Friday, December 27, 2013

Most News is No News, 2013's Biggest Non-Stories

When my now teenage daughter was little, I tried to shield her from the news. 

In my opinion (and personal experience) most of the news on TV is designed for two purposes, neither of which is to make us intelligent or informed. Televised news stories get the networks more eyeballs ("Stay tuned for exclusive fast-breaking story available only here at WXYZ, your local authority on all news, all the time ... blah blah blah.") and/or to get the owners of those eyeballs to buy anti-anxiety medication from pharmaceutical company sponsors. 

Yep, I'm a wee bit cynical about it. And not just because I love the movie Broadcast News either. But, of course, I do!

As any parent paying any kind of attention will tell you, shielding our kids from pretty much anything is a losing battle. When the twin towers fell on 9/11, my daughter's preschool sent home a note. They would not address the terrorist attacks in class. If we chose to at home, they asked that we impress upon our children that they not bring it up among their playmates. The very next day, I walked in and saw an elaborate construction (or deconstruction) project in the center of the Pre-K floor. Skyscrapers of blocks were under attack by toy airplanes as little dolls dove to their death.

Clearly all the children had been shielded from the news. Yeah, right.

My daughter is still not very interested in the news (unless it arrives via text from a friend), but she does learn about current events in various classes. We have political discussions at dinner. She has actually been known to look at a newspaper. Yes, a paper one, really. But, I still prefer not to have the nightly news on. Not because of real stories: the Boston Marathon Bombing, the Papal Congress, the war in Syria, nuclear missile threats. Not because of important political issues: gun control, the Affordable Health Care Act, the Federal Government furlow. 

No, I can't abide the news because of all the manufactured trash.

I'm not talking about magazine shows on entertainment channels. I'm talking about national news. This year, in particular, we have made mountains out of not-exactly-newsworthy molehills. Some of the biggest headlines are just plain laughable. Haircuts? Tweets? Twerking?  

Here are my Top 10 So-Not-News Stories for 2013. Let's take a quick trip down recent memory lane ...

10. Jennifer Lawrence's haircut. OMG! Stop the frrrrkin' press. A haircut! Whoa. 

9. Miley Cyrus showing off her buff and barely legal body in  her nude video "Wrecking Ball." In a way, it's a shame. I actually like the song. Then again, if I looked like that, maybe I'd want to show and share too.

8. Toronto Mayor Robert Ford who admitted to smoking crack "probably in one of my drunken stupors," and went on to quite explicitly describe why he didn't need to eat out. Um ... Mr. Ford, TMI, baby. TMI.

7. Miley Cyrus twerking with giant toy teddy bears and Robin Thicke on the MTV Video Music Awards. The performance was ridiculous and arguably inappropriate — and drove more than 300,000 tweets a minute. Say what?

6. The Royal Baby. Okay, I confess that I was caught up in all the Wills and Kate pregnancy drama. And, I was really hoping for a girl. She would have been the first female heir to the throne by her own worth, not because she happened to be brotherless. Ah. Maybe next time.

5. Miley Cyrus and her public feud with Sinead "I'm saying this in a maternal way" O'Connor. Ladies, ladies. Can't you agree to disagree (and agree that either way, there's no such thing as bad publicity)?

4. Paula Deen's n-word. Is it cool that her down-home Southern charm included a heaping helping of good old-fashioned racism? Of course not. But do what you need to do (fire her, boycott her, whatever) and move along already.

3. Miley Cyrus and her break-up with fiancé Liam Hemsworth. In an interesting confluence of not-really-news news, Hemsworth plays Gale in the wildly successful Hunger Games movie franchise. In it, he's the hometown honey of one Katniss Everdeen, portrayed by non other than Jennifer Lawrence who ... wait for it ... got a new haircut! OMG!

2. Kim and Kanye (or anyone else related to a particular K-family that we all know, although I for one am not sure why). 

And, of course, while she may have lost to His Holiness for TIME's Person of the Year, the biggest winner as far as column inches (or whatever the Internet's equivalent is) was, you guessed it:

1. Miley Cyrus. This young lady won the non-news lottery. She's the one we love. She's the one we hate. In 2013, she's the one laughing ... all the way to the bank.

'Hope you had a very Miley Christmas and best wishes for a twerktastic New Year.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Glad Tidings

As my regular readers know, "Lovin' the Alien" is purportedly about my daughter. In reality, it's more about my experience living with (and loving) a teenage girl. 

In this post, however, I'm going to talk about a teenage boy.

When my daughter was little, we had it pretty easy. She was polite and well-behaved. She was sweet and compliant. She was always neat and tidy. (Until she started riding horses, but that's a mess of a different color.) Friends with boys her age had another situation — not to mention loads more laundry — on their hands. 

