Posts Tagged ‘Tweens’

Social Caterpillar

Monday, July 21, 2014
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Emma Watson (via Pinterest).

Emma Watson (via Pinterest).

Rachel “Bunny” Lowe Lambert Lloyd Mellon, the horticulturalist and art collector turned second wife of philanthropist and horse breeder, Paul Mellon, became famous for her best friendship with First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy. (Lord, what a mouthful.)

In the time she spent with Jackie redesigning the White House Rose Garden, she shared her secrets for staying out of the public eye while maintaining an influential role in society.  In her old-fashioned correctness, she told friends that “a woman’s name should appear in print exactly three times: when she makes her debut, when she marries, and when she dies.”

The rest, darling, isn’t to be shared.

I read about “Bunny” in an article in the July issue of Town & Country magazine, which questioned whether people can maintain any sort of solitude in the glare of social media.  If you can Google your own name and not find any information, then you have achieved the nearly impossible dream.

In this day, most (if not all) girls make their “debuts” via Facebook. And once they’re out, there’s no going back.

I talked about this with Ava, who is 11 years old and doesn’t have a social media presence (other than what I publish). Most of the girls she knows already have Instagram sites, and a few have Facebook pages or Twitter accounts.  She’s never asked for anything other than access to Pinterest so she can surf pictures of her favorite musicians. We agreed in order to save our bedroom walls from hideous posters of British boy bands.

Ava sees how much I’m online, posting comments and uploading pictures, and fiddling with different filters to make shots look their best.  She also knows that I landed assignments from USA TODAY simply by maintaining a LinkedIn profile, and she’s aware that I blog about our family every week in the Daily Mail’s online edition. It doesn’t bother Ava — in fact, she’s proud of her old mom — but she doesn’t want to call attention to herself. Like her father, she just doesn’t care to share.

And there’s something to be said for the girl who says nothing at all.

“I think those sites can cause trouble,” she said to me one night when we were up late talking.

“How so?” I asked.

“It just seems like girls get into a lot of fights over things that are posted.”

True, I admitted.  Girls and boys have to be very careful about what they put out there.

“I just like being quiet.”

I wish I had that skill.  Some people have described my writing as “brave” and “gutsy” and “always honest”, but it’s also risky to reveal so much. It’s a call for reaction — and criticism.

We talked about the concept of privacy for a long time, and I realized that she’s entering a stage of life that is full of sensitive matters.  As a writer who observes everyday life and analyzes its oddities, it’s very hard not to turn motherhood into material. As playwright Nora Ephron said so expertly, “Everything in life is copy.”  And she’s absolutely correct.

But maybe it shouldn’t be.

After a few sleepless nights, I’ve decided to end my run writing for The Mommyhood.  It has been a difficult decision that makes me sad, but I feel like I need to let our rising sixth grader have some breathing room. She and her younger sister have belonged to the world for nearly four years, and while I have enjoyed every second of sharing this cherished life with you, I think it’s time to bring it back home.

Giving up this blog is a lot like giving a baby up for adoption.  For a journalist, an essayist or a diarist, a column in any form is a coveted space.  I am very grateful that a friend pitched one of my pieces to Brad McElhinny and encouraged him to give my work a closer look, and I am so appreciative of the Daily Mail staffers who made me feel like one of them.

Of course, I have to give thanks to my girls, who provided more than a half-million words under my fingers. In return, I plan to print every post and have two copies bound, which will be saved for when they become mothers. This blog has chronicled a large part of their childhood, but also the phases of motherhood that I hope they’ll refer to one day.

Finally, I thank you, dear readers, who have clicked my links every Monday, “liked” them, favorited them, forwarded them, and provided tremendous support through comments and replies. Parenting is a lonely job at times, but I rarely felt that way. Each time I signed on, there was always someone there to give me a much-needed thumbs up.

Bright and early this morning, I was waiting for the “pop” of sealed jars containing homemade strawberry jam.  I sat at the computer and scrolled through shots on Pinterest  – everything from Kate Middleton and baby George to sweet George Harrison. Then, I stumbled upon a quote attributed to Emma Watson, most famously known as Hermione Granger of the Harry Potter series. It’s hard to tell if she actually mouthed the following words, but I sent the pin to Ava anyway.  It said:

THE LESS YOU REVEAL, THE MORE PEOPLE CAN WONDER.

And as my girls enter the reality show of adolescence, I pray they’ll choose to remain a bit of a mystery.

Note:  Katy Brown may be leaving her regular spot in The Mommyhood, but you can continue to follow her lifestyle blog, House Kat.  It’s a peach!

http://thehousekatblog.wordpress.com

 

Commencement

Monday, May 19, 2014
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baby avaDear Ava,

Six years ago, your dad and I had one of our most memorable arguments. We struggled with the decision to send you to kindergarten. You’d just turned five, and separation anxiety was the name of your game. I wanted to delay your start another year until you felt more secure; your dad stressed that you should enroll because you were ready. Guess who won?

