The Runaway ‘Tweeny (with apologies to Margaret Wise Brown)

The Runaway ‘Tweeny (with apologies to Margaret Wise Brown)

By Shari Simpson


Once there was a little ‘tweenager who wanted to run away. So she said to her mother, “I am running away. Because you are, like, getting on my last nerve.”

“If you run away,” said her mother, “I will run after you. Because you are my little ‘tween. And because I grew up in the ’70’s and saw that made-for-TV movie about runaways starring Eve Plumb and it ruined ‘The Brady Bunch’ for me for the rest of time. Hey, we should watch more movies together! You know, for Mommy-Daughter bonding!”

“OMG, could you be more annoying?” said the little ‘tween. “If you run after me, I’ll go and hide in my BFF Tara’s basement because her parents are way cooler than you and let Tara have a sip of real champagne on New Year’s Eve instead of sparkling cider which is for babies.”

“If you go and hide in Tara’s basement, I’ll become a lock on the basement door so that I can keep you safe,” said her mother. “Especially from people who give alcohol to minors, dear God, what in the world are Bob and Carol thinking?!”

“I said ‘a sip’! You always make a big deal out of everything!” said the little ‘tween. “If you become a lock on Tara’s basement door, I’ll totally become a bird and fly out the window to escape to, like, a tree. Or the mall.”

“If you totally become a bird, I’ll totally become a BB gun and shoot you down. It might hurt a little, but it will be for your own good, like most things in life that build character,” said her mother, “and I would only shoot you because I love you so much, you know that, right?”

“Oh, puh-leeze.” said the little ‘tween. “‘If you become a BB gun, whatever that is, do you even live in this century, I’ll become a Quest Super Bruiser Longboard skateboard under the feet of Sam Jenkins, because he is soooo hot, all the 8th grade girls literally die every time he walks by, seriously, DIE, uh, I totally can’t remember what I was saying, oh yeah, and then I’d ride away from you!”

“If you become a Super Bruised whatever you said skateboard,” said her mother, “I’ll become a crack in the sidewalk that looks like nothing until you try to ride over it, then wham! you wipe out and you’re like ‘woah, what just happened?!’, and I’m like ‘I just happened, sweetheart, your mother just happened!, and hot little Sammy Jenkins is now in traction!”

“‘Okay, you are so freaking me out right now,” said the little ‘tween. “I’m just gonna become a child genius in the Gifted and Talented program so that I can go away to college, like, three years early, and get away from you.”

“If you become a child genius in the Gifted and Talented program,” said her mother, “Well, first, I’d be so proud because I knew it, I knew you had my genes, I told your father that!, but then I’ll become a guidance counselor who would advise you to not try to grow up faster because these years are so precious. Oh, and I would refuse to give you a letter of recommendation so you’d be stuck, but only because I love you so much, you know that, right?”

Whatevs,” said the little ‘tween. “I so can’t win with you. I might as well just stay in this prison and live out my days in emo angst.”

“That works for me,” said her mother. “What do you want for snack?”

“Hot Pocket,” said the little ‘tween. “Thanks, Mommy.”

Shari Simpson was the BlogHer 2012 Voice of the Year in Humor Writing and is currently adapting the YA novel “The Swap” for the Disney Channel. She lives in Hoboken, NJ with her bemused husband and four children (two human, two pug).


Perks and Perils of the FaceTime Playdate

Perks and Perils of the FaceTime Playdate



Would the FaceTime friend feel left out because she was only virtually connected? Would the live friend think that she was getting dissed?


I stepped into the basement playroom where nine-year-old Liddy sat hunched on the floor, arranging freshly sharpened pencils alongside crisp white sheets of paper.

“Hey Liddy? Five minutes ’til dinner.”

“Okay,” she said.

“Hi, Liddy’s mom!” said a little voice behind me.

I swung around to see her friend’s smiling face, reduced to a small, smiling rectangle propped on the desk.

“Oh, Bessie! Hi.” I laughed, immediately grateful that I hadn’t walked in wearing a towel or yelling about something I didn’t need Bessie’s family, hidden somewhere in the background of that screenshot, to overhear.

I made a mental note to add another guideline to the list: I needed to know when Liddy had guests, whether virtual or in person.

