Trying to get the perfect photo of your moody teens? Graduation? Christmas?

My twins who are the oldest of my three kids were entering the really annoying “teen stage” at about 13 years old. They were still very good kids, but one thing in particular became very difficult for about a year: taking family photos with happy faces!

It was November and I wanted to have the three of them in a decent photo for the annual Christmas card. Whenever I was behind the camera that year, trying to get them all to laugh together became a guaranteed upset and complete failure. So, I decided to have the photo taken somewhere else.

I made a few phone calls and found a place that fit my budget and time frame around sports. As I finalized the date, I casually asked, “Can you please arrange for us to have one of your most fun and friendly photographers? Preferably a female?”

Her stuttering response: “Why, ma’am? Are… your… kids… little ones?”

I can hear her shuffling papers through the phone line. “I thought you told me they were teenagers…?” Poor thing, she was confused.

I was embarrassed and felt compelled to explain that “little ones” behavior often accompanies teenage bodies. But, I didn’t waste her time or mine. The truth is, teens will usually (although not always) behave better for strangers (a.k.a. photographer) than family.

The point of the story? When raising teens, shamelessly ask for help when you need it. Yep, even if that includes the photographer at your local JCPenney studio.

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Is It Fair That We are Judged by How We Look?

GothThis is a question that I have asked my college students over the years.  Inevitably, they will argue that it is absolutely “not fair!” and without my intervention, end up sharing countless examples of when they, themselves immediately judged by physical appearance.  Therefore, determining that while “unfair”, it is unequivocally, indisputably, inevitable.

Recently, my 16 year old daughter and I were swimsuit shopping for spring break.  She is a small, petite, clean cut girl with long strawberry blonde hair and a spunky spirit.  When we approached the fitting room desk, my daughter asked the 50-something female attendant how many items my daughter could bring into the room.  She cheerfully glanced at our mini mountain, totaling about 15 items, smiled, and said, “Go ahead, just bring everything out when you are done.”  My daughter entered the room, and I sat down waiting for the fashion show to begin.

Four minutes later, a youthful looking grandma along with her granddaughter, surely my daughter’s age, and also quite petite, approached the same fitting room attendant with her pile of items and held it up to the woman.  The woman curtly sniped, “you can only take in 6 at a time. How many do you have?” The young girl answered, “7”. The woman took the pile out of her hands, counted the clothes one by one out loud for all to hear, until reaching the number 8 with a huff.  Handing her back only six of the items and practically tossing the girl a fitting room tag, she announced that the rest would be held at the desk.

The woman clearly showed preferential treatment to my daughter.  Why?  Not because I was with my daughter, as the other teenager had her grandma with her.  My guess is the teen’s outer appearance.  Multiple nose and earrings, jet black dyed hair, with wide sections dyed platinum, black nail polish, a sour frown, and Goth clothing greeted the fitting room lady.

I’m honest enough to tell you that I certainly judge on one’s exterior, most often when my children are involved.  Evaluation in this depraved society is essential for our safety.  By external appearance, we can draw countless conclusions about someone.  Many will be accurate, and a few utterly wrong.  Either way, the pre-vacation shopping experience left me humbled. 

As a woman who has judged wrongfully and endured judgment, I’m still training myself to be cautious before labeling and stereotyping.  That doesn’t stop me from staring (hopefully, inconspicuously!) if someone has decided to cover themselves in ink, piercings, and adorn their clothing with a variety of clinking, shiny chains – like a toddler, I’m mesmerized.  Regardless, giving someone a chance to reveal who they really are through conversation is always my goal.

The dark-dressed girl slinked away into a fitting room, without a smile, and I couldn’t help but think that I wouldn’t want to be yet another person contributing to her already sad expression. Insecurities exist in all of us, whether or not they are concealed in neat, well-groomed packages.  If teens experience enough unfair treatment, they have a natural tendency to believe they’re not worthy of good treatment.

Photo: drprem.com

Throwback Thursday article from 5/6/2013

The TV Show “The Middle” is Funny! Everything Else “Middle”… Not So Much


Middle
Sure we all like the show The Middle.    But I like little else involving “The Middle”. How about you?

Middle Age is surprisingly everything everyone older than me said it was. There really are aches and pains when you wake up in the morning. You really do notice that your skin is not what it used to be. I haven’t read, I Feel Bad about My Neck: And Other Thoughts About Being a Woman, but the title makes me say, Amen Sister!

Middle of The Road or Middle Ground is not something I like to take. Although my job as a college teacher (and being a parent) forces me to accept and examine the “gray” areas of life, I like black and white. Right and wrong. I’m a rule-follower and life just seems easier when I choose one or the other. However, Middle of The Road is occasionally necessary.

