How Learning To Speak ‘Athlete’ Changed My Relationship With My Teen

I had some time this morning as I waited on my son to try out for the high school soccer team. But instead of catching up on Season 3 of my friends’ latest exploits on Facebook, I got out of my car and took a walk.

Oddly enough, I gained some serious life perspective while getting in my steps.

You see, my son is 14 right now and about to begin high school. Our ability to communicate is tough on a good day and completely non-existent on a bad day. But today, somewhere between band practice and the soccer field, I think I figured out the root of our problem – we don’t speak the same language. I am fluent in “nerd” and he’s well-versed in “athlete.” Let me explain.

When I attended this same high school, I focused on foreign language, reading books, arts and humanities, and music – specifically band. (I played the French horn.) I attended sporting events but my primary purpose revolved around playing the school fight song. So, it seemed appropriate that as I began my climb to the top of the school parking lot, I encountered members of the marching band. They chatted and honked their horns, quite literally, on their way to the practice field. And by practice field I mean a dedicated parking lot striped with white paint to resemble a football field.

I tried not to stare at those kids as the band director explained how to move backward with quick, tiny steps while simultaneously supporting the tone and quality of their notes and remembering their music. Marching band is hard. It takes a lot of focus and concentration to do so many things at once. Interesting… my brain thrived in that environment. I knew where to go and what notes to play, all while keeping an eye on the conductor and the person in front of me. It seemed natural.

As I rounded the edge of the faux practice field, the shrill of whistles and thuds of contact football interrupted my journey down memory lane. What an abrupt shift. Instead of young men and women moving in unison, playing delightful music, tons of guys clad in helmets and maroon shorts ran, zig-zagged, then tackled a bright blue padded cylinder. The coaches yelled instructions across the actual football practice field and the athletes did what they were told.

Once I Learned To Speak 'Athlete,' Communication With My Teen Got So Much Easier: mother and son posing for photo
Courtesy of Ashley Johnson

*Light bulb over my head*

No wonder my son and I have a hard time communicating. We’re coming at it from two totally different perspectives – languages, if you will. I am explaining all the parts of a situation in great detail and reminding him how the pieces fit together into one harmonious melody. I want to engage him in critical thinking and have deep conversations about the nature of things. He’s programmed to reply with, “uh-huh.”

It dawned on me, in the grassy no-man’s land between the football and soccer fields, that my son and I needed to meet in the middle of this language canyon if we were going to make it through high school with our relationship intact. I still had a few minutes before try outs ended, so what better time to learn the basics of speaking “athlete?”

I stood at the edge of the soccer field and listened to how the coaches communicated with the team. (Don’t worry, my son couldn’t see me. OMG that would be so embarrassing!)

Here are a few key phrases I wrote down for future use:

“Come see me” – What you tell the kid during practice or an activity. It means the coach wants to talk to you once you’re finished with your task.

“This is what I need from you” – Follow the statement with specific instructions and/or actions.

“You’re not at your best today. What’s up?” – Coach language for “I can tell something is wrong with you. Here’s your chance to talk about it.”

I started incorporating these sports phrases into our home life and discovered my son opened up a little bit more when prompted by familiar words. It makes total sense. This is what he’s used to hearing at every practice and game. I can’t believe it took me so long to figure it out.

Now, could someone add a foreign language credit to my school record, please? I earned it!

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8 Signs You Have A Tween In The House

When my oldest started his 5th grade year of school, I figured I had a few solid years left of him being a sweet boy. I’d ease into the tween and teen years the way I’d eased into a new job or learned to remove my diva cup without feeling like I was going to pass out. 

One does not simply change from being a charismatic child who wants to play checkers with you, asking you to watch him do tricks on his bike, and asking you to help him hang a bulletin board in his room with a few pictures of you on it.

Their face won’t change from smooth and peachy to blotchy as acne blossoms in between long chin hairs overnight.



One minute you have a sweet child who will test your patience, but will come back to you. 

Then you wake up one morning and see a version of them that literally wasn’t there the day before. 

I’m sorry to tell you, Mama, but there’s no going back from this. If you have a tween in your house you’ll know it because of:

1. The sass.

No one knows how to do sass like a child bursting into young adulthood. They aren’t a kid any longer and they know it. They aren’t adults, but they don’t know it. They will make it their job to show you they know what’s up all the damn time. It looks like shoulder shrugs, eye rolls, mutters, and shutting down as soon as you ask them how their day was.

2. The mess.

I thought my kids were messy as toddlers, but I had no idea what would happen as soon as they hit puberty. I found a cup of half-eaten yogurt in my son’s room that was supporting a colony of ants. My daughter can fuck up a clean bathroom with her makeup and hair shit in a hot second. Sometimes they feel there’s no need to flush the toilet, top sheets are non-existent on their unmade beds, and somehow there’s toothpaste on the ceiling more often than not.