For the first few months Liddy owned an iPod touch, she’d used it only sporadically, to listen to Meghan Trainor, play “Virtual Family,” and send me goofy texts filled with panda emojis. But when Bessie changed schools unexpectedly, Liddy was heartbroken, and it seemed like a small comfort to have the girls exchange contact information so they could text.

Then Liddy’s iPod trilled out a FaceTime invite one evening and my husband and I locked eyes in that flash of parental cognition that we’d failed to think something through to its logical conclusion. What kind of slippery slope have we stepped out on? Was this a great idea, or a very, very bad one? What’s the emoji for “Oh, crap. Now what have we done?”

Flash forward a few months and now there are five little girls, with freshly minted iPods, engaging in semi-regular virtual playdates. There have been some sticking points along the way — like what it means when Liddy is hanging out with one friend in person and wants include another via FaceTime. Would the FaceTime friend feel left out because she was only virtually connected? Would the live friend think that she was getting dissed?

Fortunately, so far, those fears have been unfounded. I know because I check in and remind Liddy to be aware of the possibility, but also because I can hear them all whooping it up and laughing — in person and through the iPod speaker, with its volume cranked as high as it will go.

And these playdates are much more interactive than I would have imagined. Liddy runs through the house holding her iPod aloft, banging a song out on the piano while a friend joins in from several blocks away. They show off art projects they are each working on, or write silly poems together, or even play virtual family — with humans. And they still get plenty of face-to-face time along with the FaceTime. Electronic get-togethers have not replaced the real-world ones.

I’m reminded again that the questions I mistakenly believe our generation of parents faces for the first time are not so far off from the ones my own parents wrangled with in the era when I’d spend half the afternoon dialing a friend, hearing a busy signal, then hanging up and dialing another friend to try to figure out who was talking on the phone without me.

And I recently realized that I was Liddy’s same age when my fourth grade science book promised a future of moving sidewalks, computers that talked, and phones that had video feeds. Those ideas seemed outlandish to a ten-year-old in 1982. Outlandish, and totally awesome.



By Francie Arenson Dickman


Matters involving explanation of position, negotiation, emotions that can’t be condensed into an emoji—seem to tie their tongues.


I think I’m going to dust off my law degree and hang it above my stove. It hasn’t seen the light of day since the late ’90’s. I wasn’t sure that it would again, as What to Expect When Youre Expecting made no mention that a J.D. for mothers would be like a bouncy seat—helpful, though not essential to have. In fairness, at the time I read What to Expect, the smartphone, the source of all our issues, had yet to be invented.

Now, however, I find myself back in business. I practice nightly in my kitchen—a less-abled blend of Judge Judy and Julia Child, cooking up dinner and counseling in diplomacy, oral advocacy and conflict resolution.

Who knew I’d be so busy during my kids’ 7th grade. I figured my husband’s parenting calendar would be full since he handles math, but my girls would otherwise be off and running their own lives, and consequently their own mouths. Such is not the case. The word problems my kids have are ones involving actual words. Not basic banter; my kids can do that. But anything more complex—matters involving explanation of position, negotiation, emotions that can’t be condensed into an emoji—seem to tie their tongues.

Take tonight, for example, as I’m cooking bacon for our “breakfast for dinner,” my daughter appears in a panic. She’d been upstairs simultaneously studying for a Constitution test and practicing for a dance competition. She felt good about her inalienable rights but confused about a couple of eight-counts. “What should I do?” she asks.

“Have you emailed your dance coaches for help?”

“Am I allowed to?” she asks.

“I would assume.”

“But you don’t know for a fact,” she presses.

“I don’t need to know for a fact. They’re called coaches for a reason,” I tell her, touching on some basic contract law. “Their responsibility is implied.”

“Fine, but what should I say?”

With a wave of the spatula and the directive to say what she thinks she should say, I send her back upstairs, but not before the bacon burns and my other daughter, her twin, comes into my oven-lined office. Her fact pattern is more complicated: A friend, via group text, has invited some girls to a movie on Sunday. Everyone else texted they could go but she isn’t sure what to say since she’s not in the mood for the movie now but she may be over the weekend, and either way, she loves the friend, and doesn’t want her to think she doesn’t and she doesn’t want everyone on the chat to think she’s being rude. “How should I handle it?”

“Pick up the phone and explain this to her,” I advise.

She rolls her eyes. I wave my spatula.

“Once upon a time,” I tell her, “if we had something to say, we picked up the phone and spoke into it.” She looks at me with the same look of disbelief I used to give my grandmother when she’d tell me she used to have to go outside and pull on a giant rope to flush their toilet.

