Candy for the Teens

Photo by Kristina Paukshtite on

I gave candy to my 15-year-old next door neighbor last night and also his friend. No, they weren’t wearing costumes. I did not mind. They joked that they were dressed as normal people, which constituted disguises for them. I laughed. They weren’t the only teens to come to our door. As the evening wore on, the ages of our candy seekers inched upward.

I’ve heard a number of folks state that teens shouldn’t trick-or-treat, and if they do they should dazzle you with their creativity. I’m sure everyone’s dying to know what I think about this, so I’ll share. Do you know what teenagers could be getting up to that’s so much worse than trick-or-treating? A lot.

We live in a society where kids are pushed to grow up fast. High school students are under pressure to excel at everything, to pack that resume so they can have a shot at the American dream. Some are stepping into the role of adults in households with dysfunctional parents, perhaps working at night to help pay the grocery bills, maybe taking care of younger siblings. Previous generations have messed up the planet they’re inheriting. Drugs are everywhere (except in Halloween treats — that’s a debunked urban legend.) Conflicting messages and expectations are everywhere. It’s not easy being teen.

But it’s too easy, as an adult, to react with fear based on the worst news stories or rumors we’ve heard. Too easy to make assumptions that adolescents are necessarily bent on mischief. In my observation, it’s really not the case the vast majority of the time.

And if any teen wants to hold onto an altogether wholesome vestige of their childhood for one more Halloween, I’m there for it. Come to my house. I’ll give you candy.


My Son Emerges From His Room

My 19-year-old son, who is living at home while taking college classes, has started coming out of his room when he’s home. And he talks to me. I mean, he initiates conversations. It feels like a bridge crossed. Or a bridge rebuilt. Or something about bridges.

In the year before he graduated from high school and for the year or so since he moved back home, he kept mostly to his room when he was in the house. He’d come downstairs if I used my phone to message him that I’d cooked some food, or to briefly take care of whatever household chores he was assigned for the day. Otherwise, I had to make an effort to make sure I saw and talked to him each day.

He tended to leave his door open, at least, so it was easy to pop in and say hi. The conversations generally went something like this:

Me: “How’s it going?”

Him: “OK.”

Me: “Keeping up with your schoolwork all right?”

Him: “Yep.”

Me: “Well, see ya.”

But lately, he’s been bringing his laptop downstairs into the living room or dining room to do his work. He comes and sits next to me on the couch and starts conversations. Granted, he somehow manages to do this just at the moment I’ve decided I’m exhausted and need to go to bed. But I’m so glad he wants to talk, I stay up anyway.

My son is having some struggles at the moment, with health issues and with decisions about the future. The amazing part is when he says he wants my advice. We sit and talk about his life, his concerns, sometimes deep, philosophical issues, and other times more light-hearted topics.

The other day he even gave me a compliment, one that touched me at the very center of my thrifty core. I had shared my excitement about the deal I got on crackers at the grocery store. “If you bought a single box, they were $2.50 each, but if you got five, only $1 per!” At our house, we go through crackers like mobile apps go through updates, so five boxes is not overkill.

My son, rather than rolling his eyes, said, “I have a feeling that if anyone else were managing the money in this house, our standard of living would be lower.” He acknowledges and appreciates my accomplishments as a penny pincher! What more could a mother ask?

Shout out to parents who have a teenaged son shut away in his room right now. Some day he will emerge, and you will get re-acquainted.


We All Need Help Sometimes

If you’ve been on social media at all the past couple of weeks, I’m sure you’ve seen this photo by now:


The sign posted in a private boys’ school in Arkansas. I don’t remember the name. Bootstrap High or something.

Let me tell a story on myself. One day last week, I was checking out at the store with more than $100 worth of groceries when I realized I didn’t have my wallet. Everything had been rung up and bagged already. Thinking back through my day I had a pretty good idea where my wallet might be. I called my 21-year-old, who was home at the time, and asked them to find it and bring it to me. My offspring came through immediately and without complaint, saving my bacon. I suppose they could have said, “Well, Mom, this is really your problem to solve…”

The best part of the story is that the store employees didn’t try to shame me in any way. (I had that one covered all on my own, thanks, apologizing to them approximately five times.) The clerk even offered to put my food in a cooler while I waited if I thought it might take a while.

