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If (for girls)

If you can do what others don’t do, and not do what they do,

and be confident that you did what’s best for you;

If you can be kind when it is difficult, and humble even when you’re proud,

and know when to stand up for yourself, too;

If you can love when you don’t like, and give when you are weary, but know when to  walk

away and not give anymore,

If you can be at peace with your whole self, and grateful for what God gave you,

and make His work a service and not a chore;

If you can be stylish and yet modest, light-hearted but not empty-headed,

not caring too much if others think you’re odd,

If you can see that beautiful people are the ones who smile and laugh,

and be fun-loving but in a way that pleases God;

If you can grieve when sadness is called for, but pick yourself up when it’s done,

not wallow in the sadness or despair,

If you can reach out a hand to others when they’re flailing or in pain, not being pulled in,

but showing that you care;

If you can win and be humble in winning, lose and be gracious in loss,

seek beauty and goodness when others seek darker things,

If you can hope when it seems hopeless, have faith when the path is unclear, and

go to sleep and see what tomorrow brings;

If you can recognize when hard work is the only route to take,

and do the work with tired and blistered hands,

and keep on working hard when you really want to quit,

and build your life on rocks instead of sand,

If you can turn away from the superficial, put aside temptation,

and see the difference between a pebble and a pearl,

Then yours is the world and all that is in it,

and what’s more, you’ll be a woman, my girl!


Being Tommy Lee Jones

It seems to me that motherhood is cool again. Mommyhood’s day has arrived, and it is cool as long as you have the right accessories. There are blogs and vlogs and articles and whole books about mom-ing (not to be confused with motherhood, which is not the same thing). Cool moms are in the movies, cool moms are writing blogs, cool moms are starting their own companies that sell cool mom stuff. Celebrities, being humans, keep reproducing, and we see and hear about their offspring when they are small. Somehow, without wanting to or meaning to, I have absorbed knowledge of celebrities’ kids’ names, from Lourdes and Apple and Coco down to North and Saint West. I don’t even want to know these names, but I do. Having babies and being cool and stylish and thin is in.

We don’t hear much about celebrities’ kids once they have turned seven or eight. Having older kids is not as cool; they are not an adorable accessory anymore. Moms of babies can write about the challenges of those early years; lack of sleep, schedules and napping and tantrums, and the cute stuff (first day of kindergarten, first tooth fairy visit, first disastrous birthday party) with a “we’re all in this together” voice, and it sells. If you slim back down after the baby and your nursery is cool and your diaper bag is cool and–this is key– you put up with the not-so-fun stuff, like tantrums and melt downs, with patience and humor and wine then you are a cool mom. A middle aged woman in size 12 jeans writing about parenting teens? Not so much.

Forty may be the new thirty, but forty-seven is just forty-seven, nothing cool about it. And fifty-two? Forget it. Not only does your body betray you in countless tiny ways, your children become complicated people with un-cute problems. Plus they do not let you dress them. The clothes they wear are not what you would have chosen for them, and their rooms are not cute, particularly if they are boys. Their smiles–at least the ones directed at you–can be as rare as a lunar eclipse, and when they are sad, you cannot make it better. It is not in your power; do not even try.

The moms who find beauty and joy in parenting teens are such superheroes, such workers of magic, there ought to be thousands of blogs and vlogs and books and articles devoted to them, too. I sort of want to write one; I sort of want the world to see the imperfect coolness of my life. These beautiful kids that are smart and funny, with razor-sharp wit (and stubble), and that one time I found the self-control to just listen when they unloaded about stress, and did not point out that sometimes their own choices cause them stress. That’s right: I just listened; it was damn-near heroic.

