7 Steps to Throwing a Great Birthday Party for Your Teenager

party 8

 

The scenario:

My son’s 17th birthday was quickly arriving and he has not had a proper birthday party since he was 10. Not a “invite your buddies over and hang out” kind of party, anyway, and I really wanted to make that happen. Particularly, I wanted it to be a surprise party.

The problems:

First, he is really busy. He’s in the band (which is right in the thick of concert competition) and a few other activities that eat up most of his time.

Secondly, I am also very busy. I teach full time and am working on my doctorate. Also, I agreed to be a UIL Ready-Writing judge this year. The only weekend that was available was the same weekend (the same day, to be exact) as the contest. This meant I’d be in a competition myself most of the morning and afternoon. What the frick was I gonna do?

Thirdly, there’s no realistic way to keep this a surprise when I’m having to pre-plan so much of it. I mean, for real. I was STRESSING OUT trying to keep it a surprise.

AHHHHHH!

Couldn’t push it to the next week because the band was taking a trip. So it’s now or never.

Anyway, we pulled it off, and the feedback says it was “the best party EVER.” Keeping in mind, this party is fully chaperoned and no mind-altering substances were allowed. So I’d call that a win!

The solutions:

1. Have a co-conspirator. My partner in crime was Nate’s girlfriend, Hannah. She made sure all Nate’s buddies were invited. And forget the surprise element. It’s just not feasible for busy people who have to take these things in stages.

 

2. Like I said, take these things in stages. How to eat an elephant? One bite..never mind.  I bought decorations one day, food the next, cooked the next day (and supervised decorating). Small chunks. For example, the cupcakes were baked the night before.

 

party 7

 

3. Have all your ducks (reasonably) in a row. We decided on the theme a few days before the shopping (we had a FIESTA, and Nate was required to answer the door wearing a giant sombrero). Then we planned the food and decor around the theme.

4.Check out Pinterest–but with a grain of salt. So many ideas. Sometimes, you look at something and think, “WOW! They just build the Eiffel Tower out of toothpicks! I could do that!” Maybe you can. I sure can’t. It’s best to admit that right now.

4. Enlist help. I did the divide and conquer method. Hubby did the shopping (I made a DETAILED list), my daughter made the cupcakes and my son and his girlfriend decorated. I just realized they NEVER USED THE MEXICAN FLAGS I BOUGHT. Are you kidding me? Those were legit. Beware though, enlisting help requires Type-A’s to let go of control and trust others. Easier said than done. Breathe deeply, my friend.

 

 

5. Have food. LOTS of food. Bring it out regularly. We did a nacho bar, which worked really well and was easily cleaned up. I cooked all the meat the night before (and chopped toppings). The kids would start on the left, choosing chips or tortillas, then load it up with meat, cheese, cowboy caviar, lettuce, sour cream, salsa, etc.

taco bar

Also, keep in mind not everyone eats meat (I KNOW! Shocking!) and some people are health nuts. A few, anyway. So have options.

6. Watch the weather and have backup. We were hoping it would be warm enough to swim (and it was, thank the Party gods), but if it wasn’t, there were video game options.

7. Keep the party moving. We fed them, sent them out to swim, then did gifts and cupcakes, then they swam until dark. Afterwards, everyone came in to play video games (Nate’s buddies brought a couple of different systems) and we let them play until about 10:30 then we kicked them all out. MAMA’S TIRED Y’ALL.

Overall, though…it was fun, and everyone survived. Even the house!

 

 

When Your Son Asks: Remembering Our Deliverance

Mancub at age 10 sleeping on the way home from Arkansas.

I want my kids to remember me with a soft kind of fondness–that perfect balance of light and hope, discipline and humor, friendship and love. A warm and fuzzy mama–but at the same time tough as the lady who delivers our mail. Have you seen her? She can bench 400 pounds, I know it!

I want my kids to think of me as a good example, someone they want to imitate.

