Category Archives: teens

Keeping kids entertained

This article will be published in the Press Democrat on Friday, February 8.

A friend of mine had to teach a group of teenagers about how seeds travel so they can germinate. Her challenge: how to teach about the topic and also keep these technology driven kids interested for more than an hour.

As a crafts teacher for younger children, her natural talents were geared towards more artistic activities. So my friend utilized her skills and had the teens decorate “seeds,” or in this case, wine corks that would represent seeds. You should have seen how fast those teens grabbed at stickers, paint daubers and colorful pens to decorate their corks.

Then my friend took the teens to the local creek. The teens were instructed to throw their corks in the water and watch as they got closer and closer to the finish line/collection point my friend had put at the end of the race, where the corks could be retrieved. The teens got really into it, following their “seeds” as some corks flowed downstream easily while others got stuck behind rocks. In the process, all of the kids not only learned something new but were entertained beyond their smartphones, MP3 players and video games.

Sometimes it takes a little bit of creativity to “trick” youngsters into having fun away from their electronic toys.

One of the hardest parts of raising kids is knowing how to keep them entertained. It’s easy to let them sit in front of the TV for hours on end. But to get them up and moving, or to exercise their mind? Finding ideas to occupy them when they’ve run out of things to do can be a real challenge.

For Robert Correa of Novato, the answer to keeping kids occupied is as easy as giving them a list of things to do every time they say they’re bored.

“Housekeeping, lawn mowing, dog walking, baby-sitting, reading, dishwashing,” Correa listed off the top of his head. He suggested that older kids would find enjoyment in being taught how to cook, and any kid can fly a kite, paint a picture, ride their bike, or skate. He also noted that kids should call their grandparents when they find they have “nothing to do,” just to tell their grandma and grandpa they are loved. And, of course, there is nothing like throwing an impromptu dance party in the privacy of your own living room.
“Put on some of your old records or CDs and dance together or sing together,” Correa said.

Elizabeth Dalton of Santa Rosa has three boys, ages 6 and 4 years old, and 20 months, and knows all too well the importance of having something fun up her sleeve to keep her sons entertained. One activity she discovered is called geocaching, otherwise known as a good old-fashioned treasure hunt. But in Dalton’s case, she gives the activity a prehistoric theme.

“I bury dinosaur toys outside and have the kids dig them out,” she said.

Jessica Snowden of Santa Rosa has a different kind of treasure hunt she suggests for quick entertainment.

“Make a list of age appropriate items,” she suggested, like telling younger kids to find something tall or red, and older kids to find something horizontal or bigger than a foot. As they find each item, then can check them off their pre-made list. “I have done this treasure hunt in teams for birthday parties or sleepovers,” Snowden said. “I have also done it with cameras,” she added, noting that cellphones and handheld video game systems worked well for this activity, allowing kids to capture their treasure through a photo instead of collecting the actual item.

Lorna Brown, owner of My Gym Santa Rosa, is known for having fun things for younger kids to do. One game she plays with kids is to blow up balloons (not helium), and give one to each child.

“Give them indoor space to bop them around, encouraging them to keep them up in the air,” Brown instructed. “Let them know that if their balloon pops, then game over.” She suggested that when the kids need a break from so much play, they can stop and decorate their balloons with markers.

And every kid can benefit from an “I’m bored jar.” Take an afternoon to brainstorm 100 fun things to do. Add in things like making homemade playdough, taking a hike in the hills, building a fort in the living room, learning how to speak Pig Latin, writing an illustrated children’s book, trying to beat your own record of bouncing a ball on a tennis racket, blowing the biggest bubblegum bubble, or anything else you and the kids can think of. Every time the kids say, “I’m bored,” point them toward the jar and have them pick an activity at random.

Do you have any tricks to entertain your kids when they have nothing to do?

