Get A Job!

I was driving my younger son and his friend to soccer practice when they both started lamenting how busy they are this summer. My son’s friend is starting driver’s education as soon as soccer ends because, as he explained with a touch of sarcasm, “I can’t have one day with nothing to do.” My son groaned in sympathy. “I know,” my son added. “I don’t have a single day off this summer.”

Insert eye roll here.

I have no sympathy for this complaining. First of all, taking driver’s ed and playing soccer were my son’s requests, not mine, (as if I want another teenage driver in my house!) and, more importantly, he was complaining about being bored two days after school was out!

It would be great if he could have one of those idyllic 70’s summers. I can picture it perfectly: he would yell up the stairs in the early morning to say goodbye to me, the screen door slapping behind him before I can react. Then he would head to his best friend’s house on his bike and they would wander the neighborhood picking up other friends while looking for something to do, eventually following the railroad tracks to find the body before Keifer Sutherland and the other greasers could find it.

Oh wait. That’s the movie, Stand By Me.

All kidding aside, I wish he could have one of the carefree summers of my youth.

But he can’t.

They no longer exist.

Unless we parents collectively decide to yank our kids out of ALL activities my son will be home—alone—playing video games and watching YouTube videos, all day, EVERY DAY while his peers continue with their extensive summer plans.

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This trend is not going anywhere especially if you factor in the get-into-college-summer-resume-building frenzy of activities that all high school teenagers seem to be involved in.

My son is a rising high school sophomore and according to the Internet (where everything is true) my son should be on a service trip in Guatemala or working on a novel or starting a company in our garage (although that would be nice…).

With nothing but soccer and driver’s education on his agenda, his college admissions resume will be light.

There go the Ivy’s.

Julie Lythcott-Haims, the author of a new book, “How to Raise an Adult: Break Free of the Overparenting Trap and Prepare Your Kid for Success” and author of The New York Times article, “What’s Your Teenager Doing This Summer? In Defense of ‘Nothing” wants parents to take back summer. She encourages parents to jump off of the get-into-a-good-college bandwagon and let “summer feel like summer again.”

She believes that free time will morph into time spent “cooking, biking, building models, drawing, talking to Grandma, reading books from the library, keeping a journal, feeling bored, making money mowing lawns or washing cars, noodling around on the piano or the guitar, learning how to drive, going for a swim, daydreaming in the hammock, lying on the grass staring up at the clouds.”

Hmm…I don’t know many teens who would fill their days daydreaming in a hammock or talking to their grandparents. I know my kid wouldn’t.

Don’t get me wrong. I agree that teens should not spend their summers padding their high school resumes but should they really spend their summers doing nothing?

I have a better idea: let’s tell our teens to get jobs.

Not an “internship” at a family friend’s company but a real job. Preferably an annoying job with a bad boss, mean customers and a lot of responsibility.

This works on so many levels. Not only will your teen have some activity to fill his days but, if you, or your kid, care about the whole resume-building exercise, he will develop skills he would never develop if he was on a 3-week trip to the Galapagos Island with a staff to help him navigate the experience.

Maybe, because I’ve been through the get-into-college rodeo already, I recognize that the over-priced, completely scheduled, 2-week summer service trips and the full-time internships that Lythcott-Haims mentions aren’t fooling any admissions counselors.

What stood out on my older son’s resume wasn’t his two-week trip to a tropical paradise to tag turtles (yes, we were those parents) but his summer jobs as a baseball coach and a camp counselor for nine-year-olds. Talk about developing communication and problem solving skills! And those were just the skills needed to deal with the parents.

But, and this is important, he didn’t get those jobs with an eye towards his high school resume; he took those jobs to make money and because he likes kids. The rest (the experience, the learned skills, the connections) was just a bonus.

So, when your kid asks to go to Hawaii for three weeks to help the dolphins or you feel the itch to sign your kid up for one more learn-to-code class, hand your son or daughter the Help Wanted section from the local paper instead.

Then start planning your trip to a tropical paradise with the money you will save.

What are your teens doing this summer?

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How To Survive Summer Vacation With Your College Kid

Nine months ago I wrote about how my oldest son was off to college and I worried about how I was going to adjust. I was so sad and so convinced that I would never grow accustomed to setting the table for three instead of four and I would always mourn his absence.

