Parenting Teens & Tweens

Parenting Dilemmas: Where Do I Find Resources For Raising a Teen?

Written on April 18, 2014 at 9:49 am , by

By Jill Caryl Weiner

Last weekend, I attended the Brooklyn Baby & Family Expo for work. I must say, as a parent of a teenage daughter and a tween son, I was amazed at the incredible array of resources that were pulled together for this event. There was a panel of pediatricians, demos of the latest gear, advisors on family estate planning, book signings, local and long-distance businesses—from preschools to play spaces to a start-up offering the latest technology in baby spoons.

I think it’s fantastic, but I can’t help but wonder about the resources for parents of tweens and teens. It seems like parents’ magazines pay less attention to the issues and needs of older kids, and some people may even think we have it all figured out. Really? Do we have it all figured out?

I called my friend Jessica to get her take on this. I met Jess 14 years ago, just a month or two after my daughter was born, at a new-parent support group. Arlene Eisenberg, who cocreated the What to Expect book series, led a weekly Q&A to help us struggling new parents and to keep in tune with our concerns. I made some of my closest mom friends through that support group. Before I met these women, I admit, I felt pretty lost.

Jess and I compared this issue of resources—or lack thereof—for teens and tweens vs. babies and came up with a few ideas. Here are some differences.

Brooklyn Baby and Family Expo | Photo by Kelley Brusco

1. Money. The number of businesses out there targeting parents with babies is mind-boggling. For teens and tweens there seem to be lots of test-prep companies as well as camps, but for babies products and services are all across the board. This is actually good news for us parents of older kids. I mean, who needs all that stuff crowding up our homes? Plus the businesses we need are out there, they’re just not as obvious.

2. Shared Issues vs. Specialized Concerns. A lot of new parents share the same concerns about their babies, from feeding and sleeping issues to diapering and teething. But the needs of tweens and teens are more specific to the individual person, as they are discovering who they are and want to be. Parents’ concerns are no longer focused only on the basic necessities but on more specialized issues. Your daughter might require extra help in math or have to wear a retainer, or she might want to volunteer to help the elderly, but those concerns are very specific to her.

3. Bigger Kids, Bigger Problems. The problems we faced as new parents caring for these tiny fragile people seemed momentous. But now most of those issues seem so contained compared to teen and tween problems. Even if it’s just parental anxiety about what might happen (because actually things are going pretty okay), that’s pretty stressful. Parents of older kids may worry about issues ranging from overuse of the Internet, to bullying, to eating disorders, to dating and homework stress and so much more. It can seem like we don’t have anywhere to turn for answers.

Brooklyn Baby and Family Expo | Photo by Kelley Brusco

4. Support Systems. Even though there are a ton of resources available for new parents, these newbies often feel isolated. They don’t realize what’s available, and that’s why an expo can be such a great resource. Parents of tweens and teens have the friendships we’ve made over the years through our children. We have their schools as support systems. Schools offer clubs and teams and have Parent-Teacher Associations gathering experts to speak on issues we’re concerned with. Some recent meetings in high schools around my neighborhood have dealt with eating disorders, bullying—both kid-on-kid and kid-on-parent as well as cyberbullying—saving for college and substance abuse. School counselors are available to meet with students and/or their parents one-on-one.

I really enjoyed the expo. It was like being in a time machine and seeing my husband and kids when this whole parenting world was new and we needed everything. As for life with teens and tweens, Jess and I figured out that although we don’t have it all figured out, we have support systems, including friendships and schools, that are kind of like mini expos we can go to anytime. They’re unmistakable resources that make our lives a lot easier.

Jill Caryl Weiner is a New York–based writer whose work has appeared in Mom365.com, New York Magazine, Time Out New York Kids and The New York Times.

What the Easter Bunny and Inviting Elijah In Taught Me About My Parents

Written on April 14, 2014 at 1:54 pm , by

Confession: The Easter Bunny terrified me as a kid. And to be honest, I’m still a little wary of rabbits bearing Easter treats. That’s not to say that I’m afraid of bunnies in general, or even giant bunnies in particular (Harvey is one of my favorite movies).

