I don't know how to parent my teenager

Photo by Fran Ulloa via Creative Commons

After her dramatic entry into this world, I held my firstborn in my arms and felt her weight free of my body for the first time. This separation was the first step in a long walk toward total independence. As I inhaled her scent, ran my fingers across her velvet skin, and gazed at her scrunched-up little face, I asked: Who are you?  Who will you be some day? I sensed her individuality emerging even in those tender moments. She was her own person. Who she’d be someday was already determined by genetics. I was only there to provide food, clothing and shelter and to discourage her from choosing serial killer as a career.

While it took a number of years for her self to be fully realized, back then it was a far-off concept. Back then, she was pink and chubby. She cooed and gurgled and curled into me when I held her. Back then I thought we had an unbreakable bond. As I reveled in the reflexive squeeze of her tiny fist around my finger, I fantasized about a future with us lunching together, dancing barefoot in the rain and sharing secrets.

Never in those baby-powder scented days could I have imagined a person who’d recoil from my touch, who’d stuff ear buds in her ears to drown out my conversational chatter, who’d slam a door in my face before I could finish a sentence or who’d pull the plug so swiftly and surely on all lines of communication to render me unworthy.

I thought it would be different between us. I was going to be a different mother. She was going to be a different daughter.

I thought if I did exactly the opposite of what my mother did, those things that ripped a hole in our compatibility, that the opposite would result.

I thought wrong.

Maybe there is nothing anyone can do to prevent this inevitable phase. I have no idea how to parent my teenaged daughter. No clue. It’s gotten to the point where I dread the days she is at my house. Not because I don’t love her. I do with a fierce passion. I dread those days because they result in a tsunami of emotions that overwhelm the entire household. No matter how Zen I try to be with her, to just experience the frustration and ride with it, to avoid throwing fuel on the fire, to be the adult, the bigger person, it always ends up the same: one or both of us shouting or in tears. It always ends with me venting to my husband or one of my friends or the Internet.

Further complicating matters, she lives with me four days out of the week. So, the remaining days, she’s getting an entirely different message, living within an entirely different dynamic. It’s like a looping weather pattern, as our family travels in and out of the eye of the hurricane. Calm for a few days, and then an emotional onslaught so debilitating at times I question my strength to get through the day. And she’s a good kid, really. She’s not into drugs or drinking. She’s a solid student. I cannot fathom what I’d do if I had a juvenile delinquent on my hands.

I’ve been at the gym a lot lately. Sweating away my frustrations on the cardio equipment and weight machines. I’ve been meditating like a maniac, hoping the calm achieved might give me some added mileage.

I’ve been searching online for tickets to South America.

No. Not really.

Some of it is normal teen angst, I’m sure.

Some of it is the particular suckiness that is parenting through joint custody.

Some of it is a middle-aged mother who realizes her oldest child is a mental gymnast. She is very much her father’s daughter: He is the master of debate, the fan of forensics, worshipper at the altar of logic. I hate conflict and endless debate. They live and breathe it. This personality clash led to the dissolution of my first marriage. What, then, do I do about a mother-daughter relationship built on the same shaky foundation?

I’m waving the white flag of resignation: I don’t know how to do this.

I don’t have answers. I welcome heartfelt suggestions.

I leave you with this link to a smart piece I heard on PRI’s “This American Life.” Listen to Act III: family dysfunction has a long and colorful history.


photo by Sean McGrath via Creative Commons

Last summer I came out of the closet about my preoccupation with ghosts and hauntings. Now that spring, too, is out of the closet, talk at the dinner table once again turns to our annual visit to the cabin in the woods, the one Girl from the East now calls “our other house.”

As always, I have mixed feelings. I must temper my desire to witness the raw beauty of the land with the growing body of evidence (suspicion, paranoia) that something paranormal lurks in the cool shadows of that deep-woods shelter. Each year as we discuss when we’ll go, an inner voice, as if watching the thin plot development of a horror flick, screams: “DON’T DO IT!”

Yet, we plan, pack and go. Every year we come back with another piece of evidence to tuck in the dossier of the unexplained.


