Laughter Really is the Best Medicine

It had been a long and intense evening of discussion. Mother, father, daughter all holed up in her room, while the boys waited in another part of the house and wondered if they were going to get to eat dinner.

We discussed her school schedule and our disagreements about it. We discussed priorities, desires, boys, grades, cell phones, behavior, attitude. She got angry, calmed down, cried, tried to distract herself by cleaning her room. Every once in awhile, the dog or the preschooler or the dog and the preschooler made an appearance. Daryl tried to remind us there were other people in the house. The discussion lasted nearly two hours and left us all drained. Drained, but not really at odds with each other. From the parental perspective, the talk had gone well. We had accomplished our objectives.

Per the new cell phone directives, she handed me her phone as she resumed her homework. I looked down at her wall paper and asked who it was.

“Channing Tatum,” she replied, smiling up at me like she dared me to say something. She had recently had a mild argument with her aunt over whether he qualified as “hot”.

After a brief pause for effect, I smiled back and nodded. “You’ve got pretty good taste.”

“I know,” she said. And then under her breath but with a smile, “Unlike you.”

“What did you say?”

“Well… my dad’s really not all that, ya know.”

“What are you talking about?! He is the hottest man on the planet!”

Laughing, she put her hands up in protest. “Okay, you can stop now.”

“No, really. Your dad is hot!”

“That’s enough!”

“You should have seen him in high school…”

“Really! You don’t need to do this!”

“…He was so tall with broad shoulders…” I gazed longingly at him in the other room as she interrupted.

“Enough! Please! I don’t need to hear this!”

I adopted my best imitation of her swooning teenager voice. “I’m telling you. He was a man among boys!”

“Okaaayyy!!” The embarrassed laughter and friendly banter seemed to break through the slightly reserved interaction we had had a few minutes prior. As she laughed and kicked around, the smiley face eraser fell off her pencil and onto the floor. Rose dove in after it.

“Rose! No! Don’t eat my smiley face! Mom! She just ate my eraser!”

Rose certainly appeared to have something in her mouth so I reached down to fish it out while Jane nearly fell over from laughing. That’s when I noticed the eraser tucked behind a chair leg. We laughed some more. It felt good.

I had been down in the dumps all day, dreading the conversation. It is more difficult to parent a preteen/teenager than I ever could have imagined. The previous night, her dad and I had discussed what we needed to talk to Jane about. I was distressed and anxious. I didn’t want to be a parent of a twelve year old anymore. I didn’t want to do the hard work. I didn’t want to take the abuse. I didn’t want to have the arguments that are inevitable when what the parents think is best conflicts with what the child wants.

Then we talked. And it was hard. But not as bad as I had feared. And then we laughed and teased and I was in love with my daughter again. There will be more rough times ahead; but as long as we can find something to laugh about afterwards, maybe it will all be ok.

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How You Know Your Preteen is Really, Really Tired

There is a myriad of ways that parents can tell that their very young children are tired. They rub their eyes. They yawn. They throw fits and whine about incidental things. They refuse to go to sleep.

Preteens are a bit more difficult to read. Part of this is because when a preteen is tired, she typically doesn’t have the same resistance to taking a nap as a preschooler. If your preteen is tired, you will probably find her passed out.

If forced to function while tired, however, she may make strange cognitive mistakes that she will not remember the next day.

When we arrived at our hotel late Friday night, both the preschooler and the preteen were asleep in the back seat. The preschooler had the good fortune to be carried to the room. Jane was given a shake and told to grab her stuff and come in.

She was thirsty and asked for a drink. Her dad unwrapped one of the paper cups provided by the hotel and handed it to her. After awhile, I noticed that she was spending a lot of time at the sink. She would turn the water on for a brief spurt, then lean down close to the bowl, take a sip, then repeat.

When I got closer, I saw why. She had the cup upside down.

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She protested when I took the cup from her and poured out the water. I then turned it right-side up and refilled it. She gave me a confused “Oh. Thank you.” The next morning, she had no recollection of the incident. That is how you know when she is tired.

1-10, Honestly

I volunteered to mentor my daughter’s Robotics team this year. This means I spend an hour and a half in a room full of noisy, energetic preteens three nights a week. It has been… an education. To say the least.

One of the interesting aspects of this age group (sixth grade) is that they are on the balance point between childhood and the teenage years. Some of them, mostly girls, look – and act – very much like teenagers. Some of them, mostly boys, look – and act – very much like my third grade son. Most of them are caught in between. They are exploring the brave new world of teendom in a distinctly childlike manner.

One example of this was on display tonight. The other girl on Jane’s team began to ask one of the boys on the team a series of questions. Actually, it was the same question asked repeatedly but with a different girl’s name substituted in each time. Apparently, this is a regular team pastime.

“1-10, honestly. How pretty do you think Rachel is?”

He would turn and look, I presume at Rachel, and respond with a number. She would move on to the next girl. And then the next. He kept most of the numbers low, less than 5. Eventually, she spied Jane. “1-10. Jane.”

She was across the room behind him and as he turned to look, I gave a mock warning, “Now, remember. Her mother is sitting right here.”

He paused for another second and responded, “7.”

She accepted the answer and moved on. Once all the girls in the room had been covered, she changed the question. “1-10. How annoying do you think Rachel is?” Not surprisingly, the numbers were higher for this question.

Eventually, the question was applied to Jane. Without hesitation, he said, “2.”

WHAT? Are you kidding me?” I asked. “This is ‘annoying’, right? Do you really think Jane is only a 2?”

“Well, her mother is sitting right here,” he responded in a dead serious voice.

I have to say that I’m truly growing to love these kids. He seemed a little bit surprised that I would recognize that my daughter contains great capacity to get on people’s nerves. He and Jane had butted heads the previous week while I was helping another team. I looked at him and asked, “You certainly would have ranked her much higher last week, wouldn’t you?” He agreed.

The game went on among all four team members present. It even included hypotheticals, like this one, addressed to a boy, “If you were a girl, who in this room would you score a ten?”

Jane jumped in before he could answer. “Me, of course!”

“I said if he was a girl!”

“I know. I’m just so awesome that he’d be gay so he could still pick me.”

Everyone laughed, including the one young man who actually happened to be working on the robot at that moment. Tonight I saw clearly what my greatest blessings will be for this year of my daughter’s life. One is to see her “in action” with her peers, to truly see her social circle, not just listen to her talk about it. The other is to find my place as a parent who is comfortable interacting with my daughter’s peers. And to think I almost passed up this opportunity as too much of a time commitment. 1-10, honestly? This experience has been a ten.