That Darn Cat

I read an article recently about communicating with your teenager (a little research couldn't hurt, right?), and the author made an interesting analogy between younger and older children.

Babies, toddlers and younger children are like puppies: You can hug them and kiss them and love on them forever, and they eat it up... they just can't get enough affection/attention.

In contrast, pre-teens and teenagers are like cats: They avoid you most of the time, every once in a while they might seek you out... but it's always on their own terms, never yours. AND THERE IS NO TOUCHING OF ANY KIND.

First let me say that I think this author is right on the money with this analogy... which is unfortunate, because I'm not terribly fond of cats. I mean, they're ok, but I've always been a dog-lover and have never had the urge to own a cat. Ever. I've never liked their "kiss-off, I'm too good for you" attitude... they don't seem especially fun and/or playful... and they could care less when you want someone to sit with you and watch the latest episode of Project Runway.

(At this point I would like to give a shout out to The Dingo, who always watches TV with me. He'll watch anything, too... even the Real Housewives of Atlanta. He sits right next to me while those crazy women holler and pull on each other's artificial hair in restaurants, and he never judges me.)


Now this lady's telling me that, thanks to a hormonal tsunami, my cute little canine is gone and, congratulations, you're the proud owner of a persnickety, hissing feline.

That's. Just. Awesome.

Since I wasn't fully aware of the magnitude of this transormation until now, it's logical to assume that I was making some of the cardinal mistakes people make when trying to... uh, talk to their cat. Actually, I was making MOST of the cardinal mistakes. But I'm aware now, and I'm working on it.

I'm trying not to make every conversation feel like I've led Tyler to a dark cellar with a single chair in the middle of the room, armed with a high-voltage spotlight (here, kitty kitty kitty...). I'm trying to take in stride behavior that's perfectly normal for a teenager, but at times does a tap dance on my last nerve. I'm trying to give him space without completely removing myself from the loop... I am still the mother of this hairball-spewer, after all.

And I will try... ugh, this is so hard for me, CONTROL FREAK NUMBER ONE... I will try to let him make his own choices, even if they aren't the choices that I think would make his life easier. I've realized that it's counter-intuitive for a parent to abstain from protecting their child, both from the world and from themselves. But even stronger than that realization is my general philosophy about parenting: If you're doing it right, you work yourself right out of a job.

I have to let him falter and fail, I know that. I know that. But it's much easier said than done because, as it turns out... I love that darn cat.


Welcome to Junior High

Tyler's still willing to humor his mother and pose for a photo on the first day of school; here he is on Friday, before catching the bus to his big new adventure. School doesn't officially begin until Monday the 24th, but the "sevvies" go a day early so they can find their way around the school on their own, without the 8th graders (which I think is a great idea).
Of course, I was on pins and needles the whole day... and when he called me after school, I became the embodiment of the Spanish Inquisition:
"How was the bus ride? Did they have a big orientation? Did you make it to all your classes ok? How were your teachers? Do you have any friends in your classes? So, ARE YOU GOING TO BE OKAY???"
His answers:
"Fine. Yep. Yep. Fine. Yep. YES MOM, I'M GOING TO BE FINE. I'm gonna go check my Facebook, ok?"
Welcome to junior high.


7th Grade

This week we registered Tyler for his first major rite of passage since potty training: The 7th grade. Having been through both myself, there's no doubt that making tinkle in the toiley is a hell of a lot easier. (But for Ty's sake let's just keep that between us, ok?)

We walked into Clarke N. Johnsen Junior High School and were greeted by the smell of floor wax and a gaggle of 8th-grade student body officers who directed us to Ground Zero -- a.k.a. the cafeteria. We proceeded through several workstations and plowed through about 300 pages of forms and instructions... seriously, there wasn't this much paperwork when we adopted Tyler, for crying out loud! One hour and $142 later (yes, that was one hundred forty-two dollars in fees for a public secondary education), we were cut loose to check out the school and find Tyler's classes.

And oh, you guys, how the memories flowed.

My first miserable memory of 7th grade happened even before the first day of school. When I received my schedule in the mail, I was horrified to find that my last name was misspelled. That's probably not a big deal if your last name is Larsen or Connors; but when your last name is DIRK, you run the risk of having your name bastardized simply by changing one letter -- ANY letter. For example:

The D can become a J and make JERK (phonetically)
The I can become an O and make DORK
The K can become a T and make DIRT

On my 7th grade schedule --and on every one of my teachers' rolls -- the worst of all possible typos occurred, and I was Kareen DICK. Oh yes indeed, true story.

As you can imagine, this required some damage control on the first day of school. I scurried up to every teacher and MADE SURE they corrected the error before calling roll. Crisis averted... but you gotta admit, that wasn't exactly a good omen. (Needless to say, Ty's name is spelled correctly on all his school records, thank you very much.)

Where was I? Oh yeah... walking the halls with Tyler...

As the images and feelings from that time in my life bubbled to the surface, suddenly I felt compelled to share all this advice with Tyler at that moment... and as it turns out, Dave had the same urge at the same moment.

"If your locker is nowhere near your first class, you might want to take your first period books home with you so you don't have to go all the way to your locker... "
"These two classes are in the same hallway, so be sure and bring books for both classes so you don't have to go back to your locker... "
"You've got only five minutes between classes, so you're really gonna have to hustle..."

Dave and I were like two jabbering monkeys (which is normal for me, but not for him), and it wasn't long before the only thing Ty was looking for was the EXIT THAT WOULD TAKE HIM FAR AWAY FROM HIS CRAZY YAMMERING PARENTS.

The advice we gave him that day had to do with logistics... but in my heart, I know that Tyler's navigation skills won't only be tested by hallways. He's going to have to find his way through hundreds of strangers, all with distinct personalities and raging hormones, and find his place among them.... and, a mom can only hope, a happy place among them. Not an easy task... and, when you think about it, not all that different from what we find ourselves doing in every stage of our lives.

So, ya know. Kind of a big deal.

That's why, sometime before next Friday (first day of school), I'll share with Tyler the really important stuff he needs to know. It will be short and concise because, if it isn't, his condition flares up -- the one where his eyes roll back in his head if I speak longer than 15 seconds. (A terrible affliction... one that can get you grounded in our house if it's accompanied by backtalking.)

Anyway, here's what I think is the must-know info:

  • PAY ATTENTION. The faster you learn the ropes, the more comfortable you'll be.
  • BE PATIENT WITH YOURSELF. You're not going to have it all down in one day. Give yourself some time to adjust and remember, everyone else is trying to do the same.
  • STAY CLOSE TO YOUR FRIENDS. Stick together no matter what, hang onto each other for dear life... you'll need them more than you've ever needed them before.
  • STEER CLEAR OF BULLIES. Stating the obvious here; but I will emphatically add that anything they say to you or about you is garbage, so NEVER EVER give them the satisfaction of believing them.
  • BE NICE TO EVERYONE. Lots of reasons for this one and this post is already ridiculously verbose, so I won't list them here...
  • REMEMBER HOW MUCH I LOVE YOU. Also obvious; but at this age, and no matter how many times those eyes roll back in his head, I don't think he can hear it enough.

For all the misery that can be found in 7th grade, there's a grundle of great memories to be made, too. I have a whole pile of them myself and, yes, they're a little dusty... but I wouldn't trade that pile for anything.

Go and rock the 7th grade, Ty. I know you'll be great. And when it's not great, I'm here.