Truth is, I don’t have to go far to see ghosts.  At a red light a few weeks back, I glanced in my rear view mirror to see my dead friend sitting in the white Toyota behind me. She was checking her hair and makeup.  The light turned green and I didn’t notice at first. I was still gaping at my dead friend primping in her compact car at a busy city intersection. I closed my eyes and shook my head to dislodge the vision. A horn honked, my eyes snapped open and she was gone.

Ghost friend.

At parent-teacher conferences in March, I sat in a hard plastic chair in the high school cafeteria waiting my turn and staring at my dead father. He strolled into the room as if he belonged there, as if he wasn’t dead 15 years. His pinstriped suit was as neat and pressed as the day he was laid out. Unlike the last image I had of my father: prone and embalmed, this ghost was hale and hearty.  As I stared at this apparition (It wasn’t really someone else’s father, was it?) reading the conference schedule and studying the teacher station map, my heart bounced in my chest like a caged raccoon. Crazy thoughts crashed around in my brain: He didn’t really die, he just went into the Federal Witness Protection Program. It’s all been a big misunderstanding.

The resemblance was uncanny. Down to the last details: the body shape, the facial structure, the mannerisms all were my dad. Yet, obviously not. For a moment I imagined a world in which my father still roamed among us. Would I truly recognize the 73-year-old version of my father?

Ghost dad.

I don’t see ghosts of everyone I know who has died. I’ve never encountered any of my grandparents, aunts or uncles.

I have a theory: I see my father and I see my friend who died in January because I didn’t get to say good-bye to either of them. Unfinished business. I held my grandmother’s hand in the days before she died. I had a chance to thank my grandpa for all he had done in his life. In all cases except these two, I had the opportunity to  make some final connection.


On a final note, a few years ago a visibly shaken stranger stopped me in a pharmacy, declaring me to be the spitting image of someone dead. Not that I looked like a corpse. Rather, I looked like the soccer coach at her daughter’s school who had recently died of cancer. This is why I’ll never approach anyone who looks like someone I know who has died. Awkward.


Photo by Photos8.com via Creative Commons

Girl from the East goes to a co-op preschool. What this means to the uninitiated is that in exchange for ridiculously affordable tuition, the parents provide everything from the food for snacks, some of the classroom supplies, and the cleaning and light maintenance of the classrooms, hallways, entrances and gardens. We hold bimonthly board meetings, volunteer a few hours a month as classroom assistants and we all have a set fund-raising commitment.

When I signed up for this a year ago, I was all oh-yeah-baby excited about the idea of a co-op. It seemed like such a tight-knit, socially involved community. I ignored words like fund-raising commitment per family and active involvement. I focused on words like school as in Girl is not-at-home, and school as in she’ll be occupied for a few hours a week so I can get stuff done and maybe work a little bit.

After almost a full year into the program, I feel like a co-op failure. We are behind (although not as behind as some families) in our fund-raising. We have our super deluxe extravaganza fund-raiser thingy this weekend. Each family was asked to rustle up some donations from local businesses, put our talents to work and create something at home, or purchase some items and make our own festive gift baskets. We also were supposed to be peddling the tickets to all our friends and families to boost attendance. I’m sure there was something else, too, but I forgot.


As of today, a mere three days from the event, I’ve done exactly nothing. Sure, I’ll go to Costco and buy a few jugs of juice and some massive bags of pretzels and veggie sticks for the kiddie snack table. I’m on board for clean-up after the shindig. I bought two tickets, one for me and one for my husband.

I made a feeble attempt to get a local business to donate a gift certificate or gift basket.  I visited in person, handed the owner one of our handy-dandy fliers with all the details and then waited. And waited. After an unanswered phone call, I just gave up. I’m guessing the deafening silence is a “no.” I know, a true salesperson would take that no and turn it into a yes with sprinkles. But, I am not a salesperson. Not now. Not ever.

Now I’m walking on pins and needles. The event is only days away. I have neither the time nor the energy to do whatever it is I’m supposed to be doing to make up for lost time. I like volunteering in the classroom. I like the social element of the school even if I’ve not participated in many of the events. I do not like all this fund-raising. I’ve been through 11 years of it with Girl from the West. I think it’s possible to burn out on fund-raising.

