Why I Let My Daughter Have An Instagram Account

I’m pretty conservative when it comes to my kids. I’m the mom who says no. No to the hot new movie that all the kids are going to see. No to the obnoxious, snarky shows on the Disney channel, no to the more risqué shows geared toward older kids. No to walking up to the school alone. No to riding bikes outside of our neighborhood. No to ride-on motorized toys. No, even, to reading Young Adult books I, myself, authored. No. Not yet.

Given this, imagine my surprise—and my daughter’s—when I said yes to opening an Instagram account.

I still remember how startled I was when I discovered, about eighteen months ago, that many of my daughter’s (4th grade) friends had accounts. When I thought of Instagram, images of selfies instantly came to mind, of bikini clad girls and video clips of kids partying, hundreds, sometimes thousands of followers. No way, I thought. No way am I letting my daughter jump into this cesspool of social media. She’s too young. Too innocent. This isn’t something she needs to be doing.

And my daughter, bless her heart, didn’t even ask. She knew. She knew what the answer would be. No, no, no.

So, one short year later, why did I do it? Why’d I do a complete 180 and let my daughter dive into the world of social media? Basically, it boils down to this:

  1. She’s a good kid. She does what we ask of her. She applies herself at school. She does her homework. She works hard at soccer and softball and choir. She helps out around the house. (She reads her brother bedtime stories!) She’s demonstrated a level of maturity, responsibility, and trust that made us feel not only comfortable that she could manage her own behavior on Instagram, but that she deserved the opportunity to try.
  2. It’s the world she’s going to live in. As much as we may wring our hands about the evils of social media, it’s not going anywhere. It’s the world we live in, the world our kids are growing up in. We can bury our heads in the sand and pretend like it’s not happening, but that only serves to 1) isolate us and 2) leave us woefully ill-equipped for dealing with reality. And I don’t want my daughter ill-equipped. I want her prepared. I want her ready. I want her to know what she’s doing. I want her to understand how to communicate, about actions and consequences, intended or otherwise. And the only way she’s going to learn this is if we allow her to explore the world in which she’s living.
  3. She’s young enough and still likes me enough that we can do this together. Two of the conditions of my daughter’s Instagram account are that it’s open on my phone at all times and that I know the password. This means I’m able to see what’s going on—what she posts and what her friends post. I see the pictures, the comments. I see who sends her Follow Requests (she’s not allowed to accept without running it by me first). We discuss who she might want to Follow. We’ve talked about why it doesn’t make sense to have hundreds of Followers, just for the sake of having Followers. We’ve talked about what kinds of pictures to post, versus those that could hurt someone’s feelings or lead to some other consequence.
  4. It’s an opportunity for her to begin expressing her own individuality. And as much as I may wish my little girl could be my little girl forever, the fact is she’s growing up, and growing into her own person. And it’s really kind of fascinating and cool (and heartwarmingly wonderful) to see her creativity emerge, to see which pictures she chooses to post (lots of our dogs and cats, and, just this week, a pic of her reading 43 on 41 after she had the opportunity to meet former president Bush!). It’s also fun to see some of the pages she’s chosen to follow: CatsofInstagram, GreatPyreneesoftheHour, and Imagine Dragons.
  5. And finally, while we’re sure there’s some forbidden fruit in our future, we don’t want it to be Social Media. We don’t want to turn this into some huge, unattainable holy grail. We don’t want her venturing out there on her own. We don’t want her trying to figure everything out by herself. Far better to stand by her side and teach her, than to shut her down because we’re not ready.

So… how’s it gone?