One problem: I’m far from perfect. I screw up fairly often. At least as much as Donald Trump says offensive stuff on TV. I mean well, but …

I was reading through Exodus (actually, that’s inaccurate. I’m so lazy I have somebody else read Exodus to me, on an app. Because there’s an app for that). Anyway, this scripture refers to the story of the deliverance of the Israelites from Egypt. I just love the first sentence.

14 “In days to come, when your son asks you, ‘What does this mean?’ say to him, ‘With a mighty hand the Lord brought us out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. 15 When Pharaoh stubbornly refused to let us go, the Lord killed the firstborn of both people and animals in Egypt. This is why I sacrifice to the Lord the first male offspring of every womb and redeem each of my firstborn sons.’16 And it will be like a sign on your hand and a symbol on your forehead that the Lord brought us out of Egypt with his mighty hand.”

When your son asks you, “What does this mean?”… how well we know this feeling, mamas. How well we know that frightening reality that somebody put us in charge of these precious human beings as IF WE WERE GROWNUPS. Grownups with answers. Grownups who hold those memories in the palm of their hand.

Sometimes, I sweat bullets when my son asks me questions. They used to be so easy.

“Hey Mom. How do you make instant oatmeal?”

“Hey Mom. Can you watch me go down the slide?”

“Mom. Mom. Mom. Mom. Why doesn’t the dog eat at the table with us?”

Lately, the questions are much more hard core.

“Mom, how does God feel about transgender people?” (This one’s easy: LOVE)

“Mom, I think my friend is in trouble. Can we help?”

“Mom, why does God let bad things happen?”

I don’t know all the answers. But I don’t ignore the questions. We look it up. We talk about it. I want to be the one, along with my husband, that is able to answer those “What does this mean?” questions.

In this verse, God is instructing the Israelites in the importance of remembrance. There’s no way these children, or grandchildren, or great-grandchildren, will ever know the sound of the cries of Egypt as they woke to find their firstborn children dead. It’s just too horrific. Over 400 years of slavery, of the Pharaoh killing the baby boys–the Jewish mothers hiding their babies, shushing their cries.

And the angel of the Lord passed over…

There’s no way the children would remember the unreal feeling of freedom. What? We are free? We can go? The feeling (and then, the eventuality) this freedom can’t last– that the Egyptians would change their minds and maybe call for the blood of the Jews to rectify Pharaoh’s hasty decision. The absolute miracle of the Red Sea parting down the middle as thousands of slaves left forever. The smell of the sheep and goats (and all those people) and the heaviness of the hastily packed possessions–the sheer terror and doubt that any of this was real. But they were told to try to make them understand–the importance of storytelling and ritual. Unleavened bread eaten in haste as we planned our escape. This is what it means, Son. This bread–it is a symbol of our deliverance.

I’m fortunate (NOT gonna say #blessed because I HATE that) to have never been in this kind of bind–this kind of slavery. But we all know a type of bondage.

Addictions.

Debt.

Disease.

Abuse.

Pain.

Crippling fear.

Anxiety.

God is not JUST the God of the past. He knows us. He knows you. HE has the answers.

I don’t always know what things mean, but when my son asks me, I’ll tell him.

I’ll tell him that we are free.

 

 

 

 

 

Cold Coffee and Speed Limits: Encouragement for Mamas of Teens Coming Sept. 25!

Tina Book Cover

Cold Coffee and Speed Limits

A Letter to Mamas of Teens:

Why is it that there are thousands of books/blogs about raising babies, toddlers, and even school-aged kids, but when we get to the teenage range–poof! Everybody disappears from the blogosphere faster than my pre-pregnancy figure. Sure, there are plenty of scary clinical approaches out there, but this isn’t one of them. I’ve been a mama of teenagers for a while now, and though I’m no expert, I’ve been there. Actually, I’m still there.

I am with you, Mama.

The life of a mom raising teens is anything but easy. This book began with a blog: http://www.tinabausinger.com. I wanted to chronicle my experience raising teenagers (two girls and a boy) not only for myself but to encourage others. In this book, I’ve included the most popular posts.

