Tag Archives: parenting

Straight From the Mouths of Teenage Drivers


I’m teaching my third child to drive. It’s making me crazy. Certifiable. Nuts. I don’t remember it being this hard with the boys. In honor of this special bit of parenting craziness, I’m posting a list from my fourth book, I’ve Had It Up To Here With Teenagers. Feel free to yuk it up at my expense. As usual.

Straight From The Mouths of Teenage Drivers:
1. “I’m not speeding! I’m going exactly the speed limit!”
2. “That dent was already there.”
3. “I’m not too close.”
4. “That car needs to stay out of my lane.”
5. “I know what to do. You told me that a hundred times already.”
6. “I did come to a complete stop.”
7. “This is harder than it looks.”
8. “That was close!”
9. “Merging is hard.”
10. “I forgot about crosswalks.”
11. “I’m never going to parallel park, so I don’t need to practice that.”
12. “You don’t have to yell at me!”
13. “Sorry. Is that going to be expensive?”
14. “I drove well this time. Didn’t I, Mom? You didn’t throw up once.”


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Straight From The Mouths of Teenage Drivers


  1. “I’m not speeding! I’m going exactly the speed limit.”
  2. “That dent was already there!”
  3. “I’m not too close.”
  4. “That car needs to stay out of my lane.”
  5. “I know what to do. You told me that a hundred times already.”
  6. “I did come to a complete stop.”
  7. “This is harder than it looks.”
  8. “Wow. That was close!”
  9.  “Merging is hard.”
  10.  “I forgot about crosswalks.”
  11. “I’m never going to parallel-park, so I don’t need to practice that.”
  12. “You don’t have to yell at me!”
  13. “Sorry. Is that expensive to fix?”
  14. “I drove well this time; didn’t I, Mom? You didn’t throw up once!”

Posting this excerpt from my last book, I’ve Had It Up To Here With Teenagers, as I teach my third child to drive this week. It’s like labor and delivery, one forgets. . . .


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10 Things I Wish People Wouldn’t Share With Me


Don’t get me wrong. Sharing is good. Generally. If you open a tin of mints next to me, I want one. If you crack open a bottle of bubbly, top off my glass. If you find a way to turn on your television without using two remotes, seven button-pushing steps, reading glasses, and profanity, I want you to share that miracle with me like it’s the next coming of the Lord. Most of all, if you figure out how I can eat anything I want without gaining weight, I want you to share that like breaking news on CNN. Although there are innumerable examples of sharing that I approve of whole-heartedly, the list is equally long for things I wish you’d keep to yourself. For example:

  1. Unless you are movie star beautiful, I don’t want to hear the nitty-gritty about your sex life. I don’t care if you’re straight, gay, or something in between. Unless this is a story I can enjoy vicariously, I do not want the intimate details describing your fun. There’s nothing in that for me. Make expressive faces to get your point across. Use euphemisms like Yowza! Boy, howdy! or Yummy! Trust me. I can keep up. I have a stellar imagination. You don’t have to spell it out. I prefer romance to straight-up porn, which is just icky.
  2. The same goes for your labor and delivery stories. Been there. Done that. Three times. I know how the plumbing works. Luckily, those memories fade over time, which explains how some of us got suckered into doing that more than once. It’s not a walk in the park, for sure. It’s true that some experiences are worse than others, but, generally speaking, it’s doable. Otherwise, we’d all quit doing it. (Pun intended.)
  3. Please, please, quit sharing horror stories about your ex. He or she may actually be The Spawn of Satan, but surely there was a time when you felt differently, right? For the sake of those perfect 45 minutes or 25 years, give it a rest. Share his or her fatal flaws on a need-to-know basis after the first anniversary of your divorce. A year is enough time to vent; isn’t it? Three years? Five? Pick a number, whine at will for that period of time, and then move the heck on. Don’t let your ex ruin another minute of your post-ex life!
  4. Limit the photo sharing extravaganzas starring your children, grandchildren, and pets. This is such a common problem it is a cultural cliché. I think the advent of smart phones has tripled the temptation. There is nothing worse than been trapped next to someone who is determined to share—not one or two—but NUMEROUS iPhone albums.
  5. Be stingy with details about your recent surgery or medical ailment unless it’s something truly horrific or unusual—like you were struck by lightning or bitten by a shark. Those stories I’d pay to hear. I don’t need a blow-by-blow account of your gall bladder surgery. I just want to know how you’re doing right now, and if I can help you in any way. I don’t enjoy fighting off waves of nausea as we discuss your bodily functions.
  6. Please don’t share your little children with me when I’ve paid to participate in an adult activity—like eating in a nice restaurant, taking an exercise class, or getting a haircut that’s going to cost me an arm and a leg. I’ve lived through my baby years, and I made my children behave in public. You should, too. (If you don’t know how to go about this, ask me or another bossy mother. We are here to help.) If you can’t or aren’t willing to reign in your little terrors, please stay home with them or get a sitter. However, if you have a really cute lap baby with you, please let me hold him or her for a few minutes before you leave because that would be fun for me.
  7. Please don’t share your germs with me. Duh. It seems like a common-sense call. If you are sick, stay away from the rest of us! You may think you are indispensable, but I assure you that you are not. Take a break and be sick. I’m constantly amazed that we don’t allow anyone to be sick anymore in this country—either because of finances, convenience, ego, or the fear of losing a job. That’s just wrong.
  8. Please don’t share your political views, religious views, or other strongly held opinions unless you are really interested in an open-minded exchange. If you genuinely seek that, I’m open to a lively debate upon occasion, but if that’s not you, I will undoubtedly find you tiresome and exhausting and make up an excuse to move my fat fanny elsewhere.
  9. Even if I genuinely adore you and am proud of every accomplishment your brilliant, gifted, exceptionally talented children have chalked up this week, please bear in mind that my own may be serving up just the opposite sort of week, so keep the bragging to a minimum. I want to be happy for you all the time. I really do. Alas, I am only human. I have lovely manners, but sometimes I slip up. Don’t tempt me.

