Cell phone wars

The cell phones my husband and I gave our children have turned out to be both a pleasure and a pain to us. While it’s been comforting and convenient to be able to reach our children almost everywhere we or they go, giving them cell phones hasn’t alleviated all of our parenting worries. In fact, the kids’ cell phones have probably given us more to worry about- especially in the last year.

Our descent into cell phone hell began with my mom tricking us into getting our daughter a phone the summer before she entered 6th grade, which was much earlier than we had planned to give her one. My mom convinced us she would make the monthly payments for the phone plan and said she would loan our daughter the phone if she ever needed it for a sleepover. But as soon as we activated the two-year contract, she said she couldn’t see the tiny numbers on the keypad and she backed out of her promise. She said our daughter would get more use out of it anyway, so she gave it to her and refused make any monthly payments. We were trapped, our daughter was hooked, and it’s been a downhill slide since then.

Probably the worst thing about cell phones, especially those with text messaging plans, is the incredible amount of power and secrecy they give our children. When my husband and I were teens, our communication with our peers and love interests took place on a communal phone mounted on the kitchen wall. Privacy was measured by the length of the cord and how far you could stretch it around the corner and into another room, preferably one with a door. Conversations were rarely private and they didn’t last too long, especially if our parents had anything to say about it. Once we hung up, all communication with the outside world ended for the night. Nobody dared to call us back at 2 AM to plot a rendezvous.

But our children (and apparently all of their friends) keep their cell phones with them in their bedrooms and carry on silent conversations well into the night, even on school nights. I’ve seen text messages sent to my kids at all hours of the night. My kids claim they aren’t answering these messages, but still…who can get a good night’s sleep when their cell phone keeps buzzing all night long- and it’s under their pillow?

So what have our children done with these wonderful instruments of communicative technology? Our daughter has used her phone to plan alternative activities, then lie to us about her whereabouts, she has plotted escapes from our house after we’ve gone to bed, and she constantly communicates with people we don’t even know. No worries, right?

In January, our son managed to lose his phone in six inches of new-fallen snow while sledding with a friend on a hilly golf course. He never thought to leave his phone in the car, because God forbid, he might miss the all-important “hey” text message from some goofy buddy or clingy girl. No worries, right?

The tipping point was the morning we discovered our daughter’s loser boyfriend sent her a half dozen text messages from 2 AM onward one Saturday night. We decided on a low-tech solution to our high tech problem- both kids would start leaving their cell phones downstairs every night, before they went to bed. No excuses.

Although our son was okay with it, the whole “leave-the-phone-downstairs” concept didn’t go over very well with our daughter. At first she kept trying to sneak downstairs to retrieve it after we went to bed. I staked out a spot in the darkness just outside her room and caught her red-handed. When that strategy failed her, she decided to get up at 5 AM every morning to get it back in her clutches, then went back to sleep for another hour before waking up again and getting ready for school. Amazing. Every night, she’s still the last one to give up her phone, just so she can hang on to it as long as possible.

For now, we parents have won one small battle in the cell phone wars. I’m sure there will be many more to come. But as long as the kids are living under our roof and we’re paying their cell phone bills, we have the right to confiscate their phones at bedtime- or any other time we think they’re abusing their phone privileges. Even though they can’t see it now, it’s really a win-win situation, because we all get a little more sleep at night.


Deadbeat boyfriend

Earlier this month I predicted my daughter’s deadbeat boyfriend was such a quitter, he would probably quit high school before he graduated next month. I just found out last night that he quit school a week ago. Wow! I had him pegged as a deadbeat and a loser- the signs were all there- and I was RIGHT! It turns out this isn’t the first school he quit. He moved to our county a couple of years ago because he was in trouble at another high school. Unbelievable! And to make matters worse, his immature mother is willing to break him out of school whenever he can’t handle it.

The saddest thing of all is that my daughter is blindly “in love” with this worthless, tattooed jerk who has no future. We still hope to survive prom and after-prom this weekend, but after that, I don’t know how much longer we can stand for this loser to be in our daughter’s life. This Deadbeat Boyfriend has caused our family so much stress and strife. Because of him, our daughter has lied to us more times in the last 8 months than she has in all of her 17 years. She’s been distracted from gymnastics, her friends, and at times, her schooling. We’re struggling to keep her focused on these things and her future in college while he’s busy working his ugly magic to blur that focus and keep her by his side.

Now that he has plenty of free time and no education, I’m going to make another prediction. I firmly believe it’s only a matter of time until his ugly mug shows up on the evening news or the front page of the morning paper. I can assure you it won’t be because he was awarded a college scholarship. More likely he will have earned himself a night in jail and a trial date. I just hope the crime he commits doesn’t involve our daughter. I’ve lost enough sleep, weight, and sanity as it is. I can’t afford to lose her.

Prom and after-prom

I’m dreading my daughter’s junior prom later this month. I know it should be a happy occasion for my husband and I to look forward to, but it isn’t, because we can’t stand our daughter’s boyfriend. Prom night will be more like “stress night” for both of us. She’s head-over-heels in “love” with a guy who’ll be lucky to graduate from high school next month. Nice.

