My two teenage girls and I recently had an illuminating discussion about what I’ll call the Teen Social Kingdom, of which some kids always seem to emerge the rulers, though seldom for reasons that make any sense. But let me add that I use the term “ruler” somewhat facetiously, because the real rulers, if you will, are often those who, like Shakespeare’s famous Fools, know how to move around with ease, usually on the down low, interacting as successfully with the “powerful” as they do with those out of favor, sometimes even content to be their own best company.  Stick with me while I explore the business of acquiring the skills required for a certain level of what we might call social success, something I realize can benefit those of us in the Kingdom of Adults just as well as it can the teenagers in our lives.

Today’s tools.  One:  talk less, listen more. This tool is designed for people who love to talk and who may be unaware of the way in which they sometimes eclipse others.  Every teen you know probably knows someone who jumps into a conversation, hijacks it, and steers it to their own story (which simply cannot wait to be told, it’s so interesting).  And on the off chance that that person is one of our own teens, a discussion about this can be both useful and gentle.  If we have a brilliant talker/storyteller on our hands, we can acknowledge the gift but also point out the powerful social currency we accrue to ourselves as we practice giving others a turn on center stage, thus framing the issue as a potential win-win for everyone involved.

During my conversation with my girls, I asked them, “Have you ever been in a conversation where? . . .”–an attempt to get them thinking about their own moments with friends who may constantly jump in with a “You guys you guys oh my gosh I totally have the funniest thing to tell you! . . .” Often, the young person who does this is a) unaware of the habit, and b) not intentionally trying to make the other participants in a conversation feel shunted aside or unimportant. But bottom line, that can be the net effect, right?  Curiously, sometimes The Talker has a following–a retinue of faithful listeners who would rather sacrifice their own opportunity to tell their bit of something than not be among the “privileged” hearers. I knew just a person when I was young. She was fun, magnetic, and in fact drew crowds just by opening her mouth. And I definitely wasted all kinds of perfectly useful time resenting her talent.

So what could I have done instead? What could our kids do?  Consider tool number two, especially useful for the individual often relegated to the status of serial listener.   When a Serial Talker is winding up, politely (and I do mean politely) find somewhere . . . else . . . to be. It’s hard to resent someone when you’re not physically present in the venue likely to provoke the resentment.  In short, go do your own thing.  Having said that, I want to acknowledge how tricky this can be for teens, who can be very tribal.  When I brought up tool number two with my daughters, we talked about how much power there was in being willing to be a “tribe of one” during those moments that are never going to end differently, not until Mr. or Miss Talker wises up and decides to give others a turn both to speak and to shine.

Ideally, the Somewhere Else ought to be a place that’s happy, not just a place to pout. Why? Because there’s power in being your own best company for a while.  In fact, those who appear happy doing whatever they’re doing inevitably attract people to themselves. Why this is so, I don’t know, but it seems to be a law of nature–as true for everyone as it is for teens.  Think, for example, of the kid in the sandbox who’s having such a good time with a few rocks (as opposed to the very cool toy the Sandbox King is playing with) that eventually everyone heads on over to check out the rocks.  Restated, tool number two is learn to be happy doing your own thing.

Review.  One.  To build social success, listen more than you talk.  A lifelong pursuit, this empowers the listener to become more mature and selfless, qualities even a pack of Teen Royals might, if pressed, confess to admiring. And two, if we have a (fed up) serial listener on our hands, someone who resents never being in the spotlight, we can invite them to practice the art–even for an hour at a time–of being a “pack of one,” finding other outlets for their time and energies.  This not only builds self-confidence but also allows teens to venture into areas of interest they might not otherwise have connected with.  And the side benefit:  humans of all ages love to be around someone who’s cool doing their own thing.

Thoughts? Please chime in. As you can tell, I rather fancy myself the storyteller these days, but I am an eager listener, too. Really–I’m all ears!

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Front view of church, artistic_9357

We started off the day in Taradell, a small town nestled in the Catalunyan countryside, about an hour north of Barcelona.

Silas in front of church_9328

The whole story was the church, which sat at the end of a small rambla lined with bare but dignified trees.  Wish I could have said what they were.  (If you can tell by the look of the trunks and branches, would you be kind enough to shoot me a comment?)

View of church_9326

Rose window of church_9331

We wandered around and around the church, hoping that someone inside would intuit that I waited without, and that the gorgeous old door would mysteriously open.

