Thursday, February 27, 2014

anchor of death: or teens, blogging & transition

I've written before about the difficulties of raising teens. One day your kids think you walk on water, the next they think you're the anchor of death, threatening with your mere presence to drag them to the sea-floor of all that is uncool and embarrassing.

I started this blog right on the cusp of this teen adventure, when Gareth (now almost 17) and Olivia (now 13) were 14 and 10 respectively. Although Gareth was already a teenager, he'd slipped into that rather quietly, and it hadn't yet sunk in for me.  I still imagined my kids were kids: attached to me, influenced by me, mine.

The transition to "anchor of death" has taken some doing (in my mind, not theirs). And one place where I've felt awkward about my new role has been on this blog.

When I started writing here, the name "small house, big picture" referred to how the activities of one household connect to the world outside of it. An easy example of this would be how our consumption and disposal habits contribute to the pile at the dump.  But I also thought of this connection in terms of parenthood: our household would teach by example that each of us is more than an important individual; we are all members of a string of communities: from family, to school, to town, to nation, to planet. I wanted to raise children who were not just loving and caring individuals, but active citizens of the nation and responsible stewards of the planet.

It all sounds so lofty now. And it was great for a while. It was easy to feed my toddlers local organic snacks and say we were a green household. But when the toddlers grow up, they eat industrial snacks like Ramen noodles and drink sugary food-dye laden beverages like Gatorade out of, it's true: plastic bottles. If that's not enough for my faint green mother's heart, they throw those bottles in their bedroom trash cans instead of the recycle bin! Egad. When you ask why they didn't adhere to this most basic of green household activities, they'll say, "Oh, sorry. I forgot--" as if you haven't been teaching this practice since they were old enough to walk.  They'll promise to rectify the matter later, but they won't.

A good parent knows to stand back during this time, to trust in what you've taught and let your teen experiment with his or her autonomy. Teens need to make mistakes and try things their own way so they can decide for themselves if they agree with their parents' way of thinking, right? I know I need to pick my battles and keep my mouth shut. But it's so hard!

To be fair, my kids are great. As far as I know, nobody's on drugs, or bullying their classmates, or shoplifting cigarettes from the corner market. They're just typical teens in an our-mother-is-a-hippie-freak kind of way: they're lazy about recycling, never turn off the lights, and take showers that far exceed the recommended 5 minutes touted by many water conservationists. (Although I have to give them a break because I do this too!) And they roll their eyes at me a lot.

The point of all this is that I began to feel uncomfortable about how to write about "our" environmentally conscientious household. Are we really all small-house-big-picture around here if my kids think I'm a kook? I hadn't forgotten the rule about how teens will reject everything I've taught them until they hit their twenties. It's just that I discovered how hard it is to wait that long to see the fruits of my labor.

So this is yet another reason why I haven't been writing as much.

With time, however, I'm getting used to being the anchor of death. It's not so bad, really.  I've also figured out this is still small-house around here, even if I'm the only one who turns off all the lights, loves the compost heap like it's an old friend, or is willing to try brushing my teeth with a piece of bark (I haven't actually tried it yet - will let you know how that goes if I do!). Part of this transition into parenting teens is remembering that you live your life the way you do because it's what you want, not just because you hope your kids will want it too.

That's what I should be writing about.

Just as I'm figuring this out and feeling good about it, Olivia comes home from school and says, "Hey mom, it turns out my English teacher is a 'crazy hippie' like you!" Then she shows me this "totally cool" video she's been "waiting all day" to share with me because she knows how much I'll LOVE it.

So I watch it, not sure what to expect, and it's a Chipotle ad. Perhaps you've seen it:

I do love it. And what a bonus to discover she's been listening all along.


  1. After years of parenting 4 teens, one of which is still at home, I am finally seeing the fruits of my labor. My oldest who has just moved out on her own is making all efforts to shop local and organically when years ago in high school she would not even eat my homemade wheat bread or even think of selecting "brown" over "white" rice at chipotle! My two in college are always sharing with me articles discussed in class or papers actually written on the food industry & recycling. One was picked to do a presentation on her ideas for biodegradable food packaging. While my 16 year old still views me as a "kook," I have hope they she will one day find her strengths and interests and use what I've taught her to make a better world as my other three children have started to do.

    1. choosing brown over white rice over chipotle - yes! that's the most I hope for - and rarely get. So glad to hear confirmation that the rumors are true - kids do eventually grow up! :)