Monday, March 30, 2015

Don't Cry For Me, One Direction

Last summer, my now seventeen-year-old daughter spent ten days in Barcelona. She rode champion horses at a premiere dressage stable. She toured the city with its weird and wonderful Gaudi architecture. She tried new foods and may have even picked up a phrase or two of Spanish.

Oh, and she went to a One Direction concert.

Despite having several "1D" obsessed friends over the years, my daughter was never a big fan herself. And, these days, that's probably a good thing.

Because, even as I type this, hundreds, thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands of her contemporaries are in mourning over the loss of One Direction's Zayn Malik.

Fear not, Zayn didn't meet some untimely end. By all accounts he's in perfect health, still adorable and still wealthy beyond the most extravagant dreams of other twenty-two-year-olds. 

His net worth is estimated at $215 million.

Holy no need to buy store-brand — like ever — Batman! 

The announcement was released last week in an almost unbelievably civil statement from the group, Zayne and their producer, the sometimes-less-than-civil Simon Cowell:

After five incredible years Zayn Malik has decided to leave One Direction. Niall, Harry, Liam and Louis will continue as a four-piece and look forward to the forthcoming concerts of their world tour and recording their fifth album, due to be released later this year.

Zayn says: "My life with One Direction has been more than I could ever have imagined. But, after five years, I feel like it is now the right time for me to leave the band. I'd like to apologise to the fans if I've let anyone down, but I have to do what feels right in my heart. I am leaving because I want to be a normal 22-year-old who is able to relax and have some private time out of the spotlight. I know I have four friends for life in Louis, Liam, Harry and Niall. I know they will continue to be the best band in the world."

One Direction say: "We're really sad to see Zayn go, but we totally respect his decision and send him all our love for the future. The past five years have been beyond amazing, we've gone through so much together, so we will always be friends. The four of us will now continue. We're looking forward to recording the new album and seeing all the fans on the next stage of the world tour."

Simon Cowell says: "I would like to say thank you to Zayn for everything he has done for One Direction. Since I first met Zayn in 2010, I have grown very, very fond — and immensely proud — of him. I have seen him grow in confidence and I am truly sorry to see him leave. As for One Direction, fans can rest assured that Niall, Liam, Harry and Louis are hugely excited about the future of the band."

Wow. Apparently, manners matter to One Direction (even Martha Stewart would approve).

My own daughter barely batted an eye at the news, but many teen girls are crushed. In fact, some have taken their grief to dangerous levels. Crying themselves to sleep is one thing, self-harm is quite another. A Twitter hashtag #Cut4Zayn was trending within hours of the announcement, complete with photos of injured arms. Tweets included messages of real hopelessness. "How am I supposed to live the rest of my life?"
I confess, I thought this would be a humorous post, but as I did some quick research it became obvious that there are young girls taking Zayn's defection very seriously. In the age of social media, teens feel even closer to their idols than we did thirty and forty years ago.
Psychologists suggest that parents try not to trivialize whatever their tweens and teens are feeling. You and I may be absolutely certain that the world will go on with or without Zayn, but the grief his fans are experiencing is very real to them. We should listen and respect their feelings; we shouldn't judge. 
SugarScape, Hearst UK's online"destination of choice for a hard-to-please, dynamic young audience, reporting the news and exclusives that matter most to them as soon as they happen," offers these "self-help" tips for troubled teens:

1. Remember, this is not the end.

2. We had five years of 5/5.
3. Two words: Solo. Projects.
4. You have millions of fellow fans to help you get through this.
5. It's good for Zayn and he will be happier.

SugarScape also recommends building a pillow fort, taping pictures of Zayn's face inside, and watching his Top 10 Sexy Dancing Gifs.

We may not have Zayn anymore. But, we'll always have his Gifs.

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Friday, March 27, 2015

We Interrupt This Blog For A Serious Message

I really enjoy blogging about being the mother of a teen. And hopefully, most of my readers (nearly 108,000 views at last count!) find most of my posts funny. Or familiar. Or funny and familiar.