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How to make the first move

I went out to lunch with a coworker today. She’s someone I have known for years, and have always thought she was just a wonderful person. As long as I’ve known her, she’s been bubbly and upbeat, cheering others on around her in their endeavors, and just an inspiration on how to be a decent person. But being a natural introvert, I’ve never been one to make the first move to get to know her better – or anyone at work, for that matter. I’ve always left it up to others to try and get to know me better because it’s just easier that way, you know? There’s less risk involved. Naturally that must mean I have tons of friends, right?

You’d think, huh.

Surprisingly, it doesn’t work that way. But regardless, this coworker and I connected recently and came to the mutual decision that we should really have lunch. We ended up having over an hour of fantastic conversation as we discussed everything from our kids to our faith, and everything in between. When we got back to our desks, she emailed me the kindest note. In it, she mentioned that while it might not seem like it, she’s actually a very shy person.

“I’m not one to socialize much,” she wrote, “but you make it very easy. Let’s do it again!”

When it’s hard to make friends, maybe we just need a reminder we’re not the only ones who are shy. Somewhere out there is another human being who is longing for a friend and not sure how to go about it. It’s not just us who are afraid to make the first move. Others are too. But if no one makes the first move, then no one will go forward.

This truth is currently being illustrated by my stepson, Frizz, as he agonizes how to ask out the girl he has liked for the better part of the school year. As a senior, he is closing in on the end of his high school years. He is also closing in on the last chance he has to even talk to the girl he likes – let alone ask her out on a date, and perhaps even ask her to be his girlfriend. But just making that first step is terrifying enough, let alone any of the steps that follow after that.

Not sure how to advise my stepson, I asked my daughter, DQ, how she has been asked out in the past. She shared her most recent experience with me. The boy got to know her by asking a lot of questions about her, keeping his attention focused on her. The attraction proved to be mutual, and both of them dropped hints about their interest in each other. And when this boy was able to see that DQ was into him, he asked her to be his girlfriend.

“I guess what Frizz should do is just really try to get to know this girl better, then get her number, and when the moment seems right, tell her how he feels and see if she feels the same way,” DQ advised. “If he does it right, he might even know that she likes him back when he gets to that point.”

Of course, she makes it sound so easy. And truthfully, if you put your nerves aside, it really is that easy. But for someone as shy as Frizz, as shy as my coworker, as shy as ME, taking that first step can feel like preparing to jump off a cliff.

But if no one makes the first move, then no one will go forward.

I guess this could be a lesson in anything. We never know what will happen unless we make that first move – whether it be making a new friend, expressing a feeling of adoration, publishing a book, taking a stand for yourself, risking it all…. If we live a life so full of caution that it keeps us from living life to the fullest, we can’t claim we know the bad that will happen. We also will never know the good that will happen.

Being social for an introvert might feel totally unnatural. But while painful at first, barreling through that shyness isn’t lethal. It might seem that way, but taking that first step won’t strike you down dead. The worst that can happen is that you might get turned down. Sucky, sure. But you’ll be able to move beyond it rather than getting stuck in the unknown. And the best that can happen? You’ll get exactly what you wanted in the first place. A new friend. That special someone who likes you just as much as you like her. Or a published book (only a few more weeks left until A Symphony of Cicadas is officially published).

We’ll never know until we’ve made the first move.

1000 paper cranes

My 17-year-old stepson, Frizz, is intent on folding 1,000 paper cranes.  This means there are paper cranes of all sizes showing up all around the house, increasing in numbers day by day.  The first day was cute.  He carefully placed a large crane on our dinner table, followed by cranes decreasing in size – like a little paper crane train.  Then a few more appeared in the living room, folded in bright construction paper.  Soon the little train on the table grew to include their extended family.

Every day Frizz has continued his folding adventure at his desk in his room.  And I wonder two things – what the heck are we going to do with 1,000 paper cranes, and when is the kid going to get a girlfriend?

Why I let my teen move out

I know I already wrote about this.  In fact, she has already moved.  But after much thought, I decided to also write a newspaper article about what’s going on in our home.  I figure plenty of divorced families are going through the same thing as their child decides which parent to live with full time.  So I am sharing my own personal story.

