Four Ways In Which My Life Is Totally Different Now That My Kids Are Teenagers

I’ve been chugging along, doing the parenting thing and not really paying attention to all of the changes in my life. Sure, I’ve noticed what’s going on with my kids growth and I’ve noted their milestones but I didn’t really pay attention to how much my life has changed (and I’m not talking about the gray hair, wrinkles and all around aging that I’ve done since they were little).

No, it’s the day-to-day stuff that changed and I didn’t really see it coming.

Until now.

Suddenly my husband and I are home alone three or four nights in a row!  We aren’t always sure what to do with ourselves, though. Before kids we went to bars, new restaurants, even art exhibits in the city. Now one glass of wine puts me to sleep and waiting for a table at a new restaurant requires patience that only a 20-something can muster.

But this major life change got me thinking about the other ways in which our lives have changed. Here are four of the more stressful ones for me:

  1. Holidays. I imagine that Thanksgiving might be the same for a little while – at least until the kids start bringing home their significant others – but other than that the holidays are just not the same now that my kids are older. For instance, the Fourth of July used to be so festive. It was an all day event for us – beginning with the kids lined up on the curb for the local parade and ending with gathering with friends and neighbors at our town’s fireworks a few blocks away. We would spend the day playing badminton in the backyard, eating barbecue and hanging out with the family and friends. This year the kids wolfed down some burgers with us around 5:00 pm then disappeared. We saw them at a distance at the fireworks but they didn’t sit near us where I could watch them staring at the display with wide-eyed amazement (not that they would do that now but they used to).  As for Christmas, without the magic of Santa it’s just a day to pass out presents and eat too much. The Easter Bunny went the way of Santa so Easter is really now just a meal no matter how many plastic Easter eggs I try to hide around the house. And Halloween? It’s just a day to watch a scary movie and eat the candy that I bought for our trick-or-treaters.
  1. Sleeping. I still don’t get any sleep it’s just that my hours have shifted. If my kids fall asleep before midnight it’s a miracle and no matter how hard I try to fall asleep before them I really can’t until I hear their doors shut for the night. I used to love getting up at 6 am with the kids; I felt like I could get so much done. Now, I have been forced to become a night owl and, as much as I like having control of the TV remote when my husband is asleep, I’m usually too tired to accomplish much past 10 pm.
  1. The bedtime routine. Probably the saddest part of the shift in my kids’ sleep patterns is their bedtime routines: I am no longer part of them. I still get to give them a hug and say goodnight but that’s about it. Our bedtime “process” used to be fairly elaborate for each kid: there were assorted books (with nightly negotiations for more), different bedtime songs and different places to sit in each room with the lights out for a few minutes before we left. I remember the first time my oldest son told me I didn’t have to stay in his room anymore after I said goodnight. It was like a knife through my heart! Then there was the time that my youngest and I were going through our usual “Love you. Sleep tight. See you in the morning. Good night,” routine when he said to me, in a very solemn voice, “You know, we won’t need to do this when I’m 42.” I left his room and burst into tears. Whadda ya mean! I thought. We will always do this! Obviously we wouldn’t, but there was a part of me that couldn’t fathom stopping. And now it has.
  1. And, finally, probably the hardest change has been my knowledge about their lives. I have no idea what my kids and their friends talk about or think about anymore. Every now and then they will share a funny story about something someone did or said but for the most part getting information out of my kids requires being in an environment with no distractions, asking the right questions at the right moments and knowing when to stop talking. I am really not good at the whole “stop talking” thing so I usually ask one question too many or ask something that is so stupid like, “Where is John going on vacation this summer?” and all conversation comes to a screeching halt. This is in sharp contrast to the days when my kids would talk and talk and talk about their days with such incredible detail that their stories often took more time to tell than the actual event took to happen. I miss that even if, at the time, I could not believe that they could talk so much.

Change is inevitable, I know, but I don’t have to like it…

How has your life changed as your kids have grown? If they are still little are you looking forward to the changes??

What Happened to Summer??

Summer is almost over.

At least that’s what it feels like to me.

The Fourth of July is next week! What happened to June??

