Monday, June 29, 2015

A Few Final Thoughts on Finals

Our lives are fairly crazy even in the best of times. But, last week was certifiably insane. 

My teenage daughter celebrated becoming a senior the morning after the class ahead of hers graduated. But, despite the associated public celebration, she still had to get through something. Something big.


(Cue the theme from Jaws here.)

A couple of the teachers from a couple of her classes — namely AP U.S. History and AP English Composition — didn't actually schedule actual exams during their assigned exam times. (After subjecting the students to the AP test itself about a month and a half prior, they probably assumed, rightly, that the kids were all tested out.) However, this didn't mean my daughter was off the hook. 

For "APUSH," she had a 12-15 page research paper and a presentation. With less nudging than usual from her feminist mother, she chose "Why the ERA Didn't Pass."

Let's pause here so I can compose myself. (Sniff, sniff. I'm so proud.)

For AP English, she had to give a presentation as if she were an admissions counselor from an assigned college. (She wore a blazer and a vintage pin of the school's mascot which I happened to find in a junk (Or should I say "junque?") jewelry box.) Then she had to review essays from three prospective students and write three responses to them: an acceptance, a rejection and a waitlist. Meanwhile, she herself was "applying" to three of the schools presented by her classmates. It was all a little complicated ... and a lot of work.

Her other courses had final exams: Physics, Pre-Calculus, Psychology and French. One was a "gimme." Two required some, but not an inordinate amount of, study. But, the fourth and final final was clearly created in the ninth and inner circle of hell. 

Her question: "Will you still love me if I fail it?"

My answer: "I will love you no matter what until I die. BUT DON'T FAIL YOUR FINAL!"

My husband was in New York on business, taking my sister out for drinks at the Algonquin, while I stayed up late each night to proofread. (Um, what's wrong with this picture?) Meanwhile, my daughter, always working an angle, convinced her Psych teacher to let her timeshift the test so she'd be done a day early. 

If my daughter wasn't already planning an equestrian career, she'd make a marvelous lawyer.

After a flurry of activity and more than a modicum of stress (we were both holding our breaths at the end there), she went in for her last test. And, suddenly ...

It was over.

I thought back on the celebrations we used to plan to mark the successful end of a school year. There were trips to the Boston Aquarium, dinners in the North End or at a favorite Chinese restaurant. So, in keeping with our family tradition, I asked what her preference was.

She was diplomatic, but explained that she and her friends had plans. Someone had the bright idea of bringing all their work to a local beach and having a bonfire.

(Great, I thought, you survive finals and you get arrested.)

The fire didn't pan out (phew!), but other parties did. Off she went, a senior officially now. I sat down with leftovers and the first season of Downton Abbey on Amazon Prime.

And, I think we both exhaled. 


If you enjoyed this post, I invite you to order a copy of my book  Lovin' the Alien at

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Sugar, Sugar

The teen years should be sweet, right?

Well, maybe not. 

At least not as sweet as they seem to be right now. My teenage daughter has one hell of a sweet tooth. And, she's not alone.

According to the Journal of the American Heart Association, American teenagers consume 28 teaspoons of added sugar daily. The recommended maximum is 5 to 8. To put this in perspective, they're ingesting 500 extra calories just from added sugar, or the equivalent of three full-sized cans of Coke.

Remember, it takes just 3,500 unused calories to produce a pound of fat.

Thank heaven for teenage metabolisms. 

Or maybe not, because if the damage caused by sugar was easier to see, teens might be more aware and more careful. As it is, most of the effects of all that sugar are invisible. Waistlines aside, teens who consume high amounts of added sugar have higher levels of “bad” cholesterol and lower levels of “good” cholesterol. Long-term risks of all this teenage sugar consumption are heart attacks and strokes earlier in life.

This information is covered in most high school health ed classes and reenforced by parents and pediatricians. But teens do with it what they do best. They ignore it.

And, it's not really their fault.

Sugar is everywhere. Added to even foods you wouldn't think need it, like pasta sauce, soups and salsa. Not that young people make the wisest choices left to their own devices. Between sodas and sports drinks, cookies and candy, and all manner of snack food, teens can't seem to get enough of the sweet stuff.

