Sunday, June 30, 2013

And She's Gone Again

I'm not a sleeper. Never have been. Oh, I can fall asleep all right (usually, unfortunately, in the middle of a book I'm trying to finish). But, the wee hours of the morning invariably find me tossing and turning. 

It's about stress. 

These days, my "to do" list is so long that I'm convinced it slinks down the stairs from my third-floor office like a poisonous snake, insinuates itself under my bedroom door, climbs up the bedpost, wraps itself around my neck and ... voilà. Sleep no more.

When I do find myself suddenly awake at 4 am, the first thing I do is head to my teenage daughter's room. (Well, actually, the very first thing I do is try to go back to sleep. Without success.) I tiptoe over to her bed and watch her breathe for a minute. Very Shirley MacLaine in Terms of Endearment, I know, I know. But, it's my little ritual and it gives me a bit of relief. With my daughter deep in the sleep of the just and innocent, I can check off one worry.

This morning, I waited until the respectable hour of 4:45 before I gave up and got up. But, there was no reason to look in on my daughter.

She's gone again.

Yesterday, we dropped her off at a horsemanship clinic in Vermont. Her boyfriend (all 950 equine pounds of him) had been trailered up a couple of days before. Their reunion was particularly joyous — think Ashley Wilkes returning to his wife Melanie after the Civil War. The equestrian center hosting the clinic is nestled into the most gorgeous countryside, with hills and brooks and woods and layers and layers of green. My daughter was most definitely in her element and all was right with the world. I couldn't help but be thrilled for her. I also couldn't help but wonder how we pulled it off. Again.

After the last week, it was practically a miracle that we did. Let's see ...

We had five snow days to make up this year, which meant that the week we should have had between school and leaving for Vermont was compressed into one day. Laundry, last-minute shopping, packing (not just my daughter's clothes and gear, but about 500 pounds of equipment or "tack" — and I'm not even slightly exaggerating).

Along with everything we needed to do to prepare for the clinic, my daughter had to take seven 90-minute final exams in four days: World Cultures, French, Biology, Geometry, Theatre Arts, Health Ed, and English. Oh my.

And, the horse had to get a haircut. Really. (BTW, I need a haircut too. But, did I get one? Nooooooooo.)

On Friday, my daughter went to the stable (where, I have no doubt, there were some melancholy moments as she gazed at the now empty stall) to organize and pack up all of her tack. She texted me from my husband's car:

We need borrow someones car.... The bmw is stuffed to capcity with all my stuff, no room for 3 people in the car and my duffel isnt in it (sic)

Great. Needless to say, my husband's aging BMW is our largest vehicle. My sister-in-law graciously offered her Jeep SUV ... with the caveat that one of her tires had a slow leak that she hadn't had a chance to repair yet. Thank goodness my husband is mechanically minded. (Thank goodness we have a portable electric tire pump.)

Early the next morning we were on the road. We stopped several times: tire pressure check, coffee, tire pressure check, restrooms, tire pressure check. We realized that my daughter forgot to bring a (required) watch and blew in and out of Target in Hooksett, NH just as they were opening. While we were there, we ... you guessed it ... checked the tire pressure.

One final costly inconvenience (I won't get into it, but do yourself a favor, don't drive over 25 mph in Woodstock, VT; although the police officers are very polite) and we arrived. Phew!

Despite the drama, we still had a little bit of crazy to deal with. Turns out, my daughter didn't need a hanging saddle rack (which we own and brought); she needed a folding saddle rack (which we neither own nor brought). Also, apparently, her paddock boots had pretty much busted at the seams. Sometimes, there's a limit to what you can do with duct tape. 

This time, fate was on our side. When we checked in, I had seen a sign for a "Huge Equine Yard Sale" a couple of miles down the road. I figured the odds were slim, but it couldn't hurt. A quick drive and $15 later, we were the proud owners of the appropriate saddle rack. Similarly, there was a tack shop in an antique barn adjacent to the equestrian center. They had my daughter's exact boots (a half-size too big, but she can wear an extra pair of socks). 

Done. And done. (I'm so done! And you wonder why I can't sleep?) Sometimes I have to question if it's all worth it.

