My Teenage Werewolf: A Mother, a Daughter, a Journey Through the Thicket of Adolescenceby Lauren Kessler Published 1 Jan
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"Straight from the trenches, a mom's tale of weathering her daughter's transformation from sweetheart to snark mouth." - People
With the eye of a reporter, the curiosity of an anthropologist, and the open-and sometimes wounded-heart of a mother, award-winning author Lauren Kessler launches an eighteen-month mission, embedding herself in her about-to-be-teenage daughter Lizzie's life. Everywhere from middle school classrooms to the mall, from summer camp to online chat groups, Kessler observes and chronicles-and sometimes participates in-the vibrant, dynamic, and scary life of a twenty-first-century teen.
"My Teenage Werewolf: A Mother, a Daughter, a Journey Through the Thicket of Adolescence" Reviews
this book was well-written & nicely readable & everything...but also a little cringe-inducing. it's non-fiction about the author's attempts to build a better relationship with her teenage daughter, lizzie, than her own mother had with her. kessler explains that she & her mother began their decades-long estrangement when kessler turned thirteen, & she is terrified that her relationship with lizzie might go the same way...even though kessler managed to shepherd two boys through their teenage years without any damage to the parent-child connection. but kessler insists that a mother's relationship with her daughter is different. without ever really explaining why exactly. there's some stuff about how a daughter feels a greater need to separate herself from her mother because they share a gender & the mother psychologically represents the daughter's future. who knows, maybe there's some validity to that, but i do not remember looking at my own mother as a representation of my future. i think teenagers are just difficult, regardless of gender.
so the thing that had me cringing was that basically the entire book is predicated on kessler's own long-standing mommy issues. she doesn't want to be the kind of mother that she had, & she constantly analyzes her relationship with lizzie for signs that she is doing something different/right. every time lizzie behaves in a way that is different from the way kessler behaved when she was a teen (which is constantly, because they are two different people), she takes it as a sign that she is succeeding. it just seems like a neurotic way to raise a child. granted, i do not have a teenage daughter, so i can't speak to the idea that maybe this is just something that all mothers of teenagers do. but damn. i hope i manage to resist the impulse when the time comes.
i was also cringing a little because...well...lizzie seemed kind of bratty. & spoiled. i was a terror as a teen in a lot of ways, but lizzie does shit i'd never dream of doing...& is seemingly rewarded. when kessler decides that she needs to do some "fieldwork" at lizzie's school, observing her in her natural habitat, as it were, she regularly splits during the school day & comes back, bringing her daughter fancy espresso drinks from starbucks, or sushi to replace her lunches packed at home (by kessler--she lets lizzie just pass them off to a classmate). man. i can't begin to imagine my mom buying me a fancy starbucks espresso drink even now that i am 31! let alone when i was 13! those things are like $4 or $5 a pop! i wouldn't even ask my boyfriend of almost four years to drop that kind of cash with no expectation of being paid back!
kessler also mention numerous times that she had "performed for love" as a teen, working hard in school to get good grades in the hopes of making her parents notice & care about her. but lizzie does not work hard in school & has the grades to prove it. the family seems to have a "no internet unless grades are Bs or above" rule, which is good, but kessler causally mentions that lizzie breaks the rule & seems to suffer no punishment. lizzie spends incredible amounts of time online or playing video games. when she sets up her myspace page, she works on it nine hours a day for two days. it is not lost on kessler that lizzie's grades would be much improved if she could muster that kind of attention & focus for her schoolwork. this is all mind-boggling & scary to me because i came of age pre-internet but know i'll be raising my own kids in a digital age, & i really don't know how to deal with letting them have their fun but also setting limits.
& when it comes to boys...kessler knows that lizzie spends a lot of time on teen chat websites, flirting with boys. she sees lizzie blow off one boy's request for cybersex, & she's proud that lizzie said no to the boy, but...mom was sitting right there. lizzie strikes me as amazingly precocious when it comes to boys. she tells her mom that she made out with her boyfriend when she is only twelve years old. i didn't even kiss a boy with closed mouth until i was 16, & it's not like i'm a mormon. i was a teenager in the 90s, i was raised an atheist, i was a punk feminist. i don't know. lizzie seems to know a lot about sex at age 12--more than i did at that age, & it's not like my mom was shy about that stuff. her best friend was a stripper (& we all knew, & understood what that was).