Finally, and this one is unique to writers like me, I think: Please don’t share your book proposals with me. I’m begging you. I’m a writer, not a publisher, and there isn’t one thing I can do for you. When you ask, I feel compelled to read and encourage you, and I will either love your book, so someone will undoubtedly publish it, so you don’t need my input, or I’ll realize it’s a terrible book, and I have to find a way to tell you that without hurting your feelings. I don’t want to do either of these things!


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Pre-dawn Mopping


Is it wrong to mop at 5:30 am? What if it’s the only time I have to mop? Does that make a difference? Is pre-dawn mopping a sign of mental instability? After threatening to do so for years, am I finally, truly, losing my mind?

I hate summer. I do. I don’t care if all the rest of you love it. I dread it. It’s one long, hot, humid slog for me. Sure, I can summon up a vodka-and fruit-juice-induced smile when I have to, but my heart’s not in it. I don’t like to be hot. Even as a kid, I never liked baking in the sun like a beached whale. I like schedules, a bustling routine, and the threat of wind, cold, and the warmth of hearth and home to look forward to when the sun goes down early on winter evenings.

I know I’m in the minority on this, maybe a minority of one. Heard it. Don’t want to hear it again. When all my kids are home for summer, it’s a madhouse here. Nobody gets up at the same time. My kids have camps, activities, and summer jobs with weird hours. My teenagers believe they are entitled to stay out til curfew every night and then come home at midnight, turn on their stereos, shower, chat with friends, and watch movies til the wee hours—never mind that my husband and I still have the same work schedule as always. There are so many seatings for breakfast, lunch, and dinner that I feel like the cook on a cruise ship.

I tell you this to explain how I ended up mopping at 5:30 am like it was a perfectly reasonable, sane, smart thing to do.

Every day, my goal is to do a bit of cleaning, about an hour’s worth, whenever I can fit it in. Mondays, I dust and clean glass. Party on! Tuesdays, it’s sweep and vacuum fun. Mopping and cursing on Wednesday. Thursdays are the worst: bathroom atrocities. Fridays are kitchen duty. Fridays are horrendous if I clean the stove and do a major fridge clean out, or they can be a slacker day with a mostly countertop clean. Depends on my mood. I like to keep Fridays flexible. It’s the beginning of the weekend, after all.

OF COURSE, I have to skip some days. The price for that: double dip with chores on another day. It’s not a perfect plan, not by a long shot, but it’s something—a bone to throw to the cleaning gods. I like to say I clean like the maid. In other words, I do a so-so job. I don’t clean like I live here and personally care about how clean things are. I clean like it’s my job to do it, and I do the least I can get away with and still get paid.

