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Saturday, November 29, 2014

When Your Holiday is Broken

Sometimes, things just don't go as we plan.

Life gets in the way. Things change. Families break up. Death, divorce, or separation come in like bulldozers, destroying everything we love.

Divorce comes in like a wrecking ball...

Sometimes, especially in the wake of a divorce, the changes can be a relief. No more fighting. No more tension. Freedom. Hope. A new future. A second chance.

Rebuilding means all of those things, and more. What was broken can be swept away, and rebuilt into something new, maybe something better. When a marriage has crumbled, it was because the foundations were not strong. Divorce, at least for me, meant that we were finally acknowledging that what was once "us" could no longer be saved.

Suddenly, everything has changed. 

The holidays, however, are about family. About tradition. About all those years we had together, and celebrating everything we'd built. Divorce's bulldozer has come in and taken all of that down, and, especially for the first few years, living in the wreckage is painful. Living in the wreckage, and trying to make it festive for the holidays? It's a recipe for despair.

The holidays are also an opportunity for rebuilding. You have a  new reality, a new family dynamic, so this is the time to celebrate the new beginnings... and to create new traditions of your own.

For me and the kids, that process has been a little rocky. The first year, they went with their Dad to the in-laws' for Christmas and Thanksgiving. I was fine with it- we had our "family" holidays a day after, with just the three of us. It was a little sad and awkward, but the kids had a nearly-normal holiday- celebrating with his family as we always had. And, they got a second celebration with me, a relaxed day of movie-watching and hanging out.

Then, their father moved out of state. Half-way across the country. Their lives changed, again. Last year's holidays were harder. The kids were struggling in school, and coming to terms with his slowly dwindling efforts at contact. We all hit a wall, a tsunami of depression and anxiety. We were swamped, but we kicked up, swam to the surface, and broke through. Both kids went onto home tutoring programs to finish out the school year. I dropped out of my college that semester. We made adjustments, and we moved on, together.

It's been rough, but with a little help from friends, we're conquering our giants.
Thing1's response to big problems seems especially appropriate. 

For Thanksgiving last year, my in-laws were out of town. The kids were facing their first holiday without any of the traditions they'd had their entire lives. I was determined that it would not be an empty holiday. We would have fun if it killed us. So, we saw Frozen. It wasn't a completely drama-free day, but we made memories. We were happy. We had so much fun, we decided to make Christmas a day of movie marathons. So, we watched The Avengers, The Life of Pi, and some Christmas movies. It was a good day.

This year, our Thanksgiving was a little different. The in-laws were in town, so they invited the kids over. I spent the day working, and planned on a big holiday for us on Friday.

The best laid plans often fall apart... and mine did. Big time. Thing1's best friend, Thing2, wanted to come over. He's here so often, he might as well be part of the landscape, so I thought sure, why not? It was only a minor adjustment in our plans- instead of eating at home, we'd go pick up Thing2, grab breakfast out, and swing home for a few minutes before the movie, in order to put the bird in the oven. It'd be ready when we got home.
I just needed to get it in the oven, and we'd be good to go...

Thing2 was late. No problem. We still had time... just... to get home and put the bird in the oven. It was all good... Until Thing1 had one of his famous mood swings. He went from relaxed and looking forward to the movies, to throwing a temper tantrum and arguing that he "never wanted to see the movie anyway," because he "didn't get a choice". (We'd discussed the movie line up and I'd specifically asked him if there was anything he'd rather do. When it comes to holiday plans, we work as a democracy.) The argument escalated, and he stomped off upstairs just as I finished putting the bird in the oven. Our plans for a movie were spoiled, and my habitual calm was shattered.

Furious, and more upset than I should've been, I went for a walk... and made it 1/4  mile up the road before my leg gave out. I limped home, in pain, and spent the rest of my day sulking behind my computer screen.

Babygirl, in a rare moment of teenage wisdom, (the kind that give me glimpses into her future as a thoughtful, amazing young woman), mentioned that her brother was just being a "self-centered teenage boy," and that it's "not about you, mama."

Not about me. There's a part of me that answers back, you're darn right it's not. It's about my kids. It's about our family. It's about us being happy and productive and stable.


Yesterday's meltdown told me something about myself. Sometimes, it IS about me. Friday's Thanksgiving celebration was supposed to be MY Thanksgiving. My kids had a Thanksgiving already. They had it with the in-laws, and the family of the father who abandoned them. I'm glad they had that time with the out-of-town cousins, aunts, and uncles they don't often see, but there is also loss... I used to be a part of a family, and now I'm not. It's a very strange and disorienting feeling. 

