Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Good News, Girls!

My daughter, if she's reading this, will start rolling her eyes at any minute. Yes, it's her crazy feminista mother getting on that soapbox again. Well, here goes ...

If you're a woman, particularly a liberal one like me, you've probably been disturbed by some of the news lately. There are attempts to limit our reproductive choices and to threaten our ability to get health care. Horrible sexist remarks have been spewed and celebrated by the media. It seems as if progress made by women in the last half of the twentieth century is being undermined if not leveled completely.

Add to this the fact that women, who (as I've pointed out in previous posts) make up 51% of the population, are still regarded as a minority and are disadvantaged when it comes to positions of power and pay scale. And, let's not forget that the Equal Rights Amendment, first proposed in 1923, has never been ratified. As the mother of a daughter, I worry that she will mature and eventually try to make her own way in a world that still thinks of women — and still treats women — as citizens decidedly second-class.

But, I just found some good news that I'd like to share with you ...

Things are going to change. Really. They are going to change because the make-up of an important segment of our population is changing. That group is the Educated.

Take a look at some of these statistics (many gleaned from Kay Hymowitz's book Manning Up: How the Rise of Women has Turned Men into Boys):

Between 1975 and 2006, the percentage of men with a college degree increased slightly from 26.8 to 27.9.

In that same period, the percentage of women with a college degree increased more dramatically from 18.6 to 34.2.

So, not only did educated women increase at a faster rate, but at some point we passed men by. Nearly 25% more women had a college degree by 2006 than men did. The total enrollment for women in degree-granting institutions in 2009 (the most recent year tracked by the National Center for Education Statistics) was almost exactly one-third higher than for men. So, this appears to be a trend that is continuing.

This movement isn't limited to undergraduate schooling either. Today, looking at young people aged 25 to 29, there are 139 women with advanced degrees for every 100 men.

Related to this, we've seen rapid growth for professional women. Fifty years ago, women accounted for 6 percent of doctors and just 3 percent of lawyers. Today, we have reached close to parity with 49 percent and 47 percent. Some people project that by 2050, women will hold 70 and 60 percent of those positions.


With these trends in education and professional participation comes increased economic power. While national numbers are still depressing (overall, women make just 77 cents for every dollar earned by men), there is significant change in urban areas and within specific demographics. In New York City, for example, women between 21 and 30 years old make 117% of what their male peers do. And in Dallas, that same age range makes 120%.

I look forward to this group growing older and taking over some of the old boy institutions, like the executive suites at the Fortune 500 or, more importantly, the U.S. Senate. I look forward to a time when women can run for President and be taken seriously as candidates. I particularly look forward to a time when a woman actually wins. Maybe the reason so many people (specifically, so many old white men) are attacking women's rights is because they see a change coming and they are downright and deservedly scared.

So, my dear daughter, I have more hope for you and your girlfriends than I did. (Yes, I know I forced you to choose the Seneca Falls Convention for your research project instead of the whaling industry. But trust me, you will find it far more relevant to you and your life.)

No one could argue that equality — economic, political, social — has been handed to women on a silver tray. But, keep studying girls, its time is coming.

Monday, March 26, 2012


There's a daycare facility on the first floor of my town's fancy new YMCA. Each day, on my way to and from my workout, I see the preschoolers running around in the center's outside park.

As I walk by, I play a little game with myself. I try to spot my daughter and her friends. Well, not them of course, they're in middle school now where recess is but a fond memory. Instead, I look for the closest thing I can find to their adorable 4-year old selves. There's the petite but energetic brunette with a riot of curls, the taller blonde with brilliant pale blue eyes. And there she is! The one with bangs and pigtails, dressed in pink. All pink, all the time. That was my daughter.

This morning as I left my yoga class, I heard one of these girls say "Let's play unicorn!" Her friends were about to comply — and "Why not?" one might ask, unicorns are very cool — when another girl countered with ...

"Let's play ninjas!"

"NINJAS!!!!" the park erupted in joyful consent.

You see, unicorns may be cool, but ninjas are ... well ... NINJAS!!!

According to Wikipedia, the modern equivalent of Encyclopedia Britannica (although nowhere near as exacting), ninjas were mercenary spies or warriors in feudal Japan. Today, the word "ninja" can be used as a noun or a verb or an adjective. So, in theory, a person who is a ninja could be a really ninja ninja and that ninja ninja could go ninja something. From what I gather, this last usage often means procure, as in "Let's go ninja us some free ice cream." But, it can also connote sneaking about. "Let's ninja around and find out what's going on." And, sometimes it means to beat or win. "I totally ninja'd that video game!"

My daughter and some of her friends use the word ninja frequently. It appears as graffiti on their notebooks, in their digital texts and in their analog conversations.

