Self advocacy

I have spent years trying to get my children to advocate for themselves. “Go tell Mrs. ___ that she gave you the wrong grade. She said your presentation was an A-, but she gave you a B; tell her you believe she put in the wrong grade.”

The answer was always, “No. It’s okay.”

Lately however, I have noticed that my oldest is beginning to take initiative in standing up for what he believes and what he wants. For example, last spring—at the end of his sophomore year—we noticed that he had an odd charge on his school account. When we inquired, we were told he had not returned a textbook at the end of his freshman year, but no one had bothered to tell us. (Most likely, they were hoping we wouldn’t notice until graduation, when we’d likely pay without debate).

“Mom, I know I returned that book. The teacher was distracted that day, and he probably forgot to write it down.”

“Well, you’ll have to go talk to him.” And so he did, with no result. He then went to the woman in charge of the book storage room. She repeated what we already knew; there was no evidence that he had turned in the book. She even went to the shelf and conducted a cursory glance-through. The book wasn’t there.

“Mom, she looked at the wrong books. I didn’t have the brown version of that text, but that’s where she looked. I had the green version.” He reappeared at her desk the next day.

“Are we to make this a daily meeting?” she asked him with more than a hint of sarcasm.

“Only until we find my textbook,” he shot back. (Most days, my kids could get in trouble for the sass they undoubtedly learned from their momma, but so far, they have not quite crossed that line….)

“Fine,” she sighed as she rose from her desk. “We’ll go look again. But it’s not there.” She tromped off to the storage room with my son in tow. After a quick look, he FOUND THE BOOK! Sadly, she did not apologize. But these are the encounters through which kids build the skills they need to navigate the world and advocate for themselves.

This past Monday, he came home from school and told me about a breakfast that was being hosted through his culinary program.

“It’s a little different than the other breakfasts,” he told me. “It’s for the mayor and some of the local senators. It starts at 8:00, so culinary 1 is doing prep, and culinary 2 is serving.”

“That’s too bad. So you don’t get to serve the mayor?”

“Chef said if we could get permission, we could stay. When we got back to school, we went to Mrs. B and asked her if we could stay. She gave us permission!” He smiled.

Yes, my son advocated for himself without any encouragement from me. He wanted something, and he was willing to put himself out there, knowing the answer might be no, but at least he would have asked. Maturity and experience are beginning to take hold. Then again, if you really want something, you’re willing to fight for it.


Injuries and Imagination

At sixteen, my son has experienced a work related injury. Of course, you might have to use your imagination to call tripping up the stairs on one’s oversized teenage feet a “work-related injury.” In this case, he was carrying a heavy container, which he proceeded to drop on his hand, thereby causing the injury.

When he first texted me from work, “I am injured. They are sending me home at 2. Please be here at 2,” I panicked, and immediately lost my appetite for the bagel chips on which I was munching.

I texted back, “Injured?” I received no reply. It was 1:15. My overactive imagination went to work. I conjured images of blood, burns, compound fractures, a concussion. My head held bloody pictures from horror movies and my worst nightmares. I felt sick to my stomach, and the partially digested bagel chips rose in my throat.

I took a deep breath. No, I convinced myself. If he were badly injured, they would send him home right away. I calmed my beating heart with a few more deep breaths, and I swallowed hard to send the lump of bagel chips back toward my stomach.

The minutes ticked by slowly, loudly, as I played and re-played the mommy panic in my head; I calmed myself, but quickly started the panic cycle over again.

When I finally arrived in the parking lot of his work, I texted. “Do I need to come in?”

“No,” came the reply. “I’ll be right out.” More long moments before the door opened and he emerged. His hand was wrapped in a towel; a plastic bag of ice resting on top dripped as he approached. His finger was covered in a band-aid that needed changing. He was walking, talking, and held the slightest hint of an embarrassed smile in his eyes.

I let out a breath and realized I had been holding it in since he texted me. My boy was in one piece. One. A walking, talking whole.

He got in the car, looked at me, and I didn’t even ask before he started in on his story. He tripped going up the stairs, dropped a heavy box on his hand, and the rest, as they say, is history. He told the supervisor he would stay, but she sent him home. He sustained a nasty bruise and some swelling, but he had full range of motion; as long as no one touched his hand, he was fine. I was more than happy to monitor the swelling and pain.

The following morning—the Monday after Christmas vacation—I woke him for school. I asked him how it felt, to find out if his hand hurt excessively, or if it had stiffened up overnight. If it had, I figured we would have it checked out. His response was the classic teenage response.

“It hurts, Mom. I think I’ll have to take another the week off from school….” Ha! That settles it: he’s fine!


The idea of “meals” takes on a whole new meaning when there are teenagers in the house. When my children were younger, we would eat three meals a day with the possibility of small snacks in between. Nowadays, meals all blend together with no real distinction. Snacks are simply a way to extend a meal and keep eating when it is not “meal time,” per se. My children seem to eat one meal a day, and it lasts all day.

The meal that I find most interesting is the Midnight Meal. It seems my children—one in particular—can’t make it through the night without a Midnight Meal. When I was a kid, we referred to this late night need to eat as a “midnight snack,” but I can honestly say I never took part in this practice myself. I remember being hungry at midnight, but the hunger was never enough to propel me out of bed, down the stairs, and into the kitchen where I could raid the refrigerator.