This is an interesting paradox when you consider how many teens — teen girls, specifically — diet to the point of obsession and eating disorders. So while a good number of our teenagers are starving themselves (in some cases, to death), another great percentage are gorging themselves on sugar. Neither group is healthy.
I've tried to put better options in front of my daughter since she was a toddler. She's always had a piece of fruit at the start of each meal and plenty of vegetables. The trouble is, I'm not the one making the choices these days. And between final exam stress, the need for convenience and a sweet tooth so big it would easily fit in the mouth of Jurassic World's Indominus Rex ... well ... avoiding sugar is impossibly impossible.

After all, who can resist Ben & Jerry's "Half-Baked?" Or chocolate chip cookie dough Zone Bars? Or chocolate chip cookie dough straight out of the tub? (Do we see a pattern here?)

Whenever I question her more candy-coated choices, my daughter gets mad because she thinks I'm commenting on her weight. She couldn't be more wrong. Like most educated, liberal-minded women of my generation, I swore I would never body shame my daughter. And, in fact, she's still trim and strong (25 hours a week riding a horse, carrying water buckets and shovelling ... um ... "manure" will do that for a person). What I worry about is nutrition, or rather the lack thereof.

And to be fair, I worry that she's forming habits that won't bode well for her when she's no longer an active teen. Truly, if I ate what and when and how much she does, I wouldn't fit into even my mom jeans, much less the skinny distressed denim my daughter prefers.

Not that I would choose chocolate chip cookie dough.

My own Jurassic sweet tooth goes in a different direction.

If you enjoyed this post, I invite you to order a copy of my book  Lovin' the Alien at

Sunday, June 21, 2015

So Many Screens, So Little Time Together

I have little doubt that my teenage daughter and her friends get tired of their middle-aged mothers waxing poetic about "the good old days." 

Often, our memories aren't even that rose-colored. Much of the time, we're pointing out all the privileges and luxuries that our offspring enjoy that we didn't — or couldn't — way back when.

Invariably, the greatest contrast between the then and the now falls into the category of technology. 

When I was growing up, our family had one television. (In fact, it was a black and white one until my father splurged when I was in the sixth grade and we moved up to color.) Five people, one TV, and just three networks plus PBS and a couple of independent stations — until cable came along which more than doubled our options and gave us what seemed like a magical new one, the commercial-free movies of an early HBO.

Even with all those alternatives, though, the television was a great entertainment unifier. When it came down to it, you had one choice really: watch what everyone else was watching. Or don't watch at all.

(Does anyone remember books? But, I digress.)

Consider the very different situation in our wired household today. We have a much smaller family, but many more screens. We have three televisions, all color (a small one in the kitchen, a medium one tucked into an antique Chinese cabinet in the living room, and the widest widescreen we could fit into a built-in in what we call a family room but what is, in essence, a TV and a couch). And, we have far fewer televisions (per capita or otherwise) than most contemporary families we know.

But, wait. There's more. With apologies to Madonna, we are living in a digital world. So, we need to count the four computers in the house (one each, plus a company-owned laptop that my husband brings back and forth from his office each day). I received an iPad for my fiftieth birthday (the screen of which has since been cracked, and not by me). Plus, we each have an iPhone, which can stream YouTube videos, entire TV episodes and movies too. 

So, measuring by today's more varied options, we have eleven screens for three people. I'm sorry (or maybe proud) to say that no one owns an Apple Watch yet. 

Then again, check with me in a year or so. 

What does all this mean? Well, choice, obviously. We have more than a thousand channels via our cable company, plus time-shifted DVR recordings, on demand options and pay-per-view. Thanks to my brother (who has, for years, been the supplier for our media habits), we have access to Netflix and Amazon Prime, which adds tens or maybe hundreds of thousands more titles to the mix. Our DVD and VHS (yes, VHS) collection would be massive by 1999 standards and is still respectable today.

And so, in addition to a rather mind-numbing number of options, the other byproduct of all this is that there is no reason, pretty much ever, for the whole family to relax together in one room in front of the same screen.

Assuming my husband has no handyman projects, I have no deadlines and the offspring has no homework, you can usually find us in separate rooms, consuming different programs. This leads to peaceful cohabitation perhaps. But not much else. When your show of choice is over, there's no one to compare notes with.

There are a handful of exceptions. (We watched Downton Abbey together — via a boxed set pre-ordered from I highly recommend this route to any other rabid fans. You'll get the final season two full months before the rest of the yanks.) But, in general, in our house and others, television has become a rather private and isolating activity.

