Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Still Trying To Be Cool

So the other day, I got a good review from my students in a course evaluation, my article got accepted in The Writer Magazine, I sent my second YA in to Flux,the always lovely Marcia Hoehne mentioned me in an I Love Your Blog Award, and my best friend won $1000.00 in a lottery scratch off. It was one of those afternoons when you think how everyone who told you not to:

- have a third child

- leave a good teaching job

- move out of state


- write (ever)

was wrong. Really wrong.

I was feeling like I was pretty cool, and I don't feel that way too often since I am solidly middle aged and have been known to wear old maternity pants backwards to run to the store. (When I do this, my kids slink down in the seats as we drive).

Then my kids came home and I was quickly deflated.

First, the boys came home, and asked me why I didn't text them back about a question they had about an afterschool game.

"I never figured out how to text," I confessed.

This caused disbelief, guffaws, and glances of sympathy.

"So, like, how do you talk to anybody?"

"On the phone. Email. In person."

(Poor old thing glances)

"Mom, you don't call a car a horseless carriage, do you?" my oldest boy asked.

"She doesn't have an AIM account either," my middle guy offered (meaning -- she is
as hopeless as they get)

So fine. Leave that stuff to high school kids. Then my daughter's elementary school bus came. I knew I would be redeemed. She gave me the wonderful news that she had a book report due.

Now I, along with six other people on the planet, loved book reports as a child. (This gene is rare; none of my kids inherited it).

"Oh, that's great! Do you want to do a diorama? I have shoe boxes in the basement. Or did she say you could do a timeline? Those are such..."

"Um, Mom," Emma says (patiently, slowly)

"I also have poster board and new acrylic paint...what?" She is trying not to laugh.

"We don't do those now. I have to do a web page for my book, okay?"

"A web page! But you're ten! And you weren't even ten last month!"

"It's okay; I already know how to do it. But you can check my spelling, all right?"

"Oh. Right. Sure."


I always thought it was me who would have to be patient with them.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Are Pharm Parties Real?

Because I worry as a part time job, I have been reading about a new pastime among teenagers. It's called a pharm party. The basic idea behind it is to swipe a bunch of leftover prescription pills from the medicine cabinet, get a group of kids (usually eighth grade and above) who also bring swiped prescription meds, then open the capsules, smash the tablets, and mix everything into a big hodgepodge that is sniffed, snorted or swallowed. The psychoactive swap can be anything from antibiotics to blood pressure meds. The drugs of choice, or so it's rumored, are pain killers.

Now, I am still stumped by the thought of cutting parties. So when I read about these parties, I marched straight into my boys' room with the paper. They were sprawled on the sofa, texting while blank homework worksheets littered the floor. This is how it went:

Son 1: "Hey Mom, why do you look so worried? And do we have any ham left?"

Son 2: "The rest of the pizza rolls are mine. Don't touch them."

Mom explains about pharm parties. The boys laugh.

Son 2: "That's ridiculous. No one does that. You would get so messed up."

Son 1: "You should stop reading so much. So can you make me a sandwich?"

So, in my usual relentless manner, I asked the kids I worked with, both first year college students and high school students, if they had heard of pharm parties. They shrugged. None of them knew anyone who had ever participated in one, yet this is all over the media. And everyone knew what I meant immediately(except my two sons). When all else failed, I turned to that mecca of youth culture communication: I asked Son No. 2 to do a pharm party search on myspace.

Now, I do know that the kids there will post just about anything, and very little showed up about pharm parties. It seems this idea was first reported by the (National)Center for Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA). Then it was on a few of the daytime talk shows, but apparently, and thankfully, the pharm party is largely a mythical creation of the media. Sure, kids probably get together and barter some of the drugs in the medicine cabinet, but the implication out there is that this is an organized, widespread ritual of drug abuse that is happening inside the lovely homes on your street.

Why would they want us to believe such a thing?

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Movies About Teens and Teenspeak Stuff

A lot of people think I'm weird because I never liked going to the movies. "It's like unAmerican to think that way," a friend of mine told me in high school. I did understand what she meant, but to me, sitting in a movie theater in New York City with the sticky floors, and all weirdos (not me, the really, really weird ones who wore overcoats in July to hide whatever weirdness they were into) was just not fun.