A quick "good-bye" and we were on our way, without the gear, without the duffel, without our daughter. I miss her already. We'll head back to Vermont next weekend for a three-phase event (dressage, stadium jumping, cross-country). Two days later, we'll bring her home.

There's no cell service at the equestrian center where my daughter will spend 10 hours a day for the next 10 days. But, the house where she and 15 of the other girls are staying has WiFi. I received a text just as I was pulling into my driveway:

Thank you for everything mom < 3 i love you

Yeah, it's worth it.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Teen Trends: Stupid Is as Stupid Does

Most days, I pick up my teenage daughter from high school. I'm fortunate (she's fortunate) because I run my ad agency from a home office and can slip out for twenty minutes without too much trouble. Her school is 1.5 miles away and last September's grand plan of a nice fitness walk every afternoon didn't last very long.

Anyway, the most convenient place to collect my little scholar is behind the school in the parking lot of our town's post office. There's a path that leads uphill to the football field and another that heads down into a wooded area.

That's where "the stoners" hang out.

It's strange to see kids (young adults really but some I've known since preschool) pair off and slip away together. Are they smoking dope? Drinking? Making out? Worse? I'm tempted to follow them. I'm tempted to call their mothers. I stay in the car.

My own daughter doesn't have time (or, thank goodness) the inclination to participate in this particular after-school program. I've made it very clear that her riding and lessons and shows and out-of-state horsemanship clinics are dependent on schoolwork getting done and good grades getting got. This is not negotiable. I'm very lucky that she understands and agrees. I'm also lucky because her friends, although mind-bogglingly silly at times, don't seem to be that type of party people. (I know I could be wrong, but in truth, I trust her. And — knock wood — we haven't had any problems. Yet.)

So many teens do so many stupid things. As a hopelessly out-of-touch middle-aged mom, I can't even keep up. In fact, when I try to stay on top of the latest trends of teenage self-destruction, I give myself a headache. 

Last year, I wrote about "The Cinnamon Challenge." Here are just a handful of new ideas to worry about:

"Planking" — Kids lie horizontally, holding their bodies stiff like a board (or, more aptly, a plank), balancing on random objects. Counters, bannisters, shopping carts. Pictures are taken and posted; the aim is to get lots of hits and shares and likes and comments. Sounds fairly harmless, but a teenager actually died when he planked and then fell off a seven-story balcony rail.

At this point: full disclosure. My daughter has been known to plank but not from death-defying heights. Phew.

"Eyeballing Vodka" — Okay, before I describe this, can I just say "Eeww!" Teens actually pour shots of vodka into their eyes. The blood vessels of the eyeball quickly absorb the alcohol and the result is immediate intoxication. The upside? It's easy to hide because there's no tell-tale booze breath. The downside? Oh, nothing to worry about ... just permanent corneal damage and blindness.

People, c'mon!

"The Choking Game" — Y'know that rush you get after you've hung yourself and your friend has cut you down and revived you? No? Me neither. (WTF???) Whether kids play the choking game because of thrill-seeking or boredom or peer pressure, it's very real and an estimated 500-1,000 teens will die doing so. Oh, and that rush I mentioned? It's brain cells dying from a lack of oxygen.

One might argue that there may have been a distinct lack of brain cells to begin with. But, that wouldn't be consolation for the families of those kids.

The most recent trend that my own daughter introduced me to (as in told me about, not participated in, thank you God) is called "Smoking Alcohol." The name says it all and it's all over YouTube. Kids take alcohol (any sort works) and pump air into it then inhale the fumes. The alcohol vapor goes directly to the brain; the effect is instantaneous. Everything the body does to absorb and process (or expel) the alcohol you drink is bypassed. So, alcohol poisoning, prevalent enough in teenagers who imbibe the old-fashioned way, occurs dangerously fast.

Thinking about all of this is difficult; talking about it with our teens is absolutely critical.

Yesterday afternoon, my daughter took her final freshman final. Afterwards, I asked her what she wanted to do to celebrate. Go somewhere, do something? What was she craving more than anything else? 

