I essentially raised the babies with my girlfriends during those years. Our childrearing environments included Chick-Fil-A, Barnes and Noble, the local pool, all of our living rooms/kitchens/nurseries/bathtubs, and every park in the greater Austin area. We fed, disciplined, diapered, rocked, and pool-rescued each other’s kids with regularity. One memorable concern was a recurring conversation:
You guys, what about when all these sweet babies become teenagers?? What will we do?? They will become mutant rebels! They will hate us and us them!
May I discuss with you Parenting Teens now that I actually am?
Teenagers are my jam.
The weird thing is, those tiny sweet precious littles you are raising? The teens are the same people, just bigger. That humor? Same. That personality? Same. Those tendencies and leanings and giftings? Same. Your quirky 6-year-old who loves science and animal husbandry? Same, he just gets bigger with a lower voice.
Stop imagining that aliens will take over your darling preschooler at age 13. Your sweet boy will get to age 13 one day at a time. There is no abrupt moment where he ceases being the boy you raised and becomes some adolescent you don’t recognize. The strangest thing is that he is looking you in the eye and talking about armpit hair and course electives. This boy will still lie in your lap while you run your fingers through his hair and remember the day he was born. He is still your baby.
The time lapse between these two pics was approximately four seconds.
Parenting teens is pretty much the best Mom gig yet. They are funny and smart and you see glimpses of their adult selves. They are beginning to funnel into their gifts and passions, and you feel the most absurd pride about who they are becoming right in front of your eyes.
And THE HUMOR. If you know one ounce about me, you know that I value humor over, say, integrity and honor. So when my sophomore plops on the couch, sticks one of his ear buds into my ear (the other one in his) and plays funny Youtube videos for us to watch together? Well, THE WORLD CAN END NOW BECAUSE I AM NOW IN POSSESSION OF ALL THE HAPPINESS. You haven’t laughed until you laugh with your teen over shared humor. When you can share Will Ferrell? What else is there? Die happy.
Did I mention their friends? Because you will weirdly love their friends. They bring a concentrated level of grossness and drama and hunger into your house, and YOU LOVE IT. You love the way they tease each other and act sweetly towards your younger kids. You love the way they praise your cooking, even when you feed them weird things like sweet potato and black bean quesadillas. You love their big, awkward bodies sprawled on your couches, spewing the nonsense they read on iFunny or Instagram. They let you take their pictures and offer advice and scold them even as your own teenagers are begging you with their eyes to knock it off.
It seems completely unfair that right about the time your kids become the most awesome, they fly the coop. Why can’t 5th graders go to college and come back in 9th grade?? I could absolutely live without many, many, many middle school days. But high school? SWOON.
Parents, spend all the preschool, elementary, and early middle school years developing love and trust and transparency with your kids. Every conversation is on the table. Not one single topic is off limits. Laugh with them. Be genuine. Say you’re sorry when you should be. Listen to their dreams and feelings and ideas and thoughts when it is the least convenient. Those moments will come with regularity unless they are squashed; drink them in with relish and you will ensure that they continue. If you are safe now, you will be safe later.
I BIRTHED YOU AND I WILL KISS YOU IF I WANT TO.
Get super, super interested in what your children are interested in. Invest in their talents. When our 13-year-old developed a sincere interest and gift toward photography and asked for a CRAZY EXPENSIVE CAMERA for Christmas, we discussed this with our film crew, explaining why we were NOT going to buy it for her, and our cameraman, Kevin, who makes an entire living as a photographer said, “If your kid was super talented at the guitar, would you buy her a reputable guitar and lessons? YOU WOULD. So why not invest in your daughter’s gift? My mom bought my first camcorder when I was 10 and here I am.” For the love. We followed his advice and our daughter brought her fancy new camera to Ethiopia two months later and took this:
This is tough for me, but work really hard to not control everything. This is super important. Your bigs NEED to develop independence. Let them bring their problems to you without obeying the immediate instinct to solve it. Ask good questions. Lead the witness. If they think you are only capable of “fixing it,” the well of communication will run dry, because their hearts are chasing adulthood and they need to know you respect that. Be a listener, a gentle guide, a confident parent willing to let their child blow it for the prize of maturity.
