Saturday, March 24, 2012

If it feels like your preteen is drifting away...and other things Justin Bieber taught me

So have you heard the latest about Justin Bieber and Selena Gomez?

Me neither. I couldn't care less. But my daughter does. She almost never smiles at me, but one look at a picture of a boy almost twice her age, and she's beaming. (I'm sure my fascination with Mackenzie Astin on Facts of Life was much more mature.)
I may not have saved Middle Earth like my brother Sean-wise Gamgee, but I did save a Manitoba girl from the twin towers of boredom and homework.

Yesterday hubby and I met with Miss Congeniality aka the school psychologist, and she gave me the best parenting advice I've heard in a long time:

If it feels like your preteen is drifting away from you, follow her.

This goes for autism spectrum and neurotypical children (or "plebians" as my son likes to call them) alike. Meet them where they're at. If he's obsessed with pteranadons or zeppelins, Google them together. If she likes pet games for DS, ask her why she chose that breed, name, or toy. If they like to spin in circles, spin with them. Swallow your dignity and shake those hips to Lady Gaga, fall off that skateboard, get walloped at street hockey. If she's in love with Bieber, use magazine gossip about him and Selena Gomez to start a conversation about respect and romance. What a concept!

I've always been the mom running up the steps to the water slide or bouncing on the carousel. (Part of the reason I had kids was so I'd look less silly doing it.) Those are active, interactive memory-makers for me. The harder part is engaging with my kids on things that seem antisocial and anti-intellectual, like the same video games and Lord of the Rings movies over and over. I want my children to try new experiences and learn new skills, not sit on their butts choosing virtual lipstick shades or warrior costumes. But, I know how much it means to me when my husband ask about my hobbies, so why wouldn't I show the same interest in my children's?

We could keep lamenting the way the next generation is going down the Youtubes, or the fact that our children don't cuddle up for story time anymore or thank us for sharing our favourite movie. Or we could join them.

I don't mean we should stop being the parent who makes them go to bed on time and do their homework. We're not their buddies. If you eat chips together in bed, by all means, make them help clean up. But we can show we care about what's important to them. And that growing up doesn't mean outgrowing fun. A little whimsy never hurt anyone.

Last night, when I walked past 10-year-old G's room at 10:00, the Mini Pops were playing, and I could see her eyes peeking out from the covers, I lifted my hands above my head and wiggled in the most unflattering fashion. I scored one of her rare smiles.

A paparazzi-worthy smile. Meant for me. Never say never.

If you get inside her world, there's gonna be one less lonely girl.