Next year, I’m taking the early buyout option. I’ll pay upfront my family’s obligation and wash my hands of flower bulb catalogs, cookie dough tubs, pizza kits and wrapping paper booklets.

But I’m not sure I can get off that easy. I  sense a moral scale, some ethical yardstick at work behind the scenes tirelessly weighing and measuring commitment to the cause. The results, I’m sure, are published in the Big Book of Gossip.

I’m crossing my fingers that next year will be different, that I’ll go in knowing what to expect and make more of an effort to add my co to this op. Otherwise, it’s just been a co-oops.

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I am not a robot

Maybe it was the random remark I made to my husband about having sore muscles and stiff joints that had me walking like a robot. Maybe it was the “Max and Ruby” DVD we borrowed from the library in which Max tries to irritate Ruby with his toy robot.

While the robot remarks were long forgotten as far as I was concerned, they were top of mind for Girl from the East. As I navigated my red cart through Target for the third time in a week (What? How did YOU spend your spring break?) Girl from the East ran ahead of me, stopped in the middle of the aisle,  turned around and shouted across the store:

“Let’s get moving, Robot Mommy.”

I froze. Several amused shoppers turned to look around. Being the Caucasian mother of a Chinese daughter, I’m accustomed to strangers looking past me for the Chinese mother. This time, perhaps they were looking for an animatronic Chinese woman?

Should I be mad at my girl for calling me a robot in the middle of Target? Should I reprimand her for running away and shouting in a store? I don’t know. Instead, I burst out laughing. She called me a robot in Target!

“Roooboooot Mommyyyyyyy,” she sang again, standing arms akimbo. “Come oo-ooon.”

“ROBOT.MOTHER.REPORTING.FOR.DUTY,” I replied in my best monotone drone after I caught up with her. This was equally for my daughter’s benefit as well as the onlookers.

On the drive home, Girl from the East revisited the issue.

Robot Mommy, please put on my CD.”

I replied in monotone: “I.AM.NOT.A.ROBOT.”

Picking up on the game, she followed:  “Are you sure?”

I hit it back into her court: “YES.I.AM.SURE.”

This went on for a few minutes as I explained that robots do not know how to drive cars. Yes, they do, she insisted. Robots do not drink coffee. It will rust their parts, I offered.

Yes, they dooooo. No, it woooon’t” she sang.

Robots do not have children, I offered as a final answer.

That stopped her for a moment. As she considered whether baby robots existed, the conversation stirred within me a deeply repressed memory, one which made me want to individually bitch slap the network “talent” responsible for this show. Do you remember? Maybe robots DO have children.

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One for each finger

Yesterday was my tenth wedding anniversary. Ten years. That’s a ring for each finger, or, one for each toe, depending on what way you twist.

Ten years is not such a big milestone that it merits news coverage, but it counts for something.

It feels good to say that it’s been a nice 10 years. My first marriage barely lasted six years. All but the first year were tough. I’m over feeling like a failure for that union. I’d like to think I learned some valuable lessons from the experience.

The most important lesson? Marriage takes teamwork.

If you don’t have teamwork in a relationship, it will not last. If I’m a vegetarian and you are a member of Steak of the Week Club, we might have some issues. If you are a big game hunter and I’m the president of the local PETA chapter, it might not work out. If I’m carefully saving money for retirement and you are opening credit cards behind my back, we are surely headed for a cliff.

That’s silly, you might say, people who are that different would not get married. It happens. Love/lust is a blind fool.

In our first years of marriage, we often talked about what we might do for our tenth anniversary. We might plan a romantic getaway to the Caribbean. We might finally get the diamonds put in my wedding band — an idea that we postponed a decade ago in favor of putting a down payment on our house.

Who knew our careers, the economy, our lifestyle would be so different  today? The idea of splurging on diamonds or a resort vacation seems foolhardy.

