Monthly Archives: September 2013

Big Pigs In a Big Pig Pen

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Picture this if you will.  You’re a super busy mother of teenagers and a ‘tween.  You decide to rise early on a Saturday morning so you can enjoy a leisurely cup of coffee, undisturbed, still wrapped in your cozy fleece robe and slippers. You pad over to the kitchen sink, steaming coffee in hand, to gaze out the window at all the beauty and serenity nature has to offer at this young hour.   Ahh……

Then your eyes pan to the right because something in your peripheral vision catches your eye.  It’s last night’s dinner dishes, complete with caked on scraps of food, scattered silverware and serving bowls, still on the deck.  That’s odd, you think.  I dismissed myself from that dinner last night, early, to meet up with friends.  Did an emergency take place after I departed, calling my kids and husband away from the table suddenly?  Then fury sets in when you realize, no, the family is sleeping in, blissfully, right now.

This scene really happened to a friend of mine and I still laugh about it because she used choice words and gestures to tell the story, but also because it is a scene not unfamiliar to me.  (Misery likes company). Sometimes the people in my house forget that if they make a mess, they are responsible for picking it up.  There are no Alices (The Brady Bunch) or Florences (The Jeffersons) in our house. Like my friend, I, too, have been surprised to see dishes with caked on food in the morning, but I find them in the kitchen sink instead of on the back porch.  Why are they in the sink when I come down in the morning?  Because two of my kids are now teenagers and go to bed later than my husband and I do, and their insatiable appetites require late night feedings.  

But wait… That explains who left the dirty dishes in the sink, but it does not explain why those dirty dishes were left there.   After all, we have a dishwasher as well as good old fashioned dish soap. And these are teenagers, not toddlers.  What gives?

The answer is obvious to my teens:  The dishwasher was in the middle of a cleaning cycle and we were too tired to wait for it to finish cleaning and cooling down (so the dishes stayed in the sink).  True: our dishwasher takes an outrageously long time to clean a load of dishes.  But all I can think is that those few dirty dishes could have been washed by hand in 5 minutes.   The next day, they needed to soak so that the caked on food would come off, prior to being washed.

In the past, I would have come down in the morning and been instantly enraged by the mess, assuming it was selfishly left for someone else (like me) to clean up.  Then I would have projected that none of my kids would ever be suitable for dates and/or marriage partners because no one would ever put up with this kind of sloppiness.  Now, however, I have a new outlook in order to keep me sane.  In this situation, for example, I calmly ask the kids to choose which task they would like:  emptying the clean dishes from the dishwasher or loading the dirty ones into the dishwasher after it’s been emptied.  (Neither task belongs to me, mind you).

It’s a win-win situation, because my kids know they need to clean up after themselves (I tell them daily) and they see the humor in being given “choices,” a system that used to make them feel empowered when they were little.  And the bonus is they don’t have to witness any meltdowns on my part, which were not fun for anyone (and often escalated into demands for widespread cleaning).

Perhaps you’re thinking that my kids should not have to be reminded to help out since they’re getting older.  I agree.   Hold them accountable, you say.  I have gone that route.  I devised chore charts when my kids were younger.   I became a chore cop, trying to observe whether my kids did the various tasks assigned to them.  It was a constant battle.  They tried to reason with me that not all chores are created equal.  True:  Taking  the trash cans out to the street, although not fun, is done just once a week.   However, setting and clearing the table is tricky when dinner time is different every night and sometimes comes in the form of fend for yourself.

And laundry?  It  makes me smile to know, finally, that each kid is now responsible for doing his own — or at least getting the dirty clothes from bedroom to washing machine, to dryer to couch.   I still need to have my “laundry folding parties”.  This is when a mountain of clean clothes continues to grow on the basement couch until all kids must be enlisted to help sort and fold.   Hey, this is not a party!, I recall one of the kids blurting out in realization, years ago.   (No, it is just  another friendly tactic your mother has for getting you to help out).  And they will, without complaining, usually.

Do my kids clean up after themselves without fail now?  Not a chance.  I still have to remind them that doing so is helping them develop into responsible adults.  And yes, I have had days when I could easily have a meltdown and demand that everyone drop everything instantly and clean.  But I have learned a few things about kids and responsibilities over the years, including:

  • The need for picked up, organized surroundings differs from person to person.  I happen to be the kind of person who is calmer when my house is somewhat neat and clean.  Perhaps I feel more in control or can concentrate better.  However, I can’t expect my teens’ bedrooms to be pristine.  If they can do their homework well, sitting in a messy room, all the power to them.  Likewise, if they have no problem climbing into an unmade bed, fantastic.
  • Picking up after oneself is an act of consideration for others.  It’s one thing to have a messy bedroom, but leaving a mess where others spend a lot of their time is inconsiderate.  Why should anyone have to look at another person’s shoes, notebooks, makeup, or piles of clean laundry?  At the end of the day, everyone is equally tired, so each person needs to pick up after himself.
  • Things are easier to locate if they are put away immediately.  Everyone is so much happier in the morning if my kids know where to find their backpacks, signed permission slips, baseball caps or lunch bags.  Ben Franklin had it right when he said A place for everything, everything in its place.
  • No one wants to be perceived as a slob, even teens.  Think of it this way:  If a friend unexpectedly dropped in to say hello, would you take pride in the appearance of your home?  This happened in our house, recently.  My daughter put me on the spot, encouraging me to show a visitor my newly painted bedroom. So, I obliged, cringing at the dust bunnies on the stairs, fingerprints on the walls and dirty towels on the bathroom floor that I could see as my guest followed me up the stairs.  Lesson learned.  (Note:  I’ll be sending my mother-in-law up to see my daughter’s bedroom the next time she visits).

