Monthly Archives: February 2016

Ch 8, Post 3 A New Way of Talking with My Teen

Relaxing Parental Control

The next Friday, when Sharon asked to stay out late after the basketball game, instead of immediately saying “No”, I said, “Well, let’s talk about that.” We did talk, and we reached a compromise. That Saturday morning, she was tired from staying out with her friends and I was tired from sitting up writing until she got home. We were equally irritable.

“I told you I don’t want anything but juice and toast for breakfast!”

“Well, excuse me!  I guess I got your order mixed up with someone else’s!”

“And why do we have to have such a small, wobbly table to eat on?”

Suddenly, I remembered the little speech I’d prepared for the next time we both got snippy.

“Sharon, we’re both a little tired right now, so let’s just be quiet, including me, until we feel better. Remember our problem is the problem, not each other. And our problem right now is this little kitchen and little, wobbly table.”

Our tiny table was a problem (picture from Dreamstime)
Our tiny table was a problem (picture from Dreamstime)

This little speech I repeated countless times in the ensuing teen years, sometimes out loud, many times silently, with one or the other of our problems plugged as the subject:  the lack of money, the lack of a car for Sharon, or the lack of privacy and space in the apartment.

Investing in My Daughter When She Needed It Most

Besides investing my emotional energy in maintaining our relationship, I determined to invest monetarily as well. I made it an irregularly regular habit to surprise her with a pizza date or a trip to the mall for the stone-washed jeans, hemp sandals, or silver anklet I knew her friends had but that she hadn’t even mentioned.

She would be a teenager only once, and she had already spent so much of that tumultuous time of her life working too hard and doing without too much.  I knew she cherished each little unexpected pleasure as much as she had those two unexpected mechanical pencils the Christmas she was ten.

She still appreciated the little things
She still appreciated the little things

Ch 8, Post 2 My Parenting Style Had to Change – Radically

The Old Way of Parenting No Longer Worked

The next day after work, I went to the library and then a book store.  At home, I hid the stack of books about teenagers as carefully as I hid her Christmas presents.  Over the next few days after she was in bed or otherwise absent from the house, I pulled them out and studied them as if I had an eighth grade final in algebra.


Skimming two or three of them helped me see that adolescence had simply snuck up on us.  It made me feel better to know that what we had been experiencing was at least normal, even if a little frightening.  It was hard to believe my little girl, my precious little baby, was a full-blown teenager but the descriptions in those books were as clear as the advice they gave.

I had to give her more freedom, in all areas of her life in general, in line with her maturity level. I had to radically change how I was communicating with her with respect to what I said, how I said it, and why I said it.  [ “How to Talk So Your Teenager Will Listen”by Paul Swets saved our relationship.  Here is a link to that precious, precious book.

I frowned so hard it hurt when I read the list of communication errors parents of teens typically make. I saw myself in every item.

“And I was so proud of having a close relationship with her, of being sure I knew what was going on, daily, in her little world and her little heart!”

 I Wanted My Little Girl To Stay Little

It hurt to accept that my little girl was growing up
It hurt to accept that my little girl was growing up

There it was again. I had to stop thinking of her as a little child, as my child. I had to start thinking of her as a soon-to-be adult. If I didn’t, it would show in my words, my tone of voice, and my face. Over and over again I read the lists of right attitudes and comments expressing those attitudes. I made a cheat sheet and tucked it inside a kitchen cabinet out of sight.

And, of course, I prayed, long and earnestly, for self-control and wisdom, especially wisdom, about the job issue and how to help her cope with our finances.  My efforts paid off, almost immediately.




Ch 8, Post 1 My New Frontier: Parenting an Adolescent

Chapter Eight-  Torment

            Anger is like . . .  Well, how can you really describe anger?  It comes in so many forms, from mild irritation to agitated frustration to towering, all-consuming rage. Each person experiences, and expresses, each of those forms in a manner consistent with personality, role in the situation, and, in the case of a teenage girl and her mother, state of hormone imbalance and reserve of parental patience respectively.

Irrespective of how it’s defined or individually experienced, anger involves change, change that has happened, soon will happen, or that needs to happen.        there is 32 shut door free cliparts all used for free

One night early that winter, what had become a typical shouting match between teen and parent ended, just as typically, with a slammed bedroom door and Sharon’s angst-soothing loud music. I stood in our little front room, the air still bristling with tension, and thought, with no small amount of irritation, at the natural order of things, the way growing up had to be, how adolescence had changed Sharon, and, of course, changed our relationship.

The physical changes, of course, were coming one after another, as were the mental and emotional changes, exactly as they were supposed to.

