Tag Archives: parenting

Parenting Teenagers, Titling a Book, and Saving the World

During the months of editing and revision before I’ve Had It Up To Here With Teenagers hit the shelves, when friends, family, or even strangers asked my teens, “Is your mom writing a new book?” my kids responded—with long-suffering sighs and dramatic eye rolls, “Yeah. She’s writing a book about us. It’s a revenge book.”

It became such a well-established joke around my house that I almost called it Mom’s Revenge Book. In the end, I couldn’t bring myself to commit to that title, however. It seemed too harsh, even for a mean mama like me. Later on, I tried out Have You Lost Your Mind?  as a working title. I still like that one because I ask my children that at least once a week. It conveys the spirit of the book well. Unfortunately, that title brings up too many dementia hits in a Google search. Strike two.

I next became partial to Mind Your Mother as a title, but it didn’t wear well. It’s too sanctimonious and preachy, even though I do, indeed, believe that “mind your mother” may be the three words an angel whispers to a newborn on its way toward the delivery room. It’s good advice. Golden. Also, the Mind Your Mother title makes my children sound like they’re still in single digits. They’re not. Two of the three are a foot taller than I am. The height discrepancy isn’t a problem for me. I have no hesitation about reaching up, grabbing a handful of shirt, and dragging one of my boys back down to my eye level. I prefer eye contact when I’m yelling at someone.

A lot more thought goes in to titling a book than you might think if you’ve never tried to come up with a perfect one yourself. It’s tricky. I’d rather write a whole new chapter than think up a title that will satisfy all the different search engines, copyright laws, and a myriad of editorial and sales requirements. As a writer, I can tell you that by the time you sell your friends and your publishing house on a title, all the humor has usually been massaged right out of it.

Confession time: I’m going out on the proverbial limb with my latest book. It could get mighty shaky out there. In fact, someone might take a shot at me on that limb. I have to use my own life as writing fodder–I write humorous non-fiction: what else could I do? Those of you who’ve read my first three books know that my kids appear in earlier books, but usually only on the periphery. They make cameo appearances. This book is different. The teens in these pages aren’t the charming toddlers who appear in my earlier books. This time, I’m parading the little parasites and all their teenage angst right in front of God and everybody. Sometimes, nobody looks good—neither teens nor parents.

We’re not the perfect family—not by a long shot. We’re just regular folks doing the best we can with what we’ve got to work with. I make lots of mistakes. I’ll be the first to admit that, but I never stop trying to do a good job as a parent. Never. Some days go better than others, just like in any other job.

As you might expect, this book’s publication required some delicate negotiation on the home front. It would have been much simpler if my kids had just read the chapters as I wrote them and lobbied for cuts or changes as I went along. That’s what I asked them to do. It would have been a piece of cake to remove the bits that embarrassed them or write around the sticky wickets. I’ve been known to think up a whole different metaphor on the spot if I run up against a hard-to-spell word. It’s faster. Of course, my kids were too busy to read back then. Now it’s too late. Que sera sera and all that.

Raising teenagers is not for the meek, the tenderhearted, or the easily nauseated. It’s a bit like going on a religious Crusade, loaning money to a third-world country, or hiking your way out of the rainforest without a machete, a GPS, or an antivenin kit—only harder and riskier. The stakes couldn’t be any higher. We’re trying to grow people here. Not green beans. Not cotton. Not even the economy. PEOPLE. Think about that for a minute. Go ahead. I’ll wait.

If I do a good job raising my teenagers, and you do, too, we’ll have SAVED THE WORLD. Truly. The fate of the WORLD lies in our hands as parents. We’re raising the people who will have to save the environment, feed the ever-growing world population, and find a lasting peace for war-torn parts of the globe. Talk about pressure!

My theory is that we’re all in this together: teens, parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, friends, teachers, coaches, neighbors, and random strangers who cross our paths and influence my kids for good or ill. This is big, meaning-of-life stuff I’m writing about here. Nothing matters more. That doesn’t mean we can’t laugh about all our trials. Of course, we can; I think we should!

