Monday, January 30, 2012

It's About Passion, People!

Tween and teen emotions run high. Whether it's elation (when things go their way) or devastation (when things don't) or any and every range in between. Most middle and high school students live very dramatic emotional lives.

This heightened sensitivity isn't limited to great big events, like falling in or out of love. A perceived snub in the cafeteria, a new episode of Glee, an unfair grade on a math test ... pretty much any day-to-day occurrence can be fraught with feeling.

So, it always surprises me when another mother complains that her daughter isn't passionate about anything. Granted, these moms aren't talking about exultation over a new cell phone (or misery as said cell phone is confiscated when its owner is caught using it after hours). They are talking about bigger issues: a sense of purpose, a mission, one's life's work.

I've never had this problem. From the time my daughter saw the movie Spirit with her little friends from Sundance Preschool, she has been passionate about one thing (and, pretty much one thing only): horses. Horses, horses, horses. All horses, all the time.

Now, as a fourteen-year old, horses are more than a hobby. My daughter is an athlete, practicing many hours per week, honing her skills and competing in events (often against women considerably older and more experienced). My daughter is a scholar, reading books — both fiction and non- — about horses, studying breeds and tack and technique. My daughter is a philanthropist, donating time and money to various organizations. She has helped save abandoned horses, worked with disabled children in therapeutic programs, and enabled inner city children to gain confidence by learning to ride. Because of her grand passion (and, trust me, it is a very grand, very passionate passion), my daughter has become a better student and a mentor to younger riders. She's already looking at colleges with Equine Studies curricula. (Apparently, I'll have to pay room and board for her pony as well as tuition. Help.)

I confess, as the reluctant mother of an equestrienne, I find horseback riding to be both expensive and inconvenient. But, I also appreciate the fact that my daughter is not hanging out downtown, drinking, smoking, or prematurely dating. She has a nightshirt that says, "Better the stall than the mall." Amen!

This past weekend, I had the amazing privilege of reconnecting with nearly a hundred people who shared my own youthful passion. As children and teenagers, we were part of a repertory theatre company in New York. We rehearsed four days a week after school and did four performances each weekend. We toured New England in the summers; we traveled to Canada and Washington, DC. We played at Lincoln Center, Broadway's Shubert Theatre, on TV and in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. (How cool is that!)

After 30 years, we were all ... well ... emoting (remember, we were theatre people). There were countless hugs and many tears. What struck me as we shared our extraordinary memories was that we all knew in our hearts that we had been part of something bigger than any of us as individuals. Even at the time, at fifteen, sixteen or seventeen years old, we recognized this. That is what I took away from my experience there. And, that is what my daughter is taking away from her experience now.

That's what passions are all about.

Will my daughter compete on the Olympic equestrian team? Probably not. Will she go on to a career in equestrian medicine or business or advocacy? Maybe. But, will she take away transferable skills, like how to set goals and work hard for something you want, how to handle disappointment, how to muck a stall? Yes.

Let's face it, figuratively speaking, we all need to know how to muck a stall.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Rules ... And The Bending Thereof

In our house these days, there are a lot of discussions about rules. "Discussions" may not be the right word. How about protests, fights, altercations, melees, battles royal?

You see, there are different perspectives about rules. Not just in our family, but in the world at large. T.S. Eliot advised (soundly advised, if you ask me) ...

"It's not wise to violate rules until you know how to observe them."

My daughter, I am sorry to report, is a little weak in the observing them department. She sees my authority as unfair. She is persecuted for her beliefs. She is taxed without representation. (She has taken way too much American history.)

By virtually any accounting, I am a lenient, liberal parent. In my daughter's mind, however, I am running the all-girl equivalent of the Yorkshire school in Nicholas Nickleby. It's amazing that she gets anything to eat other than gruel!

To add insult to injury, my daughter knows in her heart with a certainty and a self-righteousness reserved for the very young that she is the only fourteen-year old girl at her middle school (probably the only one on the entire planet, WTF!) who has to follow so many rules. According to her, no one else has limits on their computer time. No one else has to make their bed. No one else has to text their mother when they're hanging out after school. No one else has to surrender their cell phone when they retire for the evening. No one else has to finish their homework before they can watch The Lying Game.

In addition to our drastically different opinions on the necessity of rules (we could agree to disagree, except she would never agree), my daughter has mind-boggling fortitude. You would think that after she has been caught bending the rules, oh say, a thousand times, she would stop bothering. Not my daughter! She will continue to push because she knows something crucial to her cause. She knows that she has the strength of ten grinches (plus two), while yours truly is walking around in a fog of fatigue more often than not.

