Sunday, September 29, 2013

Open House

They say you can't go back. I'm here to disagree. The other night, I went back to high school. 

Well, not my high school. My daughter's. 

I brought a friend along (the mother of one of my daughter's all-time best BFFs) and we joined a throng of hundreds of other parents in the so-called "field house." It looked a lot like a gym to me. Not that I would really know. My own high school in New York City, housed first on two floors of an office building and later in a renovated armory, lacked some of the typical amenities you find in typical high schools.

At any rate, we all sat on incredibly uncomfortable bleachers and waited for an address from the new principal. He updated us on standardized test scores (good news), our official rating in the state of Massachusetts (not so good news) and plans for a new "open campus" policy (highly controversial). A bell rang and we dispersed to our "A Block" classes.

The building is new and state-of-the-art in many ways. However, it's very confusing. There are A, B, C, D, and E wings, which spiral out from a multi-level central lobby, auditorium and cafeteria. This sounds relatively logical, but there are a few anomalies. For example, you can get from A and B to D and E on floors 1 and 2, but not on 3. 

Did you get that?

Me neither.

My teen daughter to the rescue! Each parent had his or her student's schedule, but she added a special bonus to mine. She drew a floorplan of the school, labeled with the different rooms I would need to find and when. Once the parents around me (most of whom I didn't know) saw this, I became very very popular.

More popular than I remember being in my own high school, come to think of it.

Map in hand, I did a whirlwind tour of her schedule. Each "class" lasted just ten minutes, in which time the teacher explained goals and requirements and tests and reading and homework and grades (oh my!). We were told that our kids are "Awesome." We were in awe ourselves of the volume of work facing them.

In between my mini courses, I raced up and down staircases and that's when it was easiest to imagine being back in high school. I did exceptionally well in high school but could I survive it again? I felt a little like Jamie Lee Curtis's character in Freaky Friday. I discount my daughter's challenges and assume I could get through her 7-hour day, but it was challenging just getting through the 2-hour evening.

And that's just the academic portion of our program, folks.

During my daughter's "study" (after Honors Chemistry, before Photography I), I meandered (raced would be a better word) down to the cafeteria. There, a number of student organizations had set up fundraising tables. Tee shirts and bumper stickers, information about National Honor Society tutoring, the teen programs at the YMCA. Some of the kids manning these tables were familiar to me; I'd known a couple since preschool. But there they were, the girls in (a bit too much) makeup, short skirts, high heels. The boys, looking like they not only shaved but actually (finally) needed to. Many were taller than me. And, I'm not that short.

It occurred to me that other mothers probably look at my daughter with the same sense of "where did the time go?" bewilderment. She may not wear makeup (yet) but she's definitely not a little girl.

I hung back to hang out with a couple of other weary mothers. We compared notes and agreed that these high school open houses were exhausting. And confusing. And more than a little bittersweet.

To my surprise, a few confident students confidently pushed their way into our circle. "Who are these confident young adults?" I thought. Sophomores, junior and seniors, they were clearly — not to mention, confidently — in their element. 

We were the bewildered freshmen.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Working Girl

My advice to newlyweds. Wait a few years longer than your best friends to have children. Let those intrepid souls learn the ropes — and make the mistakes — for you. Then, you'll have a better idea of what's in store.

A few years ago, all of the parents I knew were freaking out, falling over themselves, turning one-handed backflips to make sure that their high school students had outstanding "community service" on their résumés.

Okay, stop the press! 

Résumés? Back in the 70s, the only high school students I knew with résumés were the ones pursuing a career in show business. (And, growing up in New York City, I crossed teenage paths with several of them: Diane Lane, Ben Stiller, Cynthia Nixon, Phoebe Cates.) The average everyday teen would have had a fairly lean curriculum vitae. My own would have included babysitting, babysitting and babysitting. 

What can I tell you? My career path was limited, but consistent. Back to what I was saying.

All of a sudden, stellar grades, varsity sports and student government weren't enough. The most selective schools expected applicants (in all their spare time, right — see previous sentence) to have volunteered. And, I mean, volunteered big!