If you Google "ninja," you'll have to use all your ninja skills to get through the hits — more than 500 million of them. There are more than half a million "ninja" videos on YouTube. There are thousands of "ninja apps" for the iPhone (and despite trying to ninja the iTunes password out of her dad, my daughter is still unable to buy any of them without our permission).

I just saw a story about a medical marijuana delivery guy in California who was robbed by ... you guessed it, ninjas. Really.

So, in my never-ending quest to be the cool mom, I looked into how to be a ninja. According to some ninja teens from Nickelodeon's show Supah Ninjas, in order to be ninja, you have to:

1. Have a signature ear-splitting ninja cry
(Somehow, I don't think "Clean up this room!!!!" qualifies.)

2. Develop a signature ninja move, like an awesome sidekick or flying triple salchow without skates
(Right, I'll work on that. Right after I win the gold medal for the parallel bars.)

3. Dress in a lot of black
(Now, this one, I've got covered. I'm a 50-year old woman who majored in drama and grew up in New York City. I'm all about black.)

4. Own a stealthy ninja weapon — something that looks like an ordinary stick, but ... Watch out!
(Now where did I put those nunchucks? Would wooden spoons work instead?)

5. Collect a ninja posse of ninja friends
(Given that all my peers are as overtired as I am, this might be difficult. Maybe the rest of the PTO moms would like to participate. At the next meeting, I'll have to ninja around and see which ones are most ninja.)

In the car the other day, trying to make conversation in my usual lame way, I asked my daughter "What's cooler? A vampire or a ninja?" Her response made it perfectly clear that there was no response necessary.

"Ninja. Duh."

All right, I give up. (I'll bet a ninja would never give up, right?) As a middle-aged mom, I cannot possibly understand ninja. Or, more to the point, my ninja days (assuming I ever had any) are over. So, I'll hang up my ninja mask and end my ninja post with a "ninja joke" (27.6 million hits on Google):

Q. How many ninjas does it take to change a lightbulb?
A. 101. 1 to hold the lightbulb and 100 more to turn the house.

Friday, March 23, 2012

What a Year!

This week marked the one-year anniversary of "Lovin' the Alien." Wow. What started as a personal online journal (remember, Doogie Howser anyone?) has evolved into something bigger, and something incredibly satisfying for me. I've authored 120 posts and racked up about 17,500 page views from more than 100 countries. And, the blog itself has three times as many Facebook friends as I do.

To put this in perspective, Google gets 34,000 hits per second. That's right, my total hits for the year is slightly more than half of their hits per second. Facebook gets 100 billion (yes, that's billion with a B) hits per day.

Okay, so I'm not going to be an Internet millionaire any time soon. I'm not even close to one of the most popular mom blogs,, that gets 100,000 hits a day. (Although, in all fairness, Heather Armstrong posts about much more personal and consequently, in this age of voyeurism, alluring material: her swinging single days, idiots at her office, her bouts with depression and now her "trial separation.")

But, "Lovin' the Alien" has gotten some professional attention. It's been featured a couple of times in the "Wednesday Five" in Women's Voices for Change. I received a call from an associate producer on The Anderson Cooper Show to see if my daughter and I would like to appear to talk about tweens and their addiction to electronic media (we declined). I considered auditioning for a new Mommy Bloggers reality TV series. Really, I considered it for about 26 seconds.

Best of all, while she may not be my biggest fan, my daughter is still talking to me. Well ... sometimes anyway. I've offered her several opportunities to guest blog. This is usually met with the same reaction I get to most suggestions. Rolled eyes, flared nostrils, curled lip, maybe a muttered "Yeah, right." Translation: "Yeah, right. When pigs fly. When the Earth stops spinning. When anything you could possibly propose, Mommy Dearest, would be even the slightest bit cool." I'm not exactly holding my breath.

Tween disdain aside, over the past year, what has been most gratifying has been the feedback I've received from other moms. I've heard from many mothers of teens ("it will get better"), many mothers of younger kids ("you're scaring me") and many, many (many, many, many) other mothers of tweens ("thank goodness I found you; I thought I was the only one").

Here are some of the very grooviest things my very groovy readers have shared:

On the terrors of tweens (and losing it sometimes):

"Whenever I was strong-willed, or wanted to do something non-traditional, well Mom and I would fight, and fight hard, mean and nasty. The good news? I'm 43 now. I treasure every minute I have with my Mom. I have the wisdom to know how lucky I am to have her in my life still."

"But it does get better, trust me! You will be appreciated again someday. In the meantime, motherhood will continue to be the most thankless job. Comfort yourself with the fact that if your daughter ever gets to be a mother herself, she'll get payback in spades."