There have been a number of times when her persistence has almost paid off. Almost. Just the other day, she was on her iPhone (texting or looking at pictures or playing with her favorite app) when she was supposed to be eating breakfast and getting ready for school. For a moment, I considered simply ignoring it. But, I knew my momentary apathy (brought on by my perpetual exhaustion) would set a precedent. I had to be vigilant. I had to persevere. I had to uphold order. After all, without rules, wouldn't our very civilization crumble? I heard myself say, as I have said so many times before ...

"Um ... honey, ... are you supposed to be on your phone?"

Busted. She groaned but shut it down. Beneath her eyes though, I could see that spark of defiance. A revolution waiting for another day.

Someday, my daughter will be on her own. Her loving mother will no longer be there with gentle (sometimes, not so gentle) reminders. She'll have to write her own rules and eventually she will play benevolent dictator to some smaller being. When that inevitable future state arrives, I, as doting grandmother, will most likely become my daughter's daughter's accomplice. I look forward to it.

For now, if T.S. Eliot were here, my daughter would accord him the same respectful response she always gives me: she would roll her eyes. She could much better relate to Thomas Edison's position:

"Hell, there are no rules here — we're trying to accomplish something."

Sunday, January 22, 2012

How To Succeed ...

I'm going to start working on my acceptance speech. "Mother of the Year."

It has a certain ring to it, don't you think?

This all started several months ago when I read that Darren Criss, the adorable Blaine from Glee, one of our favorite TV shows, would be hitting the boards on Broadway for a limited three-week run. Criss, who had an enthusiastic and international YouTube fan base even before he became a "Warbler" on Fox's megawatt megahit, was scheduled to replace Harry Potter himself (Daniel Radcliffe) as J. Pierpont Finch in the classic show, How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.

Never my favorite — oh, it's just a wee bit dated; with numbers like "A Secretary is Not a Toy," it makes Mad Men look downright feminist — I nevertheless did what I could to secure two orchestra seats. Unbeknownst to me, we would soon turn those two tickets into four.

"Mom, remember how you said I could bring two friends to see Darren Criss in New York?"

"Uh ... I did?"

Apparently ... I did. So, our mother-daughter excursion morphed into a tweenage pilgrimage. My role as friend, confidante, mother-who-looks-so-good-at-her-age-she-could-practically-be-your-sister, quickly devolved into adult-with-credit-card.

However, my daughter was happy and what else could I desire? Soon, she and her friends would be in the presence of Glee-ful greatness. All was right with the world.

Plans had to be made. Typically, my daughter and I stay at my mother's apartment on the upper westside. However, when our party doubled in size (and octupled in noise level), I realized a hotel would be a better option. A suite hotel, if possible. All I asked was a door between myself and bedlam. (Thank goodness for discount websites and off-the-beaten path accommodations!)

I also had the brilliant brainstorm that a bus from Boston to New York would be much smarter. Five hours behind the wheel of an adolescent-packed sedan gave me pause. And, with the price of mid-grade gas and mid-town parking (especially the parking), we would save tons of money. And, to top it all off, the girls could sit across the backseat of the bus while I settled into a single up front with some work and some magazines. They could pretend they didn't even know me! (And, vice versa.)

While I was making arrangements, the girls were making their own plans. A pre-excursion sleepover would facilitate our very early-morning departure (and, in hindsight, prepare them for the sleep deprivation ahead). Visits to the Converse superstore and Urban Outfitter's would be mandatory. They decided that they would not only meet Mr. Criss at the stage door after the show, get autographs and cell phone photos, but they would slip him their names and numbers.

Say what?

(For the record, if I had the slightest worry that Darren Criss would actually call one of "my girls," I would have nipped this particular plan in the bud. I was, however, less than concerned.)

And the trip went off without a hitch! Well, without a hitch unless you include a blinding snowstorm, a bus without heat, a three hour delay, changing in the basement ladies room of some random hotel (not ours), frantically hailing a cab, swinging by my brother's "Hell's Kitchen" high rise so we could fling our luggage at him, scarfing a piece of pizza on the sidewalk, racing up 45th street, foregoing a stop in the theatre restroom (despite anticipating an incredibly long first act), and settling into our seats just as the lights went down.

Did ya see any hitches here? Nah, me neither.

The show was fantastic and Darren Criss proved himself to be more than another Hollywood celebrity set-up to sell tickets. The genuine article: singing, dancing, acting — and that cute cute cute smile. If it weren't for the fact that I could easily (easily!) be his mother, I would have been swooning alongside my more youthful companions.