My plan, back in January, when we were knee-deep in the polar vortex, was to have a leisurely summer where we took long bike rides, dined alfresco and relaxed together as a family savoring the longer days and the warm weather.

Instead my summer—so far—has involved driving my youngest 2 hours, round-trip, everyday for two-weeks to a camp in the city and struggling to find 15 minutes of one-on-one time with my oldest son in between his two jobs, his girlfriend and his friends. And then there’s the World Cup…

My bottom has yet to touch my bike seat and I’ve eaten outside once (unless you count a biscotti and espresso at Starbucks as a meal, then I’ve eaten outside twice).

I would like nothing better than to introduce my kids to the summer of the 70s ala Melissa Fenton of 4boysmother but I think I missed my chance. Now, if they are gone all day, I start to suspect trouble–the kind of trouble that only teenagers can get into. I also long for a way to simplify my summer as my friend Joy of Joyfully Green suggested but it’s not gonna happen. There’s just not enough time.

If I want that kind of relaxed, spontaneous summer I need to plan for it.

So here’s my plan:

Wooden-TV1. Watch a lot of TV and movies as a family.

Not quite what one would encourage children to do during the summer but I have a list of movies and television series that my kids need to see before they become influenced by someone else’s Netflix queue. I didn’t realize how far behind I was on my list until I read the blog post, Educating Tweens and Teens on Pop Culture: The Movies I INSIST My Kids See by Momma Be Thy Name. Suddenly it became imperative that we get through the list. We finally watched Stand By Me and Caddyshack the other day so that only leaves 20 more movies including, Slumdog Millionaire, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and now, Wedding Singer (thanks for the reminder, Momma Be Thy Name!) just to name a few. Between those movies and episodes of Hogan’s Heroes, Fraiser and MASH we should be watching TV ten hours a day for the next two months. At least we’d be together. This plan might prove difficult, however, given the next item on my list…

2. Get outside.

I realize that my kids are busy with jobs and friends and sports but do they have to spend all of their time together in front of a screen (see the problem with #1?)? I’m torn because my oldest is leaving soon and I like that my kids are spending time together; I just wish it could involve sunshine. I mean we live in the Chicago area for Pete’s sake! Sun and warmth are gifts to be savored. So, I’ve come up with a list of things they can do together outside (I do love a list): Mini-golfing, golfing, paddle boarding, bike riding, canoeing, playing Frisbee golf…so many options. If they let me tag along, even better.

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3. Prepare a meal (or two or three) together and eat outside.

This accomplishes two things: first, it will prove to me that my children can feed themselves (always a little questionable) and two, we will eat outside! My youngest used to love to cook. He and I used to watch The Barefoot Contessa together, and then cook one of her recipes. I even had her autograph one of her cookbooks for him. And then, suddenly, he stopped. Now if he has to feed himself he eats a bowl of cereal or a bag of goldfish. He needs a cooking refresher. Besides, cooking together is fun for everyone (I swear!) and no one needs to know that they are learning something in the process.

4. Teach my kids all of the things I failed to teach them in the past 18 years.

This may seem daunting especially when my kids will be watching ten hours of television a day, preparing dinner and spending time outdoors but…I just found out this morning that my oldest has never changed a light bulb! And he’s leaving for college.

How is that possible??

My husband and I started ticking off the other things that our kids don’t know how to do yet (or at least not do very well). Laundry tops the list, followed closely by tying a tie, knowing basic first aid, putting out a fire, hanging a picture (and patching the wall when they do a bad job), sewing on a button, the list goes on and on…

5. And finally, force togetherness with a little vacation.

We are taking a four-day vacation this summer that is significantly shorter than I would like but all my kids would fit in with work and sports tryouts.

I’ll take it. Four days is better than nothing.

When you have four days you have to plan though; there isn’t much time for lounging around and seeing what happens. So, we will fly fish and whitewater raft and hike but, most importantly, we will eat three meals a day together.

Even if each meal takes only 30 minutes, that’s an hour and a half per day of uninterrupted family conversation, something that would never happen if we were at home.

Three meals without cell phones, television and friends.

Maybe if I’m lucky a couple of those meals will be outside after a bike ride.

not-branded_bicycle

 

 

 

Mother Doesn’t (Always) Know Best

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Honey, when someone is mean to you, don’t give them flowers. Give them the finger.