Her answer: "Chocolate chip cookie dough."

Amen, sister.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Caps and Gowns and Bygones

'Tis the season. 

No, not that one. 'Tis the season when proud mamas and papas post beaming photos of their offspring wearing caps and gowns and goofy grins. 


I have mixed feelings about it.

This year, our family attended the college graduation of the son of my closest friend from my own college days. (Got all that?) Then, I attended a high school graduation party for another dear friend's son. And, my daughter, who rides her horse with girls slightly older, attended some ceremonies and parties as well.

We have seen the future. And, I have mixed feelings.

On the one hand, we sat through the long and, unfortunately, freezing cold (June in New England) ceremony a few weeks ago. I was so envious, I could hardly breathe. This wonderful young man, who I have known since birth (hey, technically, I hung out with him before he even arrived) is my friend's second of three to graduate from a prestigious school. As his sort-of-almost-aunt, I was honored to be part of the celebration; we were all so proud of him. But, I couldn't help but covet my girlfriend's position just a little. Not because of his accomplishments (which were great; he starts med school next month), but because he was safely through the system. 

Heck, we're struggling to make it through freshman year in one piece! Finals and projects and essays ... oh my!

I felt the same way at the high school graduation party I attended a couple of weeks later. Here was another young man I had known all his life. In fact, in decorating for the party, his mom had put out dozens of snapshots, chronicling his childhood and high school years. One of the earliest was of his first Halloween when she and I made a Superbaby costume for him. The cape was a bright red hand towel with the familiar S logo applied in felt. Who knew he'd grow up so soon. Big and strong and handsome and brave enough to save the world — or, at least, Canada, where he'll be studying marine biology.

Both of my girlfriends could look at their sons and say to themselves: "I done good." I jump ahead three (and then four more) years, and I imagine what it will be like to see my daughter in her caps and gowns, and know that we got through it all together. Just thinking about it makes me teary. When the days finally arrive, I'll be a mess. Happy and proud, but a mess nonetheless. (Those two milestones, four years apart, can be my last chances to publicly humiliate my daughter.)

On the other hand, I look forward with dread. As much as I envy my friends' happiness right now, I pity them for what must surely feel like a huge loss. I know your baby is always your baby, but graduations are hard to argue with. Your baby is suddenly your grownup baby, and the passing of time is nothing if not bittersweet. Even if they come home again (as many do these days), it will never be the same.

Despite the late nights, the endless drama, the everyday aggravation that comes with mothering a teenage girl, I know I'm not ready to trade it in for a diploma and an empty nest. So not ready. It's hard to enjoy every minute when many of those minutes are filled with activity and stress (and sometimes, let's face it, downright angst). But graduation season reminds me that it all goes by way too fast.

So, "Congratulations, Graduates!" I knew you when. What wonderful accomplishments — yours and your parents'. 

But, I think I'll enjoy my undergraduate for a few more years while I can. 

Now, if we can just get through finals ...

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Rewarding Bad Behavior

This morning I took my usual walk after my teenage daughter left for high school. It was a beautiful day and lots of my neighbors were out, many with their canine companions. 

One woman about a half mile from my house had an older black lab with her alongside an adorable fuzzball of a baby golden retriever. As I neared, the puppy's tail began to wag about a million miles a minute. He (she?) strained at the leash and waited impatiently for some expected adoration. 

Unfortunately, as an allergy sufferer, I can't pet other people's dogs (I've grown immune to our ancient mini dachshund, fortunately). Well, this did not please the pup who started growling and leaping toward me.

"No," said the dog's owner. "No, no, no."

This was appropriate, n'est-ce pas? Not really. You see, the owner didn't say "No" with any kind of conviction. In fact, her soft, loving voice made "No" sound exactly like "Yes, sweetie-pie, little lovebug, mommy's doggie angel. Yes, yes, yes!"

Great. Rewarding bad behavior.

This little interchange made me think about the word "No" and how, as a mother, I have used it effectively and ... well ... not.

Last night, for example, my daughter got home from the stable at about 7:30. Now, I should preface this story by explaining that I asked — specifically — about the homework and study situation. How much did she have to do? Was she sure she would have time if she went riding? Should she maybe consider skipping a day?