Now I’m writing as you wrap up your time in elementary school.  In a few months (weeks, really), you’ll be in what your dad and I called “junior high”.  This is the place where you’ll learn more about others than you will in college.  That’s where you’ll go to learn about yourself. These next few years are going to be the hardest — for you, as you work through situations that make no sense — and for us, as we work through fears of letting go. See, this separation anxiety business is inherited. That’s the gene you got from me.

You got a few other traits, too.  On a hot summer morning, you kicked your way into the world with a foot so long that it smeared off your birth certificate.  The finest blonde hair and darkest blue eyes were the prettiest things I’d ever seen.  And when you grabbed my finger and gave me a reassuring grin (which I refuse to consider was anything else), I knew that you were a cure for a lot of hurt.  No matter what anyone says, I’m a firm believer that we travel through this existence in desperate need of a mother.  Whether we liked or loved the one we were given makes no difference. If we’re lucky, it’s a presence that will get us through everything else that life throws at us.  If we weren’t so lucky, then we spend our days looking for something to fill that void.  You were given to me to fill that void. I’ll thank God every day for knowing what I needed, exactly when I needed it most.

You’re going to need help, too, but you’ll fight it. Hopefully, you won’t put up the fight that I did when I was a teenager — paybacks are hell — but I do expect a showdown every now and then.  We’re too much alike. You’re going to make mistakes, but I’ll make more.  I’m going to hang on too tight, stay too long, become too involved and say entirely too much.  You’ll do the same. But, I’ll forgive you as I hope you’ll forgive me.

Those mistakes, by the way, are learning experiences.  You’ve heard us say many times, “You can do this the easy way or the hard way.” It’s still your choice.  One of the saddest parts of being a parent is allowing a child to make mistakes. It’s brutally difficult to stand back and watch what’s sure to happen. However, you can avoid some of the headaches by remembering what we’ve always preached to both you and your sister:

If you don’t want it known, don’t say it.

If you don’t want it shared, don’t write it.

If you don’t want it remembered, don’t post it.

If you don’t want it saved, don’t pose for it.

If you don’t want it told, don’t do it.

But please tell us about it.  While I’m sure you won’t want my opinion every moment of every situation, and while I’m sure one of your greatest lessons will be learning how to solve your own problems, I want you to promise that you’ll always bring those thoughts home.  The rest of society (school) might judge you, but we won’t.  We’ll criticize your first dates, and we’ll scrutinize dresses for dances, though.  That’s our job.

Oh — one more thing:  If you get your heart broken, don’t show it. Dignity is your best friend. Protect her.

From the first day of elementary school to the approaching last, your dad and I have been immeasurably proud of you. And it’s just the beginning! We can’t wait to see what you do with all the potential that you hold back, but we know exists.  Hold your head up high (but hold your values higher), flash that smile, and walk like you’ve been there all along. It’s the first of many steps toward independence. And as you showed us six years ago, and as you’ll show us again in six more years, you’re going to go far. You’re ready.

With all our love,

Mom (and Dad)

 

 

 

Call Me Crazy (Part Two)

Monday, May 5, 2014
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I’ve calmed down since my last cell phone rant.  But not by much.

After a candid conversation with a few teenagers, I learned that middle schoolers need phones for several reasons:

1) Once the day is done, students are usually on their own. After a certain time, the school is locked and it’s difficult to make a telephone call from the office, which is also locked.

2) It’s a means of looking (and being) occupied during awkward social times, such as waiting for and riding on the bus, waiting for the first bell, waiting for the lunch period to end, and waiting for dismissal.  It’s a type of “don’t bother me, I’m busy” signal that a hardback book used to serve.

3) Group work is more common in middle school, which requires kids to spend time together out of class. It’s hard to coordinate logisitcs, and even harder to share files and pieces of the project without email and cell service.  For most kids, a phone is a homework tool.

4) The mother of a teenager chimed in to remind me that we live in a Columbine and Sandy Hook world. School lock downs can occur for any reason these days.  Wouldn’t I rather get a text from my daughter telling me that everything is OK, as opposed to calling the school for a half-hour trying to get answers?

And 5) There’s a lot of emphasis on knowing where our children are at all times.  But, we’re the ones who are picking them up.  Traffic jams, wrecks, detours, dangerous weather, meetings, etc., can keep us from getting to them on time.  Shouldn’t our kids know were WE are?