Post-show, the girls sat at the edge of their seats through the curtain call, politely and perfunctorily applauding until I gave them the "All right, go ahead ..." nod. They raced from the theatre to wedge their way into the throng of girls standing at the stage door.

After several minutes of breathless anticipation, the backstage doorman kindly informed the crowd "Ya know, Darren doesn't come out after the matinee. If you come back tonight, you can see him." My life, or at least the next several hours, passed before my eyes. En masse, the girls turned their pleading, pathetic, practically Dickensian little faces toward me. 'Oh no,' I thought, 'There goes my relaxing evening at the hotel.'

As a native New Yorker, it always kills me when tourists visit Times Square and only Times Square. When they forego the more than 23,000 Big Apple restaurants in favor of "Olive Garden." So, guess where I spent my evening? In Times Square at "Olive Garden." Audible sigh.

We were planning to kill some time at "Forever 21" and "American Eagle Outfitters" (yes, really), when we received an urgent call from my brother. He had walked into Times Square and passed by the Hirschfeld Theatre where, more than an hour before the evening performance would end, there was already a huge crowd. We dropped everything and raced to meet him. The girls, posters and playbills in hand, joined the freezing throng. (Did I mention it was freezing? It was. It was freezing.)

Not wanting to take a place away from some other lovesick tweenager, my bro and I waited behind a police line across the street. He has worked backstage on Broadway for the past twenty years, so he knew the drill. With his advice, the girls were able to acquire and — more importantly — retain prime meet-and-greet real estate. It was actually fascinating to hear him narrate the crowd control choreography. It took my mind off of my toes, which I could no longer feel. (Did I mention that it was FREEZING?)

Finally, a mere two-and-a-half hours after we got there, Darren Criss came out. The crowd roared! Our girls caught a glimpse, a photo, and captured his John Hancock on their posters. They also emerged from the riot relatively unscathed, with all of their appendages intact. Broad smiles, bright eyes.


We returned to the hotel with thoroughly frozen fingers and feet (DID I MENTION IT WAS FRRRRRRRKIN' FREEZING???), clutching precious autographed mementos tightly in hand. I had promised the girls that they could stay up as long as they wanted, watch TV, eat junk food, relive their brief encounter with the beauteous Blaine ad nauseam. After no more than five minutes of chatter, I heard silence. I peeked my head in; they were out cold.

As I write this, the exhausted fan club is asleep in the next room. I can only assume they are dreaming of him ... of Darren (they're on a first name basis now) ... those soft eyes, that sweet smile. As for me, I'm tired and stiff and my eyes are bloodshot, which is rather unfair if you ask me, because it's not as though I partied last night. Nevertheless, the weekend was, by any measure, a success. Except I have one question ...

Perhaps we should have seen a different show? The Drowsy Chaperone.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Inconsideration ... Or Food for Thoughtless

They say, "It's the thought that counts."

All right. Well, what about the countless thoughtless things we deal with every single day as moms of tweens and teens?

My daughter is, by all accounts, a "very nice girl." Her older relatives adore her. Her teachers would like her to participate a bit more (she's surprisingly quiet in class, given how noisy she tends to be at home, in the car with a friend, or at the stable), but they tell me she's a pleasure. I get rave reviews from house guests, mothers of her friends, babysitting clients. They all agree that she is a "very nice girl."

When I hear all of these different constituents singing her praises, I want to pull her aside, look her in those sweet, compliant eyes and say ...

"Who are you? And what have you done with my daughter?"

You see, the tween who lives in my house is not a "bad girl," per se. She doesn't smoke or drink or hang out with the wrong middle school crowd. But, she is consistently thoughtless. She is about as inconsiderate as it is possible to be. Again, I'm not saying that she's "bad." She is thought-less, as in, she puts no thought into her actions or other people or how her actions affect other people. She is in-considerate, as in, she doesn't stop and consider anyone else's situation. Anyone else, as in, her loving mother. As in, me.

Here are several of the myriad examples I encounter on a fairly regular (daily, hourly, practically every minute) basis ...

She gets up each day, not with a sweet "Good morning, mom," but with razor-sharp resentment. Apparently, it is my fault that (a) it's morning, (b) she's tired, and (c) our society insists that fourteen-year olds attend school.

She leaves her dirty dishes on the coffee table, on the floor in front of the TV, on her dresser, on her desk. Sometimes (if I nag her), she brings them into the kitchen and leaves them on the counter. Basically, I can find dirty dishes pretty much anywhere in my house. Anywhere, that is, except in the dishwasher or the sink.

