Teens, Tweens and Social Media Madness

BACK IN MY DAY I walked to the sketchy corner grocery store alone, at night, to pick up milk or eggs for my parents. Also back in my day:

  • I played outside long past sunset, until my mom hollered for me to come inside.
  • We biked and walked to friends’ houses, to the store, to school. We didn’t need rides.
  • We had four TV channels: PBS, CBS, ABC and NBC. In high school, some kids were lucky enough to get MTV. We weren’t among them.
  • My high-tech gadgets were a handheld Simon and Wildfire pinball machine.
  • We had one phone that could only go into another room if we had a cord that was long enough.

tweens and phonesEverything has changed. According to an online child safety website, 95% of children, 12 – 17, are online. So many of them accessing the Internet via smartphones.

We finally caved and got Serina, our oldest and a member of the so-called Linkster generation, an iPhone when she turned 12. The breaking point was at a volleyball tournament. Everyone on her team had a smartphone (and an Instagram account) except her and one other girl, who was 10.  For us, it was time.

But let me be clear: Just because she got a phone didn’t mean it was her phone. I have her passwords and check her accounts, which initially caused many arguments, especially when I discovered she changed her passwords to lock me out. “Mom, there’s nothing on there.” “You don’t trust me.” And so on.

After all, to a teen, a phone signifies independence. It is a sign of growing up. It is a license to communicate freely. And it terrifies me.

My concerns were validated at middle school orientation when the principal not only encouraged, but begged parents to stay on top of their children’s phone use, particularly with social media and text messages.

Be nosy. Be as nosy as you possibly can.

“Times have changed,” Dr. Dianne Hasty reminded us. Today, the bulk of bullying takes place online, where mean-hearted kids (and adults) hide behind the screen of anonymity. Experts blame cyber-bullying for a number of teen suicides across the US.  Additionally, the National Center for Health Statistics recently released new numbers, stating that the suicide rate among girls, ages 15 – 19, hit a 40-year peak in 2015.

Depression is also becoming more prevalent.

“Look for signs of depression,” Hasty urged, adding that teachers are instructed to do the same, taking all threats of suicide seriously.

Hasty didn’t go into the subject of online predators, but I am fully aware of those dangers, too.

That night, David and I drew up a contract for our daughters (yes, daughters — we caved again and got Sophia, 10, a phone, too). We started with this: Having a phone is a privilege. Not a right. It is our phone. You simply get to use it. We laid out what constituted violations of this privilege, which included:

  • Swearing/inappropriate language.
  • Visiting inappropriate websites.
  • No phone after 9pm.
  • Staying in a message group in which someone is locked out/excluded or being bullied. At the onset of any bullying, you will come to us immediately. We will discuss and you will remove yourself from the group. You will block the bully.
  • Sexting.
  • Changing your phone password. (If you do change your password, notify your parents of the changes immediately.)
  • Seeing someone you follow use crude and/or sexual language and not blocking/unfollowing. Warn your friends that if they use this language or participate in any bullying, they will be blocked and, if warranted, we will tell their parents.

We also listed consequences for violating our rules:

  • 1st offense: Lose phone for two days
  • 2nd offense: Lose phone for one week.
  • 3rd offense: Lose phone for three weeks.
  • 4th offense: Lose phone. Period.

As we navigate these rocky new waters, it’s hard to say what will work and what won’t. This is hardly the solution for all social media and smartphone madness, but for us, it’s a start. As we move forward, we appeal to other parents to also “be nosy.”

It still takes a village to raise a child. Today, however, we villagers need to be more vigilant than ever before.

 

 

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Thank you, Officer, for my speeding ticket

Reminders to slow down this Fourth of July and all year long

It had been a fabulous weekend! Our daughters were in Atlanta helping a friend celebrate her 13th birthday. My sister, Heidi Hovland, made an impromptu trip to Huntsville, Alabama to spend some quality time with our mom and me.

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A great visit at the Huntsville Botanical Garden with my sister, left, and mom, center.

We had a jam-packed visit. Heidi came in late Friday night, flying into Nashville, renting a car and heading straight to North Alabama. On Saturday, we enjoyed time at the Huntsville Botanical Garden and Bridge Street, a girly lunch at Connors and a lovely dinner (my husband, David, got to come to this one) at Grille 29.  On Sunday, I introduced Heidi to our Church with an 11am service at St. Mark’s Lutheran, which was followed by grocery store runs, library runs, a workout and other must-dos.