Would I rather take a step backward to less choice but more family time?

Yes, yes I would. 

But, don't tell my daughter. 

She doesn't need another confirmation of how out of it I am.

If you enjoyed this post, I invite you to order a copy of my book  Lovin' the Alien at

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Alma Mater

Earlier this month, my teenage daughter and I drove down to my hometown. She was along for the ride because I had wrangled half-price tickets to Hedwig and the Angry Inch, starring Glee's Darren Criss, who is particularly dreamy if you're seventeen. I was going for an even more sentimental reason. My 35th high school reunion.

All right, let me stop you before you say "You must be kidding!" Or "How is that possible?" Or "But, you look so young!"

Yeah, thanks, I know.


Anyway ...

We were also joined by our new canine. My New York family, having seen countless puppy posts, photos, and videos on Facebook, was desperate to meet him. The poor little guy had a couple of vaccines at the vet's the morning we left (rabies and the first of two for Lyme disease), so he wasn't very comfortable. The ride down was long.

Not too sure how the little dog would respond to a strange apartment, we stayed in, ordering (real) New York pizza and watching TV. Even though I hate to miss a single moment of city life, it was good to chill because the rest of the weekend was a whirlwind.

In the morning, there was a program at my high school. I grew up in the west 60s, and the school is in the east 90s. Despite some ominous clouds and a misty rain, I decided to walk diagonally through the park. Between the bikers and the joggers, dog walkers and strollers, suffice it to say, I wasn't alone. 

The school was built on the grounds of an old armory. We moved there when I was in ninth grade, after two years in an office building near Grand Central Station. Later classes dubbed it "the brick prison." We were just happy to have a permanent home. The school, an extension of the City University of New York system, had been placed and displaced several times.

As I walked up 94th street towards Park Avenue, I felt a wave of familiarity. I wished for a moment that I could share it with my daughter or my husband. But, the former was still sleeping and the latter had politely declined. My husband won't go to his own reunions because he doesn't want to compare "hairlines, waistlines or bottom lines."

The morning was very satisfying. Twenty or twenty-five of my classmates had come. We met in one of the classrooms first (I think I had English there, once upon a time), hugged, kissed, caught up and took pictures. Then, we headed down to the newly renovated auditorium, where we were treated to video excerpts from the school's most recent musical, a couple of presentations from students, and comments from each milestone class. Most affecting were two 93-year-old alumnae who reminisced about finding their first jobs during World War II.

I had to rush out as soon as the representative from our class finished speaking to catch a cab down to Times Square, where my daughter would meet me for Hedwig. As soon as we finished at the theatre, we took another cab uptown where I changed, grabbed a bag of nametags, posters and goody bags, then jumped in yet another cab for a ride downtown to our reunion dinner.

What a wonderful evening! We had nearly 100 people and the atmosphere was pure joy. Even the girls who at seventeen were cultivating an attitude of world-weary
blasé seemed genuinely happy to be there. We caught up with old friends and in some cases made new ones. And together we remembered the handful of classmates who passed away before their time.

These reunions mean more to me as I get older. Partly, I think, it's a natural nostalgia. But a lot of it has to do with watching my own high schooler negotiate her education and her friendships and all the changes she's going through as she moves from childhood to adulthood. I also have a much greater appreciation for my old school and the respect it afforded each of us. The building may have looked like a prison, but we had freedom that my daughter and her cohorts only dream of.

More than anything else, I look forward to the next reunion and celebrating who we were and who we've become with the remarkable women and men who shared that time with me.

Despite too much stress and too many rules, I hope my daughter will relish her reunions someday too.

If you enjoyed this post, I invite you to order a copy of my book  Lovin' the Alien at 

Monday, June 15, 2015

The List

There are only two weeks left of Junior year! What a year it's been — and it's almost over. In fact, I'd be waving my arms and cheering and doing a Snoopy dance if it weren't for the fact that between my daughter and the happy day she walks out of the high school for a much-needed summer break are final exams, a huge research paper and a strange but elaborate role play exercise about college admissions.

