Monday, April 30, 2012

Pass the Popcorn: The Hunger Games

Like any self-respecting eighth grader, my daughter saw The Hunger Games on the weekend it opened. Not once, but twice. First, she saw it with two friends from school. The next day, she saw it with a different friend and that girl's family. She came home beaming. 

"I can't wait for you to see it, Mom! You're gonna love it." However, in reality, she could wait for me to see it. In fact, I was forbidden to see it until I had finished the books.

Was I already in the middle of a different book? Yes. Was my workload insane? Yes. Did I have other things to do? Yes, yes, yes. But, I was heartened by the fact that my daughter recognized the value of reading prior to viewing. So, I borrowed my husband's Kindle and read all three books in the course of a few days. Trust me, that is not as grand an accomplishment as one might think. They are extremely quick reads and every chapter ends with a cliffhanger. With my task complete, we decided to hit the multiplex after my daughter finished at the stable Sunday afternoon.

I was looking forward to our movie date. I loved the fact that we were going to see an action adventure movie starring a female protagonist. With all the blood and guts and gore I had just read, this promised to be no typical "chick flick." And, the chick in point, one Katniss Everdeen in case you've been living under a rock, is played by a remarkable young actress who had wowed me a couple of years ago in Winter's Bone, Jennifer Lawrence. 

Most of all, I was looking forward to spending time with my favorite person.

We ran a couple of errands and had a quick lunch at Panera, just ordering soups so that we would have plenty of room for a giant popcorn in the theatre. Once inside, we found great seats and plenty of room to spread out; surprisingly, there weren't a ton of people. When I commented on this, my daughter rolled her eyes: "Duh, it's already been out for a month!" A month, mind you, is a very long time when one is fourteen.

There were too many ads, too many previews (this from a woman who loves previews) and too many service messages about turning off our cell phones. But, finally, it was time for ...

The Hunger Games! ("May the odds be ever in your favor.")

You know, the movie really was good. If I had been in there in my capacity as a cultural journalist writing a thoughtful piece of film criticism, I might complain about the herky-jerky handheld camera work. Or, the confusion of some key fight scenes. Or, the near absence of any subtlety or nuance whatsoever.

But, I was there to have fun with my daughter. The action was non-stop. The sets and costumes and special effects, top-notch. The villains from the Capitol were as superficial and selfish as I had pictured them. Katniss was as brave and good. Her rival boyfriends, Peeta and Gale, were true and just handsome enough to turn the target audience's heads. (There's an ongoing online debate amongst the teen girl set right now. "Are you Team Peeta or Team Gale?" And, in a rather clever if slightly naughty compound word, if you are rooting for Peeta's romance with Katniss then you are "Pro Peeniss." Ugh.) 

For me, Woody Harrelson practically stole the show as a boozy misanthropic former champion and current mentor to the star-crossed Tributes from District Twelve. It was all just fun!

Until it wasn't. Twenty minutes before the end of the movie, the screen went black; the soundtrack stopped a moment later. A few patrons left their seats to go and get the theatre management. The rest of us sat in what would have been the dark except that everyone had whipped out their cell phones about a nanosecond after the projector malfunction. It was eery seeing individual faces illuminated by cell phone screens. 

"WTF," I thought. "You can't wait five minutes to see if the movie comes back on?" And, in case you were wondering, this was a group of adults not teenagers. (After all, every teenager in the area had already seen the movie about a month ago.)

A woman from the theatre came in and explained that they were fixing the projector. She apologized and handed out free passes (two per person!) for a future movie. After about a ten-minute delay, the movie started again. My daughter and I were psyched! Four free tickets and we still got to see the end of the movie.

Katniss and Peeta were trapped on top of the Cornucopia with the vicious "Career" Tribute from District Two, Cato, and a bloodthirsty "muttation" dog pack below them when ... the unthinkable happened. The movie stopped. Again. OMG!!!

This time, they couldn't get the projector fixed. So they passed out another free pass for each of us and we went out into the bright lights of the lobby. There was another showing down the hall, and we could have sneaked in. But, it had just started and despite my (genuine) disappointment in missing the last five minutes, I really couldn't sit through the whole thing again. There was homework and laundry and dinner waiting for us, so we reluctantly left.

Technology to the rescue! As soon as we got home, my daughter booted up her laptop, Googled "Hunger Games Last Ten Minutes," and found a bootlegged clip on YouTube. For the record, I am not one to condone online copyright infringement. But, I was willing to make an exception. The last few minutes of the movie were exciting despite the tiny screen, and the less than professional video quality. Katniss and Peeta returned to District Twelve and the sinister President Snow plotted his next move.

