For a much-needed laugh, read W. Bruce Cameron’s “Teenagers Owner Manual.” His book 8 Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter kept my husband sane during our daughter’s teen years. Pulitzer Prize-winning humorist Dave Barry also cuts loose the tethers between the teenager you want and the one you have. Because raising a teenager challenges a parent’s patience, body, mind, and soul, maintaining a sense of humor is vital. As my mother told me, “You have to pick your battles.” Now that I think about it, she didn’t laugh much when my brothers and I were in high school. However, she laughed almost every time I called when my daughter hit the hormone years. Payback, I suppose.
For perspective on parenting from those who have reached solid ground afterward, read Irene Hopkins’ “The Seven Circles of Hormone Hell.” She describes being in menopause while her daughters hit puberty.
SOMETIMES YOU CRY
Debra Gwartney’s “Runaway” offers an unflinching look into one serious situation. Other serious and poignant topics teenager face include sex education, lying, drugs, buying Kotex, tattoos, thongs, slacker report cards, the empty-nest feeling, parties without parents, racial profiling, and body-image issues.
I recommend this book to every parent facing this chaotic, exciting, and yes, rewarding family time. Parenting is not for the fainthearted and this book offers insight from survivors. I also offer insight as a survivor in “Thrill Ride of Parenting Teenagers.”
For those of you currently parenting teenagers, you have my prayers, my sympathy, and my encouragement. You can do this! I firmly believe that God designed it so that when my child reached the age to leave home, I wanted to help her pack. Since we have passed through that valley of the shadow of death, my daughter and I have become close friends. She even trusts me to occasionally watch her children. Go figure.
Do you suppose I have suddenly gained amazing parenting skills? Ha! Me neither. What I have gained from experience–patience and a sense of humor.
When widowed retirees Edi and Eli decide to fight boredom and loneliness in sleepy Bexley, Indiana, they turn to mischief, causing great changes to their community. It all begins because Edi misses her late husband Henry and their Martini Afternoons.
I suspect author Beverly Fortenberry, a widow who retired from teaching leadership and behavioral change during her globe-trotting career, wrote Martini Afternoons to keep herself out of mischief. Fortenberry’s deft humor and insight into human behavior illuminate this fun story. Her other books are Leadership Lessons Proven on the Front Line and The Bumble Gene.
Getting my pilot’s license could be a boost for my marriage–if it didn’t kill us first.
“Why can’t you take up golf?” I pleaded when my husband, Maury, announced he was going to learn to fly. Fly? First the red sports car, now this? Was this part of a man’s “go-fast stage” of life?
But the more I tried to talk him out of his newfound desire, the more set he was to try it.
I had a feeling this one would test our relationship. And all my pleadings were in vain.
Throughout his training, Maury urged me to take lessons. But I wasn’t interested in riding in a small airplane, let alone piloting one.
I preferred tamer activities, such as water skiing in the alligator-infested lakes of Central Florida where we live. Of course, when I tried to learn to water ski, I broke a bone in my foot and sprained my neck. Bad knees prevented me from keeping up with him during snow skiing, and a near brush with drowning made scuba diving less than appealing.
But we wanted to find fun hobbies we could share. My pursuits of cross-stitch, gardening, and reading didn’t lend themselves to drawing us closer as a couple. And Maury, who loved flying from day one, believed sincerely he’d found just the hobby for both of us to experience together.
“You should try it. It’s really fun,” he insisted. I responded that I don’t appreciate being “should” upon. This hobby definitely wasn’t love at first sight—for me.
A death-defying ride
Several months later Maury earned his license and offered me a ride. My first impulse was to shout “No way!” But I knew how much it meant to him, so I nervously accepted.
During our flight, he explained how safe the plane was and how stable it flew in an engine failure. Then—at 4,000 feet above an orange grove—it sounded like the engine stopped.
While he excitedly told me how many miles the plane would glide, I sucked air and stared at the panel of blinking lights, knobs, and dials.
This stunt provoked not only panic but severely uncharitable thoughts toward the man I loved and had trusted.
