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So, Lyz Lenz wrote this about how to parent babies and toddlers and I’m pretty sure I peed my pants laughing because I’m just that lucky not to have children that young anymore and if I did, I would certainly stop seeking parenting advice from anyone but her because, well, you just have to head over there and read her advice.

Ironically, something that happened to me today was that a local parenting magazine published an essay of mine that was essentially….wait for it…giving advice on how to choose a school for your child. You can find it here if you’re interested.
And so, after having my advice appreciated enough to have it published, I was feeling as though I ought to follow Lyz’s example and offer some tongue-in-cheek advice for how to parent your teenager. Please note that I am not nearly as hilarious as Lyz, but I figure I have to beat her to the punch because it’s only 11 more years until she has her first teenager and if I wait, well, you know. So, here goes.
On the subject of food: With all of the scary chemicals and things out there in our food supply, it is important to feed your teens only organic, fresh, “real” food, not things that are laden with preservatives or ready-made. While your teen looks huge, he is really still developing and who knows how harmful those genetically modified organisms and pesticides are? Plus, you are setting up eating habits for life, here. Of course, now that your child is a teenager (and they tend to run in packs), they can inhale $14 worth of organic grapes in approximately 49 seconds and, mouth stuffed, complain about being hungry. So, with the price of organic fruit, perhaps it just makes more sense to just head to Costco and buy the party-size bags of potato chips and 800-pack of fruit roll ups so that you don’t have to take out a second mortgage to give them enough calories to keep growing. The added bonus of this plan is that you can teach them the all-important life lesson of cleaning up all the wrappers they discard on the TV room floor so that when they get to college, their roommate doesn’t stab them in their sleep for being such a slob.
And, speaking of teaching them to clean up after themselves, you must remember that even though they say they don’t want anything to do with you, your teenager most certainly is craving boundaries. Yes, now that he or she is older, you can certainly begin to relax things, but you want to remain diligent for any sign that they are pushing things too far. The portion of a teenager’s brain that is responsible for impulse control is not fully developed yet and you have to stay on top of them. Except that they are very clever and know so much more about social media tools than you do, so this tactic is most certainly doomed to failure. And, also, teenagers are programmed to despise any idea that comes from their parents, so whatever you tell them they cannot do, they will strive to do. And if they think they will be punished for doing it, they will work really hard (harder than they do on their homework) to ensure that they don’t get caught. So, at this point it’s probably easier to pour yourself a glass of wine and say something like, “I trust you to make good decisions. I love you,” in hopes that a little guilt will go a long way.
Because your teen’s brain is still developing, it is vital that they get at least 10 hours of sleep every night, so you should impose an early bedtime and you should ban all electronics for the last hour before bed so that they get in the habit of doing something quiet that will prompt melatonin production. However, it is likely that your child will yell and scream because (a) he or she has homework that has to be done on the the laptop so you can’t take it away and (b) the homework will take hours and hours so a bedtime of 9pm is altogether unreasonable. Please realize you have no recourse at this point even though you know that while your child is doing homework, he will most certainly be listening to music or watching YouTube videos or texting friends or all three simultaneously and THAT IS WHY THE HOMEWORK TAKES HOURS AND HOURS. Also, you’re screwed because it’s a well-known fact that teenagers’ brains don’t produce melatonin until about midnight which means that even if you have the most well-behaved teen in the world (damn, your guilt trips are awesome!), she will be lying in the dark for three hours staring at the ceiling and waiting to get tired before she ever falls asleep. And unless she has a will of steel, she will probably develop some deep-seated neurosis about her insomnia and it might push her off the deep end. So, again with the wine.
I will only give you one more piece of advice and that is regarding driving. If you are lucky enough to live in a big city, don’t let your teen get her driver’s license. In our case, there is a bus stop one block away that will get her nearly everywhere she needs to go eventually. Driving is a risky business and with cell phones and GPS and friends in the car, there are too many distractions. I have heard way too many stories of entire carloads of teens ending up in tragic accidents to think that my child ever ought to drive. Of course, that means you will spend the rest of your days schlepping your children everywhere they need to go – three lacrosse practices and two games a week, ballet practice, the high school football game/dance, to the mall to hang out with friends – and you can’t implore anyone else to just “run to the store for me and get more chicken stock while I finish cooking dinner.” So, basically your life will suck until they leave home and maybe you ought to give yourself a break and send them to driver’s ed. Please be aware that most cities now require your teen to enroll in driver’s ed through some private company that charges a thousand dollars (no shit), and your kid will never learn to drive a stick shift which is important if she ever finds herself at a party where everyone but her is drunk and the only way to get home is to borrow someone’s car but IT’S A MANUAL TRANSMISSION! But, freedom. And so, go ahead and let your teen get a driver’s license so she can drive her younger siblings around and you can have more time to drink wine.
Thanks, Lyz, for letting me point out how utterly ridiculous it is to try to figure out the “best” way to parent your child – baby, toddler, tween, or teen. I think I’ll go to Costco and buy a case of wine so I can at least relax at night and know I took someone else’s advice about self-care.  