Net net: we now have six free movie passes, we had a wonderful afternoon together and (thank you, nameless YouTube pirate) we got to see the happy (well, happy until movie two is released) ending.

The odds were most definitely ever in our favor.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Foul Ball

This morning, I woke up before anyone else and took a nice long walk. It was a brisk but sunny day and it felt great to be outside. A few blocks from our house, I watched a rather tired looking dad (clutching a travel mug of coffee) as he loaded a team of tiny softball players into his station wagon.

Like so many other scenes of family life, this took me back. But, I don't remember my daughter's short stint in softball fondly. And, it's not because of the early morning games or the fees for the uniforms or the times I had to volunteer in the snack shed or the season that never seemed to end.

It's because of some childish behavior ... from some grownups.

My daughter was not quite ten when she started playing in the "minor leagues." After tryouts and a fairly complicated team selection process, she was assigned to the Dodgers. They were a fairly ragtag bunch. There were a couple of girls who were a little taller and more athletic than the rest, but most of the team had barely started to get the hang of it when the season started.

In all honesty, the girls were far more interested in the color-coordinated hair ribbons and socks that one of the mothers had found. And, they spent an inordinate amount of time singing and chanting:

Good eye, good eye, good eye, good eye.

Or the even more obnoxious:

We want a single, just a little single. S-I-N-G-L-E. Single single single!
We want a double, just a little double. D-O-U-B-L-E. Double double double!
We want a triple, just a little triple. T-R-I-P-L-E. Triple triple triple!
We want a homerun, just a little homerun. H-O-M-E-R-U-N!

(Clearly, they couldn't make up their minds. They were, however, quite adept at giving me a headache. But, I digress.)

The best team in the minors that year was the dreaded Yankees. We faced off against them early and were soundly defeated (I think the score was something like 25-0). For some reason, these girls looked much older than ours. They were better players and certainly had practiced more. It was clear from the very start of the game that we were outmatched.

Their coach took it extremely seriously though and his behavior set the tone for the parents. So not only were the Dodgers whipped, they also had to deal with a bunch of adults carrying on as though they were at a professional game. Cheering for their daughters and booing ours (yes, really).

The season continued and the Dodgers improved, slowly but surely (well, mostly slowly). The coaches learned each of the girls' strengths and weaknesses. My daughter, for example, could hit a little and catch a little, but she could run very very fast. So, the strategy was to get her onto first base and then let her speed around on a better batter's hit for a run.

The girls had fun anyway. For some reason, we didn't play the Yankees again in the regular schedule. It was very rainy that year and the league eventually gave up on trying to squeeze in missed games. The season would have to stop when school ended so we suddenly found ourselves in the playoffs. By then, the Dodgers had improved a great deal and had even started winning .

As unbelievable as it seemed, we made it all the way through to the final "World Series" championship game. We were matched, of course, with ...

The Yankees.

The girls were petrified.

"They haven't seen you play in a long time," we told them.

"Just go in and have fun," we told them.

"We're so proud of you for getting this far," we told them.

But, they weren't buying it; they fully expected to get their butts kicked. But, they all showed up, with their ribbons and their socks and their inane chants. We didn't dare hope they would win, but we all crossed our fingers that they would get at least a few runs.

If the Yankees, and more specifically, the Yankees' parents, were loud and smug and mean-spirited in that earlier game, they were ten times more so. We surprised them though. The Dodgers were up first and actually scored. The Yankees realized that they would have to play a little harder than they had expected.

As my daughter got up to bat, the pitcher's dad yelled out, "She's a lefty! Strike her out!"

My daughter froze and missed a couple of perfectly good hits. But, she somehow made it to first base. Later in the car, she was inconsolable. "Why did he have to tell everyone I'm a lefty?" she sobbed. It was the first time my daughter ever felt different or inferior because she isn't right-handed. And, she never really went out for a team sport again. (To this day, I would like to slap that father across his face. But, again, I digress.)

The Dodgers lost to the Yankees but by a far smaller margin than their earlier defeat. They were good sports, congratulating the winners and gamely getting their pictures taken with their "Runners Up" medals. The Yankees, on the other hand, practically screamed the lyrics to Queen's "We Are the Champions." And, as you may have guessed, their self-satisfied parents screamed right along with them.

Buddhism would tell us to look at situations like that final game as an opportunity to practice forgiveness and compassion. But, let's face it; I am not the Dalai Lama.

And, I say "Foul ball!"