Yesterday was supposed to be about celebrating the new us. The kids and I. When I lost my chance at what should've been a happy family afternoon, I felt that loss, hard, and the grief and anger poured out. 

My holiday was broken, but I don't have to let it stay shattered. Christmas is a few short weeks away. We'll try again. We'll build another new tradition. Maybe we'll see a movie out, or maybe we won't. Maybe the kids will have something they want to do. It won't matter, as long as we do it together.

We may be broken, but we're rebuilding. And that's all that matters. 

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Meet the Wild Things

Life with teens isn't always parties and pizza and late-night phone calls.

When you're the mom (or the dad), life with teens can be aggravating. Frustrating. Exhausting. Expensive! And satisfying beyond belief.

Especially when your teens are as awesome as mine.

I'd like to introduce you to my family. I really would. I'd like to have everyone, or at least mostly everyone, I meet during my internet travels, over for steaks on the BBQ and a few sun-soaked hours lounging around the table out on our large enclosed porch, just chatting and laughing and getting to know one another.

The blessing, and the curse, of the internet is that it brings people from all over the world together, in this virtual place. So, in lieu of medium-rare steaks on the grill and a bottle of beer, I will share, briefly, my family. This is, after all, the very best I have to offer.

My beautiful BabyGirl.
My only regret with this photo is that she'd dyed her
rich red hair to black. It's taking forever to grow out again. 

This is BabyGirl, wearing her cast tee-shirt from her school's production of Phantom of the Opera last year. This girl isn't just gorgeous, she's got a set of pipes on her that can make a grown man cry. Seriously. She makes me cry all the time. And not just when we blow up at one another, either. The girl can sing. She's got the power and control that comes from several years of working with a really top-class instructor. I will forever be grateful to Mr. G for bringing out her confidence and teaching my little angel how to use her wings.

She wants to be a vet tech. She's graduating high school a full semester early, and will begin her college classes in the Spring of 2015. She's compassionate, empathetic, intelligent, and fierce, especially when it comes to her friends and family. She drives me crazy. She makes me proud. She scares the hell out of me sometimes because I know how far she can go, how stubborn she can be, and how soft her heart is. I know just how easily life could snap her up, chew her up, and spit out the pieces. I also know that she's strong. And she's going to be just fine. 

Thing1. My crazy ray of sunshine.

Meet Thing1. How do I describe him? He's a mystery wrapped in enigma. Every time I think I have him figured out, he enters a new stage of growing up and surprises me again. I'm both afraid and hopeful that he'll inherit some of his father's traits. And some of mine. 

He can be loud, vulgar, funny, and sweet, all in the span of seconds. He can go from out-of-control rage to rushing into a hug as if someone had flipped a light switch. He regularly places and wins in BMX races. He plays Minecraft. He excelled in home schooling, but was determined to return to the battleground of public school, and in his second year back is slowly, finally, winning back ground. He is succeeding. He doesn't know, yet, what he wants to be when he grows up. Probably something with computers. Or games. Maybe. At 14, he's got a lot of growing room left, and he needs to figure out how to fit into this gangly new body, with its voice cracks and sudden growth spurts, before he finds his niche.

"Don't let go, Jack!..." 
My kids have a goofy sense of humor. 
These two... they are my life. My heart, grown legs and gone walking around outside my body. They are my reason for being, for getting up in the morning, for fighting back the demons of ptsd, of insecurity. They are the reason that, every time life knocks me down, I dust myself off and come up swinging. Without them, I surely would've given up long ago.

They are my second chance. My song. The candles whose flame I hope will go on to light up their little corners of the world. Lord knows they've rekindled mine.

So, I've shared. Now, tell me a little about your teens, and your life together. What do you love most about your teenagers? What are their hopes and dreams? How have they changed your life?

We're all in this together, Mamas, and Papas! Let's do this.
The three of us in Niagara Falls, braving the roar of the water, together. 

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Mining for Understanding

Creepers. Endermen. Zombies. Spiders. Mods.

Are your kids speaking a foreign language? Or, are they just addicted to one of the world's most popular games: Minecraft?

I am here to steal your diamonds. And your time.

Whether you play on a PC, XBox, Playstation, or mobile device, chances are, you been invaded by this pixelated crack. At last count, the PC game has been downloaded over 17 million times. At $26.95 a pop, plus the recent sale of the title to Microsoft, you can bet the Mojang team are laughing all the way to the bank.

That's right, 17 MILLION.
It's even in our schools. 