Spending an afternoon at a soup kitchen? Not enough! Your aspiring Ivy Leaguer had to organize a four-week, six-county food drive, single-handedly solicit Fortune 500 corporate sponsorship, design a public service ad campaign, write a guest column in The Boston Globe, and get invited to appear on Oprah (or Ellen, at the very least).

Or, they had to start a movement focusing on some serious social problem and leveraging a group of like-minded peers. Then they could use social media to attract members across the country, accumulating posts and pictures and shares and "likes." (Stats they would be sure to regurgitate on college applications.) Extra credit for alliterative or rhyming names such as, "Ballerinas Against Bullying," "Home Schoolers for Housing," or the "Jock Sock Drive."

And, say "bye bye" to family vacations. Your future grad of Harvard, Yale or Princeton had to spend her summer building houses for indigenous peoples in Peru. In 110-degree weather. Carrying water buckets from the next town. Five miles, uphill, both ways.

Having been sufficiently warned by my trailblazing friends, I thought we were in fairly good shape. Since sixth grade, my daughter has worked with a local organization that introduces inner city kids to horseback riding. She created a book list of appropriately horsey titles so that participating students could read and earn points toward riding. For her senior project, in a couple of years, she's planning to work at a local therapeutic riding facility, helping special needs participants gain confidence and coordination. These are carefully chosen activities that demonstrate passion and commitment, a willingness to work hard, and focused experience that can be carried over into her proposed course of study. 

I know, blah blah blah.

But wait! Now, all of sudden, the colleges are looking for work. Like work work. Actual, paid, minimum-wage, burger-flipping after school jobs. Uh-oh. 

But wait again! Lo and behold, my daughter came home one day and announced that she had found a job. She and one of her BFFs are splitting a part-time retail position. She's working every other weekend at a designer consignment shop about a five-minute walk from our house. 

Wow. It's a little weird that I didn't have to do anything to make this happen. It's a little weird that she's going to be helping customers and stocking shelves and ringing up the register and opening the store and closing it up at the end of the day. It's a little weird, but I'm proud of her.

And, just think how good it will look on her résumé.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

16. 16. 16. 16.

My daughter is 16 now. 16. 16. 16. Can you tell I'm having a little trouble wrapping my arms around that number? (Almost as much trouble as I have wrapping my arms around my daughter — unless, of course, she wants something. Then she's all about the cuddling.) 

Anyway, in case I haven't mentioned it about thirty times in the past thirty seconds ... my daughter is 16. 


I have this never-ending ear worm in my head. David Byrne, circa 1980. 

"You may ask yourself, well, how did I get here?"

Okay. How did I get here?

Turning 16 is big, big, big. The biggest thing in the great Commonwealth of Massachusetts is that my daughter now has a piece of paper with her picture on it that gives her the right to drive. With a licensed adult and lots of restrictions, sure. But, still! The permit is hanging (should I say, is proudly displayed?) on our refrigerator door right now. That way, whether I'm taking her out or her father is, we know where to find it. Unfortunately, it means that I see it about two thousand times a day. In the picture, grainy digital black-and-white, she's smiling. Apparently, she just can't wait to get behind the wheel of a two-ton lethal weapon.

Omg. I feel a little queasy.

She still can't drink or smoke legally, I guess I should be grateful for that. (Or vote, for that matter, which is unfortunate because we tend to see eye-to-eye on politics.) But, it does make me wonder about other rights she's suddenly acquired. A quick Google and here you go ...

According to CAB, the Citizens Advice Bureau, at 16:

• She can leave home without consent from her parents.

Not gonna happen. 

• She can apply for a firearms license.

Not gonna happen.

• She can get married or enter a civil union with her parents’ consent.

Not gonna happen.

• She can leave school and work full-time.

So not gonna happen

• She can consent to sexual intercourse.

Omg. And, if that's not bad enough ...

• If she's treated for a sexually transmitted disease the doctor does not have to tell her parents.

OMG. Can you tell I'm having a moment of maternal denial?

The news isn't all bad. My 16-year-old can also legally change her name and earn minimum wage and apply for certain benefits such as the Youth Payment, Young Parent Payment and the Guaranteed Childcare Assistance Payment.

Omg. My head hurts. Pardon me while I go block CAB's website from my daughter's computer.