But, sometimes I get messages from other mothers looking for more serious content. Like online safety, risky behavior and dangerous teen trends

With this in mind (and with their permission), I'm excerpting and reposting a story that recently ran on Your Teen

Your Teen Magazine asked Dr. Erica Michiels, a pediatric emergency medicine specialist, to list the most dangerous teen behavior she's seeing. Here's what she had to say:

Do drugs still bring a lot of teenagers into the emergency room?
Drug use has changed a lot, and it’s hard for parents to keep on top of the different drugs that teenagers are using. We see a lot of teenagers who are abusing prescription drugs. This is huge and on the rise. Parents need to know that the place where most teenagers are getting these drugs is their own medicine cabinets. They are not necessarily getting them from a drug dealer. They are stealing them from their friends, parents, grandparents, and neighbors. The majority of what we see is not the illegal “street” drugs. It’s prescription drugs being taken incorrectly or the designer drugs.

Which prescription drugs specifically?
Any prescription pain medication. They often have names like Vicodin, Percocet or Norco. Also, muscle relaxers, like Soma or Flexeril. And then unfortunately some things you don’t think of, like prescription cough syrups that contain narcotics. Some teenagers are also mixing over-the-counter cough-and-cold medications, which they drink alone or with prescription narcotics. That goes by the name of Purple Drank or Sizzurp.

What do you mean by designer drugs?
These are synthetic drugs that are not necessarily even illegal. You can buy them at head shops, truck stops, even online. But they are not less dangerous than a lot of the illegal drugs out there. A great example is K2 Spice, which is a synthetic form of marijuana. Bath salts — a synthetic stimulant — is another example.

How about alcohol?
There are now vaporized alcohol products, which is a dried form of alcohol that teenagers are sniffing. Lately, we’ve also seen teenagers soaking tampons in alcohol and then inserting them vaginally or rectally. That way, the alcohol absorbs into the body readily, but there is no odor of alcohol. So, it’s another way to sneak those substances.

And the illegal “street” drugs?
Pot is still a huge one, and surprisingly easy to get ahold of. Heroin is also making a comeback. Some of that has to do with the crackdown on prescription drugs. It’s harder to get prescription drugs and heroin — which has the same active ingredient as some prescription drugs — is cheap right now.

What warning signs should parents watch for when it comes to teen risk taking?
I recommend that if you are seeing changes in your teenager’s behavior, including changes in hygiene, you take a closer look. Say your teenager has always paid attention to how he dresses and now he’s not. Well, you need to check in. Talk to your teenager’s teachers about how he or she is doing at school. Talk to the counselor. If you are suspicious, bring your teenager in for a talk with the pediatrician. Try to avoid just calling your teenager out, keep communication open and supportive so they will talk to you.

You can read the entire interview here.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

High Stakes

Several years ago, I complained to a coworker about a particularly late night I had spent helping a particular daughter with a particular science project.

"Why?" he asked.

"Because she wouldn't have gotten it done otherwise."


"So, she would have failed."

"So, let her fail."

This left me speechless. It was a completely unacceptable concept for me (and absolute proof that the aforementioned coworker was not a parent).

In hindsight, maybe, I should have let her fail. The stakes in third grade weren't so high. Today? Oy vey. It feels like any little hiccup on any quarter's report card will mean the difference between attending a respectable university and becoming a productive member of society. Or wearing a batik skirt, Birkenstocks and hitchhiking cross-country following the Grateful Dead.

Except these days, she would wear something from Urban Outfitters and follow Imagine Dragons or Walk the Moon or, her personal favorite, Magic Man.

I can't begin to tell you how tired I am of the never-ending mantras of my fellow terrified parents ...

"Junior year: this is the year that really counts."

"It's harder to get into college now than when we went."

