Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Snow Day

Snow days. They're a fact of life here in New England. Each year, when we receive the official calendar for our school district, it includes multiple "Last Day" dates. "Last Day with no snow days," "Last Day with 1 snow day," "Last day with 2 ..." All the way to five potential snow days. At that point, we would be well into July and they stop counting.

Long gone are the days when you watched the local news and followed the crawl along the bottom of your screen to see if your school was closed. Instead, we have automated telephony broadcasts. With our contact numbers in the system, we get prerecorded calls alerting us to any schedule changes.

This week, with "snowmageddon" on the way, we received not one or two or even three calls, but exponentially more. It was entertaining actually. First the house phone would ring, then my office phone, then my husband's cell, then mine. And this happened multiple times. With the storm pending, they cancelled after-school activities Monday. Then school itself Tuesday. Then school, again, Wednesday. Meanwhile, the town called, using the same effective if rather redundant system to tell us that there was a parking ban and a driving ban, that we needed to keep the roads clear so plows could plow and emergency vehicles could get through.

Well, duh.

Sure enough, the snow came down overnight and we woke to a winter wonderland. Although we had slightly fewer inches than predicted (a mere 22 at last count), the winds had been tremendous, creating massive drifts around our house, up on our porch and completely covering our cars.

Since I work from a home office and — miracle of miracles — there was no power of WiFi outage, it was pretty much business as usual for me. 

For my teen daughter? Well, she did what teens do best. She slept in.

Once she was up and about, the day progressed fairly quietly. The storm continued. I had some ad copy due and some conference calls ("How much did you get?"). My husband shoveled, carving narrow paths through piles of snow so we could reach the street. My daughter watched back-to-back Gossip Girls while staying in constant contact with her BFFs via her iPhone. We all had leftover Chinese. 

Mid-afternoon, feeling more than a little cabin feverish, we ventured forth, my daughter taking a sled and a couple of friends to the hill behind a nearby elementary school, my husband and I walking down to the harbor. Thirty-foot waves broke over one of the harborside restaurants, which nevertheless stayed open serving "chowdah," "lobstah," rum and beer to stalwart locals.

Nice to know that the town has its priorities straight.

Back home, with a fire roaring, we eventually settled in and watched Downton Abbey. It occurred to me, as we sat under an enormous fleece blanket, that this is what New England families have been doing for centuries. Weathering storms together. 

Except, of course, for the wide screen TV and the on-demand entertainment, the WiFi, the mobile phones and iPad, the microwave popcorn and the Keurig coffee machine.

Otherwise, it's exactly the same.

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Monday, January 26, 2015

One Thing At A Time

In his youth, my husband waited tables for many years at diverse fine dining establishments. (He was also once the "Wharf Rat," wearing a fuzzy life-sized rodent costume in honor of a seaside restaurant's concept cocktail — but that's another story.) When we go out for dinner, it drives him nuts if a member of the waitstaff doesn't work efficiently. For example, if he or she is carrying a pitcher of water to someone else's table, passing by your half-empty glasses along the way. Or if they come over when you've finished eating, ask if you'd like coffee or dessert, then leave with your new order in hand but without any of your finished plates.

I never worked at a restaurant, but I did sell shoes all through college and after hours to supplement my first job in publishing (because the salary they were paying made it very clear that they only wanted to work with young people who had trust funds). The same concept of efficient traffic applied there as well. If I was going back into the stock room for a pair of red suede boots, I should pick up the pile of discarded high-heeled pumps and strappy sandals on my way.

Despite years of yoga, I still try to do more than one thing at a time — often with alarming consequences. My office is on the top floor of a nearly 200-year-old house. The stairs are steep, winding and uneven. When I need a coffee refill, I'm never content to simply carry my mug downstairs. Oh no, that would be too easy and shockingly inefficient. Instead, I grab the cup, my empty yogurt container and spoon, the outgoing mail, rough drafts to be recycled, and my cell phone. This leaves no free hand to hold the stair rail. 

Suffice it to say, I don't need yet another broken foot.