Or I could write about the cool accessories (trappings?) of my life: my repainted kitchen, done on a budget, the flea-market find that is now a nightstand, the grilled cauliflower we had last night that blew my mind. But something happens in your forties: you grow up even more. You no longer want to be the one raising her hand in the front row, waving it in the teacher’s face to say I know! I know! Or, in this case, I’m cool! I’m cool! Maybe it’s fatigue. Maybe all of our energy is devoted to the parenting itself. Just this week my teens have mentioned things going on in their friends’ lives: stress, cyber-bullying, sexual harassment, cheating, death of a family member, alcoholism, an eating disorder, gender-confusion, and obsessive-compulsive disorder. And that doesn’t even include the more subtle things we must diagnose and help with as parents: spiritual development, character development, work habits, nutrition, etc. So yeah, those years when I had four kids under the age of six were a little hard sometimes, but they were so cute, and there were answers. There was Curious George and cherry popsicles, reading stories in a homemade fort, taking nature walks and napping in a quilt. When they were sad, sleep was almost always the answer, or maybe just a graham cracker. And whatever the problem was the stakes were not very high.

But now are the years when we must put on armor, not to protect ourselves from our teens but to stand in front of them and jump into oncoming arrows. When you have success at teaching them something, or when you see the fruits of your efforts in a teenager who refuses to cheat, is kind to the friendless, a good listener, a hard worker or a healthy eater, it is a glorious thing. The clouds part and the sun comes through and you rip the armor off for a moment, hair blowing in the wind, and you give your mighty, barbaric yawp–or you smile a private smile and make their favorite dinner. But then you put the armor back on because here come the mortar shells and arrows again, and they will not relent and you must fight them, fight them, silently and without seeming to intrude. It is a delicate dance and you must dance, dance and never tire, never give up and never rest, except to sleep. When they are grown and you look back and see those cute blogs and articles about organizing Legos and outgrowing naps, you’ll be like a grizzled, used-to-be-handsome General having a look at new recruits; you’ll be Tommy Lee Jones, chuckling. You remember that, and it was awesome, and so simple. But your smile is tight and wistful, because you know the road ahead is wonderful and terrible and difficult and glorious and you wouldn’t change a thing.





Poem-in-my-forties 1

A toddler in a red jacket bends

down to pick something up in the street,

wind blown hair hiding her face, his face, I cannot tell.

The mother tugs hard on the little hand, come on, her lips say,

the child’s wrist and body follow with one backwards glance at the wanted thing.


The little red jacket stays with me, familiar, though I don’t think any of you had one. I do

remember a small purple sweater, an orange windbreaker, a green raincoat, but

the red jacket is all of them

all of you

trailing behind me to pick up a rock, a bottle cap, a feather,

my lips saying Come on, the light is changing, a car might come.


I failed to see, she fails to see

the wind-blown hair as magic, the

whole moment magic, the

little red jacket sacred; the scarf or the jewel in a Vermeer.


She is thinking of laundry and how dinner

will not make itself and the chaos

of bedtime before rest

But I watch, unseen, behind a rain-smeared windshield, the beauty

pinning me to my seat, helpless and heavy-limbed

with memories.

Bad Hair and Blueberry Muffins

I was in seventh grade. I had glasses and braces and hair that did not confine itself to looking bad once in a while, but betrayed me daily and especially if there were school pictures, a birthday party or school dance. I’d always had disappointing hair; I have memories of getting home permanents as young as six years old in order to “give my hair a little life,” as my mom said. I wanted curly ponytails like Cindy Brady and instead I looked a little like Bobby. But seventh grade was the year I really felt my hair’s deficiencies, the year I began to panic with the thought that this bad hair thing might be a permanent situation. In retrospect, it wasn’t as bad as I imagined, as those sort of things never are, but at the time I thought I had nearly the worse hair in the world, almost as bad as Shannon Fitzer, class weirdo, and that was her own fault because she never washed hers. Or maybe she had a disorder that caused her hair follicles to produce a hundred times more oil than the average person, I don’t know, but it was limp with grease and an indeterminate shade of brownish-gray, even though we were twelve.