“Handling emergencies,” he explained, “is part of the training.”
“Start it up again now!” I screamed. This was not how I wanted to spend my final moments.
“It’s okay. I have it under control,” Maury soothed, manipulating the hateful controls.
“Yeah, well, I don’t,” I yelled.
If hell had a theme-park this would be the featured ride, I thought.
The engine roared back to life and I resumed breathing. By the time we landed I’d calmed to seething fury. Maury was genuinely shocked that I hadn’t enjoyed my first ride. Apparently, by simulating the worst-case scenario— engine failure—he hoped to prove there was nothing to fear. He explained that a similar demonstration had impressed him, so he assumed it would have the same effect on me. I explained that it made me want to beat him senseless.
I can fly!
Clearly, Maury was committed to this hobby and would continue flying with or without me. My choices were: A) avoid small planes and spend weekends alone—which didn’t meet our doing fun hobbies together quota, or B) take a few lessons so I could land the plane in an emergency—such as if he ever choked the engine again.
After deliberating my options, I finally—reluctantly—chose option B. Flying was important to Maury, it was something I could do with him, and it could be an extra boost for our marriage—if it didn’t kill us first.
Maury was delighted. “You’re going to love this!” he said. “Just think about all the fun we can have together.”
Male pilots such as Charles Lindbergh, Eddie Rickenbacker, Chuck Yeager, and the ones so visible on commercial flights, gave me the impression that aviation was a male-dominated realm. The only significant woman pilot I could name then was Amelia Earhart. According to what I knew, Lindbergh was famous because he’d successfully flown across an ocean; Earhart because she had died trying. Not a ringing endorsement.
The few local women pilots I interrogated stressed that learning to fly wasn’t as mentally challenging as getting a college degree or as physically demanding as childbirth. After a “been there, done that” self pep talk, I called a certified flight instructor for an abbreviated course on how to call for help on the radio and to provide practice in landing the plane. Patient, courageous, and witty, Don Kohler had been flying longer than I’d been alive, and the folks at the airport said he didn’t scare easily.
Don and I practiced landings for weeks with both of us holding the controls while Don talked through the procedure. Over time he loosened his grip more and more until one day I looked over and saw his arms folded and his feet off the rudder pedals. I’d landed the plane! And with no injuries and no airplane parts left behind on the runway. Cue the Peter Pan soundtrack: “I can fly, I can fly. I can fly!”
The friendly skies
Flush with adrenaline and success, I wanted more. When I told my sweetie I needed more lessons, well, you’d think Ed McMahon had handed him a giant cardboard check. I hadn’t seen him that excited—with his clothes on, anyway—in years. Money flowed toward this mutual objective.
It wasn’t enough for me to go along for the ride or to hold the charts for him. It wasn’t enough for me to be an educated passenger. I wanted us to be a team of qualified pilots. After earning my private pilot’s license, I earned the coveted instrument rating so my husband and I could simply take turns flying. Maury earned a commercial license with seaplane, instrument and multi-engine ratings as well. While I’ll probably never catch up to him, I’ve achieved skills beyond his—and my—expectations. I even took a few aerobatic lessons, just for the thrill of it.
So what if my hair gets re-styled by headsets and I smell like aviation fuel? Who would think that 110 low lead could be an aphrodisiac? Friends who once told us we were crazy now ask for rides. To afford a great airplane we share ownership of a well-equipped Cessna 210 (identified as N761XD) with two other couples. I’m alive in my husband’s heart as a can-do woman who shares his new exciting world of aviation. Oh—and I love it when he calls me Captain.
Embracing my husband’s hobby taught me to stretch my boundaries and to overcome fear through knowledge and ability. Flying gives my husband a separate world from his high-stress job as an orthopedic surgeon. Flying gives me freedom. Flying gives us both a new and exciting dimension to our relationship.