We go skiing every year with good friends who have twin boys. Once, when the kids (theirs and ours) were about eight-years old, my daughter came running into our bedroom, frantic. "They're fighting!" she exclaimed.

"Well," I told her, always cool in a crisis (yeah, right), "That's what siblings do. Especially boys."

"No," she shook her head, wide-eyed, "You don't understand. They're going to kiiiiilllllll each other." Of course, they didn't. But, it was still a fairly traumatic wake-up call.

"Just wait," older, wiser parents warned us. "Girls are easier when they're small. But the teen years will be payback. In abundance."

Sure enough, we've had a much rockier roller coaster in recent years. All emotion, all the time. Highs are high. Lows are lows. Nothing ever seems to be moderate to middling for very long.

On the flipside, I've never envied my friends whose sons become sullen and incommunicative as they move through adolescence. Yes, that might be easier to live with, at times. But, I'd rather have my daughter stomping about or in tears than silent (shhhhhh, please don't tell her). This mother can't stand closed doors. While girls, and my own in particular, tend to wear their hearts on the sleeves of their overpriced North Face Denalis, boys seem to avoid emotion at all costs. At least this is what I thought.

Today, I stand corrected.

A 16-year old in Australia just wrote a compelling letter to his community after reading about local parents who didn't think they had enough money to give their children a good Christmas. Here's what he told them on the Sunny Coast Community Board:

SO, I've been seeing a lot of posts about people having troubles around Christmas and them being worried about their kids getting presents.

I am 16 and when I was a kid growing up my family didn't have lots of money and when my mum left my dad we were living on nothing but Centrelink payments, so as a result through my childhood money was always tight. 

I can tell you that my childhood was still amazing because it was never about the money or having fancy things. When Christmas came around, my mum would wrap everything up - new school bags, stationery and broken toys and me and my brother loved it!

When you're living rough and you are worried about what your kids think, I'd like you to know some of my best memories are of broken chairs when the top didn't fit to the frame so it was an adventure to sit down; of couches that if you didn't sit on the frame you would fall through and of TV sets that you had to hit to get working and that had two channels.

As long as you make sure your kids know you love them and all of you are still laughing, your kids will remember their childhood as brilliant.

I promise every parent it's not about the money, it's about being a family.

So you should all stop worrying about whether you can get your kid the best present worth a $100.

Christmas will always be amazing for your kids, even if what you get them is from the $2 shop.

Everyone have an amazing Christmas and remember how great Christmas is, isn't decided by how much you spend.

Wow. All I can say is that Ben must have one proud mamma right about now.

I'm reminded of wise words from another teenage boy, this one Alfred, the hapless janitor from Miracle on 34th Street:

Yeah, there's a lot of bad 'isms' floatin' around this world, but one of the worst is commercialism. Make a buck, make a buck. Even in Brooklyn it's the same - don't care what Christmas stands for, just make a buck, make a buck.

With the guidance of the Bens and Alfreds in this world, let's try not to focus on Christmas cash (or the lack thereof). Let's look instead at how we can make the holiday warmer inside our homes and out.

Thank-you, Ben. Thank-you, Alfred.

Have a brilliant Christmas!

If you enjoyed this post, order a copy of my new book Lovin' the Alien at

Friday, December 20, 2013

None For Me, Thanks — Teenage Tastebuds

Hey working moms (yes, that's all of you)! Y'know those critically important things they tell you about childrearing that seem deliberately designed to make you feel inferior if not a total failure? Here's one ...

"You absolutely positively have to sit down to dinner as a family every single solitary night." 

Ha ha ha.

When my daughter was little, this was near to impossible. By the time either my husband or I picked her up from daycare (after an hour-plus commute apiece), we were on a very tight timeframe, a countdown to bedtime that had little room for a long, leisurely meal together. Typically, one of us would set out dinner for her, while the other put things away and drew a bath. Our evening rituals were nice, but they rarely included breaking bread as a family unit.

It's easier now (and has been for several years, actually). I run my agency business from home and my husband is a marketing consultant. We sit down for dinner together more evenings than not. And, I kinda sorta see the benefits everyone was raving about. We hear about my daughter's day, her school workload, her riding schedule, her babysitting gigs, her hopes, her dreams (well, maybe not so much those last two). In theory at least, cell phones are not permitted in the dining room. We even try to light candles and play music to add atmosphere. It's all very civilized. 

Except when it's not.

Our family tends to bicker, as families are wont to do. Lately, many of the little observations that become issues that become full-blown disagreements revolve around my daughter's evolving appetite. Or lack thereof.