She practices origami ... with her dirty laundry. Untangling jeans and jodhpurs, underwear, socks, bras and tank tops, doubles my time in front of the washing machine. Add to this thankless job the fact that our basement has a particularly low ceiling (you actually have to stoop over while you're down there) and I'm particularly allergic to my daughter's horsey clothing, and you can understand why yours truly does not particularly enjoy laundry day.

She's in a hurry when there's somewhere she wants to go. Otherwise, she has no sense of time whatsoever. When I say, "Come right home," I might as well have said, "Take all the time in the world. I hear they're selling Frappuccinos at Starbucks." When I say, "I'll be outside the barn at 6:00," she hears, "I'll be outside the barn at 6:00, but by all means, you can come out whenever you feel like it. Nothing would make your mother happier than waiting in the car in the cold in the dark for forty-five minutes."

She sheds her belongings each afternoon when she returns from school. Really, I can follow a trail through the house: lunchbox, jacket, backpack, scarf, gloves, hat ... This habit of hers will come in handy if she's ever lost in a state park and they bring out the dogs for a search and rescue mission.

She would rather text her friends or play a video game or watch a YouTube video or ... or ... or ... or pretty much anything electronic than actually have a conversation with her mom. Even though, I've dropped everything to drive her somewhere.

The list goes on and on (and on). My own mother reminds me that it's better to have a daughter who presents a kind and considerate self to the greater world at large and concentrates all her thoughtlessness on me. I guess, she's right. After all, I do enjoy those parent-teacher conferences. But, maybe once, maybe on Mother's Day or on my upcoming milestone birthday, it would be such a pleasant surprise to hear a "please" or a "thank-you." Or not be kept waiting. Or not have to wrestle with her laundry or rinse her dirty dishes.

But, if and when that day comes, I know what I'll say ...

"Who are you? And what have you done with my daughter?"

Wednesday, January 18, 2012


In solidarity with Reddit and other sites, this site is blacked out today (January 18th) in protest against SOPA and PROTECT IP laws. These laws are a threat to free speech and to the freedom of the Internet. Please contact your congressional representative and tell them to vote 'No' on this law.

Monday, January 16, 2012

SOPA is Not Music to Anyone's Ears

We had a flood in our basement last Fall. We lost our washing machine, some cherished mementos and a boatload of — to use the technical term — crap. At first, we thought the nearly 200 LPs that were stored down there were gone, but it turns out the water didn't reach them. Nevertheless, we saw this as a sign from some prescient DJ in the sky. We've lived here thirteen years and haven't ever dusted off the records much less tried to play them. Time to say ...

"Good-bye, yellow brick road."

Our first stop was a used record store in the next town over. Two extremely cool, aging hippies came out to sort the albums right in the trunk of our car. (Have you ever picked up a crate of records? You don't want to carry them anywhere if you don't have to!) It quickly became a competition: whose albums were worth more? My showtunes or my husband's Southern rock? Stevie Nicks or David Bowie? Bruce Springsteen or Prince?

If nothing else, we were a source of amusement. And insight. By the end of the process, I think the record store dudes knew more about each of us than any therapist could.

And, at the risk of gloating, I was ahead by a couple of titles when all was said and done. The used record store took 28 albums. We took our proceeds (all $56 of them) and went out for a nice lunch. That would have been the end of the story (or the end of an era), but we still had a trunkful of records.

A couple of days later, my husband pulled up at Savers, and unloaded what was left. The young kid working there was impressed. "Whoa," he said. "Did you, like, collect these?"

We laughed about it later. The albums may have weighed a ton and taken up the entire trunk of our sedan, but no, they weren't a collection per se. They were the 1970s and 80s equivalent of an iPod.

I still buy music. Given the choice, I'll still purchase a CD. Even if I plan to upload all of the tracks into iTunes and listen to them on my iPhone. It goes back to 1976, when I would use babysitting money to buy the latest Elton John release at "Cheap Records" near Bloomingdales on Manhattan's East Side. Any title $3.69.

This is one of many (okay, many many many many) things that speak to the generation gap between myself and my tween daughter. She had a handful of CDs when she was younger: Disney movie soundtracks, High School Musical, Hannah Montana. Then, she graduated to a hand-me-down iPod and all the downloads her iTune gift cards could buy. Today, she knows better. Using her iPhone, she can listen to (and watch) pretty much any music she wants. YouTube, Facebook, even individual musicians' websites provide streaming musical content. Why purchase something when it's out there and readily accessible? Why commit to a particular song or artist or album when there will be something new next week?

The idea of owning music is as passé as the bell bottoms and Frye boots I wore on my weekly trips to Lexington and 58th Street.