So many milestones. Although my daughter earned her driver's license last year (talk about a Snoopy dance!), it wasn't until recent months that she was permitted to drive her friends anywhere. School, concerts, laser tag, the stable. Suffice it to say she has enjoyed that particular privilege enormously. We left her alone overnight for the first time. (Thanks to social media and a helpful other-mother, I was kept abreast of the goings on at our house. But, my daughter and I have agreed not to talk about that anymore.) She took SATs, ACTs, two APs (and a partridge in a pear tree). We toured a couple of colleges in earnest.

And, whether it was deliberate or not, for better or worse, I've stopped micromanaging her homework.

Every concerned mom I know has to balance how much she helps. We all draw the line at different places. Some well-meaning parents I know have ghost-written papers (and even college essays). On the other hand, in a handful of particularly stressful situations, I've had (non-parent) friends encourage me to "let her fail," asserting that it would teach her a lesson and build character. My instinct has always been somewhere in between. I'm happy to edit and proofread, but not to write. I'll quiz her on history or science facts even when I'm bleary-eyed with fatigue. I'll gladly contribute my time as well as money to posters and dioramas. I've been known to run out for glue sticks and markers or buy the Kindle version of a book many hours after the library's closed.

'Pains me to admit it, but it's in my nature to nag. Or maybe it's just one of those skills we magically acquire after fourteen hours of knee-buckling labor. At any rate, for the past several years, much of my daughter and my conversation together has gone something like this ...

Me: What's your homework like tonight?

Her: Meh.

Me: Do you have much?

Her: Some.

Me: Well, why don't you get started and I'll bring you a snack.

Her: K.

This is followed by more specific check-ins as the evening wears on.

Me: How's the math coming?

Me: Do you need me to proof that paper?

Me: Can I quiz you on your French?

Me: Have you started studying for Physics yet?

(I won't waste your time with her monosyllabic answers. I'm sure you can fill in those blanks yourself.)

Lately, I've nagged a lot less. I may be overtired (or simply "over it"). Or it may be that I've started to trust her. Either way, I think we're both relieved by my newfound lack of involvement.

The other day, I was cleaning up her room for her (another thing I've been nagging about less). I was straightening her desk which was absolutely covered. My job was to make piles that would look a little neater. But, be assured I know better than to throw anything away. What looks like scrap paper with scribbles could actually be the autographs of a  favorite band. A used Dunkin' Donuts cup might have sentimental value. The number she wore on her horse's bridle in a recent competition will be added to her collection of similar numbers from similar competitions.

Under the aforementioned treasures, I found a list that included every school deadline between now and the end of the year. It was organized as a calendar and color-coded by subject. At first, ever the queen of organization, I was proud of the effort, not to mention the magic markers, that went into this list. Then, my admiration turned to anxiety as I saw assignments I hadn't heard about before. Was she really going to have an eleven-page paper ready in two days? Had she started studying for pre-calc?

I stopped myself and took a deep breath. She's on top of it, I reminded myself. After all, she's made it this far.

And, just look how pretty her list is.

If you enjoyed this post, I invite you to order a copy of my book  Lovin' the Alien at 

Friday, June 12, 2015

Professor Puppy

My husband, teenage daughter and I are the proud owners of a new puppy. Zydeco Royale, named in honor of NOLA, our favorite city, joined the family at the beginning of April. In two short months, he's dug up our garden, chewed through the cable TV cords and completely, thoroughly, irreversibly won our hearts.

Zydo is mischievous, mouthy and perpetually hungry. (When we brought our first miniature dachshund to the veterinarian many moons ago, he warned us, "If a dachshund won't eat, death is imminent.") Truly, anyone who saw Zydeco inhale his kibble would think we were starving him.

Trust me, we're not.

As a breed, dachshunds are notoriously stubborn. With advice from our friends at the MSPCA as well as our current vet, we signed Zydo up for obedience school. (Have you ever heard a dachshund laugh?) It began this past Tuesday evening. Neither husband nor daughter could get to the doggie daycare center two towns away in time, so I headed off alone. The first class was just for owners (or "handlers" as we were officially called). We bring the canines next week.

Over the course of two hours, I learned just how many things we were already doing wrong:

- Rewarding bad behavior
- Giving him attention for the wrong reasons
- Letting the little guy pull on the leash 
- Letting him chew on our fingers and pants legs (not at the same time though)
- Plying him with too many treats
- Spoiling him with too many toys
- Saying "No" without the right inflection
- Saying "No" when we should be saying "Off," "Down," or "Gone"

"Oh crap," I thought, as I furiously took notes. "This is going to be harder than I thought." And, I wondered "How can I rework everyone's schedules so my daughter can take this over?"