Okay, I'm back now.

I've heard so many mothers wish aloud that their little ones would stay ... well ... little. And, it is truly difficult to say good-bye to a beloved baby, a toddler, a sweet child. I've always tried to avoid voicing the feeling because I never wanted my daughter to think I dreaded our (her) future. There are many wonderful things about growing up. 

My daughter has become my friend (when she's actually talking to me, that is). And I need to look on the bright side.

That piece of paper on the fridge can't be replaced by an actual license unless she completes forty hours of driving practice with a parent. And, she's not going to complete forty hours of driving practice with a parent unless she's very very (very very) nice to that parent.

Hmmm ... this may all work out after all.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

My (Really Super) Sweet Sixteen

My daughter turned 16 this weekend. Aside from wondering how we got here (and how I can possibly be old enough to have a 16-year-old), it's made me think about the whole idea of "Sweet Sixteens."

Have you ever seen "My Super Sweet Sixteen?" Here's how MTV describes it:

"My Super Sweet 16" takes you on a wild ride behind the scenes for all the drama, surprises and over-the-top fun as teens prepare for their most important coming-of-age celebrations. Meet the kids who are determined to go all out to mark this major turning point in their lives, the parents who lavish every wish, and find out first hand what it's really like to turn 16 these days. 

I like how they use the word "really" there. Really, as in "actually," "truly," or "in all honesty." Well, I've caught bits and pieces of the show. Here's how I describe it (really):

A bunch of really spoiled teenage brats spend really exorbitant amounts of their parents' money and throw really big tantrums for the camera.

But, I digress. MTV continues:

... each week "My Super Sweet 16" will document one character's outrageous journey as they plot, plan and prep for the party to end all parties. These kids expect and will only accept the absolute best. Now, it's up to them to make sure jealous siblings, stressed out parents and school rivals don't get in the way. This series gives you an up close and very personal look at the extravagant and sometimes extreme measures teens take to ensure that this milestone in their lives is commemorated by the ultimate celebration. Will their real life Sweet 16 ever live up to their fantasies? 

Here are some of the things that the stars of this so-called "reality series" have "plotted, planned and prepped for" ...

- Brand new high-end SUVs
- Brand new high-end sportscars
- Couture evening gowns
- Couture fashion shows
- Professional make-up artists 
- Professional hairdressers
- $1,250-a-plate dinners
- Parties on yachts
- Parties at country clubs
- Parties with exotic animals
- Parties with famous bands and rappers performing 
- Silver (real silver) medallions passed out as invitations
- MP3 players (real MP3 players) passed out as invitations
- Celebrity guests passed out at the parties
- Guest of honor arriving accompanied by can-can dancers
- Guest of honor arriving by camel (with Rihanna)


Can you understand why I'm relieved that my daughter doesn't watch this show? Sheesh!

Really (really), though, it wouldn't matter if she did. My (really super) Sweet Sixteen had other ideas for her celebration.

The weekend of her birthday coincided with a huge horse show in Vermont. Participating in the event would involve entry fees (less money, I have to assume, than a camel and Rihanna, but not insignificant), renting a horse trailer for two days, paying her coach to accompany us, renting a room at a local inn for the humans, renting a stall at the event for the horse, meals, gas, etc. etc.

"Puh-leeeeeeese," she begged us the day the event was announced (several months ago). "That's all I want for my birthday. Really."

Some teenaged girls (the ones, for example, featured in "My Super Sweet 16") might make a promise like that and then conveniently forget it when the birthday comes around. This is not the case with my daughter. She has been focused (one is tempted to say "obsessed") with all things equine since age three. She started lessons at age five. Started competing at age seven. Acquired her own horse (my husband would argue that we acquired it on her behalf) at age fourteen.

And, she's never looked back. Really.

I sometimes worry that she's a little too focused. But other mothers worry that their daughters aren't focused at all. Regardless, my daughter is willing to work very hard to pursue her passion. I can appreciate that.

And, there are virtually no boys at the stable or at these events. My husband can (really) appreciate that.

So, in conclusion (I have to wrap this up; I have a sixteen-year-old daughter — I feel really old) ... my daughter had the sweetest of Sweet Sixteens. She was doing what she loved. She worked hard and did very well. And no rap star, couture gown, overpriced entree or exotic animal could have made it any better.

