Parenthood 2016

May 29, 2016

Dear Teenagers,

I’ve heard from a couple of parents that they are having similar struggles with their kids based on some stuff that I’ve written on Facebook and WordPress.

So I thought I’d fill you in on our perspective, or at least our perspective from my point of view. I’m going to tell you some things you might not know.

You probably won’t read this. You’re on snapchat, instagram, and a whole of lot other places I can’t even remember.
(I know some of you are on Facebook, but you probably signed up when you were 12 and probably aren’t reading this.)

Nevertheless, here goes-

You know how we’re always coming at you with an angry look on our faces, launching into long speeches about laundry, social responsibility and the importance of schoolwork? While we sit on the end of your bed and peer around your room with an undisguised look of irritation on our faces?

Yes, we are pissed. At least I am. But I’m about 5% mad, 75% petrified, and 20% totally without clue.

I know that all the experts say I’m supposed to be a parent and not a friend. They say it’s important to set boundaries, maintain expectations, hold kids responsible. In other words, be a parent.

I don’t know how to be a parent to a teenager. We want to hug you, you look at us like you want to spit. Or run out the door. Or slam the door so hard it breaks into a thousand pieces, but you won’t do that because then you wouldn’t have a door to slam any more and you really, really like slamming doors.

Many of us did the same stupid things you are doing now as teenagers. Not all us, and not all of you, are experimenting with drugs and alcohol. But a lot us did. And then, as we got older, we were either front and center watching someone we love struggle because of drugs and alcohol. Or die. Or dealing with addiction battles on our own.

How are we supposed to sit by and watch you the same things we did, or watched so many of our generation do? When I see a teenager stumble out of the woods and stagger across the street bare feet, even though 30 years ago I was staggering out of the bathroom, I can’t sit by and say that’s okay. I’ve been to the meetings, picked people off the sidewalk, said prayers at funerals.

What are we supposed to do about all the pictures you post? The bare asses, the clouds of smoke, the n word this and the ho that?

I know not all of you drink or do drugs. I know not all of you post crazy stuff. I know a lot of you talk to your parents, do community service, excel in school, and are amazing people.

I’m also aware thatt there are many of you that drink, do drugs, snapchat pictures that would make a blind person cringe and are failing school will go on to do amazing things. You might even be doing amazing things at the same time you’re getting naked on your finsta and stuck in summer school.

I’m just saying- a lot of the grownups in your life are totally without a clue. We walk around dazed. We have whispered conversations at work, (far away from the childless or the blessed, still dealing with bedtime drama and indelible ink on the walls,) where we compare notes. We try to figure out if we should take away your phones, call in a therapist, or just let you be.

You might be saying- let us be.

Personally, I’d love to. I’d love to step away from my kids, stop nagging, worrying, tracking, and even talking about them.

But what if I did that and something bad happened? Because I stopped paying attention?

So I’m scared. We are scared. And pissed. And hopelessly confused.

Cut us some slack. Put away the laundry.

If you are going to be foolish and silly, enjoy the moment. Laugh with your friends. You don’t need to document every single stupid, funny thing you do.

Alcohol isn’t going anywhere. It looks like pot is going to be legal any minute. Can you just wait a little while? There will be time for grown up mistakes, and you’re going to make lots of grown up mistakes.

You’ve got time. Lots of time.

So if you could give us a few minutes once a while, that would be nice. A smile would be awesome.

I think I can speak for most parents, We’d be thrilled if you could just maybe listen to what we say, some of the time.

I figured it couldn’t hurt to ask.

Love and faith,

Mom

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Tonight was all about dogs, daughters and dads.

I took Sophie the sweetest and a puppy named Gunner to Turners Pond for a ramble under the moon.

Katy and a friend followed behind, i don’t know if they agreed to come along because Katy is kind, and I spend a lot of time alone walking the dog. Or if the simple fact that the wind had stopped and the moonlit fooled her into thinking it was warmer than it was- I don’t know.

Ahead, the dogs and I ran, and slowed and sniffed (they sniffed, I watched them sniff and tried not to think about what they were sniffing) and ran and jogged and trotted and stopped.

I was listening to Neil Diamond.

I grew up listening to Neil Diamond. My dad died when I was 20, yet when I put the headphones in my ears, and put on Cracklin Rosie, and turned it UP, I could hear Dad’s voice, singing along. There was the most subtle hint of the South in his voice, and he stayed right on key.

So I walked around the pond five times. I was watching the dogs, running alongside the dogs, waiting for the dogs.

I was catching little pieces of Katy and her friend’s conversation. They are 12 year old girls and they do not giggle. At least not when I’m within earshot. I think they were discussing a science test, or how Katy never lets the power go below 1% on her phone, or what kind of dog they want when they grow up. Twelve year old girls, smart 12 year old girls, aren’t the most interesting subjects for eavesdropping.