I’ve tried all sorts of mind games with house cleaning over the years, like splitting jobs with my husband and kids and hiring outside help when I could afford it, but I’ve never really found anything that worked for our family. The truth is: I’m a neat freak. My husband is neat, too, but only because he’s been married to me for 26 years. He does it to make me happy, but he doesn’t NEED the clean like I do. My kids are messy, filthy, disgusting creatures who feel no natural inclination toward cleanliness at all and who don’t care one bit what I think about that.

Therein lies the inevitable conflict. Although I awoke with joy to Wednesday morning mop day, I knew from experience that my kids would be racked out in bed until noon. I could wait around all day on their rooms to be vacant. I don’t know how this happened, honestly, but I have somehow been reduced to the status of highly educated hotel maid. I wait around every morning for the occupants to check out so I can clean their rooms, gather laundry, pick up trash and half-eaten food items, collect glassware and assorted flotsam and jetsam, and generally wonder how anyone who shares my DNA could leave a dribbling pudding cup in the bathroom.

I sat on the stairs to contemplate my options: Would I get the chair or life if I went in my kids’ rooms and knocked them into next week with my mop? Would it be worth the hassle of rousting them out of bed and getting them to pitch in, which is certainly the lesson a responsible parent would teach? Nope. I’m just too tired for that, I decided. Suffice it to say, even though I probably should have been, as usual, counting my blessings, I was not.

And, yes, I even make myself tired sometimes.

Then I had a mopping epiphany. My three teenagers sleep like the dead. (Which is another thing I blame them for, even though it’s illogical and unfair. They can sleep through anything: a noisy burglar, 4th of July fireworks, and tornado sirens. I battle insomnia on a nightly basis, and I’m convinced I could be a nicer parent if I could just get more sleep.) I knew without a doubt that I could open those bedroom doors, cruise in like a woman with a plan, mop, and the ungrateful wretches WOULD NEVER KNOW I WAS THERE. The floors would be dry before they poked their entitled tootsies from under the covers.

Grabbing my mop and bucket, I decided to go for it. I charged into my son’s bedroom, a woman on a mission with a space-launch-worthy deadline. Sure, it was a little early, but I was up, and I wanted my jobs out of the way. I made it all the way around the bed without waking the 6’3”, 185-pound lump sprawled diagonally across the bed. I finished the bathroom in between my boys’ rooms and was just about to retreat gleefully when I accidently slapped my soaking mop into the side of a long arm dangling over the edge of the bed.

An eye peeled open. I decided to brazen my way through the early morning interaction. I didn’t have a lot of choices.

“Mom?” my son growled.

“Good morning, son! It’s a beautiful day!” I announced.

One hairy eyeball slid from the top of my mismatched exercise clothes down to my hot-pink house slippers, over the mop I held defensively in front of me like a sword from Braveheart, and finally landed with a blink on the bucket of dirty water I clutched tightly to my side like I’d just baptized someone with it in the Jordan River.

“What are you doing in here, Mom?” my teenage son asked.

I decided to go with a cheery response.

“I’m mopping, of course. It’s Wednesday. I’ll be out in two minutes,” I responded.

“Seriously, Mom? It’s 5:30 in the morning. This is totally whacked. You know that, right?” he demanded in a sleepy voice.

“Well . . . yeah. Possibly. I’m doing the best I can, son,” I admitted with a sigh.

Sadly, this is who I am. I’m afraid my well-deserved epitaph is going to be like the ones we chuckle over while standing in line for the Haunted Mansion ride at Disney World: “Here lies Mel. She did the best she could,” or maybe, “Here lies Mel. She meant well.”


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Chance Encounters, The Chaos Theory, and Jesus

Have you ever noticed how our smallest encounters with other people, even perfect strangers, can be life-changing? These days, my life seems to be moving at Mach speed. The visual metaphor that pops in my mind to describe this pace is the military’s new high-tech wave rider which promises to get a person—or a bomb, I presume—half-way around the world in less than ten minutes. Have you seen the footage on CNN? It looks like a toy Batman or James Bond would play with. Imagine: Europe in under an hour—traveling at nearly 4,000 miles per hour. Talk about jet lag!