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Crime and Punishment

If a parent wants to humiliate their tween or teenage child, it isn't hard to do. Buddy up to their friends. Dictate what they can or cannot wear. Chaperone a class trip. Or, worse, call their teacher to debate a grade. Actually, we embarrass our kids all the time whether we mean to or not.
But, some parents have taken the idea of "the punishment fits the crime" to new and very public places. They're using social media, specifically Facebook and YouTube, to pillory their offspring. And, while I certainly can relate to the frustration that led them to these actions (believe me, I can soooooo relate), was this really the best way to make their point?

Sorry, I don't buy it. I just don't think it's cool.

Let's start with a mom who appeared on The Today Show this morning. Denise Abbott was displeased by her daughter's behavior on Facebook. But, rather than simply take Facebook (or a laptop or a smart phone or some other means of accessing it) away, she redesigned her daughter's profile. The new version includes a photo of the thirteen-year old girl with a red "X" covering her mouth. It reads: "I do not know how to keep my ... (mouth shut). I am no longer allowed on Facebook or my phone. Please ask why, my mom says I have to answer everyone that asks."


And now, of course, the disciplined daughter is not only infamous among her Facebook friends but she's been featured on a national television program. Her crime? Being disrespectful to her mother and stirring up drama amongst her peers. If her crimes were truly as egregious as her mother apparently found them, wouldn't pulling the plug have been just as effective while allowing her some privacy?

My assessment, however, doesn't appear to be the popular one. A live online poll linked to the story asks:
Was mom right to discipline her daughter on Facebook?
[ ] Yes: Sometimes you have to get creative to get through to teens.
[ ] No: She went too far by making it so public.

Guess what? Eight out of ten respondents think the mother's post was justified. But, popular or not, I think it went too far. In fact, I think that public humiliation is never, I repeat never, an appropriate strategy.

If a child hits someone, hitting them back only teaches them that it's okay to hit. Think about it. What is the message? "You can't hit your little brother, because you're bigger than he is. But, I can hit you, because I'm bigger than you are." If a teenager behaves inappropriately on social media, is it then appropriate (or even effective) to behave inappropriately in response? It's a tangled web, to say the least.

A more disturbing example of this phenomenon was circulating a few months ago. Tommy Jordan, another parent who felt he had been disrespected on Facebook, made a very loud and very public statement when he berated his teen daughter for nearly ten minutes then shot her laptop computer nine times — AND, posted the entire thing on YouTube.

To date, his video has racked up more than 32 million hits! Frightening stuff.

What's even more frightening than his post is the number of admiring fans he instantaneously accumulated. More than 271,000 people left comments on YouTube (and no doubt there were hundreds of thousands more on Facebook). Most of them cheered him on. Also frightening.

But, you know what frightens me the most? That someone with this much rage at his teenage daughter has ... a gun.

I had a summer job while I was at college. We ran a conference bureau, using many of the school's academic spaces for meetings and housing conference participants in the school's dorms. It was extremely fun (we had master keys to the entire campus), but could also be extremely stressful. Some of our "guests" were quite demanding and, when dissatisfied, they could get downright nasty; working a front desk or managing an event, we were always in the line of fire. Our boss, a very gracious lady, told us that she would always defend our decisions in public. She might later speak with us privately, but we could count on her not to publicly humiliate us. We were very loyal to this woman, and all the years I later worked at ad agencies I always tried to manage my creative staff that way myself.

Yes, it's difficult to get through to our kids. Yes, Facebook and YouTube (and Twitter and Tumbler and all the rest of it) make it even more challenging. But, if you're trying to teach respect, I truly believe there is only one way to do it.


Monday, April 23, 2012

Sleeping Tiger Mother


Last year, Amy Chua's Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother was all any of us could talk about. And, when I say "talk about," I really mean "stress over."

Were we too relaxed? Were we pushovers? Were we not giving our sons and daughters the tools, the talents, the discipline, the résumé-building activities that they so desperately needed to get into the Ivy Leagues?

We look down on hovering "Helicopter Parents," and with good reason. But are we slackers? I let my daughter drop out of piano lessons after two years. Two years, during which time I spent $35 every week for a thirty-minute lesson after which I had to listen to her instructor tell me (every week) that she would never get better if she didn't practice. 

And, I let her take French regardless of the fact that Latin would equate to higher PSAT scores. And, I don't sufficiently freak out when she brings home an A-. My daughter watches popular TV. She reads popular books. I encourage sleepover parties.