I’m happy to say it’s gone great. Her introduction to Instagram has been a positive experience for her, and for us as mother/daughter. It’s provided opportunities to talk about real-life situations and scenarios, such as inappropriate behavior or pictures, bullying, foul language, premature sexuality, etc. And as much as I dislike some of the content I’ve seen, I’d rather see and know about it, than to not know what was going on. Because of this, we’re able to talk about things we need to talk about. And they’re not just esoteric conversations anymore. They’re concrete, based upon concrete incidents involving people she knows. She comes to me when she gets new Follow requests, and explains why she thinks she should accept—or not accept. She tells me who she wants to send Follow requests to. She’s shown me several pictures/comments on pictures that bothered her, and she’s complained about a few of her friends who are a little selfie happy. One of them she wanted to unfollow, but before she did so, we talked about possible ramifications.

I still say no. A lot. She still can’t watch Hunger Games or Twilight. She still doesn’t have her own phone number. She still can’t read my Midnight Dragonfly books. She still can’t walk to school by herself. And she still can’t sign up for some of the more dangerous apps, such as Kik and Whisper and SnapChat. But because she’s happy with Instagram, she’s not in any hurry to branch out to other venues.

Now, six months into this new world, this No Mom is glad she said Yes.

14 Things I Wish I’d Known at 21

Last week we were at the beach, and as I was slathering on the sunscreen and shielding myself under this wonderful big umbrella, I couldn’t help but notice all these young women (and quite a few who weren’t so young), applying oil rather than sunscreen, then stretching themselves out to broil under the full blaze of the sun. I remember those days. The oil. The sun. The fabulous tan. (And the blistering sunburns!) Last week, however, I found myself watching those young women and thinking…someday you’re probably going to regret that. That got me thinking about the gift of hindsight, and all those other things I wish I’d figured out way before my fourth or fifth decade of life.

That said, without further ado…my list of things I wish I’d known at 21.

  1. Sunscreen and lotion are your FRIENDS. Truly, totally. Your skin is your skin, and while it’s beautiful and taut and glowing at 21, that will change as you age. It will. Lines appear. Blotches. Shadows. Moles. Freckles. And the texture…it won’t always be taut. Gravity does what gravity does, and someday everything will start drooping down. It just will. And the better care you take care of it while you’re young, the better care IT will take of you as you age. Don’t want a leathery hide? Start that sunscreen and lotion routine early.
  2. The importance of a good filing system. This is a BIG one. Huge. I hate clutter. LOATHE it. I like to have things put up…but for a long time I didn’t have any system other than stashing paperwork and photos and cards, receipts, documents into the closest drawer or box or cabinet. I’ve long said that when my kids venture out on their own, their primary housewarming gift is going to be setting them up with a functional filing system, a nice sturdy filing cabinet with pre-labeled files included.
  3. Saving for a rainy day is actually something you need to do. It sounds so clichéd doesn’t it? One of those things everyone talks about, but when those paychecks start rolling in, it’s so much fun to actually SPEND them. But life can turn on a dime, and it’s vital that you have an emergency fund put aside. Worst case, you don’t ever need it and can jaunt off to Paris someday. Best case, you never find yourself without the ability to buy groceries.
  4. Those pictures you take, that you think you’ll never forget who’s in them or what you were doing? Wrong. Label them. Organize them. Photo books are awesome, but even a (virtual) shoebox works. Your future self will thank you.
  5. Not everything is about you. Shocking, I know. But that big beautiful world we’re in? It doesn’t revolve around you, and so many times, the way people treat you has absolutely nothing to do with you. Realize that. Take a deep breath and keep an eye on the bigger picture.
  6. Read. If you stopped, start again. If you never stopped, keep going. Find something you like, something that interests you. Read fiction. Read non-fiction. Read poetry. Read physical books. Read on your device. Just READ.
  7. A closed mind is a closed door. You think you’ve got it all figured out? Well, guess what? You don’t. There’s a whole big world out there full of fascinating people and customs and ideas. Keep your mind open. You don’t have to agree with everyone, but if you don’t listen, explore…you’ll never know for sure.
  8. Learn self defense. This is another biggie. Learn how to protect yourself, take care of yourself, both physically and emotionally. You can’t count on a knight in shining armor, but you can learn to count on yourself.
  9. As John Green says in The Fault in Our Stars, the world is not a wish-granting factory. I’m sorry. It’s not.Yeah, I wish it was, too. Sometimes. But the only fairy godmother you’ll ever have is yourself, and if you want your wishes to come true, you’ve got to go out and make it happen.
  10. I love you and I’m sorry might just be the five most important words you’ll ever learn. Sometimes they’re hard to say. I know that. Say them anyway. You’ll be better off for it.
  11. What’s on the outside changes; what’s on the inside rarely does. This one has really fascinated me as I’ve gotten older. Sure, I knew the outside would change, but somehow, it can still come as a shock. But the bigger shock is the inside. You are who you are. Your friends are who they are. Your parents, your siblings, they are who they are. And this doesn’t change as you get older. In fact, in many ways you simply become MORE of who you are. Awesome people stay awesome. Jerks stay jerks.
  12. Storms come, and storms go, but they always pass, and the sun always rises. Sometimes it’s so hard to realize this while you’re in one of those storms and your whole world seems to be crashing down around you. It’s so dark and scary and you just want to curl up in a ball and, and, and…I don’t know. But you feel tiny and cold and hopeless. But I’ve learned that tomorrow comes, and tomorrow after that, and no matter how devastating the storm, the sun will rise again, and with it a new day will begin.
  13. No one gets to write your life, except you. Bad chapters always end, and new ones always begin. This one is powerful, the realization that YOU are in charge of your life, and no one else. Don’t like something? Change it. LOVE something…protect it. There is no puppet master, no one forcing you to be miserable. You get to make those decisions. You get to write those chapters. You. No one else…unless you let them.
  14. There’s no substitute for kindness. Truly and honestly. Money, good looks, great clothes, an awesome car, the dream job….they don’t trump kindness. Surround yourself with kindness, kind friends, kind lovers, and practice it yourself. Be kind. Always.