"Your son/daughter simply has to take the SATs twice plus ACTs (and three subject matter SATs and at least two APs)."

To say the stakes are high — or, at least, that we perceive them to be — is the understatement of the year. And, if I've learned anything so far about this whole college application process, it's that there is no room for understatement. Your child must be the best, the brightest, the biggest thing since sliced bread. A scholar, a leader, an athlete, an active and compassionate volunteer.

And, failure, is absolutely not an option.

After years of micromanaging my daughter's homework, I've stepped back. (My new and improved attitude coincided with many "I'm not a kid anymore!" protests.) Now, we have an agreement. It's a quid pro quo thing.

The quid includes riding her horse every day, competing in equestrian events (many of which involve long distances and heavy entry fees), going to concerts, and watching her favorite TV shows: Pretty Little Liars, New Girl and Dance Moms.

The quo is a little simpler. She has to keep her grades up. 

My daughter would argue that I have unreasonable expectations where grades are concerned. But, I honestly don't. I want her to continue to make the honor roll, but if that means excelling in some classes and coming in around average in another, that's ok. As long as the net net is good, I'm good.

Sometimes I worry that I've run out of steam right when I need to push her the hardest. But, she needs to do some of her own pushing now. I can't email her teacher or call her guidance counselor every time I think she's received an unfair grade on a paper. My daughter has to advocate for herself. Stay after class, have those awkward conversations. She's seventeen; these aren't things I can do for her anymore.

Besides, she'd kill me if I tried. 

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Saturday, March 21, 2015

Free-Range Teenagers

 If you're a woman (or a man for that matter) of a certain age and you participate in social media, chances are you've seen some of those posts about how dire and dangerous our childhoods were ... and how, miracle of miracles, we all managed to survive.

There are dozens of them, but they go something like this:

How did we survive?
Our moms smoked and drank while they were pregnant.
We rode in cars with no seat belts or air bags. 
Our cribs were painted with bright colored lead-based paint.
There were no childproof lids on medicine bottles.
We rode our bikes without helmets.
We drank water from the garden hose.
We left home in the morning, played all day, and didn't come back until the streetlights came on. 
We had no cell phones — our moms couldn't check on us.
We played dodge ball. We played with toy guns.
We ate cupcakes and drank soda with sugar.

The point of this list (and the countless others out there) is "Chill out, people. We all survived. Our kids will too."

Lately, I've read a lot about a movement called "free-range parenting." The term comes from a 2010 book by Lenore Skezany. The author came under attack for letting her then 9-year-old ride the New York subway by himself, earning the moniker "America's Worst Mom." Her goal, as the subtitle of her book explains, was "To raise safe, self-reliant children."

My own daughter, now seventeen years old, was not a "free-range kid." She was in full-time daycare until she started preschool and had an after-school nanny through sixth grade. By then, I was running my ad agency business out of a home office, so it was rare that she was left alone. Most days, I picked her up after school.

"How was your day?"


Anyway ... Once she acquired that coveted prize of suburban self-reliance — her driver's license — all bets were off. There are rules, of course. She faithfully texts me when she arrives somewhere and again when she heads back home (essentially limiting my anxiety to two half-hour episodes rather than an entire afternoon). But, really, I have no way of knowing where she is at any particular moment. Where, or with whom.

Yesterday after school, for example, she drove a BFF to the nearest T station (Boston's mass transit), parked there and they took a train into the city. The initial plan, as I understood it, centered around a visit to Harvard Square. At some point, they switched gears and went to a shopping center in a different part of Cambridge. Then, they took another train back into Boston's North End. (The BFF, it turns out, had never been to Mike's Pastry — gasp.) They hung out there, eventually took the train back out to the suburbs, picked up the car and drove home.
I know this because the aforementioned daughter was in her room when I woke up this morning. In her room, and late for work, I might add.