Note: I am doing ok.  DQ is too.  It’s still a transition, and a lot to get used to.  But so far, everything seems to be going smoothly.

This article will print on January 11, 2013 in the Press Democrat.

LETTING GO

My 14-year-old daughter, DQ, is moving out.

It’s weird, I never thought I’d type these words before she turned 18. But here I am, standing by as she packs up her bags and prepares to leave the nest. My nest. The one I have padded with protection and comfort since the day she was born, through a messy divorce, during financially tight times, and in her tumultuous teen years. She is flying the coop with my assistance when I drive her a full three hours away to live with her father.

And this might just be the hardest thing I have ever done in my life.

For 14 years, I have been her primary caregiver, the one who is responsible for every aspect of her life. I am the one who has filled out her school forms, checked her homework (till her homework got too smart for me), packed her lunches, and made her doctor’s appointments. I was the parent she told about her first love, and the parent who picked up the pieces when her heart was broken a few weeks later. I am her chauffeur, her personal chef, her nurse, her cheerleader, her everything she needed me to be so she can be a happy kid. I’ve gone to every one of her soccer games. I volunteer at the camp she attends every year. And I have done all this on my own. So to hand over the reins to her dad, allowing her to move three hours away and out of my realm of parenting, was way beyond my comfort level.

My first impulse was to say no, absolutely not. But she asked me to at least think about it. So I agreed to mull it over before I ultimately said no.

I was at war with what was the right thing to do in this situation. Of her two parents, I had proven to be the more responsible. Our two children, DQ and Taz, live with me full time, and I have fit my whole entire life within their schedule and comfort. Their father, who moved several counties away a few years ago, has never had the privilege of moving heaven and earth to make it to a parent-teacher conference at the same time as a mandatory meeting at work. I’ve been the parent while he’s been the one they visit occasionally. I’ve accepted that this is what works for raising the kids, and hold no bitterness over this. It’s just the way it is. But to give up my place as my daughter’s primary parent was rocking a boat I didn’t want rocked.

During the time when I was to be thinking this over (even though my mind was still set on NO), DQ took the time to patiently discuss all the perks of her living with her father. She talked about her new baby brother over there, how she would get a chance to know him and help take care of him. She took me on a virtual tour of her new town through Google Maps, pointing the cursor towards all of her favorite hangouts a few blocks from her home. She told me about the friends she had there, helping me to get to know them though her description. She handled the whole situation like she was the adult and I was the child. She was patient and kind, helping me with a hard transition. I was stubborn and tearful, refusing to budge.

Then a funny thing happened – my eyes were suddenly opened.

It didn’t happen on my own, but through a lot of help. I talked with my husband at great lengths about the whole decision. I discussed it with a counselor. And eventually, I called my ex-husband himself and talked about the possibility of our daughter moving in with him. After much deliberation and thought, I realized I had much less reasons to say no, and many more reasons to say yes.

So I let her go.

DQI know in my heart that I’ve made the best decision I could for her. DQ gets a chance to get to know her other side of her family, the part that makes up the other half of her. I, in turn, get to feel what it’s like on the other side of the coin – the one where I merely get to visit her instead of seeing her every single day. This still feels like a bad dream. I keep waiting for DQ to tell me she’s changed her mind. Of course, she hasn’t and likely won’t.

But I’ve realized something. Loving a child isn’t just about holding on to them and protecting them. It isn’t just about being there every step of the way.

Sometimes love is knowing when to let go.

One more day

DQ leaves tomorrow for her dad’s. I’ve distanced myself from this reality, treating it like one long vacation. And for the most part, I’ve been blissful in my little world of denial. She’s been busy packing up her room, taking over the washer machine and boxing up anything she thinks will fit into my car for her last trip away from our home. I took her shopping for warmer clothes, since she is leaving the warmer winters of the Bay Area for the snowy weather of the mountains. And I’ve forbid myself from dwelling too hard in “lasts”.

