Thursday, June 21, 2012

Vacation Reading

After months of planning, it's finally here. This evening, my teen daughter and I are "leaving on a jet plane." We will spend four days in London, helping a good friend celebrate her bat mitzvah. There's a whirlwind of events planned: dinner, services, a fancy-schmancy party, brunch, and a VIP tour of Parliament (our young friend's uncle is an MP). Then, we're taking the Eurostar to Paris, where we have absolutely nothing planned — but where we expect to have a très magnifique time!

Since I don't know how much wifi access (or writing opportunity) I'll have while we're away, I may not get a chance to update Lovin' the Alien as often as I do at home. So, I've decided to suggest some alternative reading ...

If you're the parent of a tween or teen and haven't had a chance to read Anthony Wolf's book yet, drop everything and go get it right now! Get Out of My Life, but First Could You Drive Me and Cheryl to the Mall? (how wonderful is that title, by the way) is an often humorous and utterly insightful guide to the aliens among us.

I originally heard about this book from a psychologist who spoke at a Parents Center meeting at my daughter's school. I read it in one evening and insisted that my husband read it. He then lent it to another father, whose teenage daughter happened to see it.

"Where did you get that?" she demanded. "It's a horrible book!" Now, that's an endorsement if I ever heard one. There must be some pretty valuable information inside if it can strike fear and/or loathing in the heart of its subjects.

Another worthwhile read is Lions and Tigers and Teens by Myrna Beth Haskell. Taken from her popular, syndicated column, this collection of essays is coupled with comments from her readers, real-life moms and dads. It's a good mix of humor, advice, and observation.

The book was sent my way by a dear family friend who happens to be the publisher. Imagine my surprise when I turned to the very first chapter: "Dealing with Aliens ..." 

And here I thought I was the only mom with an extraterrestrial under my roof.

Happy reading!

Monday, June 18, 2012

Middle School Graduation: Good-bye W

The title of this post has nothing to do with George W. Bush. (Although I was one of the people very happy to say "Adios" to that particular W four years ago!) The W I'm referring to is the one between the T and the two E's in the word "Tween." 

My daughter graduates from middle school tonight. I'm officially calling her a teen from now on.

Where does the time go? When I was on maternity leave, taking long walks with my precious little newborn all snug in her Snugli, mothers would come over to coo. "She's so sweeeeeeeeet." I agreed. "What an aaaaaaangel." I agreed. 

"Enjoy it, they grow up so fast!" 

I smiled and nodded, but I really didn't get it. Those days were long and lonely. She didn't sleep through the night. I was tired and sore; my breasts hurt and I had an inordinate number of stitches that needed to heal. Don't get me wrong, I worshiped her already, but time moved slowly and I was looking forward to her growing up at least a little.

If only. If only I could transport myself back for one day, one hour, one moment even. Hold her tight, gaze at that tiny face, smell her sweet head. These days, I'm lucky to get a half-hearted hug. 

Thank goodness for photo albums. When I look at the often sullen, always beautiful teenager who lives in my house, it's difficult to picture the chubby-kneed toddler who used to twirl and collapse in a fit of giggles. When I see the confident young woman who jumps 3-foot fences at horse shows, it's hard to recall the terrified seven-year-old who competed in her first "lead line" competition. When I barely get a "hello" after school, it's almost impossible to remember the little girl who would run across a room and jump into my arms when I returned from a business trip.

I'm a passionately committed archivist; all of our pictures are in identical burgundy leather binders with the year and volume number stamped in gold on the spine. So many memories. Vacations, family gatherings, school trips, dance recitals. Gymnastics and swimming and archery and piano lessons (and all that money we paid — ugh). There she is on Christmas morning. Here's the first day of preschool. Swimming in the warm water in Bermuda or the frigid water of Maine. Dressed up for a bar mitzvah, dressed down with friends. Not dressed at all on a fur rug. Of course, I'm forbidden to show that one to anybody.

Dozens of my Lovin' the Alien posts talk about the frustrations that come with the territory when you're mothering a tween. But at least a few have expressed how proud I am of her. She is a good person with a good heart. She is smart and courageous and talented. Her room is a disaster area, but underneath all the clothes and magazines and stuffed animals and empty bowls and discarded hair accessories, there is a remarkable young woman who is no longer a tween. My daughter is a teenager.

