I’m a believer that when you look good, you feel good. And looking good involves a good hair style and make-up. It may not be the most ardently feminist position I could take, but it’s always worked for me. (frankly, this is not just for girls, but the teenage boy seems to be more generally resistant). And looking good doesn’t have to mean looking like everyone else or that you have to be classically beautiful. In fact, it shouldn’t. Sure, that girl is pretty. But how about you? There is no need to look like anyone else, as that look is already taken. I believe you can be yourself and still be fabulous.
Hence, the make-over lesson. Which in my definition means more than just a hair and clothes overhaul, but also self-care which starts with skin and make-up. One thing you can be sure of, if you don’t teach this stuff, the internet will. And that usually doesn’t end well, with some pretty caked on versions of so-called contouring.
So far it looks like only one of my four girls is ready to start this conversation, even though technically Milla and Em are the same age. Milla has already decided, I look good enough without makeup, thanks anyway. And she may forever be that person, content with who she is. The other two girls are still too young.
But Em and I are going to play. (added value is a great bonding opportunity!)
I hate to say it, but my youngest son, Leopold, has become a savage monster.
What happened to my baby who loved dinosaurs and Legos, and puzzles and wooden toys and even dressing up dolls on occasion? Slowly but steadily, he’s moved from an innocent obsession with bombs and boogers to full throttle violence with a capital V.
Leopold used to sit happily while his nails were painted a delicious rainbow of sparkles by four giggling older sisters. But today, he wants no part of it, unless maybe the color is blood red. Everything lately has become guts and gore. If he does play with Legos, it’s to fashion a knife that he uses while pretending to be a hired hitman. He then artfully executes me while I’m working unsuspectingly at my laptop. Or, he snaps those colorful blocks together to make some kind of dismemberment machine for the tiny lego men, which leaves their little lego heads strewn all over the house.
I don’t remember the older boys being this brutal.
I’m not usually one to consult child development books or parenting how-to’s – I’m the So-Called Mom, remember? – but this raised enough of a concern that I fled to my library for some of my own extra-curricular. I chose the obvious: It’s a Boy: Understanding Your Son’s Development from Birth to Age 18. At first glance, this book describes how parents often overreact to boy aggression at ages five to seven, but apparently this is how they develop “leadership skills” and become “socially resilient.” (I have put these in quotes because apparently these are our culture’s measure of “success”.) In essence, the book instructed me to trust Leopold’s violent play, and that he will eventually self regulate through friends.
Now that’s what the usual mom might do. But I’m not so usual. I don’t just accept the so-called truth. I think there’s other culprits at play here beyond the usual “age appropriate behavior.”
I think it’s screens.
I think screens have changed the rules in ways we are only recently starting to examine. As screens have taken precedence over almost every single activity and norm (research, family photography and filming, social interactions, of course all kinds of games), it seems naive to accept childhood violence as being strictly developmentally appropriate.
For instance, Leopold has learned about torture devices from his older brothers’ video games and watching YouTube at unmonitored moments—and not from watching Fox News or Bob the Builder. He not only has learned all about weapons and killing, but he has a clear understanding that they are for heroes and that the bad guys need to die. And is Leopold just embellishing with his own active imagination? I think it’s more insidious.
I think Leopold takes it to uncomfortable heights – or at least a level that I am uncomfortable with. He frequently jumps the shark when he Lego-bombs his sisters or attacks me with hand stripped twig-shanks. This isn’t in alignment with the material in that book which suggests that Leopold’s friends will guide him with age-appropriate behavior. That together, they make the rules and hold each other to them. So I’m just now learning (on kid 7) about the importance of friends–that no one can get by on family alone, no matter how many siblings you have to play with.
I think this is the cultural impact of the internet and screens.
To add to this, Leopold is an unbelievably muscular kid, who at five, doesn’t yet know his own strength. What he has already realized is he can use it to intimidate and destroy things. He breaks apart tree branches so they become varying weapons of mass destruction. He bears his chest with zero embarrassment and hulks his way around the house, slamming doors, throwing toys, unwary of anything in his path.
So yeah, I”m pulling the plug on him, just as I did with Milla. And it’s a safe bet that he’s going to like it even less. But I’m observing his innocence and inventiveness being ruined by this disturbing new kind of play, and at five, I can still influence most of what he does. I’m also ramping up in other ways to engage him, like enrolling him in some activities so he can socially engage with kids his own age. He will start a gymnastics course to help him redirect some of this boundless energy. Hopefully he’ll start focussing on walking on the balance beam rather than the pirate’s plank.
we haven’t had a proper date since the ratification of the 19th Amendment.
But yesterday we received some earnest money from the sale of our house, and while “date night” may not be at the top of most people’s priority list, it was on mine.
One thing Pippin rocks at is Dates, and how to make this tired mom of 7 feel like she’s the 25 year old with only three kids that he fell in love with. He took me to my favorite restaurant, Departure, which is at the top of the Nines Hotel. For those of you paying attention, Leopold was born in the corner suite on the 11th floor.