Of course, I hope my daughter will be accepted at Harvard, Yale and Princeton (full scholarships would be nice too). But the world will not end if she isn't. In fact, at fourteen, she has her eye set on the Equestrian Business major at a far less prestigious college. My hope is that we'll meet somewhere  in the middle. For now, I bite my tongue; we'll be touring schools soon enough.

So, if my daughter is less than she might be, I guess I have myself to blame. I am not a Tiger Mother. However, I am something equally dangerous. 

I am Sleeping Tiger Mother.

Be warned. If you threaten my daughter, I will quickly wake up. And all that pent-up ferocious energy that was not spent ensuring that piano was practiced will be expended somewhere else. In your face.

For example, my daughter competed in a two-phase horse show yesterday. She and her new pony pulled off a perfect round of stadium jumping after a rather lackluster dressage test. (Dressage, my daughter argues, is like watching paint dry. It's all about precision. And, if I were a Tiger Mother, she would no doubt practice more and perform better. But, I digress.)

When the final scores were posted, my daughter came in fifth place in her class. She was pleased, but I noticed that the young man who was taking home fourth place had the same combined score.

This, obviously, is enough to wake Sleeping Tiger Mother. I marched into the office of the officials and asked, respectfully of course, why the identical scores earned disparate ribbons. It turns out that in the event of a tie, there is a specific subset of dressage results that are used to determine the order. Okay, fine. I was very polite and thanked them for their time and the explanation. My daughter was happy to get me out of there without a scene.

Another example occurred a couple of weeks ago. Our middle school has a new principal who is taking a look at the traditional year-end activities with the aim of saving some money in today's tough economy. Suddenly, when the eighth grade harbor cruise was in jeopardy, Sleeping Tiger Mother woke again.

My daughter's class has had a roller coaster ride since third grade. They have had five principals in as many years. They were displaced because of a long overdue renovation and spent 6th grade in trailers. They've already missed annual "Nights of Excellence," end-of-year "Field Days," and a Boston scavenger hunt. This particular "big cat" didn't think it was fair that they should have yet another celebration pulled out from under them.

So, I roared.

For the record, I am not now and have never been a high-maintenance mom. I don't use public forums (like PTA meetings) to pursue my personal agenda (or air my own laundry). If my daughter gets a low grade on a test or a paper, I don't rush to call or email the teacher. As long as things are fair, I'll stick to my den and snooze. Just be very careful if you wake me up; I have long, sharp teeth.

One more thing. My daughter and her friends are really looking forward to their harbor cruise.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Fifty Fifty

I just turned fifty.


How is that even possible? I look at my daughter and I remember being fourteen. It feels like high school, college, various jobs, various vacations, my wedding ... everything has gone by in a flash. As far as my baby growing up is concerned, well, that flew by too. It's just what they warn you when you're a very new and very tired mommy.

"The days go by slowly, but the years go by quickly."

So in honor of this monumental milestone birthday, I'm going to list fifty reasons why I'm grateful to be fifty. Here goes ...

1. I stayed up late to watch the moonwalk with my parents.
2. I can finally laugh at the fashion disasters I used to choose, buy and wear.
3. Once, thanks to my best friend's mother, I got to meet Mr. Rogers.
4. I don't have to feel guilty if I want to go to bed early.
5. I've probably read 10,000 books.
6. And seen 1,000 movies.
7. And another 500 plays.
8. I don't even try to wear high heels anymore (except on very special occasions).
9. I have dozens of wonderful friends (I know this because of all the Facebook greetings they posted on my birthday).
10. I no longer pretend to like things I don't like.
11. I no longer pretend not to like things I do like.
12. I've seen Elton John in concert 10 times. (I'm still standing.)
13. I'm a published author.
14. I've won a lot of awards.
15. I was one of the first kids on the block to have a Macintosh computer.
16. My daughter friended me.
17. JFK was still our president when I was born.
18. I live near the ocean.
19. I got to say "good-bye" to my dad.
20. I discovered that I actually like tempeh, tofu and quinoa.
21. I once swam with sting rays.
22. I've been to Hawaii.
23. I won the in-law lottery.
24. My daughter is healthy.
25. My daughter is beautiful.
26. My daughter is brave and strong and generous.
27. My daughter is not always happy but she isn't any more unhappy than any other fourteen-year old. (Does that make sense?)
28. I'm addicted to Mad Men.
29. I've watched every episode of The Sopranos, The Gilmore Girls, and Sex and the City.
30. I performed at Mayor Koch's inauguration.
31. I performed in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.
32. My husband and I have been married for almost twenty years and he can still make me laugh.
33. My new asthma inhaler rocks.
34. I have a fabulous funky jewelry collection, which I wear with the implicit understanding that sometimes "More is more."
35. We have the opportunity to support some of the things we care about.
36. I have family members who are more than family, they are friends.
37. I have friends who are more than friends, they are family.
38. Five years ago, I beat c-diff.
39. A couple of years later, I found an antique complete set of Dickens on eBay for $50.
40. I am halfway through said set.
41. Fifty years and I still heart New York.
42. Never an outdoorswoman, I nevertheless discovered that I also heart zip-lining.
43. Between Hunter Elementary, Hunter High and Tufts University, I got me one fine education.
44. We enjoy better living through technology — especially my Keurig coffee machine.
45. I actually campaigned for Shirley Chisolm, one of the first women and the first African American to run for President.
46. I've also met Gloria Steinem, Bella Abzug, Betty Friedan, and Barbara Seaman.
47. As a mother, an employer, a voter and a member of my community, I have an opportunity every day to live up to the examples they set.
48. Then there's chocolate. Lots of chocolate.
49. And wine. Lots of that too.