Lately I feel like my grandmother, too, with my constant recounting of the way things used to be and my longing for the good old days, which ironically now include my Lord of the Flies middle school experience. I can’t count the number of times I sputtered into the receiver, “Can I come, too?” Only to be met with, “No” and a click. Sometimes, I’d hear, “Let me check with my mom, I’ll call you back,” but the friend never did—or, as I liked to tell myself, she did call back, only she couldn’t get through because my mother was on the line yakking with a neighbor.

The olden days weren’t pretty. We were often unkind, but at least we were unkind face-to-face, and so forced to feel firsthand the effect of hurting another person. And yes, our thoughts might have been better expressed had we had our mothers standing over our shoulders piping words into our ears like Cyrano, the way parents today do with their children’s texts, but, for better or worse, the words were ours. We were lucky. We had the luxury to learn to speak up and hash it out through trial and error. And isn’t that the purpose of puberty—to allow kids to slowly spread their own wings in the world so that eventually (and hopefully) their social skills mature along side their bodies?

Stringing sentences together while simultaneously staring someone else in the eye is a skill, as are the abilities to advocate and apologize. But mastering any skill takes practice, and how can kids practice in an age in which they are socializing with a screen, and even their most mundane and innocuous interactions are in writing, and therefore subject to scrutiny, interpretation and possibly public consumption? They can’t. Or, they are scared to, and so I’m consulted.

As someone who has made careers as a lawyer and a writer out of communicating opinions and ideas, I found my daughters’ tendencies toward silence concerning. But then I read an article by Stedman Graham, Oprah’s man, on Huffington Post and felt better, the way one does when she finally gets to put a face to a name. My kids are “soft skill” deficient. And in all likelihood, so are everyone else’s.

In “Preparing for the 21st Century: Soft Skills Matter,” Graham explains that soft skills are “practices that were once in the background of all our lives.” Things like eye contact, analysis of body language and conflict resolution which “were constantly demanded from us as we moved through our days.” Skills which he says, “are not likely to be developed through silent communication” but yet “… continue to play the biggest role in determining your chances of achieving success.” What’s more, he cited a study that found that fewer than 30% of college kids were even aware that these skills matter.

Their ignorance must be bliss, I’m left to think as I scrape bacon from the pan and fret over how my kids will ever land jobs, and if they do, how they will keep them. Will they be running to the kitchen the rest of their lives, every time the boss asks a question? Better yet, what will be the future of the entire workforce once us old-schoolers take down our degrees and retire? Entire careers will become extinct. I imagine support staff will be the first to go, as no one will know how to answer a phone. Not long behind them, the journalists, followed by the business folks, the politicians and eventually even the lawyers. Except those of us holding court in our kitchens—because, for better or worse, there’s no technology that could ever mess with the job of being a mother.

Francie Arenson Dickman’s essays have appeared in The Examined Life, A University of Iowa Literary Magazine, The Chicago Tribune, and Literary Mama. She lives outside of Chicago with her husband and twin daughters and is currently completing her first novel.

This is Adolescence: 12

This is Adolescence: 12

By Allison Slater Tate


Twelve is a bridge between childhood and the land of teenagers, a place of juxtaposition and paradox.


It’s the legs that really kill me.

At twelve, my oldest son’s face is still his face. Though his baby cheeks have hollowed and he now stands at my height, pointedly meeting my gaze when we argue, his eyes betray him every time: they still give me the face of the same baby I held in my arms twelve years ago, when I wondered for the first full year of his life if they would really stay blue. They did.

But not much else has remained the same about that baby from so long ago (and yet yesterday?) now, especially his legs. His stocky toddler thighs, the ones that curled into my body so easily when we still napped together daily, are gone. They have grown, beanstalk-style, until I find myself staring at them sometimes in bewilderment. They are not the legs of a child. These are the legs of a young man: long and lanky, increasingly furry, stretching out in front of him, capped by knobby knees I associate with baby horses or giraffes. I can’t believe those are the legs of my first baby.