3. The smells.

These are the years your kids get ripe real quick. Thing is, it’s new for them. They aren’t used to smelling like rotting onions after gym class or practice. The habit of showering regularly and using deodorant on a regular basis is foreign to them. 

If they play sports, the smells coming from your car will keep you from making eye contact with the neighbors as you drive them to their next event so you don’t have to stop, roll down the window, and talk.

4. The retainer on the kitchen table.

… Or the coffee table, or the back of the toilet. If you have a kid with a retainer and you’re paying out of your butthole to fix their teeth, they don’t care. 

Also, everything they’ve learned about germs has suddenly flown out the window (hence the retainer on the back of the loo).

5. The whining.

Tweens look capable of taking out the trash, but crumble at the mere mention of doing anything. They want to be treated like adults but don’t hesitate to throw a tantrum if you take their phone away in order to get them to do something.

6. The closed bedroom door.

You child will go from wanting to go out for ice cream with you, to needing more alone time than anyone else in the world. They’d rather be in their room with the curtains drawn than see or talk to you any day.

The first day it happens you’ll think, this is kind of nice. I have more time for myself. Give it a minute, though. Before long you’ll be knocking on the other side of that dark room with tears in your eyes wanting to hear everything they did that day.

7. The grocery bill.

Not only do growing kids eat like there’s no tomorrow, this is when they begin to want to have a say in what you buy. Mine hate that I buy the generic brand. They get very upset as soon as all the “good” food is gone, yet they are the ones who eat it as soon as I walk in the door with the bags.

Oh, and they’ll wait until you’re home from shopping to tell you they are out of deodorant or toothpaste.

8. The clothing.

Tweens these days like to rotate a few T-shirts, sweatshirts, and sweatpants. That’s it. It’s a chore to get them to put them in the laundry so they can be washed because apparently, they can’t smell their own stench.

You know there’s a tween in the house when you feel like you’ve been bulldozed with a smelly, back-talker who swears you are now their taxi driver. 

I’ve had three and all I can say is, solidarity, Mama. Solidarity. Because if you’ve reached the point of having a tween, you know that like all phases, this too shall pass. 

Just be sure to keep extra deodorant on hand until it does.

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Why I’m So Proud Of — And Scared For — My Teen Working As A Camp Counselor

We are just a few days into the summer, and with the whiplash I’m still reeling from (thank you, COVID-19), life must go on as best it can for my three kids. My son, who turned 13 in November, was ready to enjoy his time away from his parents — who want to know way more about his life than he is willing to offer. He was scheduled to attend sleepaway camp for the third year, choir camp for a week, and try his hand at being a counselor-in-training to gain the work experience he will need upon graduation from high school in four years. But our family’s intended summer plans were drastically altered.

The quarantine has taken away so much from our family: our sense of safety as we walk through our community, physically distant from our neighbors, family, friends, and church community. So the late announcement that day camps could resume gave us something to look forward to. Our son would get the opportunity to gain work experience, be outside, and participate in camp — with a twist.

My son is gaining invaluable life experience as he gets up every day, putting on his light blue camp t-shirt with a smile. I never thought I’d see this kind of joy within him, so outwardly expressed. He is on the Autism spectrum and I refuse to let that hold him back in any way. 

I never went to camp as a kid, and was hesitant to sign the permission slip giving my son to strangers for a week last summer. He would spend the week in a cabin with six or so other boys and a camp counselor he’d never met. My wife and I paid a ton of money for five days of adventure, for our son to undoubtedly replace his showers with the daily dip in the lake, and test his extremely selective palette with the communal meals made up of veggies picked from the garden on campus.

It was an experience for all of us. For my wife and me, it was a week without our pre-teen’s attitude and a week for him to get to know other people and experience a summer unlike I had ever had. In the end, I wanted this summer camp experience for him. As I drove the hour drive north to pick him up last summer, I worried. I worried he would be scarred for life. I worried he would never want to return to camp. I was fearful that I would never want him to experience camp again. But I was wrong.

When he hopped in our car, before we even left the parking lot, he asked: can I come for longer next summer? I was able to breathe a little easier as I eased our minivan out of the dirt parking lot. Our son was maturing and navigating experiences without his parents.

Granted, we’d spent lots of time (and money) to invest in summer experiences for him over the years. The hope, as we wrote each check and paid 20-somethings to help him navigate various social situations, was money well spent. As he matured and reflected on the summer camp connections he made with his peers over the years, how much he enjoyed the daily swim class, or the archery experience or Friday lunches with the entire group, and the end of season celebration which included music, candy, cake, and a dance-off, my kid became a “camper.”