When she was little, I have to admit, my daughter had a rather limited palate. She ate fruit, macaroni and chicken nuggets. Many, many chicken nuggets. (Fear not, these weren't of the golden arches mystery meat variety. They were  organic and overpriced. But, still ... how many nuggets can one toddler take?) As each new food item was added to her "yes" list, we rejoiced. Life became progressively easier. For example, did you know that you can get a chicken Caesar salad at pretty much any restaurant anywhere? 


The trend continued upwards. She liked mexican food (no wonder — cheese, glorious cheese). She liked japanese food (edamame, miso soup, even sushi). In Paris with me eighteen months ago, she enjoyed croissants and crepes and soupe à l'oignon (see previous comment — fromage, glorious fromage). To my surprise, she liked broccoli. To my husband's horror, she liked beets.

But suddenly we seem to be losing ground. Here, in no particular order, is a short list of menu items that are ... well ... no longer on the menu:

• Eggs in any shape or form (except maybe mixed into uncooked cake batter)

• Bagels (unless they're from Dunkin' Donuts — sorry, but I have to pull a native New Yorker nutty here; those are NOT bagels, no way, no how)

• Pop-tarts (not even the chocolate chip cookie dough ones, a truly revolting take on a fairly revolting food)

• Kiwis (this we learned after buying six of them on sale)

• Roast beef sandwiches (but she'll still do turkey or ham and cheese ... at least this week)

The list goes on, and grows, seemingly, weekly. I've never been a "clean your plate club" mother. I've never made her sit at the table until her food is gone, I've certainly never served a rejected meal, reheated, the next day. But her mysterious changing tastes do irritate me. As does any food we have to throw away because we didn't get the latest memo.

I know I should be grateful. My child has no food allergies. She has no food sensitivities. She's just a picky teenage eater ...

Who has an overindulgent mother.

If you enjoyed this post, order a copy of my new book Lovin' the Alien at

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

There But For The Grace Of God Lies Your Daughter

In my life, yesterday was a regular day, a blessedly regular day. As per usual, I was overcommitted (overtired). I worked all day: writing ad copy, ordering promotional items for one client, brainstorming a new campaign for another. At 2:45, I rushed out to pick my teenage daughter up at her high school and drive her to an eye doctor appointment. From there, we hurried home so she could change and I could get through ten extra minutes of work emails. Then, I loaded up my laptop and some folders and we raced off to the stable. My daughter rode her horse for an hour while I took advantage of the WiFi at a neighboring Dunkin' Donuts. Along the way, I lost a hat and downed a large decaf hazelnut.

Just another day for you and me in paradise. 

On the drive back home, my daughter was all over her phone, checking Facebook, Instagram, Tumblr, etc. etc. Again, this was business as usual. Then, she looked up.

"Mom," she said. "A girl from Vershire was shot."

"What do you mean, shot?"

"In one of the shootings. In Colorado."

Let's stop for a moment and look at just how much impossible content passed between us in those sixteen seconds. Vershire is a lovely little town in Vermont, where my daughter and a hundred or so likeminded young equestriennes attended summer camp. One of these girls had been shot. In "one of the shootings." It's obscene (yes, that's the word I want: offensive and disgusting) that the phrase "one of the shootings" even comes out of my daughter's mouth. "One of" because there has been more than one. "One of" because there have been so many, we are losing track.

"Are you sure that's true?" I asked, doubtfully, hopefully.

"Yes. They posted #PrayForClaire."

She proceeded to tell me that the victim, Claire Davis, went to the Vermont riding camp the year before she did. Now, this 17-year old is in a coma. She is in critical condition with severe trauma from a point-blank gunshot to her head. She happened to be in her high school's hallway when the school shooter (a phrase that's becoming horrifyingly familiar) was headed to the library.

There are too few degrees of separation between Claire and my daughter. There are no words that can begin to penetrate this darkness. 

We send our most sacred possessions to schools each day. Schools should be the safest places in our country. They are fast becoming shooting galleries. For the crazed, gun-toting psychopath, a school is now the equivalent of picking off fish in a barrel. And, those trapped, helpless fish are our children.

After Newtown, parents and politicos spoke out about gun control. A year later, it is even easier to get a gun than it was then. What the hell? According to The New York Times, we lose the same number of lives lost in Newtown to gun violence every eight hours. The United States owns more guns per resident than any other nation in the world. And, whether it's in an elementary school or a home, children between the ages of five and fourteen in the U.S. are more likely to die from a gunshot than children in other so-called developed countries. Eleven times more likely. Eleven. Times.