According to the statistics branch of the Federal Aviation Administration, women hold only 6 percent of the airman certificates in the United States. I’m proud to be one of them. My husband is so proud that he works, “My wife is a pilot” into conversations. Sure, over the last eight years we’ve flown to West Texas, Northern Michigan, Grand Cayman, the Bahamas, and many places in between. But the more significant benefit of sharing this hobby is that it brings a level of intimacy—we trust each other with our lives. And we spend more time together.
Sharing a hobby helped prevent us from drifting apart when it seemed some days that our only common interests were our daughter and our faith. Though we also have separate interests, we have this one to share, to draw us together, and enjoy long after our child leaves home. I would have robbed our relationship if I hadn’t taken those trial flying lessons to see why my husband embraced this hobby. Maury was right. Flying is fun, and yes, for us, it beats playing golf.
This article first appeared in 2006 in a Christianity Today publication. They were publishing a series on how sharing a hobby can affect the marriage relationship. The original is in their archives.
Place every thrill ride in Florida end to end as one long ride and they still could not scare, shake, rattle and roll, nauseate, induce screaming panic, disorient or to give that negative-G, freefall-in-the-dark experience like parenting teenagers. As a writer, I try to learn from my life experiences so I can portray my characters with more depth. Sometimes my life is so odd I don’t think readers will believe such experiences. Raising a teenager falls into that category of too weird to be true. The following comes from my journal.
Once my daughter was safely out of my sight in college, I staggered away from the recent years in search of a solid, level place to recover. I was reminded of a curse: May you live in interesting times. This essay is about one interesting event in that thrill ride known as parenting a teenage daughter.
My daughter’s freshman year of high school was marked as the time we most often denied ownership of Jessica, whose name means Gift of God. Conversations often began with “that child you wanted to have” or “your daughter” and followed with the shocking news of what she did. If she put off studying for an exam until the night before the exam, she was “her mother’s daughter.” Her struggles in math were attributed to my genetic influence. Her need to have the last word in an argument was chalked up to Hubby’s genetics even though his mother, father, sister, and grandmother were always gracious, patient endearing people as far as I could tell. Both Hubby and our daughter possessed a seriously dangerous belief that they could be right despite a mountain of evidence to the contrary. As much as we tried to deny her, she was thoroughly a product of our genetics and our parenting, but other outside influences gradually took control of her. Forces of peer pressure and hormonal impulsiveness struck us like rogue tidal waves. We were at the mercy of forces greater than us and we sought refuge and peace in tiny increments to keep going.
We previously dreaded phone calls from telemarketers, but that year we welcomed them as a chance to chat with someone who wasn’t bringing us bad news about our daughter. We subscribed to twelve magazines and two newspapers that year through telemarketers. We didn’t have time to read them all. We were too busy separating truth from the lies we wanted to believe.
Like the time the little darling at fifteen years old started receiving calls from a friend of a friend whom she described as someone who “likes” her. She strategically omitted that this someone who likes her was twenty years old. Of course, she was flattered by the attention of an older man and never stopped to consider why a twenty-year-old man would pay attention to a minor. She lived in a world where she knew everything and adults were marginally functional idiots. We were kept around, tolerated I suppose, simply to tend to her needs.
By the grace of God, my husband and I discovered this 20-year-old someone’s identity and age before the relationship moved beyond kissing. The joker called our house at 11 p.m. on a school night and asked to speak with Jessica. Well, since her well-bred friends from grade school knew better than to call after 10 p.m. I assumed it was one of her new public high-school friends, the kind whose parents gave them the freedom to run the streets until 2 a.m.
“Who is this?”
“I am [name changed to protect his identity] Doofus, Jessica’s boyfriend.”
“Boyfriend? And how is it that we haven’t met you?”
“Well, we haven’t really been on a date yet, but we’re talking.”
In teen-speak, ‘talking’ didn’t mean talking like people do in conversation. It was the equivalent of having his posse talk to her posse in preparation for actually talking to one another. Consider “talking” as a meeting of the tribes. Once the couple actually met face to face on a date, the term changed to “hooking up” which could also mean that they were engaging in sex, but at this point in the conversation and Doofus’s relationship with Jessica I was not compelled to dump his bloody corpse at the police station.