Nevertheless, fractured metatarsals aside, I'm not satisfied unless I'm accomplishing as much as possible. People like me typically point with pride to such obsessive and foolish behavior as "multitasking."

Of course, my teenage daughter and her generation have brought the concept of multitasking to a whole new level. When she heads up to her room after dinner to do homework, there's a lot more going on than one might think. Yes, she has her colossal AP U.S. History textbook open, notebook next to it, pen at the ready (only 24 pages of notes tonight, no worries). But, she also has her laptop running. She's uploading a video to Vimeo, streaming iTunes and emailing a teacher. Meanwhile, her iPhone is also in use. She's participating in multiple group texts, reviewing another teacher's PowerPoint slides, taking and posting study selfies, and playing Trivia Crack.

My best friend has three children several years older than mine. (Two are in med school and one is pursuing a PhD in nursing — underachievers all.) She told me that it took her youngest much longer to finish homework than the other two. The reason being that by the time the youngest was in high school, the kids had smart phones and access to all of the life-enhancing apps I've outlined above.

The idea of simply sitting in one place and studying for an hour or two (or four) is absolutely alien now. So I wonder are we raising a whole generation of people with attention-deficit disorder? Or are we witnessing the rise of a race of super efficient multitaskers extraordinaire?

And, if so, how will we pay for all those broken feet?

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Friday, January 23, 2015

Just Another Manic Midterm

Maybe it's my theatrical background. I'm big on celebrating milestones, on recognizing days of import, on marking anniversaries and occasions with ritual and sometimes rewards. Just ask my teenage daughter. I've choreographed countless traditions for our family. We get up before dawn on her birthday every year to watch the sunrise together from a nearby waterside park. We always listen to Patrick Stewart's A Christmas Carol when we drive to New York for the holidays. We always stop at Big Al's infamous odd lot store on our way home from Maine. When she was younger, we celebrated each last day of school with a mother-daughter field trip into Boston for the aquarium and lunch in the North End. 

Junior year midterms ended today. This is a big deal. The preparation was grueling, the exams tough. This teacher didn't provide a study guide. That one changed the rules halfway through. Another had the nerve to test the class on subjects that hadn't been taught yet. Worst of all, they were expected to read French and write French and speak French for the Honors French exam. Sacre bleu! I mean, what did Madame think they were taking? French or something? I mean, this is A-mer-i-ca. We speak Eng-lish.

(Ce que le baiser?)

The days prior to the mid-terms included all manner of technology-assisted cramming. The students took "quizlets" and watched short videos that unraveled the mysteries of Physics and Pre-Calc. Texts flew back and forth at lightning speed. "I heard this won't be on the test." "I heard that will." "My older sister's boyfriend's friend's younger brother said that the essay counts for 60% of the grade."

Oy vey.

All in all, it's been a very stressful couple of weeks of an ├╝ber-stressful year. And now, at last, it's over. My daughter wholeheartedly agrees that it warrants recognition and rewards. She just doesn't want me along for the ride.

To celebrate the end of midterms, my daughter is driving two of her best friends to the nearest Boston T station. (Although she's no longer the only kid on the block with a license, she's still the only one old enough to drive other kids.) From there, they'll take the train into town — the blue line, then the green line, then the red line — and spend the afternoon in Harvard Square.

I'd like to think it will inspire them to accomplish great things and attend a top-notch university.

No, no, no. In reality, Harvard Square is simply f-u-n. There's an Urban Outfitters and a Panera and a Chipotle. There are used record stores and vintage clothing stores. Funky gifts and junky food and caffecaramelmochaccinofrappiattos. The best ice cream anywhere, live music on the corners and some awesome, unparalleled really, people-watching.

How do I know all this? Because I myself love Harvard Square. I worked there through college. I still go there often for dinners or book readings or theatre. I would love to play hooky this afternoon, put all my clients' projects on hold and go hang out in Cambridge.

But, alas, I wasn't invited. And truly don't deserve to be. After all, I didn't just finish midterms. 