Like, last time we watch cheesy sitcoms together. Last time we trade movie quotes. Last time we bake snickerdoodles. Last time we wrestle over my Spotify account. Last time I treat her to a cupcake. Last time she confides in me over matters of the heart. Last time the two females overpower our house of boys.

It hasn’t been all wine and roses, though. She’s a typical teenager, which of course means she’s been pleasant as pie. That’s sarcasm, if you can’t read between the lines. She’s totally checked out of our house, and counting down the moments when she is out of our evil clutches and living in the wonderful home of her father. It’s funny, a year ago when Frizz was going through his own annoying adolescence of treating adults like gum on the bottom of his shoe, DQ told me she would NEVER be like that. At the time, I was actually dumb enough to believe her. And then she entered high school, and Shawn and I became the stupidest people on the planet. Shawn has received the brunt of this title from her. There is a very small percent of me that wonders how much more peaceful life will be after she moves from here, moves into a home that offers much less in just about everything, and finally sees all we do for her on a daily basis.

Of course, if I think too hard about where she is going to live, I can’t help but freak out a little.

The Ex is barely making it financially. He has a job now, but he’s not known for keeping jobs. Half the time he is working under the table to avoid paying child support. He’s struggling with his addictions, still unable to get a full year of sobriety under his belt. I never know when the guy is telling the truth or pulling my leg. Sometimes he’s lying to hide stuff he’s ashamed of, sometimes he lies to keep himself out of trouble, and sometimes he just lies to amuse himself. He lives in a tiny one-bedroom apartment that he shares with his ex-girlfriend’s female cousin and her two kids. He has his infant son several days a week. And DQ will be sleeping in a closet that’s been turned into a cramped mini bedroom. He doesn’t have a car, and it’s unclear how she is going to get to school every day. His roommate has a car, but knowing the Ex, he’ll burn that bridge soon and will be left with no transportation whatsoever. He can’t even pick up the kids tomorrow as planned, since he failed to secure a car before then, despite the fact that we planned this trip a month ago. He has never been the primary parent of DQ and Taz – that job has always been left to me. And I worry about what he really has to offer her as a parent. Does he have it in him? Can he do this? Am I sending DQ to the sharks, and will she come out worse on the other side?

This is a man who used to abuse me, who chose drugs as his answer to handling life, who took my paycheck and left me to starve, who made my life a living hell until I finally walked out. This is the man who gave me nightmares for years after until I was finally able to let it all go and move beyond the thought of him, leaving all those demons in the past. I no longer hate him. I am no longer angry. But I also no longer have faith in him.

But I know I have to let her go. I feel like this is a God thing, like God is telling me to just trust that everything will be ok. She has friends up there, the kind of friends I wish she could have made down here. She has a chance to really start over fresh, having realized the mistakes she’s made here. I have people all around me who are angry with this decision, questioning me and DQ about this decision. And honestly, I don’t have an answer that will appease everyone about why I am letting this happen. DQ would hate me forever if I forbid this. I have to let her see what it’s like on her own for her to understand. I am running the risk of her deciding she loves it there, and never coming back. I know this, even though my denial is telling me she will most definitely be back when the school year is over. How could she not? What is there over there for her that is so much better than here?

“You’re in denial,” my cousin told me when I let her know for the first time that DQ was moving away, and who she moving in with.  She said it because I was so calm, treating this as if it were a normal case of a teenage girl living with her father.  But it isn’t.  I know that.  It hasn’t been normal since I met the man almost 20 years ago.  But I’m powerless in this decision.  And I hate it more than anyone knows.  And the only way to cope with it is to remain in denial.

One more day.  And then the whole world will be changed.

Letting her go.

‘Letting our children go’ is a lifelong process for parents, one that we wrestle with again and again, and each parent has to wrestle with it in his or her own way. — Mister Rogers

My daughter is moving away.

It’s weird typing those words. I always knew there would be a day I would have to face this reality. But I thought it would be at 18 when she left for college rather than when she was only 14 years old.