Who will fix this? Not the Republicans. Not the Democrats. Maybe it will be the mothers. I just googled "Mothers Against Guns" and pulled up more than two million hits. I'm joining one of those organizations today.

Personally, as a mother, as a woman, as a human being, I'm against all guns. But, you want to go out and shoot a deer (and then, for heaven's sake, you might as well eat the poor thing), go for it. I'm not talking about hunting. I'm not talking about our founding fathers who had to protect their right to own muskets while the colonies were occupied by an armed army. I'm talking about weapons of mass destruction. Would you fight to allow people to walk around with bombs? How about pressure cookers with nails and broken glass inside?

How is it any consolation to the mother of a school shooting victim that her baby was killed with a legal semiautomatic weapon and not by an amateur terrorist with an Internet connection?

One of the Sandy Hook mothers created a powerful video, a tribute to her lovely little girl called "Evil Did Not Win." This woman is so brave and so good. I admire her ability to find love and even God in the aftermath of unspeakable evil. I hope she's right, that evil didn't win. But, I believe with all my heart that we have to build a stronger fortress between that evil and our children.

My daughter's school had a lock-down drill a week or so ago. As her principal suggested in his weekly email, we "debriefed" afterwards. "Was it weird?" I asked her, "Was it scary?" She rolled her eyes "It was just a drill."

I long for the day that our schools don't "prepare for the worst." When we can focus instead on preventing the worst. When phrases like "school shooting" aren't so hauntingly familiar.

One more thought for those of you who still defend guns in the name of rights. Your right to bear arms? What about my right to bear a child, send her to school and not fear for her life?

#PrayForClaire. Pray for all our children.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

We Three Trees

Ask any of my friends and they'll tell you. I'm a tree nut. Not a professional arborist or even an amateur hugger. My love for trees is confined to one particular season and one particular tree: Christmas.

My first tree, aside from the gorgeous ones my mother and father always had when we were growing up, was tiny. And when I say tiny, I mean maybe 18-inches high, in a foil wrapped pot. It had a half-dozen lights, little red and gold gifts, and one wooden ornament, a rocking horse with the year 1984 delicately painted on its base. My then boyfriend's mother bought it for our shoebox of an apartment in the East Village. (In hindsight, I don't think it was technically a tree. I think it was a baby arborvitae, a fairly resilient shrub, eight of which now line my driveway.)

At any rate, this whet my appetite for bigger and better Christmas trees. The next year, I was living (alone) in a single, grand-scaled room on Beacon Hill. My kitchen was an alcove, my bathroom not much bigger, but I had 14-foot ceilings. Despite a lack of ornaments (I owned just the single one mentioned above), I bought an enormous evergreen and bribed some work friends to help me drag it up the hill to my apartment. I then started my tree-trimming party tradition. "Bring or make an ornament" the invitations read. Some people went all out with heirloom quality baubles. Others engineered odd configurations of matchbook covers, ribbons, seashells, and photos. One particularly artsy coworker made a ball out of wire and dangled a deer thigh bone from it. Sounds kind of gross, but it was actually handsome and dramatic. 

I kept and treasured everything.

Years went by; I acquired a much better boyfriend (who became my husband), a starter house, a puppy, a baby, and the larger home we have now. The annual tree-trimming party continued. In fact, in the past 28 years, we've cancelled only once because I was in the hospital with the world's most tenacious intestinal infection. Eventually, we had a second tree, then a third, then four of them. Eventually, we stopped asking for ornaments and partnered instead with a local toys for tots drive.

Did you stop reading when I mentioned four trees? I wouldn't blame you. I agree, it sounds like a lot. But, we live in a rambling antique house. The rest of the year, it's heavy on the shabby and less so on the chic. But, at Christmas, it is something out of a storybook or at the very least an issue of Victoria magazine. With decades of ornaments, we're able to create themes. The living room tree which sits in a bay window, pays homage to our coastal town with ships, shells, fish, and mermaids. The tree in our guest room is the most feminine, displaying angels, antique dolls, and garlands of blown glass pearls. Our dining room tree is predominantly red with an eclectic collection of Santas, Day of the Dead skulls, vintage toys, and dachshunds.

And then, there's my daughter's tree. We started with something fairly modest (she was only a year old when we moved here). It was covered in twinkling colored lights and teddy bears. A couple of years later, she requested a full-sized tree, pointing out that her room has the highest ceiling in the house (it was originally a separate building, brought to the site and added on at the turn of the last century as an artist's loft; she has an open ceiling with exposed beams). As her passions evolved, the tree eventually became home to a collection of fairies and then — of course — horses. We probably own every horse ornament ever made.