I have decided that traditional museums are lost on children. I know there are “children’s” museums in every major city in the US, but I’m talking about the natural history museums with dinosaur bones and things that school children are herded to every year, lined up like pearls on a string, and ushered from room to quiet room while some adult desperately tries to engage their attention and keep them from swinging on the velvet ropes.

Two weeks ago, Eve and I were in Washington, DC with a dozen or so of her classmates for a Close Up Washington tour. [I couldn’t have loved this tour company more – if you haven’t heard of them, check it out. What a fantastic organization!] The kids had a pretty tightly packed schedule but since they were with Close Up teachers, I was free to peel off and do my own thing and catch up with them later.

Now, I’m certain that I visited my share of museums as a kid and what I really remember about them was being bored and restless.  The idea of a field trip was almost always better than the trip itself and I know for a fact that the part I enjoyed the most was the school bus ride with all of my friends to and from our destination.

As an adult, though, heading into the Smithsonian Natural History Museum was fan-freaking-tastic. There was a life-size elephant in the lobby. This guy stared out at me from his perch, daring me to guess what he was and read all about him.

The school children around me came in two sizes: 
  • middle-school-age and thrilled to be set free from their teachers for the moment, they ran around in giggling clots of girls texting each other pictures of boys they had taken on the sly (apparently these are called ‘stalker photos’ because the subject is some random boy from another school in another part of the US who just happens to be on your tour and he has no idea he is being photographed or talked about by tittering teenage girls), and 
  • elementary-age children with matching backpacks and water bottles with eyes like marbles and brains so overstimulated that they couldn’t even recall their own names (which may be why most of them were written in Sharpie on their backpacks).
[By the way, it may be the paranoid traveler in me, but doesn’t writing your child’s name – or having it stitched – on their personal belongings in plain sight make it easier for a freaky pedophile to coax your child over to them in a public area where they might be with a large group and, thus, not as closely supervised as you might think? Just an observation…]
I on the other hand, walked slowly but with purpose from exhibit to exhibit, reading plaques and shaking my head in wonder. I could have spent a week inside learning about the different species of bats and gaping at the Hope Diamond, standing in front of the hologram wall designed to show the structure of a crystal and marveling at the knobby skin on an egret’s toes.  The children swirled around me like waves, moving too quickly to absorb much of anything and eager for lunch.
Last week Bubba found himself in Germany on business and, with a couple of hours to kill, he decided to head to the Natural History Museum in Frankfurt. He texted me this photo
I had one of those moments where I had to remind myself to breathe. And it was then that I realized museums like this are completely lost on children. 
You see, up until a certain age, most children live in their own imaginations. Everything seems wondrous and amazing for many, many years. The first time a kid visits the beach, the waves seem magical. You can totally trick a kid into thinking that quarters can be extracted from their ears. Kids will believe almost anything because they haven’t been taught that most of the stuff they want to see and do and have are impossible. And so visiting a museum and seeing something like a T. Rex skeleton is cool, but it isn’t hard for them to imagine that something like that could (and maybe still does) wander around crushing things somewhere on the planet. 
As a pre-teen and teenager, kids have many other things on their minds like music and boyfriends/girlfriends, how to convince their parents they need a cell phone with unlimited text, etc.  They have no use for museums except as a way to get out of their classroom and socialize with friends on the bus.
As an adult, though, I have spent many, many years in the Realm of Things Possible and Doable. I am concerned, on a minute-by-minute basis, with what is necessary (food, sleep, walking the dog enough to avoid accidents in the house, laundry, getting children to sporting practices and events, paying bills) and weighing against that, what is actually possible in any given day.  I am not given to fantasy except as it relates to these things (having my insurance company suddenly call up and say, for example, “You know what? Your deductible is too high and we have noticed that it’s only May 1 and you have already had some very legitimate reasons to visit the doctor this year and these little nickel-and-dime lab fees and tests and follow up visits are killing you. Let us pick the rest of it up this year, okay?”).
So to walk in to a museum and see a stuffed African elephant is jolting. It stops me in my mental tracks and reminds me that there are wondrous things that exist outside of my ability to think about. Looking at that photo from Bubba made me recall that there was once something this enormous, this phenomenal, this astonishing that roamed the Earth. It gave me pause and opened the doorway to a place of speculation and wonder where I have not spent much time in the last four decades.  I was properly awed when I made my way through the Smithsonian museum and I believe I was in the minority.
I will be heading to museums more from now on, but I won’t be taking my children. I love them and I do hope that one day they, too, will discover how great museums are, but I have no desire to drag them in and spend precious time and energy convincing them or cajoling them into enjoying themselves. Nope, instead I will give myself the gift of going alone and remembering my imagination.  Because I need that more than those dang schoolkids. And I appreciate it more, too.  