"Oh, don't I know it! :-) And I bet that after that outburst of yours, you went to your daughter's room and looked at her with so much remorse in your heart and love in your eyes. And you felt like a most terrible mother and you would go to sleep berating yourself for how crazy you were. Oh well, I should be speaking only for myself. :-) But if you feel that way, you got a kindred spirit here. :-))"

On clean (and not so clean) rooms:

"Hhmmm, daughters...the spice of life! As early as six months old I'm already begging my daughter to please keep things neat and tidy in her future room."

"One thing I've never been able to understand is that my daughter actually also has a neat freak hiding inside her. Yet somehow, she can stand to live in utter squalor for long periods, until she goes into a cleaning frenzy. No matter how many times I try to explain that if you just don't let it get messy in the first place, you won't have to spend so much time and energy cleaning it up, I always get the same response: 'You just don't understand!' "

On fashion:

"But for those few moments when you're buying them something, anywhere, it's wonderful how they will agree to anything you say!"

"I have two daughters, and I refuse to let them be slaves to the ever changing fashion scene. When they are adults, earn their own money and buy their own clothes THEN they can satisfy whatever whim they wish, but until that point, they get one shot to get their clothes and if they go out of style before they outgrow them, then that is just too bad." (BTW, Rachel W., you are still my hero!)

"I totally agree that tweens don't need to advertise for Playboy or be hypersexualized in general. Girls have the rest of their lives to be skanks if they choose, but let's let them grow up and decide for themselves. My girls will NOT be wearing slutty garb or clothes with recognizable (and suggestive labels) while they're under my roof."

On torturing your tween:

"A friend of mine recently mentioned that when he wants to embarrass his teen kids, he drops them off at school and, as they are getting out of the car, he calls, "Bye, honey. I love you! Make good choices today!" I think that one is hysterical!"

On Facebook:

"We're dealing with the same issue with my 12-year-old and came to many of the same conclusions. We monitor usage, like we do when our daughter's surfing the internet. We also try to instruct her to the reality that she's "publishing" on Facebook and thus sending out to everyone not just friends. Also family has friended her excessively (yea)."

On pets:

"When I was a kid, many of my closest relatives passed away. Not a single one of those deaths comes close to the grief I endured when my Yorkie, Fiorello, died."

And on life itself:

"This one is my favorites: "Adolescence is a period of rapid changes. Between the ages of 12 and 17, for example, a parent ages as much as 20 years." … Unknown"

There's sometimes bad news:

"I don't know how to tell you this, I don't want to break your heart, or ruin your life but someone needs to tell you, It gets worse! I'm sorry it does,It gets so bad you wonder why you didn't just stay on birth control!"

And sometimes there's good news. A final fan post that really made my day (and still makes me smile nearly six months later):

" I have a 15 year old daughter and it's very difficult to find humor in her behavior. When I read your blogs I find hope! You open my eyes and make me realize that I shouldn't take her so literal. I should understand that I can't let my feelings get in the way and that some day she will love me again and she won't be the "alien". Thanks for your wonderful, humorous views!"

Wow, you are so welcome! Thanks everyone. And, happy new year!

Monday, March 19, 2012

Jolly Good Show

There are only two things in this world that will get my tween daughter up at 5:00 a.m. One is an early flight to somewhere wonderful — a family vacation or a visit to our dear long-distance friends. The other? A horse show.

So yesterday, like the devoted, selfless mother that you all know me to be, I roused my young equestrienne at that godawful hour. The only resistance was a weak "Please mom, just five more minutes." Soon enough, she was up, getting dressed and packing her last minute gear. I went down to brew some coffee and make her breakfast.

As planned, we were on the road by 5:45. It was still dark, which (given that I had had zero time to put on any makeup or even comb my hair) was probably a good thing. We arrived at the stables just as dawn was breaking. There were already girls there and I settled in for a short wait while they loaded the horses and their tack trunks into trailers. Most of the event team were teens and tweens. They looked smart in their riding clothes and neat hair buns. Kind of like a Ralph Lauren ad. One of the benefits of being a stable mom is that you get these moments when you can picture yourself "to the manor born." Of course, for every instance that the girls are elegantly pressed and dressed, there are a hundred when the same girls are unkempt and quite literally covered in horse manure.

In addition to the show regulars, there were two nine-year olds. They were also decked out in their jodhpurs and velvet helmets. But, while the older girls were chatting and joking, the younger were unsmiling and mute. It was their first show and it might as well have been the Olympics. They were very, very, very nervous.

Wow, what a flashback! My own daughter's first show was about seven years ago. She competed in a class called "Lead Line Walk Trot." This means that the trainers had the horses on ropes as the young riders went through their paces for the judges. We had explained, "This is your first show, so you probably won't get a ribbon." But, it was all for nothing. Not only did she win a ribbon, it was a first place blue one. And, thus began a collection of awards that has since taken over her bedroom.