And I certainly didn't have to speak French! (Sheesh!)

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Tuesday, January 20, 2015

All Paths Lead to Pastry

There's a dusty artist's portfolio under my bed. Inside it are years and years' worth of poster board school projects. Off the top of my head, I can list: George Washington (we photocopied quarters and glued them around the edge), rock formations (with pictures taken at a nearby bird sanctuary), gypsum (which turns out to be a another word for alabaster, who knew?), science fair submissions, book reports, math facts, single-celled organisms, and a timeline for the ride of Paul Revere.

I treasure these things. The artist, thereof? Not so much. She's definitely moved on.

It's been a while since we pulled an all-hands-on-deck family evening around posters or shoebox dioramas (my personal favorites). Junior year means lots of papers, lots of exams, lots and lots of stress, but not very many projects, per se.

So when my daughter explained that she needed my help for an historic Boston scavenger hunt to get extra credit in AP U.S. History, I cleared my calendar. Basically she had me at "scavenger hunt" and "extra credit."

We left fairly early and after some discussion over a map, we drove through Boston to the farthest site on her list. The JFK Library and Museum. While we were rerouted around some massive U Mass Boston construction undertaking, we talked about Kennedy. I reminded her that she had visited the museum in third grade (she vaguely remembered). She told me that they had an in-class debate about whether, given the chance, they would have prevented the assassination of Lincoln or Kennedy. She had argued Kennedy and won. We took a quick picture (all right, several, she wasn't happy with the first half dozen) to prove she was there. And our hunt continued.

The next stop was Fort Independence in South Boston and the Donald McKay monument. "Who was Donald McKay?" I asked as we drove along the water and out to Castle Island. "I dunno," she shrugged. "Don't you have to know to get the extra credit?" "No, we just have to take a picture." Okay then. (Turns out, Donald McKay was the builder of the famous clipper ships Flying Cloud and Sovereign of the Seas.)

From there, we drove through "Southie" and across the Congress Street Bridge into Boston's financial district. Parking there is notoriously bad. Actually, it's impossible. So, I pulled over — illegally — and live parked — illegally — while my daughter raced out to take a couple of selfies with the Boston Tea Party museum and reproduction ships. There was no need to quiz her on this particular site. They studied the Boston Tea Party in first grade, second grade, fourth grade, seventh grade ... basically, ad nauseam.

Next, we had a number of places downtown — the Dorothea Dix Fountain and the site of the Boston Massacre. After a couple of fruitless loops through Beantown's erratic one-way streets, accompanied by lots of colorful language, I decided to h*ll with it! I parked under Post Office Square, justifying it as necessary and worthwhile (why do we have all that home equity anyway). It would be about $36 by the time we were done, but that's not such a high price to pay for sanity, is it?


We hiked up Beacon Hill and shot the State House and 54th Regiment Memorial. We went back down and into the North End to find the Pilot House and Paul Revere's house.

And Mike's Pastry.

You see, as the parent and chauffeur, I had made an executive decision. After so much scavenger hunting, we had earned some cannoli. Some cannoli and a fudge brownie and a lobster tail, to be more precise. A lobster tail is an enormous pastry shaped like a horn, filled with massive amounts of whipped cream. And no one makes them quite like Mike's.

Then again, everything at Mike's is wonderful. Many years ago, I used to stop there after work on my way home to my one-room, much-loved apartment. I'd always get a huge butterscotch chip cookie. Always. Every single day. Before you imagine me as a the love child of Blimpie the Whale and Elsie the Moo Cow, let me assure you I was quite svelte. 

Those were the days. Mike's doesn't make those cookies anymore. It's probably a good thing. 

Anyway, back to the here and now. Throughout all this hunting (and eating), I regaled my daughter with stories from her father's and my shared past. We met in this very neighborhood, I told her. We worked together at a cable television company on the North End's waterfront. "We worked there," I pointed. "See those two windows on the second floor? That was my office. We used to buy lunch over here. This used to be the coolest restaurant. That was once a candy store. There was a bar there that we used to go to after work." To my daughter's credit, she listened to my narration without sighing or rolling her eyes. Maybe she was being kind. Maybe she was grateful for my help with her hunt. Maybe she was legitimately interested in the halcyon days of her parents' relationship.

