're doing and each other.

At any rate, I've never really embraced this approach running my own agency. Then again, it might be due to the fact that we've been too busy actually working together for the past nine years to stop and do that kind of accounting.

Recently, I was reminded of this old boss's theory when I realized just how low my parental credit score is. It occurred to me that, as the mother of a tween ...

I get very little credit.

I'm not talking about appreciation. Actually, I get plenty of appreciation of the "Thank you so-o-o-o-o-o much, Mom" variety. If I agree to a last minute request to hang out at someone's house, a cross-country schooling lesson, an extra hour with the latest Gossip Girl book before bed, even a McFlurry on the way home, I get an immediate (and seemingly sincere) "Gracias, Mamacita." My daughter has manners; she does use the word "Please." She even sends handwritten thank you notes, to the amazement and delight of all of her relatives.

So, it isn't a matter of being unappreciated (oh, I'm under-appreciated, certainly, but all mothers are). The problem is this appreciation, when I do get it, is short-lived. Extremely short-lived. In fact, where appreciation is concerned, my daughter seems to have an acute case of memory loss. And, consequently, yours truly never has any credit.

You would assume that my account would be in very good shape by now. After all, pretty much everything I have done for the past 13+ years has been with one goal in mind: to make my daughter healthy and happy. Let's start with day one. We're talking double-digit hours of Pitocin-induced labor. For any readers who haven't had the pleasure, Pitocin (which was surely invented by a man), increases uterine contractions and makes labor "more productive" (a euphemism for PAIN, penned, no doubt, by a man). You also have less time between contractions; there's no gradual up or down; the PAIN is pretty much constant. PAIN, PAIN, PAIN. (Did I mention that there must be a man behind this?)

Now, I don't expect my daughter to remember that particular day. Or, the trouble I had nursing. Or, the eye infection she brought home from the hospital when she was three days old. Or, croup. Or, the six months when she refused to sleep through the night. These are "Mommy's Secret Credits." I keep them safely locked inside so I can dwell on them when I'm feeling particularly martyred.

But, it would be nice if my daughter maybe, occasionally, sometimes, once-in-a-blue-moon acknowledged all the homework help, all the term papers, all the ridiculous art projects. It would be nice if she noted how many miles I have put on my car driving her to dance, gymnastics and swim lessons. It would be nice if she thought about the fact that I spend an unbelievable amount of my time, money and energy ensuring that she can spend an equally unbelievable amount of time with the horses she loves.

Sigh. It would be nice, but it ain't gonna happen.

Then there are the smaller, discreet calculations. When I won't buy her a $40 Glee Live 2011! tee shirt, she conveniently forgets that I already spent considerably more than that on the Glee Live 2011! tickets. When I insist she clean her room because we have guests coming for the weekend, she has no recall of the eighteen thousand times I've made her bed for her. And, when I tell her to get off her phone, she has complete amnesia about who bought her the phone in the first place.

Whether it's the major investments or the day-to-day transactions ... at the Bank of Tween these days, I am somehow overdrawn. But, this is a long-term financial strategy. I have faith that sooner or later my little CFO will add it all up and realize how much she owes me.

Until then, I'll just keep making deposits.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Get Her to the Temple On Time

This morning, my tween daughter had to get ready to attend the bar mitzvah of one of her best friends.

As you know, a bar or bat mitzvah is a major event in the life of a Jewish boy or girl and his or her family. In our community, bar mitzvahs are major events for all thirteen-year olds, Jewish or non-. Bar mitzvahs give tweens a chance to party without their parents, and to try on who they want to be when they grow up. Girls who wear grubby tee shirts, jeans and sneakers to school every day suddenly put on too-short skirts and too-high heels. And girls and boys actually dance ... together!

This particular bar mitzvah had been anticipated for months.

As my daughter's designated alarm clock, hairdresser, makeup artist, fashion consultant and gift wrapper, I knew I would be busy. But, I thought I had it all under control. The bar mitzvah outfit was figured out in advance, we were carpooling with another family, and I had arranged to meet my friend for a late morning Zumba class instead of our usual earlier one.

What is it they say about the best laid plans?

We had agreed that my daughter would get up at 8:30 am, giving her a chance to catch up on some sleep, but still affording her an hour and 40 minutes to shower, dress, do her hair and makeup, and wrap her friend's gift before she was picked up for the drive to the temple. At the appointed time, I went in, my usual sunny morning self. (You know, the one that drives my daughter nuts.)

"Time to get up, sweetie." And it began ...

"Mo-om," came a groan from under the sheets, "I'm so-o-o-o-o-o tired."

"But, you have to get ready for the bar mitzvah," I reminded her.

"But, I'm so-o-o-o-o-o-o tired."