To avoid my head exploding, I keep reminding myself of several reassuring facts. (a) My daughter is seventeen. (b) Not only is she seventeen, she's a particularly trustworthy and common sensical seventeen. (c) She doesn't drink or smoke. (d) She is good about keeping me abreast of her — albeit changing — plans. (e) She's a skilled and careful driver. 

And, (f) When I was seventeen, I pretty much owned Manhattan.

That's really the gist, isn't it? No matter how mature my daughter is, she's still my baby. But, when (and if) I can honestly remember myself at that age, I certainly felt like an adult. My parents didn't micromanage my movements. And, I was fine.

Like so much else over the last seventeen years, we're in new and unexplored territory. And there's a lot to explore.

And, it looks like my daughter's going to explore a lot of it.

Without me.

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Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Home Is Where The Homework Is

We live in a nearly 200-year-old house (one of the newer models in our pre-Revolutionary neighborhood, actually). It has charm and personality, nooks and crannies, crooked wide pine floors and rooflines that rival Nathaniel Hawthorne's House of Seven Gables in neighboring Salem. There are pass-throughs behind staircases and trap doors down to the cellar ("Pirates," we've convinced more than a few young visitors). A primitive and decidedly spooky oil portrait of one of the home's ancestors hangs above the fireplace in our front room.

Generally speaking, my husband and I agree that history and character trump new and modern amenities. Once in a while, I daydream about a walk-in closet or a master bath with a Jacuzzi tub. And I do envy MacMansion owners who get to hear that satisfying little "swwwiittzz" noise when they close a window that actually ... well ... closes.

Lately, I've found myself wishing that we had one of those newfangled real estate inventions: the ubiquitous, so-called "great room."

Because, if we did, my teenager and her father would stop fighting about where she does her homework.

My husband has a strong case. When we moved into this house more than sixteen years ago, we (generously, selflessly, saint-ish-ly) gave our then toddler daughter the master bedroom. The largest room in the house, it has exposed beams and a vaulted ceiling. It was originally a rather sickening pink, but we since repainted and carpeted it for her in a cool blue. It's filled with treasures: riding ribbons and trophies, a select assortment of stuffed animals and "pillow pals," autographed pictures and CD liners from her favorite bands.

Originally, the room housed a wonderful dollhouse, a tea party table and chairs set, and a toy ranch complete with stables, paddocks, and countless plastic livestock. When she started getting homework, toys were moved to the side and a small oak student desk was brought in. By middle school, the small desk was too small, so we added a butcher block table and created an L-shaped study area. In all our parental wisdom, we congratulated ourselves on this well-eqipped, ergonomically excellent solution. Desk lamp? Check. Laptop with monitor, printer, keyboard and mouse? Check. Filing system? Check. Shelves and drawers? Check. School supplies? Check. Swivel chair? Check, check, check.

So, what happened?

First of all, the desk area is rarely if ever uncluttered. Piles of paper everywhere, pictures, iPhone accessories, tchotchke treasures. There are empty orange soda cans, popcorn bags and bowls with the crusty remains of Ben & Jerry's.

Next, and despite my husband's skepticism that this is a real issue, her textbooks have gotten bigger. When open, the AP World History one looks like the Audubon Society Baby Elephant Folio.

Then, there are all the distractions. Magazines and beauty products, not to mention the constant barrage of incoming electronica.

So, my daughter, recognizing that homework is next to godliness, chooses to bring her books (including the elephantine ones) down to the dining room. She sets herself up there and does seem to be able to concentrate and get things done. The only problem is that our TV room is right next door — next door but without the benefit of an actual door. So whether my husband wants to watch the news or I want to troll through old Masterpiece Theatre episodes, we can't do so without disturbing our little bookworm.

First world problem, I know, I know.

Many moons again, when our daughter was a mere baby (or maybe not even one yet), my husband and I agreed — in principle — that we would always support each other. That we would present a unified parental front. This homework-in-the-dining-room situation has pretty much undermined our best intentions.

You see, my husband still wants to watch the news.

But, I think homework trumps all. 