I still don't really like movies, and managed to avoid all film courses even while pursuing a Masters in English. But the other night, my kids begged me to watch Juno with them, and I suffered through it. Not that it was that bad -- I just always suffer when I'm sitting there watching a story I'd rather be reading. But my boys abandoned Juno after just half an hour. "It's for girls," they said, "I just don't care what happens to her because she talks like an adult. What is she, like 25?" (An ancient ruin to them)

But it was true; she did speak like an adult. In fact, all the female characters seemed to speak with the same snarky voice, as if it was the "teen girl" voice. In fact, even the stepmother had that voice. And teen girls, from what I've seen, behave more like Ophelia in Shakespeare (remember she tried to drown herself in like just a few inches of water). A zit can cause trauma; imagine what an unplanned pregnancy might do. She was so tranquil throughout, and I just don't buy that. She made calm, rational decisions, did her homework, and attended all her prenatal visits. She demonstrated more maturity than the adoptive father. When she calls the abortion clinic and says, "I would like to procure a hasty abortion," I inwardly groaned. And when Juno says, "Silencio, old man," when she is taking the pregnancy test, I thought, "Nope, never would they say that if they were worried about the possibility of pregnancy."

Why do so many books and films miss how teens speak? Is it regional? A lot of those lines probably looked just fine on script pages, but not from the mouths of teens.

When I asked the kids and a few of their friends over the weekend if they thought writers got the dialog right for teens, they told me that was the biggest problem they had with YA books -- they just never sound the way teens talk. I think it's hard to pin down their particular kind of speech without being around them. But if you don't, they can tell immediately, and they will walk. They are experts on each other, and if you want to lure them into any kind of story, you better be, too.

Saturday, September 20, 2008


I usually never want to participate in the "chain" kind of blog questions, but I do really like reading them. And you are probably thinking, "Well, yeah, we all like reading questions about our friends." That's right, but because I am slightly off center, I also read the answers to people I'll never meet in Australia or Singapore. So when I got tagged by Marcia Hoehne, I thought maybe people will want to read mine.

Also, you are supposed to tag eight other folks, and I'll start by tagging the romance writer Terri Rainier, the YA writers Brian Mandabach and A.S. King, and I'll add five others later on (because I'm not sure of their last names). Ok, so here are the questions:

What are your nicknames? My daughter occasionally calls me Wordgirl (after a show she watches on PBS) and my sons sometimes call me HER as in, Who said we can't hang out tonight? The answer: HER

What do you do before bedtime?

Feed the cats, put laundry on, set the coffeepot up for the morning

What was the first movie you bought in VHS or DVD?

I don't like movies. I've never bought any. My college roommate did give me a really neat copy of Gone With the Wind with George Cukor interviews which I've watched when I had the flu. I was obsessed with Gone With the Wind (the novel) for most of my adolescence.

What is your favorite scent?

Tie between leaves burning in the fall and ocean water, even when it's fishy.

What one place have you visited that you can't forget and want to go back to?

Bermuda. I went on a snorkeling honeymoon, and everything sappy they say about Bermuda is true. I was in the water the entire time. Well, you know, maybe not the entire time...

Do you trust easily?

Sorry, no. My kids have never slept over anyone else's house and they've never had a babysitter. (I know, I know). They've had lots of kids sleep here, and I've watched lots of other people's kids, and I have to say that I trusted people more easily before having kids. With my kids, I trust no one.

Do you generally think before you act, or act before you think?

I'm impulsive, and I am really impulsive when I write. I start writing novels at the drop of a hat, and I do things on whims. My husband takes six to seven minutes to decide which pair of socks to wear for the day, so we're an interesting pair.

Is there anything that has made you unhappy these days? I am living in a fool's paradise, I guess, since I am usually pretty happy despite having tons of stuff to do on any given day. Unhappy? Let's see - the possibility of going to war with another country makes me unhappy, but not really anything in my day to day life.

Do you have a good body image? Uh, yeah. I mean, have you seen me or what? It's just that when I moved closer to the water, the salt air shrunk the rear region of my pants, so that can't be helped.

What is your favorite fruit? I would have to say Elton John.

