Saturday, April 30, 2016


Je me souviens ...

My teenage daughter used to really like French.

My husband and I have both been known to butcher said beautiful romance language. (At a hotel on the Riviera, my spouse once told the concierge that the car left its key in our room  but, comme toujours, he made up for what he lacked in grammar with his enthusiasm.) When my daughter was little, we used French when we didn't want her to know what we were saying. She was particularly gleeful when her own studies (in eighth grade or so) surpassed our sorry attempts. 

So much for our secret language.

My daughter enjoyed middle school French. She certainly enjoyed our mother-daughter trip to Paris. We visited Sacre Couer and the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, Versailles (my favorite) and the Catacombs (hers).

We took a late night boat ride along the Seine,
ate crepes and croissants, and my daughter conducted a thorough if not exactly scientific taste test of all the onion soup gratinée of the city. Throughout, we gamely exercised our skills françaises.
But, some time later in high school, between French 3 and French 4, la perle lost its sheen. There was a tremendous jump between the expectations of those two levels. They went from taking vocabulary tests (my daughter has always been a crack memorizer) to reading entire novels and doing oral presentations in class (not her favorite thing, regardless of the language). 

She qualified for AP French but responded with a definitive, "Non, merci."

Those weren't her exact words, but you get the general purpose and intent.

In just a few months (mon dieu!), she'll head off to college. Although she has already declared her Equine Business major, she is enrolled in a liberal arts curriculum and is expected to fulfill a language requirement. This generated some dinner table discussion.

I suggested that she return to French, ensuring her that, as I found at my own alma mater, college courses would be much better than high school.

My husband also suggested that she return to French, with the helpful hint that if she dropped down a couple of levels, it would be very easy to score an "A."

My daughter had a different idea. 

"I'm going to take American Sign Language," she told us.


This was a different (and completely valid it turns out) solution. In fact, it may even come in very handy because I'm hoping that along with her Equine Business courses, she'll take some classes in Therapeutic Riding. Horses and horsemanship have proven very beneficial for riders with all sorts of disabilities and impairments. How amazing it would be if all of her interests and academic pursuits converged into something so special and important.

Then again, maybe it's just a creative solution to get out of a foreign language requirement.

Either way, it's her choice, n'est-ce pas?

Bien sûr.
If you've enjoyed this post, I invite you to order the book Lovin' the Alien here.   

Monday, April 25, 2016

Sing Out, Thelma and Louise

Many moons ago, when my daughter and I were traveling with another family, I was scolded by the other mother for "Never saying 'No'." 

I thought at the time (and still think today) that this was a bit unfair. I know what "No" means. I know how to say "No." I have said "No." Really. I've said "No" a lot. A lot. A real lot. 

Just not as often as I might have. Or, maybe, not as often as some other mothers do. Trust me, when it mattered, I said "No."

Fork in electrical outlet? "No!"

Knife in reach on the counter? "No!"

Running off a curb into traffic? "No! No! No!"

What I didn't do was say "No" for no reason. Our marvelous pediatrician gave me great advice when my daughter was turning two. (Actually, he gave me great advice many times, many many many times, but this one is germane to my essay here.) He said: 

"Here come the terrible twos. She'll be testing you all the time now. And, you're going to have to say 'No.' But, don't say 'No' unless you're going to stick with it. If that means you say 'Yes' 98% of the time, that's ok. But, once you say 'No,' you have to see it through. If you say 'No' and she cries for 45 minutes and then you give in, all you've taught her to do is to cry for 45 minutes."

Needless to say, that little speech scared me straight. And, I particularly liked the saying "Yes" part. 

The thing is, my daughter was an easy child. She rarely disobeyed. She rarely threw a tantrum. When asked to describe her with one word on her kindergarten application, I chose "compliant."

(Excuse me now while I shake my head with wonder about how things change ... 

Still shaking ...

Still shaking ...

All right, I'm done.)

She may not be as easy as she once was — and I may find myself saying "No" more than I used to — but, I still think that if I can help her pursue joy, I should.