Have I ever taken anything to my kids at school after they forgot it? You bet. Have there been times they forgot something and I didn’t take it to them? Of course. A couple of times, one of them went off without a piece of homework or a book and I was at work, so I couldn’t bring it. Similarly, I wouldn’t have called my kid out of a college class to bail me out of my situation.

We all need help sometimes. We’re all human and fallible. Can’t we cut each other a little slack? I’m a person who has a hard time asking for assistance from anyone, ever, for anything. It’s a great failing of mine that I work hard to overcome. I didn’t want to raise my kids to be that way. Yes, sometimes I felt hassled and frustrated, but last week I received a payment in kind.

I understand some parents feel their kids get into a bad habit of taking advantage and they need to say no to requests like this. That’s cool, too. Because the parent involved knows their child and family situation the best.

What’s not so cool is the public shaming of parents and their kids so a school principal can feel smug. Maybe this shows me to be a terrible person, but my immediate reaction on reading the sign was a fervent hope that the principal would lock his/her keys in the car by accident and that all the parents, students and school staff in the vicinity would refuse to assist in any way.

How about we let parents and kids figure out for themselves how they want to handle these situations? How about we not hold children to higher standards than we hold ourselves? How about we offer each other more encouragement and support than scorn and ridicule?



We Voted

It’s Primary Day here in Missouri and I participated in one of my favorite parent-child activities. This morning, my 18-year-old accompanied me to the polls to vote in his first election. If my future is in the hands of young adults like him, I’m not overly worried.

I Voted

He not only researched every ballot issue and every candidate, but also the job duties for each office. What does the public administrator even do? Because he asked, I bothered to find out and now know that she (it’s been a she) handles the settling of estates left without a will and manages the affairs of people who are incapacitated with no family to help.

We should all be as conscientious with our votes. If having a toddler can help you appreciate anew the beauty of a daisy, having a new voter in the house can help you appreciate anew the beauty of democracy.

A License Obtained and a Hearing Aid Found


My son is 17 1/2. He’s had a driving permit for quite some time and we completed his required practice hours weeks ago. But every time I looked at the calendar and found a time when he and I were both available to go to the DMV for the driving test, something interfered. Once he came down with a bad cold. Another time there was a thunderstorm.

I’m in a launch frenzy with my two young adult kids, frantic to get them through a check-list of steps to competent adult life. I’m pretty sure the driver’s license is more important to me than to my son. Continue reading “A License Obtained and a Hearing Aid Found”

Older Teens/Young Adults – What I’ve Learned From Motherhood

My kids both had birthdays this week. They’re now 19 and 16 years old respectively. The 19-year-old is a commuter student, living at home while attending college. Witnessing my kids enter their young adult years, I find myself thinking a lot about my parenting “career” and how reality has or hasn’t meshed with my expectations.

It seems I know many people with new babies and/or young children right now, too Because life goes on, I suppose. Hearing the conversations and concerns of these newer parents brings back so many memories and brings forward an insight. Please forgive me for clicheing here, but now that I have a longer view, I’m more aware of what it means to miss the forest for the trees.

I see these earnest discussions on-line, the same kinds in which I engaged back in the day, about things like whether it’s okay to use the words “good job” to encourage your kids. And you know what? It doesn’t matter. If you don’t use those words, or you do, it’s not going to make or break your child. If you love your kid and make them a priority and try your best, then you’ll pretty much do your best for them. It’s okay if you look at a drawing they made and say “Good job.” And it’s okay if you say, “I especially like the shade of blue you used for the sky.” And it’s okay if what you say is, “I love it.” And it’s okay if you say “You really worked hard on that.” What they care about is sharing their joy and accomplishment with you. You’re not going to give them a bad character by choosing one set of words over another. I wish I had spent less energy worrying about things like this over the years.

At least I’ve learned to stop clicking on links to articles that recount the ways in which well-meaning moms and dads (usually moms) are ruining their kids. Ruining them, I tell you. Because they help too much or too little with homework, or they praise too much or too little, or they’re too critical or too accepting of clothing choices. Which brings me to the next lesson I’ve learned as a parent. A million or more people are trying to make money by feeding into your desire to know how to do this sometimes bewildering job. Be selective about where you get advice. I’ve read a few things that helped me in a practical way and many things that were waste of the alphabet. In general, I’ve benefitted by reading accounts by other parents who admit they don’t have all the answers, who want to share the struggle and joy and what worked for them. I’ve found no benefit in articles and books that issue heavy-handed judgments for, I don’t know – spending a few minutes looking at your phone while you push your kid on a swing. I was going to mention specific books, but I think I’ll save that for a separate post.

