Five Ways that Teenagers Are Just Like Toddlers

Lately I’ve been mourning the loss of my boys’ toddlerhood – the days when they hugged me with abandon, belly laughed over a silly sound and viewed the world with wonder and amazement.

I miss the days when I had little people who smelled yummy and wanted to be around me ALL THE TIME. Now, they are teenagers who are very different creatures – they smell like sweat and body spray and they wouldn’t be caught dead holding on to my leg or arm let alone spending hours at my side.

It’s sad to reminisce but, as I’ve been mentally flipping back through my kids’ toddler years, I’ve also noticed something curious—my kids as toddlers and as teenagers are actually more alike then I thought. See if you agree with my top five ways that teenagers are just like toddlers:

  1. They screw with your sleep. When they are little they wake up before the sun is up then, when you finally get adjusted to that sleep cycle, they suddenly become creatures of the night who can’t get out of bed before 10 am without being physically dragged out of their rooms.  My youngest was a crack-of-dawn kind of kid until a couple of years ago. As a toddler, he would run into our room at 5:30 am, his little feet would pitter-patter on the floor and announce that it was a sunny day. I would hoist him on to our bed and pray that he would give me just a few more minutes of sleep – that never happened. Back then, I considered sleeping to 6 am as “sleeping in.” Now, as a teenager, my youngest believes that being in bed – hell, being home before 11 pm is absurd; so I wait up for him.  Of course, then I wake up early because I’m still recovering from toddler time. It really efs up your sleep.

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  1. They like bad music. I was never that mom who popped in Disney CDs in the car and sang along with my children. My kids listened to what I listened to: Classic Rock, Alternative Rock, maybe a little Frank Sinatra just to keep it interesting. But every now and then they would sneak some of that kiddie crap in at home and I would find myself listening to things like Get’cha Head in the Game from High School Musical - and singing along! Thankfully they’ve outgrown Disney tunes (even, happily, anything from the Frozen soundtrack) and they listen to music I want to listen to.  But, every now and then, I’ll be out jogging, listening to my music on shuffle and some misogynistic rap song that one of my boys downloaded will pop up. I’m not a prude but the lyrics in songs by 2Chains and Schoolboy Q are not meant for the listening pleasure of a 47-year-old mom even if the tunes are catchy and easy to run to.
  1. Toddlers and teenagers do stupid things. There was a time when my kids weren’t rushing headlong into stupid activities or asking to do, say, eat something that no reasonable person would want to do, say, or eat. That time was in between the toddler and teenage years.

Sigh.

See if you can tell if my kid was a toddler or a teenager when he made these statements:

  • “I’m going to sit on top of the swing set and see if I can catch my friend as he swings up.”
  • “What if we put three people on the sled and spin the sled as we go down the hill?”
  • “What if we pile the snow up to the roof and make a sledding hill?”

It’s hard to tell isn’t it??

(FYI: Only the last statement was made by a teenager but it could have gone either way. Or maybe it’s just boys…).

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  1. Both toddlers and teenagers can be overly emotional and prone to tantrums. Granted, most teenagers will not flail about on the floor in the middle of a supermarket to make a point but they are just as capable of throwing a tantrum as a toddler. Both toddlers and teenagers might break down in tears when they don’t get their way and in both cases the tears will not be real. Toddlers and teenagers will try to wear you down by asking the same question over and over; that question is usually “Why?” as in “Why can’t I have another popsicle/puppy/toy?” or “Why can’t I have the car to drive my friend 700 miles to see her boyfriend?” Often the question “Why?” will be followed by foot-stomping and a loud, exasperated, “It’s not fair!” You may even see a pout – although it’s only cute on the toddler and then, only the first time.
  2. And, finally, neither toddlers nor teenagers communicate very well. Toddlers have a very limited vocabulary by virtue of their age and their level of education, while teenagers have a vocabulary limited less by lack of knowledge and more by attitude. Toddlers can’t always say what they mean because they don’t quite have the words (which makes them angry) and teenagers can’t always say what they mean because we parents “just don’t understand!!” However, “No,” “mine,” and “why?” are common means of communicating in both age groups. Beyond that, teenagers grunt, sigh and speak volumes by saying nothing. Although toddlers rarely say nothing they often do speak gibberish, which is not much different from teenage grunting. Occasionally, toddlers swear like teenagers, too. Like when you drop the “f” bomb in front of your 4-year-old and he repeats it over and over again in preschool the next day often with the perfect timing.