After a full weekend, I drove Heidi back to Nashville to catch her return flight to New Jersey. We left at 5:30 am Monday and had two solid hours of sisterly heart-to-hearts. The drive there was wonderful and relaxed. I mentioned that I had to be careful. Tennessee State Troopers would be out in force; after all, it was a long Fourth of July holiday weekend. They would be watching for speeders and drunk and distracted drivers. Fortunately, Heidi and I hit the road early enough to avoid feeling rushed. We soaked in the incredible scenery between the Rocket and Music Cities.

I dropped Heidi off at the Nashville Airport with time to spare. We said our goodbyes and, for me, it was off to the races. My ADD kicked into high gear. Instead of focusing on the two-hour journey ahead, I started a growing to-do list in my head: Fold the laundry, paint the bathroom, walk 7 miles, etc… Suddenly the relaxed mentality with which I had driven to Nashville transformed into an anxious, gotta’-get-back-to-Huntsville-as-soon-as-possible mindset.

Somewhere south of Cool Springs, Waze rerouted me to avoid a horrible standstill on 65 South. Waze is the magical traffic and navigational app designed to save users time and money. It redirected me onto a two-lane highway in Maury County. My mind raced. So, too, did my car, speeding past the beautiful scenery. I paid little attention to the goats, cows and classic red barns dotting the landscape. I also failed to notice the reduced speed limit. After all, this was just a detour. I was saving so much time.

Until a Tennessee State Trooper passed me in the opposite lane. I looked at my speedometer. Time suddenly slowed down. I tried to, as well.  I watched him from my rearview mirror as he did a u-turn, flipped on his flashing lights and sped ahead. Another driver, also from Alabama, and I both pulled over. Two-for-one!

It had been decades since I got a speeding ticket. While not an outrageous speed 20170704_073948violation, it was a violation nonetheless. And it cost me $247.50. When the trooper handed me the ticket, I told him he hurt my heart. He smiled, but didn’t care. I was one of dozens he would likely stop during the holiday weekend

This happened on a day I had taken off of work. I had no reason to rush. Even if I did, the time and money it cost me wasn’t worth it. No excuses.

The officer was kind, professional and patient. He told me I could appear in court on August 18th and could probably avoid the ticket if I went to driving school. “In Tennessee?” I asked. “Yes, in Tennessee,” he said. It looks like I’ll be forking over $250.

I was angry with myself, but fully accepted the blame and costly consequence. I always tell our girls: “Do what you’re supposed to do and bad things are less likely to happen.” It was time to take my own advice. I made a renewed commitment to slow down, on the literal and figurative roads of my life. I had to slow down the spinning wheels in my mind and the speeding wheels of my vehicle. After all, our time on earth is limited and I don’t want to miss a moment with my mother, husband, our children or other family and friends. Plus, follow the rules of the road and we’re all more likely to stay safe, right?

Shortly after I resumed my ride, I stopped at a gas station. Power Ball was up to $121 million. Before I went in, I called my husband to deliver the bad news: “Don’t get mad at me, but… Oh, and by the way, I’m buying lottery tickets.”

“Why not,” he responded. “Today’s your lucky day.”

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Happy Fourth of July, everyone. Thanks to all of our service men and women who continue to secure our nation’s independence and freedom. A special thanks to the police officers, sheriff’s deputies and state troopers who monitor us on the roads in an effort to keep everyone safe and remind us to slow down — on the roads and in our lives.

 

 

 

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Father’s Day 2016

Belated thanks and apologies to my late father, Gjert Andreas Hovland

Dear Dad,

morfarThis is my 14th Father’s Day without you. I remember when you first passed away on October 9, 2002. The hurt was not only emotional, but physical. I had a lump in my throat that made swallowing painful. It faded eventually, but I still feel your absence, especially on Father’s Day.