My own hair was blond, which, in the eighties, was like hitting the lottery. But my good luck ended there: it grew outward instead of down, it was oily at the scalp even though I washed it nightly, and it was dry everywhere else, maybe because I washed it nightly. My mom said it was “fine and silky,” which was eupha-mom-stic; it was just thin. My mom’s Southern friend Shirley, who was stuck in a mid-western town but was basically a character in a Tennessee Williams play, once told me, “Sweatheart, that hair of yours ain’t never gonna listen; you’d  best just chop it off.” The hairdresser who tried to put something like an up-do  in my short hair for the eighth grade dance stepped back to appraise her work and said, “I put enough hairspray in there to hold a few small dogs on your head. If that doesn’t work, nothing will.”  My date–my first date ever, if you could call it that–gingerly touched my head, as you would a porcupine, and laughed so hard he had to hold on to the banister, until my dad shot him a look that silenced him so severely he was unable to put on my corsage, and it was a wrist corsage. My mom had to do it for him.

In early high school, my hair was even shorter, a style they were still calling a Dorothy Hamill, which is designed to make your hair stack up in the back and look thick. I did not have the high cheekbones and turned-up-nose to pull this off, but it was stylish enough, and daring enough–most girls stuck safely to long hair and teased up bangs–that I got by. My self-esteem didn’t suffer too badly, in fact that short hair may have boosted my confidence into the realm of “cool.” I was edgy. I was different. I had short hair and took art classes, wrote for the school literary journal and adopted the cool indifference of a girl who is not like all the other girls, though of course I was. (As a side note, my fifteen-year-old son recently said, “I can’t stand it when girls try super hard to be all edgy and “different,” they’re all, like, “I’m so different, I wear Converse to prom!” But really they’re like everyone else.” And I thought: crap. I was one of those girls…”)

The thing is, despite the stacked-up cut, it took a lot of hairspray to keep my hair looking like Dorothy’s, and mine never flew gracefully around behind me when I skated on the town lake. It clung to my head like the helmet that it was in the winter, and in the summer it plastered itself to my cheeks in surrender. My sister called it ‘Shawn Cassidy hair” and warned against it, though she was a fan of the Hardy Boys reruns and I believe her first crush was on Parker Stevenson. When my hair went limp, she would flash her eyes at my head and say “Da-doo run-run,” and I’d make a b-line for a can of Finesse. If I used a curling iron and turned my hair under, I could make it look a little like Valerie Bertinelli’s on One Day at a Time, or Mindy in that one season where she briefly had hers cut short and Mork made that joke about a human Q-tip.

So I eventually got fed up. The Dorothy Hamill wedge wasn’t working for me anymore; I tried to grow it to my shoulders or at least into a sleek bob, but the awkward in-between stage was always too much for me. Friends wasn’t on yet so Rachel hadn’t shown us all how to grow out our hair gracefully, and layers weren’t a thing. I’d chop it back off, cry a little and start over.

On one particularly bad day in about 1989 I was so distraught that my mom found me in my room crying over the book we were reading in English: Catch 22 by Joseph Heller. Like so many high school reading list books, it was overtly depressing and upsetting and not remotely related to anything we were studying in any other part of school. I had studied nothing about the time period and had no context in which to fit anything whatsoever about the story, but I was crying about my hair: there was a party later that evening and my hair looked terrible. Fresh from a bad cut by the only barber in town (yes, barber),  limp with humidity and orange-ish because a friend had mistakenly told me that you could put QT in your hair and sit for a few hours in the sun for natural looking highlights. It must’ve been bad because my mom took one look at my tear-stained face and said, “The book?” I shook my head no and she looked sympathetic and said only, “Oh. The hair, then.”

