Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Jailhouse Rock: Junior Prom, Part 4

My ad agency worked with an interesting client a few years ago. They were in the hazardous waste industry and manufactured a handheld raman laser spectrometer. 

Don't worry. I don't for a minute expect you to understand what that is (my creative team and I certainly didn't until we were charged with marketing it). But, essentially, you can point it at an unknown substance and within minutes, know the chemical makeup of it. So, for example, you would know whether what looked like a harmless bottle of spring water was really filled with some other clear liquid. Bug poison, for example. 

Or vodka.

If I didn't know how severely underfunded my daughter's public high school is, I would suggest that they buy one. It might make all our lives easier.

But, I'm getting ahead of myself.

Time flies. The snow has finally melted (except in the parking lots at the local grocery store and YMCA, where they had plowed it into mountains, which have yet to disappear). Three of the four quarters of my daughter's junior year are behind us. Successfully, thank goodness. And ...

We are only a couple of weeks from prom.


The tough parts are behind us. Finding the right dress, waiting for a "promposal" (spectacular, btw, watch for details in a post to come). The next step on the road to junior prom is the paperwork.

And there's a significant amount of it.

This afternoon, my daughter brought home a very serious-looking document. On official school letterhead (and for some reason, printed on blue paper, maybe to prevent its being lost in the abyss known as the backpack), is our "Permission Slip to Attend Junior Prom."

If you think I'm exaggerating as to the serious nature of this communique, let me excerpt it for you here:

Policies, Procedures, and expectations for all students and their Guests:
• All students who are attending the junior prom are expected to be in school the day of the prom
• All students and guests should be at the high school by 5:30 pm
• Please do your best to carpool to the high school, the parking lot will be crowded
• All students and guests must check in at the school and ride the bus to and from the prom
• Be prepared to have purses and pockets searched (no backpacks allowed)
• Be prepared to be subject to random breathalyzer
• No guests allowed who are 21 or older
• Any guest who is 18 or older and not enrolled in high school must be CORI checked 
• All students and their guests must board the bus when directed to do so, to return to the high school 

All students and their guests are expected to behave in a manner that shows respect for themselves and others. Students who violate this policy will be asked to leave the prom. The student's legal guardian(s) will be called and must come pick up the student and guest immediately. All school rules and consequences apply. Smoking and tobacco are NOT allowed.

There's then a place for my daughter to print and sign her name. Then, there's a separate special message for her father and me:

To the Legal Guardian:
I understand that my son/daughter is attending the Junior Prom. Should he/she engage in behavior that is not in accordance with the rules and regulations, I will be called and expected to pick up my son/daughter immediately. If I am unable to be reached, my child will be placed in protective custody with the police until I can be contacted. If there is a medical emergency, a chaperone will accompany my son/daughter to the nearest hospital.

And at this point, we sign and provide a phone number where we can be reached during the event itself. There's a final asterisked warning to all of us:

* A prom ticket cannot be purchased until this form has been returned

Okay. Now, I do understand that prom nights have historically been notorious for underage drinking. Friends of mine (who didn't grow up in midtown New York) have told me about classmates who had serious accidents, in some cases died, driving home from a less rigorously supervised prom. I really do want my daughter and her peers to be safe.

But, I can't help feeling that this is taking things a little too far. "Subject to a random breathalyzer?" Really?

It worries me no end that my daughter and her classmates are treated as though they're already guilty and must constantly prove their innocence. Take it from a native New Yorker, this is a fairly sleepy little town. I don't think there is much going down in the way of truly dangerous delinquent behavior. The bulk of the student body is too busy playing field hockey, rounding out their college resumes with community service and studying for their SATs. As far as drugs are concerned, I wouldn't be surprised if some of the students are on anti-anxiety meds, but not much else.

Then again, I guess I should be grateful. Really. I mean most kids in juvie probably don't get to have a junior prom.

If you enjoyed this post, I invite you to order a copy of Lovin' the Alien at www.lovinthealien.com.  


Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Project Creep

We have a phrase we use at ad agencies: "Project creep." It's when you think you understand the parameters of a project, establish a budget accordingly, and then as time goes by, the project ... well ... creeps. It grows; it morphs; it evolves; it changes.

And never in the agency's favor.

So, you think you're designing a six-page brochure for a software client. Then, halfway through, they remember to tell you that the center page is actually a centerfold, meaning there are four extra pages. Or a healthcare client neglects to inform you that the flyer you're writing has to be translated into Spanish, Mandarin and Creole. Or a financial services client reminds you that there need to be eight versions of that direct mail piece and they're sure they mentioned it at some point to someone. But, in all of the cases above, the budgets and schedules remain the same.  

