Category Archives: adolescence

Bend Without Breaking

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Bend Without Breaking

It’s 7:50am and I’ll already spent, f*cking exhausted. I woke up to the sound of an alarm clock down the hall which rang out on three separate occasions before I finally gave up and got out of bed somewhere south of six am. I went down and fed the dog, realized (again) that I need to buy dog food or I’ll also be a chef to my mutt.

Next stop is the kitchen to make sandwiches. Yes, my kids are old enough to make their own but they don’t so I make them lunch before I get my coffee. Then I go upstairs to make sure my daughter is up (chronic snooze button addict). Chances are good that I’ll get a curt answer or a protest of some sort. If it’s a good day, she’ll be out of bed getting ready. My son across the hall is still sleeping, he gets ready in eight minutes and seems undisturbed by the alarm clock. If there’s ever a fire, I’ll need to go to his room first, deep sleeper.

Around 7:20am I start announcing the “we need to leave” warning. Sometimes I hear a muffled “OK” or some other indication that I’ve been heard. Other days I need to knock on the door and remind myself to smile and talk softly when I tell my girl for the 5th time that we need to leave. Some days there are threats of I’ll make you take the bus or you’ll have to ask Dad to drive you. I rarely follow through. You may be judging me right now and that’s fine. I have to weigh these moment to moment situations and be ready to pivot in an instant. My goal is to get them to school, something my daughter doesn’t want to do most days.

She’s having a hard time right now, 8th grade is a bitch. I won’t do a deep dive into the details because she deserves her privacy. Suffice it to say I worry about her emotionally and physically. I constantly ask myself if I am doing the right thing, going to the right doctors, saying the right words, applying the perfect level of pressure. Finding the balance between when to push forward with accountability and when to ease off out of compassion. Vying for that sweet spot of raising a human that can bend without breaking. This is emotional labor.

 

 

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‘Tis the Mofo Season…

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‘Tis the Mofo Season…

It’s been a morning straight out of the children’s horror section, made me think of this –

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My bad morning started last night when I received this email from the school district Superintendent :

I am communicating at this time to inform you that we were notified by the XXXXX Borough Police Department that a potential threat was made to our schools. We are taking direction from the police department with regard to this threat as they continue to investigate the situation. We are going to have police presence at all of our schools tomorrow. We will also increase staff vigilance with regards to this potential threat to our schools. This is all the information we have at this time. We will keep you updated as we receive more information.​

I told my kids about it and said we would make a decision about school in the morning (this morning). I was up at 6am and my daughter was awake already wanting to know the answer. She had a doctor appointment at 7am so we both needed to be up and out. I was still on the fence with school, so I asked for a few minutes to see if there were updates. This is now part of parenting in 21st century America. Parents doing the mental gymnastics to sort out if it is worth sending our kids to school the last day before winter break when there is an unspecified threat.

The initial response is hell no, keep them home. Then you wonder if this starts to happen on the regular, do you just home school or pick and chose which days to send them in if there has been a non-specific threat? If it’s finals week do you roll the dice and hope it’s just a hoax, knowing you will never forgive yourself if they get harmed at school? We got lucky because the school district decided to close in an “abundance of caution” and I felt my small town breath a collective sigh of relief.

One of my friends who doesn’t have kids commented that she can’t imagine what it is like to parent in 2018. This is how I responded:

It’s like diving off of a cliff in the dark and you don’t know what you’re diving into – it could be a soft fluffy mattress, shark invested waters or rocks, no one knows. #Parenting2018

School was closed and I got my daughter to her appointment. At 8am I received a panicked call from my new client who insisted he had a doctor appointment to get to at 8:45am. I immediately left my house to fetch him and his wife who are both in their 90s. Did I mention that it is pouring out, because of course it is. I get my clients to the doctor and was informed that Rob’s appointment is on Monday (sure, why not).

Rob (embarrassed): I hope you are counting your hours.

Me: I am Rob, this though, this never happened. Consider it a test run. I’ll see you at 12:30 to go to Physical Therapy (that’s confirmed).

I get my new friends tucked in their house and head to the grocery store to tick some things off my to do list which is the length of a CVS receipt. I stop at the pet store first, the register isn’t working properly. It’s fine, I’m smiling at this nonsense by now.

 

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This is a CVS receipt well over 5 feet long, he purchased 3 items. My to do list is just as long with no “extra bucks” (well except for the extra bucks I spend).

When I leave the pet store, I notice I have a voice mail from my mother. Her cat needs to be put down, she’s 18 and has been sick, can’t pee or poop. Her vet is 45 minutes away and my mom got lost the last time she went. I called my local vet and got her in for this afternoon when I can go. So yes, this day may very well end with a dead cat because, of course it f*cking will.