& also, kessler is amazingly critical of lizzie's friends. she fusses over how most of them come from divorced homes, & some of them have a lot of responsibilities as a result. lizzie's best friend was born to a 16-year-old mom & is a latchkey kid who has to spend her weekends taking care of her younger siblings. another friends is bussed in from a "bad" neighborhood & sometimes shares stories about the neighbors having a domestic violence incident. kessler actually writes something about how she & her husband have worked hard so their kid could live in a neighborhood where the neighbors don't beat on each other. like only poor people ever engage in physical abuse. seriously, i was so offended by that. kessler consistently refers to these friends as "sketchy," even though a 12-year-old has no control whatsoever over whether or not her parents get divorced or how old her mother was when she was born. it's not like the kids are smoking crack when they come over to hang out. one of them does get grounded when his father finds a bag of pot in his backpack, but for all of kessler's sturm und drang about lizzie's "sketchy" friends, she mostly just uses this incident to write about how she used to be a huge stoner & she doesn't want lizzie to know that.
i don't feel great about being so critical of this book, because i feel like parenting is really difficult, & no matter what you do, someone is going to step up to the plate to criticize your decision. there's so much judgment between parents, or from non-parents with an idealized perspective about how they'll handle the tough issues when they come up. ultimately, who knows how i'll handle having a teenage daughter, or if i'll ever even find out for sure? but i hope i am able to keep my personal issues to myself.
OK...so this is MY book, my new book, just out from Viking. But I AM reading it to prepare for public readings/ book tour. Reviewers are calling the book "hilarious," "insightful," "harrowing," "poignant" and "like reality TV, only much much better." Which was meant as a compliment, I guess. It's an in-the-trenches exploration of 21st century teen girl culture and that maddening, sanity-stealing -- but absolutely essential -- relationship between mother and daughter.
I had high hopes for this book.....I really did. But after awhile, it just got to the point where I could not finish it.
The book was written in an attempt for the author to maneuver the shark-infested waters of teenage girl adolescence and the tricky mother-daughter dynamic. What drew me to the book was the description of the author submersing herself into her teen's life to have a better understanding of her and her relationship. As a mom of a soon-to-be 13 year old and a 9 year old tweener, I figured this would be a good read for me....and I could get some ideas along the way. Another reason I was drawn to the book was because of my own mommy issues....something I felt I shared with the author.
In the end, I was bored and frustrated. There were quite a few chapters on the science aspects of the teen brain. I understand why this had to be put into the book....a little background is always helpful, but I grew bored with the science part of it. I felt it was too much. My opinion, of course.
Please do not take this review as to be a criticism of another mom's parenting....because it's not. Parenting is hard and we're all trying to get through it the best we can. So, the remainder of this review is, in fact, my opinion.....take it or leave it.
First, let me say that the author has three children - two boys and one girl. She has successfully managed to raise two boys without any issue that she mentions. But the mother-daughter dynamic is a whole other can of worms....and the author's daughter is also the youngest.
Second, we all have mommy issues and all want to do something different than our own mother did....some of us more than others. This book is an example of that. The author spends a lot of time sharing her own mother/daughter dynamic, which, I believe has impacted her need to work harder at her own relationship with her daughter. I get it....I'm doing the same thing.
However, I also believe there is a fine line between normal teenage girl hormones, downright disrespect, and permissive parenting. The author's daughter is, quite honestly, adorable.....to a point. She's strong-willed, knows what she wants......and she knows it. She uses this against her mother (the author) to the point of being manipulative and the author allows it.
The daughter is doing poorly in school.....thanks in part to spending a lot of time on the computer in chat rooms and playing video games. Mom sets up consequences -- no Internet, etc. -- but then when Lizzie breaks the rules, adopts a "oh well" attitude. When the daughter gets in trouble at camp for, once again breaking rules, mom tries to get the consequence changed, even though she admits that her daughter was wrong. Her daughter is rude to her almost constantly, but the author tolerates it....as if she's afraid to step in and tell her that her behavior will not be tolerated.....even though she said in the book that she would not tolerate that type of rudeness from her sons.
Two other things really set me off --
1) The author wrote about her privacy being violated by her own mother....diaries read, snooping in her room, eavesdropping on conversations....something I can definitely relate to. But for as much as she hated that as a teen and said she wouldn't do it herself, she often admits to violating her daughter's privacy in the same way.