This week, I dropped off my firstborn at college, registered my other two kids for a new school year, tried to work a bit on a new book, fought the good fight against steroid-engorged dust bunnies, cooked, washed clothes, sang in the choir, and attended to the usual births, deaths, and cultural milestones in the lives of friends traveling life’s path beside me. My forties have been busy, let me tell you. I don’t like rushing headlong through my day. I feel like I never finish a thought. If I were a dog, a squirrel would undoubtedly dash across my path every few minutes. It makes me wonder if I’m losing my mind. Seriously. I might REALLY be losing my mind this time. My brain feels leaky—like an overflowing colander.

Because of this frenetic pace, I often fail to stop and savor moments like I should. Do you do this, too? I don’t want to live the rest of my life this way! I feel like I just barely keep my nose above water. After watching the Olympics, let’s just say that if I were a water polo player, I’d be dead.

At the most inconvenient moment possible, when the washing machine is overflowing, and the cat has escaped out the front door into traffic, and my daughter can’t find her cheerleader ribbon, and my mother-in-law is talking to me on the telephone–all at the same time–that’s the moment when I usually experience an epiphany, or as I prefer to call it:  a smack down by Jesus.

A smack down by Jesus is the Southern colloquial equivalent of the standard literary term, “epiphany.” I am like the grandmother in Flannery O’Connor’s short story, “A Good Man Is Hard To Find.” I, too, “would of been a good woman if it had been somebody there to shoot her every minute of her life.” Yep. That’s me, or to be more grammatically precise: I am she.

That doesn’t sound right, does it? I know, but it is. Trust me. This is the kind of useless information I have embedded in the wrinkles of my brain. If you want to arrange flowers on the cheap, feed a bunch of hungry boys, write a quick essay, sing a little, or check your grammar, I’m your woman. I’d have been a heck of a catch a few centuries ago. Here–not so much. Try making a living with my talents. I dare you. I’m not a prodigy by any stretch of the imagination. My gifts don’t make for deep pockets.

End of digression.

Where you sit on a plane, the time you walk into a building to go to work, where you choose to see a movie—any of these random events can change your life forever. I have a friend whose parents were scheduled to tour the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001–at 11:00 AM. I know someone who met her husband on the side of the interstate when he stopped to help her change a tire.

What if . . . that’s the question. Chance. Fate. Kismet. Predestination. Luck. Pick a reason. All of our lives can change on a dime—for good or for ill.

The Chaos theory in economics says that there is an inherent order in the seemingly random nature of the world. Just because we can’t see it doesn’t mean it isn’t there. Most religions claim there is a divine plan or a benevolent God overseeing it all, at the very least. If I didn’t believe that, I don’t think I could get out of bed in the morning.

The meaning of life is a debate above my pay grade, to say the least, but I’m determined be more open to the small, seemingly insignificant events unraveling around me. I believe with all my heart that the greatest joys in life lie in the smallest details—ordinary moments that are easily overlooked.


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Death By Vacuum Cleaner

I was nearly killed by my vacuum cleaner today. In the interest of full disclosure, I should confess that this wasn’t my first potentially lethal encounter with a household appliance. Upon occasion, I have been known to stick a fork in the toaster, and my gas logs and I are barely on speaking terms. I also had a close call with a professional carpet-cleaning machine a few years back (which inspired a chapter called “The Big Red Cleaning Machine” in my book Southern Women Aging Gracefully). It had me trapped against my car for about half an hour. Dicey.

What do such run-ins say about me? Nothing good. How exciting could my life possibly be if I have near-death experiences–not by bungee jumping in Belize or soaring over the Grand Canyon–but by vacuuming?

Here’s the story: I was vacuuming the stairs to my second floor, backing my way down, manhandling the vacuum awkwardly down one stair at a time. I had the cord wrapped around my neck so that I wouldn’t accidently suck it up in the vacuum. I’ve done it this way a thousand times before WITHOUT INCIDENT, I’d like to point out right here, so . . . don’t start with me.

You can guess what happened next. I accidentally knocked the vacuum cleaner over. It immediately tumbled to the bottom of the stairs. I rocked back and forth for a few seconds on the stair tread; there was just enough time for me to feel smug for not falling in the wake of the vacuum, when I was suddenly jerked off my feet as the vacuum cord necklace I was wearing tightened into a noose worthy of the Wild West. I reacted as any panicked vacuumer would react—I grabbed the cord and started yanking, trying to prevent a suburban garroting. It was immediately obvious that my only chance for survival was to follow the vacuum free fall. I needed some slack, and I needed it bad.