However, my daughter is still supporting the musicians she likes. While I bought as much vinyl as I could afford, she and her friends are willing to spend big bucks to see their favorite performers live. From this mother's perspective, it seems as if the recording industry has evolved its financial model. I paid very little to see a group at Madison Square Garden and then bought all their recordings. My daughter consumes recordings through free social media. But, she has no issue with the idea of a $100 Katy Perry ticket. (That's actually pretty reasonable. If we were lucky enough to get Lady Gaga tickets, we would have to take out a home equity loan.)

Right now, there is a lot of debate about SOPA, the hotly contested "Stop Online Piracy Act." Should my daughter and her friends be arrested for listening or linking to copyrighted material online? Of course, I don't think so. But, should artists be able to protect and profit from their art? Yes.

The Internet is the single greatest game changer that we (or any previous generation I can think of) have lived through. Trying to mold laws governing analog objects to fit digital information will not succeed — unless we are willing to undo any progress that has been made in terms of information-sharing, research, business and communications. This doesn't just affect the entertainment industry. The ability to share content is critical to continued improvements in science, healthcare, human rights and domestic security.

Before a person (or blog or website) should be prosecuted for copyright infringement, a few common sense criteria should be applied. Are they willfully passing off someone else's work as their own? Are they profiting from the posting or link? Is the work readily available for license or purchase but they knowingly circumnavigated the process? Did they even know they were doing something wrong? The proposed SOPA bill would make bloggers responsible for comments posted by readers. It would make enormous new media channels like eBay, YouTube, Wikipedia and Facebook liable for all of the activities of their hundreds of millions of members. It would make posting a video of a married couple's first dance together a felony.

And, under SOPA, owners of websites are encouraged to shut down content first and ask questions later. You are guilty until proven innocent. 'Doesn't sound very American to me. The so-called conspiracy-theorists who worry that SOPA will forever change the nature of the Web are not crying "wolf."

My daughter and her friends don't remember a world before the Internet. They don't see any difference between music my husband and I listen to on the radio and music they listen to on a Web site.

Except that the radio is our thing and the Web is theirs.

To learn more and/or to sign a petition asking your representatives to rethink SOPA, click here.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Clean Closet, Calm Mom

"It's not fair," my daughter announced the other day.

(Um, what else is new?)

"It's not fair," she continued. "I have the smallest closet in the family."

Here's what I wanted to say: "You are the smallest person in the family. You have the smallest clothes in the family. You contribute the smallest amount financially to the family. And, you have the smallest desire of anyone in the family to actually hang something up."

Here's what I said instead: "How 'bout I help you clean out your closet Wednesday after school?"

Here's a confession. I am a neatnik and I actually enjoy cleaning out closets and dresser drawers. My daughter is not me (as she will often assert in a rather whiny voice: "I'm not you-ou-ou, Mo-o-om!"). My daughter doesn't mind clutter. Until, that is, she is missing something or can no longer close her closet door. Enter moi to save the day. I am Felix to her Oscar. Martha to her mayhem.

We go through this exercise once every few weeks. With Christmas just over (and with it, an influx of new hoodies, boots, Converse All-Stars, and yes, even socks), this is as good a time as any to tackle her wardrobe. Funny how much more room one has when tee shirts are actually folded and hangers are used to ... hang things. (Imagine that!) It will be considerably easier to find a shoe's mate when it is no longer buried under 22 inches of discarded garments on the closet floor.

There will most certainly be items earmarked for the middle school's thrift shop. After all, my daughter has grown a couple of inches in the past year. And, as per usual, there will be clothes that she can technically still fit in — but wouldn't be caught dead in. In eighth grade, there is no grey area. Either it's completely, totally, utterly cool or it is completely, totally, utterly uncool. (Most of the things I choose for her these days would, I have to report, fall into that latter category. That's why I rarely buy her anything unless she is right next to me approving the purchase.) I anticipate a small pile of uncontested donations.

Then, we will move on. There will be a number of pieces that she'll insist are fine but that I'll urge her to retire. Too tight jeans, torn in all the wrong places. Grubby tank tops in a rainbow of faded colors. Stretched-out, stained sweats from after-school programs long past. (Really, when was the last time my daughter was on a gymnastics team? But, she still has the warm-up pants, the team leotard, the beach towel.) Chances are, she'll give on one or two of these tatty treasures.

The third and final category will be the clothing that I think she should keep even though she doesn't like it or plan to wear it — now, next year or ever. There are pretty dresses, cute cropped jackets, black velvet pants. She'll give me a look that says, "Fine. You like them so much, you wear them." And, I would. I really would. If, that is, I were three inches shorter and thirty pounds thinner. Again, we will compromise, but it will be me who looks longingly at the pile of giveaways.