Today, I can’t wish you a Happy Father’s Day. And I can’t go back and thank you for all the great things you did for me that went, if not unnoticed, then un —or under—appreciated. I can’t apologize directly for the things I did or didn’t do while you were still around. But I can recognize them and put them out to the universe. Perhaps God will relay the message. Or maybe, just maybe, you can sense them from where you are:

  • Thank you for getting me the “How to Change a Tire” video from The Dummies series. I am sorry I never watched it. You wanted me to be armed with information should I ever need that knowledge. I didn’t appreciate the gesture for what it was.
  • I am sorry that, as a child, I went out begrudgingly to help you as you worked tirelessly in the garage after hours to fix cars and “earn a few extra bucks.” I just needed to press the brake and gas pedals and should have done so with a grateful heart as you worked your magic under the hood.
  • Thank you (and Mom) for taking us to Norway so often during our youth. I didn’t appreciate it back then for the incredible opportunity and privilege it was. You helped us develop a relationship with our family — with your families — that we wouldn’t have known otherwise. That we still have today.
  • I am sorry I didn’t ask you more questions. About the hardships you endured as a child growing up during World War II; about the accident in the factory in Egersund that put you in a coma and nearly cost you your life; about the difficulties of making a fresh start as an immigrant in the US; and about the challenges you overcame as a single parent before you and mom were reunited.
  • Thank you for providing me with a college education. I go back for my 25th reunion at the College of St. Benedict next week. I had experiences at St. Ben’s that helped shape who I am today. You and mom made that possible. Today I am grateful and recognize that I didn’t give you adequate thanks for the value of that education.
  • Thank you for walking me down the aisle before “giving me away” to David. Thanks
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    My dad and me at Mindekirken after I married David. He was always supportive in big life events and small.

    for your patience and assurance as I started hyperventilating right before the ceremony.

  • Most of all, I am sorry that I never had an open and honest conversation with you about your drinking. I understand it all too well now. Instead of being angry and resentful, I wish I could have walked through the fear and shared with you a clear dialogue about alcoholism. Who knows where such a conversation may have led us both.

Thankfully, as a parent myself now, I know that you loved me more than anything in the world, despite my shortcomings. You cheered me on and loved me unconditionally, just as you did my wonderful and amazing siblings, Larry and Heidi. You gave us everything you had. And more.

My wish today is that I can provide for my children at least half of what you provided for me. Then I’ll know I have done a good job as a parent.

Love always,
Your youngest daughter

PS: Happy Father’s Day to all the dads out there doing the best they can, including David Robert Petersen, the fabulous father of my children. I love you! For those who have recently lost their dads: I am very sorry for your loss. It does get better. I promise.

 

 

 

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Hello. It’s me.

Hello from the other side.  It’s been a long time since my last blog. Almost a year. A lot can happen in a year, including the release of Adele’s “25,” which surpassed 8 million sales by February. We are among the millions of fans. The girls and I have almost worn out the CD, listening and singing aloud (really loudly) on the way to school each day.

Also over the past year: I was promoted to Director of Annual and Planned Giving at HudsonAlpha. I am grateful to have found a career that drives and challenges me professionally and inspires and fulfills me personally.

serina horseAnother update: our girls’ passion for horses has soared. Serina, 11, and Sophia, 9, spout off facts about care, anatomy, techniques and breeds the way some tweens talk about, well, what do typical tweeners talk about?

Serina and Sophia have done two horse shows, both in Fayetteville, Tenn. Neither “won,”
but they will still tell you it was a great experience and neither can wait for the next opportunity. The girls are presently gearing up for another month of Appaloosa camp at Pine Ridge Day Camp and Equestrian Center.

They want their own horses, of course. David and I have told them they’d have to secure their own funds to buy and board them. Not an easy financial feat, as you might imagine. You should see their young entrepreneurial minds churning.sophia jump

Mormor, after moving back to Minnesota, has settled into her senior living community in Minneapolis. She is also back at Mindekirken, her Church of 50-plus years, where she worships with her fellow Norwegian believers.

Our family returned to Minnesota for a visit last fall. We got to see my oldest niece, Rachel, marry her best friend, Mike McArthur. Beautiful wedding! It was wonderful to see our families, both on my side and David’s. We love our brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles and cousins very much. Time with them is always special.

rachel and mikeSerina also discovered volleyball. She played her first season with the North Alabama Spikers Association and loved NASA. She also won a song recording at a local studio, Maitland Conservatory, through a talent show at the Academy for Academics and Arts.

Sophia dabbled in volleyball too, showing a knack for the sport that I enjoyed playing in high school. She also appeared in a local commercial for Redstone Federal Credit Union and a national print ad for Dollar General.