 

One Word to Change A Life

The day after Christmas, I sat down with pencil and paper and all these words started pouring out of me. Quickly I realized I had the guts of a blog, including an awesome title: New Year’s Confession. I still like … Continue reading

A Frog and A Pond

Many moons ago, back before kids and when I still did the 8-to-Whenever corporate thing, I attended a seminar on Emotional Intelligence. I’d been to many workshops over the years, but that one resonated with me on a deeper level, and all these years later, two main messages stick with me.

There was this frog—Fred. Fred was a great little frog, born with all the promise that comes with every new wiggly little tadpole. He spent his early days playing, like most good frogs do, learning the world and testing his limits. But with time Fred began to act differently, and soon it became apparent he was sick. Poor Fred was removed from his pond, taken to a rehabilitation center and cared for 24/7. He was watched closely. He was given every chance to not only survive, but thrive. And he did. With time Fred perked right back up, returning to his happy, healthy frog self. Problem solved, Fred was returned to his pond.

A few days later he was dead.

The problem wasn’t Fred. The problem was the pond. You could remove Fred from the pond over and over, you could fully rehabilitate him, but unless you did something about that icky, stagnant, grungy, polluted pond, poor little Fred never stood a chance.

We live in ponds, too; and our ponds can get pretty polluted, as well. So what do you do? How do you clean your pond?

In the seminar, the presenter talked about thermometers and thermostats. Thermometers reflect the world around them. They tell you what is. Thermostats, however, CHANGE the world around them. If you’re too hot, you turn down the thermostat. If you’re too cold, you turn it up. Thermostats have power.

We have power, too. We can be a thermometer, reflecting the pond around us; or we can be a thermostat, changing the pond. Maybe you can’t change your entire pond. Maybe it’s just your little corner of the pond, where your family lives. But all change has to start somewhere, and as your corner of the pond begins to thrive, the folks in the rest of the pond begin to take notice.