And I’m sorry to those of you I haven’t told this to in person. I’m still trying to wrap my mind around it on my own.

I’m conflicted in this decision. It didn’t come lightly. DQ came to me about it months ago, and I thought we had tackled it then. I thought I laid down the law enough for her to want to stay. But several new things happened and the subject was brought up again, this time with more urgency.

So what happened?

First, her boyfriend moved 3 hours away to Redding. Having wrapped her whole social life up in him, she found herself in foreign territory. She had no close friendships, a strained social life, and the person she used to spend every moment with suddenly nowhere around.

Second, she spent a really great weekend at her father’s house, spent some quality time with her new baby brother, and got back in touch with some friends she knows who live in Grass Valley, where her father lives.

Third, she insisted she needed a change of scenery so she could start fresh.

When she first came to me about wanting to move in with her dad, I considered it for only a second before I refused. But she was persistent that I at least think about it. She laid out some very specific reasons as to why this wouldn’t be such a bad thing, noting the Christian friends (ooh, she’s good) that she hangs out with up there, how she wants to get to know her baby brother better, and showing me a map of where she would be living if she were there – taking me on a virtual tour of the town through Google Maps.

She got me thinking.

The past 6 months or so have been really rough with DQ. Her teenage years have not been the most pleasant as she goes through her Jekyll & Hyde emotions. One moment she’s the loveliest of all people. The next, I have to keep my hands out of her cage or she’ll bite them clean off.

I also understand the need for change; the realization that so many mistakes have been made that the only choice is to begin a new direction in a new place. Of course, she’s a teenager. Mistakes are going to happen over and over again. My understanding of her need for a change of scenery goes hand in hand with my concern over the fact that she’s once again running from problems she’s created. This isn’t the first time she’s wanted to run away. She did this with her old school two years ago when the drama became too much to handle. Now she’s doing it again by moving to Grass Valley.

What if it happens again once she’s there?

Her father had the same concerns when we spoke on the phone today. We had a really good, bare bones conversation about DQ’s desire to move in with him. It made me feel a ton better to hear him raise all the same concerns I had about her – even before I voiced them.

What if she falls in with the wrong crowd there?
What if she pushes all of his buttons and makes him furious, as she’s known to do?
What if she gets there and decides she wants to leave again?
What if he can’t afford to have her there?

We discussed all of these at length. He was surprised I was even considering it. I kept asking him if he had any reservations, any at all, that it was ok if he did…

“Do you want me to have reservations?” he finally asked me with a chuckle.

“Yes!” I said, laughing as I admitted I wanted him to give me the out so that I could tell DQ “no” and let it be known I wasn’t the only one who felt that way.

At any rate, the decision has not been made 100% final. The Ex still needs to contact DQ’s proposed future school and find out what needs to be done to get her transferred there. And I put the caveat out there that I needed to talk to DQ’s counselor before it was a done deal. But admittedly, the decision is 99% a sure thing. I’ll be sending the Ex half of my child support check to ensure he is still paying off his back support while still being financially fair about it as he takes DQ into his care. I’ll visit every couple of weekends, making the trek over there to hang out with her. She’ll come back on holiday breaks, though how we do this so it’s fair for both kids is still a detail we have to figure out. We’ll also have to figure out how she’ll attend training weekends for the camp she’s on staff at. It’s all a bunch of messy details.

But strangely enough, I think I’m ok with this decision. I mean, I’m totally sad about it. It’s going to be weird not having her around. I’ll probably be totally depressed for the first couple of weeks.  She’s the one who makes me laugh the most. She’s not just my daughter, she’s kind of like a friend. We have a million inside jokes. I mean, who’s going to quote every movie we’ve seen hundreds of times with me? Who will I watch Glee with now? Who’s going to have living room dance parties with me, or embarrass me with her totally dirty jokes?

But I also know it’s not the end of the world.

She’s moving 3 hours away, not across the country. It’s still unsure if this is a permanent move, or just until the end of the school year.  We’re all keeping this open as a trial, with a minimum of 6 months time.