Heaven help me.

Tonight, my husband and I will sit in the high school field house and watch our daughter and her classmates "move on." We're going to bring her a card and flowers. She gets to choose the restaurant we go to afterwards. Hopefully, she'll pose for some family photos. Hopefully, she won't be too embarrassed if I cry. 

Hopefully, she'll let me hug her — at least a little.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Equality For Some?

Eight years ago, my husband, then 6-year old daughter and I celebrated a rash of weddings. Not because we were at a certain age or had particularly large extended families. It was because we live in Massachusetts, which on May 17, 2004 became the first U.S. state (and only the sixth jurisdiction in the entire world) to legalize gay marriage. Several of our friends who were in loving, committed relationships — that just happened to be same-sex — took advantage of it.

We were all thrilled when one couple asked our daughter to be in their wedding party. My mother found a tiny Dior sample dress and sent it up from New York. The wedding would take place in our friends' lovely beachside garden and our daughter was to be a junior usher along with another older girl we know and love. Our friends gave them each a beautiful crystal starfish pendant as a "Thank you." (I'm sorry to report that my daughter still won't let me borrow hers. But, I digress.)

The day was absolutely glorious and it was one of the most beautiful weddings I've ever attended. The best man was actually the ex-wife of one of the grooms (are you following this?). She talked about her ex-husband and his new husband with an appropriate blend of humor and genuine affection. The ceremony incorporated a blend of traditions and the day included much champagne and gourmet chocolate.

On the Monday after the ceremony, my daughter's daycare provider asked her about it. (Of course, it was all we had talked about for days and weeks prior.) "How was the big wedding?" she queried. "Was the bride beautiful?"

My daughter thought for a minute before shrugging it off, "I don't think there was a bride."

A few years later at sleep-away camp, a bunkmate was expressing her disgust with homosexuality. When my daughter disagreed and told her that she had been in a gay wedding herself, the girl was grossed out. "Why would you do that?"

"Because I love them and they love each other."

Let me tell you, no amount of popsicle stick and Elmer's glue crafts could have made this camper's mother prouder!

In the news today, there's a story about a fifth grader who won a prize for his speech supporting marriage equality. But, despite this fact, his school won't let him present it. He has to write a new, less controversial speech if he wants to move to the next level of the contest.

Here's what bothers me about this. The boy is a student of a public school in the state of New York. The state of New York has legalized same-sex marriage. Does the school have the right to override what the state itself has declared? And aren't they trampling on another right in doing so? Hello ... freedom of speech, anyone?

If you'd like to hear from the eloquent young speechwriter himself, you can find his story (and a video of his originally awarded, now censored speech) at The Raw Story. I don't even know this little boy, but I'm very proud of him.

Since straight marriage has been the butt of jokes for years, I think we should give equal time to gay marriage when it comes to humor. My all-time favorite comment on gay marriage was a New Yorker cartoon. A (heterosexual) husband and wife are watching the news on TV. The husband comments:

"Gays and lesbians getting married — haven't they suffered enough?"

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

The Final Field Trip

Having a child comprises so many "firsts." The first word, the first step, the first tooth. The first day of kindergarten. The first time they go away to camp. These milestones, major and minor, are always exciting and sometimes bittersweet. Each one is a reminder that your baby is growing up.

"Lasts" are a different sort of milestone. They come and go without much fanfare, and then — poof! — a particular ritual is over. One day, you suddenly realize that you haven't read Goodnight Moon for months. Or, that your daughter hasn't held your hand at a crosswalk in years. You wish with all your heart that you could have that last time back so you might stop and savor it.

Well, this week marked the end of another era, but at least I'm aware of it. Chances are, I will never chaperone a school field trip again. In just a few days, my daughter will graduate from middle school. As far as I know, they don't take the high school students apple-picking.