The “midnight snack” has morphed into a bowl of cereal, then another, and perhaps a third. A yogurt will supplement this small snack, and maybe some crackers. Oh wait! Is that a leftover BURGER I see?? Cold cuts!! Any food available is fair game for a hungry teenager at midnight.

Nope, it’s no longer a “snack” in my house. It is a veritable feeding frenzy, the panic that sets in as a teenager is about to go to bed, but realizes that bedtime means the possibility of hours without food. At that point, a teen can’t bear the thought of being away from the kitchen for more than a few minutes. It is this panic that leads to the Midnight Meal.

Interestingly, the quest for the Midnight Meal usually begins as soon as I say, “Hey, it’s time for bed.” By this time, it is already later than a kid should go to bed, but that doesn’t stop the hungry teen. The teen is hungry simply because it is bedtime. Which confirms my theory about a feeding frenzy.

If I went to bed with that much food in my stomach, I would not be able to sleep. But a teenager has merely to walk up the stairs to his/her room, and the majority of the food has been digested, the calories burned off. This super-charged metabolism gives me very little time to lock down what little food remains in order to save enough for the next day’s breakfast….



Over many years, and through many mistakes, I have learned to check pockets before I throw clothing in the washing machine. It all started years ago, when my children would tuck crayons, tissues, toys, and trinkets into their pockets for safe keeping. The first crayon that went through the laundry was purple. A pair of boys’ tan cargo pants received the brunt of the damage. But since the crayon was in with a load of light clothes, it wasn’t difficult to spot streaky purple scars on shirts, underwear, socks, and even a pillowcase.

From then on, I tried to be much better about checking pockets. But all it takes is one day of dead-tired chores for me to slip up. And slip up, I did. This time, it was an orange crayon. Orange seems to be a grittier, stay-in-place kind of color. The orange crayon ruined one pair of (again) tan cargo pants when it disintegrated and stuck in the pocket like glue. Oh, and it bled through, so there really was no chance of wearing the pants again.

The next time I checked pockets too quickly, a few years later, I missed a lip balm. Lip balm melts very nicely down to nearly nothing in the heat of the dryer. There was just enough left to permanently leave an oily mark on everything it touched. Several more items were ruined.

Since these incidents, I have gotten much better at checking pockets. Often, I find spare change that I have dubbed “laundry tips.” Usually, I find a penny or a dime or a quarter here and there. Sometimes I might retrieve a dollar or two folded up into a tiny square, or to my disappointment, a baggie full of cracker crumbs (these I don’t eat…).

The stakes are higher nowadays, with flash drives and cell phones stored in pockets and sometimes forgotten. One of these items left in a pocket and run through the washer could cause some serious data loss, and as I mentioned, occasionally I am dead tired. So I have added an incentive for my offspring to check their own pockets: Anything I find while doing the laundry is mine to keep if I choose. While laundry tipping is often an involuntary activity, it always results from the voluntary refusal to check one’s own pockets before throwing clothing in the hamper.

Of course, sometimes they catch their mistakes before I can benefit. The other day, I was working in the kitchen when W walked in and started up the stairs. “I should probably go remove the ‘tip’ from my laundry,” he said as he passed. He had thrown his pants in the hamper with a pocket full of Christmas money. To my estimates, it would have been my best “tip” to date!

My loss, but clearly, the message is starting to sink in.



The tradition of making New Year’s resolutions is almost as interesting as the tradition of breaking them a few weeks down the road. Somehow, we think that just because the calendar turns to a new month that ends in a new number, we should somehow change. We believe if we make significant changes in our behavior that our lives and our year will be different and better.

On New Years Day, we take on the challenge to change our lives all at once. We decide to lose weight, to work out, to eat healthier, and to live happier by reaching out to the less fortunate and changing our attitude. Really? And we wonder why we give up a week (or two… or four…) in.

Life change is an on-going process. It’s called growth, and growth is something that is constant and continuing until the day we die, regardless of our contribution to the process. While we have the option to make choices to help steer our growth in a positive direction, it is never advisable to make changes in all aspects of life at once. Unless we want to fail. If one truly wants to lose weight or get in shape or be more altruistic, one would do so regardless of whether the calendar changed.

In 2014, my greatest growth came not from changes I made, but from my choice to grow from the situations in which I found myself. Through these situations, I experienced one of the most important epiphanies of my life as a single parent, and consequently, I was able to release one of the long-standing stresses I have had. This growth is not something I could have predicted on January 1st, but will change my approach to similar situations in the future.

My resolution for 2015 is one that was originally made 17 years ago, and is one that I am still working on. Before my son was born, I resolved to be the best mom I could be, and I am forever working on this resolution as I define and redefine what it means to be “the best mom I can be.” My definition is different for teenagers than it was for toddlers, and what they need from me also transforms and evolves. My life as a single mom poses challenges that are neither constant nor predictable. But by striving to be the best that I can be in the situations that arise, I am making a promise—to myself and to my children—that I will be a presence that they can rely on and a role model that they might choose to follow.

And so I continue to work toward my goal on my journey as a parent. But I know I must do so one day at a time. January 1 represents a new day, 24 hours in which I can work on my goal to be the best I can be.