This time, as the holiday drew near, my daughter announced that she did not want a tree. No way. No how. "How about just a little one?" I cajoled. No.

As corny as it sounds, her decision broke my heart. Not literally in two, but it took a sizable chip off of it. I've always tried to create holiday traditions that she'll remember. Like our yearly trip to The Nutcracker with her grandmother, our "Christmas Eve Gift" contest, our annual party, and our multiple trees.

It's her room, she insists. It's her life. 

I try to act like it's no big deal. I must confess, I'm not very good at it. But, we move forward. We choose three trees; we put up three trees; we trim three trees. We are living in a time of rapid change around here. We are all (certainly my husband and I, but also my daughter) on a roller coaster countdown to the day she leaves for college. I know I let these small decisions she makes carry more weight than they should. I'm working on it.

What's the worst that can happen? She'll stand by the 'no tree for me' edict for the next two Christmases. Then she'll be off somewhere. Christmas will have new and precious meaning as I count the days until her holiday vacation from college.

And, there's a very good chance she'll come home to find a tree in her room.

If you enjoyed this post, order a copy of my new book Lovin' the Alien at

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Working Mothers and Other Nut Cases

Having grown up in New York City, I'm used to crazies. On the sidewalks, on the subways. In delis and doorways. Some are angry. Most are harmless. All are really sad.

Greater Boston isn't immune to these characters. They panhandle at intersections and I slip them a couple of dollars when I can. I keep a roll of ones in my glove compartment just for this purpose — right next to my precious Sacred Heart of Blessed Jesus Auto League medallion, a gilded plastic premium item I once received in a direct mail fundraising package. 

It can't hurt, right?

These encounters aren't confined to cities either. I spend an inordinate amount of my life in a Dunkin' Donuts on Boston's North Shore. It's about a mile from my teenage daughter's stable and has WiFi. I typically order a large hazelnut decaf with skim milk and nurse it for the hour and a half or so that my daughter needs for tacking, riding and untacking her horse, typing away on my laptop all the while. This particular "Dunks" attracts the usual suspects: high school students buying super sweet frozen Coolattas, young mothers breaking soft bagels into pieces for their toddlers. And, of course, a handful of crazies.

One older gentleman comes and sits with me sometimes. The restaurant has a half dozen or so tables for two. I'm only a single, obviously, and if the whole place were full and someone really needed a seat and the seat across from me was the only empty seat left in the entire place ... well, that makes sense. Right? But no, this dude comes and sits across from me when there's no one else sitting down at all. The first time it kind of freaked me out. Now, I just roll with it.

There's also a young woman who sits alone at the other end of the donut counter. We're maybe twenty, thirty feet apart. But, this doesn't stop her from talking to me ... FULL VOICE.

"DO YOU KNOW WHAT I'M DOING THIS AFTERNOON?" she yelled to (at) me across the store the other day.

"Uh ... no," I shrugged with a friendly face.


"Uh ... no."


Truth. Crazy, but ... truth.

So, here I am, the only sane person in the bunch. At least, that's what I tell myself. Until I take a closer look. 

I'm usually in the middle of a hundred different things when my daughter shows up at my office door with that impatient "Mo-o-om, we're going to be late" 'tude, so it's rare that I arrive at the donut shop in what you might call a pulled together state. Often I'm still in yoga pants and a sweatshirt purloined from my husband. Chances are, I've thrown the work I need in a tote bag and have my arms full with laptop, cables, and mobile phone. 

Have office, will travel. Welcome to the 21st century.

Once I acquire my tasty beverage, I tend to spread out at one of the tiny tables (unless, of course, my gentleman caller mentioned above happens to be there). But from then on, everything I do is perfectly rational. Absolutely normal. N-o-r-m-a-l. For example ...

I write advertising copy, and then read it (out loud) to make sure I've said what I think my client needs to say. It's very important to read aloud, you know. That's how you catch awkward phrases. The process itself isn't awkward at all. Especially in public.

If there's no agency work to be done, I go through back issues of The New Yorker, dissecting each magazine and creating piles: to read, to toss, to pass along. No one minds the tearing sounds, do they? And, the activity certainly doesn't resemble anything related to OCD, right?

Work or play, my behavior is completely apropos. And heaven forbid I use the time to actually relax. "Too much time, too little to do." Wait! Reverse that.

Of course, all of this busy work does lead to a certain amount of stress. But, that's okay.

I can always go bowling.

If you enjoyed this post, order a copy of my new book Lovin' the Alien at

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Think Twice, Text Once

About twelve years ago, I was running a much larger ad agency than I do today. There were good things about it: a schnazzy office, a corporate credit card, a reason to wear something other than yoga clothes. There were also significant downsides ... 