It all started with the Bunny Incident. The fear brought on by that one event extended throughout my Easter-Passover (Esterover, to me) activities, even the opening of the door for Elijah at our seders. (Raised in a family with a Jewish dad and a Catholic mom, I was celebrating multiple holidays before Chrismukkah was even a word.)

When I awoke on Easter morning at the age of 3, my eyes popped. Not from seeing a basket filled to the brim with chocolate and Peeps (you could have bribed me to do anything with those bits of marshmallow goodness) but because of the circle of stuffed bunnies from my toy collection that surrounded the basket. Bunnies of all shapes and colors had their button eyes focused on my basket of treats. How did they get there? I knew they couldn’t walk. That left only one suspect: the Easter Bunny himself. This was the moment I came up with the Bunny Ban.

According to my parents, I shakily stated that I didn’t want the Easter Bunny (a giant 8-foot-tall pink-fur-covered creature in my mind) coming into my room and rummaging through my mountain of toys ever again. When my dad joked that if I didn’t want the Bunny to visit anymore I just had to say something, I pondered. Even at that young age I knew not to bite the hand that fed me. Then I clarified: I still wanted the baskets, but the Bunny had to leave them outside my bedroom door.

Thus the Bunny Ban went into effect. And that would be the case for the next few years. Still, I always felt a little trepidation on Easter night, and that feeling spilled over into our seders. Other than reciting the Four Questions (questions 3 and 4 were always a family effort, since I never could remember them all), opening the door to let Elijah in was my favorite part of the service. But after the Bunny Incident, I started thinking about what might happen if Elijah actually did come in or if the wine disappeared from Elijah’s glass. Similarly, I always wondered what I would do if I caught the Easter Bunny breaking my ban.

When I came to the realization that the 8-foot pink-fur creature was actually my parents, a sense of relief washed over me. Now when I recall the Bunny Incident, I break into a smile. I understand it was actually a very cute sign of how much my parents loved me. Not that I really needed a bunny circle to prove it. They tried to make everything special for me, even letting me open the door for Elijah all by myself as a young kid at Passover.

I also learned a valuable lesson. Sometimes doing something nice for a child backfires in ways you could never imagine. But even when parents make mistakes, most of the time they make them out of love.

 

Hit “Post”—Wait, Not So Fast!

Written on April 10, 2014 at 9:00 am , by

I remember when memories had expiration dates. What I mean is that if someone had a picture that you liked, you actually had to ask for the negative or request a copy of the photo. Occasionally, by the time you received the keepsake, you had long forgotten about the event. The good thing about formally requesting a reproduction was the implicit approval residing in the delivery of the image.

That was then. This is now. These days, a photo is taken and uploaded faster than you can say “Cheese!” A quick turnaround is wonderful for sharing a joke and capturing good times, but if you are looking for private moments, you won’t find them in this technological age. And when it comes to children—and more specifically photos of other people’s children—we’re not dealing with a laughing matter anymore.

A recent poll indicated that 57% of parents on Facebook strongly dislike having unauthorized photographs of their children posted. However, most parents feel like they don’t have control over the images. Their wishes and wants are conflicted. As a parent, if you don’t have control, who does?

Perhaps the answer is that every family needs to have a social media and sharing policy. Decide if it’s okay to have your little cherub’s face posted at any time by folks who are not part of your family’s tribe. If it is, have at it. If not, then diligently make sure that your wishes are enforced. That may result in the potentially difficult task of asking friends and family to delete unauthorized photos. By the same token, if you post a picture and are asked to remove it, please do.

In the future, schools and organizations may need to require consent for the release of photographs to protect your wishes. Until that happens, the wiser decision may be to ask, not assume, before hitting the “post” button.

Have you ever asked someone not to post (or to remove) a photo of your child from a website? If so, post a comment and tell me what happened.

Janet Taylor, MD, MPH, a mother of four, is a psychiatrist in New York City. Follow her on Twitter @drjanet.

Got a question for Dr. Janet? Email her at askdrjanet@familycircle.com.