Thus, I recently found myself doing a three-day roadtrip to New York and Providence with her so she could see her favorite band. This was neither convenient, nor easy, nor inexpensive. But, it was important to her. It made her happy. All in all, we had nearly twelve hours together in the car, which gave us ample time to talk about upcoming senior year activities, new horses at her stable, and questionable decisions made by some of her friends. We ate junk food and sang along to the cast recordings of Spring Awakening and Hamilton. We were roadies together, like Thelma and Louise but with a happier ending.

And, as much as saying "No" might have taught her a lesson, I think fulfilling her request taught her something too. Like, how going out of your way to make someone you love happy is worth doing. When she heads off to college in just under four months, I want her to think of her mother as someone who said "Yes" more than she said "No."

Unlike Thelma and Louise, we made it home safe and sound, exhausted and happy. You guessed it. We were safe and sound; I was exhausted.

She was happy.

If you've enjoyed this post, I invite you to order the book Lovin' the Alien here.   

Thursday, April 21, 2016

The Party's Over

Graduation is a mere seven weeks away. And, in case any of us have let that slip our minds, my daughter's school just issued a letter about it. A five-page letter. A five-page "refrigerator letter," so named because they are asking us to post it prominently in our homes. And, with a teenager in the house, what could be a more prominent position than ... you guessed it ... the refrigerator.

(After all, that's where the orange soda and chocolate chip cookie dough live.)

To the authors' credit, the letter did start out with a few words of congratulations: "with great anticipation of their bright futures." It then walked us through all of the senior activities scheduled for the coming weeks. From the mandatory (their underline, not mine) parents meeting, through the annual carnival, Senior Art Show, prom, white water rafting trip, up until the big day itself.

This is useful information and I will, indeed, post said letter (or, at the very least, tuck it into my desk planner). I appreciate knowing what's going on. Really, I do.

My issue is with the tone.

After those extremely succinct words of celebration, the letter quickly became a long list of all the terrible things our teenagers might do which would preclude their graduating along with their peers. Here, in no particular order, are just some of the potential (it truly feels like they're anticipated) crimes and misdemeanors:

• Not passing a course
• Not returning a library book
• Not paying senior dues
• Not serving detentions
• Not returning a sports uniform
• Not cleaning out a locker

• Not turning in the "Post-Graduation Plan" sheet
• Not settling up any cafeteria charges

That's a lot of "Not."

There are also things that students might not not do (in other words, do) that would result in graduation expulsion. These include:

• Being in possession of alcohol
• Being in possession of drugs
• Being in possession of tobacco ...
• Or of "related paraphernalia"

(All of the above get them kicked out of prom as well as kept away from graduation.)

Then, there are other mandatory get-togethers: graduation rehearsal ("all seniors must attend!") and a "mandatory safety procedure preparation meeting" for anyone going white water rafting.

And, finally, students are warned that "No flip-flops or sneakers will be allowed" at commencement itself. This particular outrage holds a less severe penalty. The offender will merely be sent home to change. (Phew!)

Oh, and don't get me started on the fact that they suggested that girls wear dresses or skirts.

What is this? 1961?

Nevertheless, I know that safety has to come first (or at least right after making sure you return your sports uniform and any library books). But, rather than talk quite so much about "setting up clear boundaries and meaningful consequences," I wish they would give our kids the benefit of the doubt. Yes, spell it all out, but maybe also acknowledge that our students have worked hard and — for the most part — behaved like responsible young adults thus far. I don't think words like "violation" really need to be used quite so much.

Then again, they did offer an idea for a mother-daughter activity. They pointed out that "Students should be able to say 'no thanks' if offered alcohol or drugs or tobacco." My daughter happened to be hanging out in my office when I read the letter, so I suggested we role play.

"Here, little girl," I sneered like the Wolf in Into the Woods, "Have some alcohol or drugs or tobacco."


"You're supposed to say, 'No thank you,'" I prompted.

"No. Thank. You."

Well. My work here is done.

If you've enjoyed this post, I invite you to order the book Lovin' the Alien here.     

Monday, April 18, 2016

What The Dickens?

The summer before my teen daughter started high school, she was faced with a no-win situation: either read David Copperfield or drop out of Honors English before she even started it.