Maybe they were speaking in code.

And right next to me, inside my head, was my dad. He was singing alongside Neil Diamond, and actually sounded better than the pop star. I was listening to one of more recent albums, way after Love on the Rocks.

I thought about switching to one of the records Dad and I used to listen to- Tap Root Manuscript, or Stones, so I could remember what Mr. Diamond sounded like in his prime.

But I wasn’t listening to “Solitary Man” or “Sweet Caroline”. I was remembering my dad’s voice, how he used to always sing “Something” by the Beatles in the shower leave records all over the dining room table, how proud he looked while he watched me play my flute and the night he spent four hours listening to the “Wild and Innocent and the EStreet Shuffle” in attempt to try to understand what I liked about Bruce Spring. “Julie, he can’t sing. I mean, really, he can’t sing.”

I hadn’t remembered my father’s voice for a long time until tonight.

Dogs, Daughters and Dad.

The last song I listened to was “Thank The Lord for the Night Time.” Dad always liked that song, I think it was pretty much his party anthem.

My wild nights are home with kids, or at the gym, or following Sophia around with a bag in my hand.

But I am my father’s daughter. I may go to bed early by his standards, but I never wake up until after dark.

That’s when I’m wide awake. That’s when I make time to listen.

It’s the Sunday night after vacation. The suitcases are empty, but I cant find the toothpaste. My daughter is almost ready for camp tomorrow but she is missing a favorite swim suit. Or is it a shoe?

Katy told me twenty minutes ago. She hasn’t noticed that since she turned nine I started tuning about her frantic announcements in regards to items of clothing and footwear. She has lots and lots and lots of everything. We are the recipients of hand-me-downs from four different families.

So if something is missing, it’s probably lost under a pile of stuff that certainly contains either the missing item or a replacement.

I’m going thru the motions of getting ready to return to work, but I’m weighted down with the- I’m not ready for the real world how did the week go by so fast and I don’t think I even got a tan Blues.

We just got home from Cape Cod. We make the trip every year with a family friend and his daughter.

The first few days are always slow. Long days at the pool, with brief trips across the street to the ocean during low tide. The girls looked for crabs. I pretended that swimming back and forth in the bay was exercise. Then I started looking for crabs too.

The girls ordered milkshakes for lunch and a half an hour later, chicken nuggets. We played Marco Polo even though there a lot of other people in the pool, ages ranging from 2 years old to 82 with no interest at all in playing Marco Polo.

We went to town and wandered down Commercial Street until a restaurant looked good.

We had all the time in the world then, only two days in. Sleeping in was a luxury we could afford, and we agreed to decide about whale watches and bike trips and boogie boarding tomorrow or the day after.

Then comes the day after, and while I sipped my first cup of coffee, negotiations began over bike trails or boat rides. We made dinner reservations after doing research. We planned naps, lunches and had a long conversation about whether or not we’d need to buy more sun block before the end of the week. Both of us seemed aware that we were now in the middle of the week and that our decisions carried weight.

When I said no to the whale watch, I had to recognize that this year, unless something really really strange happened and a whale decided to stop by MacMillan Pier in downtown Provincetown, I’m not going to see any whales. Up close, anyway. I thought about it for a while and it was a decision I could live with. (Sorry, James.)

By Thursday and Friday, we’d settled into a breakfast ritual. The girls knew each others card games. I remembered to hang the towels up where they belong and James remembered that I liked to watch Jon Stewart reruns before sleep. We had become a temporary family that is well aware it’s almost time to say goodbye.

Thursday morning, the girls went boogie boarding, I sat on the sand and watched. They didn’t complain about the wind. I didn’t mind just watching them, wobble, and fall, ride along on their bellies, climb back up, tip one over, crouch like surfers and stand straight like super models. I don’t usually watch. But I took one look at the long, heavy board, and at the wind on the waves and I laid down a towel.

On the last night, we went to our first drag show and were entertained by a beautiful cast of characters played by the one and only Electra. (I am now the proud owner of a tote bag, signed by Electra herself.)

James let my daughter pick out our last restaurant for dinner, where we ordered top shelf liquor and appetizers so fresh they weren’t even listed on the menu.  The girls got two more tattoos. We stopped by our favorite tee shirt shops and I was introduced to a few gallery owners.

We took a pedi cab back to the car.

Right now, I feel decades away pedi cabs and whales and mudslides and sunblock. My daughter is mad at me because I didn’t help her find whatever it was she was looking for. I’m going back to work tomorrow at 8 am and I’d really like a day off to go thru my vacation photos.