Back to the present. We drove in a convoy of trucks and trailers to the show grounds, a stable about an hour away. The older girls were utterly excited. The younger girls were utterly silent. The moms and trainers were somewhere in between.

Once all the horses were tacked up, the girls headed toward the warm-up ring. My daughter easily moved from jump to jump, her new pony happy to be outside and working for her. He's what one of her trainers calls, "Honest." He wants to please her and they are already a solid team after just a few months together. Soon, the call came for the first class, and the younger girls headed to the show ring.

The course comprised a series of nine low jumps in a zig-zagging pattern. Our junior riders were both disqualified when their horses, no doubt sensing the girls' tentativeness, refused multiple times. One poor girl was so flustered, she went over jump three the wrong direction instead of jump four. "Good try!" we encouraged them, but I'm not sure they heard us. (They looked a little shell-shocked.) They went back in for a couple more events, performing in much the same way each time. Finally, one of the girls made it through an entire course and earned a fifth place (OMG, pink!) ribbon. I don't think a ten-foot trophy would have meant as much to a more experienced rider.

The day continued, jumps were set higher, and the older girls started their classes. Between the four of them, they racked up several ribbons: a blue, a red, a yellow, a white, another pink and two browns. There were as many as twenty-five girls in each class, so these places were great. It was a long day; the grownups were hot and tired. The girls were hot and tired and grubby. (Suffice it to say, they no longer looked like Ralph Lauren ads. But, maybe they could have posed for the "before" portion of a "before and after" Tide spot.) We headed back to our own barn so the girls could put away their tack and groom their ponies. I looked at my watch. I had originally thought I'd be home by five o'clock. Eight looked more likely.

About 90 minutes later, we were finally ready to leave. But, another mother wanted to speak to me, a woman I've known for years and a good friend. She said that the mom of one of the younger girls had asked her to make sure I got a message. It seems that my daughter sought out the little rider after one of the latter's "epic fail" rounds. My daughter then regaled her with stories of refusals, mistakes, head-over-ears falls, and the most colorful of tales about the time that her horse threw her in the woods during a cross-country event and then galloped back to the trailer, nearly a mile away. I guess these reminiscences made the younger girl feel much better. And, I was transported back to the days when my daughter was one of the "little ones." How inconsolable she was after her own lousy days in the ring. And, how much she looked up to the older girls, all of whom are now in college or teaching riding themselves.

As we drove off to Dairy Queen (the consolation prize whenever anyone is "DQ'd" from an event), I smiled. My daughter won two ribbons. I won something much more valuable: the knowledge that no matter how peckish she may sometimes be with me, my daughter has the heart of a champion.

Friday, March 16, 2012

The Lying Game

"Honesty is the best policy."

"The truth shall set us free."

"Whoever is careless with the truth in small matters cannot be trusted with important matters."

There are countless adages. There are also countless ways a tween can display her disdain about those adages. Rolled eyes, heavy sighs, shoulder shrugs, or simply a blank stare. In the court of tween, there are far worse crimes than perjury.

We were very fortunate when my daughter was younger. Whether it was superior parenting on my part (a lovely but unlikely thought) or a fabulous family daycare provider or terrific teachers or genetics or pure dumb luck, she was a cheerful and compliant child. And, in truth, she is still fairly easy. We haven't had to worry about the big three yet: drugs, alcohol, sex.

But, my daughter's no saint either. I can't put my finger on any specific falsehoods, per se, but we've certainly seen our share of lies of omission. "I forgot to tell you ..." she'll say. Or, "Oh, I didn't remember that rule." Or, "It slipped my mind." Or, "I lost track of time."

There's a new sneakiness that we have to keep an eye on. It's tempting to crack down and try to seize complete control. But, totalitarian regimes rarely last. "Because I said so," lost its power long ago. And, in all honesty, I run out of steam trying to police her long before she runs out of steam trying to get away with things.

Why do tweens and teens lie? Sometimes, certainly, it's to cover bad behavior or to attain something they want (but aren't supposed to get). Sometimes, I think, it's to seem cool in front of their friends. And sometimes, maybe it's just another tool to help them feel in control and independent. Just as they are trying on new hairstyles and clothes, they are experimenting with their personality. Who are they going to be when they grow up? And, more importantly, how fast can they get there?

Let's assume that fibbing is just another developmental stage then. In that case, hopefully, you won't be completely appalled by the following Twitter feeds, in which teens not only lied, but are bragging about it to their peers. Then again, maybe the boasts themselves are lies. Is that like a double negative? If you lie about a lie are you really telling the truth? (What a tangled web teens weave!)

Here goes ...

"Oh yeah, we just watched a few movies ..."

