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

Fourth Time’s a Charm? Not Exactly

Last Friday, I spent six hours at my son’s middle school for Parent Visitation Day. I think this should negate at least six of my bad mommy moments (one for each hour ) — am I right?

This should be on my next Mother’s Day card, for sure.

Since this is not my first rodeo, I’ll shed a little light for those unfamiliar with the concept: On Parent Visitation Day (PVD, as I like to call it), parents follow their student(s) around from class to class in order to get a feel for what their day is like. Spoiler alert: it’s long, chaotic and exactly as you remember middle school to be.

When it comes to this shadow day, there are three types of parents: The super excited class participators who think this is the best idea ever (most likely, they’re with their first-born child and this is their first experience with PVD); The badass rebel who’s been through it before and says, “Nope. Been there, done that,” so they skip it (hey, no judgement here!); And the reluctant rule-follower who’s there begrudgingly and will most likely cut out early. I fall in the third category, although I wish I was in the second.

Having already gone through this torture three other times with my older son, I swore I’d never do it again. The first time, when my oldest was in sixth grade, I naively suffered through a full day of classes. The following year, I bailed before lunchtime. And last year, I arrived late and only made it through a couple of classes before I ditched. Does this make me a bad mom? Maybe. If so, just add it to the list. But I’m also an honest mom and Parent Visitation Day is sheer misery for me. The chairs are uncomfortable, I pee too much and I think I have adult ADD. Or maybe I’m just too old and uptight to enjoy it. Either way, PVD is my tenth Circle of Hell.

When I read the calendar last week, for a brief moment I though I was in the clear now that my older son is in high school. I actually thought I had dodged a bullet — until I remembered that my younger son is only in the sixth grade. As a newly minted middle schooler, that means I have three more years of visitation days ahead of me. Ugh! So I held my breath and secretly prayed … Maybe he wouldn’t want me to go. Surprisingly, not only did he want me to go, he was excited about it. Despite my best intentions to avoid a PVD four-peat (is that what follows a three-peat?), mom guilt won out. So there I was last Friday, suffering through yet another middle school experience.

I know I should have been happy that my eleven-year-old was excited to spend time with me, but I also knew it wouldn’t last. Sadly, I was right. My son’s excitement petered out midway through first period when I made mistake #1: Offering my help in Spanish class. To ease the embarrassment, I bribed him with the two mini muffins that I grabbed from the parent visitation lounge (a.k.a., the library, where they were conveniently hosting a book fair and spirit wear sale). Crisis averted  — at least until lunchtime, when I committed mistake #2: Asking a few of his friends to pose for a photo. It went downhill from there.

Product of my mistake #2: Photo evidence of my middle school “freshman” and some of his buddies.

If the past four years of attending parent visitation days have taught me anything, it’s that I know my kids and I know my limits. My kids like the idea of me being with them at school, but not the reality of it. And my limits no longer include six hours of middle school … Or wearing a name tag.

Maybe next year he won’t be embarrassed, or maybe he’ll tell me to stay home. A girl can dream, right?

– 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

Back to School: The More Things Change, The More They Stay The Same

It’s the end of week 3 of the new school year and I’m already fed up with the morning struggle. Who’s with me?

This year, both my boys started in new schools (one high school, one middle school) with new start times, new bus routes and new schedules and commitments. But with all the newness, some things never change — at least not in the Tarr household. My boys still sleep through their alarms and need to be woken up. They still take too long in the shower and need to be hurried. They still treat breakfast like it’s Sunday brunch (read: slow and casual) and need to be prodded. And they still forget their stuff (e.g., lunchbox, house key, chrome book) and need to be reminded. Yes, this happens each and every morning. And yes, as a result, I yell at them each and every morning … But at least they haven’t had to chase the school bus yet. Score one for the Tarr boys!

Obligatory first day of school photo, 2017: Entering high school (9th grade) and middle school (6th grade), respectively.

Time management is a skill neither of my boys possess. Genetics are partly to blame, I’ll admit. I am perpetually five minutes late — in part because I’m always trying to cram one more thing in before I leave the house (e.g., start the laundry, empty the dishwasher, put on makeup if I’m lucky!) and in part because I still think nothing is further away from my home than twenty minutes (which is a falsehood I need to grasp after eight years of living here). But genetic makeup is only part of the story. I think for my kids, it’s a combination of not being morning people and not be interested/motivated. After all, going to school means sitting still and doing work for six and half hours. To tell you the truth, I kinda don’t blame them. But I still want to pull my hair out when they are checking their phones to read last night’s sports scores and trades instead of brushing their teeth.

I’m sure there are well-intentioned readers out there who would tell me to make better use of the night before: Have the boys shower, make their lunches, pack their backpacks and lay out their clothes for the next day. Done, done and done. My boys already do all of that, sans the clothes. They don’t care what they wear; They just pull from the top of the drawer. But even with all the prep and planning (and the extra sleep they are getting due to the later school start time), my kids still can’t pull it together in the morning without a struggle.

I know it’s only been three weeks and things will improve over time. We’ll get into a rhythm, we’ll find our groove and then it’ll be smooth sailing … Until the seasons change, sports shift and a new routine is required. #thingstolookforwardto.