That was my first official field trip, apple-picking. Along with about ten other moms, I chaperoned the Sundance Preschool trip to a local orchard and cider mill. The kids picked apples and watched as they (the apples, not the kids) were pressed into cider. Of course, despite the fact that I had scheduled a personal day, there was an emergency at my office. So, I sat in the back of the school bus on my cell phone (yelling into it in an attempt to be heard over the incredible din of two dozen four-year-olds) for the entire trip back from the orchard.

A couple of years later, I volunteered to chaperone a trip to the Harvard Museum of Natural History. My daughter's class had just finished a unit on Native Americans, so we spent the day looking at artifacts and dioramas. With an hour of free time after lunch, we were able to visit "the stuffed animals," Harvard's somewhat musty old collection of taxidermy. The kids had a blast and my daughter was genuinely happy to have me there with her. In fact, soon after the elementary school field trip, we scheduled a family field trip so that she and I could share everything with her dad.

Once she reached lower middle school, the field trips became a little more ambitious. At the end of fourth grade, the entire class, along with teachers and many parents, climbed Mount Wachusett. My job as a chaperone was to watch out for any kids who seemed to be sunburned, dehydrated or both. Naturally, our hike fell on the single sunniest, hottest day of the year. Although she walked ahead of me with a group of girlfriends, my daughter didn't seem to mind my being there.

Not this time! This time, she very definitely minded. I signed up as a volunteer for the eighth grade's historic walking tour weeks ago, as did my husband. When my daughter found out, she was mortified.

"Pleeeeeeeeeeease don't!" she begged us.

It was too late. I know the women who plan the event each year and it really does require 34 parent volunteers, as well as a host of local educator historians. If my husband and I pulled out at the last minute, it would be difficult to replace us. And, in truth, we were both looking forward to it. I tried to console her with an assurance that we weren't going to be walking with her group. Sadly, this was not much consolation.

"Everyone knows who you are," she muttered.

The day was gorgeous, bright with just enough of a sea breeze to keep us cool on our long walk. We made about a dozen stops throughout our antique town, learning about its pre-revolutionary origins; its roles in the War of Independence, War of 1812 and Civil War; its fishing industry; architecture; and local government. 

Throughout all of this, there was the added allure of a Hollywood feature being filmed. I felt a little sorry for the retired selectman who tried to teach us about the Old Town House just as Adam Sandler walked by. There are also a couple of teen heartthrobs working on the movie: Alexander Ludwig (The Hunger Games) and Taylor Lautner (Twilight). So, even though two of the boys in my group fell asleep (yes, really) during a local lobsterman's presentation, the girls were all on high-alert as we walked around the movie set.

Early afternoon, all of the walking groups ended up at the town's colonial fort for lunch. Crew members from the U.S.S. Constitution made an interesting presentation, followed by two members of the local "living history" militia who demonstrated how to load a musket. We all had lunch and the kids were invited to tour the fort. They were dismissed from there, but my husband and I ducked out. We were fairly certain that there was just no way our daughter would agree to walk home with us. No way, no how. 

They say that youth is wasted on the young. So, apparently, are historic walking tours. Despite what my husband and I both thought was a wonderful, interesting, enriching day, my daughter's attitude remained the same as it was before we started.

"Y'know," I assured her that morning, "I'll try not to embarrass you."

She shrugged her shoulders in defeat. "You already are."

Monday, June 11, 2012

Head in the Cloud

Despite rumors to the contrary, I am only human. I can only handle so much drama at a time. 

So when my daughter's laptop started warning her that the "start-up disk was full," I crossed my fingers and hoped for the best. All I asked was that I could wait three weeks before dealing with it. Just three weeks. 

You see, the next three weeks are going to be a very rocky ride.

First, we have to get through the last ten days of eighth grade, which include a walking tour of our historic town, a semi-formal dinner/dance/harbor cruise, a graduation ceremony and a field day. Then, I have promised to chauffeur and chaperone a visit to a local amusement park with three besties. This on the day before we fly off on our weeklong trip to London and Paris for a friend's bat mitzvah. (What was I thinking?) We then have two whole days free (during which, yours truly will try to get three weeks of work done) before our family sailing trip in Maine. We're sort of using up all our summer vacation plans right at the start of the season. But, that's just the way it worked out.

So, the reader can probably understand my hesitation to schedule a trip to the Apple Store. It was just three weeks, right? Surely, the computer could hang on another three weeks.