This is what we call "project creep."

In truth, I've experienced a lot less "project creep" since founding my own agency thirteen years ago. There are so few of us and we work so closely with each client that less creeps through the cracks. 

But, I was reminded of "project creep" the other day.

We have a deal with our seventeen-year-old daughter. She has a handful of favorite bands and loves going to concerts, many of which are on school nights. She would, of course, absolutely die, if she missed Magic Man or Walk the Moon or Panic at the Disco, so we've agreed that she can go to their concerts. Provided:

- All homework is completed
- She and her friends pay for their own tickets and "merch" (band swag they sell at the venue)
- She maintains her Honor Roll GPA
- She gives us not one iota of grief getting up the next morning

Going to concerts used to mean that we or some other parents took the teens into town or picked them up afterwards (and there were times when we were somehow on duty both directions, wtf?). But now, with their freshly minted licenses in hand, the kids drive themselves. Not all the way into Boston (I've been driving 25 years and I find parking there daunting), but to the nearest public transportation.

And, that, my friends, is where the recent "creep" crept in.

We had agreed that she could see some band she loves at the House of Blues. It was actually a weekend gig, so it should have been simpler than usual. 

Mais non.

The day before the show, we suddenly learned that our daughter and her BFF planned to leave the house at 4:45 am so they could catch the very first train into town at 5:20 am so they could be on line outside the House of Blues by 6:00 am.

As you've probably guessed, the concert did not start at 6:00 am. Or any time near it.

The reason for the pre-dawn departure was that the first two people in line with disposable cameras were going to win a once-in-a-lifetime prize. The band's official photographer was going to take those cameras backstage and snap all kinds of once-in-a-lifetime candids of the band before, during and after their set. The only way our girls could win this once-in-a-lifetime contest was if they guaranteed their place at the very head of the line, so of course they had to be there as early as humanly possible.

It was, after all, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. In a "project creep" sort of way.

We said, "No."

"But you said I could go!" she protested. "You knew about it! And I always go early and stand on line!"

She had a point. We did, indeed, say she could go (to the concert). We did, indeed,  know about it (the concert). And she did, indeed, always go early and stand in line — early like four hours before (the concert). 

Not EARLY like 6:00 am.

Spring comes late here and it would still be fairly dark when they arrived at their not-yet-open destination. I personally wouldn't want to be on Boston's Landsdowne Street at 6:00 am. Lined with clubs and bars, and across the street from Fenway Park, it's not exactly the safest area and certainly wouldn't be very populated on a Saturday at ohmigod-o'clock.

As you can imagine, if you are the lucky parent of a teen whose plans are threatened to be thwarted, much drama ensued.

I don't know if I was particularly tired or she wore me down or I had a flashback to my own teens when I pretty much owned Manhattan and didn't yet fear death. At any rate, we finally came to a compromise. She could go, as planned, but I expected a check-in text every half hour. No ifs, ands or buts.

"Or," I told her, finger in her face, "I will drive into town and hunt you down and drag you out of that line and home!" For good measure, I added, "And you will never never ever go to another concert again!"

How she kept from laughing is beyond me, but she readily agreed.

True to her word, she did text me every 30 minutes on the dot. They were informative and affectionate messages:

we're here


still here

Eventually, I did get a more effusive message letting me know that they had won the contest and their cameras were now in the hands of the photographer. Oh, and they met the band (again) and she got a drumstick (again). Then, I got an actual call (gasp!) to let me know that her battery was dying but they were going to charge her phone behind the bar and she wouldn't be able to text again until after the show. But she would, she promised, and "thank you soooooooo much" for letting them do this.

My husband and I had a nice dinner, watched an episode of Mr. Selfridge, and eventually went to bed. But, I'm a mother, so I didn't fall asleep until I heard the gate ... 

and my daughter creeping in.

If you enjoyed this post, I invite you to order a copy of Lovin' the Alien at www.lovinthealien.com.  

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Citizen Teen

There was yet another big brouhaha at the high school here last week.

Apparently, some students were vandalizing the school's restrooms, so the administration decided that they would lock all the restrooms except for one girls' room and one boys'. 

The students — juvenile delinquents all, believe you me — would earn back a restroom for every three days that there were no more incidents. Meanwhile, the entire student body, nearly 1,000 people, would have to wait on line for the two restrooms.