"I didn't take the car last night."

"Everybody failed the test, mom."

"Nothing to worry about between me and him, we're just friends ..."

"I've already done my homework."

"It's not mine. It's my friend's."

"Can I stay home? I don't feel good."

"They don't give report cards anymore!"

"I can't hear you. I'll call you back."

"I don't know how those condoms got in my pocket."

"I swear if you get me this I won't ask for anything else."

That last one is sadly familiar to me (and to my wallet). The rest, happily, I have yet to encounter. And, I'd like to think I never will. But, in all honesty ...

You can read more of these feeds (if you really want to) at #LiesIveToldMyParents.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Popular Mechanics

My best friend's son was a savvy young man. He once told her, "Mom, I'm not popular." Before she had a chance to object (as any good mother would), he added, "I don't want to be popular. It's too much pressure."

In middle school, it's all about being popular. And, unfortunately, there's no magic pill, no silver bullet, that you can rely on. Two girls can be equally pretty, equally bright, equally athletic. They can both wear the de rigueur uniform of the trendy tween: Ugg boots, North Face "Denali" jacket, Hollister skinny jeans, Abercrombie logo tee. On paper or in a class photo, these girls are identical. And yet, one will get a seat at the popular table and the other?

Not so much.

I wonder, at times, if there's some unspoken, invisible charisma that floats around the really popular kids. In some cases, it seems to be a sense of entitlement and arrogance that gets them what they want. I'm usually pretty amazed to meet the stars of the school. They never seem like "all that" to me.

Regardless, the kids (and it seems like girls are more aware of this pecking order than boys are) understand the social strata and know exactly where they belong. Any common sense a concerned mother tries to talk into her allegedly "un-popular" daughter falls on deaf ears.

"Why would you want to hang out with cheerleaders?" I ask, wrinkling my nose.

"You don't get it," is the answer. The answer, I should mention, is the answer per usual.

No, I don't get it. Are we in the movie Grease? Is this 1958? Why would smart, talented young women want to dress up like Barbie dolls and cheer for anyone other than themselves? Cheer for boys?!?! I do not get it.

"You've known so-and-so and whats-her-name since preschool," I continue. "Why don't you just go and sit with them next time?"

Her answer? You guessed it. "You don't get it."

"Honey," I take a last stab at this, "If whosit doesn't know enough to think you're cool and treat you nicely, why would you even want to hang out with her?"

And, yes, consistency is a wondrous thing ... "You don't get it."

The thing is, my daughter isn't sitting alone at lunch with a sad little tuna sandwich and a nerdy book. She has a table full of friends, boys and girls, who seem to have a grand time together every day. She has people to go to Starbucks with, girlfriends who sleep over, chums at the stable, buddies from camp. In fact, if her texting, IM'ing and Facebook messaging were used as a measure, my daughter's popularity would be off the charts.

And yet, she'll insist that she is "not popular." (And, right afterwards, she'll insist "You don't get it.")

It's hard sometimes to take her woes seriously. But, all I have to do is remember my own junior high melodramas and I can relate at least a little bit. I keep telling her that high school will be better. I hope I'm right.

One of our favorite songs from one of our favorite musicals is "Popular," performed by Kristin Chenoweth in the original cast of Stephen Schwartz's Wicked. When we saw the show together, about seven years ago, my daughter and I thought the song was hilarious. In fact, we bought a tee shirt that said "Popular" on it at intermission and she used to perform the entire number for us. Now, though, I think the lyrics are a lot smarter than I originally gave them credit for:

You're gonna be popular!
I'll teach you the proper poise
When you talk to boys
Little ways to flirt and flounce (Ooh!)
I'll show you what shoes to wear
How to fix your hair
Everything that really counts

To be popular
I'll help you be popular!
You'll hang with the right cohorts
You'll be good at sports
Know the slang you've got to know
So let's start
'Cause you've got an awfully long way to go.

And, the "good witch" continues (she's making over the "wicked witch") ...

It's all about popular!
It's not about aptitude
It's the way you're viewed
So it's very shrewd to be
Very very popular
Like me!(Ahh!)

Stephen Schwartz may be a man in his 60s, but he must've spent some time in a middle school cafeteria. He has definitely tapped into the inner angst of an eighth grade girl.

And, I'm looking forward to laughing at those lyrics with my daughter again. Someday.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Seventeen, Again

Tween hygiene is a strange and changeable thing. They may fight the idea of showering, but then once they're in the stall, you can't get them out again. Time stands still and North America's water levels drop precipitously. The same is true for other grooming rituals. Hair is brushed one thousand strokes but teeth are forgotten. Or an inordinate amount of time is spent covering nearly invisible blemishes while tangles are left uncombed.