Some posts are funny—some are not. Some I wrote out of complete frustration and heartache. Others I wrote with joy and humor.

Besides being a mama of three, I’m a writer, an experimental cook, and an English professor. I’ve published in magazines and newspapers and internationally in Chicken Soup for the Soul books. I also wrote a novel, War Eagle Women.  I live in Texas (the land of Old Yeller) and I survive on large amounts of coffee and ungodly amounts of sugar. It’s really not healthy.

I refer to my son (now 16) as Mancub. He just LOVES IT. Ok not really, but he’s gotten used to it. Remember the Jungle Book? It’s Rudyard Kipling’s classic post-colonial story that sort of satires the motives of the British Empire as it claims to “civilize” India (and any other country it could get its hands on). All that aside, I think the jungle is the perfect metaphor to explain raising teens. Here’s why:

It’s scary. You can’t quite see your hand in front of your face, and your lantern is just not bright enough.

It’s dangerous. There are many things just around the corner wanting to hurt you (or your Mancub). Sometimes, your Mancub may even go looking for danger. Sometimes danger comes looking for him.

I use the term Watergirl for the female of the species. In the Jungle Book movie made famous by Disney, Mowgli thinks he knows EVERYTHING until he sees the girl who sings about fetching the water. After that, Mancub is just GONE. So that’s the collective term I use for teen girls in this book.

So yes, the jungle is a dangerous place. Mancub can’t be expected to look after himself just yet, even though he disagrees. But oh—the beauty of the jungle…it’s breathtaking if you take a moment to reflect upon it.

For now—welcome to the Jungle!

What people are saying about Cold Coffee and Speed Limits: Encouragement for Mamas

Cold Coffee and Speed Limits is an enchanting look into the journey that is mothering teenagers. Recipes, open letters, anecdotes and practical guides come together in this book to inspire and comfort readers. More than the perfect Mother’s Day gift, Cold Coffee speaks to teens, mothers, mothers-to-be, and everyone in-between. The raw realities of life are beautifully arranged to fulfill our need of obtaining important information rapidly and allowing the reader to slip into the beauty that is family life.” Stephanie L.

Cold Coffee and Speed Limits is a mix of advice, recipes and anecdotes that will have the most serious of readers laughing and taking notes. It made the chaos of parenting seem both magical and practical…I laughed, teared up (RIP Goliath), and jotted down a meatloaf recipe to try later. After reading this book I went and hugged my mom and told her I was sorry for putting her through teen hell and thanked her for loving me through it.” Gabbey S.

Tina shares her mother of teens experience to show others there is a light at the end of the tunnel and they aren’t traveling it alone. Joy K.

Even though I’m not a parent, I found myself tucking little nuggets of your writing away in my mind for when I do have kids of my own.  Kelsi A.

So many other parenting blogs/books just make me feel guilty. It’s already too late to do or not do what’s suggested, or I don’t have the means. Yours are helpful and flexible. They help me see that, though I’ve made mistakes, my kids are doing well, and I still have time to teach them a few things.-Bryony T.

With each laugh, worry, and reflection shared, Tina unveils the teenage years of parenting as a time to revel in the beauty of living despite the chaos of the jungle. Through her journey, she shows the weary mom how to focus on the moment at hand versus the entire collage. Slow down, enjoy the coffee and hug your babies: we are all going to make it with the help of a little comfort food! –Kari M.

On Marching Band, Second Chances, and Joy

H&L

The Lord is my strength and my shield; in him my heart trusts, and I am helped; my heart exults, and with my song I give thanks to him. Psalm 28:7 

I picked them up after band practice today.

Her smile was noticeable, even from several feet away–braces can’t mask loveliness that comes from the inside. Her hair is stuffed into a bun, and she laughs a bit at the awkwardness of scrambling across the seat. It’s kind of great.