What websites do you visit daily? That's tough because I have Internet induced ADHD. It's more like, "Huh, I didn't know koala bears did that..." type of meandering. I can't say surfing because even then, there's a shoreline. I'm more like drifting around, think leaf caught in a windstorm. I look at freelance writing jobs sometimes; other times I read the NY Times online because I miss NYC.

What have you been seriously addicted to lately? I have been battling an addiction to really good, European chocolate for most of my adult life, and lately, the addiction is winning. I am curbing a minor addiction to footwear.

What kind of person do you think the person who tagged you is?
Introspective, a big reader, Christian values, reliable, kind, really literate.

What's the last song that got stuck in your head? Pink Floyd's, "We're just two lost souls living in a fishbowl year after year -- How I wish, How I wish you were here..."

What's your favorite item of clothing?
I like clothing without seams of any kind: old maternity pants, washed out flannel shirts, real soft material that my kids keep telling me I should use only to dust.

Do you think Rice Krispies are yummy?

If they were dipped in chocolate, but otherwise, no thanks.

What would you do if you saw $100 lying on the ground?

Assuming I am alone, meaning there are no other people around who I could ask, I would probably buy books, read them, then donate the books to an inner city teen center. (I actually did find 20.00 at the beach and that's exactly what I did so this was a trick question).

What items could you not go without during the day? Pens and paper, number one. I still use old fashioned pen and paper to get down my writing ideas in the morning, before the kids and the dog and the husband are around (that was in no particular order btw, or maybe it was in the order that they need assistance from most to least)
So definitely writing utensils.

What should you be doing right now?

Proofreading my new YA manuscript before sending it to Andrew Karre at Flux, checking on my sons who are being suspiciously quiet in the next room, and making sure my daughter isn't watching the movie,Juno, in the living room with her little friend. Oh, and cleaning the house, but after all, that is one of the beauties of blogging --

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

The First Day of School

My mom has pictures of me and my brothers on every first day of school until high school, each of us dressed in stiff clothing standing by the flagpole in our front yard directly beneath the flying flag. It used to be a ritual, and like all terrified people, my brothers and I endured anything we were told to do on those days.

It's different now. I can't imagine taking pictures of the two rumpled saggy-pants boys at my breakfast table. My boys began school last week, rolled out of bed bleary eyed, and asked why I didn't homeschool them. They ask this on a fairly regular basis,and once I remind them that I would also make them read and write at home, they stop asking. There was no terror, just annoyance that they were up at 6 a.m.

My daughter began school yesterday. Emma is a lot like her brothers (eccentric), but she is also a lot more expressive. She has no fears of adults or of expressing herself so she spends a lot of time talking and writing (wonder who that's like...) So yesterday, when all the buses drove up in the afternoon, and all the moms had wonderful first day stories (She talked about her iguana/trip to Maine/first prize in the camp talent show), Emma's bus driver had a slightly different account.

Mr.G, a really patient, kindly man, was her driver last year, and since she's one of the smallest kids on the bus, he keeps her right up by his seat. When he turned right on the homebound route after a year of turning left, Emma protested by saying: "Oh, boy, where are we going?" When he explained they had a few new kids on the bus and the route was slightly longer now, she responded by saying, "Oh, that's good. I thought maybe you were going to kidnap me, take me into the woods and eat my organs."

I think it's going to be a long year.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Non Issues

They say Sarah Palin is causing the Mommy Wars to boil over into soccer fields and grocery store aisles. I can't imagine what people are getting so worked up over. Yeah, she's got five kids and she works, but does anyone really believe that she gets up and throws a load of wash on, cleans up the cat vomit, and empties the dishwasher? I don't.

I took all the feminist lit classes in college. In fact, though it's worth nearly nothing, I had a double major in Women's Studies. During my first pregnancy, I put in for a two week leave, figuring I would just find the kid a babysitter. I had someone in mind midway between Dr. Seuss and Mary Poppins. The kid would be just fine.

Of course, I had zero experience with infants; I had never babysat as a teenager (I edited papers instead), and I liked my job. He was going on formula, to daycare, and I was returning to full time work. After Christopher was born, I did none of those things. The entire world dropped away, and Christopher was the new center. I found becoming a mom the most life-altering experience possible.

But that's just me. I have friends who really DID return to work at the six week mark and they never looked back.

