In 12 Months

From our first family trip to San Francisco in 2008

From our first family trip to San Francisco in 2008

I survived my son’s senior photo shoot this morning without crying or otherwise embarrassing him. I even managed to joke a little on the ride home, asking if the photographer had staged any cheesy glamour shot poses (he did). But a few hours later, when I heard him playing a song he wrote on the piano downstairs, the sobbing started. In 12 months, the senior picture will be hanging on the wall, but the piano will be silent. In 12 months, my son will be a legal adult and a college student. In 12 months, his life as an independent person will begin. And in 12 months, my role within it will change forever.

Over the past 17 years, I have watched him grow into an intelligent, talented, compassionate and thoughtful young man. I have seen him enjoy successes beyond anything I ever imagined for him. I have also seen him stumble, pick himself up and learn from his mistakes. And I have been there every step of the way, helping him when he wanted me to and watching from the sidelines when he needed that more. I have been unknowingly making the transition from active caregiver to impartial observer, loosening the reins gradually until he is ready to take them for good. In 12 months, that time will arrive, and there is nothing I can do to stop it.

Nor do I want to. I am excited about what the future holds for him. I can’t wait to see which colleges accept him and which one he chooses. Will it be his dream school, which is relatively close to home, or his second choice, which is 2,000 miles away? Will he follow through with his lifelong plan of becoming a surgeon, or will his career path change? Where will he decide to live after college? Will he marry? Will he have a family? In 12 months, I will know the answers to some of these questions as his adult life starts to unfold. The selfless mother in me will happily open her arms so he can spread his wings and fly, but the selfish mother in me secretly longs to cling to him tightly and never let go.

The selfless mother, of course, will prevail. As I jokingly said to my husband the other day, “It’s not as if I can lock him in the basement and make him stay at home.” It’s just that I didn’t realize how much it would hurt when the milestones turned from “firsts” to “lasts.” Today my son, whom I watched take his first steps and solo car ride, had his last school photograph taken. Tomorrow he will pick up his schedule and books for his last year of high school. A week from tomorrow, that school year will begin, and the lasts will just keep coming. In 12 months, a whole new series of firsts will begin, and none of them will involve me. In 12 months, I’ll be fired from the best job I’ll ever have – or at least demoted to a part-time position.

I’m not ready for that, but my son is. I tried to teach him how to sort laundry today (yes, I still do it for him), and he dismissed me with “I can just Google it, Mom.” He is smart. He is resourceful. He will figure it out – the laundry and everything else – on his own. And if Google somehow fails him, I will only be a phone call away. I may not play an active part in the many firsts that await him, but I will always be here to hear about them. In 12 months, I will still be his mom. Nothing can change that.

A Letter to My Soon-to-Be 15-Year-Old

Dear son,

In two days you will be 15, which is a pivotal age. You get your driver’s permit, which is huge. But what has me even more concerned is that you will find yourself in increasingly challenging social situations. Only you can determine how you behave in them. Will you be a leader or a follower? My guess is a leader. But I know that, as all kids your age do, you are struggling to figure out this whole life thing. I don’t expect you to be perfect. I just want you to consider the consequences of your actions. You, and only you, are responsible for every choice you make, good or bad.

One of the most difficult things about parenting is the knowledge that your children will make mistakes and that you have no choice but to let them and hold them accountable. It’s especially hard, kiddo, because I remember vividly some of the downright stupid decisions I made when I was 15. Unlike you, I was a clueless mess with zero self-awareness. I was unhappy at home, unpopular at school. I made some poor choices because I wanted more than anything to be noticed, to belong. The more mistakes I made, the emptier and lonelier I felt. Each wrong step I took made my inner voice harder to hear.

I like to think that at almost 15 you are already too wise to repeat my teenage mistakes, too confident, too responsible. Unlike me, you have always known who you are. You have never cared about fitting in or being cool. And, at least I hope, you feel loved and supported at home. These three factors, I pray, will help you stay on the right path and remain true to yourself. Listen to that inner voice, kid. It speaks the truth.