There is a super high chance your teen will ENORMOUSLY SELF-DESTRUCT. Need I remind you of our adolescence? They will lie, cheat, rebel, succumb, resist, disobey. They will do this, because they are no different than EVERY GENERATION THAT EVER PRECEDED THEM. But that is not the end of their story. It wasn’t the end of ours (thank you, Jesus) and their best years are ahead of them too. If they wobble, stick with those wonky kids. They will remember how their parents remained steady until they course corrected.
Most of all? Enjoy those crazy teens. These are magical, frustrating, insane, hilarious years. This season is so very short. It peaks and crests in minutes. No sooner do they get their first girlfriend then they are off to college. Parental anxiety is a waste of time. It will all be okay. These children are (mostly) a delight. And when they aren’t? Just wait awhile. They’ll come back.
That beautiful 3-year-old you’re tucking into bed? Blink, and you’ll be sending him to Driver’s Ed. I swear to the heavens.
We will probably regret all the years we wasted in fear and anxiety and control, but we will never regret spending those years in delight and joy. We have these children for around 18 years of THEIR ENTIRE LIVES. Let’s send them into the adult world at the height of our pleasure in them, grateful for the beautiful, funny, smart, interesting, special, precious children that God entrusted us with for this first short phase of their whole existence.
Moms of littles? Stop being afraid. Those babies you love now? You will love them even more fiercely in ten years. They will become the young adults you are raising them to be. And you will love them with the ferocity of a thousand splendid suns. And they will make you laugh and cry and shake your head and thank our good God that he trusted you with these extraordinary young people, and all that parenting in those early years turned into incredible teens that you don't just love...you like.
And don’t forget: In a few years, they will bring us grandbabies.
THAT WE DON’T HAVE TO RAISE.
Amen and hallelujah.
And every single time we go out to eat, Remy orders chicken and French fries.
This child eats peppery food with the heat of a thousand suns at home. She eats onions, peppers, garlic, curry, broccoli, fennel, quinoa, roasted red peppers, salmon. She gobbles it up like a skinny little carnivore. At a restaurant? Chicken and fries. They were some of the first American foods she was able to stomach, and her psyche has snagged on them. She can pull no other option out of her culinary satchel when forced to make her own decision.
She just goes back to the same predictable flavor.
I get this on a very human level. Sometimes I just want more of the same. I want the same thinkers, the same cacophony, the same groupthink. I assemble and invite a niche brand of religion, worldview, moral outrage, and theology into my ears. I like what I like and I like other people to like the same things.
I watch this with regularity in the weird online world where niche tribes have formed, creating something of a group identity. An issue comes up, the tribe gathers and formulates, then the responses start flying with predictable homogeny. The group machine feeds the outrage or dissidence or full throttle approval or cynicism, and people go public with cemented opinions formed back in the echo chamber without any tempering from different sources.
It’s tricky, because in so many ways, our niche tribes are life-giving and meaningful, as they should be. They offer likeminded community and a place to belong. These are wonderful outcomes in a noisy, lonely world.
But when we invite no other flavors into the mix, the chicken and fries has a downside. When the same views are bandied around the group endlessly, it causes ideas to seize when they should remain fluid. It inadvertently (or advertently) silences opposing or even just differing perspectives, assuring each other that we are right and they are wrong; the echo chamber has spoken. Ironically, opposing tribes operate the exact same way and come to the exact same conclusions; they simply swap the winner and loser blanks.
I know this is my tendency. I recognize my instinct to reach for a familiar flavor to affirm my own ideals. So I have some best practices to save me from myself and maybe they will be helpful for you. Let’s break it down into two categories:
An issue hit the news, a relationship hit the skids, that group or person said or did something offensive, our feelings were hurt. These are the moments we most want our chicken and fries. If there is to be a right and wrong conclusion, we want our people to assure us that we are right. We might even want to bolster some group outrage, because the only thing better than being right is being mad about it, and the only thing better than being mad about it is being mad with a bunch of people. Of course, the group outrage is built on carefully selected messaging from the Wounded One, but this is not the moment to bother with trivia; there is anger to fuel.