Tower with birds_9345

Becky ooking up_9335

Sigh.  On to Pruit, an old Romanesque church dating to the 1100’s, technically part of the town of Rupit, though secreted off on a lonely hill so verdant, even in the icy morning, you’d think you were in some 19th Century novel.


View of Church_9383

View of valley_9430

Door of church_9463

Facade of church_9462

The quiet was so thick you could almost taste it.  No cars, no jet path overhead, no birdsong, even.  Someone no doubt lives in the cottage attached to the old church, but if they were actually there and they found us annoying, you wouldn’t have known it.  I always find myself hoping that exclamations of delight translate well to the language of those who might be off in some corner, listening to us. If they saw Miss Lavender jumping, they did not come out and scold her for being happier than your average teenage girl on a school day.

Tessa jumping_9411

Tessa in air_9413

Indeed, we were left to ourselves. And so we did whatever we had the urge to do.

Tess on my lap_9472

Millay and me holding hands_9498

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Costa Brava_4536

Moms of little ones blog. How happy, that they do! I wish, HOW I wish, there had been a blogopshere circa mid nineties, when I was a new mom in desperate need of perspective, advice, laughs, and an authentic sense of solidarity.

What I find myself wanting now is the conversation about our teens, whom we love just as fiercely even though our interactions with them can sometimes be more fraught. If that conversation is happening somewhere and I haven’t joined in, please, someone, point me toward it! Don’t we all need illumination??

Moreover, I find myself wanting that conversation to focus on how we’re succeeding in spite of the many influences out there that tend to sour parent-teen relationships and erode our teens’ confidence. Because when we succeed, what’s really happening is that love carried the day. And given all that goes on in the lives of teens and their parents, a return to love in its many forms is perhaps the most important thing we could aspire to.

Two things I know for sure (to borrow a phrase from Oprah): successful families are not immune to confusion and heartache. We never know what challenges face the families we imagine to be perfect, and comparing our family to someone else’s is a recipe for unhappiness. Two. We all can create success through the ways we work at loving. Traditions, I suppose we could call them. The most successful families I know of have a commitment to practicing love through traditions that eventually take hold and bear fruit, often in unexpected ways. Those rituals that make our family uniquely ours can be a powerful force for good in the lives of our teens.

So: let’s share ideas about our habits and traditions–the practices that, through their very repetition, function to knit us together, the weave ultimately becoming tighter and more lovely than we have the capacity to imagine.

Moms of teens. And Dads of teens. Time for illumination! How do you work to love? Let’s index our ideas and strengthen our teens in the process!

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Family Fun in Passau, Germany

by Becky on October 2, 2012

in Food, Fun, Music

When our ship docks in Passau, a quintessentially picturesque city in the heart of Bavaria, I couldn’t be more excited.  A world-class organ in a centuries-old cathedral awaits–a fact that has my oldest son, the music lover, totally “stoked,” to quote his surf team coach.  And the possibility of vintage clothing and/or jewelry stores showing up in our day has my daughters equally breathless.  And narrow, cobblestone streets to zoom up . . . and zoom down . . . well, that’s about all my youngest needs.  Places to stretch his legs and flex his running muscles:  what more could you want when you’re eight?

The cool thing about being in a fairy-tale town in a storied little corner of the world?  Watching your kids, ages 19, 16, 13, and 8, discover it!

Turns out the concert puts everyone to sleep except Young Mr. Beethoven.  Turns out there is in fact the perfect antique trinkets/jewelry store parked on a tiny side street in town.  Turns out the patisseries are spendid.  (What more do you need in your afternoon than a fine piece of cake?)  And with my husband’s omnipresent camera, the story of the day is–voila!–a movie.

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So I decided I’m going to blog. About blogging. About my teenagers. A meta blog! So postmodern, isn’t it? So early two thousands. So bourgeois.

So self-important.

Oh well. Regardless, I’m going to cast myself as the mom who conquered the blogosphere by blogging about it. A blog within a blog! Kind of like Inception, except not about wildly cool dreams imbedded in deeper, equally cool dreams. And not about Leonardo DiCaprio. And without the mindblowing special effects. And also without the surreal box office success. I know, bad comparison. Okay, better one: blogging is like driving an ice cream truck. You wind around and around the same neighborhoods, day in, day out, your quirky little tune getting lost on the breeze, and you’re lucky if two people stop you for one of the treats you’re peddling. But hey, at least if you talk about the journey, you can fool yourself into thinking you’re getting decent gas mileage.