But here's the catch: Sarah Palin has help. Lots of it. I made my own baby food, scrubbed my own floors, and never once hired a babysitter. There just isn't time to tend to five kids and be a mayor if you don't have lots of help. There just isn't time to shower if you are taking care of five kids by yourself.

So what are people arguing about? I don't get it. The media is portraying this power mom as if she works around the clock, baking muffins and screaming at hockey matches,then coming home to grind wheat for her kids' muffins before passing a law about polar bears. Nobody in public office does what stay at home moms do because stay at home moms don't usually have a staff.

I won't even get into how much her political philosophy scares me. But I wanted to know what the kids thought, or if they had anything to say about her gender. They had never seen her before, and when I showed them her picture, my two boys commented that she looked "...like a regular mom" while my youngest looked at it and said, "She looks like the lady who sells the Lenscrafter glasses." None of them thought about whether or not she was raising kids or was male or female. Wouldn't it be great if everyone thought that way - then listened to the issues? Right now, it seems the biggest issue is gender and lifestyle choice, and that should have nothing to do with policy.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Of Ogres and New Beginnings

Ok, after all this talk of self mutilation and my (and every other mom's) worries about what, exactly, teenagers are going to find out there, my daughter unintentionally lightened the mood. She's not returning to school until mid-September due to construction on her building, so she has had plenty of time to think about what fifth grade might have in store.

"Are you scared?" Christopher asked her at dinner. "'Cause fifth grade stinks. It's when I first starting really hating school."

"I'm only scared of one thing," Emma, who is quite used to the drama of teen speak, said.

"Boys," Philip offered, "the ones who push."

"Nope. Worse."

We all looked up. Emma has had issues with boys in general, and the ones who push specifically. This has been her number one pet peeve since kindergarten.

"So what are you afraid of?" I asked, trying not to sound worried (you can imagine what was going through my head at that exact moment).

"Ogres," she responded matter-of-factly. "I am really, really scared of them."

"New Jersey doesn't have a whole lot of ogres," I reassured her. "At least, I've never seen one. I think they hate beaches."

Emma sighed. "Mom, it's not like you know who they are. They hide it. Remember that story we read, about the women who were witches but only in secret?"

(We had read the Roald Dahl story over the summer aptly titled, "The Witches")

"I remember."

"They can look just like you and me. Well," (and this really cracked her up), "not like ME, but maybe like you. That's the scary part. You just don't know who they are."

Ogres. I had almost forgotten about them.

When her brothers began smiling, Emma admonished them, "If you laugh at an ogre,or if you don't believe in them, they get mad, then they come after you first. I'm just going to walk right by them and not think anything. Nothing at all. I'm just going to go blank so they don't think anything when they see me. Then they can't get me."

At least she's got a plan.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Cutting Revisited

Blogs remind me of snapsnots, of short little conversations that I might hear on an elevator or in a waiting room. A lot of them are funny. I tend not to take blog reading or writing too seriously. But there are exceptions. My exception is the blog I wrote on cutting. It generated a few anonymous comments, and a lot of email from kids who cut and from kids who were trying not to cut.

Over the weekend, a teen told me there was to be a cutting party at a friend's house. One of my sons had been invited (he couldn't go because I did not know the parents and no one seemed to know if they would be home). She went on to say this wasn't the first cutting party she knew about.

Apparently, at a cutting party, you make a choice whether or not you want to participate. As I stood in the kitchen making snacks for the kids, I had to will myself to listen with an open mind. Here I was with multi grain organic chips and soda from the health food store trying not to notice the irony of my desire to keep them healthy and safe, and their desire to "experiment" -- I also know that not listening to teens, no matter how upsetting the story, only makes matters worse.

So you don't have to cut at a party like this. She said there's no pressure like that. The upsetting part is how accepted a behavior it is becoming: have something to eat, talk, cut, listen to music. I asked her if I had it right. She said I did. She also told me how a lot of girls had watched a BBC production of Princess Diana admitting to cutting her arms and legs. (But this behavior is also common in boys) I don't know whether that BBC taping normalized the behavior or not, but it's now making the myspace rounds.

I learned a lot from the teens who wrote to me about their experiences with cutting:
cutting is real, and cutting is spreading. And the behavior, even if it begins as an experiment, can quickly become a compulsion. The scariest aspect? The average age to begin cutting is currently between 9 and 10.