12 years old; My heart in her hands

I am cleaning up her room so we can redecorate it as a Christmas present. I’m sorting through her clothes and books for things that don’t fit or suit her any more than do the pale pink walls and kitten-themed quilt on her bed.

Same as me, she leaves her private journals strewn about in plain sight. I wonder what she’s written there, and how much of it is an indictment of my parenting skills verses boys she is crushing on. I wonder if my mother  wondered the same about me at these ages – me at 12 going on 25, she at some spot in her 30s I couldn’t be bothered to keep straight. I do remember writing something like, “When I am a mom, I will NOT do these things…”

And I made a list I’m sure I’ve betrayed.

Her bulletin board is tacked with swim medals and dream catchers made in summer camps she doesn’t want to attend anymore, and also writing by me, for her.

The meaning she assigns her favorite objects: I wonder how different it is from what I’ve assigned those things, or if she’s assigned any such meaning at all. I wonder how annoyed she’d be if she knew I was in her room at all, much less thinking about her things.

Last week she told me she didn’t want to spend Christmas with me, then she begged me to take her Christmas shopping.

Cleaning out her closet, I found two of my dresses and a pair of my heels.

The other morning, she asked me to french braid her hair for school. I don’t french braid, but I tried. She scowled and rearranged it into a ponytail, then complained that we were going to be late, then freaked out upon realizing we’d be further delayed by me having to scrape the ice from the windshield. “I will be late and they won’t let me take my midterm!”

She shouted it was my fault, I shouted louder that it was hers, and we arrived at school – on time and unspeaking.

I called my mother and asked how long and frustrating this phase of our lives would be, and Mom and I talked for an hour.

I love-love her, like you like-like certain boys at her age: beyond the day-to-day and with bittersweetness.

Tomorrow she’ll be someone else I’ll love just as much.

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How To Not Be Irritated With Your Family During Christmas

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Friends are people who know you as you’ve come to be, and family are people who knew you as you were coming along.

For a lot of adult children, this distinction is clear and very painful during the holidays. Through perceived or real guilt trips levied by their parents, they feel tugged to return to their families of origin to participate in traditions of their youth, giving up the cozy familiarity of their present day friends who know things like, for example, that they question the very religion that is grounds for this current holiday season. Or that we’ll be quitting the job that pays our bills. Or we’ve been having a fling – it’ll end soon! – with a cokehead drummer. Things they wouldn’t want to discuss with their parents. But I’d ask: why not?

It’s tough to be intimate with people who don’t know how you think, what pushes you and pisses you off, what makes you sparkle and what you hold most dear. It’s tougher when those people feel an assumed closeness to you simply because you share DNA or a childhood.

It’s also frustrating and borderline insulting when families do not encourage or in some cases even allow their grown children to establish their own traditions and customs.

But I think the onus is on the kids – us grown-up, navel-gazing, parent-pleasing “kids” in our 20s, 30s and even our 40s, often with kids of our own – to work this out with our parents.

If we want to enjoy our time with them (or for everyone to be cool with having time apart) during the holidays or other times, we have to let them know us as our friends do: as the people we have become.

For me, this comes from asking – and being willing to answer – meaningful questions of my parents and extended family.

But I know from being around other less verbal people (including members of my own family), that closeness can also develop over cards or football, a raunchy board game, on a pontoon boat with cocktails, walking around a golf course, cooking a meal together, listening to records, and writing letters (real ones, in the mail).

We expect the world from our families, especially our parents. It’s a valid expectation; they brought us into the world and, assuming the best, they raised us mostly right.

But we can’t expect them to keep up with all our changes – to know intimately whom, exactly, they’ve raised – unless we share ourselves with them.

Parents, grandparents, adult children… we are all adults now. We can act the part instead of assuming the roles we did as kids, and we’ll all be closer and more empathetic.

Footnote: the photos above are from Christmas 2011. One is of friends around a table in Oak Bar at the Hermitage Hotel – a tradition we started five years ago as a friends group. The other is of my family, in my dining room. Our family has several established holiday traditions, but we are flexible. That year, everyone drove or flew to Nashville to be at my house so my daughter could be with both her (very recently divorced) parents.

Things I Want My Daughter To Know About Sex

Some friends and I were discussing this article about whether parents should feel comfortable with their teenagers having sex in their homes. I personally would not.

But certainly what I do support is making sure that as my daughter grows up, she knows what I think about the issue – not about sex in my house, specifically, but more importantly my thoughts on sex in a woman’s life in general.

Here are some things I’d like her to know:

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340 Tracks and Counting

This is my 12-year-old daughter Lily’s blog post from today: 340 Tracks and Counting

She texted me when I was at work:

“Wrote a new blog post.”

I read it immediately.

There was a time when I wouldn’t have done that. Wrapped up in my career to the point of delegating all the parenting to her father.

Then we divorced and I couldn’t do that anymore.

That’s when I became a real mom. Not only did my relationship with my daughter improve, ALL of my relationships did – including the one with my ex-husband.

And that’s why all the songs (and memories) she mentions here are from our post-divorce timeframe.