"You really have to get up," I insisted again.

"But, I'm so-o-o-o-o-o-o tired," she repeated, adding "You don't understand." No, of course, I don't understand. After all, I'm never tired. I'm pushing fifty and I run a business and a household; how could I possibly understand what it feels like to be tired?

"Please, just five minutes," she pleaded. I agreed. Mistake number one.

More than five minutes later (heck, it was more than ten minutes later, but who's counting?), I heard her get into the shower. Meanwhile, I put breakfast together on a tray so she could eat while she was getting ready. She came to find me in her bathrobe.

"Can we go to CVS and get that stick-on nail polish I wore that time?" she asked. We're only five minutes from CVS. I was thrilled that my horsey tom boy wanted to do her nails. And, as I've established in previous posts, saying "no" is not exactly my forte. So, I agreed. Mistake number two.

The trip was quick. We honed in on the Sally Hansen Salon Effects Real Nail Polish Strips. She chose a pattern that looked like rainbow-colored camouflage. Let's just say, it wouldn't have been my first choice. But, she was happy. We paid, raced back home and still had thirty minutes.

Sally Hansen's marketing copy says that all you have to do is "Peel, Apply and Go!" So much for truth in advertising. As we struggled with the adhesive strips and the miniature nail file that's supposed to shape them, the phone rang. It was the other mother, the one who was on morning synagogue chauffeurial duty. She was concerned about the weather and wanted to pick my daughter up a bit earlier than we had agreed. More than a bit. She wanted to pick her up, like ... now. Given that my daughter was in her underwear with wet hair and long strips of nail adhesive hanging from her fingers, I couldn't have agreed if I'd wanted to. But, I did offer a compromise. I suggested ten minutes. Mistake number three.

Nails trimmed, dress on, hair up ... it looked like we were going to make it. I still had to wrap the present for the bar mitzvah boy, so I told my daughter to get my makeup out and get started. Fourth and final mistake.

The gift looked great. My daughter's raccoon eyes? Not so much. Just as her friend's mom was pulling up, I was wildly searching for eye makeup remover so we could undo the damage and start over. But, we did it. My daughter looked beautiful and she headed out more or less, kind of, sort of, almost really, well close enough, on time.

Mazel tov!

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Maybe the Aliens Are Here to Save Us

Readers, I have spent the last few months writing about the day-to-day trials and tribulations of being the mother of a tween. But, yesterday it occurred to me that there's another way to look at it. Tweens are living through trials and tribulations of their own. And, many of them are of our making.

At this age, my daughter and her friends are deeply involved. They are deeply involved with themselves, certainly — their wardrobes, their music, their social circles online and off. But they are also emotionally and intellectually invested in bigger issues.

They are looking around at this world they've landed on and what they see ... isn't all that great.

From political sex scandals (Congressman Weiner, man, what were you thinking?) to natural disasters and escalating national debt; wars in the Middle East and homelessness right around the corner. Tweens are acutely aware of everything that's unfair in this world. They can't understand how adults have gotten us to this place. Or why we aren't fixing it.

They don't trust us. And, I can't blame them. Instead, they have big plans for making things right once they are in control. In fact, some tweens are already working toward making things better. You don't have to look any further than your local community newspaper to find stories about young people who have taken on a cause and made a significant difference. Here are some actual quotes from tween bloggers ...

... about feminism

“They’ve taken our pride, they’ve taken our dignity, and now they’ve taken our eye-liner. What a rip!”

“The average man’s starting salary is $40,332, while a woman’s is only $38,704! Do U think that’s fair? Not me!”

... about animal rights

“Stop animal abuse! Okay, this is really important. I’m going to write to the president and other officials and stop animal abuse. Are you with me?”

... and, about personal responsibility

“I hate Paris Hilton. She has all the money in the world, and she keeps it for herself. She could cure cancer or stop starvation but instead she’s getting her nails done. She’s a terrible example for any girl.”

“We’re not talking about giving away old clothes. Girls are giving away their own hair to help cancer patients feel better about themselves.”

Unlike Ms. Hilton, we've tried to set a good example for our daughter, and do things that will help her understand the value of hands-on participation and activism. As a family, we went down to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina and volunteered at a relief station in the decimated suburb of Aribe. The devastation we saw was indescribable but the people we met were inspirational. For years, we used "Katrina" as a code word if we found ourselves caring too much about things that didn't matter.

There are easier ways to help too. We sponsor a little girl in Indonesia through the organization ChildFund. Not only does the fee we pay each month (which truly is less than I spend at Starbucks) help her to go to school, but she and my daughter correspond on a regular basis. And, we also "adopted" an officer serving in Iraq through Soldier's Angels. My daughter was responsible for writing him once a week and sending a care package of snacks and sundries once a month. When he finished his tour of duty recently, "our soldier" sent my daughter her own military dog tag, engraved with his name and hers.