To be fair, she was disappointed when the puppy class conflicted with a weekly lesson she teaches to a younger equestrienne. And if the time and effort she's put into training our other pet (the thousand-pound one) is any indication, I think my daughter would do a bang-up job with the pup. 

If she can quit kissing and hugging him long enough.

On the way home, I thought about all the lessons little Zydo had in front of him. Then, I realized that he may be in the position to teach us a few lessons too. Like ...

- Be friendly; you never know when you'll meet a new playmate

- When you're happy, don't hold it in; run, jump and wag your tail
- Appreciate your food; clean your plate (lick it later if no one's looking)
- Naps are good
- So is a nice stretch
- So is cuddling, kissing and belly rubs
- Material possessions are meant to be chewed ... er, I mean, enjoyed

My daughter (and all the other self-absorbed, sometimes sullen, seventeen-year-olds) could probably learn a thing or two about optimism, seizing the moment and savoring it. Of course, she doesn't need any convincing on the nap front. Naps, she would agree, our good.

In the coming weeks, Zydo will learn to "Sit," "Stay," and "Come Here Now." 

But, I hope he'll also — stubbornly — stay as loving and joyful as he's been since the day we brought him home. You see, we can all take a lesson.

If you enjoyed this post, I invite you to order a copy of my book  Lovin' the Alien at 

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

One Wild Ride

Back in 1979, when the class ahead of me graduated, I don't remember any particular prank or tradition that marked us as the new senior class. It could be that my memory is bad (it is). Or that there was something that my classmates did to celebrate and I was too busy with my theatre company to participate. But, whether we marked the occasion or not, we certainly didn't do it the way my teenage daughter and her peers just did.

You see, none of us had a driver's license or access to a car. And besides, if we did race around the streets of New York at an ungodly early hour, honking and screaming ... let's face it ... who would notice anyway?

Suffice it to say, earlier this week, the residents of my teeny tiny town did notice. And they've been noticing as long as anyone remembers.

The senior class graduated on Sunday. And even though junior year finals are still two weeks away, my daughter and a hundred and fifty or so other young women (many of whom I've known since pre-pre-pre-kindergarten at Sundance Preschool) were very happy to take their place.

And to partake in a beloved ritual.

I always marvel at how nearly impossible it is to rouse my daughter at 6:30 am on a regular school day. ("Just five more minutes, mom." "Just three more minutes." "One more minute, please, I'm sooooooooo tired!") Yet, she has little to no trouble getting up at 5:00 am or even earlier when she has a horse show.

I can now report that the Senior Drive-By falls under the second category.

Each year, rising senior girls don their class tee shirts and meet at a local beach a good two hours before classes start. Their cars are adorned with streamers, balloons, foam and wax and water-soluble (we hope) paint, announcing that they are the Class of XXXX and they have arrived! They then tear through the community, out over the causeway past the gracious mansions on "the neck," along the water, through our olde town, in and out of drowsy residential neighborhoods. Honking horns and screaming all the way. The event ends when they finally arrive at the high school and take over the hitherto verboten senior parking spaces. 

"No more side-street-behind-the-post-office for us, thank you very much!"

The police are aware of the tradition and by-and-large they tolerate it. Our students are not allowed to go into the neighboring town (and their students are not allowed to come into ours). This is because of a couple of accidents in recent years. One involved a fender bender near the beach. The girl who was driving left the scene because (a) she had too many people in her car, (b) the car was her parents', who had not given her permission to use it, and (c) she didn't have her driver's license yet.

Eeek. Bad decisions all around, wouldn't you agree?

The school was pretty much put on notice that if there were any more — shall we say — "incidents" (I would argue we should say "stupidity"), the drive-through would be outlawed, permanently, for future seniors.

My daughter asked if she could take my ancient (but still adorable) red Miata. We said "yes," provided that she only drive one other girl (the car has only two seats and consequently only two seatbelts) and that both derrieres must be firmly planted at all times. When I brought our new puppy up to watch the parade of screaming seniors, my daughter and her BFF each had a fist high in the air but true to their words, they were sitting down. I can't say the same for some of their classmates, and the police did stop the convoy twice to issue an ultimatum "No hanging out the windows or else." 