45 creative, passionate people. 45 sensitive, supersized egos. 

In a word ... drama.

One afternoon, a vice president account director rushed into my office in a panic. "What do I do? What do I do?" It wasn't so much about what he needed to do as it was about what he had already done. He'd received an unfortunate email from a colleague. When I say "unfortunate," I mean she was snotty, stubborn, downright condescending. He immediately forwarded her email to me (I was his and her supervisor) with a snide observation including a term that rhymed with Ducking Rich (hint: try an F and a B). As often happens in the wonderful world of email, he did not in actuality send it to me. He accidentally sent it back to her.

"What do I do? What do I do?"

When email became the norm for interoffice communication, we had to teach all of our staff some new rules for this new world. Don't use all caps (IT WILL SEEM LIKE YOU'RE SCREAMING). Never hit "reply all" unless you really, truly, absolutely, unequivocally want to reply all. Don't hit "send" without proofreading the message first. Don't say anything negative about clients or coworkers (or the Bush administration). 

And, perhaps most important, never put anything in email that would be better communicated in person.

Alas, our teens need similar guidelines in their all-text, all-the-time social lives. There are many conventions (and assumptions) that I don't understand. (For example, did you know that if you include a period in your text sentiment it means that you're mad? Ugh, I can't keep track. Period.) But, what I do understand is how words can clear things up or muddy them completely. How you can diffuse a potential storm or stir one up out of seemingly nothing at all.

And, in this at least, my daughter recognizes and truly appreciates that I can help.

Typically, my intervention (she actually seeks it out, believe it or not) occurs in the car when I'm driving her somewhere. Or she bursts into my office — whether I'm on a conference call or not — distraught because so-and-so misunderstood what she said about what's-her-name. "What do I do? What do I do?"

While I hate to see her so distressed, I welcome these opportunities to teach her about all the nuances of effective communication that they simply do not cover in the Honors English program. Like ...

• Giving the other person a graceful way to save face (even when you think they are — and should admit they are — utterly in the wrong).

• Apologizing for any misunderstanding (even when you believe that any such misunderstanding is theirs and not yours).

• Backing away from a conflict (even when it would be way more satisfying to stay and fight it out).

• Realizing that less really is more (even though you have so much more you want, need, frrrrkin' must say).

• And, finally, giving up a new argument in order to save an old friendship. 

Teen girls (I can only speak for the girls; it may be very much the same for teen boys) are all about the drama. They are quick to find offense and not always quick enough to forget it. And girls like my daughter wear their hearts on their sleeves. Or, these days, on the text screens of their iPhones.

With careful wordsmithing, together, we have extricated my darling girl from many a thorny text situation. She appreciates this ("She likes me. She really likes me.") and I derive more than a little satisfaction from our successes.

It's nice to feel that mother knows best once in a while ... even if it's only once in a very, very long while.

If you enjoyed this post, order a copy of my new book Lovin' the Alien at

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

The Rise of Technology; The Fall of Authority

There comes a time when confidence evolves into self-satisfaction, which evolves into smugness, which evolves into downright hubris.

I've written about hubris before (with regard to airport security and pierced ears). It's a concept that has stayed with me since Mr. Zarker's Greek and Roman Comedy course back at Tufts umpteen years ago. 

(Yes, "umpteen" is a real word. As is "hubris.") 

Hubris is what happens when someone is so boastful, so sure of his or her superiority, that they momentarily forget that they are a mere mortal. This, naturally, pisses off the gods and our hero or heroine comes to a rather bad end. Whether she knew the term or not, my Scottish grandmother believed in hubris. "Pride goeth before a fall, Jimmy," she warned my father when he got into art school, when he got his first Broadway show. Luckily, my dad wasn't quite so superstitious. Or Greek. (Or Catholic.)

Well, I've been guilty of some hubris of my own with regard to monitoring my teen daughter's use of technology. We were fairly early adopters (my daughter would disagree) and fairly generous with the devices (again, my daughter would disagree). She got her first iPhone when she turned 13 at the beginning of middle school. As with any acquisition of something she was desperate to have, there was peace. She learned that beloved little device inside and out. It wasn't long before the grownups were going to her for tech support.

Nevertheless, we had rules. Her MacBook (my old laptop from work, reconditioned for her) already had parental controls on it. She had a prescribed, limited number of hours per day (slightly more on weekends) and the thing shut off — snap! — at 8:00 pm each night. Any additional screen time required a password that I, and I alone, knew.