My daughter's Social Studies teacher just assigned the final seventh grade project for his class. Each student was asked to choose a cause and to come up with a way to help that doesn't include a financial donation. I was so pleased to learn about this assignment. My daughter, who has family roots in Missouri and specifically in the city of Joplin, chose to try and help children there who have been displaced by the recent tornado. She found a YMCA that is providing childcare while parents work to clear and salvage what's left of their homes, and we are about to send off a package of toys and books she's collected.

As you've probably picked up, I'm a very proud mama. But, the thing is, my daughter is not unique. She's not unique at all.

The downside of tweens is that they sometimes (all right, often) believe the world revolves around them. The upside is that they take that responsibility seriously. What I've observed in my daughter and all her friends is that they don't like to take "no" for an answer. This is particularly irksome when you're a parent trying to assert some modicum of authority. But it's incredibly empowering when a tween sees something wrong in the world and wants to make it better.

Tweens are living in their own seemingly warped present. But, they definitely have their eye on the future. And, that future belongs to those who are willing to fight to make it right.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

The More Things Change, The More They ... Change

I can't keep up. It is humanly impossible to keep up.

The other morning, my tween daughter came downstairs dressed for school. She was wearing her new Converse sneakers and skintight stonewashed jeggings. For those of you who do not follow high fashion as dictated by Seventeen magazine, jeggings are the entomological love child of jeans and leggings. My daughter looks good in them; she's thirteen and athletic. (If I wore them, I would look like I was wearing sausage casings.)

But, I digress.

On top, she was wearing a green v-neck tee shirt, over a tank top. I made what I thought was a harmless observation. "You seem to be wearing plain tee shirts a lot these days. Do you like them better than the logo tees now?" She gave me that look — the one that seems to imply 'Have you been living under a rock?' — and said, cuttingly ...

"I hate logo tees."

All right then. Well, I wish she had thought of that before she begged me to buy her dozens of them. Let's see, she has American Eagle Outfitter logo tees. She has Hollister logo tees. She has Aeropostale logo tees. And, she has Abercrombie & Fitch logo tees. Lots and lots (and lots and lots) of Abercrombie & Fitch. Some say "Abercrombie & Fitch." Some just say "Abercrombie." Some just say "Fitch." Some say "A&F." Some have a moose on them. I'm not sure why.

It seems that the coolest must-haves become the un-coolest no-longer-likes at lightning speed. Just when you think you've got it figured out, the wind shifts and you're left with another trip to the mall and a massive bag for Goodwill.

I often wonder where the tipping point is. Is there one all-knowing tween girl guru out there who wakes up and decides, 'Okay, today is the day that madras shorts are no longer cool?' How do they get the word out? And, why don't they tell the parents — before we take out a second mortgage to pay our credit card bills?

Here are some other items that deserve a place in my tween's "here today, gone tomorrow" fashion hall of shame:

Pajamas — If my daughter is any indication, no self-respecting tween girl wears pajamas or nightgowns anymore. It's sweats and tee shirts or shorts and tee shirts. She does wear pajama bottoms as streetwear, but not to sleep in.

Anything Pink — There was a time, long ago by her standard but not so long ago by mine, when my daughter would only wear pink. All pink, all the time. Pink dresses, to be more specific. Back then, I marveled (with a little bit of horror) at what a girly-girl she was. It was very easy to shop for her, though. Today, she avoids pink at all costs. Blue, green, orange, brown, red ... you name it. Just not pink.

Boy-cut Bathing Suits — Last year, my daughter had a very specific two-piece bathing suit in mind. She wanted a sports bra top and boy-cut bottoms. Kind of like the skimpy uniforms women's volleyball teams wear. It took me months to find what she wanted. It took less time, much less, for the suit to fall out of favor.

Various Gym Shorts — In my daughter's middle school, they switch off between Health Ed and Phys. Ed every two weeks. When we went shopping at the end of last summer, my daughter asked for Soffe shorts. These are cotton knit and come in bright colors. The girls wear them with the waistbands rolled down around their hips. We bought several pairs. After her first week of class, she came home and explained that what she really needed was Nike track shorts. These also come in a variety of colors, but cost significantly more money. We bought several pairs. Most recently, she's informed me that what she really (really) needs are girls' basketball shorts. Longer, mesh nylon, also in lots of colors. We bought — you guessed it — several pairs.

If, at this point, you're wondering why I gave in and bought three different rounds of shorts, you don't have a tween daughter.