Pennsylvania High School Stabbing Causes Panic and Chaos

Written on April 9, 2014 at 1:40 pm , by

 

Yet another horrible and heartbreaking attack on campus—this time, at Franklin Regional High outside Pittsburgh, where a 16-year-old sophomore went on a violent stabbing spree, injuring at least 20 teens and adults in classrooms and a hallway before he was subdued and handcuffed by a courageous principal and a school resource officer. Somehow, amid the chaos and terror, everyone kept their wits about them—a fire alarm pulled during the attack helped get more people out of the school, and a female student applied pressure to the wounds of one male victim, possibly saving his life. We don’t yet know what prompted the attacks, but there are rumors that the assailant was a victim of bullying. Our hearts go out to the victims and their families. I’ll be hugging my teen a little harder tonight.

 

We’d like to know:

1. How much do you worry about violence at your teen’s school (not much, somewhat, a lot)?
2. Have violent attacks occurred at your kid’s school (yes, no)?
3. Do you think enough safety measures are being taken (yes, no)?

Is It Still PC to Buy Your Daughter a Barbie?

Written on April 8, 2014 at 2:02 pm , by

By Julie D. Andrews

Barbie’s back…and making headlines. She’s got a hot new Twitter feed boasting 200K-plus followers. She’s “unapologetic” about scoring the cover of Sports Illustrated‘s famous (or infamous, depending) swimsuit issue. And she has a new cousin: Entrepreneur Barbie (pink-yet-sophisticated shift dress, check; smartphone, check; tablet, check).

Modern makeover or not, Barbie still evokes body-image controversies, making us unsure about coughing up 20 bucks so our girls can tote around the hot-to-trot miss.

Confession: I played with Barbies. And I liked it. A lot. (I also loved pink and still do, but now I call it fuchsia.) I didn’t know Barbie’s body proportions weren’t realistic. I also didn’t realize most men were not Ken—without six-pack abs, towering height and billowing ascots.

It’s not fair to ascribe adult hangups to kids, to burden their playful little hearts with body-image stressors. Dolls, by nature, are aspirational. They wear stylish clothes and inhabit lavish dollhouses. My Barbies had it all, sans regret: hot-rod convertible, flashy mansion, steamy boyfriend, runway wardrobe. But they also drove Tonkas (thanks to my brother), zoomed to important meetings and fraternized with G.I. Joe operatives on secret-spy missions.

Some researchers say it’s this mix that’s important for girls. A recent study concluded that playing with only Barbies could limit girls’ career choices. Take-home? “The most important thing is to make sure there is a wide variety of toys to play with,” said researcher Aurora Sherman.

But maybe it was something else that “saved me.” Maybe I was just who I was no matter what I played with. I was me, playing Barbies. Or me, climbing trees, jumping off rocks (once nearly chomping off my tongue), leaping into pools not knowing how to swim (a story my mother still tells) or refusing to part with my Wonder Woman slippers. I boldly went—and, by extension, so did my Barbies—jumping off buildings and kung-fu kicking too-fresh boys. Perhaps I saw Barbie as just like me, not the reverse.

Not everyone agrees (some screens are likely iced in steely stares). Artist Nickolay Lamm’s recent online crowdfunding campaign to manufacture Average Barbie, officially named Lammily, raised $95K within days.

That’s cool; I get it. But I can’t help but wonder if girls would know the difference if we didn’t point it out to them. I don’t want girls to settle for “good enough” but to go for gold and dream up lives they can aspire to. As comfortable as they are, sweatpants don’t fly in the corporate world.

So, secret’s out: I can’t wait for my niece to get her first Barbie and to rekindle my glory days of inventing story lines. For good measure, I’ll ask about Barbie’s board meeting and whether her startup’s secured expansion funding.

 

Julie D. Andrews is a writer living in New York City. Her new book, Real Is the New Natural, dismantles the negative, destructive messaging about body image and beauty bombarding us daily under the guise of health. Moms are calling it an excellent vehicle for propelling discussions about tough topics with their daughters.

Holiday Traditions in Blended Families: Easter Edition

Written on April 7, 2014 at 1:54 pm , by

By JM Randolph, the Accidental Stepmom

It’s time to break the silence on one of the more problematic issues facing blended families today: what to do about the Easter Bunny.