So, the next time you find yourself staring at your teenager and wishing for the toddler version to return, remember they are the exact same creature only less portable.

Do you think teenagers and toddlers are alike? If so, how?

 

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How Much Do You Really Know Your Kids?

 

“Did anyone really know their child? Your child was a little stranger, constantly changing, disappearing and reintroducing himself to you…”

-Liane Moriarty

Big Little Lies

I’ve decided that I don’t know my kids very well. I keep thinking that I know how they will respond to things but, lately, I’m always wrong—especially with my youngest. It’s not like he’s trying to be difficult (that’s a whole different story). But if I say black he says white – even if he was nowhere near me when I said black.

I started thinking about this last week when I attended the advisory parent night at my younger son’s high school. When we first walked in we were handed a sheet to fill out about our son – questions like “What’s the best thing about your kid?” and “What is your kid most looking forward to in high school?” Questions, that as a parent who has had hands-on experience, 24/7, with this kid I should be able to answer easily.

But I was stymied.

What is he looking forward to? What is he struggling with? Why can’t I answer any of these questions??!!

The one about the best qualities about my kid should have been easy…or so I thought. I started to realize as I wrote down my pat answers: sense of humor, love of learning, blah, blah, blah, that those answers were, perhaps, not true of the kid he has become. Sure, he loves to laugh and I think his sarcasm is the funniest thing ever but was I really answering the question about him as a 14-year-old?

Well, since the first question – the easy question – was such a bust I moved on to the next question that asked what my kid gets excited about?

Hmmm…nothing? He’s a teenager! 

Moving on…

What academic class does your child enjoy most?

No idea. He won’t talk to me about school, but he doesn’t grumble as much when he’s doing his Latin homework so I guess the answer is Latin!

I wouldn’t be so focused on this if I weren’t constantly reminded lately that I don’t have a clue about him.

For instance, I was certain that he would have a melt down when his brother left for college. I was so worried that my sobbing on the way home would be really hard on him because he would be dealing with his own emotions.

Boy, was I wrong.

As we toured the campus and attended family activities, he kept checking the time and asking when we could leave! “I have school tomorrow,” he kept reminding us.

That was not at all what I expected.

And there have been other moments – like when he had a very strong emotional response to a soccer gaffe or when he decided he should be a Buddhist which is in sharp contrast to his desire to be an Atheist. Then just last week, I was POSITIVE that our youngest doesn’t eat avocado and yet, he assured me when I got home with his sandwich—sans avocado—that he LOVES avocado and how could I not know that?

Huh?

Shouldn’t I have noticed this change? Shouldn’t we have talked about it?

Sure, his older brother had moments that threw me for a loop – like the time when he started talking to girlsactually talking to girls – I mean, using words in long sentences and not just grunting at them – but, for the most part, nothing he has done has been a great surprise. That’s because he likes to talk.

When he stopped eating mustard there was a discussion about it. We talked about what it was about mustard that he didn’t like. We talked about other types of mustard and whether he would like to try those. Clearly, it was a long discussion because I can remember the moment vividly.

Our youngest, on the other hand, doesn’t mull things over out loud. He just changes his mind and forgets to tell us.

He also has a very extensive inner life that none of us are privy to. When he was five or six-years-old he started having these moments when he would stare off into space, often with a smile pulling on the corner of his lips. We knew that he was, as he called it, “telling himself a special story.” He was the toddler version of Walter Mitty—with long, complicated daydreams that involved him saving the day or traveling the globe.

(He probably learned to love avocado during one of those daydreams. But, I digress…)

So, why am I so worried about what my kid wants on his sandwich?

Because I want to know my kids. I don’t want to be that parent who says, “My kid would never do that!” only to find out that my kid has most definitely done that…and more.