I do have a few other gems to share, however, now that I’m an all-wise and knowing mom who has mostly raised her kids (ha!) The first being, that you never get to the point where you feel you have all the answers, or if you do, that’s when you get into real trouble. The life of a parent is a life of continual surprises. Here are a few more things, as they occur to me randomly:

*There is no finish line. When I was trying to decide whether to have kids, I’d think to myself “Well, it’s an 18-year commitment.” 19 years in, I laugh at young me. I see now my mom is 89 and still concerned about her children, still wanting to make sure we’re okay, still offering advice for treating that head cold.

*You get what you get. You can’t custom manufacture your children. They come into your life with personalities and characters and talents and struggles that are not of your choosing. A friend of mine once said she thought of it as tending a garden where someone else picked out the plants. A daisy is a daisy, a sunflower is a sunflower, and a bell pepper plant is a bell pepper plant. You can’t change one into another. What you can do is work on nurturing and creating conditions to allow your daisy to thrive as a daisy or your bell peppers to thrive as bell peppers.

*Keeping with the garden analogies, you can’t force a plant to grow by pulling on it. Again, you can nurture it and do your best to give it conditions in which it will grow and bloom. And that’s all. You can’t make your children reach developmental milestones on your schedule, or at all. Often, I found if I was having a real struggle teaching my kids something, the best tactic was wait and try again later. As a small example: my son didn’t learn to tie his shoes until he was seven. But then he learned in five minutes and I never had to show him again. Because he was ready. True story. In the meantime, I gave thanks for Velcro.

*Things will happen to your children over which you have no control. Sometimes these things will change the way you parent. A few years ago my son had a serious health crisis, involving major surgery and the need to keep him from being too active for several weeks. All of my carefully constructed policies about computer time went straight out the window. Also, because I had been so afraid he might die, I became much more indulgent in fulfilling my kids’ desires. It wasn’t a rational or planned response; it was pure emotion that made me say “Whatever they want, I’m going to get it for them if I can.” The pendulum swung back soon enough and I adopted a more balanced approach. But, boy howdy, did that event put my mind into focusing on the present, since the future is so uncertain. (He’s healthy now, by the way.)

*There’s nothing like seeing your child imitating your behavior to motivate you in breaking bad habits.

*Forgiveness is essential. Model it. Expect to need it.

*Don’t be too attached to your things. They’ll get broken or lost. One of my kids has broken a total of four windows over the years, each time in a new and creative way. One pulled the sliding door of a minivan right off its track, when we were already running late, and it was raining. People before things. Make it a mantra.

*Once you have a child, your comfort zone is a thing of the past. You will primarily reside outside of it. The upside is that you’ll experience a lot of personal growth. I’ve gone a long way in overcoming my own social anxiety because I’ve been forced in my role as mom to call strangers on the phone for various things, interact with teachers and other parents, and have awkward but necessary conversations. I’ve found myself in the principal’s office for the reasons you don’t want to be sitting there. I’ve reached out with invitations in ways I used to avoid for fear of rejection because I didn’t want to model fear-based relationships to my kids. I’ve found myself calling a woman I barely knew to tell her that her kid had pilfered Grandpa’s prescription pain pills after I found out about it accidentally. And you know what? I survived all of those things. I’ve discovered that discomfort is temporary and not fatal. And this discovery has helped me cope in other areas of life, including my paid work.

Despite my occasional fantasy of packing my car and driving away to find a studio apartment somewhere by myself, under an assumed name, I’d say motherhood has been good for me. It’s taught me a lot about life and generally made me a better person.

Geekster Eggs

Embracing a case of deliberate amnesia about last year’s Easter egg dying fiasco, I boiled eggs and set up dye cups last night, inviting my teenaged kids to join me. And…it went okay. I would say we had fun, even. They’re both so creative. I love seeing how our traditions take on a new flavor as they become young adults. Once the decorating was done, I looked at the results and dubbed them Geekster Eggs.

Iron Man
Iron Man                                     

Thor's hammer
Thor’s hammer

An Avengers representative set: Captain America, Hawkeye, Thor, Iron Man, Black Widow, Hulk
An Avengers representative set: Captain America, Hawkeye, Thor, Iron Man, Black Widow, Hulk                               

I have a kid who loves music and physics.
I have a kid who loves music and physics.