I’ve now finished at the dermatologist, doctor’s office and the pet store (it’s barely 9am). Next stop is the grocery store. I can’t buy everything I need for Christmas Eve yet because I need fresh fish for the 7 fishes feast. I go to get bread in the bakery and realize – holy sh*t I need to order a birthday cake for my sister in-law. The lady behind the counter looks at me like I’m on fire – what idiot orders a cake 2 days ahead at the busiest time of the year (guilty as charged). I apologize profusely and explain it can be any chocolate cake with happy birthday on it. She obliges me (she’s a mom, she knows how nuts life is for us).

Then I wander around the store trying to go through the mental list of what I can buy now and what needs to wait until Sunday. At one point I found myself staring at the beef broth, overwhelmed. My brand wasn’t there which threw me into a quandary. I went back and forth a few times before I settled on something unfamiliar.

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Finished at the grocery store, I’ve moved on to Chick-fil-A where I beg for high quantities of chicken nuggets before 10am. My daughter is hosting a gift exchange party tonight (because of course she is). They take pity on me and I get 60 nuggets at the crack of 10am. While I’m waiting my friend texts me pics of her beautiful dinning room table which is set for a Christmas Dinner. I note that I will never be that much of an adult and that I would love to use paper plates – compostable ones because I’m not a monster (yet).

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Far, Far Away

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Far, Far Away

Scene: A middle-aged woman walks into an upscale chain restaurant (is that an oxymoron?).

Me: Hi, I’m meeting a friend for lunch, we would like a table for two.

Host: Do you have a reservation?

Me: (Slowly turns head from right to left and counts 5 patrons on my left hand as I spy with my little eye a dozen or so bored employees standing around) No sir, I do not have a reservation, think you could squeeze us in?

Host: Right this way Miss. (He knows I’m not a Miss but guys in any kind of service industry know better than to say Ma’am to any woman under the age of 80 In New Jersey. Southern friends you get a pass and with that accent you can say Ma’am and no one gets offended however, if you bless my heart, I’ll know we have an issue.)

Me: Super, thanks.

So this friend and I haven’t seen each other in a handful of years. We’re both 50 now, we met when we were 15 and became roommates in an adolescent rehab in Long Branch, New Jersey. You probably would never be able to guess this if you were looking at us from afar, just two humdrum moms or perhaps business associates having lunch. I was wearing nice pants and a chenille sweater (I know, I can’t believe chenille is back in style! I love it until you wash it and then the material disintegrates like makeup melting in the summer sun). My friend wore a cute blazer and a beautiful necklace, we were quite civilized, at least if you were judging us on our apparel.

A friendship that spans more than three decades is equal parts decadent and comforting. There is an easiness and a candor to our conversation which surpasses most friendships. We talked about some awful things yesterday; death, health issues and politics. We shared our inner most feelings about our parents which would surely be met with some shock and disdain by a more casual observer, someone who didn’t know our individual histories. There is nothing casual about this friendship though, we have been in the trenches together and on separate paths, and damn it if we both aren’t frickan’ amazing.

The world was not kind to either one us when we met. She came from a family that looked perfect on the outside and was the stuff of nightmares once you pulled up the rug to take a peek. Her father physically beat her, her mother enabled it and added her own emotional and verbal abuse to the toxic mix. Both of her parents worked full time and lived in a desirable neighborhood in Monmouth County. It was a sprawling suburban oasis which bordered more rural areas. They were the kind of people that would send out a Christmas letter which contained a recipe for something delicious while listing the academic achievements of their two children. The letter would include a photo of all four wearing LL Bean with a festive backdrop. Lies, all lies.

My crazy was less subtle. I came from a broken single parent household with a mother who had stopped drinking a few months prior. I didn’t have a tattoo, if I did it would just be three letters – FTW. I was writing that on everything jeans, notebooks, walls, this was in the 80s so I feel like I should get partial credit for the rise of WTF, but I digress. I was a hot little mess and there was no mistaking me for the future Homecoming Queen. I was goth before goth was a thing and the chip on my shoulder was the size of a flying saucer.

So here I was goth girl with the yuppie who wore Ocean Pacific. We found common ground as we were both taking French at the time and shared a tutor named Maximilian. Max was great. He treated us like we were worthwhile, had a genuine interest in our well being and didn’t try to sleep with us (that was shockingly rare). He was keenly interested (or at least made me believe he was) in my profoundly dramatic and somewhat awful poetry. He even gave me a journal so I would have something special to write my poems in, it was incredibly thoughtful. In return, I introduced him to blueberry Hubba Bubba which may have been the single worst gum ever invented. Max, always the gentleman, accepted this token of my affection as if it was a Parisian gourmet treat.

