Friday, August 31, 2012

Facebook Moms and Twitter Teens

     So I'm sitting at a Muscle Maker Grill sipping on a four berry smoothie right now. (Totally recommend it, by the way.) New ammo for my Bad Mom Status: I just left my thirteen year old alone standing on a line with about 30 other girls her age (and younger and older) outside a converted church concert space where she was waiting to have a pre-concert VIP meet/greet with the boys from Hollywood Ending during their Boys of Summer Tour. As we were pulling into the parking lot my daughter says, "Oh, there's Melanie!" as if this was her long lost friend. Yet, this is the first time she will be meeting Melanie as she is just one of my daughters 100+ Twitter followers. I waited in the parking lot a fair while chatting with some other moms who were also at that "I'm watching you but not so close that I'll embarrass you" distance from the line of expectant hair-straightened teens. Within ten minutes my daughter was laughing and chatting with her "long lost" friends she had just met.
     I wasn't all that thrilled when my daughter first started tweeting. The concept seemed a bit odd. Why write your thoughts and feelings to a non-discerning public? "But we all like the same bands, mom." Yes, true. But why do they care that you just punched your sister, or ate spaghetti? To be fair, she really has tempered some of the random tweets and does focus the nonsense to band related items, as well as all things Harry Potter and Andrew Garfield.
     When my daughter first started tweeting she did it to follow a few small unknown bands. One "band" Exclamation Point is this pair of 16-year old boys in Maryland who do a UStream every Sunday night, ostensibly to preview their new songs, but after watching it once with her, it was more to just be dorky 16-year old boys with new tech toys. My daughter had a small heart attack throughout late July and early August whenever we were not near an Internet ready computer screen around 6:30pm. Unfortunately for Exclamation Point, my daughter has now moved on and considers those guys "lacking in talent." And I couldn't agree more, but I'm thankful she came to that conclusion herself.
     The new boys on the Tweet Deck are Hollywood Ending, Panic At The Disco, All Star Weekend, Before You Exit, and Marianas Trench, to name a few. All of whom I have given approval to come through the speakers on my car. In fact, I actually sing along some times. I "follow" my daughter on my cell phone so I can keep tabs on what she's tweeting, but I have to be honest, when we get in the range of 20+ tweets in a day, I'm giving a pretty cursory look at the "Toby's so cute I could die" tweets.
     As a Facebook Mom, I can't really harp against social networking. I do not subscribe to the "shelter my kids from cyber world" mentality because, like it or not, it's there, it's powerful and if I want that power to be used for good, I had better start guiding her and cautioning her on proper use. Technology Education guru Will Richardson once said at a teacher workshop I attended, that it's not about how to keep your kids off the internet, it's about making sure they have a positive appearance on it. So I do subscribe to these thoughts. But the difference between Twitter and Facebook, at least the difference between the way my daughter uses Twitter and I use Facebook-- is that I personally know the friends on my Facebook. So when I post a status update it isn't to some indiscriminate fan-base. When my daughter tweets she is actually tweeting TO the boys in the band and all their fans as well. So we've had to have a couple of talks about the digital impression you make with your 140-characters.
     This is kind of scary territory, I know. I've been in disciplinary meetings with young girls at the boarding school where I teach who have been sexting their new boyfriends and I've had to open these young women's eyes to the fact that now their private body parts are quite likely forwarded to a whole male dorm. With the internet there has to be that constant conscious awareness that what you are doing is not in any way private. That's the guidance as parents we have to give (and remember ourselves!)-- teaching our daughters how to make a positive digital impression. Believe me, I am quite sure I will be butting up against these teen digital nightmares more. But so far, knock on some pixels, most of my daughter's digital presence has been positive and innocent, and yet still amazingly powerful.  I mean, case in point, she went to this concert not really knowing anyone. At least not in real life. But I decided she'd be just fine when I looked over at the line of fangirls and my daughter's Twitter friend was braiding my daughter's hair, like they all had been sleepover camp buddies last month.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Why Summer Camp Was Scary This Time

I dropped my thirteen year old off to basketball camp today and she was a tight ball of anxiety all the way to the university where the residential camp is being held. She was so nervous that when my car didn't start for the first couple of tries, she was actually feeling glad that maybe she wasn't going to make it to camp. But the car did start and off we went.

Now, I want to put this into perspective, this kid has gone to sleep away camp twice before. When she was 10 I drove her up to Vermont for a week of circus camp and then when she was 11 a week of basketball camp in cabins! For both of these drop-offs, I barely garnered a good-bye, she immediately absorbed into the crew of campers and was eager for me to make my exit.

Today was markedly different. She was terrified. She was cursing under her breath and ready to snap at the slightest suggestion, "Do you want the camping headlamp so you can read at night?" was met with an apoplectic "NO!!" that slowly devolved into "Ok, maybe" when she realized there were no lights by the dorm beds. She even whapped her sister in the face when the seven year-old went to give her hug and the teen flailed in response. When we went into her room a second time and the roommate was there, my daughter's social awkwardness resembled that of a two-year old hiding behind her mother's skirt. Truly remarkable.