and, my fiftieth thing, paraphrasing my mother-in-law, is that ...

50. Getting old may be a pain, but it's so much nicer than the alternative.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Pass the Popcorn: Mirror Mirror

Quick! Call Social Services! I let my tween daughter play hooky not one, but two days this week.

Several factors led to this unorthodox parental decision. First of all, my daughter is never sick. She's only been absent once this year (well, three times now, I guess). She just received her third quarter report card, which was pretty stellar (clearly, she took that "If your grades drop, we sell the horse!" ultimatum seriously). Plus, we usually go away for spring break and we always fly the day before school vacation officially begins in order to avoid sky-high fares. So, pulling her out a day or even two early is par for the course.

But, most importantly, I let her ditch (what a colorful bit of slang) because one of her beloved camp friends who lives — a shocking — four states away was visiting Boston with her family. This was far too important to miss because of something as silly as middle school.

So, we arranged for a no-holds-barred reunion: cross-country riding, a late lunch at one of my daughter's favorite Mexican joints, a DVD with lots of less-than-nutritious-snacks, and a sleepover complete with extended hours and time limits on the computer, and a late-night hot tub. The girls had a ball.

At about 10 pm, my husband and I put the fan on in our room to drown out the giggling and left them to their own devices.

All awesome things must come to an end, and indeed the friend's parents showed up late the next morning to collect their overtired tween and drive home. We gave them a quick tour of our historic seaside town and the girls parted, not quite tearfully but with great and mutual affection.

We had lunch and I went back up to my office to work. A couple of hours later, I went down for a coffee (okay, allegedly for a coffee; I confess, I was checking on her). My daughter was half-heartedly watching TV while playing a game on her phone. It occurred to me that this would not be a particularly positive way to start spring break. Since we aren't going away, and since she can't spend every single minute at the stable (believe me, she would if she could), I was worried that we would fall into an abyss of endless "screen time."

"Let's go to the movies this afternoon!" I suggested. A quick call and we were able to enlist the company of one of her BFFs, provided that my husband watch her little brother until their mom got home. (He gamely agreed — in fact, they played chess. How cool is that!?!)

Now technically, I know, a movie is also a form of "screen time." But it's somehow different. You (actively) decide to (actively) go to the movie theatre. In our case, you actually have to drive about 10 miles to the nearest multiplex. The lights dim, the screen is enormous; you have to focus. You can't multitask without inducing the anger of fellow patrons, theatre management and/or those animated characters that show up between the previews and the film you're seeing. "I am the Lorax and I speak for the audience. Be courteous. Turn off your cell phone."

The movie I suggested was Mirror Mirror. Despite some 20 screens, there weren't many other choices. My daughter's already seen The Hunger Games (twice) and I'm forbidden to until I've read the books. Most of the other options appeared to be based on superhero comic books or of the Don't Look Now, You're in the House on Haunted Hill Where Blood Runs Through Every Room variety.

At any rate, I thought a "fractured fairy tale" would be fun. Julia Roberts, after decades of playing America's sweetheart, promised to be over-the-top evil as the queen. And, Lily Collins (whom I can't help but think of as the daughter of Phil, being a product of the 80s myself), seemed enchanting. The handsome twins from The Social Network, a.k.a. solo actor Armie Hammer, played the prince. And, Broadway divo Nathan Lane, who can do no wrong in my book, is the queen's bumbling henchman.

The movie is gorgeous to look at, and there are some clever twists to the familiar story. For example, the evil queen wants to marry the prince.