At least for about fifteen more months.

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Sunday, March 15, 2015

Pass the Popcorn: Cinderella

Long before or or ... 

Long before Carrie Bradshaw or even Imelda Marcos ... 

Once upon a time, there was a girl whose shoes changed her life ...

Her name was Cinderella. 

This afternoon, three generations of my family's womenfolk went to see the new live-action Disney Cinderella. For my eight-year-old niece, it was a pretty straightforward sell: beautiful heroine, dashing prince, fairy godmother, talking mice, a ball. It wasn't such a stretch for my teenage daughter either. Then again, I can't say there was much — all right, any — hesitation on the part of the older attendees. 

Who can resist a happily ever after? Not us, apparently.

Cinderella really has something for everyone. The movie starred not one, but two Downton Abbey cast members. It wasn't much of a stretch to imagine Lady Rose MacClare, a.k.a. lovely young actress Lily James, as Ella. But, what fun to find Daisy Mason, former kitchen maid now assistant cook, endearingly portrayed by Sophie McShera, as one of the hideous stepsisters, Drusilla.

Helena Bonham Carter, who's had a bit of a run playing hags lately, between Les Mis, Sweeney Todd and Great Expectations, was given a chance to look pretty in a great, cotton candy gown and wig. Her fairy godmother was funny and frothy, and I was glad for her.

Meanwhile, Cate Blanchett gave the wicked stepmother an icy edge. With red hair and even redder lipstick, she's perpetually dressed in acid greens, in case we need a reminder of how sour her soul is.

And as for Richard Madden as Prince Charming. Well ... he was certainly that. Charming.

The problem with any Cinderella, of course, remains the same. How do we, as 21st Century feminists, reconcile ourselves to the story? Beautiful victim, rescued by a handsome prince. And a shoe.

With this new version, director Kenneth Branagh helps, by giving us a heroine with a little more depth than some. "Have courage and be kind," her dying mother urges her, "Where there is kindness, there is goodness and where there is goodness, there is magic." This new Cinderella takes these words to heart, but she doesn't take her situation lying down. She has moral strength, as well as courage, kindness and goodness. And, we've already covered the magic.

'Wish I had a fairy godmother.

Cinderella insists that her prince understands that she's a commoner, not a princess. He insists that he's merely "an apprentice," still learning his father's trade. They see each other — and love each other — for who they really are. (And, btw, Cinderella speaks French too; so, we know she's wicked smart.)

And, whether or not you buy a more feminist take on the fairy tale, it doesn't hurt that the entire movie is a glorious feast for the eyes. From Cinderella's eclectic, bohemian home to the stunning palace halls. The costumes are sumptuous, the dancing is divine. The friendly mice (a nod to Walt Disney's 1950 animated classic) transition magically into horses with a humorous stutter step. For a brief moment, each of the magnificent white steeds has a set of floppy round mouse ears. I wasn't surprised to learn later that it was my own teen equestrienne's favorite part.

There was a large party of small people sitting behind us. Through their non-stop, not-quite-soft-enough whispers, it was pretty clear that they enjoyed every minute.

We kept our thoughts to ourselves.

But, we did too.

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Tuesday, March 10, 2015

The "Yes" Dress: Junior Prom, Part 3

Junior Prom is just two months away, and I'm beginning to feel like my daughter is Cinderella. So does that make me her wicked stepmother? Or her fairy godmother?

She isn't sweating the whole date thing (she'll either go with a boy friend — not to be confused with a boyfriend — or with a group of girls). But, finding the right dress has been a bit of a challenge.

The first dress she liked was from an online store. Despite reservations from a couple of her besties when she shared screen grabs with them, she (we) decided to try it. We took her measurements and compared them carefully to the size chart on the website. There was no question; she was a Small.

When the dress arrived a few days later, there was no question; it was too small.