More likely? She was already deep in a sugar-induced coma.

What can I say? Like mother, like daughter.

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Friday, January 16, 2015

That Awkward Moment

The one question I'm asked most often when people find out that I blog about my daughter is ... "What does your daughter say about that?" 

Nothing, really.

Since I started Lovin' the Alien, in March of 2011, I have asked my now seventeen-year-old to write posts. They could be her take on teen trends, musings about a current event, a review of her favorite show or book or app, even a rebuttal to something I had written. But no, her interest level was ... 


Over the years, I did manage to sneak some of her thoughts in. Usually, it was a dialogue between us (her part consisting of monosyllables, groans and/or eye rolls). Once, I was able to include a passage from an English paper she'd written. But, as far as contributing to the blog itself, not interested. I don't know; maybe she felt it would be awkward.

Well, I'm reaching out to other teenagers via the wonderful world wide web. 

One thing they all seem to agree on is that, yes, there are times when you feel awkward. Plenty of them. In fact, sharing the whens, wheres, hows and whys (not to mention who withs) of awkwardness fills countless tweets from teens. 

I've collected some for you here. (I've corrected spelling to help those of us who weren't born after 1995.) Typically, these posts begin with "That awkward moment ..." And here's how they end.

That awkward moment when you're playing with your pen and it suddenly flies across the room

That awkward moment when you're talking to your crush and your gum falls out of your mouth

That awkward moment when you need to cough in an exam but you've already coughed like twice so you just sit there suffocating

That awkward moment when you're walking and then you start thinking about how you're walking and you feel like you're walking weird

That awkward moment when you laugh hysterically at something but no one else thinks it was funny

That awkward moment when everyone else is laughing hysterically and you're like"I don't get it"

That awkward moment when you have no friends in a class and the teacher says to pair up

That awkward moment when kids younger than you have a more interesting love life

That awkward moment when you see a 10-year-old with a better phone than you

That awkward moment when your parents try to be funny in front of your friends

That awkward moment when you spell a word so wrong even autocorrect can't figure it out

That awkward moment when your mom's doing the dishes so you put another one in and walk away real fast

That awkward moment when you meet someone and they're wearing more makeup than clothes

That awkward moment when you throw something at your friend and it hits someone else

That awkward moment when the dentist asks you a question while his whole hand is in your mouth

That awkward moment when you're in the car and you look at people in the car next to you and they're already looking at you

That awkward moment when you shout out the answer in class and it's wrong

That awkward moment when you walk out of your room in your pajamas and there's a guest in the house

That awkward moment when the doctor asks you what's the matter and your mother answers for you

That awkward moment when you're talking about someone and they're right behind you

And last but not least

That awkward moment when there's an awkward moment and everyone knows it's an awkward moment and someone finally says "AAWWKKWWAARRDD"

Yes. I can understand why that would be ... well ... awkward.

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Monday, January 12, 2015

Pass the Popcorn: Into the Woods

It was 1986; I had moved back-back to Boston (after moving back to New York after college). I had no money. I was living in a one-room apartment on Beacon Hill and pretty much subsisting on ramen noodles and Kraft macaroni and cheese. (I told you I had no money.) Nevertheless, I loved my new job, my new neighborhood, the new friends I was making. I couldn't afford to go the theatre much, but I figured that would all change once my career took off. (Aren't we wonderfully confident at 24?) Meanwhile, I had a VCR and a 99-cent video store around the corner.

My family back in New York went to the theatre often and kept me abreast of the latest shows on Broadway (and took me to them whenever I visited). One day, I received a postcard from my mother. It was the poster art for a new Stephen Sondheim show, Into the Woods. They had passed them out to the musical's patrons hoping they would spread the word. (Remember, we were decades away from social media and viral marketing.) My mother's handwritten message was succinct:

Don't waste your money.