I first heard about this in a preemptive email from the school's principal. He was very concerned about "the rumor mill," and wanted to make sure that we had the official story before any of our sons and daughters — liars all, believe you me — clued us in.

My immediate thought? "Are ya kiddin' me?"

With everything else we need to worry about as parents, we have to add this to the mix? And, perhaps more importantly, with all the stress our teenage sons and daughter are under, they have to worry about whether they can hold it in or not? Or get to class on time because they had to wait twenty minutes in line to use "the head?" And what about any girls who happen to be getting their periods?

Basically, all of the students were paying for the behavior of a few bad apples. This seems neither democratic nor just nor fair to me.

But, they're teenagers, so maybe we don't have to worry about any of that due process crap. As one concerned member of the community suggested online, "Put surveillance cameras in the bathrooms. They're children, they don't deserve privacy."

Ah, the joys of living in a small town.

Surely there are rules somewhere that say that children have to be allowed to use bathrooms. I'm not a lawyer, but there are plenty of parents who are, and I can only imagine the calls that were made. For whatever reason (time off for good behavior, operational pragmatism, threatened law suits), additional bathrooms were opened sooner than planned. And the whole (apparently messy) incident is now behind us.

But, it makes me think. Why do we expect the worst from our teenagers? Why do we assume they're guilty until proven innocent? Punish hundreds of them for the bad behavior of maybe five or ten?

I remember once when my daughter was three years old, we went to the pediatrician and she had to be vaccinated for something or other. It was painful and though she tried to be brave, she was still crying, as we sat down for lunch at a coffee shop next door. An extremely grouchy old man leaned over from his table and asked "What's wrong with her?"

"She's three," I snapped at him defensively, "And she just had two shots!"

As far as I know, the bathroom closings didn't drive anyone to tears, but I don't like authority figures (be they school administrators, concerned members of the community, or ornery old men in restaurants) acting like young people are somehow less than people. 

I also believe that there would be more learning (and less bathroom wall defacing) if the school weren't run like such a police state.

Then again, I can choose to look on the bright side. The incident — and consequently, the high school — was front page news in the local paper. 

Ah, the joys of living in a small town.

If you enjoyed this post, I invite you to order a copy of Lovin' the Alien at www.lovinthealien.com.  

Monday, April 13, 2015


My husband and I — we met when we both worked in the cable TV industry — always notice and comment when there's a movie in particularly frequent rotation on cable channels. Princess Diaries, for example. Or Dirty Dancing. There was a period a couple of years ago when Overboard seemed to be on non-stop, every basic cable station, 24/7.

Right now, Mean Girls seems to be having its moment in the syndicated sun.

Written by Tina Fey, Mean Girls is smart-funny, with dead-on impersonations of horrid high school types. It's also one of the last movies that Lindsay Lohan did before she became a certifiable loon. It's the kind of movie that you can dip in and out of (especially if you, like my teenage daughter and I, have already memorized most of it).

Last night, while I was zapping before dinner, I landed on the scene when Regina George (the queen bee) and the other "Plastics" convince new-girl-home-schooled-in-Africa Cady to vent her feelings about her "pusher" math teacher in the "Burn Book."

"Let it out," they tell her. "Put it in the book."

The Burn Book is essentially a giant scrapbook of mean. Pages are dedicated to vicious gossip, insults and criticism. And, for any of you who haven't seen the movie, when the contents of the Burn Book become public knowledge, all hell breaks lose.

Mean Girls, as astute as it may be, is just a movie. But a new app has a lot of parents, educators and child psychologists concerned. The aptly named Burnbook app lets people search for a community (in most cases, a high school) and then post anonymously. The app promotes itself this way:

"Jokes, fails, wins, sightings, shout outs, revelations, proclamations and confessions — they all happen on Burnbook. Together, we can keep a secret."

But, the completely anonymous nature of the posts (users don't even have to create a username) opens the door to unprecedented cyber bullying. The reviews on iTunes are pretty harsh (although, probably not as harsh as the posts on the app itself):

"This app was created to increase cyberbullying. There's no other reason.The app has become popular at my school and is specifically targeting a small group of people. I wish I could repeat the evil things that were posted so I could get my point across, but I cannot bring myself to spread those gruesome things even further." 

There is a growing backlash against the app. Other students are voicing outrage and in some communities, students and adults are posting only positive comments. There have also been threats made against schools and, to their credit, the Burnbook team has cooperated with the police in those situations.

Burnbook founder and CEO Jonathan Lucas defends his app, as you might expect, in the name of "freedom of speech." He's 23 (23!), so we can safely assume he doesn't have any of his own teenagers to worry about yet.