We thought we could manage the iPhone in a similar — if more analog — way. The rule was: all phones (my husband's and mine, as well as hers) were plugged in and powered up in the kitchen. No phones in bedrooms overnight. And, for the first couple of years, we enforced the same 8:00 pm curfew on the iPhone. This is where my own hubris comes in.

Other mothers would wring their hands over their daughters' non-stop texting. ("Oh, we set rules early on," I'd brag. "We have parental controls. We have device curfews." Yada yada yada. Hubris, hubris, hubris.) Then ...

High school!

Everything changed. Suddenly, my daughter needed Internet access late into the night. What ever happened to textbooks and mimeographed handouts? With all due respect to saving the rainforest, it was a lot easier to parent before homework went digital.

Okay, so she needs her laptop. I can still be strict about the phone right? Wrong! You see, today's "smart" phones make yesterday's rules seem downright "dumb." Here are all the reasons why she needs ("neeeeeeeeds") her iPhone on those late homework nights:

• Her phone is now her stereo. Good-bye CDs. It's all about iTunes and streaming digital radio. And, bien sûr, she simply must have her music to study.

• Her phone is now her camera. This is germane because she often takes pictures of pages from her ridiculously heavy textbooks rather than lug those same books home.

• Her phone is how she communicates with classmates when they have questions about assignments or are working on a team project. They group text, the teen equivalent of a conference call or (God forbid) an actual live get-together.

And, last but not least, her phone is an Internet browser. If I suggest that she use the laptop for research rather than the phone, she rolls her eyes to say "You don't get it." Apparently I don't.

The thing is, even if I enforced the no-phone rule and allowed her to use the laptop, we would be in the same pickle. Her laptop is an Internet browser, of course. But, it's also a portal to Facebook and all her other social media. With Skype and LiveChat, it's also a phone. Basically, the promise of convergence that helped create (and eventually pop) the dot com bubble is alive and well in my daughter's bedroom. This creates much convenience for the teens and much confusion (and consternation) for the parents.

So the question is ... the next time I need her to "get to bed already," do I call her? Text her? Skype her? Post it on her Facebook wall? 

Nah. I'm an analog girl; I'll just yell up the stairs.

If you enjoyed this post, order a copy of my new book Lovin' the Alien at

Monday, December 2, 2013

Pass the Popcorn: The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

Let me start this post by quoting my teenage daughter.

"Hunger Games: Catching Fire. I'm speechless."

She did find her voice a moment later, though, and declared it "Frrrrrrrrrrrrkin' brilliant."

My daughter, like teens everywhere from what I'm told, is a rather impatient young person. So, when The Hunger Games: Catching Fire opened last week, she had to see it right away. Right! Away!

However ... my daughter, like teens everywhere, is also not very skilled at planning ahead. So, while it was never a question that she would see Catching Fire on its opening day (if not a sneak preview screening the night before), it became very much a question when our town's tiny cinema was sold out. Sold! Out!

Enter her dear mamma, a.k.a. the enabler. I found seats at a larger multiplex a few towns away. Word spread and I was suddenly putting several tickets on my American Express. The initial plan was that we would drive the eager fans to the theatre, then have a nice dinner somewhere. Another parent was slated to pick them up.

The odds were never in our favor.

Turned out there were too many teens (and not enough seatbelts). Only one adult would be able to go. It also turned out that the game plan had changed. We were now on call for pick-up, not drop-off. My husband marched around in self-righteous indignation, and then settled in for a casual dinner and some DVR catch-up before heading off to retrieve the moviegoers at 10:00 pm. (Father of the Year Award, anyone?)

I was already half asleep when my family returned, but I heard all about the film the next day. In fact, in an act of extremely effective manipulation, my daughter coerced me into buying another round of tickets, this time for the two of us. "I can't wait for you to see it," she cooed. "You're going to lo-o-o-o-ove it." We'd seen the first Hunger Games together, and she didn't hesitate to play the 'it's our tradition, Mom' card. Was I fooled by her sudden interest in my happiness? Of course not. Did I buy the tickets? Of course.

We were supposed to see this wonder of modern moviemaking Sunday night. Imagine my surprise when she came to me Friday with another request. A different set of friends were going that evening. Could she go? Oh, and by the way, could I put the tickets on my charge card? As per usual, I was the best mother in the world ... for about twenty minutes.

To give credit where credit is due, when it finally was my turn to see Hunger Games: Catching Fire, I had to agree that it is an excellent movie. Jennifer Lawrence is the real deal — a fine actress, an apparently down-to-Earth young woman, and the star of a gazillion dollar Hollywood franchise. The movie was exciting and surprisingly well-written. I actually enjoyed it. My daughter, round three, was (again) enthralled. 