While her behavior was embarrassing and inappropriate, I couldn't help looking at her as a sociology experiment in action. I mean, here was a once confident, vibrant, socially capable young woman. At the age of 10 and 11, these situations were simple for her. You meet new people by smiling and saying hello. But the ugly truth of the pubescence sapping the confidence out of my once radiant little girl was astounding. All of a sudden she was not wearing the right clothes, she didn't have the right shoes, she didn't want her roommate to think she was weird. We had the opportunity to talk about it a little on our fifth trek back to the car for a missing item. "You know, you've done this before, right?" I said. "You've been to sleep away camp twice before and both times you were excited from the moment we got to campus. You went right up to people and said hi. You weren't self-conscious or anything, you were just yourself." And she replied with the self-reflective wisdom that I do so love in her, "I know, but I've learned that every thing I do matters, about whether people will like me because of what I'm wearing or what I look like, or the things I say. Mom, I've learned that it matters a lot. So that's why I'm scared." And a little part of me sighed because I want her to have her 11 year-old confidence back right this very minute, another part of me cried because it is so tragic that the fiesty has died in her, but the other part of me just listened knowing that all of this is part of the journey. "You're going to be fine," I said.
     As we walked back into the lounge where the other girls were gathering and it was time to say goodbye, I made a big display about giving her a hug because I knew she'd be embarrassed and brush me off, which she did, although I saw her smirk. And then I whispered in her ear, "Hey, there's your roommate over there in black, standing by herself, you should go over and say hi."

Thank you for that information, fortune cookie.…
— MariPatient (@mari_g_p_music) July 30, 2012
     When I saw her tweet this evening that said she was ordering Chinese Take-out. I was pretty sure all was well. Not that she was about to text me and say everything was ok, but I can follow her tweets this week and at least know how she wants her Twitter world to know things are going. I think the fact that she cared to tweet her fortune from her Chinese cookie is also a good sign, because she's deep enough to understand the profound implications of this sentiment.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Harbingers 2: Metal in the Mouth and Ears

I dished out 5k for braces three months ago and it was then, looking at my darling daughter that I felt close to the final transformation. Although she had definitely been developing her young woman's body for some time now. Fall 2010 marked the end of Santa Claus and the coming of "the monthlies" all in one week. So bittersweet. I felt somewhat accomplished in managing to have Santa Claus last that long, but the part that was hilarious to me was that she was willing to let go of Santa rather easily, it was the realization that the Tooth Fairy was not real that really stymied her. I suppose because her tooth fairy was so personal, responding to her notes, and visiting so often? I don't know. Perhaps teeth are personal. When the "jig was up" as it were, I brought out the box of her teeth. I don't know if I'm a weirdo mom saving all my kids' teeth, but it seems like an important part of who they were. I have a cannister of old shark teeth in my drawer, so why not my kids' teeth? In any case, M. was sweet for a moment toward her younger sister asking if she could be K's tooth fairy now. But that lasted one tooth and the job went back to me. It's ok, I like the role.

But, as I said, I find teeth to be very interesting, very personal. So when M. was 10 and running around outside and tripped on a black walnut and smashed her face into the sidewalk, severing her two front teeth in half, it was a moment of shock for me. She ran down to my office holding her 1/2 teeth in her hand and I looked at her and thought, "Now she's permanently broken. There's nothing I can do to fix this." I mean, I wasn't dramatic toward her or anything, they were just teeth. Lots of people have caps and such from accidents and injuries, but there was an overwhelming sense of a greater magnitude of not being able to protect her from permanent damage worse than broken teeth.

M's teeth are encased in metal now. Which in my own 14 year old self, while I hated the feeling of getting my braces tightened, my teeth felt "safe" in the metal. Safe from falling out as they tended to do in my dreams far too often. Braces are that strange passage but a kind of limbo, too. As long as there are braces on her teeth, she's permanently stuck in teen-dom. The peirced ears are another story.

That story starts with my own ten-year old self begging my father for pierced ears "because everyone has their ears pierced, Dad." Wrong answer. My father's wise parenting saw that answer as a huge red flag, so he said, "No. Not until you are 16." On my 16th birthday he woke me up and said, "Let's get your ears pierced." To which I replied, "No. I'm fine. I don't really want them pierced." And I didn't get them pierced until I was 22 and on my own dime and own whim. And that was great.