We got there early enough to savor a few cocktails at the bar and look into each other’s eyes the way we used to. All I cared about was cherishing the guy who knew intuitively how to keep our freak flag flying. Usually there’s so much going on in our lives, I don’t have a moment to think about tomorrow…I’m so busy reacting to today. Managing nine people who are growing in new ways every day, selling a house without having another in sight, an unplanned vacation in a couple of weeks – everywhere I look are potential mine fields of stress.
But the best part about last night was none of that existed.
Don’t get me wrong – being in the moment, where it’s just the two of us, takes real effort. It means shifting gears and forgetting I’m an entrepreneur, a wife and a mom. I’m talking about being good company, being present as a woman who is flirting with her man and even getting a little drunk. This way, when the bill comes, drinks and dinner don’t qualify as a tax write off—but as an aphrodisiac that holds us together until next time.
Look, I don’t pretend to be an expert at this. But if there’s anything I learned from finally finding Mr. Right (who also happened to be Mr. Third Times a Charm) and being able to stay with him for more than 10 years—it’s to pay close attention to each others needs. And that may include ordering a pizza or two and getting the hell out of Dodge on occasion.
Seeking that all important re-connection to your partner means reconnecting with who you are too. I tell myself often: At one point this was everything you wanted. And revisiting those feelings on a date that feels like the first one is very much reminding you that this was what you wanted. And it still is.
I can’t believe it, but Milla is already showing drastic improvement; and it’s been only a week since we discovered the issue. I was convinced Milla was traumatized beyond repair and that she would need several therapy sessions to help her process what happened. But literally pulling the plug on screen use has proven to be worth it’s weight in gold. The bulk of the issue was too much freedom—too much running wild, completely unleashed in the internet jungle. And so reeling it in has just about resolved the problem on it’s own.
She’s like a whole new kid.
And it feels like she’s happier than before. She has a sense of humor, is less irritable and even comes to check in with me throughout the day and night, wherever I am in the house. I love this!
Of course counseling will still be in the picture—I believe in giving all of my kids an opportunity to seek help with a professional—and having complete confidentiality. They can pour their hearts out one session at a time and gain an understanding about themselves in a way that I cannot teach. Milla will be able to learn some meaningful tools to help her cope in a busy world—with someone she trusts. I only wish I stepped in sooner to offer this.
I’ve also been policing her viewing history as I religiously collect both her iPhone and iPad every evening. She knows I look through it—the transparency has us trusting each other more. And she agrees that the freedom she has is enough and understands the freedom she had before was far too much. I should’ve been doing this from day one, but I’m glad I have a much better understanding now.
I randomly told the story to my doctor yesterday and she said that another patient of hers confessed to learning how to cut herself online—simply from being exposed to it as an option for self expression or anxiety relief.
We have to protect our kids better than this, I said.
Kids are so impressionable. Too much independence could easily yield a dangerous situation. When they become teens, everything rides on that edge of you can’t tell me what to do, you really don’t know anything at all. They seek other meaning—oftentimes opposite what you have told them. But this doesn’t mean Milla doesn’t need me anymore—it means she needs me now more than ever. I have come to understand this sort of backwards rationale.
Even though there is nothing more precious to me than my kids’ innocence and security, this So Called Mom has also been careless with it. I see it clearly now that Milla has directly experienced my lackadaisical approach to the online world. Consequently, ignorance is not bliss— it’s hazardous. Parenting teens means patrolling them too. Especially with their online usage—otherwise it’s all out of sight, out of mind.
If something is amiss, we need to ask ourselves, what is it they are not getting and how do I fulfill that need?
I understand this is a challenge—all moms are busy. There’s a lot that is demanded of us these days. But we need to engage, to stay involved and lean into it. Because what we don’t know will hurt us. We need to see the apps they have, the profiles they’re creating, the viewing history. We need to ultimately talk about the scary world they are navigating, and talk about it often. Even if we are afraid of what we’ll find, we need to stay connected and stay close by.
When I originally wrote about jobs, I was referring to four teenagers, who to date, have done nothing about getting jobs. It looks like drive in the family comes in the form of a nine year old.
Recently and for no apparent reason, Pascal took up the accordion – which in music terms is like deciding to study Swahili. Not exactly a popular choice or with any apparent value. But she wants one of her own (hers is borrowed)….Along with a new skateboard and other skateboarding gear. When I told her the standard parent answer: We aren’t made of money, she came back with a surprising response:
Let me play on the street for money. Like a street musician. I’ll earn it.
Rather than describe what happened, let me show you.
The girl raked in almost $50 in less than an hour. Yesterday, we sat at a new spot, just out of the rain for only 20 minutes and she earned $25. She’s hooked (I’m hooked!), so we are going back today. This is what I call resourceful.
And she’s not just self-serving: she’s been playing for the retirement home down the street, bringing joy to a grateful audience.
I know I’ve got to get on the older kids, but here’s hoping a nine year old can motivate the others, as to date, there has been zero follow through. That’s my goal for this week: bust some teenage ass.