By the time we break for dinner, her room will be tidy and organized. Everything will have a place and be in that place. Jewelry neatly organized. Foldable items folded. Hangable items hung. Shoes lined up just so. Socks rolled into uniform little balls. Desktop cleared and ready for any impromptu studying she might care to do.

My daughter may feel a momentary sense of accomplishment. She may rejoice in the recovery of some long-lost favorite pair of gym shorts. She may even say "Thank you." Chances are, however, that she'll head downstairs for a snack and a 20-minute episode of "Phineas and Ferb."

But, I'll stand and admire our work for a few minutes. My daughter's clean room is like an ornate sand castle or a jolly snowman. It's a piece of art. But, it's temporary.

Monday, January 9, 2012

For Argument's Sake

"Because I said so!"

For the record ladies and gentlemen, I never planned to be a "Because I said so!" kinda mom. I always imagined that my child and I would have rational dialogues. That we would reach a win-win consensus. That we would see eye-to-eye more often than not. That we would, after a thoughtful and civilized discussion, agree about what was best for her own well-being.

That was then. This is now: LMAO!

These days, I wish it was as easy as saying, "Because I said so!" You see, there's no point in becoming that authoritarian cliché because guess what?!? Whether I say those dreaded words or not doesn't matter one single solitary iota. The argument ain't over until my daughter says it's over.

And, unless I capitulate, she never says it's over.

I can't tell you how many times I have left a room while she's still making her point — making it for the eighth or ninth or seventy-third time. She is tireless. She is persistent. She is indefatigable. (Sometimes I wonder if she is hearing-impaired.) In her hormone-addled mind, "Yes," means "Yes." "No," means continue the debate until "No" means "Yes." It bothers me to exit in the middle of her sentences, so I fire lame verbal warning shots: "I'm leaving. I mean it. I'm going away now. Really. This is me, walking out the door." If I do manage to escape, she lets go with a loud, guttural wail of frustration.

But, I've learned not to react or even feel particularly sorry for her. Because, no matter how pissed she is when I declare a cease-fire (oh, and she can be quite pissed, believe me), in her book it's only a temporary setback. The argument will resume, with nary a beat missed, at dinner, in the car, or before school the next morning.

My daughter wants to major in equine studies and make a career in the equestrian industry — either running a riding school, as an equine photographer or as an equine affairs lobbyist in Washington. She has it all planned out. But, I worry that she is missing her true calling. She should go to law school, directly to law school, do not pass go, do not collect $200. She has a keen litigious mind, a sound sense of logic, and an unrelenting passion to see that justice is done! Justice, in this case, meaning that the result she gets is the result she wants. The verdict is in and the court finds for the plaintiff. Case dismissed.

Until this past weekend, my daughter's utter inability to accept my authority or comply with my wishes was a source of bewilderment (and even a little shame) for me. I mean really. I'm a good mother. I work hard. I make things pleasant and easy and nice for her. Is it so much to ask that I get a little respect?

Uh ... don't answer that.

Then, I read about a study recently published by the University of Virginia in the journal Child Development. This study, conducted over the course of three years, found that adolescents who argued with their mothers were less likely to succumb to peer pressure about drugs and alcohol than those who simply backed down and did what their mothers said.

In other words, the skills my tween is developing in our never-ending mother-daughter debates may actually serve her well in high-risk high school moments of truth.


Will this new information make my day-to-day life any easier? I doubt it. Will the family feuds still make me want to pull out my hair? For sure. But, maybe I can adjust my thinking a little bit. Maybe my daughter isn't trying to get the upper hand as much as she's trying to assert her own independence. Maybe it isn't that she thinks I'm wrong; maybe it's that she's trying to define for herself what's right.

Or, maybe she really does think I'm a moron, that life is unfair, and that no one else has ever had to suffer like she does when it comes to (insert grievance here: cell phone limits, an early bedtime, cleaning her room, eating her vegetables). Don't get me started. Better yet, don't get her started! Any of these (or a thousand other) perceived injuries can launch a deposition the length of War and Peace.

She may never be a lawyer, but if holding her own in an argument is somehow an indicator of her ability to hold her own when confronted with bad behavior or a dangerous situation, then I can breathe a sigh of relief.

I pity the peer who tries to talk her into doing something she doesn't want to do.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

The Ski Amigos

I have a confession to make. I am not an "outdoorswoman."

I have another confession to make. I don't care.

That said, we always want our offspring to experience — if not, excel at — the things that we missed out on. This is how I feel about skiing.

