Fortnite Versus Mom

If you have teenage boys (or, apparently, are the wife or mom of an NBA player), you’ve heard of Fortnite, the multi-player, shooter video game that went temporarily offline this week, sending the youth of America into a tailspin.

At one point last month, more than 3.4 million fans were playing simultaneously.

Now, I know my boys would be appalled by this comparison, but from a conflicted parental perspective, it reminds me of Pokemon Go.

Remember that fad? Kids carrying cellphones and iPads and even laptops roaming the streets, trails, and playgrounds with their friends, catching imaginary Pokemons? Rumors of grown-ups falling off of cliffs because they were so absorbed in their search?

“Well, at least they’re getting exercise.”

“I’m just glad they’re outside.”

Now, comes Fortnite. A shooting game. An enticement to disappear into the dark, cold basement on a beautiful, sunny day. And what are we, as parents, saying?

“The thing is, it lets him spend more time with his friends.”

“They’re all inside the game talking to each other for hours. And I can hear everything they say.”

“It’s safe.”

“It’s social.”

“…and they’re learning to think strategically.”

“I want to say it’s bad, but…” said one Dad, “It’s really fun.”

Parents, I’m afraid those masterminds at Epic Games have figured out how to beat us at… well… our own game.

The Last Game

Brad Paisley’s Last Time for Everything reminds his fans of all those moments in their youth that will never happen again for them. A sad nostalgia for their glory days.

And on the day my eighth grader played his last soccer game with the friends he’s played with his entire life before they split off into various high schools, the song kept playing in my head. He may not ever play again in this world of “cut” high school sports.

But I find that life is funny and filled with surprises.

Yesterday, before heading off to his game, I found myself doing a few things that, at one point years ago, I thought I had done for the last time too. At 7am, I was in the basement of our school library with his robotics club making a poster with glittery letters. Was the last time I did that in middle school?

At 1:00, I was learning a new song in my piano lesson. Until two years ago, I last played when I was 18.

Then in a first time long after I should have had my last time, I blew my whistle coaching fourth grade boys’ basketball (which I have never played, but wanted to).

A few weekends ago, I roomed with my college roommate, making it, after almost thirty years, the new last time.

So, as I drove to my son’s last soccer game, I was less sad for him. He too will have fun with life’s surprises… his next times.

Our Generous Friends

My fourteen year old son babysits. We have instructed him that since he is just starting out and needs a ride home, he can charge $5 an hour.

His first few clients have been our friends. They, apparently, think we are mean. They do not believe in $5 an hour. They feel like they are taking advantage.

He is thrilled and amazed at their generosity. Eager to babysit when needed like Superman answering their call.

You often read that college graduates can’t find jobs and are working for minimum wage hoping something comes along in their field. In fact, a job listing recently caught my interest until I saw that, while “preferring” someone with a Masters degree – which I have on top of thirty years of experience – it paid less per hour than what my fourteen year old came home with after his last three babysitting gigs.

As parents, we would like him to aspire to be a mechanical engineer, inventor, technology guru, doctor, business owner.

But he might be smarter to stick with babysitting.

It has definitely inspired his work ethic. For that, I thank our generous friends.

Their Social Secretary

My kids are at that transitional age when social lives pick up, but mom is still making the plans. It struck me during a snow day last week that it is time to pass the torch.

When I was 13, I would call my friends’ home phones – I still remember their numbers – “Do you want to sleepover Friday?”

“Mom,” I would hear through the phone, “can I sleepover at Jenn’s?”

And that was it. Minimal parental involvement. In fact, the moms rarely talked until pick-up on Saturday morning.

Or if she lived in the neighborhood, “Mom, I’m going to Mary’s!” And the screen-door banged shut behind me as soon as I heard “Be home for dinner!”

Our lives, at 13, were more our own. Our time was ours to manage. Our friendships were ours to maintain and nourish. We weren’t waiting for our moms to call their friends to make our plans. How tied down our 12 and 13 year olds must feel!

Then on this last snow day, I got a call. A boy’s voice. My son’s friend. Apparently, he was not answering his phone. I handed mine over so they could talk. A minute later, “Mom, can I got to…”

Ready to fly out the door.

It is time.

“I’m Sad,” He Said

He was supposed to be asleep. 10:30pm. Ski school in the morning after a busy week. His older brothers had been out for over an hour.

“Mom,” he said, dragging his tired little body into the dining room. “I’m sad.”

He is not one to hide his feelings.