He asked his last year of camp before he transitioned to more of a service learning kind of camp to be a camp counselor. It was a conversation he wanted to have. For me, it felt very fast; in reality, it was for a few summers that I not only became comfortable with the potential of sending him to sleepaway camp for two weeks, but we all looked forward to this particular summer. And then coronavirus happened. And his two weeks of the sleepaway camp instead turned into nine weeks of real-life work experience as he committed to being a camp counselor for two and a half months. We’d sent him to a special needs camp which ultimately prepared us all for his new role as counselor-in-training.

If there is any silver lining in this pandemic, it is that our son will come out of it with work experience that will help him throughout his life. He will navigate social situations that used to bring him much anxiety and some frustration with more ease. He will gain leadership experience which will help as he transitions this school year into a freshman in high school. Being in charge of others (other than his four-year-old sisters) will give him confidence in knowing that he is heard even if not always listened to.

This is only week number one for him, and I’d just begun to breathe a little easier. And then I learned about Elijah McClain and am again worried. I am worried about my Black son who has Asperger’s. This summer, I hope, will never repeat itself with the worry for our Black sons, for our mental and physical health.

I know summer will never be the same or look the same for my son after his experience as a camp counselor in training. But it will never look the same for his parents either — we will all forever be changed because of this particular summer camp experience, COVID-19 and the Black Lives Matter movement.

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We Have A Strict Chore Schedule, And It Has Absolutely Saved Me

I have three kids. They can be glorious and they can be assholes. They’re like most kids in that they don’t like to do chores; they don’t see the value or the importance in taking out the trash or emptying the dishwasher.

I get it — I didn’t quite like seeing my chore list screaming at me every afternoon when I came home from school. And no, I never stopped to think about the fact my mother was a single mom to four who worked full time outside of the home. I was only thinking of myself and my wants and needs, which didn’t include grating cheese for our taco dinner or cleaning the bathroom. I wanted My So-Called Life and fro-yo.

There was no way my mother could’ve changed my mindset, and I’m not even going to exert the energy to try to change my kids’ thoughts about pushing around the vacuum or mowing the lawn. 

That doesn’t mean I don’t break out in lecture when they get assy about doing the things I ask them to do. I want them to know I work hard and don’t enjoy watching them pile dirty dishes in the sink, complain we have no clean dishes, then walk away from a dishwasher full of gleaming flatware and glasses. 

All they have to do is empty it — it takes under five minutes but, alas, teenage brain.

I realized when I became a single mother that things had to change. At that point, all my children had cell phones and the deal was that their father would and I would pay for those three very expensive phones if they did chores we assigned them every week.

As far as I’m concerned, that cellphone payment is more than an allowance, so if they want more money in their pocket, they have to do extra things outside of their cell phone money chores — like help me weed the garden or rub my feet.

So I found a solution to the arguing, the repeated asking, and the bribing that came with trying to get my kids to do their chores, because even the best kids will try and wiggle out of their assigned jobs. I now schedule chores. Yes, that’s right: I tell my children when they are allowed to do their jobs. If they aren’t done in that time period, bye-bye, phone.

I noticed if I left it open and simply said, “The dryer is overflowing so it’s time to fold and put away the laundry,” the laundry pile would stay in the dryer until I raise my voice several octaves and the map of veins would sprout along my forehead. Sometimes this would take a few minutes, and there are also times it would take a few days to get to that level of pissed-offness because, life.

But, if I say, “The laundry needs to be folded when you see the dryer is full, and you have an hour to do it,” it takes all the drama (and the guessing about how long they can push my buttons) completely out of the game.

When I tell my son the lawn needs to be mowed every Wednesday evening after dinner, he just goes out and does it instead of convincing me it doesn’t need to be done. 

And every Sunday evening, my youngest knows the garbage needs to be collected and left at the curb for the garbage man to come and get it on Monday morning. 

I’m not saying it’s a flawless plan; there are still times when they can’t seem to get it together and simply don’t want to take care of the dishes in the dishwasher each morning. But for the most part it’s smoothed the chore-chaos over in our house, because instead of fighting with and taking me into letting them do it later (let’s face it, “later” means “I’ll procrastinate as long as you’ll allow, Mom”), they just do it.

They already have it in their mind that’s the time they need to get it done, and it’s allowed them to see that life is so much better if they just buck up and get the damn thing done so we can get on with it.

I do think it helps them compartmentalize, and leaves very little gray area for them to try to manipulate me into letting them live the life of luxury they feel they deserve. (They don’t).