Well, I got used to it.

It was so conflict-free! My oldest is the child who brings out the fight in me. I don’t know what it is but we butt heads over everything. It’s not so much what he says as how he says it: with a snarky tone that just begs for a fight.

And, far be it for me to back down.

When he was away at school we didn’t fight…much. It’s hard to fight with limited communication. But, our disagreements, if we had them, were usually via text (I could hear that snark in his words even when I couldn’t actually hear him). Thankfully we didn’t have time to text-fight very much because angry typing takes forever.

But now he’s home. Let the fighting begin.

I was so naïve. I thought that summer break would be exactly like his winter and spring breaks: short and sweet with nary a disagreement. I guess we were all on our best behavior because we had such little time and, now that I think about it, he had the flu over winter break and strep over spring break so he really was on his best behavior. Sick kids are so much easier to deal with.

Now that he’s healthy and we have three months instead of three weeks, I’ve come up with this survival plan:

  1. I will encourage him to sleep until 3:00 pm. This limits the amount of time that we can see each other during the day. Limited face-to-face interactions limits the number of fights we can have. Unfortunately, this can’t go on forever (for so many reasons, of course). Only one of his two summer jobs has started and the one that will get him up and out of bed by 7:00 am doesn’t start for another week. In the mean time I am relishing the quiet of the morning/afternoons.
  2. I will ignore the snark. Often, when my son misses breakfast and lunch because he has slept through both meals he gets snarky. I WILL NOT ENGAGE! I will simply tune him out like a teenager engaging with his or her parents. I will let my mind wander to pleasant thoughts while he complains about being bored/tired/hungry/oppressed. And when his venting loses steam and he turns back into my sweet, loving child I will tune back in.
  3. I will make my home less appealing. When my older son was younger I wanted to have the house where everyone would hang out. I thought it was a good way to keep an eye on the kids. Now, I would prefer they go elsewhere. Don’t get me wrong. I really adore my son’s friends. I do. They are great kids who are polite, kind, smart, engaging and they even clean up! But they are at the age when they may want to do things that I don’t want to know about. I don’t want to always be the parent who will have to say no. So, as a deterrent, I will hide the snacks and fall asleep on the couch when his friends come over. Or maybe I will sit at the counter with them and ask them a lot of questions. Or, even better, I’ll invite my friends over to sit at the counter with them and ask a lot of questions. That should make them want to flee.
  4. When I actually want to spend time with my son (which is often, in case you were worried) I will take him out for a meal. He LOVES to eat so taking him to a new restaurant and offering him a good (free) meal are easy ways to get some quality time. Family dinner every night is another way to “force” him to spend time with us but that usually only lasts five minutes (although it is a pretty good five minutes). If I want real, extended time without conflict, he needs food.
  5. I will torment him when he starts to fray my nerves. I’ll crack bad jokes, play my music too loudly, ask him questions or ask him to help with chores. This will force him to retreat to his room or the basement. It’s like a time out without having to ask him.
  6. I will not wait up for him. I used to lie in bed waiting for the back door to open before I could drift off peacefully. Now I put in my earplugs and promptly fall asleep. He usually doesn’t stay out too late so this one is pretty easy. I also know that if he gets arrested, gets into an accident, or gets abducted someone will call me and wake me up.
  7. And finally, I will not worry about him getting arrested, or getting into an accident or being abducted. At least not obsessively (I’ll always worry a little). There was a time when I worried about all of those things and the only time I felt secure was when he was home in bed and I knew exactly where he was. And then he left for college and I knew nothing about his whereabouts. I had to trust that I taught him well and that he would make good decisions…ok, good-ish decisions.

I’m only three weeks into my plan but so far, so good. If it doesn’t work, however, there’s always summer school next year.

When I Grow Up I Want To Be…

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When you were little did you know what you wanted to be when you grew up?

I mean really know? And, more importantly, is that what you became?

I wanted to be, among other things, an investigative reporter, a flight attendant, a ballerina, a meteorologist (not the “weather girl” on the news, but the person who actually predicted the weather – as if that’s a real job!), a lawyer, and tall.