Snap, Mom!

Several years later, I was doing a bit better financially. I was able to build a CD collection of favorite musicals (as well as buy legitimate food). First, I replaced all my scratched up record albums. Then, I became fascinated with Sondheim and bought Company, A Little Night Music, Sweeney Todd, Passion, Assassins, and Sunday in the Park with George. His work lacked the lovely melodies of Rodgers and Hammerstein, but I found his lyrics fascinating. Despite my mother's earlier warning, I invested in a copy of Into the Woods.

I confess, I loved it.

Besides the allure of the whole fractured fairytale thing, there were serious themes that warranted listening and listening again to appreciate. The idea of nice vs. good. Our need for happy ever afters and our bewilderment when we get what we want and then realize that what we got isn't what we want anymore.

Despite multiple tours and revivals, I didn't get a chance to see a live production of Into the Woods until last winter. I took my daughter and two friends to see a small but really excellent version of it by one of Boston's regional theatre companies. We all loved it, and looked forward to the by-then announced movie version. Yesterday, with homework (mostly) done, my daughter and I went to see it at our town's tiny cinema. I brought bottled water and M&Ms and we bought two bags of popcorn.

We both loved it. We agreed that Emily Blunt, Anna Kendrick and James Corden were all fantastic. With Daniel Huttlestone and Lilla Crawford, the (let's face it, difficult) casting of the "dim-witted boy and hungry little girl" was ideal. (Jack and Riding Hood can be so obnoxious.) I have a thing for wolf Johnny Depp, always have. And we agreed that the two princes, Chris Pine and Billy Magnussen, were dreamy and their duet "Agony" was a highlight of the movie.

But, the character I gravitated to most was the Witch.

It's not because Meryl Streep is a goddess brought to Earth and everything she touches turns to gold. (She is and it does, but that's not why.) It's not because I'm feeling old and ugly and more than a little wicked. (I am and I am and I am, but that's not why either.) It is, of course, because of all the characters, the Witch is the one who voiced how I feel as the mother of a teen.

When Rapunzel wants to leave her ivory tower, the Witch laments "Children can only grow / From something you love / To something you lose ..."  

As the movie finished — without many happy endings but with some hope for the future — La Streep sings Sondheim's beautiful "Children Will Listen" over the credits.

Careful the things you say
Children will listen
Careful the things you do
Children will see and learn
Children may not obey, but children will listen
Children will look to you for which way to turn
To learn what to be
Careful before you say "Listen to me"
Children will listen

By all accounts, including his own, Sondheim had a fairly miserable youth. Openly gay today, he never had any children. But he definitely understands how it feels to lose your little one to the big bad world (or — we can't help but hope —  to a big old happy ending).

How do you say to a child who's in flight
"Don't slip away and I won't hold so tight"

I'm working on that one right now.

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Saturday, January 10, 2015

All the Single Ladies

Yesterday afternoon, my husband left for a business trip. A rather extended one at a rather long distance away. For the next two weeks, he'll be in Tel Aviv. My teenage daughter and I will "hold down the fort."

Originally, I had planned to join him for a few days. We had a sizable credit on United and his hotel is already taken care of. I've never been to Israel and our plans included taking day trips to Jerusalem, the Dead Sea, and other historic and religious sites. Unfortunately, the current troubles there gave us pause. We agreed (and were reassured by many ) that Tel Aviv would be quite safe. But, I didn't want to go all the way there and back without seeing other places considered dangerous right now. He'll be headed back again in a few months and hopefully the political climate will have improved by then.

So, here we are without him — just the womenfolk. I wanted to make our first dinner together something special, but my daughter had other ideas. She and some friends went to Panera. Or was it Bertucci's? (The trash in the car — of which there was A LOT — indicated that they may have stopped at both of these fine dining establishments.) Either way, they definitely drove through McDonald's for McFlurries afterwards.

I had some leftover Chinese and read The New Yorker.