2) After a particular shopping trip where mom bought Lizzie a pair of shoes that she's been wanting forever, Lizzie comes downstairs modeling the shoes and is very happy with the results of the shopping trip. The author enjoys a moment of peace and harmony with her daughter...short lived before less than 5 minutes go by before Lizzie pitches a tantrum and says she hates the shoes before throwing them down the stairs. Mom sat there and said nothing. Lizzie never wore them again and mom ended up throwing them out after the cat throws up on them. I read that and sat there stunned. What...the...hell??!! At the time of writing, Lizzie was the same age as my daughter. If she ever pulled a stunt like that, one of two things would have happened -- 1) I would have taken all her other shoes and she'd be wearing the ones that she's "been wanting forever" and I just bought for her until the soles fell off OR 2) Someone would be doing extra chores until the Apocalypse to earn the money to pay me back for them.
Bottom line -- I wish the author and her daughter well and hope their relationship improves. As for me, I'll pass the book on to someone else and stick with my own parenting instincts.
issues to myself.
What I Can Tell You: This book is exactly what mom's of children entering the pre-teen stage. It is written about a daughter but I think the concept works just as well with a son, although Lauren completely mentions how much easier the relationship with her sons were. I do agree that the relationship is different but not necessarily easier. I also believe this is a great book for counselors, teachers, principals of middle schools and anyone who works with children. Very insightful book.
I feel in love with Lizzie, a very smart, head strong girl knows how to "eventually" talk about what is REALLY bothering her. This can only be credited to her very smart mom who obviously raised her to speak her mind and not be afraid to be who she is.
While I can't imagine I would do what Lauren did which is throw herself head first into her daughter's life to figure out what makes preteenage girls work. Reading about Lauren in school with her daughter is exactly what I would want to do. To REALLY see what is going on, to be a fly on the wall and to watch her interactions with classmates, friends and boys. However, I don't know any teenager that would have been OK with this.
You will appreciate the candidness of Lauren's book. Lauren uses humor and common sense to deal with the differences in her and her daughter. At times she wonders who has the issue, something that only few mother's can do. To be able to "pick your fight" is an art form. Something I have totally mastered in my personal life. Knowing when to say "this is my hang-up, my problem, my issue" not theirs is half the battle.
I want to run out and buy this book for all my girlfriend's with daughters. It is not preachy. Is filled with humor and I loved reading Lizzie's comments to her mom. Through their headbutting you can see a deep, deep love between mother and daughter and that was my favorite part of the book.
As the mom of an already spirited 5 year old, I already know that I have to love her for the spirit in her and that I will undoubtedly have many, many moments where I feel like Lauren. However, the one thing I have that Lauren didn't have is her book to help me tread through the waters of preteen angst. God help me!
This book will be sitting in my library waiting for all the times I will have to re-read it. Thanks Lauren and Lizzie for a fantastic journey.
You have to look right, wear the right clothes, be seen with the right people. You can't be too skinny or too fat, too loud or too quiet. Stand up for yourself and what you believe in - unless your opinion is unpopular. This is the world of middle school, the world that author Lauren Kessler delves into in My Teenage Werewolf: A Mother, a Daughter, a Journey Through the Thicket of Adolescence. The story is well told and completely true as Lauren describes her struggled with teenage daughter Lizzie, who, it seemed, went from sweet and loving to attitudinise and mercurial almost overnight. In short, a werewolf.
From psychological research to social anthropology of a world all its own, Lauren leaves no stone unturned as she fights and argues, wounds and is wounded by, sympathizes and scolds, then finally begins to observe and understand Lizzie and her world. Observance during the school day reveals the many layers of the middle school social ladder and the ways it effects Lizzie as things change from day to day. Teachers scold as well as educate, friends shun one day and embrace the next, crushes change and change back, and biting comments are exchanged amongst students, oftentimes masked by denials and lies. Despite the cruelty of middle school, Lauren manages to remain an impartial observer - most of the time. Eventually, mother and daughter are brought closer - until the next misunderstood comment sends mother struggling to see inside daughter's head. The struggles, inevitably, continue though more and more time passes between each misunderstanding. Eventually, a common ground is reached. Mother understands daughter's world, daughter's mind. Daughter realizes that maybe Mom isn't that uncool.
I would recommend this book to anyone looking for an amusing, informative read.