As I allowed myself to be tugged like a misbehaving dog on a leash to the first floor, I had time to reflect upon how truly distasteful my obituary would be: “A local writer and mother of three was strangled in her home today by her vacuum cleaner.” Every single person at my funeral would be fighting a serious case of the giggles. Who could blame them? My teenagers would likely be too embarrassed to attend the service.In general, I am not a prideful person. I’m known for my self-deprecating humor, in fact. I have to admit, however:  death by vacuum cleaner—that’s not the way I want to go. Even I can do better than that.


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Ask Melinda: Teenagers and Selective Hearing

Question: Why can’t my teenager hear me when I’m talking to him?

I have to say upfront that I wasn’t sure this reader’s question was real. I may have actually snorted out loud when I read her message to me on Facebook. Really? She’s actually worried about her teenager’s hearing? No way! Then I remembered something. When my middle child was three weeks old, I took him to our pediatrician and said, “I don’t think this baby can hear.” To demonstrate, I dropped a huge book, Black’s Law Dictionary, on the floor of the exam room. He didn’t startle at all.

“You’re probably right,” she said. “We need to check that out.”

Turns out, his hearing was perfectly fine—THEN. (He is sixteen now. Like his siblings, he only hears what he wants to hear now in order to maintain plausible deniability later.) After we got the good news, the specialist asked:

“Do you have any other children, Mrs. Thompson?”

“Yes, a son, he’s almost two,” I responded, with a what’s-this-got-to-do-with-anything look on my face.

“My guess is he makes a lot of noise, right?” he asked.

“Well . . . I think he makes about as much noise as any other two-year-old,” I answered, a little affronted.

“I think your baby is just accustomed to a high noise level,” he suggested, tentatively.

Yes, indeed. My older son was so loud that his brother got accustomed to the noise pollution while still in utero. Today I decided to answer this reader’s question, straight up, without rolling my eyes or scoffing. Even though the answer seems obvious to me, it might not be to her. I really am a nice person.

Here’s how I see it:

First of all, your teenager CAN hear you. He simply CHOOSES not to acknowledge your question/request/demand/harangue/comment/advice/dire warning/sarcastic remark . . . whatever. Teenagers have selective hearing. This is a well-known phenomenon. I am sorry if you missed the memo. I thought everyone knew. Let me reassure you that you are not alone—ALL teenagers have selective deafness. It’s a subtle ailment. Most teenagers cannot hear: requests to clean their rooms, put away laundry, hang up their wet towels, do their homework, or get out of bed for school. They can, however, hear and immediately identify the sound of a cookie sheet being pulled from the oven, their cell phones ringing or vibrating at any hour, day or night, or the distant whirr of an ATM cash machine spitting out money two blocks away IF it is allowance day.

Bottom line:

Today’s question seemed like a gimme to me. I almost didn’t answer.  I reconsidered because I realized that although I am old and mean, there are still some young, sweet mamas out there who might actually be worried that they are the only family experiencing problems with selective deafness. Here’s the scoop: selective deafness is as common in teenagers as diaper rash in the baby set. Welcome to the show, sweet mama. I hope you’re ready to play in the big league. It’s a whole new ballgame.


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Mother’s Day Ambivalence

If you go to any big high school basketball game in the country and see a heavily recruited shooter miss a three-pointer with an air ball, you’ll likely hear this spontaneous cheer break out in the stands: “O-ver-rate-d, clap, clap, clap clap clap.” It’s a smart-mouth slam from the student section, and it continues until the next good play or until another player makes an even more egregious mistake.

That’s my first reaction when I think of Mother’s Day: it’s overrated. This response may surprise some people in my life, primarily my three teenagers who believe that my world revolves around them. They’re fairly typical examples of their demographic, I’ve found.

The second thought that flashes across my brain’s ticker tape when I see that Mother’s Day is about to roll around again is that it’s a made-up holiday. I don’t know why I find this offensive, really, since every legally recognized holiday has to start somewhere. This one was dedicated in 1914, thanks to the efforts of activist Julia Ward Howe. Ms. Howe championed quite a few worthwhile causes; jotting down “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” is an impressive legacy even if she never lifted another philanthropic finger for the rest of her life, in my view.