It is our first Christmas in the new house and so far, it has been a lot of fun to figure out how exactly we will do things differently this year.  Where is the best place for the Christmas tree? Where will everyone sleep when they come? Which bathroom gets the holiday towels, or should we put them in the kitchen?

Some things don’t change, like the girls putting on Santa hats and Christmas music while they decorate the tree together, Bubba and I popping in to stuff something yummy into one mouth or another and hang a favorite ornament.  Others had to change; we have no lights on the outside of the house this year because this 100-year old gem doesn’t have an electrical outlet outside.  We mixed a few things up by going to the Nutcracker for the first time in years to see four of Eve’s classmates dance and by getting our shopping done early so we could have time to prepare for the arrival of Bubba’s entire family this year.

But what won’t ever change is the odd little things that make us who we are.  You know, those unexpected events that you just can’t plan for or that make you laugh when you realize how others must see them.

For example…

Every year around Halloween, Eve and Lola begin deciding what they’ll make for everyone for Christmas.  I started this tradition when they were toddlers with salt dough ornaments that they painted and gave to grandparents and aunts and uncles.  As they aged, the girls had fun exchanging homemade gifts with their cousins, too, and every year we work to come up with something that will be fun and meaningful without being useless.  Just in case any relatives happen to read this before December 25, I won’t reveal what Lola chose to make for everyone, but Eve, well, since we had to come up with Plan B, I can say that she wanted to make dark chocolate almond biscotti for her gifts this year.  We amassed all of the ingredients and spent hours on Sunday making our own gluten-free flour blend, toasting almonds, and mixing the dough.  I have never made biscotti before and didn’t realize it is a two-step process, where you bake the loaves of dough once, cool them, slice them and then bake them again until they are crisp and crunchy.  The house smelled divine.

We finally finished late Sunday evening and couldn’t package the treats until they were cool, so we set them aside until morning.  Monday morning was a mad dash to get to school on time and I nearly came home and tucked each biscotti into its own gift bag but decided Eve would probably really enjoy doing that herself, decorating each one with ribbons and labeling them appropriately.  I ran around the house, cleaning up and making lists and when I left to get the girls from school the biscotti still sat in neat rows on the cookie sheet near the stove.  When I came home the pan was overturned, the kitchen floor was coated in a fine dust of crumbs and the dog lay under the kitchen table moaning, his whiskers sprinkled with evidence.  He had eaten them all.  Off of the kitchen counter.  In the 20 minutes I was gone.

Predictably, Eve was furious at the loss of hours of hard work and panicky that we wouldn’t have time, between basketball practice and homework this week, to make more.  I was disgusted with the dog and myself for not packing them all up safely, and more than a little worried that the dog had ingested a lot of chocolate.  Beyond being incredibly thirsty all night, he didn’t seem to show any outward signs of illness, and I figured we would be lucky if he just ended up with a serious case of constipation.

Tuesday morning I took him for a walk after dropping the kids at school and was rewarded with, well, chocolate biscotti.  Not only was he not constipated, but he filled three bags with poop that was dark, dark brown and studded with almonds.  Slightly different shape, same look.  If I hadn’t known better….

So this morning I headed out to the UPS store to mail the goodies the girls made to family members we won’t see this year.  I had everything divided in to three groups that just needed boxes and packaging.  As the clerk began typing in the addresses one by one, he remarked that each of the destinations was within a short distance of the others with two being in the same town.

“Too bad these people aren’t all getting together for the holidays, and you could just send it all in one box and save yourself some money.”