All these years later, that message has stayed with me, and I’ve come to see the simple beauty of its truth. There are some difficult people in this world. We all know them. They don’t act the way we wish we they did. They’re hard to be around. Maybe we’d like to avoid them, but we can’t. They’re family members or work associates, neighbors and friends (because yes, just because someone is difficult doesn’t mean they aren’t loveable!) And one thing I’ve noticed is how easy it is to slip into thermometer mode and treat these people as they treat me. To reflect them. And yet, when I do that, I invariably find myself unhappy, because that’s not who I am. I’ve realized I’m much happier in thermostat mode, acting in a way that’s true to my heart…and hoping that maybe it makes a dent in theirs.  And a lot of times it does.

Be the change you wish to see in this world. This quote attributed to Mahatma Ghandi has long been one of my favorites, but after some fact checking, it seems there’s no evidence he ever said that. He did say this, however:

“If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. … We need not wait to see what others do.”

Different words, same message: Be a thermostat. And then there’s this, which I heard on a commercial the other day, and it stopped me so cold I rewound to hear it again, then physically wrote the words down.

Be the person you want your child to become.

Whoa. That’s powerful, and so much more actionable than being the change for the whole world. Be the change for your child. The thermostat. Be mindful of the example you’re setting. Because they’re watching. And absorbing. Everything. As my daughter nears ten, she has many friends whom we have known since they were babies or toddlers, and it’s stunning (and sometimes funny, sometimes sad) to realize, now, how much these children reflect (thermometer) their parents.  My daughter is so much a mirror of me, the good, the not so good, and all that’s in between.

But here’s the deal. Whereas children start out as thermometers, we’re their thermostats.

If you want your child to be polite, then you must be polite.

If you want them to pay attention, then you need to pay attention. Look at them. Make eye contact. Be in the moment. (It was unbelievably sobering when my son began answering my summons with “hang on!” and I realized that’s what I, all too often, said to him.)

If you want your child to trust, or be honest, or respectful then you must trust, and be honest, respectful.

If you want your child to roll with the punches, then yup, you gotta do some rolling, too.

If you want them to laugh….

To be generous….

To be compassionate…

To love.

Loving is easy for me, but saying what’s in my heart, how I feel, never has been. (Great irony for a writer, right?) There’s an incredible vulnerability to say what’s inside, and I hate the way I stumble when it matters most. Growing up, our family just wasn’t like that. But I have a choice now. I can continue to model what was modeled for me, or I can be a thermostat and make a change for my kids.  I can tell them I love them. I can admit when I screw up. I can tell them I’m sorry.  And hopefully, in doing so, I’m being the person I hope my kids to become…

To be the change I wish to see in this world…

By being a thermostat.

And creating a healthy corner in my pond…

Facilitating happy, healthy, thriving little frogs.

Funny the circles life makes. Never in a million years could I have realized at that long ago afternoon seminar, that all these years later, I’d still thinking about Fred.

A Knock At The Door

I’m in the family room finishing up a cruel and evil exercise video. The kids are running around and I’m late getting dinner going. Another knock. Through the window, I can see the UPS truck outside. I tell my daughter to go get the door; if it’s not the delivery man, it’s one of her friends. It’s that time of day when they run around. Knocks on the door are common.

Another knock. She calls to me it’s some man. Distracted and a little winded from the video, I tell her no, it’s not some man, it’s the delivery man. Not thinking, I pull open the door..and realize she was right. It’s some man. I’ve never seen him before, but instinctively I know he doesn’t belong. He’s thin and all sweaty, unkempt with shaggy hair and dirty baggy clothes. I take all this in, mentally bracing myself as I see the city solicitor permit clipped to his shirt. Nothing, however, prepared me for what happened next.

“Hello, ma’am…” he stutters, as my five year-old-squeezes between my legs to see what’s going on.  “…I’m a two-time convicted felon.”