I grew up in the "Big Apple." There was always plenty to do — theatre, music, museums. But, skiing wasn't high on the list. In fact, until I was 23, I had only gone on a single ill-fated high school ski trip. One of my best friends actually lost a ski while she was on the lift; it fell down into the thick woods below. She had to walk down the length of the mountain, and we distracted the science teacher who had brought us while she slipped her lone ski under the bus and checked her name off the rental list before heading back to the city. (Uh ... what's the statute of limitations on missing ski equipment?)

After I graduated from college, I briefly dated a medical student who was a champion skier and coached the Connecticut Special Olympics ski team. He was understandably patient with me, but my performance on the trails was pretty pitiful. A couple of boyfriends later, my now husband had more success. I was so in love that I conquered my fear of speed, gravity and broken bones. We skied every winter until one year when I felt a little too queasy to hit the slopes.

"I think I have food poisoning," I told the other women at the ski house.

"We think you're pregnant," they told me. They were right.

Our trips to Vermont continued after we had the baby. In fact, there are adorable pictures of our daughter and our friends' twin sons in matching footsie pajamas communing on the carpet at the ski house. (The kind of pictures that will make excellent blackmail material someday.) But, I was always too busy to go back to skiing myself. Often, I brought work with me, but I also enjoyed afternoon hikes, shopping, and relaxing by the fire with a book and a glass of wine.

My daughter started ski school at three years old. She was a Sugarbush "Mini Bear," and from day one, she was absolutely fearless. She couldn't wait to get on the slopes. She couldn't wait to start using poles. She couldn't wait to try moguls and black diamonds. Today, she schusses down the mountain alongside (or sometimes in front of!) her father. If I go to meet them for lunch, I watch her with great pride (and my heart in my throat).

A couple of years ago, my daughter asked me to try skiing again. I think she loved it so much that she felt bad that I was missing something. So, I signed up for a lesson. It was less than a success. Let's just say that it wasn't like riding a bicycle. I felt cold; I felt scared. And, I had spent a lot (a lot!) of money to feel that way. My ski days were, I'm afraid, over.

Fast forward. This weekend, true to form, my family is enjoying the great outdoors while I sit in our cozy chalet. (It's only ten a.m., so I'm not imbibing in vino yet, but I'm enjoying a cup of coffee and all my other favorite ski weekend activities.) Music playing, a gorgeous view of the mountain, many months of New Yorker magazines to catch up on. No cell phone. No email. Nice!

When the skiers are finished for the day (we're here with another family who have one beautiful daughter older than mine and an adorable one younger), I'll join them for some après ski snacks — maybe fondue at the mountain's French bistro or chips and salsa at the Mexican place across the road. Y'know, you build up quite an appetite skiing (or, in my case, reading and relaxing).

I definitely don't miss skiing, but I definitely would miss these weekends. I'm happy that my daughter has something special that she shares with her father. I'm pleased that she is strong and fit and courageous. I'm glad that she has a healthy hobby that she can enjoy throughout her life.

And, I can't wait to hear about it all when she's done.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Wake-Up Call

My daughter's going to be late to school tomorrow.

I already know this. I already know this and I am the most exacting, punctual, always-early person you will ever meet. I already know this and I'm not doing anything about it. Here's why ...

Basically, it's a new year and I've made a declaration. She must get herself up. Enough already.

I wouldn't mind waking her in the morning if she actually opened her eyes, climbed out of bed and went about her business. I used to enjoy it, as a matter of fact. She used to be sweet and cuddly, happy to see me, pleased to start a shiny new morning.

Those were the days, my friend.

On a typical morning now, I get up at 6:00 a.m. (unless I have insomnia and have already headed up to my office to work — but that's another post entirely). I shower, dress, make the bed, and arrive at her room at 6:30. Then, the tango begins.

First, I try to get her up with a gentle salutation, a soft-spoken "Good morning, sweetheart" to express my unconditional love and start her day off on a kind, supportive note. No dice. My love may be unconditional, but our dialogue quickly devolves into conditions and downright threats. After several "Pleeeeeeease, Mom. I'm sooooooooo tired. Just two more minutes," I hear myself become a shrill harpy.

"If you don't get up now ..."

"I'm warning you ..."

"This is the last time ..."

Well, if I can stick to my guns (not always my most successful objective, I confess), today really was the last time. I'm sorry, but the fact that she always manages to be out the door in the very nick of time doesn't make up for the fact that I've been through thirty minutes of combat. She may be fine by the time she meets her friend at the corner, but I've started the day watching in horror as I become my own worst self. I sit down to my work distressed and disappointed.

Part of this morning's melodrama was my cruel and unusual methodology. After my initial attempts to rouse the sleeping tween, I turned on her lights. Only halfway, I might note. "Ooooooouuuuuuwwwwwwwwww!" she howled, "It hurts!"