My husband’s nickname for the boyfriend is Thug. I must say it fits. He shaves his head and he’s covered with tattoos and piercings. He quits almost everything he starts: jobs, sports, even our daughter (at first). According to his texts to our daughter, he’s about to quit school– when he isn’t cutting classes. He rarely takes her out on dates and when he has shown up for the occasional visit to our home, he’s worn his favorite “wife beater” T-shirt with the sleeves cut off and the sides ripped from his armpits to the hem. Like I said, Nice.

My daughter is already hounding us to buy her a tanning package and lobbying even harder for a $400 prom dress, because her cousin got one at that price. Twenty-one years ago, my wedding dress cost $600 (and my mom thought that was a lot!), but at least I wasn’t marrying a thug without a future. I’m not convinced we need to spend almost that much money on a prom dress. And for a night out with a Thug who drives an ’84 Cadillac that needs a muffler. Nice.

I’ve tried to be involved with the after-prom committee so I could convince my daughter and Mr. Steady Thug to attend the event. But after wasting time at meetings chaired by the self-anointed most popular mom at the high school, I’m going to require them to attend the after-prom. I need repayment for pretending to get excited about the dorky after-prom theme and begging local merchants for raffle giveaways. All this for a little peace of mind to know what this young couple will be doing from the end of prom until the wee hours of the morning.

What I wouldn’t give to return to the days of Barney the Dinosaur and my daughter asking me to play Barbies with her. At least I knew what she was doing and it was much cheaper entertainment than a $400 prom dress. And back then, tattoo-covered Mr. Steady Thug hadn’t wormed his way into her innocent heart and cast his dark shadow over our family.

I’ve spent the last six weeks submersed in my 17-year-old daughter’s future. Sounds like I haven’t spent much time on her future relative to her age, but in reality, my efforts have focused on recruiting her for a spot on a collegiate gymnastics team, which is a part of her future. Ideally for our family, that spot would be paid for with a scholarship.

I’ve spent nearly every evening and most of my weekends hunched over my laptop, tethered to the printer, eyes burning from hours of staring at a flickering screen. In six weeks, I’ve learned more about my daughter’s gymnastics skills than I’ve ever known in all of the eleven years she’s been in the sport. I’ve nearly memorized the weekly team rankings of all 83 NCAA gymnastics teams; I can even tell you which ones have moved up or down in the last week.

I’ve taken over my daughter’s Gmail account, scared off her Gmail chat buddies, and sent out dozens of email letters in her name. I’ve uploaded videos of her best gymnastics routines and her recruiting video to YouTube. I’ve created spreadsheets to track everything from potential college expenses, to the names of coaches we’ve emailed, to the number of available scholarships remaining at Division I & II schools. Most weeknights, I’ve gone to bed around midnight, struggled out of bed a mere 5-6 hours later and staggered off to work with crushing headaches.

What has all of this hard work netted? Hard to say at this point. We’ve visited just two college campuses and met with their gymnastics coaches. Most of the coaches we’ve emailed are in the final weeks of their competitive seasons, so they’re probably not terribly focused on recruiting right now. Many more coaches have already given out all of their scholarships (some as early as last fall) to gymnasts in my daughter’s graduating class- 2011- and they’re done looking.

We have limited time remaining to visit college campuses before school is out for the summer. All we can do is wait- and check email- and wait some more. It’s making me a nervous wreck, because I like to make things happen and not be stalled by other people’s timetables. I also have no idea if the coaches’ silence is due to their busy schedule or their lack of interest in my daughter, until one of them replies to our email. It’s truly an emotional roller coaster ride- and I know it’s nowhere near finished.

Another parent who recently spent time recruiting his son to college football coaches warned me, “It’s a full-time job.” He wasn’t kidding!

Breach of Trust

My husband and I recently caught our teenage daughter in a couple of lies right before Christmas. They were big ones, such as why didn’t she come home when expected and where was she for the 90+ minutes she was missing? When we found out the facts and confronted her, we grounded her from her friends and social activities. We took away the car keys, her cell phone, and her freedom for the entire winter break. She was crying and super mad at us, yet remorseless for her wrongdoings. We told her she had to live with the consequences of her poor choices and her breach of our trust.

Although it may appear that we were overly harsh with the terms of our punishment, it was based on additional information we found out the day we grounded her. Another parent called us that night and told us the recent lies were only the tip of the iceberg of bad behavior. It turns out that our daughter, along with two of her cheer teammates (one of whom belonged to the parent who called), had been smoking pot and drinking. This explains a lot of unexplainable behavior since school started last August, like spending every Saturday night at another cheerleader’s house.

The reason they always spent the night with the same cheerleader was that her mother allowed the girls to drink when they were there. She even gave them Jello shots to celebrate her daughter’s eighteenth birthday. Now our daughter is one of two cheer teammates who are banned from ever going to this girl’s house again. It’s bad enough that kids are involved in underage drinking, but unbelievable to find out a parent is contributing to their delinquency. It only proves that knowing your children’s friends isn’t enough- it’s important to get to know their parents too. We trusted everyone too much and failed miserably on this point.