My daughter is now officially in the home stretch. She's one of the Class of 2016. Some creative kid thought up their slogan: "We're kind of a B16 deal." (Get it? Big deal. B-16 deal. No? Nevermind.)

Being a senior at last was a big enough deal to get my daughter out of bed an hour early. For me, the celebrated drive-about marks the beginning of the last chapter of her childhood. 

Not sure if I'll let her take the Miata to college or not. But, she'd better keep her derriere in her seat, regardless. 

If you enjoyed this post, I invite you to order a copy of my book  Lovin' the Alien at 

Monday, June 8, 2015

Pass The Popcorn: Pitch Perfect 2

"We're back, Pitches."

My teenage daughter's schedule is more hectic than it's ever been. And — more to the point if I'm being honest — going to a movie with her lovin' mama isn't as high on her list as it once was. 

Oh, let's face it. Going to the movies with me isn't on her list at all.

Nevertheless, we have a cool new cinema in town (after many years without). It has assigned stadium-seating — big, cushy chairs with cup holders and trays for the snacks you can order from the restaurant next door. Best of all, it's walking distance from our house, a nice touch considering that the nearest mulitplex is a good 25-minute drive. I keep an eye on the marquee, hoping that there might be something I can persuade my distracted (disinterested) young offspring to go to with me.

Most of the time, we have a choice of something fairly adult and edgy or the latest biggest-budget blockbuster like The Marvelous Avengers Meet The Justice League At The Edge Of Tomorrow And Beyond 2 in 3-D

Not really my cup of tea or even my daughter's.

About three weeks ago, I was pleased to see that Pitch Perfect 2 was playing. A couple of years ago, I took my daughter and a BFF to see the first Pitch Perfect. Despite some fairly nauseating (and, in my opinion, unnecessary) special effects, we thought it was a lot of fun. So, my daughter readily agreed.

Choosing the movie should have been the hard part, right? No. 'Turned out that one of her friends wanted to join us. Of course I said "Yes." First of all, I genuinely like my daughter's friends. Plus, I figured this particular bud would probably appreciate the film; he's a drama guy. But that was the problem.

Or, should I say "Ay, there's the rub."

No, he wasn't appearing in Hamlet, but he was playing Macduff, the avenging hero of Macbeth. His rehearsals precluded our going the first week. Surprisingly, the movie was held over. But, our companion couldn't go the next week either because of his performances. Miraculously, the movie was held over one more time. I locked in an evening unencumbered by show business, riding lessons, babysitting or anticipated homework.

(Although I think he would have understood, my daughter refused to go without her friend. I'd like to think this is a sign of her sense of loyalty — it makes me feel better than thinking it's a sign of her unwillingness to go to a movie just with me. Anyway ...)

The movie, as expected, was funny and musical and had a girl power theme running through it as well. "Fat Amy" pretty much stole the show (as she did the first time around). Anna Kendrick and the rest of the "Barden Bellas" have terrific voices and the singing was top-notch. In the sequel, most of the Bellas are getting ready to graduate. Because of an aerial no-underwear situation (don't ask), they've lost their official acapella status. The only way they can redeem themselves is to win a prestigious international competition, one that no Americans have ever won. ("They hate us!" explain the acapella officials, laughing. "They really hate us!") The competition is a severe — and flawless — team of German singers. 

Mayhem ensues.

The ending was pretty predictable (suffice it to say, they don't "hate us" anymore). But, I thought the movie was fun. When we debriefed, my daughter, to her credit, pointed out that some of the humor was a bit too reality-based to be funny. In particular, there are many jokes about what a latina international student, Florencia "Flo" Fuentes, is going home to (kidnapping, deportation, dying at sea trying to sneak back into this country, almost being sold for a chicken when she was nine). The actress, Chrissy Fit, a Cuban-American, hopes her role will "start a conversation." And, in fairness, most of her anecdotes are in response to the other Bellas thinking that not being allowed to sing is "the end of the world." Apparently not. There are worse fates out there, ladies.

Also, Pitch Perfect 2 (like Pitch Perfect before it) is an equal opportunity offender. They poke rather mean fun at fat girls, lesbians, princesses, control freaks, all varieties of ethnic, and even the very petite but otherwise perfect Kendrick.

Still, I confess I was a little bit embarrassed by my daughter's reaction — or more specifically, my lack thereof.

Or maybe I was a little bit proud. 

