is video game addiction
a real thing?

It’s January, 2009. I’m sitting at the desk in my older son’s bedroom, putting finishing touches on a memoir about the fleeting beauty of ordinary life — a book I began in an attempt to hold on, just a little longer, to my two children as I  want to remember them in these years right before they grow up and leave home: tousle-haired, always hungry, generally happy, busy, and still (blessedly) around.

I’ve been writing The Gift of an Ordinary Day while living it for a while now, living it with a bittersweet awareness of just how good life is when we are fully present to its small mysteries and miracles. Despite the inevitable complexities of parenting adolescents, for the most part our family life seems rich and satisfying. And this winter, the end of the writing is in sight at last. I have only to complete a brief, upbeat afterword — a glimpse of Henry midway through his freshman year of college and a trip I’ve just taken to visit him — and the book will be done.

However, even as I’m revising these final pages, the plot of our family story is taking a new, darker turn. The irony is not lost on me. I’ve just spent the better part of a year celebrating and honoring our family’s life together and now, it seems, our family is falling apart. And I have no idea what to do about it.

One gray winter afternoon, I email my editor that I’ve finished, attach the final pages of my manuscript, and hit the “send” button. I bundle up and go outside for a walk, to clear my head.

And then I return to my computer and Google the words “video game addiction.” [continue…]

parenting advice
from a 24-year-old son

A few weeks ago, I called my son Jack for advice.

I’d been invited to California to speak to parents of teenagers, and I was just starting to think about what I could say that might actually be of practical use, especially to parents whose kids are giving them cause to worry. It occurred to me that the best person to consult was my own son, whose challenging adolescence is still fresh and raw in my memory.  (I imagine it’s pretty vivid in his memory as well.)

At twenty-four, Jack is sober, self-sufficient, and making a difference in the world.  Working full-time as a mentor in a residential treatment center for troubled teenaged girls, he’s been able to transform his own youthful experiences with addiction and recovery into a gift to others who are struggling.  Had he not walked this walk himself, he couldn’t extend his hand so whole-heartedly to the young people in his care now. He’s received extensive training on the job, first during a year-long stint as wilderness-therapy counselor and, for the last seven months, as a team member at this therapeutic facility in North Carolina.

But I think he’d  agree that his effectiveness at work is as much a product of his own first-hand knowledge as it is a result of his training.  In fact, it’s both, in combination with his innate curiosity, his sense of humor, his gift for listening deeply, and his calm demeanor, even when things get tense and crazy.  Jack isn’t attached to being right and he doesn’t get flustered, the way we parents so often do. Yet when he speaks of the young women with whom he works, I hear the pride in his voice, especially as he describes moments of growth and change and healing.  I couldn’t be prouder of him.

And as it turned out, Jack really was the perfect person for me to call.  “I figured you might have some thoughts about how parents can stay connected to their teenagers,” I said.  “I do,” he replied.  “Every single girl I work with has some kind of conflict with her parents. I think about these kinds of things all the time.” [continue…]

best books for mindful parents
— and a give-away

 

FullSizeRenderTwenty-five years ago, as a new mother trying to figure out what kind of mom I wanted to be, I went in search of books to guide me. I hoped to find some wise mothering mentors who could shine a light on the path at my feet and say, “Here, follow me, come this way.”

Looking back on those days now, I realize how much things have changed. Back then, there were no cell phones, the word “text” referred to print on a paper page, and news of the world arrived via the newspaper that landed on our doorstep each morning.

We bought our first computer in 1990, when Henry was three months old, so I could begin working from home at my new job editing The Best American Short Stories. My Apple IICX could run two programs at once, Clarisworks and Filemaker Pro, which meant I could do word-processing (an outdated phrase if every there was!) and keep a database of my two hundred-plus magazine subscriptions. I dialed in for an internet connection, kept all my reading notes on file cards, and corresponded with authors and friends through the mail.

There were no blogs to read or online parenting forums to join, there was no Amazon to browse nor any algorithm recommending books for me to buy, there was no Facebook. My husband took photos of our new baby boy with his 3-pound Nikon, we dropped the rolls of film off at CVS, and then carefully placed our 4 x 6 prints into a photo album, sending dupes off to the grandparents.

It all seems pretty quaint in retrospect, so innocent and simple. But at the time, working and raising children and trying to do it all and have it all and give it all to them, I still sensed that life was moving too fast. Much as I yearned for less pressure and more fun, my days were spent juggling: too much stuff, too many choices, too many obligations, never enough time. [continue…]

dog love

photoIf we had power over the ends of the earth, it would not give us that fulfillment of existence which a quiet, devoted relationship to nearby life can give us.” ~ Martin Buber

D
ear Tess,

So, okay, I was wrong.

Love at first sight is possible after all. I wonder, though, was it the same for you? Did you really know I was your person, and that we were your family, just as immediately and as surely as we knew you were our dog?

I can admit this now: I didn’t actually believe I could give my heart away again — not so completely, not even to another black and white border collie with a paint-dipped tail and a coat of silken cowlicks.

Besides, I’d finally gotten sort of used to the pet-free life. Sleeping  a little later. Saving money on dog food and vet bills. Skipping the morning walk, the poop patrols around the yard. Staying in out of the rain. No one’s bladder to keep track of but my own. No dog hair on my black yoga pants, no stray bits of kibble crunching under foot, no new holes under the azalea or scratches in the pine floorboards. No one eating the appetizers off the coffee table or barking at the door to go in or out or staring at me with imploring eyes, telegraphing the unmistakable late-afternoon message: “Shut your laptop and put on your sneakers.”

photo copy 3Sure, there was an emptiness around here, but I’d almost stopped noticing it. Just as the silence after Henry and Jack first left home, crushing at first, became part of the fabric of my days, my wrenching grief over the death of your predecessor had softened over the winter into, well, a new kind of normal. We humans can get used to anything.

And then May came. [continue…]

Daring, dreaming, doing — words to guide & inspire

TessI do have a dog story to tell here, but that will have to wait until I can do justice to Tess, the newest member of our family, a sweet border collie rescue girl who’s as happy to have a home as we are to give her one. At the moment, there isn’t much time for writing. We’re all pretty consumed with getting to know each other, mastering the basics on both sides. There are hikes to take, new lessons to learn, trust to earn, routines to work out. More on Tess soon.

Meanwhile, both our sons have been home this month, all of us here together for the first time since Christmas. Over the next week, Jack will return to Atlanta and Henry will leave for his summer job directing musicals at a theatre in the Catskills. For now, though, I’m grateful for every family dinner, walks and talks, the fullness of our days, the peace of nights when everyone I love is safely gathered under one roof. Soon, the house will be quieter, the refrigerator easier to keep filled, my days at home my own again. Plenty of time then for reflections and blog posts.

Still, I can’t resist sharing a few of the things we’ve been watching and reading and discussing around here, while hanging out in the kitchen and in between basketball playoff games and Red Sox losses.

Being in one’s early twenties isn’t easy – not quite launched into full-scale independent adulthood but no longer an adolescent; so much to figure out and no road map to point the way forward; so many choices while already a few doors are closing for good, the “right” path rarely if ever easy to discern.

Pursue a dream at all costs or take the first job that offers a modicum of security? What’s the real definition of success? What constitutes a good life? Is “good” synonymous with meaningful? How does anyone summon the vision to dream, the courage to dare, the will to do, especially when the doing isn’t part of the plan or involves some precipitous twists in the road? When, as a parent, should I speak up and when should I quietly reserve judgment and opinion? [continue…]