So, I ask them questions and talk to them during car rides and dinners and talk to their friends when they are in our house – all in an effort to get a glimpse of who they are.

But, I’m not naïve. I know there is plenty that my 18-year-old doesn’t share with me and I actually like that my youngest is very much his own person who tries to figure things out on his own.

I know that I will never fully KNOW my kids and I’m good with that. I want them to separate from us – they need to separate from us. But, I think that I want my 14-year-old to be who he was when he was younger because if I acknowledge that he is changing I also have to acknowledge that he will, one day, grow up and need to leave and I will know him even less.

But until that time I will keep peppering him with questions—whether he likes it or not—and I will assume I know nothing instead of assuming that I know anything because tomorrow he will probably be vegan…or a Buddhist.

 

 

 

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The New Normal

It’s been over a week since my son left for college and I still close his bedroom door every night and open it in the morning.

It’s a bad habit I started when my oldest had his first sleepover at a friend’s house. Normally, we close our bedroom doors at night but that night, since he was out, I didn’t think about it. I still remember waking up in the middle of the night, opening my bedroom door and feeling a split second of panic because his door was open and the room was dark. In my fog I thought he had fled or been taken (I was half-asleep and I have a wild imagination, sorry!). Since that night, I always close the doors when the boys are out and open them in the morning.

Even now.

Of course, now, when I open my door in the middle of the night and see my older son’s door is closed, I forget for a minute that he is not here. And in that split second when I do remember, I feel a little sad.

This will take a little getting used to.

I asked a friend of mine who just sent her youngest of three off to college if it ever feels normal once your kids have left and she told me that you just get used to the “new normal.”

So that’s what I’m trying to do.

I know that moving out is normal, it’s just a natural progression of my kid’s growth, like the shift from walking to running or going from half-day of school to full-day of school (when, naturally, I cried). Every new stage, every new milestone in my children’s lives has required an adjustment in my life of some kind. From sitting to walking, from crying to talking, from home all day to preschool three mornings a week, to elementary school, to middle school, to high school, every stage has required a tweak in our schedules and a shift in perspective.

Still, this stage feels different. Even though every one of those changes was permanent none of them made me feel so out of sorts.

Our whole world seems off right now. Now, we set the table for three instead of four (and yes, I burst into tears the first time I had to do that), we don’t need to buy as much food, we don’t have as much laundry, and our house is much, much more quiet with one kid instead of two.

Right now it feels like something is missing but, we will adjust. Just like we adjusted to having a home with only two people to having a home with three and then four, we will adjust.

But for right now, I’ll keep closing his door at night and opening it in the morning. Then, one day, just maybe, I’ll forget to close the door.

And just like that, that will become our new normal.

 

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I’m Fragile, But At Least I’m Organized

This is an emotional time in our house: our oldest is leaving for college and our youngest is starting high school.

I feel like I have no control over the events that are unfolding and I’m not ready.

It would be fine if I was the only one in the house who felt this way, but that’s not the case, of course. There can never be one person in the house who is stressed – it’s like a virus.

For instance, last week my younger son had tryouts for the high school soccer team and he was a bundle of nerves, so I was walking on eggshells wondering what I was supposed to be doing to be supportive. Should I ask him any questions when he talks about tryouts? Should I ignore him? Should we distract him? He would come off the field beating himself up and I would try to find just the right amount of humor and silliness to take the edge off…unless he wasn’t in the mood for humor and silliness, in which case there was silence.

That was fun.

And, I’m overtired because I’ve been staying up late waiting for my oldest to come home from saying his goodbyes to friends leaving for college and then I’m up at the crack of dawn to drive my youngest to his tryouts.

No sleep + no control = over emotional mommy and that’s not a good thing…for anyone.

Then, of course, my son is leaving in 3 days (or three days, 11 hours and 26 minutes according to the Welcome Week page on the college website that I just checked).

3 days!

Why couldn’t he have left last year when he was a total pain in the ass? Last year I would have gladly moved him out of our house and into a dorm many, many hours away with barely a glance back.

But now he’s become sweet again and pleasant to be around and nice to his brother!

What is wrong with him!