By 9:15 tomorrow morning, it will be like I never went on vacation at all.

Life is short. I get that. I gave up smoking and I’m working on carbohydrates and considering giving up sugar and I do like yoga. I’m happy and willing to make changes in my life so that I will live a little bit longer.

Life is short, but it’s long enough to give us time to get used to the fact that it’s going to end. It’s also long enough that I think sometimes it gets boring, or horrible things happen, or quite often, you don’t even get a warning before check-out.

I’m going to have to call in sick tomorrow. I’ve got some pictures to put on the cloud and some Facebook friends to make.(I hope they remember me as more than a tourist? I hope they are the kind of people that want to have many, many Facebook friends, even if they are tourists.)

Maybe next year I need to go on a spectacularly bad vacation. Or take two weeks off. Or just enjoy long weekends spread out all year long.

Maybe what I need to do is re read the words I just wrote and think them thru for a moment.

I just got home from a beautiful vacation with some of my favorite people.

Life is short, vacations are shorter.

In light of that indisputable fact, I guess I’ll continue to take notes along the way.

My husband never sees the kids. So when he pulled in the driveway at 7 pm, and announced we were going out for fro yo, it was a Big Deal.

Of course, I had to finish writing a letter for work.

And Katy wanted to pick out an outfit for tomorrow. Because tomorrow is Monday. And it’s important to pick out Monday’s outfit in advance.

Colin needed to find the right pair of sneakers. The forty pairs of shoes in the bottom of his closet were not the right shoes for fro yo consumption with the fam.

We left the house by 8. We took the dog. Sophie the Best Dog Ever doesn’t really like rides in the car. None of us are good at sharing dessert. But since was such a unique situation, (I mean he’s never, ever at the house at 7 pm, ever) there was no precedent. Sheldon wanted her to ride in the trunk. One step away from a Republican, I’m afraid.

Sophie rode in the back seat. She sat in the middle so that she was able to devote equal attention to Colin and Kaitlin while they licked and nibbled and spooned and dripped. Out of the corner of my eye, I watched her watch them ignoring her.

She didn’t even get to lick the cups.

So we took her to Andrews Park. It was 830 on a Sunday, one dog peeing on the baseball field, one dog owner on a smartphone.

Colin ran out first, Sophie followed. Katy, in hot pursuit behind Sophie. Katy back to the car for a sweatshirt. And to tell her mom to get out of the car. Now.

I followed Katy, and Sophie, and Colin.

I thought we’d play some kind of catch, or walk around the field arguing about who had to the dishes when they got home, or even just look up at the sky, agree that none of us can recognize a constellation and go home.

Colin had unlocked the gate to the play ground. Katy was twirling around on a swing, one of those big swings, with a reclining seat for a chair. When I asked her to push me, she hopped off. She pushed me. She pushed, heaved, twirled, I was spinning around, rocking from side to side, swinging up, crashing down, laughing and nauseous. There was no time to look at the stars.

I pushed Katy on the swings as hard as I could. I wasn’t able to make her twirl, swing,crash and rock all at the same time. Katy will be a better mom than I am. I hope she’ll take me to the park again.

Colin had taken Sophie to the jungle gym. When I walked over, he was perched at the top of the slide, Sophie seated on his lap, paws up, tail wagging. It wasn’t their first time.

And then we decided it was time to go. We got back to the car, realized Sophie had taken a detour, and Colin had left the leash on the monkey bars, and that none of us wanted to help find either, but we did.

I didn’t write down the last time Katy asked to hold my hand while crossing the street. I didn’t take a picture the last time Colin opened a present he thought was from Santa Clause.

Tonight, I went to the playground with Colin, Katy, Sophie and Sheldon.

I can’t tell you what the stars looked like, or if they’ve filled up the sandbox yet.

But I can tell you that tonight I found out Katy is incredibly strong, and Colin is still the magical boy who can convince Sophie the Scared to sit on his lap and slide all the way to the bottom.

Then get her to do it again.

I was driving to the grocery store this evening and went right by a playground. It was just after 7, dusk here in New England, windy and cloudy and warm. It was crowded; spring has been a long time coming and some of us are not quite convinced it’s here to stay.

And a thought came to me- My kids don’t go the playground with me anymore. Colin is 13, Katy is 10. They go to the park these days, all by themselves or in packs with other kids from the neighborhood.

I hadn’t even noticed the passing of playground days, and they are gone, along with mornings of helping them pick out their clothes for school and the Thursday night phone calls in search of a sitter.

I remembered our trips to Andrews Park. Katy would clutch my hand, which would then smell like peanut butter until I got home. Colin would race ahead, clutching a frisbee or a football or a backpack with snacks. I would juggle my phone and my iced coffee and a book, all while one of my hands was clenched inside Katy’s warm, smudgy grip.