I relayed all of this information to my husband, and we determined that our rising sixth grader doesn’t need a cell phone for her birthday. Nothing good can come of it over the course of a summer vacation.  There’s too much downtime to get into friendship trouble due to potential misunderstandings. However, IF we do cave in and allow her to have a cell phone, it’ll happen the day before school starts. We’ll visit our guy at AT&T to select a phone that connects to our network so we can monitor every single move — incoming and outgoing.

But, if we discover improper use of the phone by our tween or her classmates, we’ll rethink our decision.  James Lehman, creator of The Total Transformation Program also produced a companion piece called “The Complete Guide to Consequences”.  Dr. Lehman gives parents tips on motivating children to practice responsible behavior.  However, much of his advice is geared toward managing indignant teens.  I needed specific help in the cell phone area, so I searched for blogs that focused on protecting our kids before trouble starts.

Dr. Laura Markham has been known to ruffle parents’ feathers, but in this instance, she is absolutely correct in her assessment of tween-age independence.  As Markham points out in the very first paragraph of an essay, the middle school years are children’s first steps toward total separation, but a cell phone keeps them connected to mom and dad.

Some other parenting experts say that’s the problem.  Cell phones turn parents and children into conjoined twins. Kids don’t know how to cope with problems.  They only know how to text their parents.

Markham admits that she worried for hours about her daughter misusing the phone to text after midnight, chat with strangers, download expensive apps and songs, post rude or thoughtless comments on social networking sites, and share less-than-flattering pictures with kids who could then send them on to the entire student body.

Yes, Dr. Laura, I hear you loud and clear.  Dr. James Lehman says we should trust our kids until they give us a reason not to.  We need to set firm expectations of how the cell phone and its features are to be used.  Contracts may seem silly, but every service provider requires customers to enter into agreements before any type of product can be sold. Parents are providing their child with a cell phone.  This device should come with a list of demands:

1. Phones are given back to parents at the end of each day.  Phones should not be allowed in a child’s bedroom overnight.

2. Phone numbers must be kept private, and given out only with permission from mom and/or dad.

3. Keep a life: A child (tween/teen) should not stop what they’re doing to answer friends’ texts or calls when they first come in.  However, if mom or dad calls, then the child MUST pick up. No excuses. No exceptions. If a call is missed, return it ASAP and be prepared to explain.

4. NEVER broadcast a location, or post/check-in on social networking sites.

5.  Know that the phone can be checked at any time, without warning.  Be prepared for all texts or messages/voice mails, etc., to be read or listened to. Privacy is reserved for bathrooms.

It’s sort of ironic:  Parents report that they allow their tween to have a cell phone ONLY so they can stay in touch for safety purposes.  In this day and age, people are unreliable.  If you want your child to be able to get a hold of you, it’s because you know that a million things can happen, and a text might make the difference between a close call and a devastating one. However, when the child does something wrong, the cell phone is taken away.

Safety first? I wonder.

 

 

 

 

Call Me Crazy (Part One)

Monday, April 28, 2014
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About this cell phone thing…

In earlier posts, I told you that my husband and I had no intention of getting our daughter a cell phone until she reached high school.  I couldn’t imagine the reasons why she’d need one before the first day of sixth grade, but every parent I spoke with confirmed that they’re as basic as school supplies: backpack, lunch tote, cell phone.

But why? Yes, I know … it gives our girl a lifeline. She can get in touch with us if she needs something. However, I can only assume phones must be turned off —  if not put away entirely — during class, and I assume they’re dropped to the bottom of a bag of some sort during practices or after-school activities. Please tell me if I’m wrong.

As I look back on my first year of junior high, which is now middle school to our kids, I had no need to call anyone. I was in the hallway with my friends before school, seated next to them in seven classes, at the same table during lunch, and on the field with them for band.  My dad dropped me off at 7:45 a.m., and my mother picked me up sometime around 4:00 when band ended.  Once again, who was I supposed to call, for what reason, and when was there time?

On weekends and during summer vacations (from June to September), my friends and I got together at each other’s houses or at the neighborhood pool.  My mother told me to be home at this hour, or that she’d be there to pick me up at that time.  I didn’t call to tell her when I was ready to come home.  She told me when to expect her.

Am I as out of touch as a rotary phone?

But all the middle school kids have them, I’m told.

Fine. So all the kids have some version of a cell phone.  Many have fun phones (I hesitate to call them “smart” when they can cause so much trouble), and others have less glamorous flip styles.  For those parents who are as stubborn as we appear to be, their children have “pay as you go” phones that are truly held for emergency use.

I took to the Internet to search for “first phones” and I found a list of possible choices.  As reported by numerous parenting sites, these are a few good ones available through local stores:

1. LG Migo

2. Sanoxy GSM

3. Firefly Glow

4. Buddy Bear

….WAIT. STOP. The “BUDDY BEAR” phone?