“And which school do you attend?” I asked.
“I’m not in school.”
Silly me and my assumptions. “What does that mean, exactly?” Jail? Dropout?
“Well, Doofus, Jessica is fifteen. She might have told you she was older, but she’s fifteen.”
“She told me you were cool with our age difference.”
“She lied. Until a few moments ago, I didn’t know you existed, so how could I possibly be cool with an adult dating my minor daughter?” At this point in the conversation, my husband sat bolt upright in bed and held his hand out for the phone. I held up my palm to signal that I would take care of this.
“Oh, that’s too bad.”
“Yeah, you must know that you’re looking for trouble by fishing in the kiddie pool. I may be cool about not judging people, but honestly, as an adult, I have to tell you that you need to protect yourself. Parents will wonder why a twenty-year-old isn’t dating other twenty-year-olds.”
“Oh, Jessica’s real mature for her age.”
“Or you’re just immature for your age.”
“Why are you being mean to me?”
“I am treating you like an adult. Let me explain it in terms you can understand. My daughter is a minor and you are legally an adult. If you give my child a beer, a cigarette or have sex with her, then I will make sure you go to jail or the hospital and then to jail.”
“But she likes me.”
“Of course she likes you. Teenage girls are awed by the attention of adult males. But tomorrow you will call Jessica to break off this relationship.”
“You don’t even know me.”
“That’s true. Listen. If you were twenty-five and Jessica was twenty, I would have no business getting between you two because you would both be adults. So if this is real love, it can wait until Jessica grows up. Then she can make decisions like an adult. Until then, I am in charge of her welfare. And don’t assume that you can sneak around to see her even if she suggests it. This is a small town and news gets around eventually. If you continue to see her, then I will get a restraining order. Is that clear?”
The next morning Doofus, the 20-year-old coward, called Jessica and blamed me for making him break up with her. Very mature. Jessica labeled me a hateful person and accused me of ruining her life. She really said those words just like a soap opera actress. Fortunately, Hubby was foraging in the fridge when Jessica stormed into the room.
“But I looooooove him,” she wailed.
“Perhaps you do. And when you’re a legal adult you two can run off to China if you want, but for now, you are a minor and he’s an adult. He could go to jail for dating you, so think of breaking up as a way of keeping him out of jail.”
“You just don’t understand.” She searched for support. “Dad?”
He shrugged out of the fight since I had volunteered to handle it.
“What is it exactly that I don’t understand?” I asked.
“We’re only five years apart.” She then pointed out two May/December marriages of our friends.
“That’s an excellent argument. Yes, sometimes people of different ages fall in love. However, they are all adults.”
“So? Five years doesn’t make a difference!”
“At your age five years is a huge difference.”
“Okay.” I held up my hands.
Hubby spewed cookie crumbs. “NO!”
“Honey, I got this,” I said.
Hubby stood by eager to countermand my decision if he disagreed with it. As the head of household, he had the right and duty to make executive decisions. This was one of the few times I wanted to assert my authority as Queen of the castle, to figuratively throw down my scepter to challenge the upstart princess.
I told Jessica, “You can prove that a five-year age difference doesn’t matter. You can date any ten-year-old you want.”
Her face contorted into gasping disgust as if she had found half a worm in her apple. Words swam in her head. Finally, she shuddered and spat out, “Oh, my God, mom. I could never date a boy in grade school.”
“That,” I said in a soft voice, “Is a five-year age difference.”
The realization struck her like a slap. She looked to Hubby for support and found him suppressing a grin. She took a deep breath and spun on a heel in retreat. She slammed every door she passed on the way to her room.
Hubby mimed applause while I took a bow.
To all my friends with teenagers, take heart. When you are in the midst of an estrogen or testosterone storm with your teenager, remind yourself that this time with them will pass. Perhaps like gallstones, but they shall pass. Keep your seatbelt securely fastened for the ride.
Postscript: This article was originally published in 2006. Today my daughter is married with children of her own and I get to enjoy a front-row seat as she and her hubby face the thrill ride of parenting.
