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The email sounded great. The Huffington Post wanted to publish one of my pieces. In a section called Huff Post/50.

Say what?

To be clear, I am not yet 50.

To be even clearer, I will not be able to say that much longer.  My friends on the Other Side tell me that in a matter of mere months I will receive my AARP membership card in the mail. Those of us in the zone of the big 5-0 know that every month counts – even if our children already consider us ancient. My older son, in an effort to convince me to renovate the bathroom he uses, told me, “when Dad and you are old and decrepit and want to move to Cape Cod, the new bathroom will be better for resale.”

I know I am old in his eyes, but I am glad to know I am not yet decrepit.

Truth be told, there are some great discussions underway at Huff Post/50. So although this may be a club that you don’t really want to belong to, please join me there anyway. You’ll find my article there, just below 5 Foods That Can Increase Your Libido.

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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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Just because the transition happens swiftly doesn’t make it any less painful.

One day you’re walking home from the train knowing that as soon as you round the corner onto your street, your boys will come barreling down the sidewalk and fling their arms around you. The next, they’re too engrossed with Face-stagram-ify to acknowledge that you’ve walked in the door.

One day, you are wise. The next, you are wizened.

My husband’s transition from great and powerful Dad to local object of ridicule was particularly abrupt. One night at dinner, when the boys were cheerfully making fun of how he talked, I said, “well, they can’t think you’re God forever.”

“I’m aware of that,” he said. “But did I have to go from God to Village Idiot?”

That’s the real onset of puberty — not your child’s body odor or wispy bits of facial hair, but his inability to see you in a positive light.

The ribbing takes a toll.

I used to be a good dancer. And then my boys grew up a bit. And decided I was not a good dancer, but a hilarious dancer. And now I’m too self-conscious to dance. The other night, my husband’s band was playing at a restaurant and the crowd got lively. I hit the floor and started moving around to the music. I might have looked like I was dancing, but I certainly didn’t feel like it. What I felt like was a middle-aged voodoo doll whose arms and legs and hips were being manipulated by a 13-year-old boy back home who was making the fat lady get down and boogie.

When her daughters were in high school, one of my wittiest friends nearly lost all confidence in her sense of humor, not to mention her sense of style. Going away with her for a weekend was like hanging out with Sally Fields on Oscar night. “You think I’m funny? Really?” she kept saying. “You like my haircut? Honestly?” Obviously, she was suffering from Stockholm syndrome, able to see herself only through the eyes of the mean girls who’d been holding her hostage.

So how to deal with the constant eye-rolling?

You can snap back with a “who made you judge and jury?” kind of sarcasm, but that doesn’t leave anyone feeling better.

You can preempt their assault and make fun of yourself first, like the class clown, but that just fuels their sense of power and deflates your self-esteem.

Or you can remind yourself — even if you have to repeat it like a mantra — that their criticism is not about you, but about them. It’s about their need to tear you down to build themselves up, because they haven’t yet built any other foundation to stand on. You can call them on their rudeness and move on.  By doing so, you may be giving them an important life lesson: This is how you deal with a bully.

And then you do the most restorative thing of all — you go out for dinner with your spouse or some friends, share stories from the battlefield of bad behavior and laugh it off. Hopefully, no one will criticize the way you chew your food.

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I can think of no better way to launch this blog than by posting this video that captures the particular bliss of conversing with a typical teen-aged boy.

Don’t you just love the relentless cheer of the father as he tries to connect?
The first time I saw this video was about four years ago, when my children still loved to tell me what was rumbling through their minds. I thought the video was funny, but a little bit irrelevant. My boys, I figured, would grow up to be talkers, pleading at bed-time for me not only to tickle their backs, but to stay a little longer and talk a little more about their hopes and dreams as they segued from wanting to play on the Yankees to wanting a particular girl to pay attention to them.
What was I thinking? I was thinking like a woman who grew up in a household of girls and knew nothing about boys. For me, a good conversation is a soul-baring, intimate affair, when you share insecurities and fears and get a little bit closer to each other. You tell secrets.
Now I am learning that a conversation with a teen-aged boy often doesn’t involve words at all. Sometimes when I’m reading at night, my older son will throw himself onto my bed, mumble about wanting to “talk” and then proceed to say nothing at all. He’ll tell me to ask him questions and when I do, he’ll refuse to answer. I used to find this frustrating, until I realized that this was his way of connecting. Just being with me. So now when he flops onto my bed, I put down my book. I give him little snapshots of my day, or gently ask questions about his baseball practice or one of his teachers. I rub his back, or if I’m in a good mood, give him a foot massage. And I remind myself that words aren’t the only way to connect.

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