For reasons that are not entirely clear to me, my stepkids adjusted far more easily to all holiday celebrations other than Easter in our new family situation. I place the blame squarely on that nebulous bunny.

When I was a kid, the Easter Bunny brought the baskets and hid the eggs that my sister and I then found, but even then I knew it didn’t happen the same way at everyone’s house.

The Easter Bunny has no standards. He has neither sidekicks nor clearly delineated responsibilities. In the realm of mythical childhood mascots, every other one of them has a well-defined job description. At least with Santa, you can connect the goodness and giving part of his gig to the deeper spiritual nature of the holiday. The validity of connecting a bunny to an empty tomb is a stretch. Even if we connect him to the prolific…proliferation…of bunnies in order to symbolize the rebirth and fertility of spring, in no tradition anywhere does a rabbit lay chicken eggs.

Trying to understand the Easter Bunny is like reading a technical manual that has been badly translated from Arabic to French to Chinese to English. Some words are there on the page, but that doesn’t mean it makes sense.

My husband wasn’t terribly helpful when it came to sharing Easter traditions. “That was their mom’s holiday,” he said. “I did Christmas.” So that first year, we guessed. The Easter baskets were ready when they woke up in the morning. They contained bubbles, chalk, Frisbees, balsa airplanes, two Hula Hoops and enough candy to send a small village into a stupor.

13-year-old girl: What’s all this?

Me: Easter baskets. From the Easter Bunny.

13-y-o: Why did the “Easter Bunny” come so early? He usually doesn’t come until after church and he only brings candy. [Insert sarcastic teen voice.] Mom would get us all in the car to go to church waaay early, and suddenly remember that she forgot something in the house. She’d go back inside for like fifteen minutes, and then when we got home from church the “Easter Bunny” would have miraculously delivered the Easter baskets.

Me: Easter is all about the miracles.

Where things really broke down was the egg hunt. If you’re not raised with the belief that the Easter Bunny hides the eggs, nothing will convince you otherwise. Not even the 4-year-old was buying it.

The only egg hunts they had done were at churches or parks in large groups. These kids are super competitive to begin with, so we hid some easy, some hard, and let them stagger the start youngest to oldest. That only made the oldest notice all her siblings occupied in the back and immediately move to the front yard to find every single egg there in about ninety seconds.

They were sorely disappointed that only real eggs were hidden. Apparently there were supposed to be plastic eggs filled with candy and money.

Easter remains the holiday that I never get right. I’ve stopped trying, and instead look for ways to amuse myself.

I have to give the Easter Bunny due credit: He saved me one time by stepping in for the Tooth Fairy. After the Tooth Fairy forgot to show up several nights in a row, the Easter Bunny covered the duties and wrote a note of apology, which was unquestioningly and gleefully accepted by the loser of the tooth (the Easter Bunny being more generous than the Tooth Fairy).

I was interrupted during story time the other day by the 18-year-old barging into her brother’s room to ask me to pass along to the Easter Bunny the fact that she doesn’t like the large robin’s eggs candy, only the small ones.

I decided it’s time for the Tooth Fairy to repay the debt to the Easter Bunny by taking over duties this Easter.

JM Randolph is a writer, stagehand and custodial stepmom of five. She lives in New Jersey with her family and blogs at accidentalstepmom.com.

 

Chew on This: Talking Breakfast with Teens and Tweens

Written on March 31, 2014 at 2:28 pm , by

By Danielle Blundell

The ironic thing about breakfast is that we’ve been hearing it’s the most important meal of the day for years, yet many of us skip it anyway. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve become better about eating in the morning. But for teens, staying up late watching TV or texting with friends, then hitting the snooze button repeatedly in the a.m. sometimes makes breakfast a luxury reserved for the weekends. A good analogy to illustrate the importance of breakfast for kids—and even ourselves—might be sports. Performing like an athlete requires the proper fuel, and it all starts with breakfast.