Long gone are the days when she and I used to delightedly plan "sleepover parties" while her dad was away on business. Our so-called "parties" weren't terribly exciting. They typically entailed pizza and a favorite DVD (depending on the year, it might have been The Little Mermaid 2, Lady and the Tramp 2, Peter Pan 2 — she had a thing for those Disney sequels). We'd stay up late! Then she would sleep in her father's place in my room. We only did this one night each business trip, because I never got enough sleep. My daughter was a kicker and a roller and a thrasher.

Sleep deprivation aside, I loved those times. 

I miss them.

Now, at seventeen, sleeping with mom has very little allure. Oh, let's face it, it has no allure whatsoever! Over the next couple of weeks, I'll be working and trying to stick to my new year's resolutions (the usual: diet and exercise). My daughter will attend school, go to the stable, and prepare for mid-terms. Pretty much what we would do anyway, whether her dad were here or not. 

It used to be a treat when I let her stay up late. These days, she's awake later than I am more often than not. I go to bed to read about 10 or so (and fall asleep soon after), and she's usually only halfway through her homework by then. Since I get up first, I typically find evidence of her nocturnal activity waiting downstairs. Dirty bowl in the sink with remnants of Ben & Jerry's S'mores. Throw pillows that have been ... well ... thrown about. Textbooks on the dining room table. iPad with significantly less charge left than I remembered.

My daughter likes to have our place to herself once in a while. It's tough because my office is in the house so I'm almost always here when she gets home from school. (Very 21st century. Her mother works beyond full-time, but she's the digital age opposite of a latchkey kid.) So, along with all of my regular activity, plus the household chores my husband usually handles (trash and recycling and dry cleaning and watering plants and checking the chemicals in our ancient, but still wonderful, hot tub), I plan to give her as much space and autonomy as I reasonably can.

Unless, that is, she asks to have a "sleepover party."

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Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Teens in Tinseltown

After my teenage daughter left for school this morning, I went on my usual walk. 

I wore thermal leggings under my yoga pants, a quilted lining in my ski parka, fleece gloves and hat, plus two scarves — one around my neck, one tied tightly over my mouth and nose. 

It was 12-degrees, and even though the air was crisp and clear and the frozen harbor sparkled, my walk ... well ... it pretty much sucked.

Here in New England, winter is the perfect season to ski and skate and snowshoe. If you're so inclined. Myself? I'd rather be reclined. Temperatures dropping mean couches beckoning. 

Winter is the perfect season for an on-demand film festival. 

Sadly, video stores are few and far between these days. But, thanks to the combined magic of Fios, Netflix and Amazon Prime, I can pretty much find any movie I want. And, with my daughter's competition season still a few months away  we do sometimes find ourselves together in front of the TV. Recently we watched Love Actually (for about the three thousandth time).  

For future film festival reference (ours and yours), here are some of Hollywood's best teen girl titles.

Mean Girls
Pre-lunatic Lindsay Lohan is terrific in this inside look at high school politics and popularity. It was written by and co-stars the brilliant Tina Fey, so you can count on it being smart and funny.

The Hunger Games and Divergent
I'll list these together, because they're cinematic soulmates. Dystopian drama wouldn't be my thing if I weren't always looking for common ground with my own teen. And how can any feminist argue when the heroines are so heroic?

Easy A
With The Scarlet Letter as her inspiration, a fairly straight and literate young woman makes a name for herself (and amasses a wallet-ful of gift cards) pretending to be the school's raciest adulteress.

Funky teen finds out she's with child (thanks to single coupling with the world's nerdiest boyfriend) and decides to go through with the pregnancy and put the baby up for adoption. A movie pro-choicers and pro-lifers can agree on! 

High School Musical
Okay, this title may be better suited for tweens, but the singing and dancing (and singing and dancing and then some more singing and dancing) is so adorable. It predates (and outglees) Glee.

The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants
This one's a little long and a little preachy at points, but the collection of denim-clad besties is diverse (well, not racially, of course; they're all white, white, white). Their quirky personalities and love for each other are endearing.