No way, Jose.

On Saturday night, the computer decided that we had ignored one too many warnings. It wouldn't turn on.


How can any about-to-graduate-from-middle-schooler possibly survive without her Facebook? Without her Tumblr? Without her YouTube?

Of more concern to me, of course, were the half-finished papers and projects for English, Social Studies and Science. Plus, I was worried that the computer (a 2007 Mac PowerBook that had been my work machine before I upgraded in 2010) might actually be d-e-a-d. Five years is really, really, really old for a Mac. I jumped online and scheduled an appointment at the Apple Store Genius Bar for the following afternoon.

When we got to the mall, it was surprisingly quiet. The weather was glorious, so I'm guessing that any would-be shoppers had bagged in favor of gardening or the beach. We parked, grabbed a quick lunch at the food court, and were about five minutes early for our appointment.

"What seems to be the trouble?" asked our specialist, a young woman with cropped hair, funky jewelry and an air of otherworldly smartness — dare I say, "genius?"

I explained the situation and pulled out my daughter's laptop. Our specialist made a funny sound that I thought meant, "OMG! What a frrrkin' antique! You've gotta be kidding!"

"What?" I said, ready to make a joke about the age of the system if necessary.

"What?" she said back.

It turns out, she had only been clearing her throat. My daughter looked at me with that pained expression I know so well. We were only thirty seconds into our appointment and I had already humiliated her.

The specialist did some diagnostic voo doo and there was my daughter's desktop back again. She asked us to delete as much data as we could. With her guidance, we realized that every photo my daughter had ever taken was sitting on the system twice: in iPhoto and in the Nikon software that had come with her camera. Bingo! We freed up a gig or so and thought we were home free.

Alas, no.

With all the additional capacity, the system still wouldn't start up. The specialist tried a few more things and offered us two solutions. We could purchase a new hard drive for about $200, but she didn't recommend that because of the advanced age and warranty-less state of the system. Or, she could wipe the entire system clean. I looked at my daughter with alarm. She just shrugged.

"Go ahead," she said.

"Waitaminute!" I practically shrieked. "She's going to delete everything you have on there!"

"That's okay," my daughter shrugged again.

"Your pictures?"

"The best are on Facebook. And, most of them are backed up on your system anyway."

"Your videos?"

"On YouTube."

"Your music?"

"In iTunes."

"Your schoolwork?"

"I emailed everything to you to print already. And, I have my rough drafts."

It was official then. She was fine with starting over. 

I thought about a few years ago when I had a terrible accident; an iced coffee with skim milk and Sweet'N Low fell over on my desk and drained itself into my keyboard. I lost everything, everything, everything and I was completely, utterly, inconsolably devastated.

The truth is, I'm still mired in the analog world. I may have thousands of digital documents, but I think of them as "things." I can print them or move them, store them, upload and download them. But, for me they are still part and parcel of the real world. I back-up through an online service, but I also burn discs. I take my laptop with me, but I also bring along paper files. 

My daughter, on the other hand, is a pureblood digital baby. She is completely content to live with her data — and her head — in the clouds.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Hooray for Hollywood

I wasn't able to post earlier this week. You see, I was on the set.

Doesn't that sound cool?

There's a great big movie shooting in our great little town all summer. We haven't seen this much excitement since the U.S.S. Constitution sailed here in 1997. Which is more exciting? Ask my daughter's generation that question and ... well, there's just no question. After all, she doesn't remember boarding the historic boat because she was still t-minus one month old. Yes, I was one of the "lucky" ones who won the lottery to visit Old Ironsides. Negotiating an antique naval vessel when you're eight months pregnant and it's 98 million degrees out is just about as fun as it sounds. Which would be ... Not!

The town had been buzzing about this movie for months. So, when we heard that they were going to use hundreds of extras and that they would give priority to local residents, we rearranged our Mother's Day plans to go to the open call. From then on, my daughter sang a pretty continuous song: "Do you think I'll get to be in the movie? Do you think I'll get to be in the movie?"