To that end we asked the New York Giants’ colorful running back Victor Cruz and The Chew’s Carla Hall, who’ve partnered up with Fuel Up to Play 60 to increase school breakfast participation across the country, for their tips on getting tweens and teens excited about breakfast. And who better than skeleton silver medalist Noelle Pikus-Pace, fresh off the Sochi podium and now spokesperson for Kellogg’s Give a Great Start Program, for additional ideas, since she’s mom to—and chief breakfast maker for—children Traycen and Lacee.

1. Convenience is key. 

Kids are always on the go, so breakfast options should be flexible too. Stock up on breakfast bars and instant oatmeal, or prepare baggies of dry cereal ahead of time, like Pikus-Pace does, for kids to grab fast from the pantry. Cruz remembers, “Even if I was running late, I always fit breakfast in because of my mom. She’d say, ‘At least eat some cereal,’ or she’d have a granola bar ready for me to eat in the car on the way to school.”

2. Splurge once in a while.

Sure, a well-balanced, healthy breakfast is ideal, but sometimes kids form good habits faster when you let them indulge in their favorites from time to time. For Cruz, it’s French toast. “I’d eat that every day if I could,” he says. Hall favors pancakes. Make it a point to get the family together and enjoy a splurge breakfast at least once a month.

3. Go pro athlete with your menu.

“On game days, I’ll have a vegetable omelet for protein, oatmeal for extra energy and a glass of orange juice,” says Cruz. Before your athlete’s big game or on a test day, give that combo a try. You don’t even have to bust out a pan or skillet if you don’t have the time. Hall uses an on-the-go omelet recipe made with eggs, a little bit of milk, cheese and veggies or meat that she shakes up in a microwave-safe Mason jar and microwaves for 2 minutes.

4. Make breakfast a group effort when you can.

“Today’s kids are more little foodies than we think,” says Hall. “Getting them involved is key, and it starts with taking kids to the store to pick items out. Or ask them for a list.” Let kids customize their own jar omelets or pick out the fruits they want to top their cereal, oatmeal or yogurt. And remind them that not everybody has it so easy when it comes to breakfast. “Everyone deserves a great start, but every day one in five kids don’t get breakfast,” says Pikus-Pace. You and your teen or tween can help. Watch her video and share it with the hashtag #greatstart on Twitter or Facebook, and you’ll provide a meal to a child in need through Kellogg’s.

Fool Me Once…

Written on March 25, 2014 at 2:31 pm , by

By JM Randolph, the Accidental Stepmom

It’s that time of year again, when I peruse the Internet for ideas for April Fools’ Day pranks I can play on the kids that won’t require either a trip to the emergency room or some intervention from the authorities.

You get a glimpse into the deep psyche of the prank-posters when you do this. They reveal a great deal about their daily routines, how they keep house and how they raise children. I feel like I’m creeping through their bushes and peeking in their windows at dinnertime.

Gretchen Rubin’s Facebook page is great for prank ideas. If you don’t know her, you should definitely check out this author of The Happiness Project. I do love her, even though her suggestions and those of her like-minded fans (read: more organized than merely being able to consistently leave the house wearing pants) are for a seemingly different species of mom than I am. I find a ton of great ideas that simply won’t work in my house.

Dye the milk green. My kids would reach for that gallon in the fridge, notice that it was green, and walk away without realizing it was a prank, or thinking to tell an adult there was something wrong with the milk. Someone finally revealed that you have to have a cardboard carton for the element of surprise, i.e., something smaller than a gallon. The only reason we don’t buy milk in containers larger than a gallon is because it only comes in Cow after that, and I’m not going there.

Glue their toilet paper together.
 They regularly are without toilet paper for days at a time in their bathroom before telling me. I do not know what they use instead. I refuse to go in that room.

Put towels in the sleeves of the jackets so they can’t get their hands through. I could pull this off if I knew which sweatshirt of their dad’s they would swipe that morning when forced to wear a jacket, and if I could use dirty towels. I can never find a clean hand towel, but I know exactly where 17 used-only-once hand towels are: on their bathroom counter. I dearly hope the hand towels are not related to my previous observations regarding toilet paper.

