Archive for July, 2012

I thought it was stressful to watch my boys pitch during baseball games. And then I saw the parents of U.S. gymnast Aly Raisman watching their daughter perform on the uneven bars in the London Olympics. Watch it and tell me if you think they don’t deserve a gold medal.

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When was the last time you got a letter in the mail? A real, hand-written letter, in an envelope that someone licked to seal and stuck a stamp on?

Other than occasional party invitations and thank-you notes, I rarely get real letters. Except for in summer, when my boys go to camp and we all learn the art of waiting.

The first time each of my boys went to camp, the wait for that first letter was excruciating. I longed to know how they were settling in, whether they had a top or a bottom bunk, if they had passed the swim test, what they thought of their cabin-mates and counselors.

I still love getting their letters, but I’ve learned to savor the delay. When the letters come, I want to devour them, and I want to read them slowly, to make them last. I like writing back and knowing that they will read my letters the same way.

A lot of camps use services that allow parents to email letters to the camp that get printed out and delivered to their child. The child writes a response, which gets printed out, scanned and sent back to the parents electronically. I see this service as a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it’s immediate gratification. And on the other, it’s immediate gratification. (more…)

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When we lived in Russia many years ago, we rented some rooms in a dacha, an old wooden house in a village outside Moscow. We would spend weekends there, doing what you do at the dacha —  helping our Russian landlords harvest their apples and berries, taking walks in the forest, having long leisurely meals outside and, whenever possible, reading a book or falling asleep in the shade.

It all made perfect sense, until the weekend we invited along a friend, an intelligent and accomplished American journalist.  After lunch, when we settled onto our lawn chairs to do little more than digest our food, he bounced around nervously.

“What do we do now?” he asked.

“We do this,” I said, stretching my legs out and closing my eyes.

“I brought travel Scrabble,” he said. “Or should we play cards?”

At the time, I found it odd that our friend did not know how to do nothing. Looking back on it now,  I think my jittery friend was just ahead of his time. (more…)

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When I wrote recently about the difficulty of communicating with the typical teen-aged boy, I neglected to say one thing: it’s not impossible. You just have to find a way in. And then you have to appreciate the subtext.

For my husband, the way in is through music. On long rides to baseball games, he and my son take turns playing songs on the car radio through their phones. My husband has learned to appreciate the poetry of Eminem and some riffs of B.o.B, and my son has found he can enjoy the Grateful Dead. The conversations are about music, but they are also about sharing what they love, recognizing and accepting their differences and appreciating when their enthusiasm falls into synch.

For me, the way in is through books. My boys know I am constitutionally unable to leave a bookstore or a library without at least one book. I usually follow their lead and bring home books I know they will like — the latest installment in The Last Apprentice series, the Cherub series, the Gone series. But every now and then, I slip in a book that’s not their usual type.  I know I’ve hit on a good one when they urge me to read it, too.

A few weeks ago, on the recommendation of the proprietor of our excellent local children’s bookstore, I brought home Paper Towns by John Green.

My older son loved this book, and so did I. It was everything a young adult novel should be — laugh out-loud funny, smart and imbued with that particular adolescent combination of burgeoning cynicism and youthful hope. It features a secretive and vindictive beautiful girl, a mystery, a spur-of-the-moment road-trip and a 17-year-old narrator who knows he is smart, but doesn’t have a clue that he is wise, too.

When my son and I talk, it’s not usually about things like suburban wastelands, fidelity, friendship, infatuation, how hard it is to really know someone, or the poetry of Walt Whitman, but because both of us read and enjoyed this book, it’s almost like we did.

My son loves to read, but hates the way they talk about books in school. I’m not going to ruin his delight in Paper Towns by pushing the conversation on him. I’m just going to enjoy knowing that he can appreciate a story where an adventure doesn’t involve magic and can be entranced by a daring heroine who is even more complex and confused than Katniss Everdeen.

It’s a little sad when kids grow up and stop speaking whatever thoughts and ideas float through their mind. Teenagers are all about privacy, about closing the door. But by opening the pages of the books that hold their attention, we can get a little glimpse of where they might be.

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If you can watch this video and not see your teenager in it at all, then you are a better parent than I. You have earned the right to leave self-satisfied and critical comments about my failures as a parent. The rest of you are welcome to join my club.

The friend who shared this video, a mother of three boys, confessed it cuts a little close to home. That reassured me as, at least publicly, her boys are delightful. I watched the video, laughed out loud (and I was in my office cubicle at the time) and then got worried that I, who have been known to dive into a garbage pail to retrieve a penny, couldn’t say with all certainty that my 13-year-old son would never use a dollar bill to squash a bug.

I showed my son the video, praying that he would see the humor. He did, which also made me feel a little better. Surely, being able to laugh at such spoiled behavior is a step toward recovery. But then I asked if, caught without tissue or paper, he would even consider using a dollar to kill  a bug. He shrugged and said, “I might.”

Do I at least get credit for raising him to be honest?

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