Happy Sweet Sixteen, my darling daughter. I'm proud of you today and everyday. Really.

Friday, September 13, 2013

WWDD (What Would Downton Do?)

Madonna said it in 1984. "We are living in a material world." That's all well and good, but Midge forgot to mention that we are also living in a rushed, rude and often ugly one. I'm not talking about the big problems. I'm talking about the genteel touches — or really, the lack thereof. To quote another famous M (one Ms. Stewart) "Manners matter." If Martha didn't actually say it, she's certainly thought about it. A lot.

Where are all the day-to-day niceties we left behind? I, for one, do my best to maintain them.

For example, this week I have reinstated the formal breakfast tray. Our family doesn't eat breakfast together unless we're on vacation. (Wouldn't that be nice? The eating breakfast together part, not the vacation part. Oh all right, the vacation part too.) My teenage daughter is the first to leave in the morning, while I eat after my walk. I'm not sure when my husband eats. At any rate, while she's putting the finishing touches on her ensemble upstairs, I typically cut her some fruit and prepare some starchy thing (with chocolate in it more often than not: croissant, muffin, waffles, you get the picture). A hot pink "Teen Advantage Vitamin" and a glass of water and ... voila! ... zee breakfast, shee ees served.

This week, I took a moment and went out to our little garden. I snipped some begonias, popped them in a crystal bud vase (wedding present), pulled out a tray, arranged the aforementioned gourmet repast and ... volia! ... breakfast was served with ever so much more class.

My daughter eyed me with a mixture of puzzlement and suspicion.

"It's nice," I told her. "It's like Downton Abbey."

Her expression remained the same but she cocked her head a bit which added to the effect.

"You know," I continued. "Like that time when Lady Mary was getting ready for school and Carson brought her a tray with a chocolate chip cookie dough Pop Tart and some fresh flowers, so she wouldn't have to get off her iPhone and go to the table?"

I was once again reminded that my daughter does not appreciate my considerable wit. Nevertheless, she has had flowers with her breakfast every day since.

This longing for a more refined life is also the reason I insist on beds that are made. This infuriates my daughter to no end. She finds it illogical, as well as "so-o-o annoying!" To me, it's a civilized ritual that marks an evening over, a new day begun. It instills the room with a sense of order and serenity. It has nothing whatsoever to do with my compulsive neatness.

Okay, so it does. Sue me.

"You can do whatever you want when you live on your own," I recite like a broken cliché machine, "In this house, we make the beds." 

I did give her a pass for most of the summer. But, back to school means back to bed-making. This, despite having learned from our schooner captain that making a still-warm bed is like sending a backstage all-access pass, V.I.P. open house invitation to dust mites. Eeeeeeew. 

I know I can't really roll back the calendar to a more elegant age. And I do live in the present as evidenced by my posts about Miley Cyrus and twerking (which achieved the highest hit rates I've ever had — how sad is that?). But, whether it's flowers on the breakfast tray or smooth sheets and throw pillows, I believe we can make an effort.

What else are we to do in today's graceless world?

Keep calm and ring Carson for tea.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Can A Twerp Twerk?

In recent months, as the mother of a teenage girl, I have developed a great (okay, an enormous, a colossal, an absolutely frrrrrrkkkin' HUGE) appreciation for perspective

Keeping things in perspective.

Here's what I'm talkin' about ...

My daughter stayed up later than we agreed and I was a little ... well ... pissed. Perspective: she was in her room. Not at a bar, not in a parking lot, not at the police station.

My daughter no longer likes the (overpriced) jeans she simply had to have. Perspective: we are lucky enough to be able to afford nice things. And, they will earn some much-needed money for the school's thrift shop.

My daughter's room is a mess. Perspective: while I may think of it as a "disaster area," in truth, we live in a safe house on a safe street in a safe town. As you can surmise, we are all safe. I've seen the results of disasters in New Orleans and New Jersey. Her bedroom doesn't really need assistance from FEMA.

"Wah wah wah," I say. Most of our issues are decidedly "first world problems." Especially when you put them in perspective.