The summer, I suspect, will be short and busy. We’ll likely say goodbye to Adele and move on to another CD. The girls will have fun and grow in spirit, mind and, in true Petersen fashion, body (Serina was 5’8″ at her 11-year check-up). And hopefully I’ll get back to my writing roots because it just feels right.

 

 

 

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Aladdin: Get Ready for a (magic carpet) Ride

Serina with her proud little sister, Sophia, after opening night.

Serina with her proud little sister, Sophia, after opening night.

When my oldest daughter started her journey with “Aladdin” earlier this summer, neither of us knew where it might lead. This theater business is hard work. Initially, she swore she would never do it again.

Serina is a rising fifth grader at the Academy for Academics and Arts so it’s no surprise that she’s interested in performing. Up until now, though, horses have been her main obsession, leaving little room or desire for anything else.

But as the Aladdin production, coordinated by the Huntsville Community Chorus Association and directed by Micki Lighthall, took shape, Serina had a serious attitude shift. Two weeks in, she came home dancing and singing songs from the Disney classic. (Now I can’t get Arabian Nights and A Whole New World out of my head.) Sometimes the rehearsals ran late. During “tech-week,” she came home at 10:30, long after her early-bird mom had gone to bed.

Aladdin (Guerin Tidwell) and Jasmine (Eboni Booker) following the matinee on July 18.

Aladdin (Guerin Tidwell) and Jasmine (Eboni Booker) following the matinee on July 18.

By the time opening night rolled around, however, Serina, was hooked on musical theater. So was I. The cast of 80 kids (18 and under, hence Disney Jr.) was phenomenal. They spent their summer vacations working their talented tails off and the payoff was huge. The cast, directors, producers, tech folks, set and costume designers and the countless other volunteers were rewarded with the satisfaction of a job well done, having pulled off a spectacular community production in about eight weeks. The community was rewarded with an hour-long show that showcased some of Madison County’s amazing young talent.

Eboni Booker plays Jasmine. The Sparkman High graduate has a phenomenal voice, which she’ll continue to grow when she starts the University of Alabama at Birmingham this fall.

Guerin Tidwell, a student at Bob Jones, delights as Aladdin. Marcus Gladney, a rising junior at Lee High School is smokin’ as Genie. Marcus is a product of AAA and we are proud of him. Be sure to keep an eye out for Jafar and Iago, as well. This villainous pair often stole the show, as did the magic carpet, cleverly played by Ella Jackson, a rising sixth grader at AAA.

Serina with Genie (Marcus Gladney)

Serina with Genie (Marcus Gladney)

You only have three chances left to check out this summer smash. I’m learning what many others have known for years: This community has an amazing pool of talent, showcased on stage and behind the scenes. If you can make it to Randolph School’s Thurber Arts Center, be sure to hit one of the following remaining shows:

  • Friday, July 24, 7pm
  • Saturday, July 25, 3pm
  • Saturday, July 25, 7pm

Tickets are $15 for adults and $10 for kids.

I’ve always told Serina God gives us all gifts. Her beautiful voice is one of hers. It is wonderful when your child not only discovers, but embraces, her gift. As a mom, that makes my heart sing.

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A Mother’s Day Farewell

Mormor is headed back to Minnesota.

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Mormor with us in November 2013.

They call ours the sandwich generation and we were a classic example. Only sometimes the bread crumbles and the sandwich falls apart.

In July 2012, my mom, Sigrun Hovland, moved from Minneapolis to Huntsville, AL. It would be perfect! She would share a home with my husband, our two daughters, and me. This would be happily ever after for all concerned.

While she would be close to us and vice versa, we didn’t consider the fact that we uprooted this amazing woman from a community in which she’d been deeply entrenched for nearly 50 years. She had developed a solid network of friends, mostly fellow Norwegian natives who shared her language, customs, Church, political views and coffee addiction.

Celebrating Mormor's birthday, 4/9/15.

Celebrating Mormor’s birthday, 4/9/15.

This Mother’s Day will be her third with us here in Huntsville. It will also be her last. Mormor, as the children call her, heads back to Minnesota on Tuesday. We will miss her terribly, but respect her desire to return to the soil in which she’d so firmly planted her roots when she immigrated to the States in 1964.

It might sound like a great idea to have your mother move in with you. For us, it did, and it was for many reasons. For starters, she and our girls, Serina (freshly 10) and Sophia (just shy of 8), developed a bond that would never have been possible otherwise. She is their last surviving grandparent and they adore her. I know that they are better for having had Mormor here to shape, influence and love them unconditionally.