I clicked the link and literally choked on a long sip of Diet Dr. Pepper.  Indeed, these are “first cell phones” as I typed into the Google search box, but they aren’t intended for middle schoolers.  They’re intended for “little hands.”  Yes…preschoolers.

Pardon me, Mom, but WTH?

As I read RooGirl’s article dedicated to the best cell phones for kids of all ages, I discovered that entry-level communication devices are similar to an elderly person’s First Alert button that’s worn and pressed if they’ve fallen and can’t get up.

“…Parents give their children cell phones for reassurance and added security. It also allows them to keep in touch with their kids when they’re not together.”

Are they home alone?!

“Parents can choose phones to track children’s whereabouts via GPS, monitor phone activity and block content. Finding the cell phone that’s right for your child depends on how old, tech-savvy and responsible they are. And, whether you want them to use the phone for emergencies only, communicating with friends and family or have the ability to surf the web.” — RooGirl blogger

I’m sorry, but I can barely finish this post.  I am completely shocked that at least 10 phones on the market are designed for the younger set, gadgets that include cameras, text messaging, full-sized multi-color screens, and customizable ringtones. “Let it Go” has been downloaded more times than any other song.

I sit here thinking that if your child needs an SOS device in his or her hip pocket, then you don’t need a tiny tyke cell phone that whistles.  You need your head examined.

As I scrolled down to the tween and teen line of phones, I stopped on one of the first models reviewed by RooGirl.  The LG Rumor.

That’s it. I’m done.  Maybe I am Frozen in time.  But in the words of Elsa the Queen, let the storm rage on.  The cold never bothered me anyway.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

First phones for little hands…

Who…me?

Monday, April 7, 2014
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I recently wrote a short piece about ordering The Total Transformation Program after watching a 30-minute infomercial on TV. When the package arrived, I felt a pang of guilt, because my daughters are well behaved and they give us a world of happiness that I’m almost embarrassed to admit. They’ve done nothing wrong to prompt this research project, but I like to anticipate what may happen next.  I plan disasters you see, and I’m convinced teenagers turn into the spawn of Satan by the time they turn 15.

So, I’m preparing to dance with the devil herself.

As I cracked open the instructions (more demanding than a one room school teacher), I discovered that parents who order this disciplinary guide have serious troubles at home. If you have a rude, crude, obnoxious, violent, defiant child sleeping under your roof, then The Total Transformation Program better be on your bedside table next to the King James.  But what if your child (the age bracket begins at age five) has a couple of quirks — such as playing the victim too often, or playing the politician to say all the things you expect him or her to believe, just to get out of trouble?

I know.  I got scared, too.  I felt like I’d hired a lawyer to find potential lawsuits in my life. I didn’t have any problems when I sat down at the kitchen counter, but after I got up, I felt like we needed a family intervention.

But wait! There’s more!

So one of my daughters plays the victim and the other plays politics.  What about me?

Dr. Lehman, the Total Transformation Program therapist, reveals that I’m the biggest problem of all. ME!  In fact, it’s amazing that my daughters have gotten this far in life.

I’m a Perfectionist, a Screamer, and at times, a Martyr.  I tend to blame myself more than anyone or anything else (see Perfectionist), but this time, I’m taking Dad down with me.  He’s a Bottomless Pocket, Ticket-Punching, Savior.

Sticks and stones  may break my bones, but words will never hurt me…much.

THE BOOK, which is how I will refer to it from now on, suggests that our parenting roles are, at times, ineffective.  But if it ain’t broke, why try to fix it?

I may not fix it, but I can be aware of what works now … because it might not work later. I need to tweak how I manage the girls as they grow older.

This just might be the most important lesson for parents: Be aware.  Don’t be different, but be mindful of what we do (on occasion) that trigger behaviors in our children that we don’t like.  No, it’s not all our fault, but children learn from what they witness at home.  They take the best (and worst) of us wherever they go. We should at least be cognizant of our own weak spots so we can prevent tension and turmoil later on.

So, I’ve been humbled.  I opened the book (and the seven DVDs) thinking that I would read about other people’s problems.  Instead, I recognized all of us. There are no perfect children, and no matter how hard we work, there are no perfect parents.  The challenge is to find a way to solve problems without creating great divides in the relationships we cherish.

I bought the program after high school senior Rachel Canning sued her parents for tuition and living expenses despite moving out of the family home.  My daughters will not turn out like that kid, I said to myself. And they probably won’t.  But now I see that we could turn out like Rachel Canning’s parents if we don’t change our ways.

 

 

 

 

What’s in the medicine cabinet: Generic miracle workers

Friday, February 7, 2014
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Turned on to a knock off.

Turned on to a knock off.

In keeping with my new year’s writing resolution to develop more blog posts that could actually help other mothers, I’ve decided to write a few shorter pieces related to food, beauty, fashion, and whatever else catches my attention.  For example:

What’s in my medicine cabinet?