"Yes, I'm fine." "Don't worry about it." "It's covered mo-o-om."

Fast forward to 11:00 pm and I'm sure you can picture what was going on in my dining room. Let's see ... there was the thesis for her essay on the Odyssey, a packet for World Cultures, and about six dozen French vocab flash cards. And, guess what I did? Send her to bed and let her face the consequences? Hell to the no.

Like the puppy's owner earlier, I rewarded bad behavior. I stayed up alongside her, helped print and proofread, and baked her a chocolate chip cookie dough soufflé. 

Worst. Mother. Ever.

Years ago, before I was a parent myself (and consequently thought I knew everything about parenting, LOL), I was visiting a friend and her toddler. We were getting lunch ready and the little guy was helping ... by jumping on the open dishwasher door. Seriously. At some point, he tired of this and reached up to the counter where there was a large, sharp knife that had just been used to cut sub sandwiches.

"No!" I yelled from across the room.

The child stopped short, burst into tears, and ran to bury his face in his mother's legs. She looked at me and quietly explained "We don't like to use the n-word with him."

Okay, then.

(BTW, that same child later poured a bottle of pear juice into the keyboard of my new Mac Plus. Ah, sweet memories.)

Well, apparently I'm not that good at using the "n-word" either. Apparently, I'm incapable of administering "tough love," or letting my daughter sink or swim. Apparently, I'm not preparing her for real world accountability. Apparently, I'm a pushover and an enabler. 

But, I do make a mean chocolate chip cookie dough soufflé.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Top Down, Radio On

We have a little ritual in our house when the mail comes. My teenage daughter makes a detour from wherever she was headed and optimistically asks, "Anything for me?"

Other than tack catalogues from horse supply companies, the answer is usually "No."

I blame it on texting and Facebook. Being an analog girl myself, I try to explain that she would probably get more cards and letters and packages if she actually sent more (as in, any) cards and letters and packages. This argument is met with a blank stare. As are so many others. But, I digress.

This weekend, the mail arrived and, lo and behold, there was something that wasn't meant for me or my husband. It was hand addressed to "New Driver." So, not only was the teen pleased to have received mail, she was particularly excited because the greater world — by way of the USPS — was acknowledging a pending milestone. 

In September, my daughter will be 16.

Apparently, this is not news to the local driving school that had reached out to her. ("Full RMV certified Drivers education program" "FREE PARENT CLASS" "We take you from start to finish with door to door pick up!" "READY SET GO!") In delightfully punctuation-free copy, they stipulate "Must be 15 and 3/4s" and "Looking forward to meeting you :)" Yes, the emoticon is actually part of the printed postcard. 'Talk about knowing your audience.

Over the weekend, my daughter turned — you guessed it — "15 and 3/4s." She is very eager to start studying.

Although the postcard was certainly meant for my daughter, the title "New Driver" could apply to me too. If, that is, I was being compared to other 51-year olds. My husband was one of those people who got his license the very day (almost the very second) that he could. Me? Not so much. I got my license at 28.

In my defense, I grew up in New York City, where having a car is not only unnecessary, it's a painfully expensive pain-in-the-you-know-what. They didn't offer driver's ed at my high school, and I can't think of a single girl I graduated with who was driving when we all left for college. When I relocated as a young adult, I merely went from a large city to a small city. I traded subways for the T and remained, quite happily, license-free for several more years. It wasn't until I moved in with my boyfriend about 20 miles up the coast from Boston that I had to actually get behind the wheel of a car. Nervous at first, I soon realized that there were people on the road who were worse (way worse) drivers than I was. 

My first two cars were what my husband and I refer to as "les boits de merde." Cheap and used and barely functional. My third car, though, was new and red and shiny and had a ragtop. It was (and is) a 1991 Mazda Miata. We only use it in the summer (not exactly a smart option for icy New England roads, as I learned through trial and error), so it's still on the road and still looks fabulous. I love that car! When our daughter was little, I joked that it would be hers someday.