I can’t expect my kids to be perfect.  I do want them to know, however,  that their behaviors and habits affect those around them.  Less than a year from now, my firstborn child will be heading off to college where she will be sharing a dorm room with another freshman.  What that means is she has eleven months to practice being a neat and considerate future roommate.  Fingers crossed her roommate will be practicing too.

Miley and Tiger and Lance: Oh My!

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Who do teens admire today?

When I was a little girl I admired Cher, Marie Osmond, Dorothy Hamill, and Judy Blume.   If you’re old enough to know who these women are, you can see that I admired some famous women who were good at entertaining as singers, figure skater and author.  Ok, I wanted to be Dorothy Hamill, because she had cool hair, a pretty smile and could do triple salchows effortlessly.   (The hairstyle never worked out for me, nor did the figure skating career).

Then when I was a teenager I admired  Doug Flutie, Whitney Houston, The Police and my high school trigonometry teacher,  Ed Amaral (mentioned in my last post, Swing That Bat! (Who Cares if you Miss?)).

Doug Flutie, Whitney Houston, and The Police were all over sports and entertainment news in the 1980s.   It was fun to watch the handsome, 5’9″ Doug Flutie lead his football team as quarterback  for local Boston College.   Everywhere you went you could hear the fresh sound of The Police.  And Whitney Houston was just a bit older than I was when she was making her singing debut.  She had a beautiful voice and she herself was beautiful.

Ed Amaral is an anomaly in that group.  Unlike Flutie, Houston and The Police,  Amaral would not be familiar to many teens outside of Hanover High School.   I don’t remember much about Trigonometry but I do remember Mr. Amaral’s daily wisdom and encouragement, such as you’ve gotta get up and swing the bat (and not be afraid to try in life).  He was an ordinary man with an ordinary job, but he made an impression on kids and gave them hope for their future.   I’m sure there are many more ordinary people out there who positively influence our kids.  We need to recognize them.

Let’s be honest here. We all, at times, are intrigued by beautiful, talented, successful people we see from afar, on t.v., in movies, in magazines or even in the towns we live in.   A little part of us wants to know what it’s like to live in their shoes. But we are only seeing a snapshot of those people.  We don’t know what kind of people they really are.

Often it’s the ordinary people, the ones who receive no special attention (such as Ed Amaral) who possess the qualities that we should all be seeking.  I’m not talking about beauty, athleticism or intelligence, but honesty, selflessness, integrity, empathy,and  tolerance, to name a few.  Teens want to feel accepted so it’s no wonder they admire people who are making names for themselves and who have a following. They appear, on the surface, to have it all.

role model (noun)   1.  a person looked to by others as an example to be imitated.

Role models sometimes go bad.  Take a look at Miley Cyrus, Tiger Woods and Lance Armstrong.

  • When Miley Cyrus made the news recently for her bizarre outfit and dance routine at the Video Music Awards,  I wasn’t too surprised.  But all I could think of was another one bites the dust.    By biting the dust I’m referring to a very familiar pattern:  Successful, talented people who are admired for their hard work and achievements, who  get caught up in themselves and abandon good judgment.   Apparently Miley Cyrus wasn’t feeling enough love from her fans and thought she needed to switch things up a bit.  She certainly accomplished that at the VMA’s with her hardly recognizable hairdo, getup and gyrating.  I really don’t think girls will be wanting to imitate that look (please, God).   Miley got caught up in the me, me, me pattern.
  • Then there’s Tiger.  I think everyone at one time or another has admired Tiger Woods. He is a perfect example of someone who has worked hard to achieve his goals (which is what we want for our teens, right?)  My son has taken a liking to golf lately.  In fact, he wrote a persuasive essay in school about how cool golf has become.  He and many others credit Tiger for the sport’s popularity.  But apparently, it’s not cool enough for Tiger because he was willing to risk his good reputation to have some extramarital affairs in his free time.    Me, me, me.
  • And  finally there’s Lance Armstrong.   He’s been admired  by millions for excelling at the grueling sport of competitive cycling — and then made a comeback after taking time off to undergo treatment for testicular cancer.  How disappointing for us to discover he had been doping his blood  and demanding the same of his teammates for years, in order to outperform the competition.  And he denied the allegations all along.  Me, me, me.

Fame, fortune and talent does not make a person good and even celebrities need to be good.   We need to help our teens understand that it is how people behave — not job titles, trophies and accomplishments in life  — that ultimately leads to happiness, contentment, and the respect of others. Being successful in any area (sports, academics, music, business, etc. ) isn’t all that wonderful if you’re lacking qualities such as honesty, loyalty and selflessness. Without those qualities, fulfillment comes in the form of seeking ways to please oneself.