When my daughter Jessica joined the Junior Varsity Cheerleading squad in high school, I never suspected how much it would demand of both of us. Sure, the girls cheered at football games and basketball games, but these activities merely fronted for the real action—competitive cheerleading. Not for the poor or faint of heart, competitive cheerleading demanded $800 for uniforms, pom-pons, ribbons, shoes, team socks, and the requisite gallon-size bucket of glitter, on top of two-hour practices six days a week.
The girls took cheerleading seriously, but the cheerleader moms treated the whole thing like a holy mission. Many had been cheerleaders at this same high school not so long ago and longed to cheer again. When I say that the mothers wanted to cheer again, I mean they had their own team.
The premise of the mom team was that we would surprise the girls by performing a cheer for them the night before their first big competition—the State Cheer & Dance Championships in Jacksonville. I was easily ten years older than the other mothers, so the idea of joining a cheerleading team made me laugh. Come on, the mothers begged. You’re not dead yet, they teased. Besides, it’ll be such fun. How hard could it be?
At the first meeting, the coaches assessed our skills. Sure, our tumbling runs included front rolls, one-handed cartwheels, and jumps, but those were as challenging to us as full-twisting back somersaults were for the girls. As a whopping size eight, I was recruited to be a base, that is, to hoist another mom in the air with the help of a partner. The coach announced she would videotape our practices. I seconded the motion for insurance purposes. We held our clandestine practices at the home of one of the coaches. A few of the moms had–let’s call it–new equipment they wanted to display, so they suggested we buy uniforms. The majority voted instead for navy shorts and matching T-shirts. Thank you, thank you. My original equipment did not need to be showcased in tight clothing. Aside from the promise of fun, cheerleading offered a chance to counteract the effects of gravity, so I threw myself into learning to cheer.
The cheer routine seemed as complicated as a music video. I kept colliding with my neighbors because I’d step left when others stepped right. I felt like one of the hippos in Disney’s cartoon classic The Fantasia, if they had been clumsy. Risking injury and loss of dignity, I still wasn’t having the promised fun.
One mom, a size zero who yearned to be mistaken for her daughter’s sister, served as a ‘flyer,’ meaning one of the women hefted overhead. One afternoon, she came to a practice fresh from a massage and since none of us could properly grip her perfectly toned, oiled calves, we kept dropping her. To make the situation worse, the flyer pleaded to the coach for different bases.
Two of us assigned to lifting Mrs. Size Zero had never cheered before and apparently had to be reminded of this dreadful gap in our education. To her we were posers and she felt obligated to call us out. Oh, the shame.
The coach yelled at us, so I asked her to show me how to do it the right way. Hey, I can play stupid. I really enjoyed watching Mrs. Size Zero slide down through the coach’s expert hands. The coach switched to practicing dance steps without another comment. At last, the promise of fun had come through.
We used the same so-called music the girls used for their cheer. Imagine a blaring radio that switches channels every twenty seconds. Add the sounds of glass breaking, horns blaring, highway traffic and rap chants then amplify that noise to the decibel level of a jet engine at takeoff. More than dance, more than gymnastics, cheerleading demanded much from us individually and in teamwork.
Months of preparations culminated in the one and only live performance of the mom team. Never mind the broken elbow suffered by one of the moms—a trooper who continued through the routine—we had survived. We proudly inhaled handfuls of Advil while our hysterically-amused daughters and spouses congratulated us.
The next day Jessica’s High School Junior Varsity girls’ team took second place in the State Cheer & Dance Championships in Jacksonville, Florida. They won first place at the Florida State Fair and second place at the American Open. The Varsity team was equally impressive.
Jessica retired from cheerleading her sophomore year to devote time to a social life and studies. So, at age forty something, having followed my daughter into cheerleading, I followed her out and gleefully retired my pom-pons.
This essay first appeared in Tampa Bay Sounding is a publication of Mensa. I changed the names of the other moms because some of them scared me and might hunt me down.
The Zen garden of sand and a few aesthetically placed rocks encourages peacefulness, serenity and restoration of the soul.