If you enjoyed this post, I invite you to order a copy of my book  Lovin' the Alien at 

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

No "Girls" Allowed

We survived Junior Prom, and learned some valuable lessons. For example, next year my teenage daughter plans to have her hair professionally done (hey, I did my best). We will start at Frugal Fannie's for the dress, not end there after a couple of expensive missteps. We'll order the flowers in advance.

It felt a little like my wedding twenty-ohmigod-three years ago. I was absolutely lost through the whole planning process. But, once it was over, I could have written a guidebook.

But, I digress. Back to Prom.

With all the rules surrounding Prom — and there were plenty of them — I was pleasantly surprised that not much was said about a dress code. And, when my husband and I attended the "red carpet" prior to bus-boarding and venue-arriving and Prom itself, we were very pleasantly surprised at the good taste demonstrated by most of our daughter's classmates. Oh sure, there was the occasional slit (here, there and everywhere). But, by and large, the dresses were age-appropriate, baring the right amount of skin.

We had seen the same girls and boys four years earlier as they left the upper middle school for the eighth grade Boston harbor cruise. It was billed as a "semi-formal" and many of the boys wore jackets and ties — some comfortably and some ... well ... not. Most of the girls wore short dresses. Really short dresses. Short short short dresses. Some were skintight and girls were struggling to pull them down before they even left school property. Add to this that at least half of the girls were (for the first time in many cases) wearing high heels. Really high heels. High high high heels. The entire class was a wardrobe malfunction waiting to happen.

The scene was the epitome of awkward. First of all, unless you're Brooke Shields, eighth grade hits in the middle of an awkward stage. The boys still looked like boys, while the girls looked like underage lingerie models. They were dressed and made up to look adult though. Very adult.

So fast forward to this year's big event. They all looked like grownups. And, as I said, despite a few instances of too much cleavage (back and side, as well as front), they were quite elegant.

Other schools across the country may have had less success keeping the kids in enough clothing. The news has covered a number of towns in which Prom-goers were informed of dress code rules a little too late. Some girls (not mine, obviously) buy their Prom dresses months and months in advance. If you're suddenly told that the strapless gown you paid $200 (or, in many cases, significantly more) for won't work, what are you supposed to do? And whether well-intentioned or not, the rules always revolve around girls and girly body parts, objectifying them as much as the offending garments did.

This week, a story broke about a school that sent what attempted (but failed) to be a humorous letter home, prescribing appropriate dress for another teen milestone: Graduation. The Upper Adams School in Bigliverville, PA, in its Proper Attire & Etiquette for Awards Program and Graduation, stipulated some general rules, like "No flip flops," "No chewing gum," "No sunglasses," as well as gender-specific ones:

Ladies: Choose modest attire. No bellies showing, keep "the girls" covered and supported, and make sure that nothing is so small that all your bits and pieces are hanging out.  Please remember that as you select an outfit for the awards assembly that we don't want to be looking at "sausage rolls" as Mrs. Elliott calls them. As you get dressed remember that you can't put 10 pounds of mud in a five-pound sack.

Okay, who is Mrs. Elliott and how dare she compare any girl to processed meat? (Way to add insult to injury for someone who is probably already feeling body shame.)

To be fair, boys were warned to "PULL YOUR PANTS UP!," but there was no mention of their "bits and pieces." As usual, it's the girl who is the focus of these rules and, consequently, the girl who must carry the responsibility for ensuring the morality of all.

When parents complained (and I guess they did, in great numbers), the school issued a quick mea culpa:

The Administration acknowledges that some individuals have found certain language in the document to be inappropriate or in poor taste. The document was drafted years ago, and the author of the original document has since retired. The document does not reflect the high standards of the Upper Adams School District, and the Administration will take appropriate action to address the issue. 

Okay, but then they moonwalked just a little ...

While we regret that the document contained some unfortunate word choices, we do respect all students and hope this does not distract from the dignity of the graduation ceremony and the accomplishments of our graduating class.

Saying "While we reget such-and-such" is the same as saying "We're sorry, but ..." It kind of negates the power of the apology. 

The sorry situation was a fairly minor and harmless event. But, I'm glad that parents protested. If we want our daughters to feel in control of their own bodies, rather than ashamed of them, we need to stay vigilant. Schools should respect and defend the rights of all students. 

This includes boys and anyone with "girls."

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