At the time (with graduation looming, it seems so long ago), I was upset on her behalf. First of all, I think our kids are thoroughly over-scheduled and have too much homework all year. It would have been nice for her to have a summer vacation that actually was a summer vacation. Second, I was disappointed that a course which attracts so many more girls than boys (estimating the percentages to be about 80/20 wouldn't be far-fetched) selected a book by a man rather than a woman. And, third, I worried that Copperfield, which is neither short nor easy, read without the benefit of a helpful instructor, would turn my daughter and her friends off Mr. Dickens — thoroughly and forever. Wouldn't Great Expectations have been a better choice?

For the record though, I never had anything against the title or the author as worthwhile literature. In fact, as I watched my daughter reluctantly read that summer, I realized that my own Dickensian education was not where it should be. I had been assigned maybe half a dozen of his novels in high school and college. And, that insignificant sampling was missing some of his most important titles.

Whether it was out of familial solidarity, an English major's guilt, or temporary insanity, I vowed to go back and read all of his works. I found an antique set of 30 volumes on eBay and began with The Pickwick Papers. When I told people about my project, I usually received a one-word response.

Some people said, "Wow."

But, most said, "Why?"

And, that "Why" wasn't an actual inquiry into my reasons for the undertaking. It was more like an abbreviation for "Why in God's name would you ever even consider that?" and accompanied by a distasteful wrinkling of the nose as if the person smelled rotting fish somewhere on a dark and foggy nineteenth century London pier.

From Pickwick Papers, I moved right into Oliver Twist (a story I was familiar with from countless childhood viewings of the 1968 musical; I had a crush on Jack Wild as the "artful dodger"). But, I found keeping track of a new list of colorful characters a little confusing. After I finished, I decided to intersperse contemporary titles (sometimes two or three ... or ten) between the different Dickens novels. Of course, I realized that this would take a lot longer, but it's not like I was going anywhere.

Some of the most famous titles I read (or re-read) were just marvelous, like Bleak House (which was featured in a course I once took called "Images of Women in Great Literature") and A Tale of Two Cities, Little Dorrit and Nicholas Nickleby. I disrupted my chronological progress a bit so that I could savor A Christmas Carol during the holidays. I struggled through a couple (okay, maybe more than a couple) of absolute snores. And then completely fell in love with Dombey and Son, whose heroine Florence was so pathetic that she made The Old Curiosity Shop's Little Nell seem like a Kardashian.

Last week, I completed The Mystery of Edwin Drood. Except, of course, I didn't and couldn't actually "complete" it because the great Mr. Dickens became the late Mr. Dickens before he gave the novel an ending. Apparently, he was done. And so, apparently, was I.

For those of you who asked, "Why?," I can in all honesty say that I enjoyed the exercise a great deal, most of the time. And, even when a particular title (or particularly long and boring passage) was a challenge, I got through it and was generally rewarded for my effort.

For those of you who said, "Wow!" ... well, I quite agree.

Now, I'm putting the set back up on eBay for some other enthusiastic peruser. And, I'm moving on to The Complete Works of William Shakespeare.
My daughter, who (as I predicted) will never be a Dickens fan
after her summer with Copperfield (alas, she was one of the people who asked "Why?"), leaves for college in three months, three weeks and four days.

I expect to have a lot of time for reading very soon.

If you've enjoyed this post, I invite you to order the book Lovin' the Alien here.    

Friday, April 15, 2016

The Last Lunch

Yesterday, I had one of those bittersweet parenting moments. (We're at "high school graduation minus eight weeks" now — I'm expecting a lot of these in my immediate future.) Yesterday, I did something for the last time. And, for a change, I actually realized it. All right, not right at that moment; it was about five minutes later, but still ...

Yesterday, I made my last school lunch.


Yesterday was my teenage daughter's final day of regular classes. We have April break next week, then she will only attend first-period AP Bio each day before heading off for her senior project internship.

Thus, the last lunch.

I repeat, "Whoa."

To put this in perspective, my daughter has been going to school full-time since she was three-going-on-four. If we think about 180 days per year for 15 years, minus maybe 10% for half-days, that's ...

Well, that's ...

Um, that's ...

That's a sh*tload of lunches.

Starting in preschool and all through elementary, middle and high, I dutifully packed a lunch more days than not. We went through many lunchboxes (Power Puff Girls, Brady Bunch, Nightmare Before Christmas, a personalized cooler-pack from L.L. Bean). The first few years, her lunch of choice revolved around a basic food group: the chicken nugget. Eventually, she was willing to bring sandwiches and wraps. A few years ago, she graduated to salads. 