Happy back to school season, everyone!

Think a 14-year-old and an 11-year-old are too old for a school-day “morning checklist”?!

– LJDT

The Summer That Wasn’t: Tale of The Lost Season

No more pencils, no more books, no more teacher’s dirty looks … It’s been nine weeks since school ended and summer vacation began. But with only a few days left before the kids return to school, I’m left wondering, where did the summer go?

Summer used to be my favorite season. I loved summer. I would sit on the beach for virtually the entire day,  listening to music, reading magazines and gossiping with my girlfriends … It was the best! And even after I got married and had kids, I still loved summer. Lazy days with my girlfriends at the beach turned into slightly less lazy but still pretty chill days at the beach club, surrounded by my kids, club friends and the most useful person ever to a beach club mom with young children — the cabana boy.

Back in the day, this was my regular summer view. #beachlife

Then we moved to Pennsylvania. Living more than 90 minutes from the shore, we had to trade in our beach club for a local pool club, but overall, summer living was still pretty great. Sure, I missed the ocean breeze, but our low-key neighborhood pool was small, private and felt more like sitting in a friend’s backyard with a lifeguard than anything else. It worked …Until it didn’t.

A few years back, the boys started playing travel/summer ball. First it was baseball, then they each transitioned to lacrosse. The spring sports season bled into summer and before I knew it, it was the end of July and I had spent more time sitting on a lacrosse field than I had sitting poolside. Sure, we still went to the pool club now and then, but we had to rush out each afternoon to make it to some practice somewhere in some other town. Luckily, because school starts the week before Labor Day, we had just enough time to squeak in a quick week at the beach, send the boys to New York to visit family for a few days and cram in some back-to-school shopping and haircuts before calling it quits for the season. It wasn’t exactly lazy and carefree, but it worked. Sort of.

When summer vacations were the norm. #beachvacations

Fast forward to this summer — the shortest one yet. Pre-season football weightlifting and conditioning mingled with travel lacrosse, absorbing most of our time until late July. [And to clarify, I say our time because, while the schedule only pertained to my oldest son (a rising high school freshman), someone (read: me) still needed to drive him to his respective practices each day.] Then, just a short week later, high school football practice officially kicked in with acclimation sessions and two-a-day practices that lasted well into the evening, thanks to stadium lights. So our usual late summer family beach vacation didn’t happen. My favorite kidless August days while the boys go to New York didn’t happen.* Even the pool club didn’t happen. This summer was all about lacrosse, football and driving — to practice, from practice, to tournaments, from tournaments … I had to do more squats in the gym this summer just to make up for all the time I sat on my bum!

This was a more common view during the summer of 2017. #laxlife

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not bitter. Okay, maybe I am a little. I miss the lazy days of summer. I miss not having an agenda or timetable to keep. I miss the ocean air, the beach club and the cabana boy. But truth be told, I’m not much of a summer girl anymore unless I’m by the shore. Yes, I love to wear tank tops and flip flops and have tanned skin, but I hate the heat and humidity and how my hair gets frizzy and my legs stick to every chair I sit on. I know, I know — first world problems. I shouldn’t complain. It’s just that I’m so good at it and you should play up your strengths, right?

So when I ask, “Where did the summer go?”,  I know the answer. I just don’t like it.

– LJDT

*Disclaimer: My younger son still went to New York for two weeks, but with one home, I wasn’t exactly kidless and I certainly wasn’t lazy or carefree.

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

Keeping it Real … My Mother’s Day Wish List

Back in the day with the two who call me “Mom.”

Tomorrow is Mother’s Day — or as I call it, Sunday. In my world, there will be no breakfast-in-bed served or brunch reservations made. No homemade cards with glitter and still-wet glue to read or towering piles of extravagant gifts to open. No bouquet of fresh flowers to smell or surprise facial and much-needed massage booked at my favorite spa. And there definitely won’t be any sappy slide shows showcasing my most loving mom moments while Bette Midler’s song, “Wing Beneath My Wings,” plays in the background. Nope, not here … And I am perfectly fine with it.

Don’t get me wrong. I’d happily accept any of these gifts or gestures. But as the mother of two moody growing boys (a tween and teen whom I simultaneously cherish and want to strangle on a daily basis) and the wife of a more pragmatic than romantic man (whom I love dearly, despite his shortcomings), I just don’t expect such things …. And I really am okay with it. Really.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t confess to having a few lofty wishes, but I’m too much of a realist to think they’ll come true; I know how to lower the bar and set my expectations accordingly. So what’s on my Mother’s Day wish list? I wish to sleep until noon, but I’ll settle for 7AM. I wish to be smothered with hugs and kisses all day, but I’ll settle for a single, unforced hug and kiss from each of my boys. I wish for a full day of zen and blissful relaxation, but I’ll settle for a peaceful hour of gentle yoga and unforced help planting my vegetable garden. I wish my husband and kids could read my mind and get sh*t done without me, but I’ll settle for them doing what I ask when I ask and how I ask without attitude. I wish for world peace and human kindness, but I’ll settle for a single day without eye rolling, arguing or back talk.

Bonus points if someone buys me flowers. I prefer tulips or peonies (hint, hint).

Preach!

Happy Mother’s Day!

– 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