Easter Sunday 2015, with Mormor at St. Mark's.

Easter Sunday 2015, with Mormor at St. Mark’s.

What we didn’t realize is how isolated she would be. Both David and I work full-time and the girls are in school. She was alone all day. Sure, we have great resources and an active senior community, but it isn’t easy for everyone to start over socially at 78.

The family dynamics can be challenging, as well. Mom struggled when David and I disagreed. As my mother, she would occasionally get mad at my husband on my behalf. (Yes, we all have our issues.) Mom and David also have strong, yet opposing political perspectives. They love each other very much, but just because you love someone doesn’t mean you can or should live with them.

Mom is also worried about her neuropathy, which continues to take an aggressive toll on her health.

She had lived alone since October 2002, when my dad passed away. She likes things certain ways. So do we. Those “ways” don’t always align, a potential source of tension in any living arrangement. Multi-generational living works in many other cultures. I’m sure it has also worked for other families in the U.S. It just didn’t work for us.

A few months ago, Mom told me she’d been reading the serenity prayer:

God grant me the
Serenity to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.

It’s been my personal go-to prayer for years so I was happy to hear she’d been meditating on the message. Even so, I was surprised when she said God granted her the courage to change the things she could. She was moving back to Minnesota.

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Merry Christmas 2014 – with the girls and Zoey.

My immediate reaction was that I had failed her. I hadn’t made it work. Thanks to good friends and a loving God, however, I finally realized it wasn’t about me. It is about my mother.

At age 81, she has demonstrated the depth of her courage by embarking on this new journey. Next week, Mom will move into a senior living community, Augustana Care, in South Minneapolis. She will be near her friends, her Church, my brother, Larry, and her favorite stores, Ingebretsen’s and the Wedge.

The Minneapolis community is lucky to get this incredible woman back. We were beyond lucky to have her here for as long as we did. God blessed my children with a deep and special relationship with their maternal grandmother. Mom says God blessed her during this “season,” as well.

We are going to Minnesota in August for my niece, Rachel’s, wedding. We’ll see Mormor then in her new digs, which I know will fit her beautifully.

In the meantime, we will shed a few tears.

Mom, we love you and we will miss you more than you know, but wish you all the best in your next adventure. Happy Mother’s Day!

Posted in Faith, Family, Mother's Day, multi-generational living, Southern living | 1 Comment

Fun and Flurries: Snowmageddon 2015

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This year, winter in Huntsville, Alabama has been rather uneventful. Then came Feb. 25 and 8.1″ of snow, the second snowiest in the city’s history, according to the National Weather Service. While the roadways were deserted, Huntsville neighborhoods were buzzing with wintry activity. Residents came out in full force, dressed as appropriately as possible, to celebrate. As a Minnesota native, even I can appreciate the occasional snowfall, knowing it will be gone within a matter of days.

Our daughters, Serina and Sophia, were among the kids who embraced the flurries. Along with their friend, Abagail, they ran around in the snow as it continued to fall Wednesday night. By Thursday morning, they discovered the drifts and the dance was on.

I managed my usual 5-mile walk-run along the Greenway with my dog. That’s my kind of fun. Zoey’s, too. Upon my return, it was all about the kids.

We eventually tried building a snowman, but by then the temps had risen into the upper 30s and the snow was damp and heavy. Even so, Abagail and Serina persevered, eventually completing their “snowgirl,” Lucy. It was a far cry from the giant snowman someone built around the corner, but the girls were perfectly happy with their creation. The girls also welcomed our young neighbor, William, into the snowy mix. Looking quite dapper in his blue snowsuit, this sweet guy quickly captured their hearts, especially Serina’s.

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Playing in the snow is great exercise so after a good hour or two, we’d had enough. It was time to throw our clothes in the dryer, eat chicken noodle soup and seal the deal with a good cup of hot chocolate.

After about 24 hours, most of the sensational snow had already turned to slush. Next week, temps in Huntsville are expected to hit 60. By then, Snowmageddon 2015 will be a distant memory, captured in a few photos that we’ll admire while sitting on the back deck in our shorts and t-shirts. Just the way we like it.

Posted in Ala., Family, Running, Southern living | 2 Comments