Guess what ... as we've just been reminded, "someday" is just 1/4 of a year away. (Note to self: do not make promises to eager toddlers unless you plan to see them through.) She has made it very clear that the original agreement is not negotiable.

Now, before you decide that my daughter is an even bigger princess than she is, please note that the car she will be getting is more than 20 years old and has more than 110,000 miles on it. She will only be driving it to and from the stable, two towns away. If and when I ever let her drive on the highway (cue major gulp here), she will have to drive one of the bigger, heavier, safer sedans.

Sorry, daughter dearest. But that is (really) not negotiable.

Friday, June 14, 2013

One Day of Summer

For a New England town, we had an unusually snow-free winter last year. It was a good thing because my teenage daughter and I had tickets to fly to London for an important bat mitzvah. With even one snow day to make up, we would have been caught between a rock and Big Ben. But, it all worked out. My daughter graduated from middle school and within hours it seemed we were headed across the pond.

Thank you, Mother Nature.

This year, we made up for it. Snow, snow, snow ... and, for good measure, more snow. In Massachusetts, there are a minimum number of days that each public school has to hit. So, the school year has been extended an extra week.

This does not make for happy teenagers. (Or happy mothers, for that matter.)

We have one day between my daughter's last (and most dreaded) final exam ("Compare your freshman year to the hero's journey in Homer's Odyssey" — say, what?) and the start of her Horsemanship Clinic up in Vermont. One day. Un día. We're cutting it so close, in fact, that the equine is being shipped up a couple of days before us, because the humans will be leaving at dawn the day the program starts.

Now, you may be thinking "What's the big deal. You have a whole day to chillax." Mais, non. We have one day, a mere 24 hours, to shop for and pack up everything my daughter needs and everything that her pony needs. (Really. You should see the list. Fly spray and a dandy brush and epsom salts and an animal rectal thermometer. Who knew?)

And the thing that will take the longest will be cleaning her room. As much as it pains me to admit it, I've been losing the battle of wills surrounding my daughter's bedroom for some time. Now, as freshman finals loom, I've surrendered completely. But, we will have to attack it together on our single day of summer. We simply have to.

First of all, half the crap — er, I mean, stuff — that she'll need for her trip to the "Green Mountain State" is probably buried under the piles of textbooks, homework, dirty laundry and empty Sun Chips bags that currently cover her carpet. "I need socks," she whines. "I need shorts." I am positively positive that said items (and so much more) are in there somewhere.

Second, if she does indeed leave without tidying up, I'll be too tempted to do so myself. Sure, I'll try the close-the-door-and-pretend-it-isn't-there trick. But, I won't be able to stand it for very long. Soon, I'll be on my knees, digging through a semester's worth of junk. And, I'll make some judgment calls about what's too small, too old, too torn. Bulging bundles will go off to the local thrift shop and I'll feel so self-righteous. Until my daughter comes home. 

Then there will be all measure of teen hell to pay.

No, it's better if we tackle it together. So what if the weather turns out to be perfect? So what if we live near the beach and have access to a pool and a boat and numerous ice cream shops? I'll think of it as bonding time, a few precious hours (okay, maybe more than a few) of togetherness before my little girl leaves us.

But, I'm not going to share this idea with my daughter. She'll be in a bad enough mood without it.

Monday, June 10, 2013


"If love is the answer, could you please rephrase the question?" 
... Lily Tomlin

Many philosophers have stressed the value in questioning (often, asserting that there's more value in questioning than in answering). Socrates, Shakespeare, Sigmund Freud, Woody Allen. 

If these geniuses weren't enough, there's a whole game show that answers answers with questions. 

"I'll take obscure knitting terms for $500, Alex. What is a channel island cast-on?"

I have a lot of questions these days. It's my own personal — and growing — list of FAQs. Unfortunately, I don't have a help desk, here or offshore, and no one is offering me prize money. So, I'm stuck wondering. 

Here are some of the questions going through my mind even as I blog ...

Does my teenage daughter really need more shorts?

Does she really need more shirts?

Does she really need more socks, more jeans, more shoes?

Is there any way I can retire at 65? How about 60? (How about 51?)

Does anyone really think LMFAO is sexy (whether they know it or not)?