At least I got to be a lawyer.

I can honestly say, though, that with all of my potential careers I never once contemplated the path to get there. I just thought that I would go to college – because that was what I was supposed to do – and then I would find a job – because that’s what I was supposed to do. I moved through my education believing that I would find a job somewhere, doing something, even if it wasn’t the perfect job because that’s what we were supposed to do.

Even when I started law school I never contemplated the possibility that I wouldn’t find work after graduation.

Yes, I was young and stupid and a couple of months before law school graduation—when I still didn’t have a job—I realized my naivete.

I’m so glad it took that long.

As a freshman in college I never once thought I better not switch my major from business to journalism because I’ll never get a job. If I really thought about the lack of job prospects in college and law school I would have been paralyzed.

Enter my 19-year-old.

He recently returned home from his freshman year in college with a lot of angst about his major. He didn’t like his biology classes as much as he thought he would but he didn’t want to switch majors because he thought this was a good path to get a job.

Who is this kid??

My husband and I have never told our kid that he should set his sights on a “practical” major (although my husband has suggested that he take some business classes but my son is like me and just hearing the words “Accounting 101” puts him to sleep).

Now, I know that taking some business classes can’t hurt but the Liberal Arts student in me sees as much value in a writing class or an improv class as Stats or Econ.

It’s a good thing my kid is thinking about his future but I don’t want him to stress out about finding “his thing” at 19. That’s what he said, “Science is my thing. What else will I do?”

A thing??

I didn’t realize you were suppose to have “a thing” as a freshman in college. When I started college I thought college was the time to figure out your thing, and also meet people and be inspired.

I started college as a business major because I thought it was a practical choice. I think I was two weeks into business ethics and accounting when I jumped ship and switched to Liberal Arts and Sciences. I knew what my thing wasn’t: it wasn’t being an accountant or a marketing executive. I shared my experience with my kid and tried to explain to him that it is just as important to know what you don’t like as it is to know what you do like.

Yes, I know that the current job market sucks and college is very expensive so taking random classes with no definable path is not always prudent. But I don’t want my kid to keep taking classes in a field he is not interested in on the off chance that he might get a job in a field he has no interest in. Chances are that he will end up getting a job in a different field entirely and what a waste of time and money.

But that’s just me.

When I was in college there were definitely people who knew exactly what they were going to do with their lives and they did it. My brother was always going to be a doctor and he is. But I also know an English major who wanted to write the next Great American Novel but started a hedge fund instead, a music major who went into medical sales instead of cutting a record, and an education major who started a yoga studio. They are all very successful and extremely happy with their choices. They also have great skills, interesting hobbies and maybe even a new chapter waiting for them when they grow up.

As for me, I still don’t know what, or who, I want to be when I grow up – right now it’s a toss up between Emily Blunt and Emma Stone.

I have a better chance of being tall but I’m keeping my options open.

What about you? What did your career path look like?

How To Get Your Kids Away From Their Screens

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Our spring vacation came at a much needed time and not just because I couldn’t take another gray Chicago day (although that was a very big part of it). No, I needed to hear the sound of my younger child’s voice again because I realized that entire days would go by and the only time he spoke to me was to answer my questions:

Me: How was school?

Him: Good

Me: How much homework do you have?

Him: Not a lot

Me: Do you want a snack?

Him: Yes

And so on, and so on.

There was one day, a couple of months ago, where he and I were in the same room within six feet of each other for nearly two hours and we did not speak AT ALL!

How is that possible?

I stood on one side of the kitchen counter prepping and cooking dinner, cleaning the kitchen and yes, occasionally checking my computer and phone while he sat across the counter surrounded by his devices—a laptop, an IPad and a phone—finishing his homework, watching videos and texting. Other than the clicking of the keyboard and the occasional laugh (at the videos not the homework) we were in silence.

Something had to change.

Taking away all of his electronics and shooing him out the door wasn’t going to cut it this time. We were all slipping into the Internet abyss and we needed to get far away from its pull.

This required a change of scenery, somewhere with non-stop action, somewhere like Vegas but for a 15-year-old, somewhere like Universal Studios in Orlando, Florida.

It was perfect.