I love my kids, and I want them to realize magical fairies don’t come down from the clouds and do things for them. 

If I didn’t make them do chores, or let them talk me into putting it off — believe me, they’ve all had compelling arguments like: “I’m tired,” “I have my period,” and “I couldn’t remember where the trash bags were” — that’s exactly what they’d think.

Scheduling chores has saved my brain cells, it works as far as getting your kids to help out around the house, and I’m pretty sure it will make them better partners when they grow up should they choose to share a home with someone. 

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When Your Teen Isn’t Just Social Distancing, But Self-Isolating

My son is 13, and to be honest, I never saw him as antisocial. From what I can tell, other kids at school like him, and his teachers often speak highly of him at parent teacher conferences. But outside of riding bikes around the neighborhood with another boy from down the street, and being on a soccer team each year, he mostly spends his time reading books in his room, fighting homework, and asking for screen time. I suppose I always assumed he was a bit of an introvert, like me and his mother, but I never saw it as a problem. However, I must admit, after a few months of quarantine, he has taken self-isolation to a whole new level.

When we were working through his distance education packets, I actually set up an office in his closet. I worked from a laptop, as he sat in his room and studied. I kept up with my job while keeping him accountable. Like most 13-year-olds he wasn’t the best at working diligently without supervision. And for a while, he was meeting with some friends online to play Dungeons and Dragons, and as nerdy as that was, it did give him a social outlet.

But those meetings have gone on hiatus for the summer. Pandemic school over, so I don’t have a reason to sit in his room and keep him busy. Our town has moved into phase 2, so he could go outside and ride his bike, but his closest friend in the neighborhood had to move because the boy’s father lost his job, so Tristan isn’t motivated to leave the house. Soccer season is canceled for the time being, so he won’t be going to practice. I’d love to say that he enjoys the company of his younger sisters, but that would be a lie; he goes pretty far out of his way to avoid those two. And as cool as his parents are — and trust me, my wife and are the definition of cool — he doesn’t seem all that interested in hanging out with us.

What all of these changes add up to is my son in his room, the lights off, curtain drawn, sitting at his desk with a small IKEA lamp shining light on his book. He does his chores first thing in the morning. He gets some screen time as a reward, so he plays Roblox for a couple hours. But by lunch, he more or less self-isolates until dinner, and from what I’m seeing from other parents online, he is not alone.

It sounds like a lot of teens are struggling with how the world has changed since COVID-19 canceled school, sports, parties, proms, and graduations. For some of them, it is taking the form of spending long hours in their rooms, alone. And for us, as parents, we have to walk a fine line between trying to decide what is going to keep our kids safe during a pandemic, while also trying to consider what is best for their mental and emotional well-being.

Now don’t get me wrong, in a lot of ways it is nice having one less child asking for a million things all the time. Having my son spend his time in his room isn’t all bad. And yes, him not asking to hang out with friends, or trying to sneak out of the house to spend time with a crush, or any of that teen drama that so many parents are dealing with right now is refreshing. But I do worry about him up there, all alone, not engaging in any social interaction whatsoever.

But if I really sit down and think about my 13-year-old self, I’d have probably done the same thing. I was at that age where my siblings were really starting to bug me. I was old enough to take care of myself for the most part, and I was starting to lose interest in trying so hard to get all the attention I could from my parents. In fact, when I think back on the summer I spent as a 13-year-old, there was no pandemic, and I still spent most days in my room, alone. The only real difference was, my mother was at work during the day, and my father wasn’t around because he’d left a few years earlier, so no one really noticed.

So if your teenager is isolating themselves right now, you are not alone. It’s happening here too. It seems like a lot of parents are seeing it, and frankly, unless your child is showing signs of depression or engaging in acts of self-harm, it’s probably nothing to worry about. Give them the space that they need. Check in on them periodically, and ask them questions about their personal hygiene, because wow… some teens just don’t care about that sort of thing. Drag them out with the family from time to time. Ask them if they are feeling lonely, and if they are, try to help them find a safe outlet to engage with their friends. But on the whole, even though 2020 has been a really odd year, a teenager spending hours alone in their room really isn’t that unusual — we just may be more prone to worrying that it is.

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Dear Oldest Child: You Don’t Know Everything 

Dear Oldest Child,

I know you were born before you siblings and because of that, you knew how things worked around here and felt the need to show them the ropes. I get it. You can be possessive, territorial, and a bit controlling like a lot of other kids who share your title.

And while I appreciate your “help,” I need to let you in on a little secret: you don’t know everything.