- Wait one day before you do or say anything at all. I’ve mentioned this personal policy before, and it cannot be overstated. In probably 8 out of 10 cases, the shock or anger or confusion recedes by the next day, and I am able to reassess the situation with clearer eyes. I see nuance I blew past the day before. I can operate out of the thinking part of my brain instead of the fight-or-flight part. It almost never feels as bad as I thought. Assembling the battalion and staging a war in those first 24 hours is the worst decision ever. Regret is virtually inevitable.
- If possible, go directly to the source before activating the troops. So often, misunderstanding or misinformation is the culprit. A simple phone call could clear it up or at least take the sting out. Especially for people we love or trust or respect; we should absolutely extend the benefit of the doubt and give them the courtesy of an honest, first-touch conversation. But even if the offense is severe, spiritual maturity requires direct communication; this is how adults behave.
- Reach for a different flavor. Discuss this with someone outside of your group. Find someone trustworthy who operates in a totally diverse space. Different perspectives are famously difficult to perceive on our own. Ask questions, try to get to the heart of it all. Prioritize understanding over defending.
- Talk to someone who is in a similar position or place as the offender; pull from his tribe. When the World Vision crisis spiked, my first phone call was to Chris Marlow because he also leads a Christian international nonprofit using a sponsorship model. I said, “Unpack this for me from a leadership standpoint. What are all the factors I don’t understand?” Chris leant me some perspective that I absolutely 100% would not have grasped on my own.
- Talk to someone who is older and wiser than you. Every year I get older, I become less of an ass. I will be a wonderful counselor in twenty years, for the love. We need mentors who know the value of compromise, humility, and compassion. The fervor of youth is a double-edged sword; it can be a mighty tool for the kingdom, but it can also wound and slice and destroy. Wisdom seeks out wisdom, not just affirmation. Older believers? Please mentor us. We need you.
Outside of Conflict
These practices will provide the scaffolding for all the measures listed above. If we consistently move toward a wider circle, it will feel more natural to deviate from our chicken and fries in conflict.
- In general, nurture some friendships that are way outside of your normal parameters. Someone from across the pond, across party lines, across town, across ethnicities, across ideologies, across age groups. This requires effort and time, but it will make you a more gentle, more informed human. I love my niche tribe, but there is more to humanity than us. I have a deep and varied friend roster, and I cannot even measure how much they’ve changed me. The diversity of ideas, experiences, and perspectives they have brought into my worldview has absolutely altered my trajectory. If all your friends are basically the same, you don’t even know what you don’t know. Southern Baptist pastor? Go make friends with a gay atheist. Then shut your mouth and do a lot of listening. Now we’re getting somewhere.
- Connect your different friends with each other. I have several “groups,” and it is easy to formulate a personality for each one and keep them separate, but it is more fun to throw them all in a bowl and stir. My mix and match policy has spun off whole new friendships. This creates stronger communities that become more likely to expand, include, risk, invite. (This is how our Supper Club started. My friend Jamie was like, “I have these three couple friends that don’t know each other, but I know we’d gel. Do yall want to start a monthly thing?” And miraculously we all said yes and now we are on our third year. Best mix and match ever.)
- Work on humility. I don’t know how to help us all with this, but all this is for crap if we don’t figure out how to be humble friends, humble listeners, humble learners. Arrogance is the culprit to so much destruction. We are not always right. And even when we are, we don’t need to act a fool. The longer I live, I crave humility in people almost more than any other trait – in my friends, in my leaders. I am my worst self in the absence of humility. The higher I place God, the easier it is to locate my own station. When He reigns, I am free to just be a forgiven sinner who doesn’t always have to be right or perfectly understood or popular. When I reign, I have much to defend and protect, because how else am I going to stay on top? With God solidly in charge and honored, I am liberated to just be an ordinary girl who loves Jesus and loves people.
Maybe it’s a good time to take a good look at your tribe, lovely as it may be. Is it pretty homogenous? Is there any diversity? Does it sometimes feel like an echo chamber with the same ideas, same grievances, same perspectives, same future? Take a risk. Get out there. Open yourself up to different. Be someone else’s different. You’ll always love your chicken and fries (who doesn’t??), but you just might discover that you also love tikka masala with raita.