Actually, it looked gorgeous. It was a royal blue, off the shoulder with a beaded bodice. Stunning, really and (unlike some of the dresses we'd seen) age-appropriate. But, there were two teensy weensy problems. She couldn't breathe or lift her arms — both of which, she might want to do on the evening of the prom. So, we returned it and requested a Medium.

Another few days later, the alternate dress arrived. Suddenly, we felt like we had left Cinderella and were stuck in Goldilocks and the Three Bears. While the first dress was too small, the second was too big. To make it "just right," we would need to enlist the aid of a local tailor.

But, alas, my fairy tale princess seemed to have changed her mind. Even when I clipped it in the back so she could see how it would fit (when it actually did fit), she just didn't love it anymore. Back it went.

Note to self, and to other moms buying prom dresses. Free delivery is all well and good, but you may want to review the return policy carefully. The website was happy to take them back, but charged us a 10% "restocking fee," as well as return postage. All said and done, we were out about $50 and didn't have a dress to show for it.

Enter Prince Charming, in the guise of my husband. We had to run a family errand about an hour from home, and he did something quite extraordinary. (1) It occurred to him that a famous women's clothing discounter — one "Frugal Fannie's" — was fairly near where we were headed. And (2) he actually offered to take us there.

To put this in perspective, there are probably at least one hundred thousand things my husband would rather do than go shopping. Sitting through Wagner's Ring Cycle comes to mind. Or getting a root canal. Clearly, this was a case of his putting our daughter's needs ahead of his own. He was very much the hero of the hour.

Frugal Fannie's was mobbed. I immediately found a department called "Occasion Dresses," and my daughter and I browsed with determination. (Her father was staying in the car, thank you very much.) No luck. The gowns were fairly dowdy, more mother-of-the-bride than belle-of-the-ball. I found a sales associate and asked if there was another place we should look.

Sure enough, there was an entire "Prom" section. In short order, we found three potential frocks and headed to the vast communal dressing room.

The first dress was lovely — also royal blue, also off the shoulder, but a drapey silk, almost Grecian in shape. The second didn't fit right — not too small or too big, just not right. The third made "too much noise;" it was a silk taffeta and rustled unacceptably. The first went back on again. A few quick pictures, and we had gained approval from friends and father. Within fifteen minutes we were done.

On our way to the register, we found a silver clutch and a rhinestone brooch that would add just the right amount of bling. And, all of our loot was considerably less than the original dress(es). Once we got home, the princess tried the dress on again, this time with heels. We all agreed ...


So the tale of the prom dress had a happy ending ... with many thanks to her fairy godfather.

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Saturday, March 7, 2015

Junior Parents Night

I have to confess that I haven't always been a big fan of all the rules and regulations, policies and procedures at my daughter's high school. I've rolled my eyes at the dress code. I've complained about the number of (more accurately, dearth of) women authors on the English department reading list. I disagreed when they revoked the add/drop period. I despaired when they fired the arts administrator and used the money to install surveillance cameras.

So, you can imagine my confidence level as I attended "Junior Parents Night" last week.

But, guess what? I was pleasantly surprised.

The school auditorium was pretty full, with maybe 200 or so concerned junior parents. Make that, very concerned. Very, very concerned. We were there to hear about ... the college admissions process. OMG.

The guidance department ran the meeting, which lasted precisely 90 minutes (methinks they had done it once or twice before). There were lists and charts, standardized test schedules, reassuring anecdotes, and demonstrations of the online college search tool that each of our sons and daughters could access. There was even some humor.

The audience was having none of it. Not even when we learned that "Jane Junior," with her average GPA and lackluster SATs, could still choose ten schools to consider: two "safety," two "reach," and six "probable." Truly, looking around the crowd, I was taken aback by the sky-high level of anxiety and abject terror of my parent peers.

And we're still months away from applications and as much as a year away from actually receiving acceptances — or, gulp, rejections.