Fold the top sheet of their bed in two and put the cover on as usual. They will not be able to get into bed. This implies that we make the beds and that they have both a sheet and a cover of some sort.

Crumble a biscuit into their bed. Wouldn’t notice (see above).

Mix up all their morning ritual stuff: toothbrush in the shower, shampoo where the blow-dryer belongs, etc. This assumes that these items actually have a place that they are regularly returned to. In my house, this will likely lead to the blow-dryer going in the shower and electrocuting somebody.

Superglue coins to the sidewalk.
 This could work if my sidewalk were made of wood, and the kids hadn’t stolen all my change and let the dog eat the superglue.

Wake the kids up 45 minutes early and tell them the time changed again and they’re late. Did I mention I work nights?

Tell your kids the lawn mower is broken and the homeowners’ association is about to fine you and you need them to cut the lawn. Give them each a pair of scissors and a ruler and tell them to cut it to an inch and a half. Let them go for about 5 minutes before you call out “April Fools!” The woman who submitted this is my hero. Her little boys were quite enthusiastic about the task and her daughter was mortified that her friends would see her. Unfortunately, my “lawn” is so small you actually could cut it with a pair of scissors, in about 10 minutes. To pull this off, I would first have to find one of our six pairs of Magically Vanishing scissors. I would then set the kids on task, pour myself a cup of tea and, due to the peace and quiet, completely forget I was in the middle of an April Fools’ prank. They would be done cutting the lawn before I finished my tea. Also, we don’t have a homeowners’ association, which is truly for the best. If we did, they would have mandated martial law on our property by now.

What are your best April Fools’ pranks?

 

JM Randolph is a writer, stagehand, and custodial stepmom of five. She lives in New Jersey with her family and blogs at accidentalstepmom.com.

 

Your Kid’s Homework Load Isn’t Too Much, New Study Suggests

Written on March 19, 2014 at 12:44 pm , by

So the kids are all right. That, at least, is the conclusion of a new study on homework by the Brookings Institution, which says that the average homework load for 9- to 17-year-olds has pretty much stayed the same over the last 30 years. This, of course, flies in the face of all the horror stories we’ve heard about kids drowning in nightly homework, of exhausted parents who can’t cope, and of families fraying at the seams because of it all.

So what to think? My own experience, or I should say that of my 12-year-old, is that she consistently has at least 2 or 3 hours every night—about double what the Brookings study found. She’s not suffering under the load—I half-jokingly describe it as “only mildly soul-crushing”—and our family isn’t falling apart, though it’s still too much. Then again, she’s in an honors program at a public school that’s something of a learning factory, but that was the choice we made, since the alternative was a school that wouldn’t have challenged her enough.

I’m grateful for the excellent education she’s getting. And the homework isn’t busywork. It does what I believe take-home assignments are supposed to do: that is, reinforce the lessons learned in class. So I gripe a little, but not too much. At the same time, I don’t dismiss the complainers as whiners. But here’s the thing—the gap between the homework horror stories and what the study found is a pretty big one, which says plenty about the inequality of education nationwide. That’s a much bigger problem, and one that won’t be easily solved.

Tell us what you think in the comments below. 

My Baby Book Fail and Other Maternal Inadequacies

Written on March 13, 2014 at 10:00 am , by

Getty Images/Seth Joel

Mothers. We are forever finding ways to beat ourselves up about something we did or didn’t do for our children, whether it’s a big or small something.

My friend Jill just recently came out with a wonderful baby book, When We Became Three: A Memory Book for the Modern Family.  As I admired her handiwork, I confessed that the subject brought up pangs of maternal inadequacy. I never made a memory book, and with two kids, now ages 14 and 20, it’s probably not going to happen.

Apparently, it runs in the family.

When I was a kid, I remember digging through our giant box of family photos and finding a memory book buried in the mix. I opened it to discover that most of the pages were blank. I asked my mom what the deal was, and she told me, “We were too busy loving you to keep track of everything!” I was an a cherished and doted on only child. My parents saved all my artwork, baby shoes and the like, but still, I would have liked to see my youth annotated and immortalized. I vowed that I would fill out such book when I had my own kids. Well, ha to that…

J’s first word was ball. He took his first steps at 13.5 months; I remember the first items of clothing on his tiny body, dinosaur onesie and pale yellow sweater.