Even better? The smile that my son wears when they tumble in the car, a pile of instrument cases and water jugs. The contrast between his demeanor a year ago and today–it’s remarkable. The fact that two  teens maintained a long-distance relationship for over a year–the fact that anyone can, let along two kids in high school–it boggles the mind. But they did it. They didn’t give up. It was anything but easy. It was heartbreaking.

But she’s here. She’s back. After over a year of a very painful move cross-country, Watergirl’s family is on its way back too–and they sent her first…so she wouldn’t miss band camp.

I know this decision has not been an easy one. I’ve heard bits and pieces of the dilemma as her parents made a very difficult choice to again uproot and come back. Who is ever 100% sure of God’s will–even those who speak to him most intimately? The truth is, we pray and ask for guidance and wait for an answer. Sometimes, heaven is silent and the clock forces us to make our best guess. Sometimes we must make a decision from our gut and trust that God is looking out for us.

I know only a tiny bit of the back-and-forth that Watergirl’s mama and dad faced. They want what most people want–to do the right thing for their family. Add in a congregation they love (and one that loves them back) and the equation is further complicated. They say that moving is one of the most stressful of life events–right up there with divorce and death. When we move from one town (or state!) to another, there is always a bit of divorcing of some sort, isn’t there? It’s separation, it’s saying goodbye. It’s packing and unpacking and loading and unloading and taking furniture apart and putting it back together again. It’s turning off power and turning it on again. It’s tears and stress and we snap from the pressure.

But then–we see the smile of a young girl.

Lance and Becky–I know you can’t see it right now; you are still making your way back to Texas, so I’ll try to describe this smile your daughter wore today. I’ll try to describe the grin my son wore because of your daughter’s smile. It’s a smile of contentment, joy, and a realization of the miracle of unexpected second chances.

Thank you–and I can’t wait to welcome you back to Texas, with a big smile.

Overheard at the DMV

driving

Please enjoy this blog post on the continuing adventures of Mancub.

Overheard at the DMV

A Letter to My Son on Your 16th Birthday

Concert

Dear Son,

It’s hard to believe you’re turning 16 today. Apparently, when I blinked, your little blond Mancub self, who used to spend hours catching grasshoppers, swimming and music has grown into a tall, kind smart teen who loves games and fixing and building things.

I know this journey hasn’t been easy.

I know your dad and I (especially I!) have made mistakes, but we have done our best. It’s not easy figuring out what should be said and done and those words that should remain unsaid and the actions that should remain undone. Because sometimes, the hardest thing to do is to stay back and let the lesson teach itself.

There have been a couple of close calls–a few times I felt my heart in my throat. When you ran into the road as a toddler. When you got in a fight on the way home from school in the 6th grade. When you fell–no, flew–from a trampoline and broke your arm in one clean crunch–I heard the sound from inside the house and somehow knew that it wasn’t someone else’s kid, it was MY kid. Dad and I exchanged looks and he stepped out to check on you. The two of you came in, your arm hanging in a disturbing, unnatural manner–and you had to get surgery. They said it would take 20 minutes, and over an hour later we were still waiting.

The doctor said your growth plates were in danger; he had to operate right away.

So hard to believe there was once a time when we were worried about your growth rate.

Now, you stand 6’4 1/2 (size 16 shoe!) and there doesn’t seem to be any signs of slowing.

Sometimes, it’s hard to tell you what I want you to know. Many times, we don’t see eye-to-eye. Sometimes, I don’t do well when I’m put on the spot. Sometimes (most times),  I do better in writing. So here goes.

I know you think you have it figured out. Life, I mean.

And in many ways, you do. You get good grades, you get along with your peers, you love music and your horn, you have a sweet girlfriend, you stand up for your faith. You feel things deeply, and injustice bothers you. These are all attributes that make me proud of you.

But please–never fail to listen when somebody older and wiser tries to give you advice. You don’t always have to take it (many times you shouldn’t!), but listen to those who care enough to try to help.