My kids are far better people than I’ve ever been.

I can be mean and hold a grudge, but my kids? Never. No matter how much I try to make them be mean and hold a grudge.

Occasionally their unwillingness to lash out at others upsets me. Friends have abandoned them, lashed out at them, made fun of them and all I can think is: why won’t they say something??  The perfect comeback will spring to my lips and but they won’t go there.

While I stomp around getting mad for my kids they are busy moving on…

I like going for the jugular. It was the best way I could come up with to stop people from picking on me when I was younger. I would find my antagonist’s weakest spot and hammer away at it until he or she backed down.

I’m shocked that I didn’t get punched. I guess it helps that I’m a girl.

I also had (ok, have) a tendency to hold a grudge. Thankfully none of this is genetic.

For example, my 14-year-old has been playing travel soccer for many years and two years ago he was passed over for a spot on his club’s top team.

He was disappointed. I was pissed.

He played every minute of every game for the past three years! What more could he have done?? I wondered to myself and out loud to my husband (and maybe to a couple of close friends) but never, ever to my son (I’m not that parent).

I fumed for an entire year and secretly hoped I could control my son with my thoughts:

Move to another club!

Take up another sport!!

Tell off your coaches!!!

Not surprisingly, he did none of those things and I said nothing.

Dutifully, my son went to every practice for his new team without complaint. He played in every game even as his spirits dropped. It wasn’t a very skilled team and he’s a competitive kid. It was hard to watch but he stuck with it and when tryouts came around again he was moved up. He was thrilled!

I was still pissed.

Now, in case you are wondering, I do not think that my kid is the greatest soccer player in the world, on his team, or even in our neighborhood—nor does he. He’s not shooting for a college scholarship or a spot in the MLS. He just likes to play soccer and I don’t like to see him get screwed.

When this season started he got—maybe—15 minutes of playing time in the first few games. I thought:

Move to another club!

Take up another sport!!

Tell off your coaches!!!

But he was content to be with the team and to play when he was asked.

A turning point came during one game where he played an entire half. He ran off the field excited and dying of thirst. “I figured I wasn’t going to play at all so I drank all of my water before the game even started,” he said, gulping down a bottle of Gatorade.

He found it hilarious.

Little by little he got more playing time. But then the coach he had so desperately wanted to play for left the team and my son had to prove himself again to another coach. When that coach left after the winter season, another coach took over. This coach knew my son and once told me that my son asked too many questions. (Seriously, what coach doesn’t want a kid to ask what he should be working on??)

I secretly hoped that this coach would yell at my son for asking a question so I would have an excuse to tell him off.

He didn’t…much to my dismay.

Instead, the last time we spoke, he had high praise for his my son’s growing skills and was my son’s biggest advocate at the latest round of tryouts. (Good thing I didn’t tell him off, right?)

So now, the soccer season has come to a close and next year my son will be playing for a great team—one that he is very excited to play for. He will need to work hard to prove himself and to get any playing time but he is up for the challenge.

My kid learned a great lesson in perseverance. Too bad he didn’t learn it from me.

 

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A Different Angle

Today was the last full day of high school for my oldest son. Yesterday was the last Wednesday and tomorrow will be the last time he sets foot in the school as a student.

I’ve been doing this morbid mental list of last moments for months now. Yesterday I even took a photo:

 

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The Last Wednesday I will ever pick him up from school!

 

The hardest moment, up until this week, was: this is the last birthday we will celebrate with him at home.

I’ve tried not to think about that one for too long.

I can’t stop myself. It’s such an automatic reaction that, this morning, I found myself thinking: this is the last time he will carry his lunch to high school in this black lunch bag—ever!

It’s an illness.

Obviously, I know that he will return home at some point (to visit, hopefully, not to live) but I know it won’t be the same.

As much as I complain about having to wait up for him on the weekends at least I know where he is at night. I also like sitting around the dinner table almost every night even if the meal takes 45 minutes to prepare and only 10 minutes to consume—at least I know that we have those 10 minutes!