After only a few hours of riding roller coasters and walking through Harry Potter themed worlds my taciturn teenager was the chatty, energized kid I used to know.

He talked about stuff. I learned more about what was going on with him than I ever would have if we hadn’t taken him away from the screens. We talked about school, his friends, his interests and even current events. He could have sat at dinner in silence or answered questions with one grunt but instead he was engaged…and didn’t need to reach for his phone.

And given the choice between sitting in the room and watching videos or being outside he always chose outside. When we had our fill of the parks—thankfully by about noon every day—he wanted to go for a run or workout at the hotel gym. He even had us track down a soccer ball so he could kick the ball around with his dad. Over three-and-a-half days we covered the entire park, saw a movie (in a theater not the hotel room), played mini-golf, went to a Blue Man Group performance and took an airboat ride in the Everglades to look for crocodiles. By the last day, I admit, I was ready for a mid-afternoon nap but he was still going.

Of course I realized, post-vacation, that we don’t live in an amusement park where every moment is fun-filled and action-packed. There is crap to do and clearly, taking a vacation every weekend is not fiscally prudent.

This vacation, however, was a great way to “reboot” and, more importantly, it helped me see that my kid, like most kids probably, turns to his electronics when he is bored and trying to fill his days…and so do I apparently.

I’ve gotten in the habit of playing Candy Crush while simultaneously binge watching something on Netflix. My husband is equally guilty of checking his phone when there is a lull in the action.

Great role-models, right?

Unfortunately taking away all of our electronics all of the time is not the answer. “It is the way of the 21st century,” my son says…repeatedly. I’ve been forced to acknowledge that a good part of my son’s social life is screen based. He and his friends communicate via text (no one actually speaks anymore), they share their lives via social media, and when he isn’t playing soccer or out with a group of people, he and his friends get together and play video games the way we watched movies on TV (my son claims that Xbox games are like a movie whose ending they can control).

That doesn’t mean, however, that he gets to burrow into the basement and get swallowed by the black hole of the Internet.

I will continue to yank the electronics when he stops speaking to me in full sentences and, most importantly, I will help him figure out ways to fill his days–even if that means that I have to give up my Candy Crush addiction and model better boredom-busting behavior.

It’s good to remember though, that if all else fails and I find that I can’t take the screen away from my kid, I can still take my kid, and me, away from the screen.

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The Too Much Information Age of Parenting

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My mom and dad had it easy. There was no pressure to parent the right way – everyone did it wrong. At least by today’s standards.

Kids roamed the streets unattended, parents left kids home alone and made them prepare their own meals (Salisbury Steak anyone?) and most importantly, kids didn’t tell their parents what they were really doing so parents didn’t really know – and they liked it.

I miss those days.

Now, with technology, we parents expect that we will know where our kids are at all times. I don’t know how many times I’ve texted my kid, “Where r u?” and been frustrated that I didn’t get an immediate response. If he didn’t have a phone I probably wouldn’t ask. But he does, so I want an answer. Now.

Our parents knew we were out – whatever “out” meant. They knew that we would eventually come home; usually at whatever time they told us to be home because that’s what we did. Now, my kids can’t keep track of the time even though they have a phone glued to their hands—a phone with an alarm. Which is why I need to text…

If my parents weren’t home then we were on our own. Even though my parents owned a restaurant I don’t remember warming up meals from the restaurant for dinner; I remember cooking something and by cooking I mean heating up a TV dinner that we ate on a TV table in front of the TV.

Now, if I haven’t prepared my kids a meal before I leave, I order in for them. I do this even though both of them are perfectly capable of cooking a real meal – they are 19 and 15 after all – or simply improvising (cereal or a peanut butter sandwich for dinner never killed anyone).

The biggest difference, however, between my parents’ generation and parents today is that we know so much about our children. We schedule their lives from the time they are very little until they leave for college. We plan their activities, schedule their “play dates,” over-volunteer in their classrooms so we can get to know the other kids and their equally over-involved parents. Because of this shift in the parenting culture we know everything our children are doing and thinking and saying.

That’s how they are raised. They are raised to share. Some share more than others – even in the same house—but, nonetheless, it is generally – at least by the time they are teenagers – too much information.

I’m kidding – sort of.