She didn’t say it wasn’t that bad. She didn’t say what my dad said, which was something along the lines of “Suck it up. Be happy you have hair at all.” She just took my hand and pulled me off of my yellow flowered bedspread and to the kitchen, and placed a metal bowl in front of me and her copy of the Better Homes and Gardens cook book, which she just called “Betterhomes.” I rolled my eyes, but the well worn binding and the red and white checkered cover were comforting:  it was already working. I made blueberry muffins. The blueberries were going to go bad anyway, my mom said to convince me, because I’d rather have drown my sorrows in a pan of brownies, or one of those snack n’ cakes that came with its own little pan. But those berries were round and firm, and the resulting muffins were perfect. The crumb was more firm than cake but less dense than bread, they had just a hint of both lemon and almond, and they crackled on top with a sprinkling of demerara sugar. I know you’re not supposed to teach your children emotional eating, and muffins are not health food, but this wasn’t about eating, it was about creating. She had me make the muffins, like she always did when I had a bad case of the blues.

It’s not the food, it’s the stepping out of yourself. The focusing on something other than self pity, and producing something beautiful that also happens to double as breakfast the next morning. Something that makes everyone happy, and fills the house with an endorphin-raising aroma. At some point my mom said something about me being beautiful, and that we are not defined by our hair, but mainly she just told me to put on some happy music and make muffins. It was a gentle “get over yourself” disguised as part benign chore, part sympathy. Really it was the same thing my father was saying, but with–literally–a spoonful of sugar. Happily, my hair got slightly better in my twenties, I am not sure why, and even better when I had several children and my veins were coursing with all those hormones that are supposed to make your hair terrible. The hormones figured they couldn’t make it much worse, the only thing to do was make it better. It’s actually pretty thick now, though I still have to keep it short because when I grow it out, I look for an ad for Prozac or Celexa. And even if I still had bad hair, I wouldn’t care nearly so much. I’m older, wiser, and much, much less focused on ME. But one of my daughters, though she is beautiful, has  hair that is fine and slippery and rarely does what is asked of it, and the great sadness of her childhood has been her “skinny” ponytails. I tell her that this, too, shall pass. Or not. And that she is gorgeous and no one else is noticing this, and it does not define her. And even in the dead of winter, I keep a lot of blueberries on hand.

True Grit

The Holiday Season is here, and the T.V networks are trying to work in a few feel good movies now and then, squeezed in between bad sit-coms and perverse cop shows. Last week an obscure cable channel aired Gone With the Wind and I caught the end while sewing on a stubborn cub scout patch (I Sold Popcorn 2014!!).

My favorite scene in Gone With the Wind is where Scarlet must deliver Melanie’s baby, alone, while Atlanta is burning outside. It is one of the first scenes where we see Scarlet begin to transform from a shallow girl who does not even dress herself, let alone do hard work, into the woman who swears, with her dirty fist in the air, never to go hungry again.

I say it is my favorite scene; really it is just the one I remember the most. I first saw the movie in Mrs. Shiplett’s seventh grade classroom, because she deemed it a worthy and accurate portrayal of the Civil War, and because she had a lot of papers to grade. When the little slave girl says she ain’t never delivered no babies, so Scarlet does it herself, I had the epiphany that childbirth must be difficult and terrifying and dirty  and—because everyone was so happy when the baby girl was born—wonderful, and I remember realizing that Scarlet was changing, that she was different. You had to kind of respect Scarlet after that; she’d just rolled up her sleeves and done what had to be done.

The novel was the quintessential best seller and the movie won Best Picture in 1939, and we’ve been comparing every heroine to Scarlet ever since. Perhaps because she was not perfect, but man was she strong when it counted. Strength has been a common denominator in literary heroines, going all the way back to Medea and Antigone and Lady Macbeth and all the others I can’t quite remember. But of course none of them were good or pure. Purity of heart is something we say we want to strive for, but the good characters are always a little boring. Jo March and Elizabeth Bennett were cool; Melanie was a little boring. We’d rather watch someone a little more sinful; a little more human.

Maybe this explains why, for all the reverence that Catholics have for the Virgin Mary, we forget to think of her as fully human. True, she is the only person other than her son to be born without sin, but her son was divine, and Mary was not. She was simply human, like you or me or the lady next door. Byzantine and Renaissance art is partly to blame: she is always pictured in a gauzy blue veil, looking passively down at her hands. In the Byzantine renderings, she looks angry or kind of queasy, and in later WEstern art she looks pure, and bored, and boring. And in her most famous scene ever, so to speak, when she gives birth to the savior of the world in a stable, it is warm and inviting, she is clean and dry and looks like a pretty on-looker.