Why is my daughter always hungry when we have ice cream in the house?

Why is she never hungry when we have fruit?

How will we survive sophomore year?

And junior year?

And senior?

How come I can remember every word from every song on Meatloaf's "Bat Out of Hell," but I can't remember what I went to the grocery store for?

Will my vision keep getting worse?

If Superman has x-ray vision and closes his eyes, can he still see?

Whatever happened to Bobby Sherman? (Who cares about Baby Jane?)

Is it too late to start over?

Is it too soon?


Why not?

Why do we say people are in a play but on TV?

How are things in Glocca Morra?

How are things in North Korea?

Where did I put that thing we need for the other thing we had that time?

How can something be dry cleaning fluid?

Why is Jimmy short for James when it has the same number of letters?

How did I get here?

and, most puzzling of all ...

What happened to my waist?

Thursday, June 6, 2013

9th Grade's 9th Inning

Typically, my daughter and I see eye-to-eye on ... well ... nothing. (If this is a surprise, gentle reader, you haven't been paying attention over the last two years.) But today, we are in perfect agreement. We are simpatico. We are like-mother-like-daughter.

Right now, we feel the same way. We cannot wait — I mean, cannot wait — for school to end.

What a roller coaster it's been! Everyone warned us that the transition to high school would have its ups and downs (more downs than ups from where I was standing). Some of it was natural, some couldn't be avoided. But, some of the trauma did seem a little unnecessary. I believe there's a difference between being a tough teacher and being a jerk. 

Students are encouraged to self-advocate, but then they can't find the faculty member they need to talk to. Or, said faculty member has to leave and can only spend thirty seconds reviewing the paper that it took the student thirty hours to write. Or, a serious, legitimate, external situation makes a student two minutes late for practice and the instructor (exhausted no doubt from years of half-assed excuses) won't even listen to an explanation? C'mon.

In fairness, most of my daughter's teachers — this year and every year we've lived in this town — seem tremendously dedicated to their work. And, I'm a huge fan (always have been) of educators in general. That's one reason that running into such unreasonable expectations — and unnecessary drama — disturbs me so much. I want my daughter to respect and admire and, whenever possible, genuinely like her teachers. It's hard when Mr. XYZ assigns forty-five pages of epic poetry reading and an essay on the same night that Mrs. ABC expects her to memorize the names and dates of every Chinese dynasty. Or when forgetting to bring in a textbook takes 10 points off a good grade that was hard-won over multiple months.

And, guess which experiences will be remembered and become synonymous with freshman year? Not ones with the majority of teachers who were fair and reasonable but those with the minority who made things difficult.

In today's high-pressure high schools, it doesn't take much to throw things off balance. And, I'm not just talking about academics. Athletics and other after school programs can be just as bad. It's as though every teacher, every coach believes that their subject or sport or instrument is the only thing that matters.

Ten months is a long time for a fifteen year old to try his or her best — especially when it feels like there are odds against them. No wonder all our freshmen (and their parents) are exhausted.

"I'm so over it," my daughter announces at dinner.

I want to say, "Oy vey, can I relate!" But no, immediately I have to become big bad mom cop. "You can't be over it yet," I remind her. "You still have papers, you still have projects, and all of your finals. You don't want to undo all your hard work, do you?" This makes me a very popular mother. Not.

Nevertheless, we are pushing through. For the next three weeks, we have some new rules around here:

1. Unlimited snacks and soda ... as long as they are being used as study aids.

2. Bed-making and clothes-picking-upping have been temporarily suspended.

And, most important ...

3. Everyone on the team is expected to pitch in. Printing, proofreading, quizzing from notes or index cards. (Anything short of actual ghostwriting and plagiarism are encouraged.)

Yes, we are in the home stretch now and I don't know which one of us will be happier to see that last day of school. It would be a lively debate.

But, one that can definitely wait until July.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Go Ask Alice — If You Can Find Her

Recently, I was in a used bookstore looking for a copy of The Great Gatsby for my teenage daughter's honors English class, preferably one without Leonardo DiCaprio's head on it. (No luck, by the way.) I passed a table marked "Summer Reading Lists" and there I saw a very familiar paperback book.