Sample of profoundly dramatic and somewhat awful poetry:

You can never catch me

I’m never within your reach

you just have to set me free

like the waves on the beach

It was March of 1984 when Genevieve and I crossed paths. It was her first stay and my second. My first introduction to our juvie resort was in October of 1983 when I, by some miracle, actually decided to get sober. I got out in December of 1983 and my mother immediately got remarried. That marriage was incredibly brief and led to a cataclysmic shake up of what was once a family of three – my mother, twin brother and I. Our little family was scattered into the universe – my mother trying to find a safe place to start over, my brother couch surfing with friends and I got sent to a cult farm in upstate New York which claimed to be a recovery halfway house (that’s a book all by itself). I ran away from that place after a month and was basically homeless. The rehab in Long Branch agreed to take me in until I could get into another halfway house (one less cultish, Koolaid optional).

From fifteen until now, so much life has been lived, good and bad times. We used to go to AA meetings and often found ourselves at the same one on Tuesday nights. It was there that I found out that Genevieve went “out” again and used. I was devastated, I sobbed and feared for the worst. We had both been sober a couple of years at this point which was remarkable. We watched the revolving door of recovery enough to know that plenty of people never make it back. She did though, a testament to her own strength. I don’t think I have another recovery in me which is why I have been sober since 1983, I’m pretty sure I would lose myself into a permanent oblivion if I ever “slipped”. Slipped isn’t that a nice word for the potential to destroy your life…moving on.

We got sober as teenagers, we are both living, breathing miracles. We did the stuff that teens do – dated inappropriate guys, most of whom were not worthy of us. I say that looking back at a girl who had no self-esteem and shitty role models. I was the poster child for the fragile no-daddy girl, she hated her father, we were both ripe for bad relationships. She married her worst mistake, I dated mine off and on for 4 agonizing years. In between we commiserated and went out to clubs with big hair, high hopes and short skirts.

She had her first baby when we were 19 and she married a guy that beat her when she was pregnant. I threw her baby shower and saw some suspicious bruises, she never admitted it, but I knew. By the grace of God she left that relationship. She worked and put herself through college while her daughter was a baby and into the toddler years. She became a CPA and made her way up the corporate ladder. She met a nice guy about 25 years ago and they got married and had two children. Her path was slow but steady and she fought tooth and nail for everything she got.

I was in a bad relationship in my early twenties that held me back from my own potential. When it ended, I set up a 5 year plan which included finishing my BA and purchasing a house. The most empowering thing I ever did was to buy a house at age 30 and wouldn’t you know it, I closed on Genevieve’s birthday. A few years later, I married the right guy and we have two teenagers, a large dog, a gecko and a carnival goldfish with a will to live which defies logic. When I say that I am living beyond my wildest dreams, it is sincere. I didn’t dare to dream of the life I have now.

So here we were, having lunch…two miracles sitting at the table speaking our minds with the freedom of that invisible safety net of a friend who knows your history. Someone who saw you as a phoenix rising from the ashes…we both flew far, far away.

 

 

Blur

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Blur

Halloween as always been one of my favorite days of the year. I love to dress up, marvel at the decorations and of course, CaNdY!!! My kids love it too. The past few years we have split up. Me with one kid and their group of friends and the other with a different group in another neighborhood. Everyone dressed up and candy was abundant. This year things changed. My oldest didn’t really get to “trick or treat”, his friends weren’t into it. My youngest, didn’t want me around. This is as it should be at their ages. Just another reminder that this sweet time of parenting when we share a home and talk every day, it’s going to end in a handful of years.

It’s seems like yesterday or maybe a week, a few years ago at most, that I dressed up as Cat in the Hat with Thing 1 and Thing 2 by my side. A more accurate description would be Thing 1 holding on tight with his right hand secure in my left. Thing 2 was riding my hip, arms loose around my neck. I was sweaty from exertion and they were just plain hot in fuzzy costumes.

I’ll never forget that Halloween, my kids were 3 and 5 years old. We met a friend and her family for pizza in a town that celebrates Halloween on an epic level. Our littles were in preschool then. We were on the precipice of big changes, elementary school was around the corner and we were trying to soak in the last bits of a schedule that wasn’t encumbered by school district rules. It was a glorious time and I was too exhausted most days to fully appreciate it.

That Halloween was unusually warm and the “Thing” costumes were not designed for that level of heat. We didn’t make it far that night, a few blocks at most. The uneven sidewalk, perpetual lack of sleep and the physical strains of being weighted unevenly on one side for hours was catching up to me. I was relieved to get them in the car and back home before long. It was a short drive but Thing 2 was also weary. I had to carry her sweaty, sleeping body into the house from the car. Then I tried to slip her out of her costume and into bed without waking her, mission not accomplished (sigh).