S started her drunken sailor walk at 10.5 months; her first word was dog, and at barely two years of age, she could put together a puzzle like nobody’s business. I remember it well, but so many of the other things? Not so much. I honestly don’t recall the exact age they where when they cut their first teeth, or really put that little plastic potty to use. Too bad I didn’t write it down.

Does that make me a bad mother?

I adore my kids, really, I do.  And I am very sentimental. I have kept most of their various diplomas, awards, random cute shoes, stacks of lovely scribbles that then turned into real artwork, book reports, school papers, graduation programs, and all that good stuff.  I savor the whole experience of motherhood (well, most of it); it’s just that I don’t carry it out in an organized fashion.

While I’m at it, I never photographed my children wearing the same giant t-shirt from kindergarten to college to mark and marvel at their growth, (thanks Internet, for reminding of all of the other adorable things I never did for my children). I never wrote a loving letter to each of them on their birthdays with the intention of handing over a ribbon wrapped bundle on their 21st, but I meant to. I did take pictures of them on most first days of school; I’m not sure where all of those photos actually are, but they are most certainly not in a memory book.

Part of me wishes that I was that scrapbooking mom, who has a clearly marked, brightly colored books for each year of her children, but I know that I am not.

After many years, I compiled their first photo albums from sonogram to about the age of 10, but now that we rarely print out photos anymore, heavens knows what kind of evidence they’ll have of their tween and teen years beyond what’s trapped in mom and dad’s phone and Facebook. If they complain that there’s not more information, I’ll just use my mother’s line, “We were too busy loving you to keep track of everything!”

How do you keep track of your family memories?  Please share in the comments below.

Doing the Dirty Work: My Approach to Cleaning Messy Rooms

Written on March 10, 2014 at 2:09 pm , by

By JM Randolph, the Accidental Stepmom

The same sense of self-preservation that keeps me from shouldering the responsibility for regularly cleaning the kids’ rooms mandates that, eventually, I do have to go in. Go in as in, “Cover me, I’m going in.”

There will inevitably come a moment when I can’t ignore it anymore—usually because the door won’t shut. There will have been a blowup over a critical piece of sports gear or homework that has been unlocatable due to the mess. By this point, the room makes Hogwarts’ Room of Requirement look positively organized, and I am convinced there’s a camera crew from Hoarders lurking outside in the bushes.

There are two ways to approach Going In: with the kid and without the kid. Both have merits. There are some things that you truly need the child for—clothing, for instance. Does this still fit? Are you ever going to wear this without me forcing you to?

That leads to its own battles: If it takes you five minutes of contortions to get the pants on, they don’t fit anymore. There are more holes in your favorite shirt than there are in my favorite dust rag—how about we swap?

When you get the boo-boo face for throwing out jeans that are held together only by the belt loops and one pocket, take the opportunity to remind the children they are welcome to do this themselves without help. Leave out the part about how you’ll never let them leave the house wearing that.

With an overly sentimental child, or one with pack-ratting tendencies, you’re better off making some of these decisions on your own.

When #5 went to scouting camp this summer, I took the opportunity to Go In to his room. He had created two piles the size of furniture as high as his desk. I lost count of the trash bags full of actual trash that I sifted out of them, including the remnants of his lunch from the last day of school, approximately four weeks earlier.

He’s the youngest of five, the only boy. He’s also the youngest in his class, and on the cusp of everything changing at age 11 and the sixth grade. I know if I ask him, he will never let go of a contractor-size bag full of Webkinz that have long since met their electronic demise from neglect; I also know he’ll forget about them if they are no longer in his room. The big plastic fire truck with the electronic siren he got for Christmas when he was 4, tucked under the far corner of the bed? It’s going to bring a lot more joy to some younger boy who comes by it through donation. Broken toys from Happy Meals? Don’t get me started. Shoe box full of rocks collected one afternoon two summers ago? Perhaps it’s time to set them free.