I love that Julia Howe was particular about the holiday’s apostrophe. She wanted to honor each mother within her own home. That accounts for the singular possessive spelling. I like that. She never intended the holiday to be a big “We Are The World” mother solidarity statement. She was aiming for a much more humble homage to ordinary women like me who clean up vomit when our kids are sick, nag them to do their homework, and wait up until curfew time to make sure they arrive home in one piece—in body, soul, and mind.

It didn’t take long for the seeds of commerce to sprout. Mother’s Day became a red-letter day for greeting card sales and potted plant deliveries, a day followed a month or so later by Father’s Day which, somehow, isn’t nearly as big of a deal. For many mothers, Mother’s Day means breakfast in bed inexpertly prepared by her children or Sunday lunch with extended family members. There are gifts involved, too. They often feature children’s handprints and badly written poems containing odd, mother-inspired hyperboles like, “Mama, I love you more than chicken fingers.”

Mother’s Day prompts phone calls home from grown-up children, emails, texts, and a heartsick longing for mothers who no longer walk the earth. In Alabama where I live, there was a television commercial for South Central Bell years ago that starred Crimson Tide football coach Paul “Bear” Bryant. In it, he asks customers, “Have you called your mama today? I wish I could call mine.” She was long gone, of course. No one who saw it ever forgot it.

Raising children is the hardest work I’ve ever done in my life. I liken it to work in the local rock quarry. There isn’t much glory in it either. There are no paychecks, health benefits, or retirement accounts. In fact, from the moment the hospital shoves that swaddled bundle of joy into your arms and nudges you out the front door, you are virtually guaranteed a life of sleepless nights, college-fund worries, and at least eighteen years of working as a short order cook, chauffeur, fashion consultant, tutor, spiritual advisor, coach, nurse, financier, and, occasionally, a prison warden.

It happens.

It’s hard to grow people from the lima beans you can barely see on the sonograms in your obstetrician’s office into responsible, kind, tax-paying adults who can take care of themselves and those less fortunate than they are. Sometimes, I feel like the whole world is working against me. Motherhood requires vast reserves of patience and unselfishness. The potential rewards are great, but children are such a long-term investment that it’s hard to keep the finish line in sight when you’re lost in a round of parent conferences, cheerleader tryouts, broken hearts, and losing sports seasons.

Every once in a while, though, something happens that makes my job seem worth the heartache and the penny pinching. One afternoon, one of my kid’s friends said these words to me: “I wish I lived at your house.” He meant it. I could tell. Another time, one of my teenagers made a good choice in a downright dangerous situation, not because it was the right thing to do, but because he was afraid of me, his mean mama. Clearly identifiable moments like those don’t happen often, but when they do, I fall into bed that night knowing I made a difference in the world, a small difference, to be sure, but a difference, just the same.

Moms matter. They really do. Mother’s Day—not so much.


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Ask Melinda: Book Promotion, Live Interviews, and Challenging Hosts

Question: Do you like doing interviews to promote your book?

Here’s how I see it: Every job has benefits, challenges, and some downright unpleasant parts. My primary job—raising three teenagers—is a good example. Sure, I get to preen proudly when my teenagers win awards, cheer loudly when they score the winning basket, and bask in 24 hours of Mother’s Day glory, but I also get to handle discipline, consequences, poor attitudes, moody dispositions, sick days, and fender-benders. I’m sure CEOs enjoy their big, fat paychecks, private jets, and stock options, too, but I bet they hate firing people. Unfortunately, that’s part of their job, too. Responsible people don’t pick and choose. They do whatever has to be done. Lord knows, I am nothing if not nauseatingly responsible.

Writing is a real job, you know. I’ve said this at least a million times. Just because I work on a laptop in a corner of my bedroom doesn’t mean I don’t work! Sigh. This is a sore subject. Book promotion is part of my job. If nobody knows about my books, they won’t buy them. If they don’t buy books, I don’t get to write. It’s third grade math—not that complicated. Book promotion involves interviews for newspapers, radio, television, and online media outlets.