In just a few years, you’ll be going off to college–driving without me, making decisions on your own. I’m not worried about that. Well, I do worry a little, but I think you’ll be fine. Not that you won’t sometimes make mistakes–we all do. But your heart, your moral standards, will hold. I know it may sound cliché but I’m going to say it anyway–do follow your heart. Follow your conscience. It’s kept you kind and compassionate.

One thing I do worry about: I want you to make time for friends. I know you are introverted (I am too!) and it’s easier to stay by yourself but it’s not always the best. And you have so much to offer others: your sense of humor, your knowledge of current events, your wit. You’re so funny!

Please, don’t sell yourself short. Shoot for the stars! Set high goals. It’s okay to not always succeed — sometimes falling is part of the process. Don’t let yourself get discouraged. Sometimes, you’ll get told “No.” Even though it stings, it’s not the end of the world. If it’s important to you, keep trying…don’t let one person (or opportunity) hold you back. Just don’t let YOU be the one to hold yourself back.

Remember that big goals are often composed of several steps. You didn’t make All-State band the first time you tried, and you didn’t make first chair the first time you tried. But you kept trying. You kept practicing, and it happened. Sometimes, success is trial and error. Sometimes, it’s just grit and determination and blood and sweat and getting mad and trying over and over and over until it finally works. Sometimes the ones who come out on top are only there because somebody else (or many somebody elses) gave in. It doesn’t make you less a winner.

When you do win, know you deserved it. Nobody can say you didn’t.

I’m your mom, and I love you–and I can’t wait to see how you’re going to shake up this world of ours.

It’s going to be beautiful.

Love,

Mom

5 Tips for Traveling With Teens

I'm including this picture to show you a few of my gorgeous (and tanned) relatives. Yes, I am related. Shut up.

I’m including this picture to show you a few of my gorgeous (and tanned) relatives. Yes, I am related. Shut up.

Enjoy this clip from National Lampoon’s Vacation with Chevy Chase: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5HbBL62IiRE

It’s that time of year again. Roadtrip! Nothing says summertime like voluntary confinement in a car for hours on end!  Because most of my family lives in Arkansas and we’re in Texas, it’s a necessary evil if we want to see them. Because I don’t want to end up like Clark Griswold’s family in Vacation, I have certain rules for the road. There is a certain freedom you achieve when your kids aren’t babies anymore–for example, nobody’s gonna poop their pants (unless you stopped at that food truck you passed, then all bets are off). However, traveling with teens can create a whole other set of joys and challenges. For your amusement, here’s 5 easy tips for traveling with teens.
1. Make sure everyone’s showered AND is wearing deodorant. Yes, this seems like an obvious thing, but sometimes with teens regular hygiene can be dicey at best, and nothing puts pain into hour three on the trip like the rugged aroma of the unwashed masses. Unless, of course, you’re recreating Civil War America and want pure authenticity then go for it.
2. Crank up the tunes. I always think that the driver has first dibs, unless of course I’m not driving, then I institute the “oldest person picks” rule. I like the Eagles channel on iTunes. I feel that it’s my duty as the most musically educated (ok, except for Jody and Sarah but who’s writing this blog anyway?) to spread my knowledge of 1970s rock to the next generation. The Eagles, The Beatles, pretty much any band that represents a bird or insect if up for grabs. I also love me some “Sweet Home Alabama” type music. I see it as my duty. They can’t learn it all from Rock Band. Take some responsibility, parents.
3. If music gets old, have an audio book handy. We listened to “Insurgent” on the way last time. It’s the second book in the “Divergent” series. Good stuff, and Mancub didn’t mind. He actually turned it back on after a pitstop.
4. Take a few short breaks and let everyone switch seats. Those long teen legs need to stretch out periodically, preferably NOT in my back.
5. Have lots of snacks on hand. The last thing you want to happen is to break down on some deserted road. That’s how Texas Chainsaw Massacre starts, people. With Mancub’s appetite I can’t afford to take chances.I don’t have bumper stickers but if I did it would say “The cycle of cannibalism stops HERE.”
Be the change, people. BE. THE. CHANGE.