Do I really want to hear the funny story about my older son’s friends who were completely trashed at a party? Yes…and no. I’m glad he can share but all I’m thinking is maybe you shouldn’t be friends with those people.

And, do I really want to know about disagreements my kids have with their friends? Well, yes…and no. I’m glad I can be a sounding board but long after my kid has moved on, I will continue to not like that person on my son’s behalf FOREVER.

I can’t unknow it.

Maybe we are better off with our heads in the sand.

My parents didn’t know about these things. We didn’t talk to our parents about stuff back then – we talked to our friends or we didn’t talk. Our parents didn’t hang on every word we said, they didn’t micro-manage our lives and, most importantly, they didn’t want to.

My parents, for instance, didn’t know when I stopped talking to my best friend of 10 years. Or, maybe they noticed but we didn’t chat about it. My mom didn’t ask me what happened or how I felt about it. I would have been mortified if she did!

But now, if one of my kids suddenly stopped hanging out with someone they had been BFFs with for 10 years I would notice and ask them what happened and, my kids, being part of this generation of over-sharers, would tell me. Then, long after my child had moved on, I would continue to obsess about the potential scar that the break in the friendship may have caused.

See, my parents had it easy. What they didn’t know couldn’t hurt them (or make them obsess or hold a grudge).

But, me? I’m screwed. I’ve already trained my kids to share with me and I’m certainly not going to tell them that I don’t want to hear what they have to say because I do…and I couldn’t stop myself if I tried because once you know about these things, you know. You know?

 

Do you know too much about your kids? Do you wish you didn’t??

 

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What I Have Learned After Nearly 19 Years of Parenting

Usually, after 19 years on a job, you begin to feel pretty competent. You move through your daily routine with some sense of mastery, some confidence in your abilities. Even if there is a little hiccup in your daily schedule you know, from years of experience, that you can figure it out.

And then there is parenting.

No matter how many years you are a parent you never really know what you are doing. How can you if the job description changes every day – ok, every minute – and the other people you work with don’t follow the rules??

I didn’t realize how little I’ve learned over nearly two decades until I was surrounded by new-ish parents who thought that I had a handle on this parenting gig.

Ha!

To their credit no one asked me any specific questions but they did sigh longingly when they said that it must be easier now that my kids can take care of themselves and I can sleep through the night.

Again, ha!

I didn’t burst that bubble, though (FYI: teenagers do not take care of themselves and what parent of a teenager actually gets sleep??). I figured that these young mothers didn’t need to worry about the teen years while they are chasing their toddlers around Starbucks and tending to screaming infants.

It did make me realize, however, that there are a few things I’ve picked up along the way. I wrote them down as proof that at this moment* I think I’ve learned something.

  1. Your kids are listening even when you think they aren’t. I’m not talking about eavesdropping (although they tend to do that as well so you have to be careful when you are talking on the phone). No, I’m talking about those times when you are doling out unsolicited advice about dating or drinking or you are nagging them to do work instead of playing video games. One day they will see the value in your advice and they may even thank you. Maybe. But don’t hold your breath for their thanks.
  2. It’s ok to apologize. You will make mistakes…all the time. It’s healthy for your kids to see that you are not perfect and that you are human. This doesn’t mean that you should keep making the same mistake every day and keep apologizing for it, but, if you make a bad call, yell when you are having a bad day or give crappy advice – apologize and talk about it.
  3. Yelling doesn’t help.
  4. Humor is so important. My boys and I have so many silly inside jokes that make us crack up all the time. I love those moments and I love that connection. My boys may shake their heads when I make up a song about the dog or when I think I’m being “punny” but I see them smile occasionally. I hope those moments outweigh all of the times I nagged them about their homework.
  5. They will dislike you at times especially when you enforce a rule that pisses them off – like taking away a phone when they forgot to call home or not letting them go out when they break curfew. They will get over it. As long as my responses to their infractions are reasonable I can walk away and know that I’ve done my job. Every now and then I say things like, I am taking away all of your electronics for three months because you were 5 minutes late! That’s when an apology and, sometimes, a sense of humor come in handy.1351263042664_4136006
  6. Family time is sacred. Whether it’s dinner or breakfast or a family movie night, shared family experiences are glue.
  7. Take lots of pictures, write things down, make a video. Not of every moment because some moments are definitely worth simply sinking into, but, know this: you will not remember everything. No matter how many times you think, I will never forget this moment, you will. And, the pictures, notes, videos are as much for your kids as they are for you.
  8. Let them fail – often. You’ve probably heard this a lot by now but failing is not the new “f” word. I am so guilty of trying to save my kids. Trying to protect them from every contingency, every physical scrape, every emotional let down. I dole out advice, say no to seemingly dangerous activities and guess what? Even as I’m running interference for them, they’ve suffered injuries and set backs – and that’s ok.
  9. They need you as much when they are 19 as they do when they are 2.
  10. They love you even when you suck as a parent.