The problem is that peer pressure becomes more complicated in high school, where even smart kids (like your dear old mom) make dumb decisions. You’re a sophomore now, and a lot of your friends are older than you. You may see people you admire and respect do things you know are wrong, even dangerous. Not only will you have to choose whether to join them, you will also have to decide if maintaining relationships with them is worth jeopardizing your own future. You don’t have to be the one doing the bad thing to get busted. Being there is enough.

I could preach to you right now. I could say, “Don’t make the same mistakes I made, son.” But I won’t. Your mistakes are yours to make, just as mine were when I was your age. There is nothing I can do to stop you. I just hope you will tell me about them when they happen. I hope mine will be the number you call if you find yourself in a situation you don’t know how to navigate. I hope mine will be the door you knock on if you get into trouble and need help. I may not have all the answers, but I will always be there for you. I will always listen. And I promise never to judge. I can’t, kiddo. I was 15 once too.

Love always,


My sweet boy on the morning of his baptism. I still remember the joy I felt seeing that smile on his face.

My sweet boy on the morning of his baptism. I still remember the joy I felt seeing that smile on his face.


Best Valentine Ever

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My kids’ Valentine’s Day cards and candy were waiting for them on the kitchen counter when they came downstairs for breakfast this morning. They were not surprised, especially my daughter who helped me choose which chocolates to buy for her and her brother. I have always given them presents on Valentine’s Day. Although I consider it a silly, Hallmark-engineered holiday, it’s a good excuse to remind them I love them (see yesterday’s post). I did not expect anything in return because I honestly can’t remember the last time one of them gave me a Valentine. It was probably a Strawberry Shortcake or Sponge Bob card left over from one of those multipacks parents buy for little kids to distribute to their classmates.

This year, my almost 13-year-old bowled me over with a book called “52 Reasons I Love You,” which she made from a deck of playing cards. I was not surprised by the thoughtfulness or creativity behind the gesture. She is a kind, caring person and an excellent gift giver because she truly listens to people and wants to know who they are. What blew me away about the book were the sentiments she expressed.

If you follow this blog, you know that, as most mothers and daughters do, we have our ups and downs in the getting along department (here’s a letter I wrote to her about just that). Cards in the book like “You watch ‘Pretty Little Liars’ to make me happy,” “You give amazing fashion advice” and “You always let me borrow your stuff,” while they sound trivial, meant something to me because I did not have that kind of relationship as a teenager growing up with a stepmother. My stepmom and I rarely watched TV together. She did not help me decide which shoes or jewelry to wear. She never knowingly let me borrow her clothes, although I did sneak items out of her extensive wardrobe occasionally. My stepmother and I had a cold, distant relationship. There was no communication, trust or support. One of my biggest fears as a parent is that things will be the same for my daughter and me.

The book she made gives me hope. When I read reasons like “I can trust you with anything,” “You never let me down,” “You never doubt me” and “You always make sure I am happy,” I think that maybe, just maybe, I am doing some things right. Maybe, just maybe, our relationship will survive her teenage years, and the two of us will stay close. That would be the greatest gift of all.

There were funny cards in the book too, which is fitting because my daughter is a silly, lighthearted kid. “You scream every time we watch a horror movie” cracked me up because it’s true. She and my son argue about who has to face the embarrassment and shame of sitting next to me when we see scary films in the theater. “You taught me to embrace my inner nerd” made me laugh too, but it also made me proud. I want my daughter to be confident of her intelligence, to never play dumb or downplay it. As her mother, and as a woman, that is one of the most important things I can teach her.

There were many cards in the book that described how she views me as a person, not just her mother, and they gave me the impression she might admire, respect and even like me a little. She obviously knows me well: The second to the last card read “You’ll probably be crying by now.” I was.