Our daughter will now have to work very hard to earn back our shattered trust in her. When she returns to school on Monday, she will get back the car keys and her cell phone. But both will come with restrictions. No more calls or texts after 10 pm on weeknights- and we get the phone at bedtime. The recent 30-minute extension of her curfew will be eliminated. No overnights at anyone’s house, although her friends are more than welcome to spend the night here. If/when we trust her enough to let her spend the night somewhere else, we will be calling the other parent to see if they’re aware of the sleepover. If it turns out our daughter is lying, we’ll ground her again and start all over with the trust issue. Here’s to hoping both we and our daughter learn from our mistakes in 2010.

I worked in my garden tonight until the darkness of the sky met the black soil beneath my feet. My husband and I were digging out the Bermuda grass that had jumped from the yard into the garden and has prospered there year after year. It’s the most stubborn grass to have when you don’t want it around. Digging it up only breaks off portions of the roots, which remain buried in the soil and regenerate like science projects gone awry. We could spend hours chopping, raking, sifting, and tossing out chunks of roots, only to miss one tiny piece and find it happily sprouting from the soil days later. It’s Devil Grass- evil to the core!

It rained earlier this afternoon, so where we’d dug up the Devil Grass and turned up the earth, the thick clay soil stuck like peanut butter to the soles of our shoes. Like a fool, I wore flip-flops instead of my gardening shoes, which allowed balls of dirt to work their way under my toes while I tromped through the garden. When I rinsed off my flip-flops, the dirt turned to mud- but looked like poop squished between my toes. I’ll have to wash my feet before I go to bed, just like when I was a kid. Ah… the joys of summer, truly my favorite season of them all.

What I like best about gardening is the time it gives me to just think. My thoughts just get up and walk around in my head, talk to one another, share ideas. I ruminate about everything from work to my mother, which all give me plenty to think about these days. I don’t mind being outside in our humid weather and for some reason this summer, the mosquitoes aren’t as bad as usual, despite all the rain we’ve had. I just wish it would stay daylight a little longer, maybe like the Alaskan summer, where the sun doesn’t set at all. If we had that type of summer here, you’d never get me to wash off my shoes and come inside- but I bet I’d get all of that Devil Grass out of my garden.

Weather nerds unite!

Last Saturday I finally got the chance to attend a weather spotter training class at my library. I’d been wanting to do this for a long time, as I’ve had a life-long fascination with tornadoes and severe weather. But with the kids’ schedules taking over my schedule for the last 16 years, it’s been tough to squeeze in things that interest me, like the spotter training class. Yet somehow the weather gods decided it was time for me to learn their secrets, so they cleared the kids’ schedules, parted the clouds and on a sunny Saturday morning, allowed me to sit in the front row of the class, eager to learn.

Although I thought I knew a lot about funnel clouds and tornadoes and how they form, I discovered I didn’t know it all. Our instructor, Rick Shanklin, showed us pictures of wall clouds and said this rain-free portion of a thunderstorm is where funnel clouds may form if the clouds are rotating. Then we watched videos of funnel clouds and tornadoes forming– pretty cool! He said many people confuse low-hanging clouds with funnel clouds, but if there is no rotation, there is no funnel cloud. A tornado doesn’t form until the funnel cloud touches the ground, which can sometimes be hard to see until it kicks up debris.

My fascination with tornadoes goes back to my childhood, with my mom’s story about the Palm Sunday tornado on April 11, 1965, in our hometown of Elkhart, IN. I was just a baby when my parents were driving us to my grandparents’ lake cottage for a visit. They noticed a massive black cloud behind them the whole way north into Michigan. That night their trip home took longer than expected because roads were blocked by fallen trees and debris. When they finally got home, local news stations were reporting of a killer F4 tornado that came within a mile of our house while we were gone. It really freaked out my mom when she realized that!

As a child, my tornado obsession manifested itself in my newspaper clippings of tornado pictures. I filled up a scrapbook with these clippings, rather than the ordinary sorts of things young girls might put in a scrapbook (I wonder if my mom still has it somewhere in her house…would love to find it). When I worked in a college library twenty years ago, I bought a two-volume set of books called Significant Tornadoes, 1880-1989 by Thomas Grazulis. They’re filled with brief accounts of tornadoes and, of course, lots of tornado pictures. I still have those books and am thinking of buying his update volumes.

The closest I’ve ever been to a tornado was the one my mom spotted the night I was driving her home from work. We were waiting for a traffic light when she pointed to her right and said a funnel cloud was forming over the house on the corner. When I tried to look at it, she urged me to hurry up and turn left. I made the turn, but it put the tornado behind us. Every time I tried to spot it in my rear view mirror, she repeatedly screamed at me to “Don’t look, just drive!” so we could outrun it. I stopped watching the mirror so I could focus on driving safely, despite my mother’s hysteria and the tornado’s brief touchdowns as it skipped along the street parallel to ours. By the time we arrived at the next stoplight, it was gone and the storm sirens were wailing.

To this day, the only tornadoes I’ve ever seen are those in books or videos. Until I spot one with my newly acquired training, I will have to settle for those types of tornado sightings. I just hope that when I do spot one, it isn’t headed towards my house.