Bravo, Ashton Kutcher!

Recently, Ashton Kutcher had a chance to speak onstage as an award recipient at the Teen Choice Awards.  He used his allotted stage time to share with the young audience (between squeals of admiration) some wisdom that he had learned over the years.  He said that every job he has ever had before he was an actor, no matter how mundane –carrying shingles, washing dishes, slicing deli meat– was a stepping stone to the next job he got.  And each was hard work but necessary (perseverance).   But even more importantly, Kutcher went on to define the word sexy, which is equivalent to “cool” in teen language.  He didn’t mention anything about beauty, body  physiques, trophies or record labels. Sexy people, he said, are smart, thoughtful and generous.

Are Miley, Tiger and Lance sexy?  Not in my book.   It’s time we help teens recognize the real (sexy) role models.

Swing That Bat! (Who cares if you miss?)

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As a mother, I find it so easy to dole out advice to my kids.  A big piece of advice I seem to be doling out lately is don’t give up, i.e.  stick with it or  keep trying.  Or, as the late Ed Amaral (my Trigonometry teacher of ‘84) used to repeat daily:  You’ve gotta get up and swing the bat!  You have to be a doer and when things don’t go perfectly, try it again. Keep at it.

My daughter, 17, is on the fence about trying out for the lacrosse team this spring, her senior year.  Her thinking:  She and a handful of other juniors were placed on the JV team this past spring, so her chance of making the varsity team as a senior, when so many talented underclassmen are trying out too, is slim.  She will probably be cut, she reasons.  “Don’t give up!” I keep telling her.

It sounds so easy.  But it’s not.  Because unless you were born with a photographic memory and you can ace verbal and written tests, you need to work hard to learn something new and to improve your skills in most areas.  So why don’t people follow the Nike message and Just Do it?  Why do I have to keep reminding my teenagers to keep trying and to not give up?

As far as I can tell, a person who moans and groans at the thought of working hard does so for one of three reasons:

  •  Reason #1:  Fear of failure.  This person gives up prematurely or procrastinates because he or she is paralyzed by the prospect of not succeeding.  Instead of saying “I think I can, I think I can…” like the little toy engine did, this person says “I can’t,  I can’t…..”   yet deep down knows that doing well is within reach.  This kind of person needs encouragement. My youngest child (12) is a good student but will whine about tackling a big school project until she knows she is running out of time to complete it.  Then she works with tunnel vision, excited by how it is coming along each step of the way.
  • Reason #2:  Laziness.  This person cannot bear to feel the pain of thinking, practicing, or preparing well.  He or she will do just enough to say he tried, but no more.  Most people who make New Year’s Resolutions to get in shape or lose weight start out with good intentions until they realize reaching that goal doesn’t happen overnight – it takes hard work.  A student who takes a final exam without having studied (because he already learned the material all semester!) most likely won’t get a good grade.
  • Reason #3:  Reality.  This person comes to the realization that he or she is just not skilled enough to perform the task – and he’s right!   This would be me if I suddenly decided it would be cool to be an opera singer.  (I can’t carry a tune to save my life nor do I like to be on stage, although I dream of having a beautiful singing voice).  The non-reader who knows that taking AP English would be disastrous is making a smart decision by not enrolling in the class. (Note: Taking a difficult course to be challenged is good if extra hard work results in a attaining a C or better, in my opinion).

The point is, most teenagers (and many adults) are still learning that hard work is required of any worthwhile task and the sooner they learn this lesson, the sooner they will realize perseverance pays off.  Does it mean they will always get the A, make the team, land the job or lose the weight?  No.  However, it will help establish a very positive mindset that they’ve given it their all and that’s a tremendous feeling.

I recently read a story in The Boston Globe about a local teen, Sammy Davis (Pembroke, MA), who was invited to try out for the U18 national hockey team in Lake Placid, NY.  Although she ultimately got cut, she was thrilled to be one of only 30 girls nationwide to be selected to try out.

How did this remarkable feat happen?  Sammy has been ice skating since she was five years old, playing on boys hockey teams through the Squirt (age 10) level. Then she played on girls teams, including her most recent Tabor Academy team and Bay State Breakers Green (U19) team.  That’s a lot of hockey.  In response to getting cut from the national team she said it only gives her fuel to come back stronger next time around.

So….  Back to my daughter and her upcoming lacrosse tryout. Is it totally unreasonable to think that she might make the varsity team?  After all, she is a decent player and has played on a lacrosse team (albeit the JV team) all three years of high school.

I think she has a shot at it IF she adopts the attitude that she needs to train extra hard in the weeks or months leading up to the tryout.  She will be tired because she will have to push herself to run faster and further.  She will have to spend a significant amount of time practicing her cradling, passing and catching with a friend.  She will have to head onto the tryout field with the attitude that they need her on that team and she deserves to be on it.

And, if she doesn’t make the team, she can feel good about herself for doing her best and for swinging that bat.

Now that’s a Wicked Good Teen!