A couple of weeks ago, they shot outside the middle school. As parents, we received detailed alternative route information for morning drop-offs and afternoon pick-ups. We were also assured that "the movie people" would not have access to our kids (and vice versa). This was, of course, disappointing to the seventh and eighth graders. But just knowing that the production was on campus, along with occasional glimpses of celebrities from a classroom window, made the day out-of-the-ordinary special.

Of course, that was also the day they started using locals as background actors. Since every self-respecting teen and tween is linked to every other one via Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and text, news spread fast. "im in movie tomrw!!!!!!!!!!!" "got calld 4 movie!!!!!!!!" "me 2!!!!!!!!"

At some point, one hopes that one can feel joy for the successes of others. Alas, that point is not when one is fourteen. For each of the gleeful extras there were at least twenty envious classmates. I'm sure I wasn't the only mother comforting my aspiring movie actress and reminding her that the production would be in town for two more months. The policy was that if you worked in a scene, you would not be called again. So, surely there would be more opportunities. 

Sooner rather than later, we got a call from the casting agency. Could my daughter work the following Monday? Absolutely! Could I be on set with her all day? Absolutely! Could she wear bright colored summer clothing, no logos or store names and bring an extra outfit? Absolutely!

Needless to say, the daughter in question was thrilled. Absolutely.

Our call (that's movie lingo for when we have to be there) changed not once, not twice but four times. Finally, we parked and were taken by a small bus to the "Extras Holding Area," a deserted synagogue now owned by the town next to ours. We sat there for three hours. They brought us snacks. Then, they had us all board another bus and we were taken to a rival middle school. There, they served us lunch and we sat in the catering tent for another few hours. Finally, we were brought into the school gym, where we — again — sat, and where we — again — were brought snacks.

It had been nearly seven hours when a production assistant (that would be "PA" for those of us in the know) came for all the kids. The scene they were going to shoot was the last day of school with kids going in and out of hallway lockers and classroom doors. Clearly, this would take some very subtle and sophisticated acting. Luckily, I had a friend with me (her daughter had been called as well) which made the time go by a little faster.

As we neared the nine hour mark, we were taken to the auditorium, where they were "holding" all the kids who hadn't been shot yet. There was my daughter, looking slightly worse for wear. Her iPhone was dead. She had finished the book she brought. Suddenly, all the kids and all the parents were whisked off the set and back onto buses. In Massachusetts, fourteen and fifteen year-olds can only work nine-and-a-half hours. Our time was up.

I expected some post-drama drama. But, my daughter was actually pretty philosophical about it all. It probably helped that the majority of kids there that day did not make it onto the set. Most just waited around. She still had a good time. She still wants to see the movie. She still hopes to meet some of the stars in the weeks to come. And, she's looking forward to receiving her check just for showing up.

The good news is that because she didn't end up on camera, she is now in a priority pile at the casting agency. They will most likely call her again.

Oh wait ... maybe that's the bad news.

Monday, June 4, 2012

The Why Game

When kids are little, they are incredibly curious creatures. They love to ask the question, "Why?" In fact, no matter what you answer, they come back with the same question, "Why?" over and over. "Why, why, why?" It's like a funhouse room of mirrors and it can go on forever.

"Put your boots on."
"Because it's snowing."
"Because the water in the air froze."
"Because it's 20-degrees out."
"Because it's winter in Vermont."
"Because the Earth rotated and we're not near the sun."

Finally, the mom or dad gives up and answers, "Just because that's how it is." Or the even more honest, "I don't know." It's tough to go from being all-knowing parent to total ignoramus in just a few monosyllabic queries. But, there you have it.

Actually, the so-called "Why Game" is good practice for when your adorable little interrogator grows into a tween or teen. For two reasons, really. First, your adolescent offspring will question everything. And, I do mean every thing. And, second, because by that point, they already know that you know nothing.

But, it's always fun to turn the tables. I have several "Why?"s of my own these days:

"Why does my daughter forget what I've asked her to do ten minutes ago but remembers every promise I've made for the past ten years?"

"Why can't she get up at 6:30 am on a school day when she has no problem whatsoever getting up at 5:00 am to go to an offsite dressage competition?"

"Why can she hear a text message come in when her iPhone is in another room, but can't hear her father calling her to come downstairs for dinner?"