What’s in my kitchen pantry?

What’s in my closet?

What’s in my makeup bag?

These little posts aren’t to show off what I’m buying, using, eating or wearing.  The goal is to share little discoveries that might help or bring happiness to your daily life, too.

Focusing on WHAT’S IN THE MEDINE CABINET, I’ll ask you to flip back a couple of weeks to a post I wrote about hormonal acne.  My tweenage daughter and I are suffering from different types of breakouts, but we’ve been spared some of the agony and embarrassment by products made by Rodan and Fields, the creators of Proactiv and Unblemish.

The problem is that both kits can become extremely expensive if you should need the products longer than a couple of weeks or months. But, I was able to save about $30 for the three-step Proactiv set by picking up a generic kit at Walmart for $11.

I’ll be the first to admit that I question generic brands, because I’m convinced that name brands contain an ingredient that the off-brand does not.  But, for $11, I decided to take a risk and give the fake Proactiv a shot.  So far, the Equate cleanser, toner, spot treatment and mask work like a charm.

I haven’t been able to find a generic version of Unblemish, but in time, I’m sure someone in the cosmetics and skincare market will crack the code to stubborn middle-aged acne.  But at least I know it won’t cost a fortune to banish my daughters’ blemishes over the next few years.

Note: Katy Brown was not paid to use or to endorse any of these products or services.  As her husband will tell you, she buys everything.

 

 

 

 

 

Oh, snap!

Monday, January 27, 2014
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And this just might be a good thing.

The day our daughter learned how to download apps was the day we became years behind in parenting. Just last week, I learned how to install a keyboard on my iPhone that contains emoticons.  Yes, just last week.  Now I end every message with some type of image that simplifies the main idea of my communication.  If we’re out of kitty kibble, then I’ll send my husband a text asking him to stop at the store before coming home.

Ringo needs food, I write. And then I add two images:  a paw print and a plate of spaghetti.

The app that’s trending now is called Snapchat, and if you haven’t heard of it (please tell me you haven’t), clear your calendar for the next five minutes and read on.

I’m serious when I type that I hope I’m not alone in this new Snapchat discovery.  I like to think of myself as a newcomer when it comes to teenage interests, but when it comes to technology, teenagers call me an oldtimer. I guess the emoticon thing showed my age.

According to website research, Snapchat is a photo messaging app developed by two students once enrolled at Stanford University.  After downloading Snapchat, customers can use their cellphones to take photos, shoot videos, add drawings and content to send to a list of recipients.  If the user sends a video or a picture, then the content is called a “Snap”.  Everything else is just a chat.

Teens (and tweens that are underage) are in love with the app because Snaps aren’t supposed to last forever.  The user sets a time limit for the Snap to be available to the list of recipients once it’s opened, from one to 10 seconds. Once this timeframe ends, the Snaps are hidden from the recipient’s iPhone or Andriod, and it’s deleted from Snapchat’s server — at some point, which isn’t quite clear.

Studies show that Snapchat is most popular among teens, but the over-40 crowd is getting in on the action as a means of monitoring their children’s activity.  However, the two Stanford University students who became wealthy entrepreneuers at a tune of $860 million (with an option to sell to Facebook for $3 billion — but they declined), also created an app for the even younger market. Snapkidz, an app for boys and girls under the age of 13, is a sibling app that allows children to take snaps and draw on them, but their creations can’t be sent to anyone else, nor can the artwork be saved.

Why should parents be concerned? As a starting point, Snaps come and go so quickly that parents might not be able to keep up with the content being sent or received by their children. To that end, Snapchat has developed a nine page guide for parents, which explains virtually every aspect of the app to help ease concerns. However, this parent didn’t feel much better about the app after reading a section that explained that it’s “not okay to create, send, receive, or save a sexually explicit image of a minor.”

But wait — I thought images disappeared in as little as two seconds! Snapchat went on to state in the guide that “…although messages are designed to disappear in 10 seconds or less, there is NO guarantee that the recipeient won’t take a picture (screenshot) of the message.”

While the app is free, the fun may be costly — if not dangerous.  Parents need to preach until they’re blue in the face that THINK BEFORE YOU SEND is the number one rule for any type of social networking. This also pertains to THINK BEFORE YOU RECEIVE, given the frequency of inappropriate Snaps and sexting traffic. If parents intend to oversee the messages their teen receives through Snapchat, “then mom or dad should instruct their teen not to open Snapchat messages until they can be viewed together.”

Right. As if that’s going to happen.

But Snapchat also advises parents to look at the app through teenage eyes.  It’s designed to be a source of entertainment (the type of entertainment is hotly debated, no pun intended). The creators stress that “…life is to be shared in the moment, for the moment.  If you aren’t enjoying it, then you’re doing it wrong.”

