teenagers

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My almost 17 year old stepson got his driver’s license this spring and over the course of the summer, I’ve barely seen him. He keeps busy during the day in a summer sailing program and spends some of his free time on his part time lawn mowing job. The rest of his free time is filled with social engagements. From barbecues to crab feasts, golf outings, and windsurfing, there always seems to be a festivity of some sort in which he is invited to participate. Inevitably, the barbecue leads to a sleepover and, before we know it, days go by without us seeing him.

My stepdaughter is also busy – in her case, with a packed babysitting schedule. She has done a great job of lining up two or three families that, together, have employed her on a nearly full time basis this summer. She loves her job and is very good at it, but the best part (especially for a 14 year old girl who likes to shop) is that it pays well.

In principle, I have no problem with my kids’ summer schedule, but the reality is that when you combine all the time spent on camps, summer jobs, and fun with friends with the time they spend over at their mother’s house, there has been little to no time for us to spend together as a family. Case in point – in late July, I purchased tickets for all six of us to go to a local waterpark and, believe it or not, it’s looking very likely that there will not be a single day before summer ends and the park closes that we can all go spend the day there together.

The rational side of me knows that I need to just let it go. My stepdaughter leaves for boarding school this fall and in about two years, my stepson will be starting college and we’ll see even less of him. In the interim, it’s natural for teenaged girls and boys to break away and establish their independence.
The mom side of me thinks that’s a bunch of baloney and feels like, at some point, family time has to take precedence over everything else.

I have no idea which – my rational side or my mom side – is right, but the reality is that it really doesn’t matter. You can force teenagers to give up friend time in favor of family time, but when you do, family time is no fun. They have a pretty incredible talent for digging their heels in and making things fairly unpleasant when you make them do something they don’t want to.

What I’ve begun to realize is that this is the beginning of the end. The end of their childhood, that is. As they make the transition to adulthood, the challenge for us – their parents (and stepparents) – is to find a “new normal” in which we can all spend time together. My guess is that it won’t be nearly as much time as it used to be, but that is okay as long as we make the time we DO have count.

Recognizing this is one thing, but letting go is another. My kids are more than ready for their independence. Me? Not so much (and I’m just the stepmom – I can’t imagine how hard it is for their mom!). But this is really what parenting is all about, isn’t it? You teach your little birds to fly and, when they actually leave the nest, you are inevitably calling for them to come back.

Sigh…

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Back in my twenties, when I was single and pulling in a great salary, I had a financial planner who told me, “you are at once the most promising client I have and the most frightening.” He went on to explain that I was promising because I was earning a great income from my consulting work, but frightening because I was blowing most of it on clothes and shoes. I confess … I was a shopaholic!

During my shopping heyday, I was known to spend up to $600 a month on a couple pairs of pants and a great pair of heels. Why not? After all, I had no husband and no children on whom to spend my hard earned money, and saving just seemed so, well, practical!

The irony is that these days, I’m still spending $600 a month shopping – only now, I’m spending it at Sam’s Club. It should come as a surprise to no one that I’m getting far less satisfaction from my current purchases than I did from the ones I made in my twenties. Don’t get me wrong – I love Sam’s. The prices are great, the product selection fantastic, and the quantities are actually perfect for my family of six. What I don’t love are the inevitable $400+ price tag and the way a trip to Sam’s (driving there, doing the shopping, packing up the car, unpacking the car, and putting all that stuff away) can eat into my day.

Let’s take today as an example. It was a Wednesday, so I would normally be working, but my kids are starting school again so I went to Sams to load up on school snacks, brown bag lunch staples, and easy weeknight dinners. I was a good girl and made a list before I left the house, but somehow my short list turned into a frenzy of bulk purchasing.

I’m not sure about you, but when I shop at Sams Club, I have a strategy. On a typical visit, I skip the electronics and jewelry (don’t need either and WAY too easy to get sucked into impractical impulse buying) and typically head straight back to the laundry detergent and paper towels. Then, I make my way up and down the shorter aisles that form the perimeter of the store, avoiding the dangerous middle section which is home to books, toys, clothing, seasonal items, household good, and “big ticket” stuff.

That’s a typical day. Today was not typical. The problems began when I went down the clothing aisle. I do this every year around the time the kids go back to school. Usually, I’m able to score great bargains on a few pairs of jeans or khakis for my 15 year old stepson, socks for everyone, and tank tops for my 13 year old stepdaughter. Today, I got all of these things along with a bonus – a pair of men’s Avia running shoes for $24 (perfect for the 15 year old and much less expensive than the $140 pair he wanted!).

After loading up on my bargain clothing finds, I then went back to my usual route around the store feeling very happy with myself for “saving” so much on the clothes I had never intended to buy in the first place. I did manage to get most of the things on my list, but I also went a bit crazy on novelty items such as “sugar pears” (not sure what they are, but they’re darn cute!) and maraschino cherries (we’ll be swimming in Shirley Temples for the next 20 years with the giant sized bottle I got). It didn’t look so bad when I pushed my load up to the checkout counter. I had filled up one cart (a regular cart, not a flatbed – flatbeds are for the real pros!) and it was far from overflowing. I’m great at packing things into those carts. As a coworker of mine said, its like a game of Tetris – each piece must fit perfectly as part of the whole or the entire system fails.

All was well until the friendly checkout lady totalled my bill and it came to almost $500! I swallowed the lump in my throat, swiped my debit card, and resolved to stick to the list next time. I then pushed my purchases to my car and spent about a half an hour packing the contents of my cart into 10 reusable grocery totes and the backseat of my car.

Back at home, the saga continued. It took five trips between house and car to get everything inside and another hour to put it all away. Some stuff went into my kitchen and some went into my basement, where I store the non-perishables and extra frozen items in a second refridgerator we keep down there. As part of this process, I had to clean out the snack cabinet to make room for all the new stuff, and I broke down all the boxes that my bulk purchases came in and brought them out to our recycling container.

Four hours and $400+ dollars later I was done – and by done, I mean exhausted! I can’t believe how much money and time I spent, and the truly scary thing is that my pack of hungry teenagers will probably devour most of the food in a week. This happens every time I go to Sams Club, and yet I keep going back. Go figure – this was the same problem I had in my twenties, when a quick visit to a boutique would find me $600 poorer, but the proud owner of some very trendy pieces that would be out of style in the blink of an eye. The more things change, the more they stay the same!

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