Thank you for understanding and indulging my near constant references.
Perhaps I’ve made my feelings about Noonday Collection clear, yes? Like how you’ve seen me wearing their jewelry in approximately all the pictures that exist of me. And how my friend Jessica has developed the most amazing social enterprise in which vulnerable women in nine different countries make beautiful, and I do mean beautiful jewelry and bags and accessories, creating sustainable income and transforming their families and communities. And how Noonday also creates amazing job opportunities for the Ambassadors here who get to tell the story.
Women here for women everywhere.
And also ALL THE PRETTY.
So guess what? This summer, we're fusing fashion and justice as Noonday Collection partners with International Justice Mission for the #StyleForJustice Story Team Trip to Rwanda.
Guess who is going?
"How could she possibly be cooler?" asked no one.
But guess who else might be going?
Want to join us in Rwanda on an ALL EXPENSE PAID trip as we #StyleForJustice? We are offering the opportunity to include someone we may not yet know to come with us! Tell us why YOU want to join us in winning people's hearts to chase a global vision of economic empowerment and justice, and you could win a spot on our team!
You’ll have to enter and rally your social community to vote for you every day until the contest closes. Ultimately, the person who is able to harness her community and convince them to support her in going will win. We believe this person will end up being a powerful advocate that can then bring her community along with her!
Everything you need to enter is at this site. You have until May 28th to enter and vote! And don't worry, we want as many people to advocate with us as possible, so we'll be giving away a $100 Noonday gift card and a signed copy of IJM Founder Gary Haugen's latest book, The Locust Effect to 10 lucky entrants, chosen at random.
Isn't this the most exciting thing you've ever heard???? YOU COULD COME TO RWANDA WITH US AND MEET THE NOONDAY ARTISANS AND FALL MADLY IN LOVE! We've all been dying to tell you. My fellow storytellers and I are thrilled beyond words. We hope you'll follow our trip and meet the Rwandan women and see all the beauty and goodness and sisterhood that is Noonday Collection, whether you watch from home or snag that one amazing spot on our trip. Here is a little message from the team:
Channeling my dog Randy Jackson, WHO IS IN IT TO WIN IT???? Rally your troops! Win your spot! We cheering you on and cannot WAIT to find out who is coming with us!
Stipend: zero dollars.
I wish I could skip into your classrooms and make it rain cash money, travel vouchers, solid gold trophies, and confetti made out of the STAAR test you just endured. Since I can’t actually go all Oprah on you, I’ve made a Wish List of all the things you deserve:
Let’s talk salary. As I said to you last year: “I’ve calculated your earnings by adding your classroom hours, pre- and post-school hours, conferences and phone calls, weekend work, after-hours grading, professional development requirements, lesson planning, team meetings, extracurricular clubs and teams, parent correspondence, district level seminars, and material preparation, and I believe you make approximately 19 cents an hour.”
My wish for you includes basic figuring, reasonable standards, and some simple calculations. I’ve done the math, and teachers should make a minimum of $438,932 a year. This is basic economical science. My spreadsheets tell me that educating an entire generation is among the most important work on earth, and you should make more money than the shot girl at a bar. (She officially makes more than you, but please don’t leave our children to start dealing in jello shots. We will give you all the Chili’s gift cards you can handle.)
I wish for you a better way to evaluate your effectiveness in the classroom than these blasted standardized tests. Obviously, tests created by non-classroom people and legislators are going to nail appropriate benchmarks for the students they don’t teach (sarcasm font), but I can’t help but think you could improve these measuring sticks while in a coma underwater. I wish your pay grade and job security did not depend on a room of nervous children mastering a test that doesn’t necessarily indicate achievement, but rather, tends to be an accurate indicator of the income of the student's parents and his fortunate (or unfortunate) placement in the “norm,” because heaven help the ESL kids, those with special needs, the underresourced, the at-risk, the creatives, and the divergent learners.
