The Perfect Teenager

Recently, a friend of mine used the “P” word to describe her middle schooler. Not the Trump “P” word (get your mind out of the gutter). The word she used was “perfect.” I held my tongue because I love my friend and her son is honestly a great kid, but he’s still young. Hormones and high school haven’t wreaked havoc on their world yet.

As a mom with slightly older boys, I’m going to drop a truth bomb … There’s no such thing as a perfect teenager. The perfect teenager is a myth. A unicorn. A falsehood. An alternative fact, even. I was reminded of this today when I ran into another friend who was lamenting her teen’s behavior — a boy who is, by all accounts, kind, courteous and earnest, not to mention smart and talented. He is a “good boy,” but he is a teenager, so it goes without saying that he is also a hormonal, dramatic, capricious asshole at times.

Phone number, please!

Humblebrag alert: My boys are “good boys,” too. I’m often told how handsome, bright and athletic, as well as kind, polite and respectful they are. Even helpful at times! But I am a realist (at times, a cynic) and know this is only a half-truth, at best. At home (read: with me), my boys are less kind, polite, respectful and helpful. At home (again, read: with me), my boys are often temperamental, argumentative, uncommunicative and negligent. Just like most teenagers. It’s infuriating and exhausting, but it’s also par for the course.

I think I owe my parents an apology … Sorry, Mom and Dad!

Since I still have a few more years to go before escaping this teen stage, I’m trying to keep my sanity by remembering these four truths:

  1. It’s only a phase. Like all other childhood phases, it will pass. It may pass like a kidney stone, but once their skin clears up and they graduate from high school, my kids will magically turn back into decent, loving human beings again. I hope.
  2. It’s not all bad. Every now and then, they do or say something that fills my heart with joy and gives me a glimmer of hope that the end is near … until their moods swing back and they suck again.
  3. It’s not just my kids. From what I hear, I’m not the only mom who sometimes feels unappreciated, disrespected and used by her own offspring. Maybe that’s why the expression, “Misery loves company” resonates so strongly with me.
  4. It’s not me, it’s them. I like to think that the reason my boys behave like responsible young adults in public (despite how they behave at home) is because of my good parenting. And even if it’s not, just let me have this one.

#parentingishardwork

My kids are far from perfect. Very far. But as imperfect as they are, I love them with all my heart. No matter how frustrating this stage may be, and no matter how loudly (and often) I bitch about it, I’d still do anything for them. Sure, I’d like to strangle them most days, but I will always have their backs. Always. I may be their biggest critic, but I am also their biggest supporter.

Selfie with my loves, last summer

– LJDT

Are Teenage Boys Just Oversized Toddlers?

I’m not usually one to lament how kids grow up too fast or how time flies by. I probably will when the kids are out of the house and I’m all alone, but right now I mostly embrace the aging process — as my posts in 2015 (read here) and 2016 (read here) can attest.

A month ago, my (barely) fourteen-year-old son started high school. He takes classes with sophomores. He plays football with juniors and seniors. He even went to his first high school party (freshmen only, thank goodness). Then last week, he shaved for the first time — out of actual necessity. I know my man-child, who wears a size 12-1/2 shoe, has more body hair than I care to see and stands almost as tall as his father, is growing up, but shaving?! Is he more man than child now? Just when I think so, he says or does something that makes me think, nope … still a kid. Like how he needs to be reminded to flush the toilet, use soap in the shower or remove his underwear from his pants before throwing them in the washing machine. Maybe my fourteen-year-old is really just a hairy, oversized four-year-old.

c. August, 2017 – It took a lot of coaxing to get my man-child to smile and pose at Hershey this year.

Here are five more ways my teenage son is just like his toddler self …

  1. His aim sucks. Eleven years after potty training and there’s still an equal amount of pee on the seat, floor and wall as there is in the bowl. Nice, right?
  2. He leaves crumbs everywhere he goes. I get it — boys are messy eaters. But wiping the crumbs from the counter onto the floor doesn’t count as cleaning up.
  3. He outgrows clothes and shoes faster than I can keep up. Puberty is a bitch on the wallet. In the past three years, my fourteen-year-old has put on 60 pounds (much of it muscle) and grown over a foot. WTF?!
  4. He challenges me at every turn. As a toddler, it was the inquisitive “Why?” Now, it’s a defiant “Why not?” — often asked with attitude and indignation, to boot.
  5. He is moody. Eye rolls, sighs and huffs … Can you say hormones? At least when he was four, his moodiness could be alleviated with a nap or a snack.

Can anyone else relate to this? Seriously, it frustrates the hell out of me and drives me insane. I totally get why some parents drink and why some animals eat their young.

#truth. I love him to death, but my teenager pisses me off on a daily basis.

But, hey … It’s not all bad, right? There are perks to having a teenage son. Like the fact that he can tie his own shoes (although he rarely does), do his own laundry (rolled up socks and underwear in shorts be damned!) and reach things on the top shelves (he is three inches taller than me, after all). Toddlers can’t do any of that. Plus, we can watch (some) R-rated movies together and listen to dirty lyrics (within reason) without me worrying that I’m corrupting a minor. Score one for me and Jay Z!