Go Ask Alice, the real diary of a teen drug user! O!M!G! My girlfriends and I devoured that book back in high school. We read it over and over and over. We hung on every word. Through the anonymous "Alice," we experienced a subculture of illicit activities that none of us were brave enough (or stupid enough) to try in real life.

I'm always looking for books to share with my daughter and this seemed like one she needed to know about. Of course, I would read it first — just to make sure I was ready for any questions she might have. Or so I told myself. In reality, I couldn't wait to sink my teeth back into it. And, it was only $1.99! (How much do we love used bookstores? That would be a lot.) Within moments, it was mine.

As an aside, I also bought a used copy ($2.39!) of Carrie Fisher's sequel to Postcards from the Edge, her semiautobiographical novel The Best Awful. If there was a theme to my little shopping spree, I guess it was Drug Abuse Lit 101. But, I digress.

That afternoon, I happily finished the book on my nightstand (Charles Dickens' Pickwick Papers, Part II, which didn't have any teen junkies in it, but did have quite a bit of snuff pinching). I settled in for an acid trip down memory lane, convinced I would finish Go Ask Alice in a single sitting. 

Mais non, mes amis! It was tough to get through it. Because despite my earlier infatuation, the truth is ... Go Ask Alice is awful.

I don't mean that it's awfully sad or awfully depressing or awfully tragic (all of which I would have confidently asserted when I was my daughter's age). I mean, the book is simply awful. How I (and apparently five million other readers) ever thought this was an actual diary from an actual teenager is beyond me. Of course, the book cover tells us so:

"The harrowing true story of a teenager's descent into the seductive world of drugs. A diary so honest you may think you know Alice — or someone like her. Read her diary. Enter her world. You'll never be able to forget Alice."

If nothing else, I can vouch for that last bit. Anyway, upon a shall-we-say more mature reading, Go Ask Alice doesn't ring true. Not at all.

Yes, as promised, "Alice" shares her deepest darkest secrets. (Isn't that part of the thrill of reading someone's diary?) Some of the issues are drawn from actual teen life: she worries about her weight, she obsesses about a boy, she wishes she could be more popular. But, there's simply no way a fifteen-year-old wrote this:

I just bought the most wonderful little single pearl pin for Mother's Christmas present. It cost me nine dollars and fifty cents, but it's worth it. It's a cultured pearl which means it's real and it looks like my Mom. Soft and shiny, but sturdy and dependable underneath so it won't dribble all over the place. Oh I hope she likes it! I want so very much for her to like it and to like me!

Say, what?

The writing gets even more flowery (and less plausible) when "Alice" describes her first LSD trip:

I looked at a magazine on the table, and I could see it in 100 dimensions. It was so beautiful I could not stand the sight of it and closed my eyes. Immediately I was floating into another sphere, another world, another state. Things rushed away from me and at me, taking my breath away like a drop in a fast elevator. I couldn't tell what was real and what was unreal. Was I the table or the book or the music, or was I part of all of them, but it didn't really matter, for whatever I was, I was wonderful.

Oh my.

Well, suffice it to say, I was a little more gullible thirty-five years ago. Or, maybe I just assumed that a real, published book that claimed to be a real diary of a real girl who died of a real overdose was ... well ... real.

Kind of the way kids feel about what they find on the Internet today. Speaking of which, it took about twenty seconds to learn that Go Ask Alice was — indeed — a work of fiction. (Gasp!) The author was a woman named Beatrice Sparks who ghost-wrote a number of similar titles: 

Annie's Baby: The Diary of Anonymous, A Pregnant Teenager

Treacherous Love: The Diary of an Anonymous Teenager

Almost Lost: The True Story of an Anonymous Teenager's Life on the Streets

Kim: Empty Inside: The Diary of ... you guessed it ... an Anonymous Teenager
Ms. Sparks, who passed away last year, was a therapist and a Mormon youth counselor. And, a very successful, if maybe not so credible anymore, anonymous teenager.