Perhaps a little space between me and DQ will be healthy. And, can I just say it privately here?  Perhaps it will give her a bit of a reality check.  Or not.  But it makes me feel better to think so.

But beyond that, I know how important it is for her to get to know her baby brother. And in a weird Freudian way, I know it’s also good for her to get to know her dad better and be around him.

This could be good for all of us. We’ll see.

The cool parent

Four generations of first borns – from my grandmother to my daughter.

This post will publish in the Press Democrat on Friday, September 7, 2012.

On a recent afternoon, my daughter DQ and I were on our way back from dropping my son, Taz, off at his friend’s house. I had assumed that DQ was going to spend the rest of the day bored since one of her best friends was grounded that day, so I racked my brain for something we could do together.

“What do you want to do?” I asked her, and was surprised when she said she already had plans.

“Katie and I are hanging out today,” she told me, even though her friend was not supposed to see the light of day for another 24-hours. From what I had heard, Katie had mouthed off to her grandmother pretty badly. As long as I had known Katie, I had never heard of any limitations being placed on her freedom. So she must have acted really badly for her mother to come down hard on her. But it wasn’t even a full day later and she was sprung from her cell and able to go free once again.

“What happened?” I asked DQ. “I thought Katie was grounded?”

“She was, but her mom changed her mind.” And then DQ said something that I’ll never forget. “It’s weird, but Katie has told me she wishes her mom would actually follow through when she punishes her. It would show that she actually cared.”

I’ve heard this theory before, that teens want boundaries to keep them safe whether they know it or not. But this was the very first time I had ever heard a kid actually voice this sentiment – that they wanted to know where the edge of their freedom stood through rules and discipline.  It made me think that maybe Katie was purposely pushing boundaries, testing her mom’s reaction when she got caught.

My friend Sara recently described a horrifying scene she‘d been witnessing on her Facebook newsfeed that only seemed to be getting worse. As of late, her cousin’s 15-year old daughter had been very blatant about showcasing her negative behavior all over her Facebook page. There were photos of her with friends holding bottles of alcohol and posts talking about staying out all night while she was partying, as well as call-outs to friends when she didn’t have any plans and was looking for the next reason to party.

Her mother seemed to turn a blind eye to her daughter’s antics, even though she has access to her daughter’s Facebook page and can see all that’s happening on there. Sara described how countless people had reached out to this girl only to be told to mind their own business by her and her friends, and sometimes ignored completely. But it was the latest incident that left Sara shaking to her core and unsure what to do. The young girl had posted an actual video of herself and some friends partaking in illegal drug use – right out in the open for everyone to see.

Was this video to share with her friends to make herself look cool? It’s possible. Was she looking for approval from others? Judging by the negative backlash from anyone concerned, probably not. Sara’s guess was that this was a cry for help, that she was trying to get her mom’s attention – someone who had made herself more of the “cool mom” to her daughter than the parent who was in charge.

Kids don’t need their parents to be “cool”. They need them to provide boundaries to keep them safe.

There’s a natural pull to want to be our kids’ friends. From the moment they’re born, we love them immensely. They are familiar to us, and under our influence appreciate many of the same things we enjoy doing or experiencing. My dad used to jokingly tell me that he and my mom were growing their own friends by having my sisters and me.

Silliness on New Year’s Eve with DQ

It’s ok to be friends with your child, but with limitations put in place. Staying involved in their lives, getting to know who their friends are, and keeping up with what their changing interests are is a good way to be a parental friend to your child. Having a moment each day for one on one time, and more importantly, listening to them, is a great way to keep a connection with them. But when you find yourself caving when it comes to discipline, confiding in them with issues of an adult nature, or forgoing rules altogether to be known as the “cool” parent, you’re actually failing your child.

Kids are going through a constant motion of change. They’re physically and mentally growing, and at times it can feel pretty out of control. As they earn more and more independence, they need a constant in their life to hold on to. They need boundaries to keep them safe. They need someone to be in charge.

They need you to be a parent.