Apparently, I made a mean lunch salad because she used to sell my salad services for $5 to some of her friends. It didn't make that big a difference to me, just had to chop extra lettuce and extra chicken breast, shell an extra handful of edamame, sprinkle some extra cheese, fill an extra container with extra vidalia onion dressing.

With all that "extra" work on my part, who do you think got the $5?

Here's a clue. Not me.

Nevertheless, like some of her other entrepreneurial efforts, the salad business quickly fell by the wayside.  

Making lunch has never been a particularly special part of my day, more like a mindless ritual. It takes about 20 minutes or so and I try to make each one creative and relatively healthy. In addition to the main course (be that one of my famous salads or a more pedestrian sandwich), I include fruit, a snack-size bag of something crunchy (and, I admit, decidedly un-healthy — like Cheese Puffs), a sports bottle of water, and a small treat. My daughter (like her lovin' mama) has a sweet tooth. I only recently discovered that in addition to the dessert I was giving her, she also bought cookies at the cafeteria. 

 So much for my relatively healthy lunches.

These cookies, allegedly "the only edible thing" they serve, are oversized, with chocolate chips or M&Ms. They cost $1.

Yesterday, my daughter treated herself to two of them.

After all, it was her last lunch.

If you've enjoyed this post, I invite you to order the book Lovin' the Alien here.     

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

E-Cards From The Edge

Things around here have been a little on edge lately. 

My teenage daughter has one week left of regular high school classes, then April vacation, then an AP exam and an internship. Then, prom, the senior white water rafting trip (say what?), graduation and ... done.

Wow. "Done."

Basically, all of my parental peers are in the same neuro-psycho-physical condition. All we do is shake our heads, stare blankly, and mutter inanities like, "Where did the time go?" And, "It seems like just yesterday ..."

In the next few weeks, I'm sure I'll write many posts about things I miss now and things I'll miss soon. But, before I pull out the extra large box of Kleenex, I'll pass along some parenting humor (a little of it's off-color, but so is life with a teenager). Maybe it will take the edge off.


If you've enjoyed this post, I invite you to order the book Lovin' the Alien here.     

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Fake It Till You Make It

So many of the day-to-day challenges that my teenage daughter and her peers face are new to her generation. Thirty-five years ago, we didn't have smart phones; we didn't have cell phones; we didn't even have "car phones." 

If we were lucky, we had an extension phone (my sister's and mine was a pink "princess") in our bedroom. And, we carried dimes in our wallets to use pay phones when we left the house.

Mobile phones, the Internet, social media, texting ... these are all things that are new to the teen experience.

Fake I.D.s? Not so much.

In the Broadway musical Grease, the loving tribute to 1950s high school, good girl Sandy sings:

"I don't even have my corsage, oh gee
It fell down the sewer with my sister's ID"

Borrowing an older sibling's ID, or paying for a forged one, is clearly as old as sock hops and soda fountains. I myself never owned one, but that didn't preclude me from some less-than-legal fake ID behavior.

My first year in college, some of the older students in our dorm were trying to get us to go to the campus pub. "No one checks IDs," they insisted. To prove their point, they chose the whitest, youngest-looking, female freshman (that would be moi) and handed me the student ID of a dorm-mate who was (a) black, (b) a senior, and (c) a man.

And, yes. As you may have guessed, the students working the door at the pub took the ID, looked at it, looked at me, and ... let me in.

'Talk about instilling in all of us a respect for authority and a fear of consequences. Er ... Not!

(It didn't matter much though. I was only there for the music and the pizza and the popcorn. I didn't even like beer. Then or now. But, I digress.)

Since those kinder, gentler days of the mid-1980s, security everywhere has increased: airports, liquor stores, concerts. So has the technology behind official IDs: holograms, bar codes, microchips. While the IDs themselves have become more difficult to counterfeit, the avenues open to fake ID seekers have multiplied. No longer do teens have to count on "a friend's older brother's teammate's contact in the next town over." They can order fake IDs — and quite convincing ones — online. Many of them are manufactured in China.