So am I not as wise a mom? I took M. to the mall on Sunday and she got her ears pierced. I had originally said 14, and capitulated to 13 as a compromise for not having a slumber party with fifteen 7th grade girls (the thought of that still makes me cringe.) But my feeling was that the ear piercing was a right of passage. Most of her friends have had their ears pierced since second or third grade, so it was not a peer pressure kind of choice. But it was an "I'd like to grow up a little" choice. And I felt that I could handle that. She couldn't understand what "the big deal" was anyway. And I said to her, "It's the piercing of your precious body. The body that came from me-- whole and perfect and now it will be pierced." These were my father's words to me, and the eye roll I gave him was well-matched by M's eye roll to me. And I was kind of kidding. But not really. The caveat is in place, however, "Any other piercing you should ever get in your life, you must pay for and sign for yourself." She said, "Oh no mom. I'm totally fine with just my ears." I suppose we'll see about that.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

The Post That Started All of This

A couple of months ago I had a particularly trying time with my daughter and needed to reflect upon the events in the best way, I know how, through writing. This post in my Eclectic blog resulted. I posted the link to my Facebook and was overwhelmed with the response from friends, colleagues and former students. I knew I had struck a chord and I knew that while there are many people out there with psychology degrees perhaps more qualified than me to talk about raising teenagers, I really do have a great deal of hands-on experience in this field. I mean, I've been dealing with teenage girls for over three decades at this point. I'm including dealing with being a teen myself, but then early on as a 20 year old camp counselor I started to work on a residential level with that age-group.  And since 1995 I have worn the zillion hats that boarding school teachers wear and have dealt with probably over a thousand different young women in a zillion different capacities. But while that experience certainly has informed and prepared me for the teenager under my roof, the reality still is this, no amount of preparation can simulate the reality. So the post, was my realization that the most interesting ride is ahead of me. Come along if you will and share with me your experiences, too. In the words of the cheesy High School Musical that my Class of 2009 freshman subjected me to on a daily basis "We're all in this together. . . . "

Harbingers Part 1: Tomboy Dies A Little Inside

     When my daughter was in kindergarten her teacher asked me at parent/teacher conferences if M. had teenaged sisters. I was a little taken aback because on some level my daughter grew up with 100 teenaged sisters, since she was born and raised on an all-girls boarding school campus. Her kindergarten teacher was remarking about both her incredible level of maturity but also her volatility. I thought, uh-oh, I'm in for it.
     Mostly the thing that frightened me (but also intrigued me) about the little M. was her absolute lack of fear and her utter independence. She could climb to the top of a tree, and did every chance she got. There is a huge metal pole outside of where my office was. It is at least 20 ft. off the ground and she regularly would climb that pole. I never forbade it, because as I said, this total fearlessness really fascinated me. I was always such a cautious scaredy cat as a kid. So the only stipulation was that she could only climb that pole when I was in shouting distance so I could call 911. I know, bad mom, but I never did have to call 911-- and there were only two broken anythings in this crazy kid's upbringing. Once she broke her humerus while at my sister's house hanging on the rings on the swingset. Did I mention she was hanging upside down on them. She landed right on her arm. But then proceeded to heal in like two weeks. Swimming the whole time with a makeshift bikini sling.
     She flew trapeze every summer from the time she was 9. She climbed to the top of every tree worth climbing, and rang every bell on any rock climbing wall we could encounter.
     Yet this summer, when we went to trapeze again, all of a sudden she panicked when at the platform. "Mom, I'm scared" she called down. And it kind of freaked me out. I had never ever heard her utter those words before. She managed to do her splits and flips, but it wasn't the usual joyous day.
     I remember reading Pipher's Reviving Ophelia when I first came to the boarding school. My younger sister was 15 at the time and it was if the case studies of young interesting vibrant girls turned brooding dark mystery teens was chronicling her life. But it's the alteration of many a teen. Boys and girls-- that moment when you realize you are no longer a kid. It's terrifying. It's "stand on the platform ready to drop" terrifying. And the frightening part for parents, is we can't always be the safety net anymore.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Thirteen Years Ago

It was March 31, 1999. I was still twelve days from my due date, but I was ready. Two of my colleagues had just each at their babies on March 8 and March 10 and there I was bigger than the both of them ever were waddling out the last few weeks on my own. I walked as much as I could, went swimming every other night, but none of that worked to produce this babe. However, on the night of March 31 there was a "blue moon", a second full moon in the month of March. I went out to the pond in a flowing sundress with only my glowing pregnant self underneath. When I got out to the water the moon was shining full force, glistening diamonds, the April birthstone. I raised my skirts and, I kid you not, I called out "Goddess, Mother Moon, I am ready for this baby. Please let her come." I sat for a while then on the bench swing by a gorgeous willow tree and solemnly said goodbye to the life I knew before children. At about 6 a.m. the next morning, my water broke. That was April 1st. I thought how appropriate for my husband and I to birth an April Fool, having met in Ringling Bros. Clown College. But my daughter had other plans. She wanted to test my resilience and decidedly did not want to be born a fool. Her birthday is April 2. And this year, 2012, she turns thirteen. I wanted to make sure to post at relatively the exact same time 13 years ago that my pagan instincts got the best of me, and the moon gave me my own little potential goddess. I think perhaps I need to solemnly say goodbye to the life I knew before teenage daughters under my roof. Believe me there will be more posts to come. In fact, since my daughters are six years apart, I will have a teenager under my roof for the next thirteen years.