My mind starts to spin. I’m trying to catch up with what’s going on. I’m standing there at dusk, with a convicted felon at my front door. My husband isn’t only not home, he’s out of town. The big white dog is outside. My kids are gathered around me. All this flashes through my mind as I make eye contact with the UPS man, who tosses a package onto my porch. The man who introduced himself as a convict picks it up and hands it to me…

I don’t normally answer the door to someone I don’t know. Before my daughter was born, I was a 9-5 (or 6 or 7 or beyond) in the office kind of girl. I had no idea what happened in the neighborhood while we were gone. After I started working from home, I quickly discovered just how many people came onto our property during the day. There’s all kinds of solicitors, primarily extermination and landscaping companies. There are folks delivering coupons and other sorts of flyers, such as to wash our windows. There are folks selling frozen meat and (allegedly) homegrown vegetables. There are various religious missionaries. It’s kinda wild. But it didn’t take long for my writer’s imagination to take over, and vulnerability to set in. I’d find myself listening to news reports where the anchor would say “no apparent sign of forced entry,” and I’d think…forced entry? There’s no need for forced entry, not when some unsuspecting person (usually a woman) answers the door. One stiff arm, and boom, that stranger on the other side of the door is suddenly in your house.

That’s when I stopped answering the door.

But the other evening, I answered the door, and the man introduced himself as a convict. He told me he’s made some mistakes, but he’s trying to turn his life around. He and his wife have started making these candle/potpourri holders…

And still my mind spins. Why is he telling me this? Is he sincere? Is this some kind of penance, where he wants to atone for mistakes? Or is it more sinister than that? Is he trying to scare me into doing exactly what he wants me to do? Is he secretly casing the house, trying to figure out if he should come back under the cover of darkness?

All I can think about is winding this encounter down. I want him gone, off my property. So when he holds up the candle holder–it’s really quite primitive–I ask him how much. When he says $15, I blurt out…sure.

And that’s when everything changed, when something washed over him: surprise, relief, gratitude…they were all there, and as I closed (and locked) the door to go get the money, the hardness inside me softened, and when I opened the door and his eyes again met mine, I found myself smiling. He said something about his children. I don’t remember what. I took the candle holder and watched him walk back to his car with a bit of a spring in his step. There he opened his trunk, pulled out another candle holder, then walked to my neighbors house.

candle

Rattled, I did what I always do: I took to Facebook, sharing what had just happened, and several friends quickly responded. All sorts of pros and cons were discussed, and soon I found myself on the phone with the police department, telling them what had happened, as well. Turns out they’re familiar with the vendor–and his penchant for telling people about his prior convictions–but his permit is legit, and they’ve never had reason to revoke it. While I was learning this, other friends chimed in, reporting that he’d been to their house before, as well. Some of them purchased from him. Some did not. (They’re all still around to talk about it.)

For the rest of the evening, I kept thinking about the encounter, conflicted about my own feelings (my automatic suspicion of this grimy looking stranger) and wondering whether I’d done the right thing (for the right reasons, to help him or to get rid of him).  My husband and I have long felt like in situations like that, when someone approaches you for money or food, it’s best to help if you can. If the recipient is, instead, pulling one over on you, then that’s their bad, not yours.  And I really think that’s true.

Then a friend sent me this, and even as I had the security system activated, I found peace with the whole situation.  If you do yourself one favor today, watch this.  But be warned, have a tissue handy.

 

 

When Friday Met 13

“Forget it. I am so not going out tonight.”

“Um, hello? Friday night? Awesome party? The guy you’ve been dying to meet?”

“Yeah, but have you seen the calendar? The nifty little 1 in front of the 3?”

“Don’t tell me—”

But she did. My college roommate absolutely refused to go to the biggest party of the semester simply because it fell on the 13th of the month and a Friday. For her, that was reason enough to stay home, alone, where she was convinced nothing bad could happen.

Pic 1

Here we are again today, many years later, one of two times during 2013 when the 13th lands on a Friday. That means everywhere you turn, you’ll hear people talking about bad luck, ill omens, and warning you to be careful.