Teenagers are exhausting. Worrying about them is a full-time job before you factor in the laundry, college expenses, teeth straightening, and allowance. Take a few hours off this week and read about my experiences with teenagers. I want to hear your stories, too. Post them on my Facebook fan page; send me a sympathetic Tweet; post a comment on my blog, or send smoke signals down South where I live. I promise to read every single message. Get that foot off the ledge right now! I promise you: it’s not YOU. It’s THEM.  If you haven’t had any teenagers in your home, but you’re planning on that some day, all I can say is . . . buckle up.

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I’ve Had It Up To Here With Teenagers

The new book is out! You can find it at your favorite bookstore, online, and on your Kindle, Nook, or iPad. Let me know what you think! I can’t wait to hear from you!

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Ask Melinda: The Classic Coat Battle

Question: Why does my daughter refuse to wear a coat when it’s clearly needed?

At first glance, this Friday’s “Ask Melinda” seems simple, a real softball question. When it’s cold outside, isn’t it logical to assume that every warm-blooded, non-brain damaged human would know, without being told, that a coat is necessary? Do we parents really have to remind our teenagers that hypothermia is an issue? Could anything be more obvious? And why does a gentle reminder—“Don’t forget your coat, sweetie, it’s 30 degrees outside!”—provoke surly responses like “Nobody wears a coat anymore, Mom!” “Oh, yeah? Since when?” I ask, “How is the weather and the necessity of warm clothing somehow my fault? I am not in charge of the weather!”

Did you think you were the only parent with this problem? Did you worry that your teenager is the only one inexplicably refusing to wear a coat? Nope. My in-box has three variations on this question THIS WEEK. One was a sweater complaint, I admit, and another specifically mentioned gloves and a hat, but the point is the same.

Here’s how I see it: You must accept the following premise as a given: Teenagers do stupid things—all the time. Count on it. If you are looking for logic and reason, you are barking up the wrong tree during adolescence. If you ask them to explain why they refuse on principle to wear a coat, they probably won’t be able to articulate a coherent response. That’s because, like so many other things teenagers do/say/believe, there isn’t a good reason for it. Teenagers are impulsive. Their brains aren’t fully baked. There are some serious studies out there to back up that statement. Look them up if you don’t believe me. I don’t need to waste perfectly good money funding a study. I live with three teenagers. I know what I’m talking about.

Bottom line: You do have a duty to alert your teenager to the weather occurring right outside the front door if you think there is a good chance he or she is oblivious to the twenty degree overnight drop in the mercury. Go ahead and give them a heads-up when you wake them or see them at the breakfast table. That’s a nice thing to do. This newsflash gives your daughter an opportunity to dress comfortably for the weather, as opposed to simply wearing her favorite sundress in January because she knows it will irritate you. In the end, whether or not teenagers choose to wear seasonally appropriate attire is up to them. What’s the worst that can happen? They’ll be cold and look stupid, right? Not your problem.

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Ask Melinda: The Art and Science of Teenage Allowance

Question: How much allowance should I give my teenager?

I have been looking forward to this all week! I am so excited about writing the first “Ask Melinda” Friday post. There’s nothing I enjoy more than serving up some free advice. Step right up! Bossy women like me are always convinced we have a plan that will work for you—and everyone else on the planet. Keep those questions coming! I will get to you all eventually. I promise.

It will surprise no one in my family that the first question I have chosen to respond to involves teenagers and allowance. I am a cheap mom. I have to be. We are always on a budget around here, and the bills never seem to match up with the incoming green. Every month, there are unexpected expenses. Just one month I’d like to see a sweepstakes windfall or the Prize Patrol at my door. That never happens. I feel certain I’d make a lovely rich person, but I can’t envision any scenario in my life where that might play out. I don’t have any rich relatives. I’m not a good poker player, and I’m not devious enough to make a living as a professional criminal. I’m a writer (How many rich writers do you know? Some of the greats nearly starved to death. Look it up. I’m telling you the truth.) I have 3 teenagers. They suck up every dime I dig out of the sofa cushions.