Anyone who has ever had a baby or worked on a farm knows that childbirth is not tidy. And to give birth in a stable, realistically, would be cold, dirty, and frightening. It may even have smelled bad. Surely it smelled bad. Bethlehem was crowded! The stable wasn’t being cleaned hourly, and there were animals in there. Then there’s the pain of it: perhaps Mary was spared the actual pain of childbirth because she had no original sin,  but even if she felt no physical pain, it would have been a messy, exhausting, bewildering affair, with only Joseph to cut the cord and clean up and help. (Imagine—to be chosen to cut the umbilical cord of the Son of God himself!) Yet Mary did it, because God asked her to and she looked straight through her fear and said, “Yes.” And all the other famous lines of all the other heroines in the world pale in compression.

Maybe she did wear a blue veil. I suspect that when she covered her head, it was with some neutral color, and that when she gave birth to Christ, her hair was messy. We make her look beautiful in the Christmas cards out of respect, and that’s as it should be. But I like thinking of Mary looking up, not passively down at her hands. I think she had a sparkle in her eye that puts Vivian Leigh’s to shame, and a spirit in her heart that makes all the other heroines I’ve ever read about seem dull. I know she had no sin, but I think she was just as fun as Jo March and Lizzy Bennett and Anne Shirley, and that like all of them, she changed into something stronger. Though her heart was pure the whole time, I like knowing that she went from a frightened teenager, who was surely scorned by some who knew her, to a mother who gave birth in a cave next to farm animals, only to watch her baby son grow up to be rejected and crucified, to the Queen of Heaven, with one foot on a serpent, a crown on her head and her eyes on fire with love for the world.

I will try to remember it this season, when my reality isn’t what I want pictured on the Christmas card. I want the cookies baked and the children in matching outfits, with homework all done and the house perfect and myself with not a hair out of place. Though I will never, ever be sinless, I will try to remember that real heroes get past the mess and the fear and the imperfection, and see only God’s will. They’re dirty sometimes;  mud on their faces, hair flying wild. I will try to remember that if I fail, I can try again. I can change, and grow, and become the woman God wants me to be, dirty hands and messy hair and all. All I really have to do this season is say yes to God. Where there’s His will, there is a way, and it is always perfect.


Everyone has their thing they make at Christmas. Or maybe it is a thing their mother made, or grandmother. A sweet thing that was made on the night they decorated the tree, or on Christmas Eve, or Christmas day. A specialty that was given to neighbors on a foil covered plate with a bow. A scrumptious little thing, or a weird, rolled up cookie that came to the New World with Nanna or MorMor or Oma, and no one can bear to stop making it because it is a tradition. When I was a kid it was Scottish shortbread; little circles punched down with those stubby-handled, ceramic coated cookie punch disks. We had three, the outsides of which were pea-green, mustard yellow and rust-red; the colors of the 70s. The pea-green one would punch the cookie with tiny holly leaves around the edges; you knew the cookies were done when they rose just enough that the holly leaves became fat.

I also remember my mother making cheese fondue at Christmas, (in a greenish yellow fondue pot of course) and a big roast for dinner, and there were the years when my older sister attempted a bouche de Noel from scratch because her French teacher promised extra credit. But the shortbread cookies (a pound of butter) and the fondue fell by the wayside when my dad’s cholesterol got high, and the Christmas log cake was a pain in the neck, and we are not French. So when I got married, I didn’t really have a sweet thing that I made at Christmas.