When you were younger, I thought being the Town Crier was something you’d tire of. I was wrong, though. As you’ve grown up and become a teenager, it’s not just your siblings you feel the need to preach to, teach, and correct. Now, I fall under your “teaching” umbrella and let me just say, it’s annoying as hell.

You know I’m the person who was almost in her third decade of life when she gave birth to you, right?

I get that you have had to do a lot of firsts with me before your siblings and for that reason, you feel it’s your place to be the bearer of all the news. There’s also the fact I gave birth to your brother and sister, so you can let me handle them, okay?

I implore you to remember I have a lot of years on you. I’ve done everything you’ve done in your life a lot earlier, and a few times over at that, so I’ve got some good practice under my belt. 

Lying to my mom about where I’ve been? Check.

Lying to my mom about where I’m going right before I leave? Check.

Trying to blame a teacher because I didn’t do what I was supposed to do? Check.

Thinking I’m invincible and taking risky chances only to have them blow up in my face? Check.

Talking like I know about something I’ve never actually done before? Check.

I’ve walked in your shoes and I know the signals. So when you tell me you are “just going for a ride with friends,” I know something is up. One simply doesn’t go for a leisurely, safe drive with friends as a 16-year-old.

And when I tell you you better be safe, and you shrug it off because you think you’re invincible and nothing will ever happen to you, it shows me something.

It shows me that you don’t, in fact, know all you claim to know. If you did, you wouldn’t dismiss my advice about not driving like an asshole.

I may not know all the cool terms you and your friends know these days. I may struggle with SnapChat and make you cringe when I get the name to a popular song wrong. And for the record, I actually do know (according to you) everyone in the world except you and your siblings have AirPods, while y’all are “stuck with the generic brand,” but I also know something else: there’s three of you and I’ll be damned if I’m going to spend that kind of money on something you’ll stick in your ears and lose anyway.

I know if you earn the money to buy them for yourself, you’ll care for those ear buds (that must be made out of gold) a lot better.

I am aware of the dangers of teenage driving, especially when you are with your friends.

I know I’m not the coolest person in your world and you think your life would be better if I was more laid back.

But I know it wouldn’t be.

I know how to raise you and your brother and sister. You can retire yourself from that duty right now.

Oh, and for the record, I do know how to grocery shop, how to tell when you are lying, and how to budget the money I work hard to make (hence no AirPods).

So, my dear oldest child, while I love you with my whole heart and appreciate that face we’ve been through many first together and you’ve seen me struggle more than your brother and sister have, you don’t know everything.

You don’t have it all figured out. You don’t have life in the bag. I hope you realize soon we are all evolving creatures who never stop growing or learning unless we choose to put ourselves on autopilot because we think we already know it all.

You have a lot to learn from others so sit back, let someone else do the teaching. Just because you were born first and feel the need to be in charge all the time, doesn’t mean you have to be in that role all the time.

Do us all a favor, including yourself, and be vulnerable enough to admit you don’t always have to have all the answers because really, none of us do. It will just make you a better human. 

Love, your mother (someone who really does know a thing or two).

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I Had Wished I Could Turn Back Time — Then Somehow It Happened

My sons are giants. They both tower over me, with fuzzy chins and upper lips. They are baby men. They move so fast and strong. Too fast. How often have I wished for a time machine to go back to when my teenagers were little? I longed to visit the age when we were together all day, everyday. Back when wearing costumes was the everyday norm. The time when our entire world was the yard, some mud, and a hose. Back then all I had to do to make them understand their power was to pin a cape on their shirt, make them a snack, and throw on a band-aid. The complications have grown as they have, and helping them is much murkier.

As we near the end of my oldest son’s days as a child (104 days to be exact), the nostalgia and longing to return has been overwhelming. I’ve desperately searched for the magic spell to freeze time. I listen intently trying to hear squeaky baby boy voices again. I long to hold tiny hands, to count the piggies all the way home, to stop the growing and slow the going, because where they are going is away.

I Had Wished I Could Turn Back Time -- Then Somehow It Happened : Mother and sons
Courtesy of Elke Govertsen

Did I wish too hard? Do I have more power than I knew? Was the cape actually pinned to my shirt? Am I magic? Because somehow, it has happened. A pandemic has halted the world and gravity let go. We dropped off the Earth, out of our normal lives and plummeted into some strange hybrid of back-in-time, there-is-no-such-thing-as-time, and right now perspective. There is no visibility at all into the future, so why keep looking? Just keep falling and keep your fingers crossed you don’t crash.

Because the world is more than a little overwhelming, our family’s life has shrunk back down to the size of our yard. My teenagers are no longer in their wolf packs (and I miss their friends as much as I miss my own). I am no longer driving everywhere all the time – in fact, I am not going anywhere at all. The trampolines get used daily again. The boys have even busted out their LEGO sets and playing with their Magic The Gathering cards. Their brother is their best friend for the first time in a decade, and that just might be the best magic of this gathering.