"Okay, so you’re probably going, “Is this like a Noxzema commercial or what?” But seriously, Cher actually has a way normal life for a teenage girl. As if! And besides, a watch doesn't really go with her outfit."

Sixteen Candles
This one my daughter didn't dig so much, but I think 16-year old Samantha's birthday was as "Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad" as any day Alexander ever had. Brutal bridesmaid dress, public panty humiliation. Bad but pretty funny.

Bend it Like Beckham
'Love this cross-culture girl-power story with Parminder Nagra, Keira Knightley and Jonathan Rhys Meyers (pre his stint on The Tudors). There aren't enough movies about girls and sports and this one is a winner on so many levels.

Dirty Dancing
My husband complains that this is always on, and it does seem to enjoy a fairly heavy cable rotation. I probably know it by heart (and we may even have the DVD somewhere), but I still have to stop and watch. No one puts Baby in a corner!

There were pretty much no teens in this classic teen movie from the late 70s. (I remember thinking 'They all look so old.' Now, of course, they look pretty young. And so it goes, right?) Regardless, it's still just so fun!

Actually, they're all so fun. Pass the microwave popcorn. (And if I've missed any, please post your favorite in the comments.)

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Monday, January 5, 2015

Counting Unanticipated Blessings

2015. As John Lennon said, "Another year over and a new one just begun." We celebrated Christmas at home, then a few days later went to New York for New Year's. As usual by early January, I was putting away all our decorations (three trees, countless ornaments), putting together a new datebook, making earnest (if, soon to be short-lived) resolutions, and nagging.

Yes, in the last few years, nagging has become part of my holiday ritual. As certain as egg nog and sugar cookies — but a lot less fun.

My teenage daughter, now a junior at the local high school, had a tremendous amount of homework over the winter break. Do I think she deserves to relax, veg out, watch Dance Moms if she wants to? Of course. Do I get anxious when I see her relaxing, vegging out, watching Dance Moms?

Of course.

Two weeks off seems like a long time when it starts. Especially when you're seventeen. The problem is I'm a little older and I know how fast those two weeks will really go. How soon it will all start up again with reading due, papers to turn in, tests to take ... all on the very first day back.

Where was my daughter after midnight last night? Not in bed asleep. By then, even she was asking "Where did those two weeks go?"

Of course, I'm always thinking about how time is flying. And, I'm not just referring to holiday vacations. It seems like yesterday (or at least last week) that my daughter was in preschool, elementary school, middle school. Her grades were great — with surprisingly little effort. (In hindsight, very very very little effort.) Her attitude was ... well, it wasn't what I now call an "attitude." She was cheerful, optimistic. She liked her classes; she liked her teachers. School wasn't the "big bad" it is today.

And, my daughter is by no means alone. Years ago, I would chat with other mothers outside while we waited for the kids to be dismissed. We were optimistic then too. Our daughters were smart and funny and talented and kind. They would continue to be that way forever.

Now we all sit around shell-shocked, drinking wine (or coffee, depending on the daypart) and commiserating. Every kid I know "hates" school.

All of this negativity about school is new and alien to me. I loved school. I loved schoolwork. I loved getting good grades on tests and papers.

Let's face it, I was a nerd!

Actually, I was a nerd in a sea of nerds, an entire building filled with bookish girls and boys just like me, a test school in New York City where being smart meant a lot more than being prom queen.

My daughter isn't me.

Of course, she's not an aspiring prom queen either. Thank goodness I'm not dealing with that level of vacuousness. My daughter's serious. She's not very serious about her school work (unless we're talking "seriously bored" or "seriously unhappy"), but she is very serious about her horse, riding, training, competing and teaching. 

Being less of an athlete myself (my best bet would have been joining the Mathletes in Mean Girls), I am in awe all the time as I watch her control a thousand-pound animal, whether she's jumping fences, negotiating water obstacles or doing the precision dance of dressage.

If she spent half the time studying that she does training, she'd be valedictorian. Blah blah blah.

But, she wouldn't be happy.