So I guess it's up to us to hope that our teens understand — and appreciate — the difference between freedom of speech for themselves and compassion for others.
If you enjoyed this post, I invite you to order a copy of Lovin' the Alien at www.lovinthealien.com.  

Thursday, April 9, 2015

And They Call It Puppy Love, Part II

With our sweet Billie out of the picture, we were back to where we'd started. My teenager, being a teenager, assumed the melodramatic worst. We would never find a puppy now and she would go off to college in less than two years without having had one. With a few more decades under my belt, I knew this was just a temporary set-back; there were plenty of other pups out there. But, after our bad experience, first with the unscrupulous breeder and then with our chosen dog's health issues, I was wary.

I began round two by looking at other breeders' sites. Many of them seemed legit — but, I reminded myself, so did the one we had originally found. A more pragmatic issue was that none of the sites had puppies for sale right now; they were all taking deposits on litters due later this spring, summer and fall. Clearly a delay of weeks or months was not going to go over well with the offspring.

Next, I tried some "Puppies for Sale" sites. There were several mini dachshunds available in neighboring states: Maine, New Hampshire, Connecticut. Prices were all over the board, with the fancier new varieties ("Piebald" or "English Cream," anyone?) going for $1,600 and more.

Who says you can't put a pricetag on love? Umm ... me, that would me.

I opted for more traditional coats (and costs), and quickly sent out several email inquiries. 

The breeders must have thought I was a highly functioning neurotic or an undercover agent for the ASPCA (or both). Having been through our earlier misadventure, I gave each breeder the third degree. "How many dogs do you own?" "How many litters each year?" "Are they raised in your home?" "Have they been handled by children?" "What about their parents' health?" "Do you have past customers I can speak with?" "Are you listed with the Better Business Bureau?" "Have you been inspected?" "Are you licensed?" "Can we visit the puppy in your home?"

One thing I had learned was that many of the people who run puppy mills will offer to deliver your new dog to you. This is positioned as convenient customer service, but is actually a ploy to prevent you from seeing their operation.

Paranoia aside, I found a family in Maine that sounded ideal. They had several dogs (but not 72!), some rescues, only bred one litter a year. We were welcome to come up and see the puppies for ourselves. Our new dog would come with a clean bill of health from a vet, all of his first round of shots and microchipped. He was seven weeks old and we could pick him up the following Saturday.

"Not Saturday!" moaned my daughter. (Needless to say, I expected a more positive response to my announcement that I had found another puppy for us.) She would miss the pick-up because of her all-day job at the stable. She suggested that we bring the new pup there on our way home. Besides the fact that a stable detour would have added an hour to our trip, I didn't think that twenty horses and at least as many squealing girls was the most serene way to introduce the tiny dog to his new life. 

She would simply have to wait until after work.

The horror!

My husband and I left early that morning, and within a few hours we were back again with the new member of the family. He sat calmly on my lap while we were in the car and cautiously explored his new surroundings once we got home. Soon, with the help of a few treats and a few squeaky toys, his more energetic side emerged. He's a mini long-haired dachshund, and his coat is what is known as dappled wild boar. His tail has rings like a raccoon. He is tiny (we're guessing 4 or 5 pounds now; eventually he'll top off at 10 or so). He is beautiful. 

At 4:30 on the dot, my daughter pulled into our driveway. I was upstairs at the time, but it was impossible to miss the moment when she met the (her!) puppy.

"Ooooohhhhh!" she squealed, about two octaves higher than her natural voice. "Ohmigod, he's sooooooo cuuuuuute!"

It's been a long time since I've heard that level of enthusiastic joy from my often sullen, always blasé teen. But, I wasn't all that surprised.

After all, there was a puppy in da house.
If you enjoyed this post, I invite you to order a copy of Lovin' the Alien at www.lovinthealien.com.  

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

And They Call It Puppy Love, Part I

When our wonderful dog died last July, my husband, teenage daughter and I agreed about two things. One, we would absolutely get another dog. And two, we needed to wait a while. Boogalie (that's Cajun for "little swamp monster") was such a big personality and such a big part of our lives for so long. He made it to 18 1/2; our vet was pretty sure that he was the oldest dog in our town.

By the holidays, we started thinking about a new puppy. We wanted another miniature dachshund, and began to research breeders. We found one in Western Mass that sounded ideal. They had an elaborate website with adorable pictures of new puppies, pages about puppy care, glowing testimonials, and a 5-page application for us to fill out. We put down a deposit and reserved a pup from a litter expected in January.