However, my cherished little girl was also becoming sensitive to the pressure to conform, to dress, talk, look, and act like her peers and to do and have the same things.  That’s where the friction was.

That summer, she’d starting working in a bookstore, 20 hours a week.  She had completed all the work my boss had for her to do on Saturdays about that time. And she wanted more money.

Fortunately, her new job had increased her weekly earnings at the same time her new adolescent status had increased her desire for what those earnings could buy. Of course, she wanted things like mascara and eye shadow, magazines to read, movies to see, and pizza to eat with friends, all of which I could not buy for her.

Things Single Parents Cannot Provide

When school started, though, her paychecks had taken a nosedive.  Now she wanted to work three afternoons a week as well as Saturdays in a fast food franchise.  We’d had several quite warm discussions, but none so intense or loud as tonight. Our positions were entrenched.  It was all-out war.

money_3 clipart - money_3 clip art

“I am old enough to have a regular job now!  I can still get my homework done and get enough sleep.  IF I don’t start working now, I”ll never be able to save for a car. You can’t buy me one.  What else am I supposed to do?”

“I don’t know,” I’d replied, my voice thick with threatening tears.  “But you are not old enough to work like an adult, and you’re not going to!”

How could I have gotten so angry and yelled so loudly when I loved her so much?  I slumped on the sagging blue plaid love seat, elbows on my knees, head in my hands, and closed my eyes.  I prayed and cried at the same time, quietly so she would not hear

CH 7, Post 8 A Birthday Too Sweet For Words, Part 2 of 2

Overwhelmed Beyond Words by Love

By the time I finished unwrapping, I was losing the battle to hold back tears. Sharon had bought so many presents for my birthday.  I was overwhelmed beyond words

The blue teakettle, to replace the one that had long ago lost its whistle and had long ago acquired its own distinct pattern of mineral deposits, had cost at least 10 dollars.  The dish drainer, its predecessor equally as old but showing its age even more than the teakettle, had cost about the same and so had the ten packs of notebook paper I used for my writing.

The tea kettle was perfect and such a thoughtful gift
The tea kettle was perfect and such a thoughtful gift

It was not only the cost, that had come from three long Saturdays of toil in my boss’ garage and yard, that made the presents unbearably special.  Sharon had lugged everything home on foot.  From our apartment, it was well over a mile to the department store.

“I had to make two trips, because the paper was heavy, but I didn’t mind, and the lady in the store was real nice.  She kept the drainer and teakettle under her counter until I got back, and now you have paper for a whole year.”

I bit my lip so hard it hurt as I smiled through wet eyes.

“Now, Mommy. Come sit at the table.  e have to have cake and ice-cream, you know.”

“The individual Sara Lee cheesecakes and the gourmet vanilla ice-cream cost her another Saturday,” I thought as I leaned over and patted her hand, no longer the dimpled hand of my little girl and not all that much smaller than mine.

“Thank you again, baby, so so much.  You made this day very, very special.   I appreciate all your hard work and how much you must have thought about everything.  It’s all just totally, absolutely perfect!”

She didn’t blush, but she lowered her head, pressed her lips together tightly, and turned her head to one side.

Nothing ever tasted sweeter, or was harder to swallow, than that strawberry cheesecake and vanilla ice-cream.  I struggled to get it past the lump in my throat and smile at the same time.  I just wanted to hug her forever.  How could she be so loving?  And so generous?  She was so very very young still.

Like “The Gift of the Magi”

Sharon’s generosity reminded me of the timeless tale “The Gift of the Magi”, written by O. Henry (a pen name for William Sydney Porter).   In this classic tender portrayal of a young couple in love, they each sell their most treasured possessions in order to buy the Christmas gift the other is longing for but has not mentioned.  (Here is a link to a delightful black and white video set in the time the story was written.)

Jim, the husband, sells his beloved watch to buy combs for Della’s beautiful hair.  Della cuts her hair so she can buy her husband Jim a watch chain.  Here is a link for the full text of the story.

Loving, totally selfless sacrifice, given from a heart bursting with love – that was my Sharon.  I was so proud of the beauty of her heart!

When I told a friend at work about it, she smiled her grandmotherly smile.

“It’s going to be hard, for both of you, when she gets to be a teenager,” Betty had said. “The two of you are unusually close.”

I’d politely thanked Betty for her concern and promptly disregarded her warning.  She had never been a single mom and she had raised three boys.  What could she possibly know about Sharon and me?