I Had Wished I CoI Had Wished I Could Turn Back Time -- Then Somehow It Happened : Mother and sonsuld Turn Back Time -- Then Somehow It Happened
Courtesy of Elke Govertsen

We started eating dinner together. Then lunches. Without anyone acknowledging it, the lunches morphed into toddler food. Ants on a log. Carrot sticks and ranch dressing. Grilled cheeses. When was the last time we all had lunch together on a Tuesday? It was when they were toddlers, smaller than me, no school, or schedules. I am eating it up – both the peanut butter and my boys.

I Had Wished I Could Turn Back Time -- Then Somehow It Happened: Mother and son
Courtesy of Elke Govertsen

We all like sleeping in. So much sleep. We all dislike online school. Our house is a disaster. We only set it up for our own needs, there is a bed on the porch, a bench press in the yard, a white board in the living room. Every horizontal surface is covered. We basically live in the junk drawer. We miss our friends. We don’t miss the drama. We are bored some days, scared the next. Often sadness rises like a fog, chilling us and unshakeable. We just have to wait it out. We roll through all of the feelings everyday, and together. Sometimes I comfort the boy like when they were little, back scratches and comfort food, soft shushes as they cry. And sometimes they are the ones who throw their long arm around me and ask if I need anything. They kindly show up to my emotional rollercoaster and are willing to ride it out. As I watch them nurture, I see the kindness of their father, the magic of their Grammy, my love, and their own special grace cutting through. I can see men they will become and I am proud. Somedays I never want to leave this calm pool where I can see them reflected so clearly.

I Had Wished I Could Turn Back Time -- Then Somehow It Happened : Mother and sons
Courtesy of Elke Govertsen

Don’t get me wrong, I still want them to get to go out in the world, someday, if any of us ever can again. To travel. To learn. To run with their wolf packs through the forests and across the land, howling and wild. I want the world to right itself and spin again, perhaps on a shifted axis, but keep spinning nonetheless.

There is much to despair about right now. So much. Too much. But when I scope back down – past the layers, past the news, past the numbers, and the rumors – when I can scope all the way home into my yard, home, to my kitchen table on a Tuesday afternoon, I see my little boys sitting beside the men they are becoming. I hear the high voices and their new deep voices laughing together about some ridiculously gross inside joke. When I see their man hands, if I squint just right they become soft and small again. We are together, in this malfunctioning time machine, swirling then and now, and I think that maybe as we step toward a future we will forever remember how to come wee-wee-wee all the way back home.

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I Love That My Kids Aren’t Afraid To Call Me Out When I’m Wrong

While growing up, my father enforced the “children are seen and not heard” rule. If my siblings and I saw our parents do something the wrong way, we certainly didn’t mention it. We’d each tried it out when we were younger and never did it again. Our father would get in our face in public, or spank us if we were in the privacy of our own home. 

At the time, I felt hate for my father. He was so unreasonably strict and thought he was right all the time. I’d go to a friend’s house to spend the night and would long to move in with them. They were asked what they wanted for breakfast. They had a say in how their rooms were decorated. They were allowed to get their ears pierced and wear jeans. They had a voice and weren’t just seen. They were heard. 

Looking back, I realize the fact my father came from a large family with a strict Southern Baptist upbringing, and his years in the military made him feel dismissed and unimportant.

Being the “man” of the house and walking around saying things like “I’m always right” and “real men don’t cry” made him feel powerful and in charge. But it also made my siblings and me shrink to a size where we felt our opinions weren’t valid, and that crept into other areas of our lives: with partners, with jobs, with friends, with boundaries. 

Once, my father was clearly drunk when he picked me up from a high school dance. I didn’t say anything for fear I’d get the belt. That was the night I knew I’d be a different kind of parent than he was. I wanted to raise confident kids who aren’t afraid to speak up. I wanted my kids to feel safe enough around me to tell me if I was wrong — because we are all wrong, a lot, in this one life we are given. 

So while some may think my son is back-talking to me when he tells me I’m going the wrong way to a place I’ve been 100 times (I do this often), or that I really shouldn’t have told his brother I wish he’d wear something other than a sweatsuit in 80-degree weather, I don’t agree. To me, it’s not back-talking. It’s raising kids who aren’t afraid to stand up for what they believe is right, and don’t feel they need to be silent to fit in. 

I’m glad my kids feel comfortable calling me out sometimes. I’m not talking about being little piss-ants and challenging everything I say; there’s a big difference between disagreement and disrespect. I am talking about things like standing up for themselves, someone else, or just telling me — in a respectful way — when I’m wrong. 