 

*This is subject to change at any moment.

 

How about you? What have you learned from #parenting?

 

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10 Signs That You Are An Overprotective Parent (according to my 14-year-old)

My younger son and I had a little spat the other day because I would not let him have a sleepover.

My reason?

He has been sick since mid-December with a stomach virus, the flu, strep throat and most recently, a sinus infection that put him on a second 10-day course of antibiotics that he finished just three days before the requested sleep over. I made the crazy (to him) statement that I wanted him to get some rest so he could recover from this string of illnesses.

His response? “You are so overprotective! People get sick. Who cares?!”

He’s right, people do get sick but sleeping does help them recover. (Besides, I HATE sleepovers but that wasn’t part of my argument at the time).

He’s also correct that I am overprotective…ish. In my defense, I pointed out that I was willing to let him go to Italy this summer as part of his Latin class. “That seems sort of reckless if you think about it,” I told him.

He scoffed. “The only reason you agreed to let me go is because you knew that my classmates’ parents would say no,” he told me. “You knew I wouldn’t want to go without my friends.”

We will never know because, of course, as I knew, his classmates’ parents said no.

See, where my oldest is a little more cautious my youngest leaps before he looks. So, I have to say things like, “Can you not run down the ice-covered sidewalk? It’s a little slippery after the ice storm.”

Does that mean I’m overprotective or is it my job to warn my accident-prone son of the dangers that he would never notice until it was too late and we were in the ER…again.

Mind you, this is the kid who, among other things ran into a pole (those big cement things that don’t move) when he was younger and required multiple stitches, hurt his tailbone by taking a jump with a sled on a pile of icy rocks, and slammed his knee into a metal pipe trying to jump over a series of metal pipes.

I know, I know. Boys will be boys, but does that mean I’m overly cautious when I suggest that maybe he NOT ski straight down a mountain.

Well, according to my 14-year-old I am.

Here are 10 more examples of things that I’ve said that my youngest found unreasonable, restrictive and just plain no fun. I call them parenting decisions; he calls them torture:

  1. I told him he couldn’t have a motorized mini-bike when he was 10-years-old because he would drive it on the street and it can fit under a car and, well, he was 10 (have you seen what can happen with those things??);

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  1. I made him wear a bike helmet;
  2. I had to be allowed to “friend.” “like,” and “follow” him on all of his social media accounts (and, yes, I know that he might have other accounts I don’t know about but his brother does…);
  3. I say crazy things like, “Be careful!” and “Don’t do anything stupid,” when he is engaging in any activity that could result in bodily injury and/or death like skiing, climbing a tree, or being a boy;
  4. I talk to him about the dangers of drug addiction, alcohol abuse and unprotected sex – often – and usually over his very loud objections about discussing this topic with his mom;
  5. I told him – all 5′ 5″ and 115 pounds of him – that he could not tryout to be the kicker for the high school football team (did I mention that he is only 115 pounds?!);
  6. I don’t let him drink coffee before bed (yes, he’s asked);
  7. I make him eat things like fish and vegetables because they are good for him;
  8. I make him set his social media accounts to private so strangers can’t access them and I tell him not to share his passwords with anyone even when he insists that no one he knows would do anything stupid like log on to his accounts and post inappropriate things;

And the most ridiculous thing that I make him do?

  1. I make him tell me where he is going and (gasp!) who he is going to be with!

I don’t know how he stands it.

 

What do you think? Am I overprotective? Are you?

 

 

 

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