"Why did it take her weeks to finish To Kill A Mockingbird when she read the entire Twilight series over a weekend?"

"Why is she able to clean a horse, his tack and his stall but can't make her bed?"

"Why is she too full to eat the rest of her chicken but still has room for cookie dough, popcorn, ice cream and Skittles?"

"Why does it take her half an hour to get dressed if the whole point is to look like she doesn't care what she's wearing?"

"Why is any suggestion I make 'lame' when the exact same suggestion made by a BFF is greeted with enthusiasm?"

"Why did she miss so many answers on her math test when she can tell me to the penny how much allowance we owe her?"

And my personal favorite (paraphrased from the Colin Firth movie What a Girl Wants) ...

"Why is she so worried about fitting in when she was obviously meant to stand out."

Friday, June 1, 2012

Her Royal Majesty, Super Dope

Pity the printshop responsible for Queen Elizabeth's business cards. Just one of her many official titles is: Her Majesty Elizabeth the Second, by the Grace of God, of Great Britain, Ireland and the British Dominions beyond the Seas Queen, Defender of the Faith. 

But, the Black-Eyed Peas Star has a less formal moniker; he simply calls her "super dope."

I have to agree.

Like a lot of other women my age, I once idolized Princess Diana. In fact, I remember her wedding like it was yesterday. I was working a "graveyard shift" at my college's conference center, sitting the front desk of a dorm-turned-hotel from midnight until 8:00 am. Most nights, I brought magazines, a sketchpad or journal to while away the time. But in the early morning hours of July 29, 1981, I was glued to the television. What a fairy tale it all seemed!

Of course, the world soon learned that in the case of the Prince and Princess of Wales, there was to be no happy ending. And, the media had a field day detailing the former Diana Spencer's flaws. But, despite it all, she re-invented herself into the image of a modern-day royal, one with a big heart and utterly human touch.

When Diana died, I was eight and a half months pregnant with my daughter. I sat on the couch and sobbed as Elton John sang his new interpretation of "Candle in the Wind," "Good-bye England's Rose." (Truth is, by that time pretty much anything — a Hallmark ad, a puppy — made me cry.) The mother of two young sons and a woman who had already affected so many and might have lived to do so much good. By anyone's count, she died too young.

With Diana gone, I cancelled my subscription to Royalty magazine. I resented the Windsors. They didn't know a good thing when they had it! There is simply no way that Diana would have been cavorting about with Dodi Al-Fayed if Charles had been faithful or the Queen had been a warmer mother-in-law.

But, I think I underestimated Elizabeth ...

• While still a princess, she worked tirelessly during and after World War II, not only to contribute to the effort but to rally and comfort her people
• She serves as the constitutional monarch of 16 sovereign states, and head of the 54 members of the Commonwealth of Nations (just think of all the frequent flyer miles)
• She awarded the Beatles Members of the Order of the British Empire 
• She survived her "annus horribilus," including the scandalous separations of her two sons and the devastating Windsor Castle fire
• Despite the fact that she is the traditional head of the Church of England, she has worked to achieve religious tolerance and freedom
• She has owned more than 30 corgis
• And, nobody — and I mean nobody — wears a coat and matching hat quite like she does!

Shakespeare wrote, "Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown." I get the sense that Elizabeth doesn't allow herself to lose any sleep because she knows full well that she needs a full night's beauty rest to get through each day. I sincerely doubt she has ever called in sick.

Over the years, I've definitely mellowed in my opinion of her Majesty. (I still can't quite stomach her eldest son, though.) Today, I find much to admire in Elizabeth. She has served her nation and her people with a sense of lifelong duty that we would be hard-pressed to find in many leaders of this country. She works her royal butt off. She is smart and can be quite funny. And, this weekend, she will celebrate 60 years on the throne. 60 years. That's a lot of tea and crumpets.

My tween daughter and I are heading to London at the end of June for a bat mitzvah. After three days of festivities, we'll have just about 36 hours to do any sightseeing before we head off. We are going to try and see a play, do some shopping, visit a museum. And, although it's been many (many, many) years since my daughter dressed up as a princess, Buckingham Palace is also on our list.

It's rather high on our list.