The final card said “You’re my mom, and you couldn’t have done a better job.” Well, I have my doubts about that sometimes, but I try to do my best. Apparently, my daughter thinks my best is good enough. Happy Valentine’s Day to me.

Freshman Year: Update From the Mama Front


Some local parents I know received an important letter this week. It informed them of their eighth graders’ class placements for freshman year. High school may still be months away for these kids, but the letter made it official: They will be going, whether or not their parents are ready.

I certainly was not ready when I got the letter last year. My son is my oldest child, so I had no clue about summer school or zero hour. Should he sign up for either or both? He received honors placements for every possible class, but should he take them all? Would the schedule overwhelm him? Would his grades suffer? How could he possibly juggle such a heavy course load and the rigorous practice schedule of marching band — not to mention all the other extracurricular activities he wanted to pursue? Would he have time to make friends and establish strong, meaningful social connections?

For me, the letter marked the beginning of my son’s journey into adulthood, and I was terrified. But you know what? We figured it out, and here we are, a year later; both of us have managed just fine. We made it through some major milestones — his week away at marching band camp, his first homecoming dance and final exams, to name a few. There were some tears (mostly mine), arguments and sleepless nights along the way, but this child of mine, this soon-to-be adult, not only survived the first half of freshman year, he exceled. He took all honors classes and participated in what seemed like a bazillion activities, yet somehow he managed to earn stellar grades. He also met some really great kids along the way. I know it’s only one semester. I know there will be challenges ahead. But so far he has demonstrated confidence, maturity and strength of character. I think he is ready to handle those challenges, and I am figuring out how to manage the way I worry about them.

This week local parents of freshmen, myself included, also received an important letter. It was about driver’s education class. Considering that my son is not even 15, it caught me a little off guard. I remembered my own ill-fated driver’s ed experience (I had to take it twice), but then I thought of the many hours of video games my son has played over the years. All those driving games would surely help him navigate the roads better than his mother, who could probably still benefit from a little Mario Kart practice at age 46.

I decided to file this particular letter under “things to worry about later.” The person I was last year would have been a mess after reading it. But the mother I am now, after the year of tremendous change and growth we both experienced, knows that the milestones are going to keep coming. Whether or not I am ready for them, they will continue to occur and in quick succession. I cannot stop them, but I can change how I react to them. If I deal with them as they happen rather than worrying about them for months in advance, I can manage them. At least I have so far.

Yesterday, I bought my son a new tie for the TWIRP (“the woman is required to pay”; we used to call it Sadie Hawkins back in the ’80s) dance this weekend. I also ordered a corsage for his date, a bright, lovely girl who goes to another high school. Am I nervous about him going to the dance? Not really. We already crossed off “first high school dance” from the milestone list, remember? Plus, I’m too busy being thankful he doesn’t have a license and won’t be driving to the dance. I have some time, a little bit anyway, before I have to worry about that one.

Back Off, Mama Bear

This morning I dropped off my son for his first day of finals as a high school freshman. I know he cares about his grades, and he says he studied. But how he does is entirely up to him. I can’t take the tests for him. Heck, I would probably bring down his GPA if I attempted the honor’s geometry exam. I can’t talk to the English teacher who he feels is being unfair. Well, I could. But I’m not going to. Sometimes mama bear has to back off. Today is one of those times.

I will admit to having been an overbearing, overprotective, borderline obsessive-compulsive parent when my son was small. He was my first child, I had no idea what I was doing, and my biggest fear was of doing the wrong thing or, worse yet, not doing enough. I anally retentively organized his Lego blocks, dinosaurs and Matchbox cars into labeled bins. Each night, as we cleaned up the playroom, I followed closely behind him, sorting through the toys he carelessly tossed into the wrong bins. I made sure the Spider-Man puzzle wasn’t missing any pieces and all the Imaginext figures were on board their pirate ship. I maintained the order in our little universe because I could and thought I should.