We had already returned from our fourth and final trip to Vermont when I realized my daughter hadn't bathed all weekend. "Honey," I told her, "Go shower."

"I wanna wait until after dinner," she replied, eyes never leaving her iPhone with its half-dozen concurrent text conversations.

"But, your hair looks dirty," I insist.

She shrugged. "Do we have any baking soda?"

Say, what?

"Baking soda? You can comb it through your hair when you're in a hurry, and it makes it look clean. It's in Seventeen."

Ah. The gospel according to Seventeen. I remember it well.

I think it was the summer after seventh grade that I started devouring that magazine. It influenced everything: my haircut (Dorothy Hamill wedge, and if that doesn't date me nothing will), my shampoos ("Short & Sassy," "Herbal Essence" and "Gee, Your Hair Smells Terrific"), my sandals (Famolare with their distinctive wave sole), my sundresses (Gunny Sack), my boots (Frye), my lip balm (Bonne Bell Dr. Pepper).

Now that I think about it, clearly the ads were more influential than the articles.

But, I did read each issue cover to cover. Stories talked about friendships, pop music, activities like sewing projects, teens in other countries. And, how to let a boy know you liked him. I filed these away for future use — my junior high had just gone co-ed after a century as an all-girls school. Actual boys were few and far between.

Compare these with some of the content in a random sampling of my daughter's issues. Oh sure, there are still plenty of fashion spreads and beauty tips. But the editorial has — shall we say — "evolved."

"I Faked my Pregnancy"

"Your 2012 Hot-Body Plan"

"Mind-Blowing Makeouts: How to be a Better Kisser"

And, an entire issue devoted to the annual: "Hot Guy Special!" which promises to teach you how to "Have Him Ask You Out!" and "Flirt The Right Way!" and "Be His Best Hookup!"

Okay, I am old and I am definitely not as cool as I once was. But, the last time I checked, a "hookup" (as in "Be His Best ...") is what we used to call a "one-night stand." Except I didn't call it that when I was reading Seventeen, because I didn't know that there was such a thing. I certainly wasn't ready to be anyone's hookup, let alone their best one.

And neither is my daughter. But, since she didn't feel the need to bring me the magazine and question its content, I have to assume she knows all of this and more. Now, my head hurts.

Seventeen magazine's media kit claims that the median age of its readers is 16.5 years old. But, nearly 2 million readers are between 12 and 15. (In my experience, girls drop it many months before they hit the magazine's eponymous age.) I don't think these girls should be getting tips on hooking up quite yet? Do you? And, if your response is "Just don't let your tween daughter read it," you, my friend, clearly don't have a tween daughter.

My mind is made up. With all the envelope-pushing going on, I think I need to read my daughter's Seventeen magazines when they get here every month before I let her have them. It's clearly the only responsible thing to do. I'll just have to suffer through the pretty pictures, latest gossip and beauty features myself. It's a tough job, but someone has to do it.

Now, if I can just get my hands on a can of Tab ...

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Dress Code

There is a storm brewing in my daughter's middle school. A much beloved principal retired last June and between her replacement and a new district superintendent, it has been an interesting year. Change was inevitable, as was the griping from nearly 500 students. (And don't get me started on how vocal a big bunch of nice, suburban parents can be!)

Like any modern mom, I've tried to explain that "Change can be good" and that my daughter and her friends should "Wait and see." They might even like the new regime better, I suggested.

Well, if the jury was out, it's back in now — and ready to hang someone for the latest in a string of new rules:

"No more yoga pants!"


In all fairness, the principal did not specifically say "No yoga pants." In fact, he went out of his way to communicate to both students and parents that he wasn't going to outlaw a particular style of pant by name. And, clearly, there are other — shall we say — "form fitting" fashion choices. But the eighth grade buzz has focused on yoga pants. How dare they forbid yoga pants? How will we live without our yoga pants? What is the world (or, at least, the middle school) coming to?

For those of you who (a) do not take yoga and (b) do not have a daughter who shops at Abercrombie or American Eagle Outfitter or Hollister or Delia's or H&M or Forever 21 or PINK or Victoria's Secret, yoga pants are fairly stretchy and fairly tight. And fairly ubiquitous — you probably picked that up from my less than all-inclusive list of participating retailers. They typically have a contrasting waistband that can be rolled down and worn low across tween hips. They often have writing across the tush.

As the mother of a tween-going-on-teen, I for one would rather not draw attention to my daughter's tush. But, I digress.

Yoga pants are so-o-o-o-o-o comfortable and so-o-o-o-o-o popular. Virtually all of my daughter's female classmates have them and wear them regularly. Although I doubt many if any of these girls actually practice yoga.