Wait. I’m getting ahead of myself. First, to what I’ll call the L1B, or Layer One Blog. The inspiration came to me one day after I’d seen some disturbing stuff here and there on the web, written by (understandably) hysterical moms of teens. According to these women, their kids were completely out of control: on drugs, having sex, disrespecting their families and themselves and God and thus–like rogue tornadoes–generally cutting wide swaths of the acutest misery through the lives of everyone connected with them. Geez, I thought. Is this all that’s out there? Is no one saying a single positive thing about these not-yet-adults? Granted, teenagehood is tricky, everyone acknowledges that. Those of us who survived our own teenage years still tend to stutter when rehearsing the tales. (Say “still tend to stutter” four times, fast, while imagining yourself as a twitchy high school sophomore whose lips keep snagging on a mouth laced with orthodontic chicken wire.)

Anyway, I decided it was the tone of the web chatter that puzzled me most. So full of contempt. I’d grant them fear, these mom bloggers. Anyone could see why they would be afraid, given the stories I was seeing. I’d even grant them anger, considering some of the shocking things their teens had said and done. But I could not grant them contempt. Which got me thinking: was anyone talking about their teens with (semi) equal parts concern and affection? Or humor?? Was anyone talking about the strange extent to which our teenagers’ fitness for stirring us up may be directly proportional to their wonderful complexity? I mean, they’re interesting, these teens! And yeah, exasperating, here and there. And sometimes frightening. (I’ll grant myself that.) But darn it if every one of them isn’t thoroughly unique, a fact that requires us to put aside our own parental prejudices long enough to suspend judgment, thereby qualifying us to see the beautiful snowflake patterns, as it were, before adulthood tries to dissolve them.

You see, I wanted to talk about the complicated but brilliant business of raising teens. Why? Because my kids bump up the color of my world, all the time. When one of them starts deleriously riffing on something that happened at school–like, say, falling asleep in AP biology and hearing later that the entire class thrust their collective chins toward their drooling classmate when the teacher asked whether she was present–man, I LOVE those stories! I love that drooling, sleeping girl who studies her brains out! Or when one of them receives a special award for having started a service club on campus, an effort that involved making tray favors for hospitalized children, sending donated goods to troops in Afghanistan, and raising money for prostate cancer (I’m not sure why it wasn’t breast cancer, but still), I’m convinced that the applause could never possibly be loud enough. I love that tall, blue-eyed, tray favor-making Fundraiser!

So essentially, my blog was going to be me, in my ice cream truck, blasting my little song about the sangfroid of my teenage offspring. And I am blasting away. I am now Eleven O’Clock Mom. I live at http://www.elevenoclockmom.com. Go to my home page if you don’t believe me.

On to my L2B, then. (Layer Two Blog, if you’re wondering.) This is where I dive deeper, to blog about my blog. In short, this is where I chronicle my life as a mom-of-teens blogger. So far, I’ve learned two things. One, if I take myself too seriously, it will potentially hurt my ice cream sales. Second, if people discover that I don’t look like a top-tier blogger (Samantha Ettus comes to mind), it will hurt my ice cream sales. Thus, I will have to learn not to care what anyone thinks about my middle-agedness and also not to eschew the use of photo-altering technology to conceal the fact that I haven’t had a lip wax since 2011.

Stay tuned for more L2B-ing. In my next post, I plan to talk about why trawling the web in search of other successful mom bloggers in order to tease out their secrets makes you want to crawl headfirst into a pre-heated oven. Stay tuned as well for more of my L1B, where the real substance is. (Because it’s where the kids are.)


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Flower Note

The Art of the Love Note

by Becky on March 30, 2012 · 1 comment

in Parenting, Traditions

Remember when you used to tuck a little note in your second grader’s lunch? I often wrote silly little poems on index cards and slid them in between the sandwiches and Teddy Grahams, content to think about the big moment of discovery.

Love note from mom with Mom in focus

Well guess what? My big kids love love notes. They do! Sometimes I bury them deep in a sack lunch. Sometimes I leave them in other spots. For my two Big Girl Valentines, I wrote love notes on February 14th and left them perched on their respective pillows, along with six roses each. The title of both notes: “Six Reasons You Are More Beautiful Than These Roses.”

Rock the notes. Pop them in lunches, prop them on pillows, post them on mirrors. For a son, something simple, left on his desk: “I’m honored to be your mother.” He may not say anything, but he’ll log both the gesture and the sentiment.

Try it, and let me know how it goes!

Love note from Mom with room and flowers in focus

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