I wasn't feeling great, and would have bagged a less important event. But, my mommy-guilt got the better of any physical ailment. After all, if I skipped Junior Parent Night, I probably wouldn't be prepared to guide my daughter and then she probably wouldn't get into college and then she'd probably wind up on some reality show with the other beauty pageant moms who lived in her trailer park.

The probablies were positively terrifying.

Well, I rallied (as we moms do), and I'm glad that I did. Not because I now feel prepared to single-handedly run my daughter's college search. But, because I now feel like I don't have to.

The guidance department really seems to have its you-know-what together. The process starts next week. Juniors will set up their online accounts, receive their official (work-in-progress) transcripts, and fill out their "brag sheets." They'll take SATs and ACTs in May and June. Over the summer, they're expected to write drafts of their essays and visit campuses. By the fall, just like "Jane Junior," they'll have a list of their safeties, reaches and probables.

My jobs, which will include planning trips and writing checks, are much fewer and less mission-critical than I thought. 

And, I'm relieved.

So, in conclusion, I'm grateful to have been pleasantly surprised by my daughter's high school.

Now, if we could just get some women authors on the reading lists ...

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Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Fickle About Facebook

My husband is one of the last hold-outs when it comes to social media. Never mind that he's in marketing. Never mind that he's a particularly social guy in his analog life. Never mind that he is — and has always been — young-at-heart. Unlike all his friends and family (not to mention 1.4 billion others), he has yet to join Facebook.

He says he never will.

Of course, this makes it a little inconvenient when I see something on Facebook that I think he'd like. Instead of simply hitting "share," I have to click through to pull the content up on a web browser, then cut and paste the URL into an email and send it that way. In other words, what would take a half a second within Facebook ends up taking me three or four seconds.

The horror!

Contrast his attitude with our now-teenaged daughter's. A few years ago, she couldn't wait to join Facebook. I finally said "Yes" when she turned thirteen. We agreed to some guidelines and ground rules, and except for one incident when a camp friend posted some rather off-color birthday wishes (which I immediately made my daughter delete but not before her grandmother saw them, omg), we've never had a problem.

Meanwhile, I have really enjoyed using Facebook myself. Over the last few years, I've reconnected with friends from kindergarten, from summers at my grandmother's house, high school, old jobs, college and the theatre company where I rehearsed every afternoon (plus weekend performances) all through my teens. As a writer (of this blog and also for Women's Voices for Change), Facebook gives me an easy way to share my work and expand my audience. As a marketer, I can share news from my agency and samples of recent work. And, as a mother, I've proudly shared thousands of photos and horse show scores.

Facebook has also been a subtle way to stay on top of my daughter's social life. A number of her BFFs have friended me. ("Really," I explain to her as she rolls her eyes, "They friended me first.") Kids typically post pictures from parties, concerts and other outings. When she was in Spain last summer, I kept track of her comings and goings through her posts and those of her host family.

Recently, I posted a quick video of a talking goat (don't ask) on her wall. I knew she would love it. But, when I asked her about it after school, she hadn't seen it.

You see, Facebook, the very center of her life at thirteen, is now passé. Or, more accurately, Facebook is now where old people hang out. Old people like me, apparently.

Sure, my daughter still goes to Facebook for certain things. The girls in her class have created a page to share prom dresses. Her stable posts lesson and competition schedules (and, this year, snow removal updates). She browses her news feed, casually. But, it isn't the center of attention like it once was. And my daughter isn't alone.

A recent survey of teens found that Facebook has been replaced. Don't get me wrong, it's still in the top three social sites, but its popularity is definitely waning, while other sites are picking up speed. Take a look at some results:

More than 90% of teens use some social media

76% use Instagram

59% use Twitter

45% still use Facebook, BUT that number has dropped 27% in the past 6 months

These statistics are interesting, but don't necessarily spell doom and gloom for Facebook. Although their active members are decreasing, those that are still loyal spend more time and are more fully engaged than users on other sites.  

So don't sell your shares of Facebook quite yet.

After all, they own Instagram.