So, with this in mind, I've given some more thought to the media storm around Miss Miley Cyrus. Just as there are far worse things than breaking a bedtime curfew, discarding virtually unworn jeans or trudging through piles of crap on a teenager's floor, there are worse things than a misguided young celebrity twerking on an awards show.

Perspective. She's young and pretty and vaguely talented.

How about so-called normal people twerking?

There are people who (without the benefit of Miley's backup dancers), twerk with their dogs and cats. Does this constitute animal abuse? Quite possibly. But that doesn't make it any less popular. "Twogging" is all over YouTube.

I weep for the future.

Then there are the safety hazards inherent in twerking. A video went viral this week of a young woman doing some sexy twerking moves for her boyfriend. (Whatever happened to love letters?) She was hot. I mean, she was really hot. I mean, she was hot, hot hot. On the off chance you didn't already see it (nearly 10 million people have), watch here.

Jimmy Kimmel has since come forward and confessed that the whole thing was a prank. The girlfriend in the video is actually a stuntwoman (good thing). Kimmel explained his motive as he thanked his gullible audience:

"Thank you for helping us deceive the world and hopefully put an end to twerking forever."

Perhaps the most tasteless and offensive of all, there are videos of ... moms twerking. That's right, moms. Oh, the horror!

I confess, I'm a mom and I have been known to twerk — although I didn't know at the time what it was called. I have one Zumba instructor who is an incredible dancer. But her style is not ... shall we say ... balletic. In fact, she channels her inner stripper every time she teaches. And we, her ragtag class of lumpy middle-aged moms, go along for the ride. We bend our knees, we place our hands on our thighs, we shake our booty, hinging front and back, and wagging our tushes for good measure in between. Yes, as sad as it is (and even sadder to watch, I have no doubt), we twerk.

I'm actually pretty good at it. In fact, I'm surprised that the makers of a particular workout video didn't call me to star in the TV spot. I mean, really. Moody teenager, "boring old mom," I could have done it in my sleep. 

So, my husband, once he learned what twerking was (my daughter and I staged an impromptu tutorial in the kitchen recently), asked the age-old question:

"Can a twerp tewerk?"

The answer is "Yes." Everyone can twerk.

But that doesn't mean everyone should.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Macho, Macho Reading List

As the mother of a teenager, I am intimately acquainted with an oh-so-common adolescent physical manifestation, known as ... the eye roll. Make a suggestion? Eye roll. Make an observation? Eye roll. Make (heaven forbid) a point of constructive criticism? 


Often these — most unwelcome — filial reactions come when I least expect them. And, as you can imagine, I avoid them when I can. My dearest daughter, meanwhile, probably wants to spare me her disdain. She probably has my best interests at heart. Right? Of course, right.

That must be why she insisted that I sign the packet her 10th grade Honors English teacher sent home before I actually read it.

You see, my daughter knows me well enough to know that the contents of said package would put me back on my feminist soapbox once again and my subsequent rant would trigger the dreaded eye roll.

The packet explained her new teacher's expectations. It walked through requirements and supplies, tests and quizzes, types of papers. And, it included the year's reading list.

Aye, there's the rub.

Dracula, A Tale of Two Cities, The Catcher in the Rye, Julius Caesar, Macbeth, Maus, 1984, and The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.

A quick quiz: What do these titles have in common? Classics, yes. Long and boring, arguably. Outdated, mainly. But, no. Sorry. The answer I'm looking for is this ... 

They were all written by men. White men, as a matter of fact. 

Surprise, surprise.


I'm so tired of this. It's 2013, people. I'm not criticizing any specific title on this list (although I could, happily, believe me). My point is that out of ten months and eight titles, they can't devote a single selection to a woman? Or a person of color?

When I work with advertising clients (in my day job, running a direct marketing agency), I always stress "Sell what they want, not what you have." It seems to me that the school system in my comfortable little suburb should apply this precept to its English curriculum. 

Who takes Honors English? Mostly girls. 65% at last count (and not just in my town, pretty much everywhere). 

Where are the admirable women characters? (Lady Macbeth, really?) Where are the women coming of age? (Holden Caulfield's hooker, maybe?) Where are the themes and topics and settings that matter to a class of fifteen- and sixteen-year old girls? (Vampires, war, assassinations, totalitarian regimes, an albatross?)