She is my biggest life lesson, and (I am so tremendously lucky to say this) – my biggest success.

Keep your soundtrack going, dear girl. I will keep being your costar.

Defining “family” when there’s a divorce

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As a child I remember spending time with relatives and mentally drawing the family tree while everyone played cards and mixed cocktails and cheered for Auburn. These hilarious and super accomplished women are my mom’s first cousins. Their kids are my second cousins. Mom’s sister’s husband’s nieces are my cousins by marriage.

We had a couple of divorces in my family, and sometimes the “related by marriage” person would appear again at a funeral or wedding. But for the most part, in those cases, they drifted away from the rest of our group. I didn’t think about those folks’ relationship to me.

Sometimes it has to be that way, and I don’t judge any families in which that is the case.

But divorce does not have to split a family.

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How to do Paris with your tween

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When my 11-year-old daughter and I decided we would go to Paris, it was largely a reaction to our visit to India, which is not an easy place for inexperienced American travelers, one of whom was under the age of 10 at the time.

Securing our visas alone was quite the adventure and that was before we’d ever left Nashville. Getting to the Taj Mahal? Holy wow. THAT was the most difficult travel experience I imagine I’ll ever have.

So upon our return to the US after that trip (and really, I don’t mean to slag on India; we’re both very grateful to have had that experience), 9-year-old Lily asked if we could go … somewhere different than India … the next time we left the country.

Two years later, Paris it would be.
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Paris, Day 2: Bad With Maps

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Paris with my 11-year-old daughter, Lily. Our second morning, jetlagged and confused, but figuring things out.

We are back in our room after leaving at 6 am to take a tour of castles in the French countryside. We didn’t make it. We missed our bus by 5 minutes even though we left an hour and 15 minutes early.

I just couldn’t figure out the subway and got lost too many times to get there in time. So we will do castles tomorrow. Lily was great while I had my tearful meltdown. It is raining and cold, and this kind of day is better suited to museums and hot chocolate anyway, she said.

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When Your Mom Is “Famous”

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My first memory of Mom as a working mother is from second grade. One of the kids in my class was sort of famous because his mom taught third grade in our school. The only kid who seemed more exotic than him was our own teacher’s kid. We knew what his mom was like at school. Here was a kid who knew what she was like in real life!

With my younger brother starting kindergarten, my mother began substitute teaching that year, and this put me on a third tier of teachers’ kids. No one had her full-time, but most kids had her at some point. That made her like a supporting actress, which made me almost cool.

The next year, Mom was a full-time teacher with her own class. She taught sixth grade, so while my friends were all too young to be her students, she was definitely a lady people knew. We could not go to the grocery store, ball park, or Mt. Juliet’s one (at the time) fast food restaurant without someone stopping to chat with Mrs. Stivender.

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A Southern great-grandmother: “If they were gay and whatever, so what. She was one of us.”

I’ve asked my grandmother several times over the years to tell me about Maude Pick, her aunt Pearl’s lifelong companion and housemate.

Maybe because the issue has been discussed so persistently lately on the cable news networks she watches between Andy Griffith reruns from her easy chair on her lake house porch, but this Easter weekend – following the U.S. Supreme Court’s hearing of arguments on the Defense Of Marriage Act – she seemed more relaxed when talking about the relationship between Pearl and “Pick” (as Maude was known).

The video here was shot by my daughter on that lakeside porch in teeny Dadeville, Alabama. My mom and I are in a few shots, as is my parents’ golden retriever. It’s a little grainy and jumpy, and I wish I had photos of Pearl and Pick, but I love this all the same. Regardless of what you think about this issue, I hope it inspires you to ask your grandparents interesting questions, and to record their responses.

Life is short. Love is always.

The Link Between Hardship and Success

She was 12 and in junior high school and had a problem of falling down at inexplicable times. Kids were mean.

To prevent herself from collapsing all the way to the ground during these falls, she carried herself on crutches. That way, when she fell, she fell only as far as the rubber arm rest.

During class, when she sat at a desk, the crutches lay beside her on the ground. If a teacher left the room, the boys in the class would tug the rubber arm rests from the crutches and wag them lewdly in her face.

That was pretty bad.

But the worst part of this is she could not explain to anyone – not her friends, not her teachers, not her parents and not her doctors – why she was falling. She did have a growing sense that certain things prompted the falls – blinking Christmas lights, staying up too late, slumber parties at the house of a friend who played really loud music.

She was tested for things that scared the hell out of her parents. MS. MD. Something called Guillain-Barre syndrome, which – like severe forms of muscular dystrophy – paralyzes its victims rapidly and ultimately causes organ failure.

This was 1989, and before the internet, so she couldn’t do much research on her own.

When the junior high boys began with the sexually-charged arm rest bullshit, she decided she’d rather risk a fall to the ground. She gave up the crutches.

That Christmas, she sat at the dinner table with her extended family. Her aunt – a child psychologist familiar with neurological disorders – had a striking moment of realization when she watched her niece uncontrollably fling a fork across the table.

“Test her for epilepsy,” she said.

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