So, I’m fragile right now and I get teary-eyed at the littlest things like yesterday, when I got a delivery notification for a table I bought that will be delivered on August 25. My first thought: my son won’t be here to see it. I shed a tear!

It’s ridiculous.

Do I sound a bit manic? Well, I am. Nothing, at this moment, is within my control and I need to control something.

So I organize.

I may not be able to control what is happening in my life but I can control what goes into my junk drawer and how well my fridge will be organized.

Thankfully the times when I’ve felt that I’ve had little or no control in my life have coincided with packing and organizing.

For instance, moving after I got married was a bit overwhelming but I distracted myself by looking for great baskets and drawer organizers at the Container Store; having a baby was also a bit stressful but I passed the time searching for the perfect bin, box, and shelving system for my kid; and, when my dad was dying, I distracted myself by helping my mom unpack and organize the house that they had just remodeled and moved into.

I am great at organizing under duress.

Now, as I get ready to move my kid out of my house and into his dorm room I have become maniacal about plastic storage bins. Wherever I go I have found an endless supply of plastic bins in every shape, size and color you can imagine.

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And believe me, I can imagine a use for every one of them.

That three-drawer number in blue? It’s the perfect size for school supplies right next to his desk and a great height for a bedside table!

The extra long bin with the hinged lid? Perfect for storing wiffle ball bats, golf clubs and tennis rackets under the bed.

That little red container is perfect for first aid supplies! (Get it? First aid? Red?)

Don’t worry, I didn’t buy any color-coded bins…yet, and I’ve held back from slapping labels on the side of each container which, I realized would be mortifying for my kid but, believe me, I really, really want to!

My husband thinks I’m nuts and my kid just shakes his head but I don’t care.

I can’t control what’s going to happen to my kid but he will be the most organized freshman on campus…at least until I drive away.

 

 

Fiscal Irresponsibility

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How much control should we parents have over how our children spend their money?

That is the question that has plagued great minds since the beginning of time – or at least has bothered my small mind for the past month.

It all started with the bank statement and the missing $190.00.

That’s how much money my 14-year-old son spent on an on-line game over a one-month period of time.

190 freaking dollars!

This isn’t one of those cases where I could contact the company and ask for our money back. Well, I suppose if he used my credit card I would but it was his debit card, not mine, so I didn’t want him to get the money back.

I wanted him to suffer.

Until this summer I have used my credit card for my younger son’s video games, Xbox games, ITunes accounts, etc. so I could keep track of how much he was spending. He would ask me to charge something, and then he would give me cash. I thought this was a smart way to control his spending. If I thought he was spending too much money I wouldn’t charge what he wanted.

Brilliant!

Shortly after he graduated from junior high, however, we got him the “high school” debit card, mostly because the card can be replaced when it’s lost (he’s the kid who walks out the door with a $20 and two blocks later can’t remember where he put it.) I didn’t even consider the possibility that he would be drunk with power and simply add his account number to a computer game and start making charges.

How naïve am I?

I didn’t even realize that he hadn’t asked me to charge anything in ages. Then I saw the bank statement. I was livid. I thought: What a waste! He could have bought himself a skateboard, a bike, 50 Starbucks Frappucinos!

I made him cancel the game, lectured him about financial responsibility, and threatened to take away his new debit card if he did anything so irresponsible again.

But…then I started to second guess my approach?

After all, I did tell him that half of his graduation/birthday money was his to spend this summer. And, although I never even considered that he would spend it on virtual “gold” instead of Starbucks, hot dogs and movies, it was his money to spend.

Can I really tell him he can’t spend all of his money on video games because I think they’re stupid? Why is a $4 Frappucino any better??

When I was his age, I remember spending money on clothes, shoes, purses, all kinds of crap that I only wore or used once (shoulder pads and neon, anyone?) I’m sure my parents thought my purchases were equally worthless.

But, I learned a lesson. When I ran out of money, I ran out of money. I eventually learned to think before I bought one more pair of stirrup pants or heavy black eyeliner. (Which, is something I should have known long before, but I digress.)

The lesson my son learned is that he should have grabbed the mail before me so I wouldn’t have seen the bank statement.

If I wanted to teach him some useful lessons I probably shouldn’t have yanked the game so quickly.