Yes, he will eat meals with us again and I’m sure I will still want to wait up for him when he is back from college (although I guarantee I won’t make it past the first weekend) but today marked the last day that I will drive him to and from school. Those few minutes in the car every morning and every afternoon felt like stolen moments for me. Facing forward in our seats with no pressure to “have a conversation” my son would chatter away about his classes or who did what during the day at school, but once we walked into our house all conversation would stop.

I know that I will never have an opportunity like that again, at least not every day.

And, yet, this is as it should be. I wouldn’t want it any other way.

My son, through his own sadness today, pointed out that the end of high school is just the beginning of his independent life as a college student, a time filled with many firsts for him (many I’m sure that I don’t want to know about). “It’s all about perspective, mom,” he told me.

I’ll give him perspective.

For instance, today’s last lunch in his black lunch bag means that tomorrow will be the first time in nine years that I won’t have to make two lunches every day!

The last time he lives at home will be the first time I won’t have to do his laundry or yell at him to do his own laundry (at least for a few months but, that’s something).

And the last time he eats dinner with us before he leaves for college with be the first time that I don’t have to be annoyed that he has his ear phones on and can’t hear me so I have to text him in the other room to let him know that dinner is ready and I need the table set!

Perspective is a funny thing.

And it works the other way, too. I started thinking about my kids “first” moments—first steps, first words, first day of school. Those moments were also lasts if I shift my point of view. For instance, my first son’s first steps marked the last time I would be able to sit down for any length of time until my kids went to school. Had I known what his walking and eventual running, followed closely by climbing and jumping actually meant for me I may not have been so enthusiastic about taking photos of him walking – I may have taken photos of me lounging on the couch or sitting at the table enjoying a leisurely meal.

It is all about perspective.

More notable, yet unrecorded last moments masquerading as firsts:

My son’s first words = the last time I would able to have an adult conversation without being interrupted by a child’s questions.

His first “big boy” bed = the last time I would sleep in my bed (for eight years!) without a child climbing in at 5:30 am.

His first pair of big boy underwear = the last time I changed his diaper. Now that moment really should have been captured in a photo.

I guess my son was right, although he probably didn’t realize that he was doling out parenting advice. Parenting really is about your point of view. If you try to see things from a different angle it may not be as bad as it seems.

 

A New Mother’s Day Tradition

Mother’s Day should be for moms but, let’s face it, it’s usually not. That is why I am proposing a solution for moms everywhere; one that will let the kids dote on their mothers (cough, cough) and let moms have their time, too. I’ve detailed it here on Huffington Post Parents:

 

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/manillacom/take-back-mothers-day_b_5273340.html 

 

Let the revolution begin…

 

My Top Five Most Ridiculous New Prom Traditions

What’s happening to high school Prom?

We already know there’s so much drama surrounding the event that Hollywood has immortalized it in movies like Pretty in Pink, Ten Things I Hate About You, and Carrie—you know, typical tales of unrequited love, fighting couples, pig’s blood and telekinesis (ok, maybe Carrie isn’t the best example). But now senior prom has reached a frenzy once reserved only for weddings—just without the gift registry (although that’ll be next, I’m sure).

Prom used to be just a dance in a high school gym decorated by the pep club. Now there are party buses with TV screens that drive students to urban hotels for catered dinners followed by club-hopping after the dance.

It’s getting out of control.

To help put an end to the madness I’ve compiled my list of the Top Five Most Ridiculous New Prom Traditions. If your child is smack dab in the middle of Prama Season (Prom + Drama = Prama) it may be too late to stop it, but if your kid isn’t quite there yet, there is hope.

1. Let’s start with the “Prom-posal” (yes, that’s an actual thing). I know boys who have choreographed flash mobs, girls who have asked someone via the Jumbotron at the Chicago Bulls game and someone who used the loudspeaker at school to get a date. I wanted my son to go old school and simply ask his date. They’ve been dating for nearly a year so it’s not like she was courting other offers but that wouldn’t do. After scouring the web he found this idea:

 

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Still a little much for me but at least he didn’t try to arrange a celebrity prom-posal. Seriously, if you are the girl on the receiving end of a prom proposal initiated by actor, Bryan Cranston, aren’t you going to be a tad disappointed when your boyfriend asks you to marry him on a bended knee with nothing more then a ring in a box?