I ran a tight ship in those days, kept a schedule. It took so long for my oldest to sleep through the night, that I made a bedtime ritual mandatory. I tried everything – baths, books, warm milk, sprayed the room with monster deterrent (water) and finally resorted to meditation CDs. At 5, he was finally getting the hang of it. I tried to stick to that schedule because I had years of sleep to catch up on. My husband traveled almost constantly during this phase so I was on my own most nights.

Fast forward to my “Things”, 13 & 15 and oh, what I wouldn’t give to relive that night. That friend from the pizza place, she passed away nearly five years ago. She died on Thing 2’s 9th birthday. We knew it was inevitable, she fought cancer and the horrific effects of chemo since the birth of her son who is the same age as mine (Thing 1). And our boys, they’re still friends. I’ve kept a vigil on that as I promised I would. It was an unspoken promise, the one you make in your heart when the words can’t come out because you want to be brave but you’re jello inside. So I guess I should stop lamenting over the passage of time and all that is getting to be in the rear view mirror, because I got to be here for it.

 

Troubled

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Troubled

Something was posted in the New York Times recently, no, not that. Something that struck a nerve in me which, is still reverberating from the pluck.

Liz (pictured in the article) and I have gotten to know each other over the past year. We share a common horrific thread of having known Tony & Betty Argiros who ran “The Family” and founded the Family Foundation School (FFS). Trust me I can see the humor in FFS as the acronym. Sadly that is the only humorous take away.

I met the Argiros in the winter of 1984 as a homeless teenager. I was basically sent to their group home/working farm in Long Eddy, NY because I had no where else to live. My family imploded due to a recent disastrous second marriage for my mother. I was newly sober and not one relative would take me in.

This place seemed like a reasonable option, it wasn’t. Since I couldn’t live with my family, I was sent to “The Family”. It was a cesspool of abuse on a level I had never previously encountered. I grew up with an abusive alcoholic mother and no father so I was pretty familiar with neglect and abuse was no stranger either, this place was next level horrible. The atrocities I saw/heard/experienced there nearly 35 years ago can still cause me tears or make my blood boil with anger. I say this as a person who has been sober for over three decades. It’s a dark, depressing rabbit hole I don’t dive into often these days as my life has been blessed beyond anything I could have imagined.

The FFS closed in 2014 thanks to a tireless campaign coordinated by alumni who fearlessly and publicly told their tales of horror. I didn’t even know the school opened until about 3 years ago when another person who went to the farm reached out to me through my blog. I felt physically ill when I heard that the Argiros expanded their reign of terror. I also felt guilt for not doing more to shut them down in the 80s. I told the authorities in upstate NY about the abuse when I ran away but the place was set up to avoid a lot of scrutiny and I was a “troubled” teenager therefore, I lacked credibility.

I am posting this because Liz is a champion of keeping awareness in the spotlight. She also keeps track of alumni deaths from FFS. Over 100 alumni have died that Liz knows of – many were suicide or substance abuse related. That’s over 100 people under 50 years old, many under 40, young adults. No one is sure how many alumni there are (hundreds. a thousand?) but they seem to be dying off at an extraordinary pace.

If you or someone you know is considering an aggressive treatment facility for a teenager, please be vigilant and doggedly research the program. The names and locations change but these places, they still exist.

 

Eighth Grade, a Movie Review

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Eighth Grade, a Movie Review

Tonight I went to see ‘Eighth Grade’ written and directed by Bo Burnham. I went with two eighth graders so naturally I was sitting in a completely different section of the theater by myself with my mom shield around me. No one got within 10 feet of me, the leg room was amazing and I didn’t have to share popcorn, not all bad.

This is a coming-of-age story in a modern setting. Social media, selfies, the isolation of adolescence are portrayed in a poignant and realistic manner. The movie follows the main character, Kayla (played masterfully by Elsie Fischer), through her last week of eighth grade.

A lot of territory is covered in this movie – the slippery slope of acting like you have more experience than you do, the panic of walking into a party, the social hierarchy of middle school, apologizing for things that aren’t your fault and the tension between parents and teens in this phase of life.

The movie is well done and some of the scenes are so realistic you will cringe. The one bit I had a hard time believing was how nice one high school character was portrayed. Another scene riled up the momma bear in me, opportunists are everywhere.

The part that bothered me most though was the active shooter drill and the shelter in place scenes. As a mother of two teens, that was a punch in the gut. Googling blow jobs, practicing on bananas, being around peers that act like assholes, that’s the normal stuff of adolescence, active shooter drills are a new sad necessity.

It was a great movie and provided a lot of opportunities for talking points (once the friend got dropped off). I recommend it for ages 13 and up, not appropriate for younger kids.

 

 

 

Photo credit: Copyright: <a href=’https://www.123rf.com/profile_thandra’>thandra / 123RF Stock Photo</a>