Here’s how I see it: The amount of allowance you give your teenagers depends on what you expect them to pay for using those funds, obviously. If it’s just an entertainment budget, as in they don’t have to pay for a car, insurance, gas, groceries, drug store items, clothing, gifts, or anything else except treating themselves to café lattes and movie tickets, I say that number can be fairly lean. The trick is to make sure they have enough cash on hand to get out of a parking deck somewhere but not enough to buy contraband. Being a broke teenager is not a bad thing. Not at all. Too much walking around money leads to trouble.

The truth is that money isn’t real to a teenager until they earn it themselves. When my oldest son got his first paycheck last summer, I said, “It took you a whole hour to earn enough to pay for one of your fast food lunches. Get it?” “Yeah,” he said, disgruntled, “And who is FICA, and why is he getting half of my money?” “Welcome to big boy world,” I said, “I hope you’re not counting on that income for your retirement, by the way.” You can yak to your teens all you want about money; nothing speaks louder than minimum wage.

Bottom line: Give your kids an allowance–whatever you think is fair. (If you need to make adjustments later, you can, of course. The rate isn’t set by the U.S. Treasury Department, you know.) Teenagers have to learn to manage a budget. They will make mistakes. Count on it. Don’t bail them out of their poor choices! That’s how they learn. Don’t micro-manage their allowance either. That undermines the whole arrangement. Stay out of it—even when they blow every dime on concert tickets the first week of the month. When they run out of money, they run out of money—just like in the real world. Better they miss out on a fun outing with friends now than a mortgage payment later. And remind them that they are the biggest financial investments of your life. If they win the lottery, you expect a percentage.

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My First Bite of Apple

     Go ahead. Take a bite.  I did. I feel every bit as powerful as Eve in the garden. You’ve probably been tempted, too. Give in. I’m telling you: the Apple is good. If you’re thinking about buying a new computer, go ahead and cough up the extra cash. It’s worth it.

     I’m a writer, so when my HP notebook died recently, it was a five-alarm fire in my life and, consequently, the lives of everyone around me. Let’s just say that I’m not one to suffer silently or alone. It was almost a literal five-alarm fire, in addition to being a metaphorical one. I smelled burning plastic. It doesn’t take a computer geek to know that no good will come from that smell.

     I was unhappy, to put it mildly. You’ve heard the saying, “If mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy,” right? There’s a reason for that cliché. Ask any mom: one month before Christmas is not a good time to try and massage a new computer out of the family budget. Do you know how many words I have to write to pay for a new Apple computer? Thousands. I’m not sure I can count that high. However, I’m entirely confident that there’s an Apple app that can figure out the total for me in a jiffy. I now believe that Apple computers can do the dishes and maybe cure cancer. I know they’re psychic for sure. They know what I want or need before I think of it myself, and they usually suggest a solution before I resort to begging. An Apple computer is what I imagine having a wife would be like.

     For the last two years, I could not turn my computer off without dire consequences. I know, I know. Before you greenies (okay, now green is blue, I’ve recently learned, but you know what I mean) swoon in consternation, let me add in my defense that it wasn’t my fault I couldn’t turn off my laptop. Of course, I wanted to. I’m not a total idiot. I walk upright and have opposable thumbs just like the rest of you. I knew I was burning energy and money unnecessarily. Unfortunately, every time I managed to turn the dadgum thing off, there was no guarantee it would ever start up again. Sometimes it took days to resurrect. I became fearful of approaching my computer without prayer beads or garlic. I touched the keys ever so gingerly like they were packed with C-4 explosives.  Every night, I schlepped my laptop into my walk-in closet and plugged it in there so I wouldn’t have to stare at the blue screen all night long like the giant nightlight from hell. Every morning, I hauled that sucker out again.

     That got old mighty quick.

     Finally, the day arrived when no amount of cajoling, pleading, force starting, bargaining with God, or crass profanity could raise a cursor flicker of life from my computer. I tried every trick I knew short of firing a shot of epinephrine into the hard drive. Nada. No sign of Lazarus.

     I’d rather lose almost anything in my house than my computer. As a writer, I NEED my computer. I use it every single day. So I did what any woman in my position would do in such a crisis. I cried. I screamed. I drank. I pouted in a bubble bath. I threw a fit that would have embarrassed a two-year-old and whined about my computer problem to everyone who would listen.