Age 4-1/2: Back when he still fit on my lap.

Age 14: Taller than me and still growing.

Now, how soon until he can drive?

– LJDT

Club Independence

I-i-i-in Chester County, not born but raised, the pool club is where I spend most of my days …

Okay, so those aren’t the real lyrics to The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, but that song is stuck in my head so I’m taking poetic license to draw you in. During the summer months, the pool club really is where we spend most of our days. Or at least some of our days. Either way, after six years at the same private pool club, I’ve made a few observations and learned a valuable lesson.

There are two types of moms at the pool club: The ones who religiously apply sunscreen to their kids every hour on the hour, continuously offer snacks and drinks to their offspring regardless of their hunger/thirst levels, incessantly snap photo after photo of their children’s gazillionth dive/handstand/water basketball trick and even, for some godforsaken reason, play with their younglings enthusiastically and lovingly … And then there are the moms like me, who do none of that.

The last pool picture I took of my boys, c. June 2014

Before you criticize me and say I’m a bad mom, let me remind you that my boys are 11 and 14. When they were smaller, I was more hands-on. I sunscreened, fed, photographed and played (albeit reluctantly) with the best of them. I did my time at the kiddie pool (or as my sister calls it, the coxsackie pool). I paid my mommy dues. But those days are long gone. Once the boys passed the swim test and we moved up to the big pool, I learned to let go and enjoy the pool club for what it really offers — FREEDOM. Yes, in those early days I still watched them in the water to make sure they didn’t drown, but unless they were splashing an adult or misbehaving in a way that was obnoxious to others, I let the lifeguards handle the reprimanding and scolding. And let me tell you, it was refreshing not to be the one reminding them to stop running or to wait at the bottom of the slide ladder.

Now that my boys are older, it’s all about independence and autonomy. The pool club offers a safe environment for them to spread their wings: It’s private (members only), enclosed (only one entrance/exit) and small enough that you can see everything from your lounge chair. It’s well-staffed with trained lifeguards and never too crowded. The best part? There’s always someone for the boys to play with, so I’m off the hook. They each have their own set of pool friends to keep them entertained — swimming, diving, shooting hoops, playing shuffleboard, wiffle ball, volleyball or Four Square, or even just hanging out — which means they get a break from each other, too. A win-win!

Pool sovereignty isn’t just about how the boys spend their time at the club. They have to take responsibility for their actions and their belongings. It’s on them to remember to pack the things they may want or need, like snacks, drinks, towels and sunscreen. If they get hungry, thirsty, cold or sunburned, they’ll remember next time. Or they won’t. Either way, it’ll be a learning experience. #LifeLessons.

But the best thing about giving my kids more freedom at the pool? It gives me more freedom, too. At the club, they’re not all up in my business as they would be if we were home. I can research, plan and write my next article or I can read and even nap (!) while working on my suntan. It’s glorious! It may not be perfect, and it’s definitely not as zen as an exotic beach or my own private backyard pool (thanks to other people’s loud kids), but with the help of dark sunglasses and earplugs, it works well enough most days.

So if you see me at the pool club ignoring my kids while I catch up on my summer reading, don’t hate … Join me.

The view from my lounge chair.

And to the moms of little ones who are still relegated to the kiddie pool — Hang in there. Your day will come.

– LJDT

Graduating on the Down Low

It’s graduation season! Since the middle of May, social media feeds have been populated with pictures and posts of smiling kids — from college students down to preschoolers — wearing their ceremonial caps and gowns, waving their hard-earned diplomas. There’s usually a lot of pomp and circumstance surrounding graduations, at least for most kids. Not mine. My boys “graduated” from middle school and elementary school, respectively, a few days ago without much fanfare. No caps and gowns. No moving up ceremonies. No commencement speeches. No leather-bound diplomas. No big family parties or expensive gifts, either. Nope, not here. We marked the occasion with haircuts and pizza before running off to basketball and lacrosse. Woo, hoo! Do we know how to party or what?!

Post-haircuts, pre-pizza (6/14/07)

I’m not complaining. As a matter of fact, I’m grateful that my boys’ schools didn’t make a big production out of it. Less pressure for me. While I am proud of my boys for successfully completing their respective levels of education, there’s really no need to over-emphasize it. Everyone “graduates” from elementary and middle school, don’t they? Do they really need a long, drawn-out, formal ceremony? I mean, three-year-olds in mortar boards are cute and all, but like everything else, it’s all a bit much. Preschool proms and grade school graduations have become the equivalent of participation trophies in youth sports. In my humble opinion, if we over-celebrate all the little achievements, the big ones are diminished. Shouldn’t an ice cream cone and a “Way to go, buddy!” suffice? But high school and college graduations, those are each a much bigger deal in my book. Those are accomplishments worthy of grand celebrations.