However, in this mother’s opinion, if you delete the app from your child’s phone, you’re doing it right.

 

 

 

 

Trick or treat, smell my feet

Monday, October 14, 2013
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Halloween 2008

With my bee and lamb, when times were easier.

Some time ago, students didn’t leave their sheltering elementary schools for the exploration of junior high until seventh grade. Kids were usually 12 years of age by September, learning combinations to lockers and lugging rented instruments to last period band class.  I remember those liberating days at Horace Mann in Kanawha City — a school that looked like a college campus and felt like a new world.

But while I was off being a grown up, I missed the decision to move sixth graders to a scary place called middle school.  And now that I’m a parent of a daughter on the verge of changing schools, this graduation has wiped out everything I thought I knew about advanced childhood. Since she’s going to this scary place called middle school at age 11, I’m going to be forced to loosen my protective grip.  This frightens me.

I’ve spent the last few months of parenting telling Ava “NO” to cell phones, social networking, cosmetics and high heel shoes.  “No, you can’t have that/do that/wear that/say that,” I lecture.  “It’s too soon.”

Yet, what is age appropriate behavior for a tween? For instance…

  • Do middle school girls, age 11, still play with American Girl dolls?
  • Do they still visit the cartoon parks at Walt Disney World?
  • Do they continue to shop at Justice or Crazy 8 (if sizes go up to age 12)?
  • Do they still have to sit in the backseat of a car, or can they call shotgun?
  • Do they ride scooters or bikes? If so, where do they do this? At the park or in the street?

Because of these uncertainties, I’ve changed the wording of my standard question.  Instead of Don’t you think it’s a little early for that? — I find myself asking Don’t you think you’re getting a little old for that?

Meaning, do middle school kids go trick or treating on Halloween? If not, this will be Ava’s last parade around the block.

Aha.  All Hallows’ Eve.  This weekend, I got up before the sun to read the latest issue of Southern Living in peace and quiet. I found myself locked in Allison Glock’s family column.  This month, she writes about preserving modesty in the modern era of Halloween. The horror isn’t in the section of the store dedicated to Walking Dead garb.  The real scare comes in the form of “Twerkin’ Teddy”, “Bad Habit Nun” and “Skeleton Catsuit”.  Yes, these costumes are made in youth sizes.

I cherished Ava’s first Halloween.  She was a baby sunflower from the Anne Geddes collection.  The next year, she was Thumper the rabbit, then a bumblebee, and the following year, she was “JoJo” the circus clown.  When she turned four, she made a darling Tinkerbell, and when she went to kindergarten, she was a fancy cheetah. After that, she became a cupcake, then a Crayola crayon, and then a 1950′s girl. Last fall, she transformed into a WVU cheerleader.

Ava and I were on the same team for a decade.  This season, however, we’re rivals.

It all started when Ava asked if she could dress as a One Direction fan.  Do we even need to buy a costume for that? She presented a wrinkled catalog.

“This, ” Ava announced, pointing to the girl in the picture.  “I want to wear what she has on.”

I leaned down to get a closer look.  BRITISH INVASION?!

Bloody hell no!

The Union Jack dress hit the juvenile model well above the knee.  It was a sleeveless sheath made from the thinnest material the manufacturers could get away with. Shower curtains are constructed of heavier fabric.

“I need the shoes, too,” she stated.  GOGO BOOTS?!

In my wicked little mind, I heard the theme song from Austin Powers.  YEAH, BABY, YEAH!

“No, Ava, no…” I whined.  “Find something else.  Here!” I pointed to another picture.  “How about this cute outfit?”

Ava screamed.  “A WATERMELON FAIRY?”

It’s different! It’s unique!

“All right…then we’ll all dress up,” I suggested.  “Maryn can be Scooby Doo, I’ll dress up as Velma, Daddy can be Fred, and you can be Daphne.”

On second thought, Fred wore an ascot. Mike would choke me with it.

“British, huh?” I pondered.  “The Beatles! We’ll go as the Fab Four! Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band!” I squealed.  “But I get to be Paul.”

Ava was getting tired.

“Please, Mom,” she sighed.  “It’ll be fine.”

I slammed the catalog closed.  “Ok, but if you look even the slightest bit cheap, the costume will be returned.”

Ava shook hands on the terms of our agreement and waited by the mailbox at 4:00 p.m. for the next nine business days.  Unfortunately, the ensemble arrived.  She pulled the dress over her head and immediately reached for her knees.  It was…short. Mini-skirt short. Twiggy stood before me.

“No.  It’s too old for you.”

She protested.  “Please, Mom! Look! I’ll wear a tee-shirt under it.”

That was a slight improvement.

“And tights,” I added.  “With biking shorts on top of the tights.”