Each age possesses its own magic, but twelve seems to shine a little more brightly than most to me. Twelve is a bridge between childhood and the land of teenagers, a place of juxtaposition and paradox. He still kind of wants to trick-or-treat, but he doesn’t necessarily want to dress up in a costume. He peruses the Lego catalog, but he doesn’t find anything he wants to buy with the same sense of urgency and enthusiasm he had even last year. He’s not interested in the pumpkin patch, but he likes to help get the decorations out of the attic. He doesn’t want to know the lyrics to “Let It Go,” but he does… along with the words to “All About That Bass.”

Twelve is both breaking my heart and healing it. After a colicky babyhood and a stubborn, incredibly willful toddlerhood, this child has blossomed into a full grown person, someone who reads faster than I do, who has hopes and dreams and goals of his own, who enjoys electrical engineering and marine biology and makes his own literary allusions that delight me when I catch them. He is a promise fulfilled: everything I ever hoped for, better than I ever imagined, a dream in flesh and Gap button-downs. He surprises me, sometimes, with unexpected kindness. Though everything is mortifying to Twelve, he somehow doesn’t mind telling me he loves me in public. He’ll still hold my hand. I could not have called this when he was 3 and 4 years old and a holy terror, but I am relieved and, yes, a little shocked that he has actually turned out to be pretty reasonable and cooperative most of the time.

But he can also sometimes be thoroughly exasperating. He can be irresponsible. Arrogant. Careless. He still does not understand consequences; he still doesn’t fear the world, for better or worse. He’s the same child who once jumped into the deep end of the pool before he could swim, who had to be rescued by a lifeguard at the beach because he did not believe a riptide could be stronger than he was, who ran into a tree trying to catch a frisbee because he didn’t look ahead. He believes, quite confidently, that he is smarter than we are. He scares me, because he is, more than ever, my heart walking around outside my body… only now, that heart walks on those long legs, with wizened eyes but without any life experience yet to inform his choices.

Twelve is PG-13 movies, absolutely mandatory deodorant, science fair projects, ear buds. Twelve wears ironic T-shirts (“The Periodic Table of Minecraft”) and shorts he outgrows almost before we can pull the tags off of them, sneakers larger than my own that wait to trip me on my way to the kitchen, socks I cannot keep white. Twelve is one-syllable answers and the occasional gift of a precocious turn of phrase, baby talk for his little sister and “‘Sup?” for his friends. It’s a lone pimple marring an otherwise still smooth and flawless face and long, careful fingers that belie the man he is becoming all too quickly.

Twelve is, for us, seventh grade. It is in all ways the middle: of middle school, of puberty, of “growing up.” I can see now the heartache that will come, slowly but surely. I don’t know all his friends, and I don’t know if he likes anyone in particular yet, but I know he will, and it won’t always end well. Similarly, I know other disappointments and other kinds of heartbreak are lying in wait, just out of sight. And there’s nothing at all I can do about it but love him and encourage him and hope that when the inevitable happens, he brushes himself off and keeps on the path that is right for him, probably while I hold my breath as close by as he will allow.

In many ways, I feel like I might be stepping gingerly into the hardest part of parenting: the actively letting go, the small glimpses of independence and shows of faith that will soon lead to driver’s licenses and Saturday nights out and college applications and internships and summers abroad and goodbyes that aren’t temporary. It’s not easy to manage the care and keeping of little people; the physical and emotional components of parenting are overwhelming when our children are young. But as thrilling as it is – and it is thrilling – to see my child grow up, healthy and ready to take on the world, my heart is heavy with the knowledge that being a good parent to him now is increasingly harder stuff than diaper changes or first grade homework. Bubble wrapping him would be easier, but it would be wrong.

Luckily, when I need a hug, he gives me one willingly. His arms now wrap all the way around me, his cheek next to mine, his feet on the ground. I hope those crazy legs of his hold him steady and strong when he walks away from me someday. I know now that it is my job to make sure they do.

Author’s Note: Adolescence was a period of my life that was both turbulent and rich in all kinds of ways: it was horrible, magical, challenging, and at times, unexpectedly wonderful all at the same time. Now, as I begin the chapter of parenting an adolescent, I am both intrigued and terrified. I wanted to initiate this series because I find having a “tween” almost like being a newborn parent again; it’s mystifying and isolating and I never know what is a “just a phase” or where the end of any given tunnel will be. My hope is that this series can highlight the edges of these ages – the round and smooth and the jagged and sharp – so we can celebrate them and face them together.  

Allison Slater Tate’s writing has appeared in Brain, Child, Huffington Post, Washington Post, Scary Mommy, and elsewhere. Find her at


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