But my husband did: his grandmother’s gingersnaps. I was ambivalent about non-chocolate desserts and cookies: if it’s not chocolate, why bother? But then he whipped these up, made a couple alterations, and whipped them up again a week later. They made the kitchen smell like Christmas, and the kids begged for more. They were little that first gingersnap year. We have a picture of them sitting on the kitchen floor on a blanket, both wearing USMC t-shirts for pajamas, dipping gingersnaps into milk and laughing. They are tow-headed and cherubic and innocent and that picture makes my heart break a little.

These babies smell like Christmas and Santa and happiness, and they will be the thing my kids remember that we always made in December. Like the best of their cookie brethren, they need to be eaten with milk, like my kids did that first time. And unlike the shortbread and fondue of my childhood, I’m going to make these forever.

It helps to weigh the flour on a kitchen scale if you have one, because the amount of flour in a cookie directly affects the texture and bendy-ness. And when they are cooled off and you put them away to store, make it an air-tight container with a piece of white bread in there. The cookies will suck the moisture out of the bread and stay bendy, instead of getting crunchy and stale. This recipe has been a secret for years, but I am feeling generous.

Makes about 20 cookies. Doubles nicely. I have never not doubled it…

3/4 C or 1.5 sticks butter, 1 C sugar, 1/4 C dark molasses, 1 egg, 2 and 1/2 C OR 12.5 ounces flour, 1 tsp baking soda, 1 tsp baking powder, 1/4 tsp ground cloves, 1/2 tsp ground ginger, 1/2 tsp salt, 1.5 tsp cinnamon.

Soften the butter in the microwave but do not melt it completely. (Or leave it out on the counter for 2 hours. It should be soft, but NOT melted.) Add to stand mixer if you are using one. Add sugar and molasses and mix on high, then add egg and mix again until fluffy. In a different bowl, whisk dry ingredients. Add them to the wet ones and combine well but do not over-mix.

Place dough in wax paper and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or up to 2 days.

Preheat oven to 375. Form the dough into ping-pong ball sized balls, and roll each one in sugar-in-the-raw. Regular sugar is fine if you don’t have sugar-in-the-raw. Place balls on cookie sheet lined with parchment if possible. Bake 15-20 minutes, until cracked on top but not over-baked. Slightly under-done is better: they will harden as they cool. Let rest on cookie sheet for 5 minutes. Enjoy! Store with a piece of white bread.



Darn Phone

I have teenagers. And I have discovered that when people wince and say “I have teenagers,” their voices full of resignation and bewilderment and pain, it is not because the teenagers are evil, or doing drugs, or slamming doors or sneaking out past curfew. It is because having teenagers is like wearing a big sandwich board on your body that says I AM OLD ENOUGH TO HAVE TEENAGERS on both sides. It is the betrayal of our youth that we resent, not the teens themselves. Because if childhood is any indication, our high-schoolers will be college students in the blink of an eye, and then they will be in their twenties, and at that point we might as well wear a Proud Grandma t-shirt and reading glasses around our necks and take up bird-watching.

My own teenagers, my two oldest children, are only fifteen and fourteen, and they were recently given cell phones for their birthdays. They were, I think, the last in their group of friends–possibly their entire class–to have a phone, and at some point during the summer before high school, we caved. They hadn’t actually been asking for phones, but in their not-asking was an implicit, desperate plea for a phone. They know that in our family, to ask for something as worldly and secular and expensive as a phone is certain assurance that you won’t get one, but to simply pine for one, in a quiet, stoic way that your mother can’t help noticing, and yet not actually ask for one, paves the way to owning it. It is in this way that my daughter acquired a winter jacket that says North Face on the label. We didn’t cave in to their begging or even asking, but rather to our (my) perception of their longing, and the fact that everyone else their age had one. North Face jacket notwithstanding, it was not like us at all.