So at 10:30, when he should have been sleeping, we snuggled into my bed and had a long talk. “Sometimes my friends are my friends. And sometimes they aren’t.”

With three boys, I have learned that such conversations always end up at recess football. Who did, or did not, pick him for their team that day.

“They are all your friends,” I said. “They love you.”

“But sometimes they are nice to me, and sometimes they aren’t. They act like I’m not their friend… like in football today…”

…as predicted.

“Well, is there anyone who you always trust to be nice no matter what?”

“Well…. Yes.”

“Then that’s who we need to invite over to play as soon as we can.”

He smiled and fell immediately to sleep.

A Mom’s Battle for Valentines Day

I grew up in a house of three girls where making Valentines cards each year was considered a fun tradition. We’d go to Bruce’s Variety and pick out all kinds of pink and purple stickers and ribbons and beads. Then we would sit around the table together, think about what each classmate might like, and busy ourselves creating cards every afternoon for a week.

With that memory, I have insisted that my three boys make their Valentines cards too. No store-bought cartoon cards with Fun-Dip attached for them, despite the fact that those are their favorite cards to receive.

For me, the point of giving classmates Valentines cards is the effort you put into showing you care about them. You only do it once a year. You should go all out. Or not do it at all.

This year, with boys in fifth, fourth and kindergarten, my own sister laughed at me.

“Fourth and fifth grade boys shouldn’t have to make Valentines!”

I heard my friend chuckle in agreement. “We never have!”

I have been thinking it about it all day. They may be right. Still, why should my kids bother to tape a lollipop to the back of a Star Wars card that I bought at the grocery store? What does that show their friends?


Fine, since my guys do not enjoy the effort as much as I once did, and they will apparently be laughed at by their friends – and mine – for making their own cards, I relent after ten years.

But never fear! The battle for Valentines wages on here.

Two boys too old and too cool to make their own Valentines cards have been assigned to help their little brother with his, so that he knows what it’s like to sit around a table with his siblings making very special notes to show how much he appreciates his friends.



What’s So Great About ABBA?

In snowy, cold mid-winter conditions last night, a theater in Denver was packed with grown-ups singing along with the actors in Mamma Mia. Laughing a lot. Quite a number were dancing at the end.

I was likely the only person in the audience – or in theaters everywhere – who cried during “Dancing Queen.” 

You see, what’s great about ABBA, even if you don’t like their music, is that everyone of our generation knows the words. Most of us females acted out the lyrics at one point in our lives either alone in our pink rooms, in the living room with friends, or at a school dance when we finally realized we could dance in packs not caring if a boy asked us.

For me, ABBA is every afternoon from about fifth grade on. Homework with Doritoes and coke, only a few planned activities, dinner at home every night, sleepovers every Friday. And my sisters, best friend and I danced and sang and laughed at our own goofiness. We held dance contests. We acted out the songs again and again.

ABBA. The Monkees. The Beatles. Billy Joel.

“Dancing Queen” was a favorite.

So in the middle of the theater last night, when everyone else was singing, I cried, missing those afternoons. “Young and sweet, only seventeen.” Knowing that when the four of us are together now, which is not enough, we still laugh a lot. We still know all the words. We can start exactly where we left off as if it were yesterday.

But we no longer dance.

That’s what came to me last night in the theater during a really fun rendition of a favorite old song, when part of the point of the play is that our inner dancing queen will always be there no matter what we go through, no matter how much we grow up. 

That’s what’s so great about ABBA. 

Then I remembered that just a few days ago, my six year old and I were playing air guitar in the kitchen, and for a moment, we rocked the house. Just needed a tambourine, two sisters and best friend to get us dancing the afternoon away.


Signing Up for Cotillion

My fifth grader’s friends have all signed up for Cotillion at a local country club.

I did it in fifth grade and hated it. You have to dress up. Girls have to learn how to politely take off white gloves — in my opinion, a completely useless skill these days given the number of women wearing white gloves at “the best” cocktail parties. Then you not only have to talk to boys you don’t know with bright green ties, you actually have to dance with them.

A total nightmare.

I was thinking of bowing out for my boys.

But all of my fifth grade son’s friends are doing it. I told him who had signed up, and he said he was definitely in. When I told him he was registered, he did a cool-guy fist pump, then gave me a hi-five.

What fifth grade boy gives their mom a hi-five for signing him up for Cotillion?!

“I like doing things with my friends,” he said.

He clearly does not get it.