The Middle of My Long-Gone Waist Line is flab and this makes me mad! I already don’t eat all the M&M’s and potato chips that I really want to, and I exercise a few times a week, and I STILL have a ridiculously soggy, mom-of-3-kids middle!

The Middle School Years… ahhhhh!!  Well, if we’re being Mommy-mushy, there are certainly priceless, beautiful moments between 6th and 8th grade. Lots of really nice days and fun events are now part of our family memories, but often, those years were challenging as I painstakingly sorted through daily questions, tears, and frustrations. Can we just camp on the Middle School years for a minute?

The Middle School Gym Class is where many girls decide that messing up their hair is so not worth actually trying to compete and win a game.

The Middle School Hallway is where walking to your locker feels like you’re being bounced through the center of a pin ball arcade game.

Middle School Staff sometimes forgets that the emotional maturity gap between a first-born 6th grader and a last-born 8th grader is the width of the Grand Canyon. Yet, we crunch them altogether and expect the 6th graders to feel welcome and safe. Some 11 year olds haven’t been raised on Black Ops and Mortal Kombat. If you’ve read my blog awhile, you’ll remember Desensitize My Kids?! This leads me to…

Middle School Assemblies. Sometimes, good intentions are ill-timed or go too far. Kids are ready for outside world information at very different ages. If they didn’t know prior to the assemblies, these events have taught kids where the best drug dealers can be found, how to roll, inject, snort and hide drugs. They introduced alcohol frozen pops and how to hide alcohol in your flip flops. Perhaps this information would be better suited for the parent assemblies in the younger grades. The Rachel’s Challenge assembly was much too early for my kids. My daughter’s eyes blazed at me that afternoon, “How can you EVER send me back to school?  Did YOU know that kids get shot at school?!” At 11 years old, the precious lesson from Rachel’s life which was well intended by Middle School administration, was buried by guns and mental images of terrified children. After that, I requested my children not attend any assemblies without a note or call home first regarding its content.

The Middle School Cafeteria is where lunchboxes stop being cool. Thankfully, my 9th grader still carries hers at the high school!  

The Middle School Church. Disclaimer: I delicately, respectfully and generally speak only of my small-world experiences!  We are in the Northeast and we can’t boast truly Christ-centered churches “on every corner”, as my southern friends have. Getting youth to come on a regular basis to church is challenging. That said, the desire for my kids to experience a thriving youth group led me a few years ago to visit several church kids programs, and similar organized events.  What I discovered was between nursery and 5th grade, the spiritual growth opportunities were plentiful. At 13, the kids are sometimes dropped off the edge of a spiritual cliff.

When kids are 0-12, they have little say about whether or not they’re going to church with Mom and Dad. When kids are 13-18, they can make dental surgery preferable to Sunday mornings.  Yet, at 0-12, my kids had more VBS, Sunday morning theatre shows, holiday events, and spiritually-driven girls and boys programming in one year than they’ve ever had as middle teens.

When they are little, we smile into those cherub faces saying, “God loves you!”  At 15, we shy away from telling them they are accepted and loved, often because their serious faces scare us off!  Leaving them alone just makes it easier for them to leave. The book, Already Gone: Why your kids will quit church and what you can do to stop it, claims that approximately 90% of kids leave church in the middle teen years.

Not to mention that the best-intended parents who say church will come before sports when their kids are 5, find it terribly difficult not to break that family rule when the kids are 15 (myself included). When they do get to church, there needs to be connection. Important to note: we can be in the best spiritual environment possible and kids will still make their own choices-I know that. I’m also deeply grateful for the godly people who devote their time to the often thankless job of serving our youth at churches across this nation.

The Middle Teens: Aren’t Always “Cute”. Remember when your little ones did something mischievous or blurted out “no!!” to you? Their cuteness saved them.  During the middle teens, their moodiness and complaining is just ugly.

The Middle Teens: Puberty My son turned into a completely different species. Did you read, Moms of Teen Boys Be Encouraged?

Kids in the Middle of a divorce turn into adults who still identify themselves as such. Thankfully, there are programs, such as Kids in the Middle, Children in the Middle, and Divorce Care, which help children navigate the “two homes” “four parents”, etc., but living it out as a child is tough, no matter how well parents think their kids are taking it. Some interesting information is located in the book, The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce.

The Middle of the Night. Or should I say 2am?  Anyone have the occasional insomnia? Just because I know it’s always “live”, QVC keeps me company!

The Middle Finger.Nuff said.

The Middle Class and being Middle Child are up for debate! Have I bummed you out or can you relate? The Middle is not always great, so I keep striving for better. Because I hate ending anything on a downer, some good things about The Middle? Middle America! Malcom in the Middle! (I never saw it, but I hear it’s good). The Middle of an Oreo…:)Oreos

Teenage Privacy…Is it OK to spy on your teens’ texts? Internet history? Surf their social media? Yep!