The thing is, I remember being so completely obsessed with movies. I saw the Who's Tommy several times when it came out (I won't say when), and my theatre friends and I went to the midnight showing of Rocky Horror every single Saturday for over a year. Who am I to throw stones? (Rice, maybe, playing cards, maybe, but not stones.)

When it comes to my daughter getting what she wants from me, the odds are always in her favor.

If you enjoyed this post, order a copy of my new book Lovin' the Alien at

Friday, November 29, 2013

The Alien Has Landed! (Just In Time For The Holidays)

Something very exciting happened earlier this month. 

It wasn't our first two trips to visit colleges (University of Kentucky and Otterbein). It wasn't the annual Powder Puff Football Game. It wasn't Thanksgiving. It wasn't even finding a pair of jeans that fit. Okay, all of those things were exciting (especially the jeans part). But, here's what I'm talking about ...

My new book Lovin' the Alien has been published. And, I'm thrilled! (Can you tell?)

Lovin’ the Alien, like the blog it's named after, is a humorous look at mothering. In this first book, I focus on those unearthly creatures we call “tweens,” drawing on true tales from the days when my daughter was in middle school. Tweens may appear vaguely humanoid, but they have their own language, culture, rituals, eating habits. They are a distinct and separate race whose ways are ... well ... not ours.

Essays cover topics ranging from “School Daze,” “Attitude Adjustments” and “Shop, Shop, Shopping Around,” to “Living in a Digital World,” “Our Daughters, Ourselves” and “Culture (or Lack Thereof).” 

Lovin' the Alien is the perfect gift for any parents (new or not so new), grandparents, teachers, coaches, or scout leaders on your holiday shopping list. 

Or, enjoy it as a special treat if you’re in this particular ... um ... otherworldly situation yourself.

You can read more about Lovin’ the Alien, and place your order here: Order paperbacks and enjoy a friends and family discount especially for my readers. (Hardcover copies are also available.) 

Please feel free to forward this post to anyone who might enjoy it!

Happy Holidays and Happy Reading!

Tuesday, November 26, 2013


In a day and a half, those of us in these United States will partake in a tradition known as Thanksgiving. It doesn't matter how you feel about the invasion and subsequent genocide that took place when this country was "discovered," "founded" and "settled" (you now know exactly how I feel about it). The concept of stopping and giving thanks is a powerful one.

In theory.

In practice, this year will be less about being grateful for what we have and more about conspicuously consuming as much as we can — whether that means eating too much or camping out at the local shopping center to grab as many "Black Friday" bargains as possible. Some retailers are starting the madness on the holiday itself, forcing associates to cut short time with their families. 

Unfair, exploitive, and certainly not in the spirit of Thanksgiving.

As the mother of a teenage daughter, I try to set a good example: help her feel genuine gratitude for all we have and genuine compassion for those who have less. Like most of our friends, we have much more than we need. In fact, that's one of the earliest lessons my husband and I tried to teach. It went something like this ...

"I need ... (fill in pretty much anything that a young daughter would want: a toll house cookie, a Glitter Princess Barbie, fairy wings, the new Elmo videotape ...)"

"No, you want it. You don't need it."

"But, I need it."

"Is it food, shelter, water or oxygen?"


"Then you want it. You don't need it."

Understanding that your needs have been met (your needs and a lot of your wants too) is a first step toward gratitude. This is not just an admirable feeling. It's absolutely critical to our health and well-being. Last year, the American Psychological Association presented a study demonstrating that teenagers who were grateful were more likely to be hopeful, happy and well-behaved at school.

The study included 700 kids, measuring the "gratitude" of each based on his or her positive outlook on life. After four years, the "most grateful" teens were 17 percent more happy than their peers. They were 15 percent more likely to see meaning in their life, and 15 percent more satisfied. Perhaps most importantly, they were 15 percent less likely to suffer symptoms of depression.

Giacomo Bono, Ph.D., a researcher from California State University, put it this way: "More gratitude may be precisely what our society needs to raise a generation that is ready to make a difference in the world." 

Inspired by one Oprah Winfrey, I started a gratitude journal a few years ago. Each morning, I would list five things I was grateful for. This didn't last long. Not because I was ungrateful, but because the process was so boring and redundant. But, I think it may be time to dust off that journal, and buy one for my daughter while I'm at it.

This Thanksgiving, I'm thankful that I have so many things to be thankful for. As always (well, maybe not always, but at least 90 percent of the time), my daughter is on top of my list.

Thank you.

If you enjoyed this post, order a copy of my new book Lovin' the Alien at