Is this my daughter, I wondered, or a vampire?

Eventually, she rolled out of bed, scowling and resentful. This gave me enough confidence that I could go downstairs and make breakfast and lunch. Eventually, she followed, still angry and irritated. Eventually, she left for school. Her parting gift to her devoted mother? She allowed me to hug her and shot me a look that was ... well ... let's just say less-than-affectionate.

So, tired of being the unappreciated (downright detested) human alarm clock, I've set an electronic one on her night table. My husband, who is as fed up with observing our morning ritual as I am living it, has pulled a second alarm clock out of the guest room and placed it on her desk, twelve or so feet from her bed. If she's gonna hit the "snooze" button, she's gonna have to take a hike to do so.

My daughter has been warned. She has a riding lesson this afternoon and a babysitting gig this evening. She may be more tired than usual tomorrow morning (although I doubt that's possible). But, it is her responsibility to get up. Period. End of story.

Am I protesting a bit too much? If so, it's only because I have to maintain my resolve. This is for her own good, right? I mean, she has to learn, right? I mean, what kind of career can she have someday if she can't get up in the morning? (Rock star, bartender, late night DJ, international telemarketing rep?)

My daughter has always been a deep sleeper. And, I'm glad. (Heck, I'm envious.) But, she keeps asking for more responsibility. She keeps reminding us that she's "Not a kid anymore." All right then, here's your wake-up call, my dearest darling. 6:30 a.m. I can't think of a better time to grow up.

Did I mention? My daughter is going to be late to school tomorrow.

Monday, January 2, 2012

New Year's Resolution

"May all your troubles last as long as your New Year's resolutions."

This quote came from the comedian Joey Adams. But, many of us can relate, I'm afraid. I know for myself, there are a handful of timeless goals that make the list every January first. Lose weight. Don't drink so much. Finish my novel. Be a better friend, sister, wife, daughter, mother. The first three are pass-fail questions; come December 31st, I've either achieved them or I haven't. (Most years to date? Um ... I haven't.) The last one is more open-ended and I will work on it the rest of my life.

This year, I'm thinking about adding another resolution to my list. It's not as straightforward or as easily measurable as "Go to the gym four times a week." Or, "Eat less chocolate." But, I think it's more important.

I resolve to do whatever I can to empower my daughter so that when she is an adult she can help her generation change the world.

This resolution — and, indeed the subject of this blog post — is a new thought. It comes at the end of a year that had more bad news than good. When people in this country felt such desperation that they camped out in front of financial institutions in peaceful protest, only to be removed by government agencies established to protect the right to do so.

It comes at a time when we still have young women and men risking their lives overseas — and coming home to unemployment and foreclosure notices. When families in this country are dealing with the rising cost of healthcare and education. When our rights as citizens are threatened and our elected officials are too busy fighting each other to take care of our needs.

I make it no secret that I'm about as East-Coast-Blue-State-Feminista-Liberal as you get. But, Liberal, Conservative, Democrat, Republican ... there is no one I know — no one — happy with the status quo.

A devoted father I spoke to yesterday is concerned about the world we're leaving his four-year old daughter. I too am concerned. But, I think the hope lies in that little girl and my tween daughter and all of their peers. This country is a mess and yes, they will inherit it. It's our responsibility to change what we can today, and to help them understand that they can affect change as well.

How can we do this? By volunteering, by being active in the process. By voicing our concerns to our representatives, by attending town halls. By voting. By making sure that our children see us actively doing all these things. And, by helping them understand that they have power.

If your daughter or son has an issue at school, help them learn how to bring it to the appropriate person's attention through the appropriate channels. Teach them to self-advocate. Show them how to take responsibility, take action, take a leadership role. Instill the powerful combination of respect for the system and participation in working within that system to create lasting change.

As parents in 2012 (2012!), we may bemoan how wired our tweens and teens are. We may get frustrated when they don't show the respect, obedience or compliance we remember from our own youth. But, these are strong, informed and opinionated young people. Yes, I'm frustrated with the economy, with war, with politics, with religious, ethnic and gender prejudice. But, I'm not going to lose faith, precisely because I have so much faith in our children.

Thank you for reading. I'll get off my soapbox now, change out of my yoga clothes and go pick my daughter up at the stable. Then, we will spend the afternoon and evening doing laundry, cleaning up her room, and trying to get back in gear because school starts again tomorrow. (It's a new year, but the same old routine.)

To you and especially to yours, I wish ...

"Happy New Year's to all, and to all a good fight."
No matter what you believe in, believe you can make a difference.