Ch 7, Post 7 A Birthday Too Sweet For Words, Part 1 of 2

More Good Qualities Were Blooming

Another interest Sharon pursued on her own without any urging or subsequent help from me due to my own lack of skill, was cross-stitching.  A school friend, whose mother had taught her, helped her get started with counted cross-stitch and she was soon better at it, and more persistent, than her friend.

She did it all by herself! I marveled at her initiative.
She did it all by herself! I marveled at her initiative.

She completed a large canvas of trees in browns, golds, and yellows and took it to the craft store down the street from the apartment three different times, for the owner to show her how to knit tabs to attach the completed canvas to a dowel rod.  It graced the wall over the television for all the years we lived in that little apartment.  I was more than proud!

A Kind and Generous Heart

Besides her independence, acceptance of responsibility and development of individual interests, what would eventually be her adult personality and habits of heart were budding as well.  How I cherished those signs of sensitivity and depth of feeling and capacity to love!  She had a truly kind, gentle, and generous heart, which she demonstrated on my birthday in late August that year.

She was waiting for me in the recliner when I came home from work and was on her feet before I’d completely opened the door.

“Here, Mommy” she said, taking my purse, my lunch bag, and my tote.

“Come sit here in the recliner.  I’ve got something for you.”

She stepped into the bedroom and came back, holding a big, irregularly-shaped present and singing, “Happy Birthday to you!”   Her eyes danced more than they did when she was the recipient of gifts.

Too many presents!
Too many presents!

“Thank you, baby.  What a big present and what lovely singing!”

“Oh, don’t open it yet, Mommy.  There’s more.”

She returned with a box wrapped in blue paper and a bag.  The bag was obviously heavy. Its two ends were taped-together and topped with a big blue bow, the kind that cost $1.99 each and that hang by a hook, individually, above matching packages of wrapping paper, enclosed in cellophane.

“What a beautiful present!  But you shouldn’t have spent your money. ..”  She had spent long hours working with Major Boon. Every dime had cost her hard work and precious Saturday free time.

Ch 7, Post 6 Those First Blossoms of Maturity . . . So Soon

“Mommy!  We worked outside half the morning, and I learned how to fertilize, and then I helped him repot some of Mrs. Boon’s house plants.  It’s really neat to repot a plant because you have to mix up some crunched up styrofoam like stuff with the dirt and then you have to measure, or guess, how much room the plant will take up and if you guess wrong, you have to take some out or add some more in.  After Major Boon showed me what to do, I was better at getting the plant to fit in the new pot than he was, so I got to finish the rest of the house plants all by myself!”

The Basics of Plant Care . . . Provided by God
The Basics of Plant Care . . . Provided by God

Little by little,week by week, Major Boon showed my excited Sharon everything about taking care of a house and a yard that a father would have.   Not only did I not have a house to tinker on and a yard to putter in, I lacked the knowledge of what to do, as well.   God had so very, very faithfully provided yet again!

Besides the initiative of having a part-time job, another indicator of Sharon’s approaching adolescent independence was her consistent and spontaneous initiative in pursuing her own personal interests.  Not long after she began helping Major Boon with odd jobs, she spent two hours one Sunday afternoon sprawled on the floor, with an advertisement from the Sunday supplement of the newspaper.  She planned which flower seeds and what bulbs to order for the 12 dollars she had saved.  Two weeks later, the seeds and bulbs arrived.

“Come on, Mom.  You can watch while I plant the seeds and bulbs.”

“Wait a minute, let me get my cup of coffee.”

For the next hour, I sat on the stoop and listened to my child teach me some basics about plants.

“Now, the first thing you do is pull the weeds and break up the soil.  I did that last week, remember, so all I have to do now is just turn it over a little.”

I was careful to ask good questions and to smile only when she wasn’t looking.  She sounded so much like a parent teaching a child.  I imagined she was using many of the very words Major Boon had used in explaining the care and nurture of plants to her.

“You want to find a good big stick, or use the edge of the hoe, like this, to make a furrow for the little seeds. . . and then you drop them in, like this. . . and put some dirt on top. . . and pat it down, but not too hard because. . .

             All that summer and well into the fall the few square feet of earth in front of our apartment door and patio fence bore green and blooming evidence of the rightness of her selection and the gardening skill she had learned from my boss on all those Saturdays.  Tall, slender gladiolas grew between the shrubs lining our portion of the sidewalk, pink and white impatiens flourished on both sides of the stoop, and petunias nodded their graceful heads all in a row along the edge of the patio.  My daughter was blooming as beautifully as those flowers – and just as fast!