"We're roughly the same age," she smoothly assures him.

"The same age?" he sputters.

"I said roughly."

Unfortunately, though, the film could have been considerably shorter. At various points, scenes that should have been frightening were played for laughs. But, I did enjoy the reversals. Snow White, as you might expects, stumbles upon a hideout of "giant dwarves" when she runs way from her wicked stepmother. But, she doesn't merely keep house for them. She becomes part of their band of thieves, showing off some pretty fancy swordplay and sporting a kickass Alpine pirate wench ensemble. Go Snow!

After a happy ending, three popcorns, a blue raspberry Slushie and a Diet Coke, we were fairly satiated. On the ride home, we debriefed on favorite scenes. Then, something struck my daughter and her friend and they laughed hysterically for at least ten minutes. I tried my best to figure out what was so funny. To get it. To maybe chuckle a little myself. But, eventually, I gave up.

As the evil queen warned Snow White, "It's important to know when you've been beaten."

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

A Few of Her Favorite Things

When I worked in the cable television industry early in my career (it was the big 80's, you can do the math), I had a dream job. Every month, I received videotapes from HBO, Cinemax, Showtime and the Movie Channel. They contained preview trailers for all the programming that would be on each premium service the following month. I took the tapes into one of the conference rooms, sometimes with my lunch or a snack, and watched them so I could write blurbs about each show for the monthly cable guide. And, I was paid to do this!

Those were the days, my friend.

One of the other things I did was to rewrite lyrics to show tunes for the annual company talent show. (I was paid to do this too!) Some of my greatest hits included Installer on the Roof, The Cable Cabaret, and Little Shop of Cable.

(It occurred to me at the time that rewriting lyrics would be a fantastic job. Unfortunately Weird Al Yankovic beat me to it. With, I might add, hilarious results.)

I still take liberties with lyrics in my spare time, maybe when I'm taking a walk or driving somewhere. So, here (with apologies to Julie Andrews and the late Rodgers and Hammerstein) is my latest homage to one of my favorite movies and one of my favorite people.

My Tween's Favorite Stuff
(sung to the tune of "My Favorite Things" from The Sound of Music)

Gallons of ice cream and raw cookie dough,
Bright red fruit roll-ups. How long will they go?
Never once wondering if she's had enough,
This is just some of my tween's favorite stuff.

Low-rise Hollister's and skinny tank topping,
Days in the mall and endlessly shopping,
And if Mom won't buy it, go off in a huff.
This is just some of my tween's favorite stuff.

When there's homework, when Mom's nagging,
When her hair is "bad,"
She simply remembers her favorite tween stuff,
And then she won't feel so sad.

Riding lessons and shows, that whole horsey scene,
Jumping high fences, making Mom's face go green.
Costs us a fortune, but that's just tough,
This is just some off my tween's favorite stuff.

When there's projects, research projects,
If she hopes to grad,
She simply remembers her favorite tween stuff,
And goes and gets help from Dad.

Ignoring her alarm and getting up late,
Days in the car, blasting Kiss 108!
Is it any wonder her parents are gruff?
This is just some of my tween's favorite stuff.

When you're fourteen and the world sucks,
And you don't care a tad,
Just try to remember a tween's favorite stuff,
And you can feel (almost) glad.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Just When You Thought It Was Safe ...

My daughter didn't sleep through the night until she was six months old. Even after that though, I would wake up multiple times to check on her. I'd tiptoe into her room, bend over her crib, lightly kiss her tiny forehead and whisper "I love you." But, most importantly, I would check to make sure she was still breathing.

(Remember crazy mother Shirley MacLaine in Terms of Endearment? Yep, that was me.)

When you're a relatively new mommy — and a fairly stressed out individual anyway — there are so many things to worry about. Crib death, electrical outlets, choking on grapes or Goldfish crackers. The world is very big when you're suddenly in charge of someone very small.

Having a baby is one of the bravest acts you will ever commit. Truly, you have to do your best every day just to "keep calm and carry on."

Soon enough, my daughter learned where and when to cross a street. How to climb up and down stairs. Not to consume cleaning supplies. Not to touch a hot burner. Of course, I still worried about her, but the constant, exhausting vigilance relaxed a bit. I realize that there are grownup dangers waiting: unprotected sex, alcoholism, drugs both legal and illegal. But, we've already started talking about them (as have years of Health Ed teachers) and we'll navigate those terrifying waters when we get there.

What's on my mind now are stupid things. I don't mean it's stupid for me to worry. I mean that teenagers do some really, really (really, really) stupid things.