Our thinking was that our firstborns were heading to high school, a huge new school where they would know no one, they would need to contact us more as their freedom began to increase, and that–even we, the parents could see this–it really was socially detrimental to have no phone at all. It would be like when I started middle school, and my home made lunches included tuna sandwiches on alfafa bread and recycled baby-food jars of home-made yogurt. Not impossible to overcome, but a formidable obstacle to making friends. Every kid they knew had a phone; we even had it on good authority that in high school they were expected to bring a phone or other wifi device to class. It seemed silly to buy them cumbersome tablets and some kind of shared, arcane flip phone. Plus, our phone provider which shall remain nameless but rhymes with ‘Horizon,’ had in place some kind of crazy loophole mandating that adding one or two flip phones to our plan would be significantly more expensive than adding two smart phones. My husband spent roughly ninety minutes on the phone with “Horizon,” talking in circles and finally arriving at the conclusion that we would need to pay more to have less, and his efforts to speak with someone with the authority to change this rule were reminiscent of Dorothy and the Wizard. What began as gathering information about the possibility of getting a phone or phones for our teenagers ended with the assurance that if we didn’t add two smart phones to our plan, STAT, we would be paying $60 per month more so fast it would make our heads spin.

I am not sure if it was something they heard in husband’s voice, some weakness they seized upon, but Horizon wore him down. They then convinced my shrewd, frugal husband that we not only needed to get two smart phones, but that they needed to be i-phones. With data plans. They preyed on the weakness all men below forty have, the technology-is-so-cool weakness that can assert its ugly head even where issues of frugality and parenting are involved. Added to it was my critical weakness, the weakness all moms have, the I-so-want-to-make-my-child-happy weakness, and the what-on-earth-do-you-get-a-teenager-for-their-birthday conundrum, and somehow the result was that my kids’ birthday present was an iPhone. Each.

In our defense, they only got an iPhone 4, which Horizon was practically giving away. Actually I think they paid us to take them, whereas if we’d have purchased flip phones with no data plan, it was going to cost us dearly. We are obviously not the only family to be suckered into this, because I don’t think I’ve ever seen a teenager whip out a flip phone to text a friend. (Maybe the teens with flip phones keep them hidden away, as I learned to do with the sandwiches of shame and home made yogurt.)

Still, an iPhone 4 is an iPhone, and if you hold it just-so, it can pass for an iPhone 5. An i-phone 4 can get you on the internet and send millions of texts and has apps. An iPhone 4 has a preliminary version of Seri, I.O.S. 7, and can store a mind-blowing amount of youtube videos and photos. It is a real i-phone, and I am stunned that we let two of them into our lives; looking back, it’s like a bad decision you make after too little sleep or too much alcohol, neither of which were a factor.

The family is now adjusting to the phones, the way you adjust to a new puppy who turns out to be a carpet-piddling, furniture chewing terror. And when I say “phones,” I really mean phone in the singular, because a son with a phone is a very different beast than a daughter with a phone. Son-with-a-phone keeps the phone on his dresser or in his pocket. He uses the phone to look up homework or directions, listen to music while he mows the lawn, or text his friends one-liners like do we have practice? Even when girls text the son: Hey there, what’s up? That was so funny in geometry when Casey was asleep! BTW, are you going to the game on Friday? his answers are not lengthy: Maybe. For the son, the phone is just an i-pod that can look up something or make calls, though I don’t think he’s ever received an actual call from anyone but me.

The daughter’s phone is the bane of my existence. For the daughter, the phone is her lifeline: a two-by-five miracle that supplies her with constant interaction with friends, youtube videos that can pull her malleable emotions in one direction or another, music to give shape and meaning to her day, and answers to the many questions of her curious mind. (The questions range from Seri, how many of Raphael’s frescos still survive? to Seri, does Luke Hemmings have a girl friend?)  Her phone is a life-preserver and an extension of herself–almost a prosthetic limb. She shows me youtube videos every day; cute things, like a kitten struggling to get out of a coffee mug, or Chris Evans eating soup on the set of The Avengers. She shows me Instagram postings of her actual friends and people she doesn’t know but follows (“Look, Momma, here’s a picture of my friend Caitlin’s cousin’s friend–he knows Idina Menzel and they’re balancing spoons on their noses!) Her texts to her friends are entire paragraphs of casual conversation about clothes and teachers and boys and feelings and even the weather, and she converses regularly with her Seri, whom she has made into an Australian male. She talks to him the way Iron Man talks to Jarvis, and it concerns me. I’ll be making dinner and she’s up there in her room with Hugh Jackman, “doing homework,” which means spreading books out while texting and listening to music.