But what if I hadn’t picked up all the pieces and erased every mistake? Would it really have mattered if a Lincoln Log turned up in the Thomas the Tank Engine bin?

I look back and cringe at my perfectionist self in those early years. I micromanaged every aspect of my son’s day based on all the parenting books I read. I knew what to expect when I was expecting, during my son’s first year and when he was a toddler. I kept careful track of his progress, visiting the pediatrician more times than I care to admit when he didn’t fall within the range of what the books described as “normal.” I knew that healthy sleep habits make a happy child — thanks to the similarly titled book by Dr. Marc Weissbluth, which I read multiple times — and I rigidly enforced nap and bed times to the point of turning down playdates and leaving parties early. My parenting bibles gave me a sense of control amid the chaos of the early years of being a first-time mother.

When my son started kindergarten, I redirected my need for control to my own life and went back to work part time. Having a focus outside the house, even though I worked from home, helped me regain my sanity, and I think it also benefited my second child. I enrolled her in preschool five days a week at age 3. In the afternoons, when she was home, I sometimes had to conduct an interview or finish an article. She colored in my office, watched a video or played by herself in her room. My work deadlines kept me from obsessing over missing puzzle pieces or misplaced toys. My daughter was, and is, confident, assertive and independent, and I think that has something to do with me being forced to back off with my mama bear ways.

It’s still there, though, that urge to step in and fix things, especially with my son because I did it for so many years. After I dropped him off this morning, I thought about calling the English teacher with whom he is struggling. Would it be so bad for me to interfere — just a little? Yes, it would. I have to let him try to work out this problem on his own first because soon enough he will be heading off to college, and mama bear isn’t allowed there — or at least shouldn’t be.

Mama bear is backing off today, but that doesn’t mean I’m not worried about my son. It doesn’t mean I don’t love him. It means that I know if I keep cleaning up his messes and erasing his mistakes, he will never learn to do it for himself. Sometimes doing nothing is harder than doing something. Today is one of those times.

Kindergarten: a simpler time, when mama bear could, and did, fix everything.

Kindergarten: a simpler time, when mama bear could, and did, fix everything.

When Mom Is the Problem

Dear Daughter,

The other day I realized something I guess I had been trying to ignore. As we drove to school, you were more withdrawn and serious than usual. We had argued about you not wearing a coat that morning, but I thought you were quiet because you were tired and dreading another long day at school. When you stepped out of the car, however, your entire demeanor changed. You smiled, you chatted with your best friend, you were happy. It was then that I knew exactly what the problem was: me.

It’s OK and normal for you to feel that way. When you are 12 years old, everything your mother does is a) annoying, b) embarrassing or c) both. I felt the same way at your age. Whatever my stepmother said or did made me cringe, and I did my best to keep my distance from her. I spent my free time alone in my room or with my friends, and always as far away from her as possible.

Intellectually, as a woman, I understand and empathize with you. Emotionally, as your mother, it breaks my heart. I hated my stepmother at your age, and my girlfriends all had issues with their moms. Somehow, though, I was under the impression things would be different with my own daughter. It turns out I was wrong. The little girl who clung to my leg for dear life as a toddler now can’t seem to wait to get away from me. It kills me to admit this, but I know it’s true.

We’ve been arguing more and more lately, and I know some of it is my fault. Your attitude toward me makes me angry and tense. I’m on edge whenever I ask you to do something because I’m not sure what your reaction will be. I know that sometimes I lash out too quickly and respond more severely than I should. For that I am sorry. But I am not sorry about calling you out when you treat me with disrespect. I want to be your friend, but I am your mother first. As I have told you many times before, you can think whatever you want about me. How you treat me, however, is not negotiable.