2. The cost. WTF? You could feed a small country with the price of this one night. My kid shelled out a lot of money for dance tickets, a tux rental, a corsage, and a limo. On the plus side, at least he didn’t need to get a spray tan, a manicure, a pedicure and an updo.

3. The details. The pictures! They should be at a house with a pleasant backdrop (aka not my house). The limo! It needs to have flashing lights, music and videos for the hour-long drive to and from the party venue. The after party! See #5 below.

4. The venue. My mom was reminiscing about decorating the gym and serving punch and cookies at her prom ala Grease. I know that’s never going to happen but do they really need to drive 45 minutes to a hotel in the city for the dance? I guarantee there are hotels and halls in the ‘burbs that could accommodate the party without forcing a trek into the city. They could take a page out of the original Footloose and host it in a barn across the county line! (Wow! There really are a lot of prom moments in movies.)

5. The after-party. Yes, there is an after-party in addition to the picture pre-party, the party itself and, often, the day after party. The after party used to be just hanging out at someone’s house but now there are all-ages dance clubs, comedy clubs and boat parties with DJs to continue the fun. In Manhattan there’s even a company that caters to the after-prom party set.

So what is a parent to do? Do you say no to the craziness? Can you if you aren’t footing the bill?

I think it’s a slippery slope.

You’ve been warned.

 

For the Love of Lists

FRIDAY 

7:30 am – make sure the kids are out of bed

8:00 am – drive the kids to school – MAKE SURE THEY HAVE THEIR LUNCHES!

3:30 pm – kids come home from school

SUNDAY

9:30 am – drop B off at soccer game (NOT PRACTICE FIELD!!!)

10:30 am – drop R off at bus

11:30 am – soccer team meeting and lunch

1:45 pm – pick up T. Drive to improv class. DON’T BE LATE!

No, this is not a couple of pages ripped from my calendar, it’s part of a list I am creating for my husband so I can leave for the weekend for the Erma Bombeck Writer’s Workshop and know that my husband will NOT FORGET TO PICK UP OUR SON FROM HIS SOCCER GAME. I should be packing or practicing my wittiest lines or at the very least reviewing the weekend schedule but, no, I’m making lists…in bold and mostly in caps.

I like lists. Lists make me happy; they keep me organized and I love the feeling of running a line through a finished task. I don’t, however, like making lists for others.

It makes me cranky.

Even though the list I am currently drafting is more for my benefit then my husband’s, every time I need to make him one I get a little annoyed.

Shouldn’t my husband of 21 years, the man who has lived in this house for the entire length of our children’s lives, know WHAT TIME THE KIDS GO TO SCHOOL?!

(A couple of years ago he tried to drop our then middle-schooler off at the elementary school.  I don’t note which their schools on my list even though I am tempted…)

I know I’m not alone. I know that I am not the only mother who takes these steps before she leaves her children in the care of their significant others. Perhaps not with the intensity that I do though…

I have one friend who claims that she can just leave and her husband will figure it out. That might be true but she will never really know. Before she leaves, she arranges the carpools and the sitters and makes sure her kids have somewhere to go after school just in case their dad forgets when the kids were going to be home or that they needed a ride to baseball practice.

She orchestrates her kids’ schedules just like I do, the only difference is she skips the list and gets other moms and/or neighbors involved as backup.

I guess I could stop whining about the lists and just skip them all together. Really, what’s the worst thing that could happen: the kids would be late for school or my youngest would get stranded at a soccer game?

That won’t happen.

My kids know what time they are supposed to be at school.  They will remind my husband (or hound him depending on how late they are running) and my husband will drive them—or they will walk or get another ride. And my youngest will not be left on the soccer field because there will be other mothers there who will notice him sitting alone on the field and will make sure that he has a ride…that is if he doesn’t call his dad first.

No, the worst thing that could happen is that they will call me.

Yes, it makes me feel better that someone knows where my kids are and where they are supposed to be but it also makes me feel better that I can ignore the frantic texts asking me where the soccer game is or what time track practice ends?

It’s on the list and I, will be out.

 

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