Recently, some girls in my daughter's senior class decided to obtain said iconic symbols of independence.

(Don't worry, ladies. I'm not naming any names. After all, I trust you. And, I wouldn't want my own infamous pub story to go public. Oh, wait ... too late.)

I think, as senior year winds down, what we're seeing is a uniquely teen combination of boredom and thrill-seeking. Plus, there's the added pressure of fitting in with the crowd. I doubt that any of the teens in our town have trouble getting alcohol if they want it (trust me; it's everywhere), but owning a fake ID is a time-honored right of passage, and with it, in theory, you can go to concerts at 21+ venues.

My only word of caution would be this: fake IDs were always against the law — even for the kids at Rydell High. But, with today's worries about terrorism and identity theft, the scrutiny and potential consequences are higher. If you are caught using a fake ID, you can be charged with a number of crimes. Yes, crimes — not "Call your father to come pick you up at the station," not you're grounded for a week, but actual "crimes."

Laws vary state-by-state, but possessing or using a fake ID can result in anything from a misdemeanor charge and $500 fine, to felony charges of impersonation and forgery that can carry as much as 18 months in prison. If you've altered an official document (changed the date of birth on an actual license, for example), the penalties are worse: up to 7 years in prison for "tampering with a public record." And one fake ID incident can result in charges against multiple people: the person who made the fake ID; the person who bought it; the person who purchases alcohol with it; the underage friends who enjoy it. Even the bar or liquor store that sold the alcohol can face fines and they, in turn, can sue you for damages.

Doesn't this all sound a little complicated? And absolutely not worth it?

I get it, I truly do. When I was 18, I thought it was really cool that a bunch of seniors wanted to hang out with me, not to mention really funny that I could get into the pub with someone very different's ID. 

Maybe it isn't fair that we could get away with pranks like that in the 80s, but kids today can't. Sorry.

So, my dear young adults, if you have a fake ID, please don't use it. No beer, no fruity cocktail, no concert is worth it. Tuck it away in your yearbook ...

With your other high school mementos.

If you've enjoyed this post, I invite you to order the book Lovin' the Alien here.     

Thursday, April 7, 2016


Remember when we worried about whether or not to let our 14-year-olds use Facebook?

Man, those were the good old days.

Most teens I know barely look at Facebook anymore. And, do you know why? Because old people (yes, people my age even!) have moved in on it. Think about it, when you were 18, did you want to hang out with your parents?

Not so much.

Every several months or so, Lovin' the Alien focuses on the latest and greatest (and in some cases, scariest) technology that parents of teenagers should know about. These posts always get record numbers of hits, which makes me feel like I'm providing a valuable service. (But, it's also a little bittersweet to realize that my readers are more interested in stalking and bullying and sexting than in my ever loving tributes to my perpetually harmonious relationship with my own always perfect teen.)

Oh, well.

Sometimes, being a parent feels a little like being part of the FBI. Or the CIA. Or Homeland Security or the NSA. As soon as we figure out what's going on and who's involved, the game completely changes. Chances are, if we know about an app, our teens have already moved on to the next one.

Here are several apps that you may not have heard of, but might want to keep your eyes open for:

This is a free texting service that lets you send messages, photos, video and audio clips to friends. It's supposed to be for users 16 and up, but the people behind the app don't really have a way to police this. The app pressures members to add more friends each time they use it.


This app promises to let you "Broadcast, Chat, and Watch Live Video." Users stream content, comment on it, and judge it, awarding gold bars. By its nature, it becomes a competition to see whose live videos (often broadcast from a teen's bedroom) can get the most attention. And, that can lead to potentially dangerous behavior. If someone offers you another gold bar for taking off your shirt, maybe you'll do it. Well, you wouldn't. And, I wouldn't. But ...

This supposedly anonymous app lets teens confess their deepest secrets. It's like a private — but public — diary. Much of the content, as you might imagine, is dark, including depression, suicide, substance abuse. Teens are emotional beings and the emotions on Whisper run high. There are a lot of sexual confessions with accompanying photos. And, perhaps, most worrisome is that the anonymity is by no means assured. In fact, the app encourages users to "Meet Up" and exchange contact information.