At dinner that night, my fourth grader said, “If you sign me up for Cotillion, I will kill you.”

A much more normal response.

But then he added, “Unless you buy me a Men in Black outfit and I can wear shades. Then I’m in.”

No shades at Cotillion.

“If I can’t say, ‘The difference between you and me, is I make this look good,’ then I’m not going.”

The Hardest Moments in Parenting So Far

There are moments as a parent when you feel like your heart will break for your kids.
• When you see him standing apart from the crowd, looking awkward, not sure how to enter the conversation.
• When she tells you for the first time that she is not pretty.
• When he cries that he is not good at anything.
• When she doesn’t get invited to the party.
• When he says his life sucks.
• When she believes she is stupid.
• When he doesn’t make the team.
• When she comes in last place.

It hurts you to see your child suffer, because you remember feeling that way once. You had hoped to save them from those painful childhood moments by inviting all the kids to her party, buying him cool clothes, making her play soccer, making him try guitar, getting her cool toys, the cutest dog, and more.

The toughest thing about parenting is realizing you can’t save them. No matter how much you love them and think they are perfect, they will one day be the odd boy or girl out. They will feel pain just like you did once a long time ago.

And then when they are a mom or a dad, thinking life is wonderful because they have such beautiful, amazing children, there will be a day when they see their child standing alone on the sidelines.

You just have to tell yourself that it will be okay and give him extra love until the next day, when he wakes up happy again because you love him, she realizes how smart she is, he discovers his talent, she wins the prize, he makes a new friend.

Learning Universal Kindness from My Friends

A few weeks ago, two friends of mine were talking about how on the way home from a restaurant, they will often stop to give their doggie bag to someone begging for money. They even allow their young children to be the ones to hand the food to the person in need.

The conversation has bothered me since.

About a year ago, my son asked me why I never stop to give anyone anything. “They need it,” he said then. “His sign said anything helps!”

I told my friends how terrible that made me feel. I also told them what I said to my son.

I grew up in Washington, D.C., and in eighth grade, our school participated in a program to learn about the city. We were each assigned a topic, and though I do not recall them all, mine was housing. It was an eye-opening experience to learn about low-income housing and to explore parts of the city I had never seen. As we walked through D.C., one of the lessons of the city administrators and teachers was never to give money to someone begging for it. It wasn’t safe.

We also did community service. By the time I was done with high school, I had served food in soup kitchens, participated in numerous drives, performed scenes from “Annie Get Your Gun” in a retirement home, and volunteered Wednesday nights with Special Olympics. Engaging us in community service was part of the school’s mission.

But I also took a self-defense elective in eighth grade. While none of the cool moves stayed with me, something the teacher said stuck, probably because it was a repetition of what I’d already heard in the City Program. “You should never give money to someone begging.” He said that we were not trained to identify someone on narcotics. We had no way of knowing whether this person was decent or planning to rob or hurt us. He said we had no idea what the person would do with the money.

Which is why my friends give their doggie bags instead. Or drop off full Easter baskets for the kids who stay at a neighboring shelter. Or keep a collection of toiletries for their next run.

Still, the thought of letting my kids get close to someone begging scares me. And when I admitted that to my friends, at least one seemed to momentarily reassess her acts of generosity.

And that’s what keeps nagging at me.

I admire both women because they are more generous than I am. I respect them because it is their nature to trust and to give without having to sign up, join, bring along friends or receive recognition. Sometimes their acts are large, sometimes very small like handing a hungry man their doggie bag. What stands out is that it is a constant in their lives.

My friend has said that she is driven by the idea that one should be universally kind.

I want to keep my children safe. But I also want them to learn the importance of giving to those in need and that lesson of universal kindness that she has so successfully passed along to her daughter. For now, while they are young, we sometimes talk about global issues related to poverty, they make loans on online giving sites, and they participate in philanthropic projects at school. And my way to give is through more formal, behind-the-scenes, organized routes.

The problem is, I do not think you can be universally kind if you are also afraid. And I can still hear my son’s “You never give anything to anybody!” It is not true, but it is his perception.

I am going to South Africa next week, where another friend works with orphans and vulnerable children. I am looking forward to seeing her at work. I am eager to meet the kids she talks about. I know I will see housing and neighborhoods in much worse shape than anything I saw in eighth grade in Washington, D.C. My son wants to go too. But as someone said to me yesterday, I need to know that I can be strong in the midst of all I witness before I pass it along to him.

I wish I were more like my friends.