The superstition has a name, two of them actually. Upon mentioning this to my husband, he narrowed his eyes in that thinking way of his, then after only a few seconds rattled them off: friggatriskaidekaphobia (Frigga being the Norse goddess after whom Friday is named and triskaidekaphobia for fear of the number thirteen) and paraskevidekatriaphobia (Paraskevi and dekatreis being the Greek words for Friday and thirteen, attached to good ole phobia meaning fear). Yeah, I wanted to smack him. He’s not someone you want to oppose in Trivial Pursuit.

But why all the fear? What’s the deal with Friday the 13th, anyway? As a lover of All Things Freaky, I decided to do a little research!

Bad Friday

While I tend to be a big fan of Fridays, historically speaking the day has a pretty bad reputation. You could say it all started with Adam, Eve, and the fateful offer of an apple one afternoon. Yep, a Friday.

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Then there was the Great Flood, which also began on a Friday. And the tongue-tying of the builders of the Tower of Babel. And the destruction of the Temple of Solomon. And, of course, we can’t leave Good Friday off the list of significant Fridays. In early Rome, Friday was execution day. During the Middle Ages, pagans considered Friday the most holy of days, prompting the Church to deem Fridays as the Witches Sabbath. Significantly more recently, we have the Black Friday stock market crash.

Over time, the legends began:

  •     Don’t change your linens on Friday. You’ll have bad dreams.
  •     Don’t begin a trip on Friday. You’ll encounter ill fortune.
  •     Don’t cut your nails on a Friday. Bad luck is sure to follow.
  •     Don’t get married on a Friday. You’re destined to a cat-and-dog life.
  •     Don’t start a job on Friday. It won’t last for long.

And finally: Don’t set sail on Friday. You’re journey is sure to be unfortunate. (There’s an elaborate story about a British government initiative to quell this fear, involving a ship, the H.M.S. Friday: they laid her keel on Friday; hired her crew on a Friday; including a man named Jim Friday as her captain; and yes, launched her on a Friday. She was never seen again. However, this appears to fall under the Urban Legend category!)

That brings us to the number thirteen.

The Devil’s Dozen

Have you ever stepped into a high-rise elevator and noticed there’s no button for the thirteenth floor?

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That’s because the number thirteen has an even worse rap than Friday. According to numerology, the number twelve is that of completeness: twelve hours of the clock, twelve months of the year, twelve gods of Olympus, twelve tribes of Israel, twelve Apostles, twelve successors of Muhammad, etc. Add one, however, and you throw everything out of balance. How many were seated at the Last Supper? Yep, thirteen.

It’s not surprising, then, the number thirteen has its own cache of warnings:

  • If thirteen people sit down for a meal together, one of them is soon to die.
  • If you live on the thirteenth floor of a building, bad luck will follow. Hence, many buildings try to “cheat” by not labeling a floor thirteen.
  • If you live on the thirteenth street, misfortune awaits you. Accordingly, cities all over the world skip from twelve to fourteen when it comes to naming streets and avenues.
  • If you have thirteen letters in your name, you have the touch of the devil. To save you the research, I present: Jack the Ripper, Charles Manson, Jeffrey Dahmer, Theodore Bunch, and Albert De Salvo.
  • Oh, yeah: there are thirteen witches in a coven.

So now we’ve got Bad Friday and The Devil’s Dozen. Add them together and you get the worst of the worst, a Friday that falls on the 13th. Interestingly, however, this simply seems to be a case of Bad + Bad = VERY Bad. Mentions of this superstition (or anything terrible, freaky, or cataclysmic linked to this day) are rarely found prior to the 20th century. Dan Brown made a case in The DaVinci Code that dread of Friday the 13th stems from the 14th century arrest and subsequent massacre of hundreds of Knights Templar, but historians counter that this is a recent connection. And…to muddy the waters even more, in Greece and Spanish-speaking countries, instead of Friday, it’s Tuesday the 13th that’s considered an ill omen. For the Italians, it’s Friday the 17th.

What do you think? Is there something to Friday the 13th? Would you start a trip that day? A new job? Go on a first date?  Cut your nails? What’s YOUR biggest taboo?

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