Like when I’m in a bad mood and being short and snippy with them. They aren’t afraid to remind me how my behavior affects other people in the house and makes everyone feel tense. After all, I’ve spent a lot of years telling them to not take their anger or frustrations out on innocent bystanders and yet here I am doing the same thing when I’m having a bad day. 

I was really proud of my daughter when she didn’t let up about a missing assignment that was showing up on her student portal— she’d already handed it in and the teacher had missed it. My daughter was damned if she was going to do it over like I was trying to make her do. 

I know if that had gone down between me and my father, I would have shut up and just done the work again.

I don’t claim to know everything, and I don’t want to raise kids who are afraid to challenge their stubborn mom. Believe me, I need all the help I can get. Most of the time I’ve forgotten why I’ve walked into the kitchen. 

I want to teach them it’s okay to be wrong and listen to someone else. 

I want to teach them there’s a way to challenge authority, and that you can get your point across in a kind, respectful manner.

Most importantly, I hope that by calling me out when I am wrong, it gives them the confidence they need to speak up about social issues, or someone touching them in a way that makes them uncomfortable without hesitation, even if they are scared. 

And I’ll tell you — more times than not, my kids have saved me from myself when I get into the ice cream or chips, despite my gastrointestinal issues, and can’t stop. They aren’t afraid to tell me they don’t want to hear me complain, and they definitely aren’t going to feel sorry for me when I’m pooping straight mud into the toilet from eating too much dairy. 

Whether it’s something trivial or something important, our kids want to be heard, and it’s our job as parents to give them the room to have a voice.

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My Kids’ Friends Are Getting Together Again, But I’m Not Allowing My Kid To Join

For the past few weeks, my kids have been asking when they can hang out with their friends. But so-and-so wants to know if I can go for a bike ride???? Everyone else is hanging out! This sucks! I’m the only one left out!

My response every time: I know it sucks. I’m sorry.

But I’m not changing my mind. At least not yet.

That’s not to say it’s been easy. It hasn’t. That’s not to say I haven’t second-guessed. I have. But for now, the answer is and will be, “no, you can’t hang with your friends.”

Of course, every family will need to make decisions that differ based on their own circumstances. It will involve a detailed cost-benefit analysis and risk assessment of about a million factors. And it will also involve a healthy dose of reliance on our gut instinct.

For me, my gut is telling me – no, screaming at me – to go slow. There’s no rush.

For other parents, the decision-making process is different. They may have different circumstances, priorities, and opinions about how seriously we need to take COVID-19. (For the record, I think we need to take it really fucking seriously.)

I’ve tried to prepare my kids for this. I’ve been telling them for weeks – since other states started “reopening” and our own state of Illinois began to talk about what the next phase would look like – that other families are going to make other decisions. I’ve been telling them that just because we technically can do something doesn’t mean we should. I’ve been telling them that we’re making decisions that make sense for our family and our unique circumstances.

But, for a teen (or I suppose anyone for that matter), no amount of preparation is enough for those times when your friends are hanging without you. It doesn’t make it easier when you see kids your age riding bikes, sans masks, past your house several times a day. It doesn’t make it easier when you feel left out.

“BUT I’M THE ONLY ONE!” I hear my kids cry this over and over and again.

First, no. You are not the only one not hanging out. You are not “the only one” whose parents are strictly sticking to the safety recommendations for a while longer.  You also are not “the only one” who can’t stay up until 4 a.m. and you won’t be “the only one” who isn’t allowed go to that party where you know there will be alcohol and you won’t be the “the only one” who doesn’t get a new cell phone every year.

But also, kids, I get it. I truly get it. I also suffered from some serious FOMO and was certain I was “the only one” doing or not doing something when I was a teen. Truthfully, I still feel that way sometimes. Which makes it easier to empathize with my kids’ angst that they aren’t allowed to ignore the quarantine rules just yet. I try to explain to them that this feeling never really goes away, but you can manage. You can practice feeling more comfortable saying “no” and doing your own thing, trusting that your friends – the real ones anyway – will still be your friends.

But kids demand more of an explanation than “not true” and “I get it.” So it’s also important to explain the why of your reasons, whether it’s your reasons for saying no to a cell phone or no to a pandemic hangout. I’ve tried our best to explain what we know about COVID-19 so far, and what we don’t know. I’ve explained certain risk factors and how we’re trying to minimize those, and what it might take for my husband and I to feel a little more comfortable with them hanging out with their friends. I’ve talked about my own anxiety and how we have family members who are more at risk than others and how we want to protect them. I’ve told them soon, but not quite yet.