    Finally, I sucked it up and headed to the Apple store. That was a first. I’ve never bought an apple product before. Sure, my husband and kids have iPhones, iPods, and my husband has an iPad, but I just use whatever gadget is leftover when someone else in my house upgrades to a newer, faster widget. I look at it like my thirteen-year-old Suburban. As long as it gets me there, I don’t care what it looks like. I have no ego invested in technology.

     I had two goals for my first Apple purchase: ease of use and reliability. Everyone I asked, every review I read, and random strangers I accosted on the street all said the same thing: buy an Apple. The kids in my carpool said, “You need an Apple, Mrs. T.” My 75-year-old father said, “You need to buy an Apple.” My teenagers said, “PLEASE, Mom, PLEASE buy an Apple!” I’d like to think that was an unselfish thought on their part, but I’m not so sure. If I’d asked a gypsy fortuneteller, I’m sure she would have said, “Go ahead, you cheapo woman. Get off your wallet. Buy an Apple.”

     So that’s what I did. I arrived at the Apple store on a weekday morning, about five minutes before the doors were scheduled to open. There was already a line outside and a guy with a clipboard organizing the customers.

     You’ve got to be kidding me, I thought. The economy stinks, and people are standing in line to buy this store’s products! That says a lot; don’t you agree? (I was reminded of the time when Blue Bell ice cream debuted in grocery stores. If you’d told me that someone new could come in and dominate the ice cream market with “homemade vanilla,” I’d have said, who do you think you’re kidding? This is not my first sashay down the frozen-food aisle. It just goes to show you. You can reinvent the wheel—or make another vanilla ice cream—and make a killing IF YOUR VANILLA IS BETTER THAN ANYBODY ELSE’S VANILLA.)

     Blue Bell did that. So did Apple.

     I was already defensive before I hit the door. I was determined not to be talked into buying a computer that could launch nuclear missiles. I don’t need that kind of temptation at my fingertips. I wanted to buy what I needed and only that. Price mattered to me. We have three teenagers at our house. They’re expensive. Every dollar counts. 

    First of all, every Apple employee I encountered was friendly. It was unnerving. Even the guy at the door with the clipboard was nice when I laid out my demands in a tone I would use to begin negotiations with terrorists.

     “I don’t speak computer. I need someone who can be patient with me and translate what I think I want into what I should buy, and I need it today.”

     “No problem,” clipboard guy replied.

     “Okay,” I said, trying not to look as doubtful on the outside as I felt on the inside.

     Then clipboard guy walked me inside to a row of computers and left me there to gawk while he summoned an apple genius. I’m not kidding about that. When Jeff arrived, that’s what his card said: Genius. You have to love that. I did. At first glance, I thought . . . this is not a good match. Jeff had a full beard, tattoos up both forearms, and although he was wearing the standard blue Apple T-shirt, he gave off a vibe of big-city, downtown hip. I, on the other hand, look exactly like what I am—a middle-aged, suburban mom. Then I met Jeff’s eyes. It was immediately apparent to me that Jeff was smart.  Fabulous. I can work with smart.

     Here’s one of the keys to Apple’s success: they hire smart people and train them well. Sounds simple; doesn’t it? Why doesn’t everyone do that? That would make my life so much easier.

     Here’s the next amazing thing that happened. Jeff listened to me—really listened. I don’t mean that he kept his trap shut while I vented my computer angst and then launched into his sales spiel. Frankly, I don’t think he even had a sales spiel. Apple geniuses don’t work on commission. They just get paid well, so he had no personal incentive to sell me any particular product. Score another one for Apple.

     I began to trust Jeff.

     I spoke quickly, my eyes darting around the crowded store, certain that we would be interrupted at any moment and my chance at one-on-one help would vanish like a bag of Krispy Kreme doughnuts at a sleepover. Finally, I couldn’t stand the pressure any longer. My naturally bossy mother instincts hijacked my mouth.

     “Are you going to get in trouble for spending so much time with me?” I asked, genuinely worried that he might.