Both my oldest niece and my oldest nephew graduated from high school last week. This is a milestone to honor and of which both should be proud, given their individual experiences. Both experienced the traditional splendor that accompanies many high school graduations: the processional, a few speeches, a musical performance, awards, more speeches, diplomas and finally, the recessional. The only marked difference was the clothing: My niece went to a public school in Chicago, so like everyone in her graduating class, she donned the customary cap and gown in her school colors; My nephew, on the other hand, graduated from a small, private school in New York and was dressed akin to his male classmates in white pants, a navy sports coat, white dress shirt and blue school tie (girls wore long, white dresses). She was stunningly beautiful. He was tall and handsome. Both were happy, excited and relieved as they accepted their hard-earned diplomas in front of jubilant family and friends. Definitely a day worthy of more than just a pat on the back. But for my kids, finishing 8th grade and 5th grade, respectively, haircuts and pizza was enough.

My handsome nephew, surrounded by his brothers and cousins (6/16/17).

My beautiful niece, proudly displaying her HS diploma (6/15/17).

Some of you may think our school district is lame for not holding elementary school proms and middle school gradations. Some of you may think I’m a slacker mom for not making a bigger fuss about my kids’ “moving up” from one school to the next. You may even think I’m too negative or jaded. Maybe, but I’m thankful to UCFSD for not forcing my hand into something more elaborate and expensive. I believe everyone should do what works for them (this is my motto in life) — For me, that was pizza for dinner. For others, it was sending a limo to pick up their kids on the last day of preschool or hosting an all-out house party to celebrate the end of 5th grade. To those parents I say, your kids are luckier than mine. For real (no sarcasm intended).

So despite my belief that we should save the big festivities for the bigger triumphs, I do wholeheartedly congratulate all those who graduated this spring — be it from preschool or college or somewhere in between. Way to go! … Now go eat some pizza.

– LJDT

The End of the Innocence

Anyone remember that late ’80s song, “The End of the Innocence,” by Don Henley? I don’t even like that song and, to be honest, I’m not even a big Don Henley fan (except for “The Boys of Summer”), but the chorus of that song has been stuck in my head for the past few weeks because it’s reflective of my world right now. You see, we are entering a whole new stage of life with both my boys — puberty for my youngest and dating for my oldest.

My 5th grader, who is a little more than a month shy of turning 11, has been learning about the body systems in school and is currently studying the reproductive unit. Luckily, his cool, 32-year-old health/PE teacher keeps it pretty basic and PG-rated. No Miracle of Life videos or graphic textbooks, but he does teach hand signals to help with the vocabulary. My personal favorites are the forceful fist punch up in the air to represent ejaculation and a military salute for semen. Needless to say, dinner conversations at the Tarr house have been rather lively these past few weeks, filled with scrotum stories and unbridled laughter from my pint-sized penis-talker.

Thanks to Mr. D and 5th grade health class, I’ll never be able to look at this Halloween photo the same way again!

This isn’t my first journey through puberty with boys and, generally speaking, it takes a lot to shock me. But I have to admit, it’s a little unsettling to hear my 10-year-old discuss nocturnal dreams when he still sleeps with a stuffed animal and wants to be tucked in each night. Talk about a dichotomy! Thankfully for me and my music selection, he’s still pretty naive and sexual innuendo mostly goes over his head. Unfortunately, I can’t say the same for my oldest … Cue the clean version of my playlist.

Speaking of my oldest, my 13-year-old 8th grader is officially a man-child. At 5’8″ and over 140 pounds, he has long surpassed me in both height and weight. Add an additional two inches for his “winter hair” (a.k.a., the faux ‘fro) and he’s almost as tall as my husband. But it’s not only his size that amazes me. Like many typical moody, hairy, smelly teenage boys, he’s now girl crazy. While he’s still fully absorbed with his buddies and playing lacrosse, football and basketball, he’s now equally obsessed with texting and FaceTiming his new girlfriend. Yes, you read that correctly. My first-born baby has his first-ever girlfriend. I don’t like to think about it, but those nocturnal dreams my younger one is learning about may be more of a reality for my older one. [Shutter] All I have to say is, thank goodness he does his own laundry so I don’t have to find out.

My man-child even has lip fuzz … or is that dirt?

The teen dating scene is new to me (and him) so I’m sure there will be many more posts about it in the coming weeks. I know this is just the beginning and right now it’s all still very innocent. They are still very innocent. Thankfully. But my boys are growing up and experiencing things earlier than I remember. On the school bus alone they are exposed to everything from elementary school kids dropping the F-bomb and telling racial jokes to middle schoolers talking about blow jobs and sexting. For real! I can’t home school them (none of us would survive that catastrophe) or keep them in a bubble, so all I can do is talk to them (repeatedly and incessantly) to ensure that my polite, honest and respectful boys mature into polite, honest and respectful men.

In a few months, my boys will start middle school and high school, respectively. Life will get even more complicated, I’m sure, so for now I’m going to relish the hand gestures and giggles … and even the constant texting.

– LJDT