This app makes me think of the game Russian Roulette. It's a chat site that matches a user with another user, letting them chat or (worse) video-chat. Most users are there to participate in some form of cyber sex; there are frequently links to porn and the language, not to mention video, is decidedly X-rated. What troubles me is that teens, who are hormonal and curious, may see this as a "safe" way to experiment. The fact that there's no registration required feels to a teen like it's safe and anonymous. As a parent though, that fact means no recourse should something unthinkable happen.

Perhaps the most familiar name on this list, Tinder is used by many adults looking to "hook-up." (In fact, it's a major story thread in the midlife crisis comedy Girlfriend's Guide to Divorce.) You "swipe left," if you're not interested; "swipe right" if you are. The trouble is, on the Internet no one knows you're underage. And, many teens use it to enjoy casual, no-strings attached sex — without a doubt, that's the very goal of the app (and its estimated 50 million users). While the idea of a teenager participating in cyber sex via a monitor in their bedroom is frightening enough, Tinder users make connections and then meet them in person. Imagine your daughter or son going off somewhere to have sex with a stranger. And, mind-boggling as it seems, they don't even think of the person as a "stranger" because they "know" them from connecting online. The potential consequences — STDs, violence, rape, murder — are beyond horrific. 

If any of this is news to you, do with it what you will. For the record, I don't condone un-warranted snooping. I have given my (technically adult) daughter a lot more freedom lately. We took the parental controls off her computer; I no longer have access to her passwords or accounts. If she had a diary, I don't think I'd read it. And, even when I do have an opportunity to snoop (let's face it, these days, I'm the only one cleaning up her room), I resist. She has a right to privacy.

But, if I was concerned about her behavior — if I honestly felt she was in danger, I would break my own rule pretty fast. 

Much faster than she could "swipe right."

If you've enjoyed this post, I invite you to order the book Lovin' the Alien here.     

Saturday, April 2, 2016

The Biggest Check I Never Wrote

I've written some pretty big checks in my day.

First of all, my husband and I, already in our 30s, paid for our wedding. That was, at the time, the biggest check we ever wrote.

Then, we bought a house. Wow. That was one big check.

Then I started a business. Besides writing checks to pay my team and for expenses like photography, printing and postage, I have to write checks to the U.S. Treasury and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Every quarter. For thirteen years.

In terms of money, actual numerical digits committed to paper, these were all big checks. Really big checks. But, last week my daughter — officially — committed to the college of her choice. After a quick back and forth with her admissions officer about whether she might qualify for work-study at the school's stable (she does!), we took a deep breath and sent them a deposit. The concept of college was suddenly very real. So, in terms of significance and emotional weight, that may have been the biggest check I ever wrote.

Except I didn't.

You see, there wasn't any actual writing or any actual check. I paid my daughter's college deposit online. With a Visa.

I'm a self-confessed "Analog Girl" (a nickname that my man Jim Steinman got such a kick out of — yeah, he and I are besties now). Living in a paperless world is a constant source of disappointment. I actually like ticket stubs and theatre playbills, postcards, mementos, physical magazines. I have files of my old report cards, Dean's List notifications, and term papers. I have all my diaries from the fourth grade on. And photo albums. Actual, leather-bound, acid-free photo albums.

And, no, I'm not a hoarder.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not against the convenience, money-savings or immediate gratification that the digital world gives us. My agency earns at least half its revenue creating websites and email marketing programs for our clients. But, when something has sentimental value, I like that something to be some thing.

My daughter, a determined millenial who "Fips" every day pretty much from the time she gets up to the time she goes back down, has inherited some tiny shred of my predisposition toward actual reality. When she started hearing back from colleges last fall, she was surprised and a little downcast to realize that her acceptance letters weren't letters at all. For the most part, she was notified by email or — even worse — by an email that linked her to a password-protected prospective student portal.

So much for the fat envelopes we all prayed for back in the 1970s and 80s.

The world is changing and — whether we like it or not — it's taking us with it. So, we had better make the best of it.
Soon, she'll be 762 miles away and it just occurred to me that I can rack up a lot of miles if I put her entire tuition on a credit card. And I know I'll welcome the occasional Skype or FaceTime.

But, I haven't completely surrendered. I'll be buying stamps too. Lots of stamps.

If you've enjoyed this post, I invite you to order the book Lovin' the Alien here.