Teens drink über caffeinated drinks like Red Bull and Monster and 5-Hour Energy. These are not difficult to get; in fact, they were giving out samples at the base lodge the last time my daughter skied. They can help you stay up late to study or finish homework. And, they do indeed boost energy. But, they do so at the risk of the user's health. In fact, more than one teenager has died recently as a direct result of drinking too much of this so-called "lifestyle in a can."

Teens find new, but certainly not improved, ways to use everyday items. Did you know there are more than 1,000 seemingly harmless household supplies that can be inhaled? From magic markers to nail polish remover to aerosol whipped cream. And, along with the rush a teen may experience when he or she sniffs correction fluid, comes a host of toxic chemicals that can cause serious harm.

The latest stupid thing is called, "The Cinnamon Challenge." In fairness, there are plenty of adults participating in this stupidity, but, my worry is teens and tweens. In case you haven't heard about it, the trick is to ingest a heaping tablespoon of ground cinnamon in under a minute. This is virtually impossible without water and the person attempting it ends up spewing the spice all over themselves in an eruption of coughing. Apparently this is very funny to witness. And, if you go on YouTube, you'll find nearly 35,000 videos of it. One particular challenger, GloZell, has over 12 million hits.

Here are the perceived consequences of taking the Cinnamon Challenge:
• You'll cough and you'll have to drink a lot of water asap
• You'll crack your friends up
• You'll get lots of hits on your Facebook page

Here are the actual potential consequences:
• You'll choke and before you reach the water, you'll die
• You'll vomit
• You'll black out, get pneumonia and wind up in the ICU

If your middle schooler is anything like mine, she or he will demand to know, "So, who died?" No one that I know of, yet. But, several students all over the country have been hospitalized. The same characteristic of cinnamon that makes people practically explode when they try to swallow it makes it particularly dangerous if it's inhaled. It doesn't dissolve once it's in your body, so it can do permanent damage to your lungs.

Cinnamon-raisin bagels? Okay. The Cinnamon Challenge? Not okay. Really not okay.

Teens and tweens are adrenaline junkies. Their need for speed is through the roof while their impulse-control is pretty much zero. They don't think about consequences. They don't worry about the future. (Sometimes, I think they don't worry, period.)

That's why we have to worry for them.

"Lions and tiger and bears and now, cinnamon, oh my!"

Friday, April 6, 2012

Investing in Candy Land

As long as I can remember, I have always had a sweet tooth. Really, I'm one of those people who should never buy chocolate in bulk — because that's how I'll eat it, in bulk. (And that's how I'll look, bulky.)

But, I was always fairly discerning about the sweet treats in which I indulged. No cakes or cookies for me, thank you. I go straight to the hard stuff: dark chocolate or sea-salt caramels or (better yet) dark chocolate-covered sea salt caramels. Why waste the time — or calories — on anything less?

My daughter is not so picky. In fact, she seems to take great pleasure in the very candy that wouldn't even tempt me. Case in point: Pixie Stix.

Pixie Stix, for those of you who aren't aware, are long skinny paper tubes filled with colored sugar. Since they are pretty much 100% sugar, they are very sweet. But, I doubt that sweetness is the allure. They are tactile treats; they are interactive. You have to pinch off the edge of the tube and pour the sugar crystals into your mouth.

Fun, fun, fun.

Of course, all that pure sugar (well, pure except for the artificial coloring they add to make the fun even funner) packs a punch. There's a viral cartoon on the Internet that shows a before and after user and reads, "Fun Fact: Pixie Sticks Were Actually Invented to Spot Future Cocaine Addicts." And, if you ever tune into "Toddlers and Tiaras," you'll see ambitious stage mothers feeding their little darlings sugary juice boxes and what they jokingly refer to as "Pageant Crack." Sometimes 14 or 15 sticks at a time.

That's no joke.

So now, in my never ending quest to make my daughter happy (even at the risk of her perfect teeth), I have become a Pixie Stix enabler. Either that, or I just enjoy a bargain.

Recently, I found 24-packs of Pixie Stix in the dollar aisle at Target. Knowing my daughter and her crew, and their penchant for experiential candy, I bought a package and sent it to school in her lunchbox. I thought it would be a nice surprise. I thought she would enjoy sharing the nice surprise with her friends. I thought that the nice surprise would make me a "cool mom." At least temporarily.

I didn't realize the Pixie Stix would satisfy her entrepreneurial spirit as well as her sweet tooth.