The other side of the prism egg.
The other side of the prism egg.

I’ll Take My Validation Where I Can Get It

Yesterday, my telephone ring tone – and by extension I myself, for choosing it – became an object of derision for my 15-year-old and a couple of his friends. Their conversation went on for what seemed way too long to me, as they found one reason after another why nobody should be subjected to listening to that particular ring-tone.

Thing is, it’s one of the presets. “Marimba”, for those who have the same phone options I do. It’s not like some embarrassing song I searched out and downloaded. It’s not “Baby Beluga” or “Take This Job and Shove It” or Rod Stewart singing “If you think I’m sexy…”

My sole defense was “Hey, I’m too cheap to pay for something when so many options came free with the phone. I picked one I liked.”

My son assures me nobody who knows anything about music would ever like that one. For what it’s worth, he does know quite a lot more about music than I do.

Today, I went to a movie with a friend: “20 Feet From Stardom.” It’s an excellent documentary. I highly recommend it. It’s about the lives and careers of back-up singers. One of the featured singers, Lisa Fischer, has supplied vocals for some major stars, including the Rolling Stones, and is praised left, right and center by many musicians in the film. At one point, she’s shown waking up to the sound of her cell phone. Guess what ring tone she uses. Yes, the same as mine. Ha!

I couldn’t wait to get home and share this tidbit with my son. “If it’s good enough for Lisa Fischer, it’s good enough for me,” I said. Not such a loser after all, am I?

Bonus: a relevant comic.

The Nearly-Empty Closet

Sometimes – often – I narrate my memoirs to myself as I go through my days. I think to  myself, “and if this day were a chapter, what would be its title?”

I have a title for today: “The Nearly-Empty Closet.” Sounds a little like something from Edward Gorey, doesn’t it?

All that's left.
All that’s left.



That’s it, all that’s left. My 15-year-old son (aka Bigfoot, aka the incredible growing boy, aka he who is taller than us all) and I went through his closet this morning weeding out the clothes he’d outgrown. Above is a picture of what’s left. Not even kidding. To add context, though, I should mention most of the clothes he wears regularly are kept in a dresser. He’s a jeans and t-shirts kind of guy. But he needs a few things other than jeans and Ts. I suppose it’s time to going shopping. Again.

Random Thoughts on My Sandwich Generation Life

Does life ever get easier and simpler, or does it keep getting harder and more complicated? I’m so worn out I don’t feel I have the wherewithal to write a coherent post on one topic. But here are some random thoughts generated by my life recently.

If I had a dollar for every time my 15-year-old rolls his eyes, I could treat myself to a frou frou coffee at Starbucks every single day.

My kids are 15 and 18, but they still need me. Sometimes, they really need me.

On my July calendar, there are eight different medical/dental/eye appointments, none of them for me, but all of them requiring my presence.

Being elderly and poor is scarier than any horror movie.

Sometimes I can’t wait for my kids to move out. This usually lasts ten minutes until I start tearing up because they’ll probably both be moved out in a few short years.

Am I ever going to get my entire house cleaned?

My mom is wasting away, literally. They’re not sure why. Since February, she’s down from 111 pounds to 94 pounds. The doctor has ordered a calorie-dense nutrition drink to be added to her daily diet. It’s like she’s disappearing before my eyes.

If I had a crystal ball that would tell me exactly how much longer my mom will live, then many of my decisions would more clear-cut. But I don’t really want to know.

A couple of days ago a friend asked if the people at the Medicaid office could help me resolve a certain issue. I said, “You mean the people who don’t answer their phone, give me incorrect phone numbers, assign my mom a caseworker from a county 120 miles away, and supply contradictory information within the same letter? I suppose I could try them.”

The very things that make me want to drink are the same things that make me realize why I can’t. This seems unfair somehow.

My 18-year-old has the equivalent of a PhD in all things Tolkien/Lord of the Rings. My 15-year-old spends hours every day in the summer working on music – both composing and playing. His instruments are guitar and piano. It’s very cool seeing my kids grow beyond me in some areas. They broaden my horizons.

Ever since taking on responsibility for my mom’s finances, I think about my own retirement account every single day. I don’t have nearly enough saved, I’m afraid.

Since I was a midlife baby, my mom has been an “old” grandmother to my kids. They love her and she loves them, but I wish they could have known her when she was able to do a few more things.