When it comes to satisfying her changing taste in clothing, my daughter has perfected the response that will get her what she wants. When I say, "Why can't you wear the Soffe shorts?" or "We'll get you new tee shirts when you outgrow the 83 you already have," she gives me a knowing look. It says that I've confirmed, yet again, what she already knows.

That I just don't get it.

Tweenhood is a time of slavish imitation. The need to dress and shop and look like everybody else is strong. Far stronger than logic or the power of motherly advice. I know I could push back harder. When she says, "But Mo-om, everyone else has a North Face fleece jacket," I could say — like generations of mothers before me — "If everyone else jumped off a bridge, would you?"

But the truth is, at this point in her life, my daughter would probably jump too.

And, she'd do so wearing the same shirt and shorts as everyone else.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

A Room of One's Own? Audible Moan.

I am now — and have always been — a neat freak. We're talking a bona fide Felix Unger, Martha Stewart, masking tape down the middle of the room ("don't you dare cross this line") neat freak. Really, just ask my poor sister who was forced to share a room with me for sixteen years. Or my college roommate who only had to deal with it for two.

My husband is also fairly neat. He not only keeps his belongings where they, well ... belong, but he often does laundry and dishes. He enjoys watching his widescreen TV with a beer at the end of the day, but, he's never expressed a burning need for a "man cave."

My husband and I have gotten along quite well in the housekeeping department.

My tween daughter and I? Um ... not so much.

Let me back up. My daughter has a wonderful, spacious bedroom, with a vaulted ceiling, exposed beams, windows on three sides. It's bigger, significantly bigger, than my first apartment in Greenwich Village. The room even has its own bathroom, with fluffy clouds painted on sky blue walls, and astroturf in place of carpeting.

When I was thirteen, I would have gladly given a limb for my daughter's VIP suite.

I had such fun decorating it for her when she was little! Of course, it was important to me that it stay neat and tidy, so I found ingenious storage units: bright canvas drawers that fit into a wooden cabinet. They were perfect for diapers and baby toys originally, Polly Pockets and horse models later. And, my strategy seemed to work. In fact, visiting grandmothers were always amazed by how quickly and easily my daughter cleaned up after herself when she was finished playing. It filled my heart with maternal pride to see her line up her Barbies and Kens and all her "sweeties" in a perfect row. Now, that I'm thinking about it, she had about twenty Barbies and only three Kens. Clearly, we were living the polygamous "Big Love" version of America's favorite dolls.

At any rate ... things were good for many years. Good and nice and clean and orderly with everything in its place. And then, one day, my daughter decided that being neat was my thing. Not hers.

"I'm my own person, Mo-om!" she informed me in that exasperated vaguely whiney voice I know so well. "It's my room, not yours."

And, from that moment on, my daughter made a commitment to clutter. She's a determined young lady and takes great pains to succeed at whatever she puts her mind to. The deconstruction of her once tidy room is no exception. Her dresser drawers bulge with wadded up logo tees. The floor of her closet is piled two feet high with discarded jeans and sweats. Bookcases groan under the weight of too many volumes, and teen toiletries are strewn on every surface. Her desk is completely hidden under one giant mountain of homework, magazines, CDs, postcards, books, art supplies, and horse show applications.

As for her bathroom? Please, don't get me started! With all of her discarded riding clothes and gear, looking cluttered is the least of its problems. Let's just say that if you like the way a horse stall smells, you'll like my daughter's bathroom.

Each morning, after I pry her out of bed, we have the same argument about making that bed. When she was little, I made it for her. Then I taught her how to make it and that lasted a week or so. Then, I decided that we would make it together. That also lasted about a week. Now, more often than not, I just make it myself. Am I letting her get away with something? Obviously. But, would it drive me crazy to walk by her room with her unmade bed? Absolutely.

And, there is the problem. I care more than she does.

Once, I asked a renowned family psychologist (the mother of my daughter's classmate; I didn't actually seek her out for this issue) for help. "Does my daughter not see the piles on the floor when she walks right by them?" The woman thought for a moment and answered. "I don't know if she doesn't see them. But, I do know she doesn't care about them."

Here's what I think. My daughter is becoming her own person. She is actively separating herself from me every day. My inner vision is that of a neatnik. Hers, consequently, at least at this time, cannot be. If living in a messy room helps her feel independent, I have to go with the flow. After all, there's no real damage being done. Her grades are great; she claims to know where everything is. Nothing's missing; nothing's broken. We have had no science experiments thriving in dirty dishes. There's been no vermin. Yet.

A good friend (a good friend with an older teenage daughter) suggested that I simply hang a "Toxic Waste" sign on my daughter's door — and close it. I do know that this is good advice. But, for now, I'll nag a little, tidy up a little, roll my eyes a little. At the end of the day, it's her room.

And — oy vey — the way it looks right now, she's welcome to it.