Is it okay to look through your kids’ bedroom drawers?
Read their texts?
Surf their internet history?

When my children first began high school, I had more interest and opportunity to do all of those things. They were still figuring out what was acceptable and what wasn’t. I was extremely attentive. I certainly didn’t check their computer histories, texts or drawers on a regular basis, but when I thought about it, or when something seemed suspicious, I certainly had no problem checking on all of it.

No, I didn’t feel bad about that at all! I didn’t feel as though I was invading their privacy and frankly, I thought of myself as far more responsible than those who refuse to check on their kids and live by the philosophy, “Kids are going to do what they are going to do”. Now that my twins are 19, I believe that is true. When they were only 13, there was still plenty of room and time to steer their moral ship.

If you’ve read much of my writing, you know I lean toward the “serious” in life and tend to way overthink anything related to raising kids. Surprisingly, this isn’t an issue I feel is too deep. I don’t believe for a second that there is any long-term damage done to a child whose Mom cares enough to peek in on their social media.

On the lighter side of this issue, I can’t help but think…

I’ve given up privacy for 19 years.

Just recently over Christmas break when my twins were home from college, I sat down on the toilet and sure enough, in two seconds there was a knock at the door followed by, “Mom?!”
Seriously? The boy just watched me walk in here!?

When I’m in the shower, there are still occasional knocks on the door by three grown teenagers. “Mom!! Do you know where the stapler went?”

My kids pick up my phone all the time.
They flip through my texts, look at my photos and check my email.
Not because they are “checking” on me. Really, they are just sitting at the counter. And, instead of just sitting—at—the—counter, they’ll pick up my phone. I don’t mind. I do however, around Christmas and birthdays, give fair warning that their gifts might be in the photos or email.

On a more serious note, in this very depraved society, for children that might be being bullied or sexually harassed or worse, isn’t it better to surf a few things out to see that everything is okay and they are not holding back something that could eventually harm them?

On the day your first child gets their driver’s license, you’ll want to do something nice for yourself

I didn’t think the day would really be about “me”, as a celebration lunch was in order for the new driver, followed by a few more stops for extra driving time.

Yet, it was a surprisingly sensitive day for me. I quite unexpectedly felt needy, self-conscious… I craved a vacation from the passenger seat.

Although I have twins, my daughter took her road test prior to my son. She is my independent child and seemed ready to bolt the nest since she was in the 8th grade. On the day she received her driver’s license, this child was beyond thrilled.

She was euphoric.

We’re talking natural “high”.

As I thanked the road test lady and buckled into the passenger seat, my daughter was giddy. She was laughing and dancing in her seat as much as the seatbelt would allow her to shake those slim hips. John Travolta disco arms began waving through the car. An 80’s song came on the radio as we pulled away from the curb. She raised the volume and began having her own rock concert. This girl would normally cringe over 80s music coming out of the speakers. Not today.

Today the child was “free”. Even 80s music wouldn’t kill her buzz.

So back to me 🙂 . I admired the high. The excitement of a world that just opened up to her for the first time. We had been through the first boyfriend only months before. She had that same sparkle in her eyes…the unknown…the unexpected trepidation that isn’t scary but thrilling.

I was truly happy for her. So much so that I was laughing hard at her excited blue eyes, her rocking singing, the anticipation of a new beginning where the parental boundaries would yet again, widen slightly.

The laughter left my eyes wet. Maybe the humor tears had morphed into a soft emotional tear…

I looked down wondering why I simultaneously had a strange sadness.

The sadness might have had something to do with the stomach softness that was protruding over my seatbelt. I sucked it in, pulled my waist band up over the pouch and straightened up a bit.

I suddenly wanted lipo-suction. If I had the money, I seriously might have called that afternoon.

The sadness might also have been about her leaving the nest more often. My anxiety would certainly rise as she carted girlfriends back and forth to practice and for frozen yogurt.

I was in mid-life, and her exhilaration made me want to call a travel agent. I wanted to capture that feeling for myself…staring at a crystal-blue ocean, the wonderment of Christmas morning, the first car, the driver’s license, the firsts….

In your 40’s, there aren’t many firsts.

When I was 20, I thought my 40s might be spent traveling the world. We’re too busy paying for our kids to travel the world, to play travel sports…our checkbook reflects the life of raising kids. The 40’s are steady. Sure, it’s still good, but it’s not wonderment.

As my precious first-born daughter belted out a song holding an invisible microphone at stop lights, I couldn’t help but laugh. She waved with delight to random, fellow drivers. Their eyebrows furrowed, indicating they thought she was another weird teen.

All I could do was embrace the moment. It was hers, not mine. Yet, as all parents know, there is something beautiful that we do truly participate in when they take the first steps or get their first driver’s license. We too are “thrilled”, just in a different way.