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July 21, 2008

Confessions of an Old School Mom

Old_school_confessions_anna_lefler I was raised in the South in the 60s and 70s when the parenting touchstones were phrases like:

  • "If you kids don't quit lettin' the air conditioning out the back door, I'm gonna tan your hides!"
  • "Just stay outside and drink out of the hose - it's the same as the water in the kitchen!"
  • "No daughter of mine is going to be seen walking down the street in those tacky short-shorts!"

In the world of my youth, "sass" was met with "what for," athletic competitions produced "winners" and "losers" and the reaction to a child addressing an adult by his or her first name was an appalled, open-mouthed stare.  In our household, a girl did not call a boy on the phone.  Ever.  (Girls who called boys were "forward" - one slippery rung above "loose.")

This is how I was raised.

Fast-forward to present-day Santa Monica, where my husband and I are raising our daughter and son, 9 and 8, respectively.  Between iPod-toting kindergartners who sing about things like "lovely lady lumps" and well-meaning parents whose children treat them like little more than glorified roadies, I sometimes worry that my parenting has no contemporary context.  At times I feel like the maternal version of a Betamax recorder:  a dusty, abandoned format one associates with a pocketbook full of linty bouillon cubes, pilfered sugar packets and folding cellophane rain bonnets.

Am I the only one whose ingrained, old-school boundaries make them feel like an outsider?

Sure, the little skirmishes are clear-cut.  No, we're not buying a cell phone for our daughter no matter how many children in her class have one.  And, yes, our son will continue writing thank-you notes for his birthday and Christmas presents no matter how dreary a chore it is.

But what happens when they get a little older and the stakes get significantly higher?  When happens when I'm not always right there, looking over their shoulders, helping them make good decisions?  What about drugs?  What about sex?  Have they absorbed anything from my maternal rants, lectures and cautionary tales?  Will my old-school lessons be powerful enough to protect them in the face of the potentially life-altering enticements that stalk all adolescents?

One morning not long ago, I was washing dishes at the sink and listening as my children, largely unaware of my presence, chatted over breakfast.  Their conversation bounced from topic to topic and I was fascinated to hear their unedited opinions on events at school, news from friends and our upcoming vacation.

Then my daughter mentioned that everyone at school was talking about Jamie Lynn Spears, the unmarried, 16-year-old sister of Britney who was famously pregnant by her boyfriend (and who has since turned 17 and delivered the baby).  Although we don't watch her in our house, the children know that Jamie Lynn is a TV star with her own show.  As they worked out the facts between them, I stood frozen with my dishtowel in hand, braced to hear the reaction to this celebrity development, particularly from my daughter, who adores babies and often talks about how much she looks forward to being a mommy.

I held my breath during the silence as they considered Jamie Lynn's situation.

"Why would she do that?" my son pondered aloud, his brow furrowed.  "She's only a high schooler."

"I don't know," my daughter said and spooned some cereal from her bowl.  "It's just so tacky."

Which brought me to the unexpected realization that the only thing more humbling than discovering that your children don't listen to you...is discovering that they do.

This is an original post to Los Angeles Moms Blog.

Anna Lefler is a novelist and standup comic living with her family in Santa Monica.

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