Their gain is your frustration. Moms all over the internet describe kids who zone out for hours, "mining" in search of treasure, or building elaborate houses or other structures. They trade with villagers, grow crops, and fight mobs. (Which are, by the way, different from "mods". Get it right, or risk being the victim of an eye-roll.)

Not only are the kids playing the game you unwittingly plunked down thirty bucks to buy, they probably watch Youtube videos as well. Names like Etho, Captain Sparkles, and PewdiePie are whispered like charms to appease the vengeful Minecraft gods. There are inside jokes and secrets known only to denizens of the Minecraft world. There is more than treasure in the depths of the game. The delight of seeing Notch while playing on a "server" is only surpassed by the shock and fearful awe of glimpsing the mythical HeroBrian.

Would it kill this guy to blink once in a while? I mean, really. Holy creepy, HeroBrian!

By now, if you're like most moms, you're reaching for the Advil and Chardonnay, just thinking about it. Minecraft seems like an alien planet. You suspect that it's secretly a parasitic creature, crawling into your kids' vulnerable little heads and feasting on their growing brains.

Fear not, fellow Mamas. The addiction isn't fatal, and in fact, has real benefits for your kids, and, potentially, for you. As your tweens grow into teens, they may become withdrawn, quiet, and increasingly secretive. Even if you avoid the cliched "My parents are the enemy" attitude embraced by some young people, chances are you will sometimes struggle to make a connection with your child.

For those who are willing to take a step into their child's world, to learn something about the game that their kids are so passionate about, the rewards are better than finding a whole cache of diamonds. Since Minecraft has a connective feature, you and your child can play together. You can meet on common pixelated ground.  And, who knows? While beating a few zombies together, you might even... Talk. Laugh. Bond.

Your kid's obsession might seem weird, but it's important to him. 

Is it a stretch to think that a video game could produce a magical unicorn-and-bunnies-pooping-rainbows-all-over-the-living-room relationship with your kids?


Parenting takes work, and a few hours of sharing screens isn't going to be enough, on its own, to build a relationship. But it's not inconceivable that playing Minecraft could provide you with a shared interest, and give you something to talk about when everything else is just too awkward. Who knows, you might even find that you like playing. After all, it's not that different from Legos.

Remember these?
Bonus- You won't step on Minecraft blocks on your way to the bathroom at night!

Ready to give it a try? Or at least find out a little more about your kids addiction, and win the title of Coolest Mom Ever? Check out the video tutorial series I've created on Youtube, specifically for parents baffled by the phenomena known as Minecraft:

Happy mining.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Welcome to Life With Teens, and Other Wild Things

Life with teenagers is one of the most chaotic, crazy, and fun experiences a parent can have.

Now, imagine life with teenagers as a single parent.

Scary stuff, isn't it?

For some of us, it's a whole new ball game. For others, it's just a new chapter, not a plot twist. Maybe your ex has walked out on you, a spouse has passed away, or has been called off to serve his or her country. For others, the other parent was simply never a part of your kids' lives. Some people are single by choice. No matter how you've arrived at this destination, raising teens as a single parent is a challenge too many of us face, and we shouldn't have to do it alone.

There are dozens of blogs and sites that cater to parents of young children. One major blog, Scary Mommy makes a strong effort to be the Huff Post of mommy-blogs, but many of the articles relate to pregnancy, infertility, potty training, surviving toddlerhood, and other topics relating to the care and keeping of the under-5 set. While there's a strong parenting community, those of us who are dealing with teens might not find what we're looking for among moms who are still rinsing breastmilk out of their yoga pants and wiping bottoms with one hand while pulling a crawler away from the electrical outlet with the other.

Most mommy blogs don't deal with questions like,

Why is my 13 year old going through so many pairs of socks? And where is all my hand lotion going?? 

I think my son or daughter might be gay. How do I talk to them about this?

My daughter's best friend is pregnant. She's keeping the baby and my daughter wants to throw a baby shower. Am I responsible for providing snacks? 

I found pot in a sock drawer and it's not mine! What do I do??

Life With Teens, and Other Wild Things won't be able to address every single parents-of-teens experience, but it does provide a gathering place, where we can come together and share survival tips and wisdom, heartache and triumph. As parents, we are all different. We have different worldviews, different experiences, different paths to walk. By celebrating the diversity, as well as the common experiences we're all facing, we can lift one another up, and maybe, just maybe, survive the insanity known as parenting teens.

Are you a parent of a newly-minted teenager, or in the midst of raising your teens? Come on in, take a seat, and buckle up. I'm glad you're along for the ride.

Hold on tight. Here we goooooooooooo.........