She flashed a smiled and pulled on the white boots with the stacked heel.

OH, BEHAVE!

“Can I keep them, Mom?” she begged.  I looked at Ava and then down at Maryn.  My youngest daughter was wearing a witch’s hat and dusting the floor with a broom missing 90% of its bristles.

“What do you think?” I asked Maryn.  She peered into her crystal ball.

“She’s gonna get blisters and then Daddy’s gonna hafta carry her home,” she warned.  What a wise ol’ witch.

“All right.  You can keep them,” I told Ava.  “But you will not wear those boots outside of Halloween.”

“Didn’t you wear these boots when you were a majorette?” Ava asked, marching in place.

I answered too quickly.  “Sure, I did.  But I was in….”

“Junior high?”

 

Make-Up Test

Monday, July 8, 2013
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Katy Brown isn’t cool. Maybe Katie Holmes is.

The second Ava turned 10, she asked if she could wear makeup.  No.  Could she have a cell phone?  No.  Could she open a Facebook account? No.  Could she sit in the front seat of the car?  No.

No. No. No.

It seems as though the knowledge of being a “double-digit age”, which she will be for the rest of her adult life, has sparked an interest in all things grown up.  It’s hard enough to keep appropriate shoes on her feet now that she’s into a lady’s size 8.  That’s right. She can wear my shoes, and she wears them well.  A little too well, I might add.

“Can I wear dressy shoes now?”   No.   “But I have to shop in women’s shoe stores,” she argued.  Where they sell flats, I countered.

But as I try to slow life down (since I can’t shrink her feet), I remember how I used to spend my playtime as a child.  I wore my mother’s high heels around the house, sashaying like Daisy Duke; I tried on her lipstick just to blot it on Kleenex; I hosed myself down with perfume like it was a can of air freshener.  It wasn’t.

I wanted to be like her.  I wanted to act like her.  I wanted to dress like her.   And she let me.  And we both looked ridiculous.

Perhaps it was their advanced age, but my parents treated me like an adult from day one.  They didn’t play with me — they talked to me.  They didn’t buy toys — they bought clothes.  They didn’t plan family trips — they arranged historic tours.  They didn’t order tickets to the circus – they watched evening dramas.  I knew more about Falcon Crest than the Justice League.

When I turned 14, my mother took me to the cosmetics counter at Stone & Thomas and had the sales consultant tackle my eighth grade face.  I left with a bag of expensive products, from full coverage foundation and powder to a saturated lipstick.

“You need some color,” my mother announced, filling in her lips with British Redcoat.  “You’re fair, so you can look washed out if you aren’t careful.”

I went to school the following Monday wearing the Estee Lauder palette. Within five minutes of homeroom, I was wiping smudged mascara off my pale cheeks.  “IT’S KATHRYN CLOWN!” one boy shouted.  (I heard he’s in prison now…).

I went to the bathroom and cleaned my face with stiff, brown paper towels and were fanned into an accordion pattern from being jammed in the machine.  I wouldn’t need blush for a week as my face was raw from scrubbing. But other girls were wearing makeup, too — blue eye shadow being the toy of choice.  After that, I stuck to powder to cover up the blemishes from oil-based foundation and some frosted pink gloss.  Then, I moved onto hair products that would keep my 80′s helmet head secured in case of a Cat-4 hurricane.

Now that I’m 40, I can wear British Redcoat with confidence, as long as my Starbucks-stained teeth don’t ruin the look. But a tweenage girl?  No ma’am.  When the time is right, the girls and I will plan a mother-daughter weekend at the Easton Mall in Columbus to learn the tricks of the trade.  I like makeup artist Bobbi Brown’s philosophy of teenage beauty, which is to accentuate rather than recreate.  She teaches young women the proper way to take care of their skin, how to cover up problem areas and play up their best features.  Colors are subtle and natural looking, and they’re virtually error-proof for the untrained hand.  For now, Ava’s cosmetic bag will contain Chapstick and suncreen. To pass the time, she can read about makeup in Brown’s book, “Beauty Rules”, which covers a lot of the topics left out of the popular manual, “The Care and Keeping of You”.

And that reminds me:  The American Girl store at Easton opened on June 22nd. Ava can take her doll to the spa and salon for a “day of magic”.  I’ll be happy to pay for that makeover.

The nearest Bobbi Brown counter is located at Nordstrom in Columbus, Ohio.  For the eager tween, there are minimalist products such as Yogi Bare lip balm and artistry workshops. 

This is an opinion piece. No discounts, freebies or samples were accepted (or offered!).