Regardless, the loss of their basic human right to wear yogic pants had been taken away. So, what do any self-respecting middle schoolers do when they want to voice their collective displeasure with the powers that be? They mobilize via social media! (Hey, if it worked for Occupy Wall Street and the Egyptian revolution, it might work for yoga pants.) Word quickly spread via Facebook that on a certain day of a certain week, everyone should protest the new rule about not wearing yoga pants by ... wearing yoga pants

A plan that was simply brilliant in its brilliant simplicity.

I caught wind of this, but decided to let my daughter participate anyway. I thought: best case scenario, she will learn a little about activism. Worst case, she might get reprimanded for breaking the new dress code. It was a risk I was willing to take.

Sure enough, the act of defiance took place without a hitch. Girls wore their yoga pants and as far as they could tell, the school didn't shut down; the world did not come to an end. Instead, we the parents received another (less-gentle) reminder from the principal. We were encouraged not to allow our offspring to leave for school in "inappropriately tight" clothes. If pants were tight, the students had to wear long shirts over them. The specific rule was that when the student drops her arms to her sides, the fabric of the top has to reach as low as her middle finger.

A few days later, the girls and boys were separated during their "Advisory" block (or what us old-timers might have called homeroom). The boys went with their male teachers while the girls went with the female teachers. In this safe, sexually segregated environment, the kids once again heard about the dress code.

This bothered me a bit. As far as I know, there are no boys wearing yoga pants or jeggings or leggings or any other "inappropriately tight" legwear. So the rule is really for the middle school girls, isn't it?

I can imagine the conversation that the female faculty had with their female students: "If you wear tight pants and your shirt isn't long enough, you are breaking the rules."

But, I'm not so clear on what the male teachers said to the male students. "If a girl is wearing tight pants and her shirt isn't long enough, don't look?"

Then, while I understand why the principal didn't want to forbid certain pant types, it might have made a very subjective issue a little more objective. Just say it: "No leggings, no jeggings, no yoga pants. Period." Instead, as a mom, I've been asked not to let my daughter wear "inappropriately tight" clothing to school. Who's to say that what you and I find "inappropriate" or "tight" will be the same? There are differences in taste, in religious beliefs, in ethnic heritage that could easily influence each individual judgement call. Girls this age are also at a variety of different places in terms of their development. So, leggings that might not seem inappropriate on a skinny little seventh grader might look downright va-va-va-voom on an eighth grader who has already come out the other end of puberty.

For the record, I will not and have not ever allowed my daughter to go off to school in an outfit that was revealing or sexually provocative. That said, I will try to adhere to the new rules. If we have to buy some tunic-length tops to do that, so be it. Of course, my daughter was quick to point out that only "old ladies" wear long tunics over their yoga pants.

Can you guess what I was wearing when she said that? Um, yep.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Mother-Daughter Book Club

Jane Austen. Charles Dickens. Charlotte and Emily Brontë.

Their very names conjure images of sweeping moors, great manor houses, high teas and high waisted dresses. These are a few of my favorite authors. These are authors whose classic works my daughter will someday read. If, that is, they are assigned as required reading by a teacher.

She's certainly not going to do it to please me.

I was always a reader. My daughter, despite being quick to point out "I'm not you, Mo-o-om!", is also a reader. (That is, she's a reader when she doesn't have access to her laptop, her cell phone or the television.)

When she was little, I faithfully read her all the Madeline books, Winnie the Pooh, The Lonely Doll, and Little Bear. And, she has beautiful editions of Peter Pan, Heidi, and Little Women. These are in pristine condition. They are in pristine condition because she hasn't even opened them. Her tastes, clearly lie elsewhere.

(We did try the Laura Ingalls Wilder Little House books, but in the very first chapter of the very first book, Pa slaughters and butchers a pig. We were done.)

My daughter never succumbed to the literary phenomenon that was Harry Potter, but she's loyal to a number of other young adult series. She read every Saddle Club book, then moved on to Canterwood Crest. Right now, she's wrapped up in three different serials: Gossip Girl, Pretty Little Liars and The Lying Game. (Although I haven't had the time — or, let's face it, the stomach — to read any of these myself, I can only imagine from their titles that they celebrate some pretty poor behavior.)

A couple of years ago, my daughter begged me to read the Twilight books. I scoffed at the idea until my best friend encouraged me to go ahead and try them, reminding me "You want her to read your recommendations, right?"

(My thirty-second review? Let's see ... between the damsel in perpetual distress, the sexy yet sex-less vampire and the thinly veiled pro life plot, the books are not exactly a feminist manifesto. I read all four volumes in one week at a Mexican resort. That's seven days I'll never get back.)