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Monday, March 2, 2015


Despite ten feet of snow outside our house, our family went up to Vermont this past weekend. (The trip was planned months before greater Boston's "snowmageddon.") Apparently, the skiing was amazing (yours truly wouldn't know, since I spent my time in a coffee shop working on my laptop). My teenage daughter wanted to stay an extra day. 

We said, "No."

We had our reasons. My husband and I both had to work Monday. We hadn't paid for a three-day weekend and it would mean getting in touch with the owner of the condo we'd rented and figuring all that out. Plus it would mean more money for lift tickets, ski rentals, restaurants. I was also feeling a little under the weather and wanted to get home.

At no point in our — albeit, brief — discussion did we worry about our daughter missing school.

Bad parents, right?

I'm not going to lose any sleep over it.

Historically, we have pulled our daughter out of school many times for myriad reasons. It began, I think, in first grade when we let her miss school for a week so we could go to Disneyworld with another family (they pulled their two girls out as well). A year or two later, my sister and I took her on a cruise in late September (another week away). Then, there have always been the Friday absences in order to facilitate ski trips, sailing in Maine, weekends with family in New York and friends in Ohio.

It was certainly easier (and less controversial) when she was younger. Somehow missing a day of third grade isn't as daunting as missing two AP classes, Honors French, Physics and Pre-Calculus. 

I do get that. But, I think our high school overreacts a bit.

This year, my daughter had an opportunity to train with a world-renowned equestrian coach. He was in the area and she had been accepted in his cross-country clinic (she was, btw, the only teenager in the group — the rest were all adults). Her participation would mean missing two studies and French. I said "Absolutely!"

The school said, "Absolutely not."

Sure, they let her leave, with a note sent in advance and accompanied by me, her mother and legal guardian. But, the next day, her transcript (available online in real time) said "Unexcused Dismissal." I called the school.

"You need a doctor's note," the woman in the office told me.

"But, she didn't go to the doctor," I explained.

"You still need a note."

So, here's the conundrum. Had I simply called in that morning and said she was sick and staying home, it would have been fine. She would have missed five classes rather than one. But, it would have been fine.

Had I forged a note from "a doctor," that probably would have been fine too.

But no, I told the truth, and my daughter was being punished. How does that make sense? And what lesson are we teaching my daughter?

Fortunately, I was able to contact her guidance counselor who, in turn, was able to fix everything. The "Unexcused Dismissal" became, simply, a "Dismissal." The counselor agreed with me that it had been a great opportunity and that my daughter would make up any work she missed. But, we'll think twice before we go ahead and do something like that again.

Maybe that's the whole point.

Last month, there was a story in The New York Times about whether discretionary school absences should be permitted. Jessica Lahey, the author and both a parent and teacher, explained "I have seen the havoc these absences can wreak on students and their teachers. It takes a lot of time to pre-plan for student absences, to package work that will approximate missed lessons, chase children down for that work, and invest extra one-on-one time in makeup sessions." Yet she admits that she's taken her own kids out of school for events and trips.

So what to do?

Some states have rules about "chronic truancy." But, that leaves a lot to interpretation. Although we've allowed our daughter to miss school at least a day or two every year, she's virtually never sick. So her attendance record is still quite good, better than most. Her grades are also good. This should all count for something, right?

Then again, am I in fact arguing that kids who tend to get sick and don't have great grades should be penalized where family vacations are concerned?

That isn't fair either.

I guess the school has to do what it feels is right for all its students, while I have to do what I feel is right for just my one. We aren't going to see eye-to-eye on this issue because our missions and responsibilities are different. That's all right. We don't see eye-to-eye on other things either.

Despite the great ski conditions in Vermont, my daughter was at school on time, homework done, this morning. (She wasn't exactly thrilled about it. But, she was there.)

For the next few weeks, I'll have to make sure she stays healthy and her attendance record is perfect. 

Because we have a long weekend coming up the end of April.

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