There are benefits to the phone, I know. Daughter-with-a-phone is musically talented, and she uses her phone to watch instructional videos about playing various instruments. Now she can play virtually anything on a ukulele, and is moving on to other stringed instruments. The phone has assisted with math homework many times, thanks to Khan Academy, and the texting capabilities of the phone have been a hugely helpful in setting up logistics of her social life and rides home from everything she does. Also, daughter-with-a-phone texts me, her little ol’ mom, often enough that I feel our relationship has grown. (Example of text from daughter-with-a-phone: Hey Ma! Guess what? Mr. Hanson made me section leader of the sopranos! He was all like ‘you were born to do this’ and I was like ‘aw.’ Also, got a 89 on history test but Ms. Jennings said I can bring it up with extr. credit. I’m taking the late bus home. Love you! Example of text from son-with-a-phone: practice til 5.)

But on the whole, I hate the phone. Both of them, but especially my daughter’s. I feel she has lost something–some piece of innocence–we cannot ever get back.  She would be horrified at the thought that the phone has somehow destroyed her, even just in some teency way; she would deny it with tears in her eyes. And maybe I am overreacting, but here is the truth: I wish we’d never gotten the phone. It is an impediment to family time and sanity and peaceful, non-electronic down-time, so we have had to install rules about the phones: no phones at meals, no phones after nine o’clock, no phones anywhere near their grandfather or anyone else over seventy, and so forth. The kids understand and are happy to abide by the rules, but what I can’t control are all the times they (she) might have joined her little sister in a game instead of texting or watching something on the phone; all the times they (she) might be reading instead of texting or watching something. She still reads, but she used to read a 300 page book in two days and move on to another; now it takes over a week, because the phone provides so many other ways to spend time.

I guess I am disappointed with myself: I feel like I did so many things right when they were younger. I didn’t let them watch scary, trashy movies, I didn’t let them eat too much sugar, I didn’t let them play violent video games. We made sure, all these years, that we eat dinner as a family far more often than not, we discussed virtues like modesty and steered clear of outfits that make young girls look like night club waitresses. We prayed together and played together and said a gentle no to “dating” in seventh grade, for Pete’s sake, even though their friends were. But now that the phones are part of our life, I feel I have been demoted to the ranks of stupid parent: the ones who feed their kids Coco-Puffs and Hawaiian Punch; the ones whose daughters in crotch-skimming mini-skirts saw their first Lady Gaga concert at age six. I’m one of them now.

I don’t know how to go back, or even if it is the right thing to do. The kids pay for their portion of the phone plan by themselves, with money they earn babysitting and mowing lawns, so I feel they are earning the right to their irritating devices. We are trying to teach them to use the phones responsibly, but in our culture that just means not texting while driving. They are absolutely everywhere, and even adults don’t employ polite phone etiquette. To expect your child to keep the phone hidden in social situations or leave it alone for hours at a stretch is akin to expecting them to courtesy when meeting someone, or wear white gloves and a hat to go shopping. Phone etiquette is mostly a thing of the past; a charming novelty of yester-year.

But I will keep fighting my little battle. So help me, I will be that parent with the crazy expectation that phones–or whatever we are calling them in ten years–do not make an appearance at my dinner table, and some weekends are still phone-free except in the case of the one on the kitchen counter that my family still calls me on. The kids’ future fiancées will just have to understand that I am adamant about this, and my Stalinesque forbiddance of phones is part of what made my kids the grounded, wholesome people they love. Now, I’ll end this tirade: there’s a squirrel hanging from the birdfeeder outside and I need to take a picture with my phone and post it on Facebook.

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