New Favorite Song

He flopped into the car, exhausted and sweaty from a late-night basketball practice. It was the last stretch of my inane day where I seemed to do nothing but chauffeur kids, run errands and burn almost a half tank of gas in the process. Both of us too tired to talk, I flipped through stations on the radio.

The opening riff of a song caught our attention.

“This is my new favorite song,” I confessed, turning it up.

“Me too!”

I smiled and glanced over at him, watching his face as the realization hit: mom and I like the same song. He was trying to figure out if his musical taste was lame or if mine was cool – the only two possible explanations for this newly discovered commonality in our Venn diagram.

Undaunted, I started to sing along, catching only one out of every three words:

Mmm and lied, mmm mmm so bad
La la la vow, never get mad

He laughed, knowing he could do better. Too tired to be self-conscious and protected by 8pm darkness where no one could see in the car windows, he joined in.

I nudged the volume up a bit and added steering wheel drums. He cringed – nothing is more embarrassing than my steering wheel drums — but he kept singing.

There comes a time, in a short life
Turn it around, get a rewrite

The song ended, as did our spontaneous moment of musical bonding.

Anyone who hangs out with me knows that I spend a lot of time grumbling about the pace of life with big kids. They’re old enough to have talents and interests and a desire to pursue them. But they’re not old enough to drive themselves to the never-ending practices and games that take place in far-flung locations at all hours of the day.

It’s insane. But just when I’m ready to crack, life offers a crystalized moment of raw love: a connection over a song while driving home from practice; a good talk after a disappointing loss; a sweaty bear hug after a game-winning shot. It’s all there, tucked into the pockets of quiet within this loud, busy life we’ve created.

There comes a time, in a short life
Turn it around, get a rewrite

 Message received.

I know I’m lucky beyond words. I know this time is short and that in a few years they’ll be independent and I’ll miss all those miles on roads to kids’ activities. I’ve always known these things but sometimes it helps to be reminded. Recharged and refocused, I’m changing my tune… but keeping the steering wheel drum solo.

The C Word

Like most people, I appreciate a good four-letter word. I try to use a modicum of discernment around my kids, but let’s just say my language has helped them build a robust word bank to tap into for just about any situation. For the most part, their language didn’t faze me – until the day my daughter used the C word.

Let me back up. She dropped her phone. Cracked the screen. It wasn’t a surprise. In fact, I was astonished the phone remained intact as long as it did.

“Oops, that was the third time today I dropped my phone.”

See what I mean?

She refused to use a drop-proof case. She scoffed at the suggestion of applying an extra layer of protective glass. She didn’t carry a purse, yet the phone traveled wherever she went, often barely tucked into the back pocket of her jeans or precariously perched in the palm of her hand.

She’s at the age where I can’t micro-manage anymore. I’ve attempted to raise kids with minds of their own, encouraging them to be leaders instead of followers, assuming that those kids grow up to be interesting self-actualized adults. The caveat is that kids with minds of their own are not always the easiest to parent.

So she didn’t listen to my suggestions and she broke her phone. Just like I said she would. This is why I am grateful for what the parenting literature calls “natural consequences.”

When I saw the cracked phone, it took every ounce of self-restraint I had not to skip around the house singing, “Neener neener neener I told you so. Now it’s your problem, sucker. Listen to your old mom next time. I’m not as dumb as I look.”

Instead, we talked about those pesky natural consequences. Well, I talked. She mostly rolled her eyes. I explained that I would drive her to the store but she was going to be the one to chat with the sales clerk and gather the information necessary to figure out the most cost effective way to fix her phone.

Then she dropped the C word:

“So I just go in there and be cute?”

WHAT? CUTE?

No! You go in there and be CONFIDENT. You go in there and be COMPETENT. You ask intelligent questions and make an informed decision. CUTE? Where did that come from? Who is this kid?

Well, she’s a 13 year-old girl. And she’s discovering the power of pretty.

It’s a fine line, especially at this age when self-confidence swells and shrinks faster than Taylor Swift’s list of frenemies. I want my daughter to recognize and appreciate her beauty while at the same time understand the difference between recognizing it and relying on it. While the former might bolster confidence, the latter is simply a crutch – an unstable one at best.

So what’s an overthinking mother to do? Acknowledge what’s in front of her – an undeniable cuteness – while coaxing out the more lasting qualities that will serve her daughter long after the cuteness shtick gets old. I gave it my best shot.

To her credit, after I stopped lecturing, my daughter walked into the store, used her big kid voice and got the information she needed — no hair twirling, uptalking or giggling necessary. She eventually paid half the insurance deductible with money she earned over the summer and got a replacement phone.

These days, her new phone is carefully ensconced in a sensible drop-proof case instead of a super cute pink plastic one. Substance over style. A choice I hope she makes again and again.