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.

 

 

 

 

 

How to Love Your Depressed Friend

bridge

I think it’s time I just come clean.

I have been suffering from depression and anxiety for as long as I remember. It’s always there, sitting quietly in the corner, letting me know that maybe today is the day he’ll take charge again.
I do my best to keep him there.

But wait. I’m a Christian. How can I call myself a Christian and also suffer from depression? Does this mean I am somehow a liar? Shouldn’t the sacrifice of Jesus be enough to heal me forever from this darkness that threatens to overcome?

Well, here’s the short version: the blood of Jesus IS enough, but sometimes, I’m still sick. Sometimes, God chooses to leave us in our illness. He’s still THERE for us, but he does NOT always heal us.

Even the best Christians get sick now and then, and I’m hardly the best. We don’t blame a woman for acquiring breast cancer. She is celebrated as a fighter. We don’t blame a child for acquiring leukemia. We pray for her healing and think of her fondly, hoping against hope that the tests will come back clean.

Why am I supposedly in charge of my depression? How is this different from any other disease? I’ve had it my whole life, and chances are slim it’s going away. If you are my friend or my family, here is what I need from you.

  1. You can’t really fix me. You can support me, call me, make sure I’m alive.
  2. You can watch my social media and decide if my posts have become too dark. It’s okay to reach out to me. It’s even okay to get angry with me. Just don’t expect me to “buck up” or “be thankful” or “move on” just because you think I’ve “wallowed” too much.
  3. Force me to go do things. Make me leave the house and get some sunlight. If I try to lose myself in my work, don’t let me. Tell me you love me and come over if necessary. If I can’t get out of bed, climb in with me.  Watch reruns of “Downton Abbey” until you can’t stand it. Make me shower.
  4. Make sure I’m taking my meds. No, you don’t have to parcel them out like a nurse or anything, but just ask me … gently…if I think they are working. By the way, DO NOT ask this if we are fighting. This is the equivalent of your husband saying “Wow–are you on your period or something?” NOT COOL.
  5. Love me anyway.

Thank you, Jenny Lawson, for your new book Furiously Happy which reminded me that I can be crazy and still hilarious and cool. You are my hero.

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.

My First Gender Reveal Party

The happy couple! Can you stand it?

Yesterday, I attended my very first gender reveal party.

It was a HOOT.

First, let me explain a couple of things. I hate baby showers. I don’t mind giving gifts or eating cake, obviously, but it’s never just that, is it? Usually, there are embarrassing (or disgusting!) games in which my socially awkward/phobic self is asked to identify melted candy in a diaper (THIS IS REAL!) or to estimate the width of my pregnant friend’s belly using yarn (this never ends well!). Baby showers are the WORST.

So a gender reveal party? Puleese.

I only went because my sweet friend Regan asked me to. I would have probably begged off if she hadn’t actually HUNTED ME DOWN and made me promise to come.

I’m so glad I did.

The first thing that happened: there was a mistake on the Facebook invite. The wrong address was listed. Diligently using my GPS, I ended up on the bottom of a quiet street. A bit too quiet–there were NO CARS AROUND. It looked like the set of the Walking Dead. I swear I saw a tumbleweed roll by.

For a second or two I suspiciously thought I was being set up for some kind of horror/punk’d show where the old lady gets out of the car and is killed immediately OR is scared out of her loosely-fitting Depends while stoner 30-year-old guys in need of haircuts film the whole thing from their skateboards. But really, nobody was there! There weren’t any cars in the driveway at all!

Still, because I am an AWESOME friend, I rang the doorbell. What if she was by herself? What if nobody came to the party and I was the only one! I would immediately be elevated to BEST FRIEND FOREVER status! I didn’t for a moment think that a hottie, hilarious girl like Regan would be friendless, but you never know.

It was like on the horror flicks where you find yourself muttering out loud, “DON’T DO IT. ARE YOU STUPID OR SOMETHING? THERE’S A GUY IN A HOCKEY MASK WAITING FOR YOU.”  I realize this is a bit dramatic and would never really happen since I’m not a hot college sorority girl. It’s not as “in” to kill chubby, middle-aged English teachers.

When nobody answers, I wait for a bit, then realize I might be looking suspicious to the neighborhood watch people so I go back to my car and call my friend. Turns out the party is about 6 houses down. I think she was trying to do the “Well I invited you but you never showed” thing that happened to me in the 5th grade.

Scars run deep, my friend.

Anyway, I finally made it to the party, unstabbed.

In case you never heard of this, a gender reveal party is where a pregnant couple reveals the gender of their unborn baby. In this case, Regan had given the “top secret info” in an envelope to her BFF Cornell who managed to keep his lips sealed for over 2 weeks.

There’s a reason I wasn’t chosen for this job.

Anyway, when I first came in the house, I was handed 5 clothespins. I immediately (but not visibly) rolled my eyes at the thought of a “game.” Please God please God please God…

But turns out, all I have to do is NOT say the words “baby”,” boy” or “girl” to keep my clips, and if I heard someone else say those words I was supposed to confiscate any pins of those who repeated the offensive words. The one who had the most pins at the end of the party won a prize.