Here’s the secret: IT’S REALLY, REALLY FUN! Of course, there are exceptions. Not every interview goes as well as I’d like. Sometimes, I just can’t establish a rapport with an interviewer. In the hills of Tennessee, I once looked up in a radio booth while putting on my headphones and read decidedly racist and sexist bumper stickers stuck to the wall—right there in plain view for guests to contemplate during the interview. I had about 3 seconds to process that before we went on the air. Some interviewers (writers, too, obviously) are quirky. Usually, I can tell immediately if an interview is going to work or not. A good interviewer can talk to a wall and make it sound special. I can do that, too. I think that’s because I am naturally nosy, curious, and bossy. I really am interested in every little thing. That comes in handy in my line of work.

Bottom line: To interview well, you have to be flexible, ready for anything, and able to roll with whatever happens live. It helps to have a sense of humor and to be perky and eager to please. I am a pleaser personality. As a Southern woman, I think everyone should be happy with me all the time. I am naturally inclined to try to please my host and audience rather than being contentious or ornery. Because I write humor, interviewers expect me to be entertaining—even at 4:30 AM. That’s part of my job. Because radio and television personalities host so many guests every week, they rarely have time to actually read a book or even a page from a guest’s book. Generally, they flip through the book for the first time when I sit down for the interview, in the 30 seconds before we go on the air. I don’t blame them one bit. It’s not worth a big investment of time or energy on their parts for a 10-minute interview. I am always ready to hijack the interview and take it wherever I want to go—regardless of what I am asked. Yep. That really works. I have had my humor books introduced on live television as: a “cookbook” (well, no, although I do talk about chocolate, gumbo, sweet tea, and tomatoes a lot), a “love manual,” (ah . . . not so much, although if you pick up a few relationship tips from I Love You Now Hush, I am okay with that). I’ve Had It Up To Here With Teenagers has been introduced as a “manners book” for teens. (Nope, just funny essays, although I am, generally, in favor of good manners in any endeavor.) An interviewer in Charleston once told me, while I was attaching my microphone to my dress:

“I’m really hung over, so I’m just going to read your name and your book title. Then you can just talk for about 12 minutes. Okay?”

“No problem! I can do that!” I responded gleefully.

I really do like an open mic, lots of room, and few constraints. I do some of my best work that way.

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Ask Melinda: Teenagers, Photographs, and Mom’s Potty Mouth

Okay, I skipped a couple of Friday “Ask Melinda” columns this month. Deal with it. I have a new book to promote, a high school senior, and a stack of good books to read. I’ve been busy.

Question: How can I get my teenagers to cooperate when I’m trying to take pictures?

I plucked this Friday’s “Ask Melinda” question right out of the queue because I encountered this dilemma myself this week. I am freshly empathetic to how frustrating this task is. Teenagers rarely cooperate in endeavors that do not benefit them personally. I’m pretty sure I’ve covered this ground before. Ergo, you must find a way to make your photography session important to them. Duh.

Here’s how I see it: You can try straightforward shame first, something along the lines of: “Mother’s Day is coming up, and all I really want is a decent picture of my children which wouldn’t cost any of you a DIME.” If that results in nothing more than eye-rolling, try an appeal to their selfish natures: “Do you want your friends to see a horrible photograph of you on Facebook, my blog, on our Christmas card, or in the paper?” It’s a well-known fact that teenagers care more about what their friends think than anyone else. It’s all about clear skin, fabulous hair, and straight teeth. The problem is, if you have more than one teenager like I do, they never agree on which photograph is “the one.” Each teen chooses the photo in which he or she looks best—regardless of whether a sibling has his or her eyes closed, mouth hanging open, or fly unzipped. This debate can degenerate into all-out warfare in a hurry.

Solution: Teenagers are too old for feather duster banter with the photographer. They are no longer motivated by candy rewards. You have to shock teenagers into spontaneous grins and non-petulant, sulky body language. I did that this week by uttering a vile word—truly shocking profanity–in the middle of our photo session, a word my kids have never imagined coming out of my mouth. I shouted it in front of God and everybody—loud and proud. Immediately, gasps, giggles, and spontaneous laughter erupted all around me. It worked. I got the photo I needed.

ImageBottom line: You have to be quick-witted to get what you want from teenagers. You have to adaptable and wily. If posing with my kids in a Sunday dress and pearls, with my arms wrapped around the ungrateful wretches, in an effort to immortalize our happy family on film requires a little gutter dwelling to get me the photograph I want, I’m willing to do it. You can’t be too prideful if you want something from teenagers. Trust me on this.


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