Recently, I was thrilled to find a tattered Yearling paperback of Calico Captive at a restaurant and used bookstore in Connecticut. (An extremely cool place right on Route 84. When you buy a meal there, you get to take a free book!) It was one of my favorite books in junior high and I couldn't wait to share it with my daughter. The story follows the adventure of a New England settler and her family who were abducted by Indians and sold to the French in Canada. Um, suffice it to say the enthusiasm was mine and mine alone. She did, finally, finish it after much protest, and grudgingly asserted, "It was okay."

This summer, she'll have to make it through David Copperfield, required reading for ninth grade Honors English. It promises to be a very long summer. I have forbidden my husband, on pain of death, to so much as mention the concept of Cliff Notes.

Meanwhile, my daughter just devoured a book recommended by her current English teacher. The assignment was to read an award-winner and I had suggested The Summer of My German Soldier. Classic, right? I expected the teacher to applaud my choice. Instead, she took one look and said, "That looks awful. I'll find something better for you." And, indeed, my daughter absolutely loved the alternative title: The Perks of Being A Wallflower.

"Well," I sighed, resignedly, "I guess you're just my contemporary fiction reader."

"What's that supposed to mean?" she demanded.

"It just means you prefer contemporary books."

She rolled her eyes. "Contemporary?" she snorted, "It's set in the 90s!"

Friday, March 2, 2012

Verbal Pussyfooting

"Say what you mean and mean what you say."

As parents, language is arguably our most powerful weapon. Common knowledge tells us that it's what separates humans from beasts, after all. It's what we use to convey our approval or disapproval. To teach lessons and affect behavior. Right?

Well, not so much anymore.

I'm so tired of mothers and fathers, teachers and school administrators, public authorities and the media using language that's "politically correct" but simply doesn't say what we're trying to say! The very phrase "politically correct" is a fine example of what I'm talking about. If someone smears another race or gender or sexual orientation, we shake our heads and mutter, "Well, that wasn't very politically correct, was it?" For effect, we might raise our hands and make little air quotation marks with our fingers.

Why don't we say what we mean? We need to come right out and, if appropriate, say, "That was ignorant, bigoted, hateful, prejudiced."

There's another example in my sentence above: "appropriate." Tweens post "inappropriate" content online. Kids respond in an "inappropriate" way to their teachers. A young boy makes an "inappropriate" gesture to a young girl in front of a half dozen friends. A young girl sends "inappropriate" pictures of herself via text.

Is this behavior "appropriate?" Hell no! But, more importantly, it's wrong. It's vile, disgusting, dangerous behavior. When did we all get so scared to call a spade a spade?

(Many, by the way, think that the colloquialism I just used is itself "politically incorrect." In actuality, "calling a spade a spade" refers to shovels, not people of darker complexion. It dates back to 178 BC and was first used in English in 1542 in a translation that reads: "Philippus answered, that the Macedonians were fellows of no fine wit in their terms but altogether gross, clubbish, and rustic, as they which had not the wit to call a spade by any other name than a spade.")

Okay, linguistics lesson over.

Enlightened thinkers agree that there are no bad kids anymore. Just misguided young people who have "challenges," and consequently partake in "inappropriate" behavior. All right, I am as liberal-lefty as they come (just ask any of my token Republican friends), but I will argue quite loudly that sometimes kids are bad. Of course, I'm talking about their actions, not their souls (that is not for me to judge). But, the girl who holds court in the middle school cafeteria and knowingly hurts the feelings of other girls?

Bad, bad, bad!

Our new school superintendent recently met with parents to talk about his education plan and the transition between middle and high school. He emphasized that his focus is not on individual professionals in the district but on "student outcomes."

WTF? The parents (and let's face it, these meetings are always 105% moms and, if it were possible, less than no dads) nodded their heads in rapt assent. I would have preferred more specific language. What are "student outcomes?" Standardized tests? College admissions? GPAs?

When something goes wrong at home (wrong, as in our tween daughter has done something w-r-o-n-g, not inappropriate but wrong), we have a little family meeting and we discuss "consequences."

"We must all take responsibility for our actions," we explain in the mode of the contemporary, conscientious, concerned parent. "What do you think would be an appropriate consequence?" Invariably, our daughter looks at us like we have multiple heads. And, I don't blame her. She knows damn well what we mean; I'm sure we sound like idiots.

Here's what we should say ... "You broke the rules. You snuck your cell phone up to your room after hours and here is your punishment." End. Of. Story.

This would not make us heartless dictators. This would not make our daughter a victim or permanently scar her for life. In my book, this would be clear, concise and entirely "appropriate."

So, the next time you fall into the psychobabble we've wrapped around the parenting process, think twice. If your son or daughter has done something dumb, wrong or just plain bad, tell them. Succinctly yet specifically, without raising your voice. You might get the reaction you want a little more. They might roll their eyes a little less.

Do me a favor? Think about it.

And until then, my friends, let's all "Make good choices."