Bottom line: Sorry, kids, but you can’t hang out with your friends just yet, even if it feels like everyone else is doing it.

Am I being too strict with my pandemic rules? I’m sure some people think so. Am I not being strict enough? I’m sure others think that as well. That’s the tricky part about this post-lockdown, pre-vaccine stage. There’s a shit ton of grey area, and different people will make different decisions based on their own circumstances. Then again that isn’t unique to the pandemic; that is true of parenting in general.

Ultimately, I think my kids understand. They’re pissed, sure. But I do think that they understand that we aren’t making these decisions to make them miserable but to keep them – and maybe even more importantly, others – safe. As the saying goes, this too shall pass. Eventually they will hang out with their friends. Eventually they will go back to school and play sports and have sleepovers. And I hope that whenever we get to that point, in the process, my kids will be a little stronger in their FOMO battle against feeling like “the only one.” I hope they will have learned a bit about what it means to take care of others by inconveniencing yourself. I hope they will have learned the importance of trusting your gut and making hard decisions. Because the pandemic will eventually end, but god willing, those lessons will be here to stay.

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It’s My Right To Go Through My Teens’ Stuff If I Think Something Is Up

My kids are still my precious babies even though they are all taller than me. They might look like mini adults, and of course our close relationship makes me want to believe they can do no wrong, but I know better.

It seems like yesterday they just learned the art of stringing bad words together and lying. I thought that was tough to deal with, but I had no idea what was coming next.

Now, as they are in middle of the teen years, we’ve graduated to sneaking around, drugs, and sex.

I listened to a podcast recently. The speaker that day was an 18-year-old budding golf pro who graduated at the top of his class. He’d never been “caught” doing anything “wrong” like drinking, drugs, sexting, or posting sketchy stuff online but warned the audience that if you think your kid hasn’t tried something that would make you shudder, you are wrong. According to him, they all try all the bad stuff, just at different degrees.

My son lied to me a few years ago. He said he was hanging out with friends after school one day. But after passing his buds on my way home from the grocery store with no sign of him, I called him right away.

He acted very strange and arrived home with a hickey on his neck. He only admitted to having sex after I found a pack of condoms in his backpack the next day. I didn’t go through his belongings knowing I was going to find them and wanting to catch him red-handed; I actually didn’t know if I was going to find anything. I just knew my son wasn’t acting like himself, and I refused to dismiss it.

He was 14 and my first thought was, he’s way too young, he’s not interested in that yet.

I was wrong. He was sexually active, and because I went through his belongings, I found out. From there, we had a productive talk about it and I reminded him to come to me if he needed protection. And to please never lie to me about where he was, because I was worried, and my mind went to much worse places.

Had I gone against my instinct of double-checking on my kids when I smell trouble, not only would I have missed opportunities to talk to them about important issues, I’d be perpetuating potentially destructive behavior.

Earlier this year, my daughter had a sleepover with a few girlfriends. The four of them were acting strange all night. They come over often and I know them enough to notice something was off.

After asking them to settle down several times, they didn’t listen. They were up all night giggling and eating.

When I got really pissed and tried to walk in, my daughter had locked her door, something she never does.

She was cleaning her room the next day and was very jumpy when I walked in. While she was in the shower, I found a paper towel roll stuffed with dryer sheets hidden under her pile of dirty clothes.

Those girls were smoking pot under my roof when I was right there, and had I trusted my daughter and her friends— who all play sports and get good grades—I would have missed another opportunity. And who knows what things would have escalated into next if they hadn’t gotten caught and received consequences. Not to mention, I was responsible for those girls while they were staying with me, and I owe it to their parents to watch over them and make sure they aren’t doing anything illegal.

I don’t have “bad” kids. Neither do you. But we all have kids who will test the limits and when we sense something is going on, we are usually right. There are times that means we have to dig a little deeper because they don’t exactly tell the truth when you ask them if they were using drugs, drinking, and a whole list of other things.

I’m not willing to risk something happening to them to protect their privacy. They can have all the privacy they want when they move out.

I don’t make a habit of this. This isn’t a house where there are daily room and backpacks checks, or drug tests.

But for now, they live under my roof. It’s my responsibility to step in if I think something is off and not brush it aside because we have a close relationship. I love my kids, but they are still kids, and letting them “work it out” on their own isn’t always the best method.

When our kids are acting funny, it’s because something is going on with them, and they usually need help figuring it out.

Just because you are close with your kids doesn’t mean you’re going to get the full story. There are times as a parent when getting the full story is our job. And as far as I’m concerned, if I have to go through their things to know what’s really going on, so be it — because their health and wellbeing, not their privacy, is my biggest priority.

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