She has other skills, of course. Lately she's demonstrated an aptitude for games on her phone (Trivia Crack is a current favorite) and for "multitasking," which also demonstrates her talent for euphemisms, since the term seems to be synonymous with procrastination when there's homework to be done.

Still, she manages to get by and to do reasonably well. Would I like her to be as grade-obsessed as I once was? Yes! Yes, by all means. But, would I be willing to trade her courage in the ring, her strength, her knowledge, dedication and the skills she's developed for it? Tempting. Very tempting, but no.

My daughter will succeed on her terms, not mine.

Now, if she'd only turn off Dance Moms.

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Friday, January 2, 2015

Good Seat? Good Head!

My teenage daughter started riding horses before she was six years old. (In one of those parenting moments of truth, the ones where you set a questionable example, we actually lied about her age — slightly — to get her lessons going a couple of weeks before her birthday. In our defense, she had already been begging for them for nearly three years.) From virtually day one, we heard "She has a good seat."

According to, a rider with a "good seat' (they prefer the term "independent seat"):

• Has body parts that can function independently. Legs can apply rider signals without causing any loss of balance.

• Does not rely on the reins for balance and does not grip with the legs to stay on the horse.

• Can absorb the movement of the horse correctly and therefore doesn't bounce.

• Has correct hip-to-ankle alignment and can easily go from sitting to standing (or vice versa) in the stirrups.

• Can quietly and effectively influence the movements of the horse and stay in balance with the horse.

My daughter inherited many wonderful traits from me. But, her "good seat" ain't one of them. (Basically, they lost me at "stay on the horse.")

I can Google and joke as much as I want, but I'm very proud of my daughter — seat and all. At horse shows, it isn't unusual for a judge or a coach or an experienced rider to come up and compliment her. I may not always understand exactly what is being praised, but I'm still known to swell with maternal pride.

This week, she showed us that she can keep her seat while riding and keep her head in a crisis.

We drive down to New York every New Year's for a second Christmas with my city family and New Year's Eve. (No, if you're about to ask, we do NOT go down to Times Square. No, no, no.) My sister and brother are performing artists and they typically line up something unusual and urbane and utterly fab-u-lous for us.

But, with all this Big Apple fun to look forward to, we more or less dread the drive itself. Fairly long and monotonous on a good day, the ride can be a nightmare during the holidays. Various work schedules kept us from leaving until the morning of the 30th. And, unless we wanted to hit the road before 6:00 am, we had to wait until after Boston rush hour.

"We're leaving at 10:00," I decreed to my daughter.

"Can I ride first?" she asked.

"If you're all packed and back here, showered and in the car by 10:00."

Off she went. I was on a call with an important new business prospect when the text came in.

we went on a trail and S______ fell off i just called ambulance

Okay, you try to sell your ad agency services with that in front of you! Two seconds later ...

so won't be home by 10 sorry

At this point, our estimated time of departure is rather far from my mind. Fortunately, my husband was working from home, so I opened his office door, tossed him my cell and pantomimed "Call her!" I wrapped up quickly.

About two hours later (and about an hour late), she showed up. It turns out that as they neared the end of the trail ride, she and her horse took off cantering toward the stable. (Remember, she has a "good seat.") The other girl's horse got excited and did two "power bucks," the first of which left the girl hanging onto the horse's neck. The second unseated her.

Our daughter acted fast. She circled back and told the girl (who, at this point was lying on the ground, hysterical) to stay where she fell. She called the stable to warn them that the other horse was returning without a rider. She immediately called 911 for an ambulance. Meanwhile, the barn manager called the girl's parents (who, thankfully, live close by) and their trainer. By the time the ambulance arrived (just five minutes later), everyone was on the scene.

"Why didn't you call the ambulance first?" we later asked.

"Because the stable needed to catch the horse and make the other calls."

"How did you know to tell S______ not to try and sit up."

She rolled her eyes. "Everyone knows that."

We were a little over an hour late leaving for New York. My daughter's young friend has four broken ribs and "a tear." My daughter has a good seat.

And a good head on her shoulders.

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