Where, oh where, are the women authors?

According to the handout that I dutifully signed, the theme of Honors 10 English is "Defining the Classic." I'm down with that. I really am. Here, then, is a list of indisputable classics by women. In no particular order as each title is as wondrous and wonderful as the next:

The Awakening by Kate Chopin
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë
Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood
The Group by Mary McCarthy
Beloved by Toni Morrison
To The Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Play It as it Lays by Joan Didion
Rubyfruit Jungle by Rita Mae Brown
West with the Night by Beryl Markham
Middlemarch by George Eliot (Mary Anne Evans)
The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
Out of Africa by Isak Dinesen (Karen von Blixen-Finecke) 
Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton
Frankenstein by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley
Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson

Take your pick. 

Or, better yet, add your suggestions to the comments below.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

First Day, Second Year

Nothing strikes more fear in a high schooler's heart than these four little words:

First. Day. Of. School.

How times have changed, n'est-ce pas?

My now teen daughter started preschool right before her third birthday. She had been in family daycare (I worked at an ad agency in Boston then), but was "moving up." On that very first day (the first of many firsts), she wore a red plaid dress with a smocked bodice, puffed sleeves and crisp white collar. She had on ankle socks and Mary Janes.

How do I remember this? Her first first day of school picture is on my mother's refrigerator. 

Along with the subsequent twelve since.

She was so excited. Her father and I dropped her off with her tiny backpack and her little lunchbox. Of course, we had to capture the moment for posterity. And thus began a tradition shared by proud parents everywhere.

Looking back on all of the "first day of school" pictures, there are fancy hairdos (conceived by my daughter, executed by her mother), favorite footwear (red sparkly Dorothy shoes one year, cowgirl boots the next), classic dresses that were soon replaced by syndicated character clothes (remember Bratz?) and eventually by a sense of casual coolness, that belied the young wearer's anxiety.

Yesterday, the outfit was carefully choreographed not to look like an "outfit." (If the amount of time my daughter spent in front of her mirror prior to coming down for breakfast is any indication, a lot of effort went into looking so effortless.) Cargo shorts and a loose tank top with a mystical design on it, a pair of Toms flat espadrilles. Hair pulled away from her face with a clip.

She grumbled her way through breakfast ("I'm not hungry") and was about to be picked up by a friend's mom. "Wait," I said, looking for a camera. "Picture, picture!"

I'm fortunate that my mother keeps her refrigerator gallery up-to-date (not just with my daughter's pictures but with my young niece's as well). I can use "Grandmama" as my excuse. In truth, though, I treasure these photos just as much.

"Ugh, use your phone," my daughter said, rolling her eyes. We went out to the patio.

"Here, hold your backpack so it's obvious that it's the first day of school. Stand up straight. Okay, now, smile. S-m-i-l-e!" I know I sounded ridiculous, but there are times when it doesn't matter. I shot a couple of pictures in quick succession.

As is her way, she immediately grabbed the phone out of my hands. "Ugh," she groaned, as she hit delete, delete, delete as quickly as possible. "I look disgusting!"

As you know, I am a devoted mother and can be a bit partial. I adore my daughter and personally find her beautiful at any time of any day. That said, while a perfect stranger might not be as enthralled as I am, I seriously doubt anybody would use the word "disgusting" to describe her. I shot again.

"Disgusting!" she repeated. I'm thinking maybe she was out the day they learned that word. We wrestled for the phone and I won. Defeated, she begged me, "Just don't post it on Facebook!"

Our delightful first day of school ritual over, she went off to face sophomore year and I went up to my office to work. I looked forward to hearing about her classes and teachers that afternoon. The first day wasn't so bad, really.

Or as my daughter puts it, "1 down, 179 to go."

Monday, September 2, 2013

Come Sail Away

When it comes to family vacations, I have a bit of a problem. I love to try new things. But, I also love to return to my favorite places. There's nothing wrong with either of these predilections ... or at least there wouldn't be anything wrong if I had (a) unlimited vacation time and (b) unlimited funds with which to plan said unlimited time.

Alas, I have neither.