A couple of weeks later, there was a news story on every network in the greater Boston area. A puppy mill had been raided and 72 (72!) miniature dachshunds had been rescued from terrible conditions. They were malnourished, crowded into crates and cages, and some were being kept outside despite below-freezing temperatures.

And, yes, it was the "breeder" we were working with.

We were crushed. Not just because the puppy we were looking forward to was probably not in our future. It was more that we had been taken in by a business that presented itself so well online but was actually a terrible place.

You would think that because my agency creates websites for clients, I would be less gullible. But, first of all, their website was really good. And second, I guess we believe what we want to believe. 

We got in touch with the MSPCA and learned that one of the rescued females was indeed pregnant. Once the litter was born, we could come in and apply to adopt one. Meanwhile, virtually all of the adults and puppies found homes. 

Right around Super Bowl Sunday, we received an email that the puppies had been born (the foster family, Patriots fans, had named them Brady, Butler and Billie, short for Bill Belichick). Billie, the female, was ours. We were thrilled! When she was seven weeks old, we went out to visit her. By then, we weren't just thrilled; we were in love. She was a black and tan dapple and she had one blue eye and one brown.

The day before we were scheduled to pick her up, we received another email. The vets had found that Billie had a congenital spine defect. She would never have complete control of her hind legs. She might need significant medical care, and she absolutely wouldn't be able to live in a house with stairs.

Our house was built in 1830. It's crooked. It has stairs. Just from our patio through our kitchen to our family room, poor little Billie would have had to negotiate 6 level changes — nothing to you and me, but significant for a mini dachshund and, sadly, impossible for Billie. 

As much as it broke our hearts, we had to pass on her and allow the MSPCA to find a more suitable home.

The happy news is that after a story about Billie ran on the local news, the MSPCA was inundated with inquiries. She's now with a family that has experience with disabled dogs. One of her new "moms" actually practices veterinary acupuncture. And, yes, they live in a single-level home.

Billie was where she should be and we were happy for her. 

But where, we wondered, was our puppy? 

If you enjoyed this post, I invite you to order a copy of Lovin' the Alien at www.lovinthealien.com.  

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Pass the Popcorn: Insurgent

My husband has a nickname for me. He has several actually, but the one I'm referring to right now is "Sucker-Mom." It's apt. To use a musical theatre allusion, "I'm just a mom who can't say no."

So when it turned out that Insurgent, the sequel to last year's Divergent, was playing at a small cinema one town over, I didn't just agree to go with my daughter; I suggested it.

At this point (she's seventeen and heading into the home stretch of her junior year of high school), I'll do pretty much anything if it means I get to be in her company. Between the hours she spends at school and the hours she spends at the stable and the hours she spends at concerts and at Bertucci's and Panera with her buds ... well, there ain't too many hours left.

I'm not above bribery either. Shopping sometimes works. (But how many pairs of distressed jeans does she really need? Wait. Don't answer that.)

In this case, I got off pretty easy. Two matinee tickets, two bags of popcorn.

Then again, I had to sit through the movie.

On rottentomatoes.com, which collects movie reviews from all over the country, Insurgent earned a 31%. Out of 148 reviews counted, 102 were ... well ... "rotten."

So, you may ask, what did I think of it? I'm going to tell you. Here are my top ten observations for you.

1. It wasn't as bad as I expected it to be.

2. It moved pretty quickly (which was good, because even though it wasn't as bad as I expected it to be it was still pretty bad).

3. I couldn't figure out who some of the characters were, but since I couldn't figure out what was going on half the time anyway it didn't really matter.

4. Unfortunately, the movie didn't come with a glossary or a cheat sheet, so I was stuck trying to figure out what a "sim" was and which faction was which.

5. Shailene Woodley looks very pretty with short hair. Especially when she's fake crying.

6. Ansel Elgort fake cries better than Shailene Woodley fake cries.

7. It's impossible to watch Four in bed with Tris without thinking of dead Mr. Pamuk in bed with Lady Mary.

8. Despite the general consensus that Divergent and Insurgent were "rotten tomatoes," Sequels Allegiant: Part 1 and Allegiant: Part 2 are already in production.

9. I was often distracted wondering how much they paid Oscar winners and nominees like Kate Winslet, Octavia Spencer and Naomi Watts to be in this thing. (My only conclusion? A lot!)

And, finally ...

10. They never told us what the hippies in Amity were smoking (but I could have used some).

If you enjoyed this post, I invite you to order a copy of Lovin' the Alien at www.lovinthealien.com.