It took me an entire day and night to get his room in order. Through it all, I second-guessed everything.

In the end, I felt happy to clear his space for him. He’d be able to find things and have room to breathe. I kept the Lincoln Logs and Legos; I kept the Matchboxes and exactly one bed-perimeter’s worth of stuffed animals. I rearranged the furniture.

When we picked him up from scout camp, his dad told him we had a surprise for him at home, and that he owed me. Now, I don’t operate under the illusion that a clean room qualifies as a “surprise” for an 11-year-old boy, but it was definitely noticeable, different and an unpleasant task he didn’t have to do.

By the time we got home, he’d forgotten there was supposed to be a surprise. He dropped his stuff in the living room and immediately went for the TV remote. When we redirected him to put his gear away, he picked up his backpack and went into his room. Ten minutes later he wandered out and went again for the TV remote. I peeked into his room and saw the contents of the backpack scattered all over the floor.

His dad asked, “So what did you think of your room?”

He replied, “What about it?”

 

JM Randolph is a writer, stagehand and custodial stepmom of five. She lives in New Jersey with her family and blogs at accidentalstepmom.com.

No Good Deed Goes Unpunished

Written on February 25, 2014 at 11:03 am , by

By JM Randolph, the Accidental Stepmom

There was a time it snowed while I was at home and my husband was at work. I did all the shoveling myself and did not ask the kids for help. It was not a dream, though it certainly doesn’t sound like me. I must have really needed to get out of the house.

Much like how my children are THE ONLY kids in town who don’t have iPhones, they say they are THE ONLY children with expected snow-shoveling duties. I wish these were merely exaggerations from a teen’s perspective, but observation has shown both counts to be somewhat valid.

I must confess that I never shoveled snow as a teen. I make that confession in the safety of knowing that my kids will never read this. The only thing they are less interested in than reading-in-general is reading anything I write specifically (I could tape a chore list to each of their foreheads and none of them would notice), so I am confident they will never find out my secret: By the time I was old enough to properly wield a shovel, we had moved to an apartment where we were not responsible for snow removal.

Most of my kids’ friends do not have chores at home. They don’t do their own laundry, their parents still clean their rooms, and they certainly don’t have to help dig out the cars or clear the walk. My kids groan and whine about the unfairness of having to shovel, but they suit up and head out to our driveway. They know no matter how badly they perform the job, they’re not getting out of it.

At the risk of being reported to DYFS, I should make my other confession: We expect our kids to help shovel and we don’t pay them for it. Shoveling the driveway so that we can continue functioning as a family is a necessary part of running a household. Like laundry, like dishes, like walking the dogs, like grocery shopping. We all do all of these things. I don’t think it’s wrong to pay a kid for helping out; the main reason we don’t pay for these necessary chores is the sheer size of our household and the fact that we’d go broke doing it.

However, this doesn’t mean other people won’t pay them to help. My kids have not yet connected their desire for cash and the gold mine that lies before them in a shed full of shovels, mountains of snow and a town populated by busy parents with kids who don’t know a handle from a blade.

Why should they? The oldest girls discovered they can make money babysitting without nearly as much physical exertion. The youngest girl resents having to expend the effort to move her own body off the couch in order to direct it to bed. The boy has decided that he doesn’t need to make money that badly, yet somehow he has managed to save up $54 and still gets our babysitters to buy him doughnuts.

Last week’s barrage of storms gave us our own Seinfeld episode. For the hundredth time (it seemed to them) the kids were out shoveling. Our neighbor is a retired lady who lives alone. Everyone in the neighborhood pitches in to help clear her drive. The kids had done it the day before when she wasn’t home, and we talked about how it’s important to help your neighbors even if they never know it was you.

When they went over to help this second day in a row, one stayed behind. Whether to more thoroughly scrape our own driveway or to avoid the heavy lifting across the street is known only to her. What is known is that the lady was home that day, and came out and expressed her deep gratitude by handing every kid a 10-dollar bill. Every kid in her driveway, that is.

 

JM Randolph is a writer, stagehand and custodial stepmom of five. She lives in New Jersey with her family and blogs at accidentalstepmom.com.