There was this adorable little boy running around taking this mission seriously. VERY seriously. I totally accused him of trading on his cuteness to trick unsuspecting adults into giving up their pins. He just shrugged his little Abercrombie shoulders and walked off. He’s already a “cool kid” at the age of 8.

After some delicious food, I had a mimosa and surveyed the mixed pink and blue decor. It was adorable. And quiche? They got quiches, my friend! If you like quiche then you are in heaven!

And then — the grand moment! The unveiling of the gender!

There was a big box, tastefully wrapped in pink and blue tissue paper, topped with about 56 pink, blue and silver bows. The silver I can only assume was a tip your hat gesture to the elderly guests (here’s one for the oldsters!). Regan opened the box and pulled out a baby doll…dressed in yellow.

This was so confusing. Yellow? What’s the deal? Did her friend forget and lose the info? It seemed in poor taste to have a gender reveal party if the ultrasound tech just couldn’t tell…or what if the baby was one of those that DIDN’T HAVE ANY PRIVATE PARTS? I haven’t actually heard of this, but you never know. Everyone looked at one another a bit uneasily. Let it be known: we all made a silent pledge to be supportive should Little Baby M turn out to be sexless.

I even had some names picked out that would work either way. Pat. Taylor. Jordan. Alex.

Finally, it was determined that to find out the FINAL info, Regan had to UNDRESS THE BABY DOLL.

This was hilarious. I can tell she has changed 0 diapers in her glamorous life. Anyway, after a few minutes of struggling with the tiny clothes, she held it up.

An anatomically correct BOY doll. We laughed so hard. I imagined that Cornell was going to have some VERY interesting “suggestions” from Amazon from now on–“If you liked your anatomically correct baby doll, you might also like…” LOL!

Anyway, I’m so glad I came. It was fun, the food was awesome, and I loved the party.

That little mini-Alex Keaton ended up with about 32 clothespins. YOU CANNOT TELL ME HE TRICKED THAT MANY PEOPLE. I feel the game was rigged, but I’m a big enough person I didn’t say anything. Yet. I’m planning to get a reporter from the New York Times to look into it. Hopefully there will be enough evidence to write a hard-hitting expose highlighting corruption in Tyler. In 15 years, I fully expect the kid to be a successful mobster OR Congressman.

I’ve got my eye on you, son.

8 Things Good Leaders Know

TinaBausinger

I am always looking for opportunities to teach my son about leadership. As a college professor and professional in the community, it is my job to lead others on a daily basis. So many times we assume kids learn this trait by osmosis, but that’s not always true. Of course, we should always do our best to model good leadership as a parent and someone they are always watching, but it’s more than just that. Here are 8 things I’ve learned about being a leader and what I want to pass on to my kids.

8 Things Leaders Know

  1. How to treat others. If you don’t know how to be kind and polite, then you are not a leader, you are a bully. A leader must be respectful to others, even those who have nothing to give back to them. Say please and thank you. There’s no excuse for rudeness. A good leader does not need to be brash.
  2. How to be assertive, not abusive. There’s a difference between assertive and bossiness. Being assertive is more about not letting others push you around or talk you out of the right thing. It’s confidence with grace.
  3. When to say no. A good leader does not take on too many projects at once, because she knows that she is only one person and it’s difficult to do a good job when you are spread too thinly. There are only so many hours in the day, and we have to remember that each commitment takes up one more slice of our precious time that might be more wisely allotted.
  4. When to step in. Sometimes, nobody asks you to be a leader, even when it’s plainly obvious that one is needed. Many times, others don’t see the need, or else are afraid to take on the task. If you are qualified and you see a position that needs filling or a problem that you can solve, the worst that can happen is that someone tells you no thanks. There are times when this is more urgent than others. For example, if you are in the grocery store and an elderly man falls over clutching his chest, and you know CPR you MUST step in and help him. If you don’t know CPR, this is not the chance to practice by any means, but statistics prove that many people just freeze up during emergencies. Maybe you don’t know CPR but you have your phone on you and you call 911. This is stepping up. This is solving a problem—leadership.
  5. When to not step back. There are other times when we, as leaders, really want something that we know deep down we are not qualified for. A good leader will wait until he or she is ready. They will procure the proper training, or talk to someone knowledgeable. They will take the next step towards their goal. They will not give up.
  6. How to not burn bridges. Many people, when leaving a place of employment, do so with a blaze of glory—Tweeting, posting on Facebook, etc. all of their personal grievances that caused them to quit (or be fired) in the first place. This is a bad idea. A leader never burns bridges; instead, she tries to make peace with those she’s leaving behind. You never know when your paths might cross again.
  7. How to admit your mistakes and apologize effectively. Leaders are only human. Mistakes are going to happen. A leader does not make excuses or blame others when she makes a mistake. A leader apologizes immediately, accepts blame, and asks how to make things right.
  8. Never, ever do the bare minimum that’s expected. Always give 110%. Leaders are never lazy.

Think I’ve  missed something? What do you think makes a good leader? Comment below!

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