“Nope,” was my reply. “They all know each other, but…”  my voice trailed off as I realized the irony.

As the groups of gifts were lined up, they were going to

a.  my dad’s first wife (my mom),
b.  my dad’s second wife,
c.  my dad’s third wife.

With a line of people behind me, I pointed that out to the clerk who laughed and admitted he’d never heard that before.

Oh, well. We’re quirky like that.


I figured out today that leaf-blowers are responsible for a great deal of commerce in the United States. I know that seems absurd, but think about it.

Everywhere I go there are people with enormous backpacks full of fuel strapped to their backs and gigantic vacuum-pipes in their hands, blowing dust and leaves and grass clippings around. Their co-workers are raking, mowing, edging, pruning, generally creating more stuff to be displaced by these loud, intrusive machines.

Let’s first consider the gear that goes along with the leaf blower itself.
$$- The person running the damn thing has to wear some sort of ear-protection so as not to lose their eardrums while they are working.
$$ They must also purchase gloves to wear lest they burn their hands on the hot machine
$$ They must buy gasoline to power the obnoxious machine.

Then let’s consider what happens to the stuff that gets blown around. An awful lot of it lands on the cars nearby – whether they are parked in lots around the area or simply stopped at a red light or driving past the work crew.
$$ – frequent car washes needed to get the pollen and dust removed from one’s car
$$ – allergy medication for those of us whose bodies wholeheartedly reject the crap being blown all around us – eye drops, seasonal allergy relief, acupuncture, allergy shots, you name it, we’re buying it.

Next, please consider what happens when they remove the leaves from the places where the trees dropped them.
$$ – the natural mulch and weed suppression that is provided by the leaves is gone. Necessitating hiring more workers to come by periodically and pull the weeds or spray toxic pesticides on them.
$$ – medications to combat the negative effects of the toxic pesticides
$$ – protective gear for the workers applying the toxic pesticides
$$ – the nutrients that would be provided to the soil if the leaves were allowed to break down there are no longer available, necessitating the purchase of fertilizers and the hiring of workers to apply said fertilizers.

These workers are all working longer hours than they would if the leaves were left to do their jobs, so they contribute further to the local economy by purchasing lunch in area restaurants and supermarkets.
These workers are doing less manual labor than they would if they simply raked the leaves from the sidewalks onto the beds where they could decompose. This could lead to one of two outcomes
$$ – higher insurance premiums to care for workers that are affected by pesticides and exposure to the exorbitant decibel level of the leaf-blower while not staying physically in-shape, or
$$ – the purchase of gym memberships or sports equipment by said workers in an effort to keep them healthy in other ways.

I am certain that this rudimentary musing has overlooked many other aspects of the leaf-blower economy, but in the ten minutes I contemplated the notion, the fact that I was able to come up with this list of things is mind-boggling.

So, even though it will probably get me labeled as a Communist and might possibly cause the further collapse of the entire Western economical model, I am advocating that these damn leaf-blowers be eradicated from the face of the planet.

Yours, quietly,
Kario


“When a book and a head collide and there is a hollow sound, is it always from the book?” Georg Christoph Lichtenberg

Not when it’s my head. The trouble with learning to be present and mindful is that it illustrates just how often I am not present and mindful in my daily life. When I find my mind wandering as I slice carrots for the curry and sip my glass of wine or when I arrive home after driving the six-girl carpool on Wednesday afternoons and don’t really recall any details of the drive itself, it is pretty clear to me that my head was the one thumping hollow.
I am truly in awe of how many tasks I can perform without really thinking about them. I often find myself disappointed in my girls for choosing the path of least resistance in their daily lives (doing a quick, sloppy job on their homework, dropping their plates into the dishwasher without rinsing them and tossing clothes in the laundry bin without removing the notes and rocks and house keys from their pockets first), but it occurs to me that my brain does the same thing. It has become so attuned to taking the same path time after time that I don’t even have to be aware in a conscious way to put a salad together or drive home from the supermarket or fold the laundry. Our brains are wired to be efficient and effective which is why it is hard work to stay present sometimes. I am so accustomed to typing and petting the dog and listening for the UPS man simultaneously that to try and focus on just sitting with the dog and giving him my undivided attention takes real effort.
I’m pretty sure that I would not get much done if I tried to remain present in everything I do, but I am trying to find a few moments every day to stop and truly immerse myself in one activity at a time. Even if it is just smacking myself in the forehead with a book and listening for the hollow sound…