     “Don’t worry about that. I have as much time as you need,” he answered. “Really,” he said, when I looked skeptical.

     I told Jeff I was positive I wanted an iMac desktop. No mouse. Trackpad. I left with my computer already loaded with software, my email up and running, and I was able to go home and plug in my computer BY MYSELF and use it immediately.

     I’m not lying. That really did happen. Neither I nor anyone I know works for Apple. Honest.

     For the next two days, I spent hours working on my new iMac. The desktop screen is HUGE. I literally got a pain in my neck struggling to find the right distance to make my progressive reading glasses work. For the first time in ten years, I was working on a desktop again, but my fingers seemed locked in laptop muscle memory. I grew increasingly frustrated.

     When my husband came home from work the second day, I threw myself theatrically across the bed and declared dramatically, “I think I’ve ruined my life.”

     “How so?” he asked in an even voice, while thumbing through the mail, not nearly as moved by my crisis as I needed him to be.

     “I hate working on my new computer! I think I bought the wrong one. I am miserable!”

     “You’ll get used to it,” he advised, “give it some time.”

     “No, I won’t,” I said, “It doesn’t feel right to me. It’s my own fault, too. I thought it was what I wanted, but I was wrong.”

     “So take it back,” he said.

    “How can I? I’ve been using it for two days. It’s loaded up with all my stuff,” I said.

     “Yeah, but it’s Apple,” he said, “They’ll work it out.”

     You know what? They did. I called for One-to-One (Buy it. That’s all I can say. Even Consumer Reports recommends the Apple warranty and One-to-One service.) help. They made an appointment for me to go back to the Apple store and exchange my iMac for a MacBook Pro.

     I arrived at my appointment loaded for bear. I was prepared to argue. If anyone even looked at me funny, I was likely to burst into tears. I’d worried all night. Guess what? I didn’t have to argue, explain, or justify myself at all. There was no guilt, nothing but let’s-get-you-what-you-need customer service. It was all about me, me, me.  What a lovely thought. I’m going back soon for a specialized tutorial, and I’m obnoxiously excited about it.

     Yep. I drank the Kool-Aid. I’m now an Apple groupie. My son leaves for college soon, and as soon as I can scrape up enough money to buy him his very own Apple, I’m going to do it. Eventually, the other two kids are going to get one, too. I’m never going back to inferior products and service again. I mean it. One bite of the Apple, and I’m hooked forever.

     When I make a big purchase like this, I always tell the salesperson, “I’m a Southern woman. Women talk. I’m also a humor writer, so beware. I’m going to write about you—nationwide. It can be good or bad. Your call.” 

     

     

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Accidental Writer

      I had no idea I would grow up to be a writer. I certainly never thought I’d write four books—which is what happened or will happen when my newest book, I’ve Had It Up To Here With Teenagers, comes out this spring. The embarrassing truth is that I wrote my first book accidentally. I’d like to say it was a grand plan because that would make me sound much more professional, but it would be a lie. Before I knew it, a second, third, and recently a fourth book snuck up on me when I wasn’t paying attention.

     These days, it seems like everyone I meet has a book in the wings, but I never thought that was for me. I thought of myself as a reader rather than a writer. I love to read what other people write. It’s my favorite thing to do.  With three children, I couldn’t imagine having time to write a book. Over the years, I learned that chapters leak out of my fingertips in search of a keyboard at the most inconvenient moments—in dark movie theaters and at 3:00 am when I should be asleep, for example. Trust me. There’s nothing you can do when that happens except hop on the writing roller coaster, throw up your hands, and see where the loop-de-loop takes you.

     For years, I lived a neat, orderly life. That was before I had kids, of course.  I worked as a teacher in a small liberal arts college. It was a good gig. Then I had three children in five years, and I needed a different schedule.  I also needed the occasional grown-up conversation to keep the two hemispheres of my brain functioning.  Nobody told me how much physical labor is involved in child-rearing. I found it shocking—akin to digging in the local rock quarry. Late at night, writing became my thrilling escape from the reality of four-loads-a-day of laundry and scraping cat throw-up off the living room rug. Writing is like therapy, only much, much cheaper. It is the adult version of tattling. That’s why it is so much fun to do.  