When we got there, I swear, it took us twenty minutes at least, and Andrews is three blocks away, I’d find a bench and settle down with the book and the drink and the phone. I’d make nervous conversations with other mothers, who all seemed to know each other, while eyeing my kids to make sure they didn’t hijack the swings. I’d wish I’d brought wipes, or bottled water. I’d look at my phone and calculate how much longer we’d have to stay until I could safely give them the five minute warning. I’d wonder what was underneath all the sand in the sandbox, if that was even sand in the sandbox. I’d call someone, anyone at all who might pick up the phone, and wouldn’t mind helping me kill some time until I could safely check the time again. Finally, Katy would make me push her on the swing. Then Colin would make me throw him a ball, or shoot baskets, or teach him how to make a frisbee sail thru the air. And I’d wish I was just a little bit better at doing any of those things while looking around to make sure no one was watching. And they weren’t. Until whatever I was throwing hit someone in the head.

Today, I took Katy to SOWA, an open air market with food trucks and art galleries and one stand that had an entire display of 19 different kinds of cheese. Colin went with me last week to the Y, and we worked on the new Keiser equipment. I can’t get a basket, well I can, but it’s not that often, but I can work with him on strength training to help his jump shot. Next month, I’m going to take them to see Lion King, The Musical, which is a helluva lot more fun than watching the Disney video four times in the same afternoon, (not that we ever spent that much time in front of the tv.)

So tonight I was sad for a bit that the playground days are gone until I thought about it. Now, I’m mostly relieved. Though I’m thinking that for Mother’s Day, I might request a sentimental journey over to the swing set on Castle Island. And I will let Colin and Katy take turns pushing me.

The other night, Colin was sprawled on my bed, watching basketball. He looked up at me. He smiled. He spoke- “mom, come here. I want to watch basketball with you.”
I swooned.

These are interesting times in our house. With Colin, I am often the source of great amusement, for what I wear, what I know and don’t know, (who is Kendrick Lamar?) and how I text.

Then he wants me to listen to a song he loves, or offers to lend me his basketball sneakers to go to zumba class.*

My daughter is 10. She went to see a teacher got married and needed to ask the next door neighbor for eyeshadow, my selection wasn’t flattering to her skin tone. And while I was making dinner tonight, she marched up to me in the kitchen, in front of the stove, thru her arms around me and declared it was time to snuggle.

I packed up all of Colin’s boy clothes last week. A thousand hats, he never wore one. Fifteen different teeshirts from basketball camp and summer camp and football practice. Little boy pajamas with dinosaurs and fire trucks and skulls.

In the midst of all these changes I’ve been on a bit of a cleaning bender. The hard thing is, Colin is thirteen. Katy is nine. They are used to my bi monthly half hearted attempts to get the house in order. They listened to the speech. They made their beds. They put the clean towels into the linen closet instead of on the floor in front of the linen closet. This all lasted about three days, every couple of months. Before.

When Back To School struck this year, I decided we were going to get the house in order. And that meant all of us. I regard clean clothes perched on the stairs the way I used see Sophie’s poop when she’d been left home too long. Socks in the hallway send me into a frenzy. And stuffing all of the offending articles into the closet and then closing the door doesn’t work anymore either. In the old days, I wouldn’t open the door. Now I do.

And of course, along with Back To School, the New Leaf Cleaning Policies, there are all of the Back to School Activities- swim team, football, youth group, flute lessons. And there is my job. And my other job. And two classes at Quincy college. And dinner, and friends, and the gym.

I have to go to the gym. For the past couple of weeks, I’ve been struggling with asthma. Mostly at night. My lungs wheeze, it sounds like I have a choir of Who’s from Whoville singing in my chest. I can’t catch my breath. Yoga seems to help. And an extended time spent in the sauna after yoga helps even more.

It’s not surprising, I guess. My family has started careening forward towards the next part, the part where I have to learn to let them go. I can clean, watch basketball, burn dinner while I cuddle on the couch, zumba till the teacher throws me out, and it’s not going to slow down. And when I do slow down, when I lay me down to sleep, I lose my breath.

It returns. And I go back to sleep, and wake up to the most charismatic of canines, Sophie. Sophie groans when I first reach down to say good morning. And then she wags, not just her tail, her whole body. And she shivers, and sighs, and wedges closer to my body. I know she really, really needs to get outside. Even so she will stay in bed in bliss right next to me until I have to pry myself away and return to vertical.

That’s how things are right now in our house.

*Don’t ever wear basketball sneakers to zumba. Ever. They are incredibly hard to dance in, and more important, they look really, really stupid.