So, this has been an enlightening week. I'm glad that "Alice" was just a fictional girl (she doesn't have a very happy ending in the book, if you remember). Real or not, Go Ask Alice provided my younger self with hours of reading pleasure. I don't think it convinced me not to try hard drugs; I doubt I would have with or without the book (I was rather a goody-goody). But, maybe it did persuade some kids to stay safe. 'Can't really argue with that 

And, I'm still going to share it with my daughter. But, I think I'll wait until she finishes The Great Gatsby.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Pass the Popcorn: Girl Rising

We're in the home stretch of high school freshman year — and the work keeps coming. This week, my teenage daughter had two big projects due (for the most demanding teacher on the planet Earth or any other) and tests in three more courses. So what did she do Wednesday night? She went to the movies.

And I'm so proud of her.

Actually, it was my idea. But, when I learned of all the looming deadlines, I suggested we postpone. No, she wanted to see the film and was willing to "burn the midnight oil" to do so. And the best part? It wasn't gorgeous Leonardo DiCaprio in Gatsby. Or the latest (last, I hope) Hangover, or yet another girls-gone-wild gross-me-out comedy with Melissa McCarthy.

It was Girl Rising.

Girl Rising is a fascinating and moving documentary about the power of education to change a girl, her family, her community, and the world. Narrated by Meryl Streep, Anne Hathaway, Salma Hayek, Cate Blanchette, and other major stars, the movie focuses on nine real girls from around the world. Through their stories, we encounter poverty, violence, human trafficking, but also unbelievable courage and determination. 

What this means is that it's pretty powerful stuff. What it also means, unfortunately, is that it has virtually no theatrical distribution. We had to travel an hour to a very funky (and I mean f-u-n-k-y) community cinema for a screening. But it was worth it. 

One of my daughter's (seemingly endless) assignments was a worksheet on a cultural event. After we got home, she chose to write about Girl Rising. Here's what she had to say ...

The entire movie made me think; it was impossible not to be moved by this film. It was beautifully written, and creatively filmed. But, it was more educational than entertaining. These girls were extremely underprivileged and it was very hard to watch them without feeling guilty about all that I have and all of the opportunities I am given; even things we take for granted like school and a home.

If girls in developing countries receive access to education, the number and severity of the problems they face will decrease. The documentary stated a lot of statistics and proved their point over and over. I was thoroughly convinced.

My family sponsors a girl from Indonesia. She's just 8 years old, and her family has a hard time supporting her and her little sister. That is where my family comes in. We pay for her to be able to go to school. Before seeing the documentary I only thought of this as something kind of us to do that will help Indri in the future with getting a job. But really it does a lot more than just that. It also reduces her risk of getting STD’s at a young age. Or marrying too young and dying in childbirth. The main takeaway point of this film is that girls need education in order to reach their true potential. I am so happy that my family sponsors Indri. I am relieved to know all that we are saving her from and it again puts in perspective that I am really truly so lucky.

After watching this film, which focuses on nine girls, I couldn’t help but wonder what happened to all of them. I decided to do some research. Seven of the girls have moved on, in some cases becoming teachers themselves. Sadly, the other two are not as fortunate. One is engaged to be married (she's only 13), and the moviemakers can no longer contact another because it would actually put her life at risk! This made me realize that a movie, even one this good, can’t solve everything. 

Following up and reading about the girls’ progress — good and bad — made them real people to me. Yes you can argue that they always were real people. But I only watched their story on a screen. I watch lots of "stories" on screens. Reading about the girls made me proud to know that there are still people out there with a heart and willing to help others who need it. These girls are just like any others, each has something special to offer the world. It is horrifying that the world could take their opportunities away from them just because of their sex. I hope that someday, all girls will have the same equal opportunity and will be able to show the world who they really are, what makes them special and what they can do to leave their own unique mark.

This is not the end; it is merely the beginning. Girls are rising. And they are not showing signs of stopping anytime soon.

BTW, I have been asking my daughter to write a guest post for Lovin' The Alien since I started more than two years ago. I'm proud of what she's written and happy to share it here (even if I did have to co-opt it from her homework).

She and I both encourage you to see Girl Rising. "One girl with courage is a revolution."