Instead, we celebrated simply. We had brunch at our favorite breakfast joint. We are going out to dinner tonight, dressed up and without children, for the first time in too long. We’ll drink one glass too many of wine. We’ll order dessert. We’ll probably talk about our summer road trip. We love road trips. Our relationship was built on road trips.

I don’t know what you are supposed to do for 10 years. A party with a hired band and ice sculptures? An exotic  trip? Vow renewal?

What really matters?

I guess that we still want to be married to each other counts for something. I suppose the fact that we haven’t waved kitchen implements during heated arguments means something. We haven’t cheated or lied (outside of white lies about butts not looking too big and hair loss not being too noticeable) or changed in such dramatic ways that we are no longer appealing to the other.

We made it to 10 years. While it’s not newsworthy, it is remarkable.

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Home. Homey. Home-ish.

Thank you, Collette.

Home is on my mind.

This week marks 10 years of living in our house, which has become over time, experience, buckets of sweat equity if not actual financial equity (thank you, recession) a home. When we took possession of the property in April 2000, we were giddy soon-to-be-married lovers. Everything we did was a romantic moment. Our first meal in this house was Middle Eastern takeout.  We sat cross-legged on the scuffed hardwoods, scooping tabbouleh and hummus onto our plates. Between bites of stuffed grape leaves, we chatted and laughed and listened to our voices bounce around the bare walls.  We discussed changing the paint color, improvement projects, where my then 6-year-old daughter would sleep, where our *gasp* future children would have their bedrooms. This modest brick bungalow was the blank slate of our future.

After a wedding ceremony, a pregnancy and miscarriage, an adoption process that resulted in another girl child in our home, endless home projects, parties, illnesses, spilled paint and shattered dreams, a parade of Christmas trees, birthday party sleepovers,  financial heights and economic lows, power outages, infestations, and the first green sprouts of renewed hope, we are still here. Our marks add to the collective history of this little house built in 1941. While I may resent the moldy basement, the dingy siding, the windows that don’t open, I also have a deep gratitude for these sturdy walls, floors and the roof. The bones of this place have held up. They’ve  given us shelter from the heat, the cold, and the economic storms. During the darkest hours of our despair, I’ve  felt comfort in this house as it held me in its quiet embrace.

I’ve been thinking about  my hometown.

No, Detroit is not a travel destination. No one drools with envy when I announce I am from Detroit. However, I have the pleasure of knowing as friends and as acquaintances a number of people from all over the world who are happy to make Detroit their home.  These people  left behind their cosmopolitan cities, their colorful cultures, their mountain views and beachfront vistas to come here to this (insert latest media catch phrase). They like the cultural diversity, the music scene, the abundance of water, hunting for and discovering the hidden gems amid the ruins, and the niceness of the people. Despite our crime statistics and widely reported corruption, people here are nice. Really.

Do not believe everything you read and hear about Detroit. Read this transplant’s blog post to gain a fresh perspective on national and international reporting on Detroit.

I’ve been thinking about  local bloggers.

I was thrilled to open The Detroit Free Press today to find two of my favorite Detroit-area bloggers featured in a larger story about, well, blogging. I’ve met Melissa of Rock and Drool. She is a beautiful and dynamic woman who doesn’t hide behind a persona or false words. She dishes it out straight. I love that about her. I’ve not met the other Melissa who writes Suburban Bliss, but I’ve been reading her blog for years.  I found her by accident when I Googled “MOMS Clubs in my neighborhood.” It appears she saved me from the special hell of organized play groups.  At the time, I was a former career woman sitting alone in my house wondering how I was going to get through another day. How was I going to find other stay-at-home mothers who were like me? Suburban Bliss helped me realize I was not alone. Not only did I start blogging shortly after that, but I also formed my own play group.

I’ve been thinking about my home on the Web.

I have neither the numbers nor the controversy surrounding my site to gain any attention, so the media will not be knocking on my door anytime soon. Whew! Whatever it is I do, another fellow Detroit blogger, Collette of My Babcia’s Babushka, gave me a pat on the back and declared my blog all home-like, or homely, or home-ish or something like that. Thank you, Collette, for the props.

Home is on my mind.