Blossoms as beautiful as my Sharon . . .proof of her growing competence
Blossoms as beautiful as my Sharon . . .proof of her growing competence

1flowers on fence

Ch 7, Post 5 Adolescence Was Coming

Those Last Years of Tender Innocence

For the next two years, those sweet, sweet years  before the door of her childhood closed forever, this was the pattern of our days and the comforting, predictable rhythm of our life together. Yet, even in the midst of that open, smiling innocence that I so cherished, pre-adolescent qualities and capabilities appeared. Sharon’s new qualities and capabilities appeared to sprout, overnight, one after the other, like so many tender sprouts in a newly-sown plot of rich, fertile soil.

Still Innocent, Unhurt by Our Situation
Still Innocent, Unhurt by Our Situation

The first of those tender sprouts of beginning adolescence was a growing independence coupled with a desire for and pride in assuming adult responsibilities.

She began walking the mile and a quarter home from school, and called me every afternoon as soon as she arrived. Then she got her own after-school snack and did her homework. Violence had not yet become a daily menace back in the 1980s, and although I didn’t like her being a latchkey child, she was one of many.

She also began doing odd jobs on Saturdays for my boss who, fortuitously, lived in the neighborhood abutting our apartment complex. My boss, equally fortuitously, had an endless list of home improvements and home maintenance projects that went much faster with another pair of hands, hands like Sharon’s that, although small and not too strong, were eager to help.

Helping Her Learn to Enjoy Work 

“Mommy!  Today I helped build shelves, sort nails and screws, and sort and stack some paint cans.  Most of them were sort of empty, so they weren’t heavy.  Next week we’re going to weed, water, and prune.  Pruning is when you trim a tree so it’ll grow in thicker.

Learning the Habit of Hard Work
Learning the Habit of Hard Work

Major Boon has a lot of shrubs and trees that need pruning, and you have to use sharp shears, so he’s going to do that part.  But he’s going to show me how and while he does that, I’m going to pull weeds, all by myself, and…”

My kind boss, Major Boon gave me a glowing report every Monday morning of how smart and helpful and responsible Sharon was, a report that, coupled with her enthusiastic briefings to me on Saturday afternoons, drew a clear picture for me of Sharon’s entire morning of work.  Gratefully, I saw that besides the chance to exercise her maturity and independence in having a part-time job, and the blessing of regular, friendly interaction with a good father figure, she was being provided opportunities I could not give her.

“Mommy!  I helped Major Boon start building a table and next week we’re going to finish it and then we’re going to replace the back door where the dog scratched it up and then. .  .”

Ch 7, Post 4 – Carving Out Quality Time Together

Finding Family Time in a Crowded Schedule

Soon though, like relocated houseplants, Sharon and I acclimated and I learned how to stretch the amount and improve the quality of what time I had with her. It required consistent effort but we did it.  We both laid out our clothes and lunch boxes the night before, which eliminated much of the harried sense of the morning; we instituted a fifteen-minute relax-together-time when we arrived home; and I taught her to share in some household chores appropriate for her age and which I had previously done.  These included making the bed, sweeping the floor, and taking out the garbage.

Laying Out Things the Night Before Reduced Morning Stresses
Laying Out Things the Night Before Reduced Morning Stresses

I also took back some of our together time the new job had stolen by giving her as much of the evening hours as possible.  After our relax-together-time when we first arrived home, between six-thirty and seven-thirty, we watched the news, cooked, ate, and cleaned up after supper.With the kitchen and living area both being in the 10 by 18 foot front room, we could talk, without having to raise our voices in the slightest.

She sat enthroned in the recliner, “Like a little princess, I often thought”, while I cooked a mere four feet away.  She reminded me to look me when the news story I was interested in came on, and we discussed what we heard.  I wanted her to develop the habit of being well-informed.

 Making Much of Little

 I relished  answering her questions about endangered pelicans and why bears hibernate and why the gross national product was so-called. At that time, one network gave the news at 6:30, followed by the other two at 7:00, so we had a chance to  talk about how different networks handled the same stories.   The one hour of news, and cooking, eating, and clean-up became one of our best times together each day.

After baths and next-day preparations, we had our hour that was iron-clad fun time for board games, reading together, or watching something special on television. I actually stopped all my chores and gratefully flopped down on the floor on that old blue blanket to watch television or else sat at the card table, playing Battleship, Sorry, or Bingo.  Only homework Sharon hadn’t finished in the afternoon at daycare interfered with that fun hour.

We Played the Thriftiest Board Games
We Played the Thriftiest Board Games

After Sharon was tucked in to bed, I had about an hour, usually less, for odds and ends before a piercing need for rest overtook me and I tucked myself into bed next to her, always grateful for the time I’d had with her.