 

A Real Page Turner

Monday, June 24, 2013
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There are certain childhood memories that refuse to fade.  I distinctly remember coming home from a friend’s house one afternoon to face my mother, sitting in her living room chair, smoking what had to have been a pack of cigarettes. I said hello. She said nothing. I asked what was wrong. She pounded her Viceroy into the ashtray and looked at me with an icy stare that I can still feel.

“Never leave an opened diary.”

Diary of a not-so wimpy kid.

I turned as quickly as my heavy feet would allow and walked into my bedroom, where I searched for the diary that was left in plain sight.

There it was, on the floor, by my stereo.  I usually stuffed it between record albums, but for some reason, I’d failed to return the book to its proper hiding place.

At least, I assume I left it out.  To this day, I’m still not sure if I left an opened diary for my mother to pick up — and read — or if she looked for something to read while I was at my friend’s house.

I was about 14 at the time, so the entries could be described as “coming of age” thoughts and confessions.  Sitting here typing a version of those observations, I can still recall the ringing in my ears and nausea swimming in the pit of my stomach.

I flipped through the pages. Dear God. Did I have to write all that? Why did I write any of that? What was I thinking? Better yet, what was I doing?  I know the rules.  If you don’t want it read, don’t write it. If you don’t want it told, don’t say it.

The experience grounded my writing interests for years.  I didn’t write one word outside of class assignments, and I changed my college interest from journalism to advertising.  When a Manhattan publisher returned my packet of poems with red check marks on each page indicating that the editor wanted them all, I hid the envelope under my mattress.  I was too afraid to show my parents what I had written, fearing a similar reaction.

Most of the poems were about being dumped by a boy.  Young heartbreak. Teenage angst.  Immature attitudes. Insecurity and uncertainty. Naivety. Poor judgment. Material that was good enough to be in print. A writer who was talented enough to be endorsed…in junior high.

I didn’t revisit my love of writing until my mother passed away.  By this time I was 27, and I inched back into the creative world by penning letters to her every day for a year. More than 400 letters sealed in envelopes, identified only by the date on which they were written, filled a hat box.  I still have them, but they’re tucked away in the basement, where I worry they’ll be found by my daughters.  They were grief-stricken summaries…updates on what was happening (or not), what was going on with my dad, with Mike, with work.  Girl talk.  Topics that weren’t and still aren’t to be shared with anyone else.

Is the content that scandalous?  Hardly.  But like anything written, words have permanence.  My bad mood expressed on a dreary Tuesday in 2001 could hurt someone today.  My frustration with this project or that client could end a business relationship. My irritation with a size 6 frame that fought to be a size 4 might unveil a perfectionist past (that has loosened up like an elastic waistband).

Yet, they reveal too much information.  And the troublesome part about writing is that the author can’t use the phrase, “Oh, that was in the past.”  We can’t accuse someone of reading too much into things. You see, when something is written, it remains in the present.  Having written something a long time ago means nothing to the reader if the revelation is a little too honest.

My daughters are starting to jot notes to each other, and every time I find a folded square or triangle under the couch or bed, my heart skips a beat in anticipation of what I’ll discover.  Part of me wants to toss the droppings into the trash, unread, to protect myself.  Do I really want to know that one of them thinks I’m so mean!?  Do I want to know that older sister has ranted away in ink about younger sister, who gets on her nerves and bugs her day and night?  Do I want to be reminded that AVA LOVES HARRY! on every flat surface?  Do I need to see that Maryn feels a little left out when she advertises for someone to play with her (mark ‘x’ for YES or NO)?

In the age of cyber-parenting, moms and dads who are connected to their children through Facebook and Twitter (even Pinterest), find themselves engaged in “Did you have to post that?!” debates on a daily basis.  But counselors, admissions directors and human resource specialists argue that people who refrain from social media altogether give their families, friends and colleagues much more to worry about.  What are they hiding?  What are we not supposed to know? But there’s a fine line when it comes to reading the fine print:  Should we disrespect our children’s privacy in order to teach them to respect themselves?

After my parents died, I started two blogs that became the foundation for material I contribute to the Daily Mail.  I wrote a book last year about life at home, and I have a children’s story slated for publication later this summer.  I know for a fact that my mother would have hated my Monday column.  But it wouldn’t have existed because I would’ve been afraid to write it.  This opened diary — which gives the world a clear view of my marriage, my home, my career and my mind — has served an important purpose, though.  Not only have the essays cataloged my daughters’ lives in a way that serves as a time capsule for our family, but they’ve uncovered a lot of lessons that I’ve had to figure out on my own.  Hopefully, they’ve generated a “that’s me!” reaction from readers who find themselves in my stories on occasion.  They can relate to this or to that.  They’re not alone.

E.B. White admired “anybody who had the guts to write anything at all.”  So the next time I find a balled up piece of notebook paper, the diarist in me will demand that it be placed in the trash.  But the mother in me now understands why it’s so critical to remain in the know.