In my yard, gardening is WAR.
I enjoy gardening, not just the resulting blooms or neat hedge, but the act of gardening, the fight itself. The tug-of-war that uproots an errant orange tree seedling is the kind of reward that brings me back week after screaming week. The battle field of my yard yields regular skirmishes. Hefting a three-gallon sprayer can make or break me on a windless evening when the temperature reaches a scorching 90 degrees Fahrenheit, but I soldier on. Okay, so once I braved on until heatstroke amplified the feel of the rotation of the earth and I planted my face on my verdant St. Augustine grass.
My husband, my ally, often wages the larger battles with me, but his regular field of warfare takes place inside the house involving carpentry, electrical work, plumbing and the usual repairs demanded by home ownership. Separate weapons; separate war.
Just hearing the name of sedge grass raises my battle cry. This yard is mine and you can’t take it you weed, you. Back, back, I shout spraying it with diluted poison. I have to laugh when I read that the ‘natural look’ is in for residential gardens.
The natural state of a yard in Florida would include chaos, weeds, root-rot, fungus, ant colonies, erosion, cinch bugs, armadillo burrows, snake infestation, yellow-jacket hives and other assorted pests, diseases and such undesirables unfit to mention in polite company. This natural look must be similar to the natural look touted by Bobby Brown® makeup. It almost takes more effort to make the effect look effortless.
I joined a Garden Club on the misunderstanding that these dear ladies gathered monthly to share gardening tips and techniques. In four years I’ve gained 60 new friends, some terrific salad recipes, but less knowledge of gardening than anticipated. In fact, some of the ladies brazenly hire mercenaries to battle for them so, in effect, my garden club pals serve as generals, planning the war and directing it from a clean, safe distance. These dear souls cluck their tongues when they drop by the house and catch me with soil under my broken nails and twigs in my hair, but I know deep down they either admire my effort or excuse it as youthfulness.
The enemies of a beautiful native Florida yard and garden are legion—and mostly natives themselves. Has anyone grown Oleanders without the attendant poisonous orange and black caterpillars? I’ve sprayed and found that I have to nearly double the prescribed dosage of insecticide to kill them, or go the low-tech route and bash the nasties one by one. Where can one develop a lush lawn of St. Augustine grass without crabgrass, Bahia, dollar-weed, sedge, dollar weed or clover? And let’s not overlook cinch bugs, fungus, armadillos, fire ants, termites and root-rot—all robustly reproducing natives.
Perhaps the Zen garden is peaceful because it contains only rock and sand. It is the ultimate low-maintenance garden. Grab a bamboo rake and draw circles in the sand for meditation. No weeding, hedging, fertilizing, exterminating, bleeding, replanting, watering, mowing, grading or irrigating. It simply won’t work in Florida.
If I prepared a sand and rock Zen garden in my yard, this thing of beauty would become either the community litter box for neighborhood cats or the ants would construct a mega-colony in it.
A local physician Rob and his wife Pat, planted a stunning water garden in their entranceway. Nestled between a wall by their driveway and the house, this expensive recycling in-ground pool served as an oasis, greeting visitors as they passed by on the walkway to the front door. It had a silent pump to re-circulate the water and another device to aerate the water for the $50-a-piece Koi they purchased to inhabit the pool. It had water lilies, bamboo, floating oxygenating grasses and a scavenger fish to eat algae. It was lovely.
On the third day they settled into a sofa with their drinks to gaze upon the pond through their living room window. Their Koi pond was attractive, so attractive, in fact that a native bird spotted it and flew in, settling on the imported rock edge of the pond. Before my friends could run outside, this native Great Blue Heron had gorged on $200 worth of Koi and flew off.
They know what I mean when I say gardening is war; they simply never considered the possibility of an air attack.
I’ll continue my garden war for the blooms, for the butterflies and for the battle. Give me the cathartic release of wrestling my small patch of nature into bloom. Keep your Zen gardens; I’m waging a war.
Tampa Bay Sounding is a publication within the high-IQ organization Mensa.