I should have used that opportunity to teach him how to manage his spending and not buy things on impulse. I could have helped him map out a strategy where he could have spent money on his game and on his burgeoning Starbucks habit. But, the greatest lesson I could have taught him would have been about the value of sarcasm in parenting:

14-year-old, after burning through all of his money. “I don’t have any more money left and I want to go to the movies. Can I borrow $10?”

Me: “You know how the virtual world took all of your real money? Maybe the real world will accept virtual gold. Whadda ya think??”

Now that’s a lesson that would have lasted.

 

Do you control how your kid spends his or her money?

Did you make any worthless purchases as a kid?

 

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Yet Another Thing I Will Miss When My Kid Goes to College

We are less than a month away from the day that we leave our older son behind at college and head home to a slightly emptier house.

In order to avoid thinking about that for too long, I have been putting my energy into dealing with all of crap that needs to be done before he leaves for school: dorm room shopping, doctor’s appointments, haircut appointments, clothes shopping and, as a last-minute stressor, wisdom teeth extractions.

I’ve also been cleaning out closets, reading articles about easing the transition, and trying to get a prescription for Xanax to help with my separation issues (just kidding – I actually bought a case of wine).

I am going to be ready…or so I thought.

This morning I found a box of donuts and a bag of gummi candies on our front porch. They were from my older son’s friends. Apparently, he’s been having a rough week that I was unaware of. Yes, I knew about his sun poisoning and previously mentioned wisdom tooth pain, but the other part of it—the possible end of a long-term relationship—I was not privy to. He turned to his closest friends for that support and they rallied.

See, the best way to cheer up my 18-year-old is to feed him, so that’s what they did.

I cried.

My son has the nicest friends; they really look out for each other. But, more than that, they are really a great group of kids to have around…and they are leaving, too.

I’m going to miss having them around.

I may bitch and moan occasionally because they are at our house a lot, but I really only care when I’m in the mood to sprawl out on the couch in my stretched out yoga pants, eat cookies and watch bad TV. (I try not to do that in front of the kids lest they think that’s what happens when you’re older than 45, move to the suburbs and have kids. I don’t want to scare them).

The reality though is they usually don’t mind if my husband and I are around—yoga pants and all. They sit with us and even invite us to play board games or poker with them. Once, when a couple of the boys were hanging out with us, one of the boys told my husband and me about his plan to go to Las Vegas with our son for their 21st birthdays.  “You should come, too,” he said.

“You probably won’t want your parents with you in Vegas on your 21st birthdays,” I explained smiling as I pictured the scene.

“Why? You guys are cool,” he said. And he meant it!

No, really. He meant it!

I could have cried but that would have shown him how un-cool I really am.

The fact that these boys don’t want to flee when we walk in the room is only one of the reasons that I like them. They work hard at their jobs and at school, they do charitable work without being hounded and they are respectful of our home. They may eat all of the ice cream but the bowls are in the dishwasher when they are done and the counters are wiped clean. I can’t get my 14-year-old to do that; hell, I can’t get my husband to do that!

But the best thing about these boys is that  they are really, really nice to my youngest son.

That wasn’t always the case with my oldest son’s friends but, somehow, over the years, the friends who were mean to his little brother stopped being part of his posse.

I know it’s not easy to have a little brother around all the time (I’m a little sister, after all) but no one seems to mind him or, if they do, they don’t let it show. Half the time, a couple of them will be hanging out with him in our family room while the rest of the group is in the basement. Other times they invite him to join in. Just the other night my husband and I came home and found our youngest beating the older boys at poker, the next day he was playing tennis ball golf with them, and, as I write this, one of those boys—his “brother from another mother”—is working out with him as he prepares for soccer tryouts.

I’ve been worried about how my youngest is going to handle the separation from his brother but I didn’t think about how he might deal with the separation from his brother’s friends.

Thank God for social media…

I, am only “friends” with one of the boys on Facebook (his request, not mine) so I will have to get my information from my kids or hear snippets when they are back for school breaks.

In the mean time it will be odd—and a little quieter—without them around.

They will be missed.

 

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??

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