     When my kids were really young, I had to write in short time blocks, meager minutes scrounged out of the daily grind of errands, cooking, cleaning, and parenting. I began writing about what I know best, the ups and downs of daily life for a woman in a new millennium. Short, humorous essays came quickly and easily to me, and I began publishing a newsletter for twenty friends. I was curious to see if there were women in other zip codes struggling with the same life questions I wrestled with every day. Guess what?  There were. Are. Over the years, I have become convinced that the only differences in women all over the world are accents and geography. There’s something comforting about that.

     You can guess what happened with the newsletter. Women talk. Word-of-mouth works better than cable television. Newsletters were passed along to friends and friends-of-friends. A subscription list was born, and I found an audience of women and men all over the country who told me the same thing, over and over:

     “I feel like you are writing about my life!”  

     After about five years of publishing the monthly newsletter, I was able to sell a publisher on a book idea, and my first book, SWAG: Southern Women Aging Gracefully, was sold. It was a hit, so I wrote another, The SWAG Life, and then, a third, I Love You—Now Hush (with co-author, Morgan Murphy). This year, my life with three teenagers inspired a new book, I’ve Had It Up To Here With Teenagers. I hope you like it!

     There isn’t anything unusual about me. I know a hundred women who could do the same thing if they had the time and the patience and the courage to tell the truth. I write chapters about ordinary things–grumpy teenagers, aging angst, and standing in line at the grocery store—aspects of life common to us all. My humor is always at my expense, no one else’s. Okay, the humor is a little bit at the expense of my teenagers in the new book, but I offered each of them the opportunity to read it first and remove anything particularly embarrassing. It’s not my fault they couldn’t be bothered, for the most part.

     My life is, apparently, a deep well of humorous inspiration. Friends who appear in my books come out smelling like a rose, but I never know what character-building adventure the Lord has lined up for me next. It is usually something I have just declared, publicly and emphatically, that I will never do. Feel free to yuk it up. I consider it my civic duty to spare my readers any incidents of public humiliation I have already experienced myself.  

     There is nothing in the world more exciting than walking past someone stretched out on a beach towel or crammed in a tiny airplane seat reading one of my books and laughing out loud. On one occasion, I actually tripped over my own feet and landed in an unladylike heap on the floor while relishing one of those moments instead of watching where I was going. It’s a good thing that reader turned out to be a genuine fan because I did some serious damage to her shopping bag trying to break my fall.

     Although it’s true that I’m not curing cancer or fixing the economy or anything noble, I am doing my small part to make the world a better place. I often hear from cancer patients who tell me they were distracted for a few minutes by something I wrote. That’s enough for me right there—even if I never earn another dime. If you add up my change-the-world minutes and yours, something big happens. All those minutes together make a difference. Don’t you agree? That’s what gets me out of bed in the mornings.

     I am a Southern writer. In many ways, my humor is the peculiar product of culture, history, and geography, but it is remarkable to me how similar women’s lives are all over the world. Even if we’ve never met personally, I bet we know some of the same people. In case you don’t know, let me tell you that Southerners are very big on identifying your “people.” If they haven’t heard any gossip about you, they fear you may be a serial killer. The South is connected like that. This can work for you or against you. It depends.

     I have found great joy and humor in the everyday aspects of our lives, things often deemed too boring to merit attention. There is no greater adventure than regular life being lived full-speed-ahead. For me, making people laugh is the equivalent of a two-margarita high. Laughter is one of the few things in life that isn’t dependent on good health, money, or leisure time.

     Real life, I think, is what goes on in between the highlight reels—the birthdays, weddings, and births. Some people are always so busy videotaping an event for posterity that they squeeze out every smidgen of joy from the actual event.  I do not want to be like those people. In my life, the best moments happen when I least expect them–when the beds are unmade, the kitchen is a wreck, I’m sporting last night’s mascara, and I have a fever blister.

     I’d love to say that my career as a writer was the result of a thoroughly mapped-out life plan, but it wasn’t. It was an accident, the best one of my life. 

 

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