I wish you were judged on your amazing creativity, and how that one day, after endless hours of personal attention, a lightbulb clicked over your student’s head and he got it and you gave up a whooping cheer. I wish newspapers skipped publishing your STAAR scores and rather covered that incredible week you engineered an entire city economy for your second graders complete with civic jobs, currency, stations, and budgeting activities. If only you were evaluated on what you do best and what actually matters: teaching kids to love learning, to love books and authors and words, to love numbers, to embrace science, to discover history, to create art, to think critically and practice good citizenship and leadership and resourcefulness and determination. Because THAT is your crowning achievement. We know this, Teachers. We parents understand you hate those multiple-choice scantrons too, but legislators need these measures for their campaigns and who else is going to fund the $1.7 billion testing industry? What are we supposed to do, divert that money to teachers’ salaries?? Now you’re just being silly.
We see you. We see the incredible work you do and most of us couldn’t care less about those test scores. We are standing over here with Chili’s gift cards doing the slow clap, applauding your innovation and dedication. You are amazing at the Real Stuff and we know it.
I wish for you fancy, all-expense trip paid vacations this summer, which you and I know is not “three months off” like the dumb-dumbs say, because by the time you complete all end of the year paperwork, grading, and classroom organization, attend all summer professional development requirements (often voluntary because you WIN THE UNIVERSE), then begin preparing for the start of a new year, your “three months off” looks more like 41 days. So I wish I could whisk you to France and the beach and the mountains and California and cruise ships and Spain where there are no students but lots and lots of bread products and cheese.
I wish you could be reimbursed even half of what you spend on your classroom. I don’t see the shot girl buying Tequila out of her own pocket, amiright?
Teachers, I wish more parents understood that their Precious Child probably isn’t an innocent victim of your unresolved daddy issues and rage disorder. She is in detention for an actual reason, Mom. Kaitlyn-Grace needs to do her homework and close her sassy mouth. Those tears are manufactured. Kaitlyn-Grace should join theater.
Elementary Teachers, I wish you the grace of Jesus and the patience of Job on rainy days. There is not enough Jenga on earth to substitute for outside recess. May God shine upon you. With actual sun. So these children may return after recess smelling like gym socks.
I wish all your committee meetings, grade-level planning sessions, and school-wide in-services could be boiled down to actual productive minutes, taking your yearly attendance from approximately 795 hours to more like 12. Bless. Good thing Facebook is right there on your phone. God speed.
I wish zero teachers had to instruct all day then go home and oversee their own kids’ homework. That is just asking too much. Let’s call a teacher managing her kid’s science fair project at 7:30pm what it is: a tragedy and impending meltdown. Stop it, universe. She’s done enough.
I wish you could hear all the good things our kids say about you at home. They are singing your song ‘round these parts. We know every funny story you’ve ever told, every interesting teaching approach, every good and loving thing you’ve ever said, and every memorable moment you’ve created. My children think you know everything and we know nothing. If it comes out of your mouth, it is the gospel truth. Please tell our kids to get a job this summer.
I wish you knew how much we love and appreciate you. You have an incredible legacy in the lives of our kids, and they will still be talking about you 30 years from now. When you cheer them on and go the extra 45 miles and pour your lives out for other people’s children, we cannot possibly thank you enough. You are literally helping to raise the entire next generation. What could be more important?
So we wave our Chili’s gift cards over here, proclaiming that TEACHERS ARE INVALUABLE AND WE OWE YOU A DEBT OF GRATITUDE WE CAN NEVER PAY. Thank you, Teachers. Thank you, thank you, thank you. A hundred cheers and all our love. You matter so much.
Please have a Quesadilla Explosion Salad with a side of Chicken Crispers on us.
But inevitably, ads slip through. Sometimes we just cannot wait and we must watch a live show and suffer through the commercials. Clearly, these are the dark struggles of life. (Don’t even get me started on the limited amount of Pandora skips. It’s like the universe hates us. WHY GOD???)
Now I’m just going to make this observation: most ads are for morons. More specifically, only fools are going to bite these dangled carrots. Really? Your mousse product will not only battle this Texas humidity and turn me into a hair model but will also make people laugh hysterically at my wit? Who knew I was that funny? And look at all these young, good-looking friends my new hair attracted! Let’s run through a field together laughing hilariously over our shoulders at one another while our hair bounces and shines!