These next few years are going to be challenging for us. I am feeling the full weight of that after watching you walk into school with your friend the other day. I know you are growing up and that part of the process is to separate from your parents and form your own identity. But please don’t think I’m going to let you pull away completely. I’m not ready to give up my position in your world even though I do accept that I am no longer the center of it. I’m still going to ask about your day. I’m still going to coax you out of your room to watch TV or go for a run with me. I’m still going to take you to lunch or the mall once in a while, even though I know you’d prefer to go with your friends. When we’re out I’m going to put down my phone and talk to you and tell you to do the same. I’m going to ask questions, I’m going to embarrass you, I’m going to annoy you.

I’m going to do all those things because I am your mother, and you will always be the center of my world. Get used to it, kiddo. I’m not going anywhere. And someday, I hope, you’ll be happy about that.



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The Bad Wife

I dreaded my husband’s business trips when our kids were young. Parenting alone for a few days several times a month left me in need of therapy, a vacation, or at the very least a case of wine and a visit from the fairy housekeeper. I missed his help more than his company when he traveled back then. Perhaps that sounds coldhearted and selfish, but anyone who has single-handedly wrangled a baby or toddler will understand.

Nope. That's not me. (Image source:

In the tween and teen years, parenting alone is trying but manageable. The angst, attitude and backtalk stress me out, but at least my kids are old enough that I can reason with them some of the time. And because they are independent and more or less self-sufficient, this mother’s work actually is done at the end of the day. When my husband is away now, I miss his company because I do fine without his help, usually at least.

His latest trip has been a different experience for us here at home. One of our kids is having a tough time, and life has been more than a little challenging. (As much as I would like to talk about it here, I can’t, because I have to respect my child’s privacy. I’m starting to understand why people blog anonymously. Self-censorship sucks.) In light of our struggles, you would think I would want my husband here with me.

Instead I’m enjoying a few days of freedom. There’s nothing sordid to tell. I haven’t been out boozing, gambling or carousing — at least not yet. Actually, I’ve been home every night since he left.

I’m a bad wife not because of anything I’ve done while he’s away but because I’m relieved that he’s gone.

For the past few days, I haven’t worried a bit about being unemployed for the past four months. While the kids are at school, I write and work out at my leisure because he isn’t here to see me slacking. In the evenings, I relax on the couch in front of the TV without a twinge of regret because he isn’t still working in his office upstairs. I do whatever the hell I want, when I want, and I revel in it.

I’m a bad wife because even though my husband has supported me lovingly and completely ever since I lost my job, I still think I’ve let him down. He’s given me no reason to feel this way, none whatsoever. It’s all in my insecure, delusional head. He wants me to be able to relax and do the things that make me happy. Instead, I’ve relegated myself to serf status in my own home because I think I am not carrying my weight financially.

I’m a bad wife for the same reasons I’m a good mother: I would rather give support than receive it. I want to be the caregiver not the patient. I want to heal my family’s wounds, while ignoring my own. If I want to be a good wife who is worthy of my even better husband, I have to allow him to take care of me a little. I have to admit I need the emotional Band-Aid of someone telling me it will all be OK.

This bad wife could really use a good husband right now. Thank goodness he comes home tomorrow.

I Got a Rock

I’ve always been a Halloween girl. My birthday is Oct. 28, so I guess that’s not a surprise. I couldn’t wait to dress up and trick or treat as a kid. I never missed “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown” and could even recite more than a few of the lines. Now, as a 45-year-old mom, I love to experience all the ghoulish glories of my favorite holiday vicariously through my children.

Or at least I used to.

I made their costumes by hand (well, I did one year anyway). I covered my shrubs in cobwebs and planted tombstones and skulls in my flowerbeds. Mummies, skeletons and giant spiders welcomed visitors on our porch. The living room looked as if Frankenstein had vomited pumpkins, ghosts and witches all over it. Not a spot in the house went undecorated. Halloween was everywhere.

My little Indian chief, age 3, in his handmade (by Mom) costume

My little princess, age 2 (did I mention I made her costume?)

But this year was different.