Still, every year finds us spending New Year's in New York, skiing January weekends up at Sugarbush, and enjoying a summer swan song, sailing off the coast of Maine on the Isaac H. Evans.

This particular family tradition predates our actually being a family. My then-boyfriend, now-husband, first suggested a Maine windjammer cruise back in 1990. He had read in Yankee magazine about a fleet of antique schooners that took passengers for two-, three- and four-day excursions through Penboscot Bay.

Despite my being an urban-dwelling, matinee-going, indoor kind of gal (who, btw, had a long and colorful history of motion sickness), I said ... "Yes."

Let the record state that we were still in that early infatuation stage when his interests are yours and vice versa. (Believe you me, it works both ways. He once told me he "loved going dancing" — go figure.) 

At any rate, I agreed and off we went. As my husband loves to retell it, not only did I immediately fall in love with the experience, but I became the driving force behind a plan to make it an annual excursion. And for the past twenty-three years, we have missed very few opportunities to sail. I skipped the summer of '97 because I was great with child, but my husband took a buddy along instead. And, we missed one year when a hurricane forced the captain to cancel. 

While my daughter was a baby, a toddler and a very little girl, we enlisted doting relatives to stay with her while we escaped to the open seas. (One year, our trip coincided with her birthday. I decided to timeshift and celebrate when we returned without clueing her in to the fact that there was a delay. Since she was just turning four, I figured that what she didn't know wouldn't hurt her. Her loving grandmother, and temporary caregiver, tsk-tsked but went along with the plan.) 

As soon as my daughter was old enough, she insisted on coming too. Now it's very definitely a family affair.

Here's what we love about it:

• No email, no voicemail, no texts. Pull away from Rockland Harbor and we are out of reach. Sorry. Nobody's home. Leave a message at the beep, baby. 


• The scenery is breathtaking. Rocky beaches, towering trees, lighthouses, sprawling "summer cottages" along remote shores. And at night? Constellations, shooting stars, the Milky Way.

I repeat, "Heaven!"

• The best combination of wild creatures and creature comforts. What could be better than watching a family of adorable harbor seals cavorting? Watching them cavort, seated in a comfortable rocking chair with a glass of pinot grigio in your hand.

Have I used the word "Heaven" yet?

Most of all, I think I appreciate the time. Back home, between work and driving and the gym and high school and riding lessons and maintaining our antique house, we are always starving for time. On the schooner, time stands still. Breakfast is over (it was delicious, btw, homestyle, all-you-can-eat) and you have hours ahead of you to sail and talk and read and R-E-L-A-X. My "To Do" list typically includes watching for dolphins and catching up on back issues of The New Yorker.

"Sorry to interrupt, but the lobster bake is starting."

Our annual schooner trips are stress relief beyond compare, and always have been. At least for the grownups. For younger passengers, they're a chance to hoist sails, steer a boat, hang from a hammock over the stern, avoid a shower for multiple days in a row, and talk like a pirate. Add to this the fact that our captain is a wonderful example of a strong and independent woman (she was the first female captain in the fleet) and it's pretty much all you could ask for as a feminist mother looking to throw role models in your teenager's path.

This year, I was just a bit concerned though. As she's moved from her tweens to her teens, my daughter's reliance on electronica has grown exponentially. She's a little too old to climb the mast like a monkey. But was she old enough to see the value in unplugging? Could she live without Twitter and Tumblr, Facebook and Vine?

Turns out, she could! She worked on her summer reading, she slept in, she swam in the icy waters, she hiked on a deserted island. We talked and talked. And, something wonderful happened. She was willing to snuggle and hug. There was a sweet physicality to our mother-daughter relationship that has been sadly missing lately.

At times I thought, "Who are you? And what have you done with my daughter?" But, most of the time, I thought, "Thank you."

In one of Natalie Merchant's deep cuts "Verdi Cries," she sings, "Holidays must end as you know" and too soon (despite the luxurious stretch of time aboard the schooner), we were back in port, loading up and heading back to civilization, clients and looming sophomore year. 

We'll sail again, I know. Until then, I'll hold onto these memories and this feeling. What a gift.

In case you were wondering, my daughter was on her iPhone the entire ride home.