I have some information to pass on to advertisers. I am here to help you. I realize that sometimes when you’re locked away in your labs, you can forget about us, regular consumers who live in the real world, but I’m here to remedy that. We would like you to know that our brains are actually functional, and furthermore, we have a decent grasp of the English language, including words that you’ve made up that aren’t actually a thing. I’d like to save you some time by offering up the following marketing tactics that don’t work on us.
Yes, a good deal of us are getting older and some (ahem) are turning 40 this summer and we don’t care to go gently into that good night. I know. Fine. True. You’re onto us. However, when you peddle your products with made up words like “collagen modules” and “liposome spheres,” you make us have angry feelings. When you tell me that your “synthesized skin-identical ceramides will visibly turn back the hands of time on skin damage,” I would like to know if you were actually there in my teens and 20’s when I put oil on my face and refused to wear sunglasses so as not to get an irregular
I realize you also have ideas about correcting my “lipid layers” (a poetic rebranding of “fat”…well done), but the promises of “radiance and luminosity” sound rather farfetched. I am already fairly luminous because I live in Texas and for about eight months of every year, I enjoy a healthy sheen of sweat on my “epidermis,” but thanks anyway. Please choose adjectives that I actually want to resemble. (And also decide if we want to be “radiant” with your one product or “matte” with your other one. Pick a lane, Cover Girl.)
Another thing. Regarding your celebrity endorsers: The day that Jennifer Lopez actually styles her hair with Loreal EverSleek and Julia Roberts loads up her eyelashes with Maybelline is the day that magazines stop casting 22-year-old models in anti-aging ads (“The only thing that will help this college student fight the evils of aging more than our expensive cream is her PHYSICAL AND BIOLOGICAL YOUTH!”). This is horse-crappery.
Advertisers, we don’t believe for one second of one minute that these wealthy, famous women who actually travel with aestheticians and masseuses on their permanent payroll are fetching their beauty products from Walgreens. We know that Sarah Jessica Parker did not color her hair with Garnier Nutrisse Natural Shades #60 Light Natural Brown. We would rather you just said, “Gwyneth Paltrow doesn’t actually use our lip gloss, but we’ve included a picture of her in our advertisement because she wants you to know that she thinks fondly of you while she herself has her lips injected with the actual blood pigment of fairy babies.”
Listen, we would prefer you just talked real to us. We might actually believe you if you said, “This product will neither enhance your chakras nor transform all of your troubled relationships, but it might mostly remove the hard water stains in your bathtub. That’s about the most we can do here.” Super. Even better if you cast a tired-looking mom with dirty hair and torn yoga pants scrubbing the tub with an expression that makes sense for the task rather than a coifed lady in ironed linen capri pants smiling at her bathtub like this is the most fascinating moment of her day. I have never one time in my life been delighted while scrubbing my shower. I hope this makes sense to you.
Inversely, Creators of As-Seen-On-TV Products, you can probably tamp down the utter defeat your actors experience when struggling through ordinary tasks like using the remote control with their arms trapped under an unwieldy blanket (#struggle) or slicing a tomato. I’m not sure these challenges are incapacitating an entire generation like your market researchers have led you to believe. “Chopping vegetables the old way” doesn’t actually “take forever,” and I’m not sure “eliminating one of cooking's most frustrating tasks with the innovative EZ Egg Cracker” has its finger on the pulse of the average cook’s ability to, well, crack an egg on the side of the bowl without a nervous breakdown. I’m just saying your ads are fairly high on drama and low on actual felt needs.
Maybe the problem could be solved if the As-Seen-On-TV people just market to the celebrity endorsers and skip us altogether, because they have real troubles that need addressed. Why, just recently Gwyneth lamented the age-old frustration with Parisian concierges: “When you go to Paris and your concierge sends you to some restaurant because they get a kickback, it’s like, ‘No. Where should I really be? Where is the great bar with organic wine? Where do I get a bikini wax in Paris?’”
In the meantime, I have one inch of gray, lovely readers, so I’m off to color my hair with a boxed dye, which I know will have stunning and otherworldly results, because Cameron Diaz uses the exact same brand.
What advertising tactic gets your goat? Because I didn't even mention pharmaceutical ads which is A WHOLE THING.