I only dug out one bin of decorations from the basement (I have at least five). The porch featured three Pottery Barn-esque clay jack-o’-lanterns and a tasteful copper skeleton. I left the cobwebs to nature, and Frankenstein never even made it out of the crawlspace.

It’s hard to feel, well, Halloween-y when your kids reach the tween and teen years. They want to trick or treat alone or at least at a distance. First you are relegated to the end of the block; eventually you aren’t even asked to tag along.

This year my 13-year-old wandered the neighborhood with his horde of fellow hoodlums, I mean, teenagers. My 11-year-old trick-or-treated and partied with her best friend’s family. And my husband and I stayed at home to hand out candy.

I have to admit that I was more than a little bummed to be left out of the holiday revelry. I wore my hot pink skull T-shirt. I stocked my cauldron with fun-size chocolate bars. But I just wasn’t feeling it.

Until 15 teenage girls and boys descended upon our house.

Don’t worry. They were invited. My husband and I skipped the Halloween fun this year so our son could host an after-party. Chaperoning is far less exciting than partying, but it was a great group of kids and we didn’t have any problems. The kids exchanged candy and ate pizza. I think there may even have been a game of Truth or Dare in the basement. But of course I can’t be certain because I never, ever spied on them.

Who am I kidding? Of course I did a little spying. I was thrilled to overhear more than one of the kids say they had a great time, and someone actually told my son his parents were cool.

It was a very different Halloween this year. It wasn’t all about me. In fact, it wasn’t at all about me. But my teenager and his friends had an awesome night.

You know what, Charlie Brown? I’ll take that rock.

Who Is This Teenage Tyrant and What Has He Done With My Son?

My sweet little guy, contemplating the universe, at age 6

My firstborn will turn 13 in less than a month, and let’s just say his attitude toward me has soured a bit in recent weeks. What once would have been a simple dialogue about what time he should leave for the bus turns into an all-out argument. My “suggestion” that navy blue and black do not go together is met with a dramatic roll of the eyes and a very audible sigh.

(Disclaimer No. 1: I feel it is my duty to intervene when the men in my life make fashion mistakes. I am certainly no fashionista — I purchase most of my clothes en route to the checkout at Target — but I know a blatant “don’t” when I see one. Plus, his father used to wear white tennis shoes in public, and he doesn’t even play tennis. Someone has to stop the cycle.)

The eyeroll-sigh combo is not something with which I am unfamiliar. My 11-year-old daughter, whom I adore (Disclaimer No. 2), has been shooting looks and stomping her feet since she was 3 (or was it 2?). But my son, the sweet angel boy who worships the ground I walk on? This is definitely new for him, and I don’t like it one bit.

Believe me, I understand teen angst. I was quite salty and rebellious in my teenage days (my husband might argue that some things never change). At 11, during the summer before seventh grade, I moved in with my father and new stepmother. My father and I hadn’t lived together since my mother died when I was a toddler, and my stepmom was 28 years old and had no children of her own. My teen years were a bumpy ride, to say the least.

Because it was such a particularly stressful period in my life, I kept a daily journal (there were no blogs in the late ’70s, folks). I guess that is part of why I remember it so vividly. I felt hurt, angry, resentful and unequivocally misunderstood. And so, as I remind myself constantly, I get this. I know what my son is going through, at least from the female perspective of being a teenager. But as his mother, it doesn’t make it any easier.

What gets me more than the bad attitude is that I just plain don’t want him to grow up. I’m not ready and don’t think I ever will be. So every once in a while, when I catch a glimpse of my sweet little boy in my almost teenager, I greedily gobble up the memory.

The other night, when he came home from swim practice, he bounded into the living room with his arms wide open and a big smile on his face. “How’s my favorite lady in the whole world doing?” he said, and gave me a bear hug. I knew that an hour later he’d be arguing with me about going to bed, but I held on tight and savored the moment anyway.

Do you have a teenager at home? How do you cope? This mama would love to hear your thoughts.