This happened before. I found some tiny flocked bears at a craft store and bought a handful for my daughter. They were a quarter a piece. She immediately set up a little store out of her backpack and sold out the first day. She then presented me with a list of pre-orders for more bears: 8 brown, 5 pink, 2 blue, 6 white ... you get the picture. The problem was that she was charging a quarter a bear. I was paying a quarter a bear. Plus tax. Plus gas. Bottom line? I was the one bailing out the backpack bear business. (The Federal government never stepped in. Not once.)

Apparently we learned our lesson. Not only did my daughter appreciate the lunchbox gesture, she came home a richer young woman. She charged her friends 25¢ per Pixie Stick. Even after I reclaimed my dollar investment, she had still cleared a few bucks. Now this math I liked!

The middle school principal did not like it as much. In his daily rounds through the cafeteria, he spotted my daughter and her friends with their drug of choice. He made them put the candy away and go talk to the Health Ed teacher about why they should make smarter choices.

Uh ... my bad.

Let's face it though. The meteoric rise and fall of my daughter's Pixie Stix business isn't that surprising really. Even without the heavy hand of the law. After all, the merchandise in the Target dollar aisle changes faster than a tween can text. We would have been caught without a supplier sooner rather than later. And, the market is fickle. What's cool today will almost certainly not be cool by tomorrow. In fact, sadly, the fourteen year old girls are about to head into high school and a world that's fraught with crash diets and eating disorders. There probably isn't a place for Pixie Stix there.

But for now, I wonder ... how much do you think we can mark-up Ring Pops?

Monday, April 2, 2012

Parenta Non Gratis

I remember when I was a very popular mom. I remember when my daughter said, "Please" and "Thank you," and actually seemed to enjoy my company.

I remember because that magical time was a mere 40 hours ago.

On Saturday, after my daughter's riding lesson, I took her to the mall. I bought her a cute bra, a pair of wedge sandals for a trip we're planning, a skirt, two pairs of shorts, a few tops, and a tall caramel Frappucino. For that one brief shining moment, we were more than mother-daughter. We were pals, girlfriends, BFFs.

Do I treasure these little excursions? Oh yes.

Am I bribing my tween to be nice to me? Abso-bloomin-lutely!

The rest of the weekend was unusually pleasant too. We went out for tex-mex Saturday night, met friends for brunch Sunday morning, after which, my daughter got to show off her new pony. We chilled at home, baked brownies with white chocolate chips and crushed Oreos on top, and caught up on an episode of Downton Abbey en famille.

Monday morning came (too quickly, as usual) and I still remembered our lovely weekend together. My daughter? Um ... not so much.

Her alarm went off and I could hear her grumbling. I should know better (I really really really should know better) but I couldn't resist peeking into her room. She was standing, looking somewhat stunned, in front of her dresser with puffy eyes and bed-head.

"Hi sweetie," I ventured, stepping down into her room. She glared at me, of course. But I am one fearless mother; I walked right up to her and kissed her on the top of her head.

"Ugh!" she uttered, "You kiss me too much."

Okay then. I retreated downstairs to the kitchen to make her breakfast, pack her lunch and tidy up some dishes that had been soaking overnight. I noticed that her phone had 12 app updates waiting, so I logged into the iTunes account on her behalf. About fifteen minutes later, she stumbled down.

Although we have a no-cell-phones-before-school rule, she is allowed to quickly check and make sure her friend is walking. She immediately noticed the updated apps.

"Why did you update my apps?" she demanded. "I didn't want you to!"

Okay then. I brought her the pizza bagel I had made. "Here you go," I said. Again, she gave me the glare, that affectionate look I know so well. I went to get a coat for her but stopped short.

"Aaaaaaaaaaagh!!!!!" she had screamed from the bathroom.

"What?" I came running.

"My hair!!!!!"

"What about it?"

"It doesn't work!!!!!"

"Can I help?"

"NO!!!!!" She pushed past me and headed back upstairs. Apparently, her hair would "work" better in her own bathroom — and away from me.

A few minutes later, she and the hair had returned. She grabbed her jacket, her backpack and her lunch box, and muttered, "Bye."

"Wait a minute," I advised as I caught up to her by the back door. "I need a hug." She stood stiff and still as I embraced her. For good measure, I planted one more kiss on her cheek.

"Ugh," she said. "You kiss me too much!"

I just smiled which made her turn back and lecture, "Seriously, I mean it. Something has to change around here."

Okay then. I can think of many things I'd like to see change. Our morning routine, the level of civility (or lack thereof) in our home, or maybe her attitude for a start.

But, the kisses? They're not negotiable.