SnowOne point five centimetres of perfectly shaped frozen ice crystals link together and balance perfectly on every single tiny branch and twig of every single oak tree lining the streets. The street lights play with the edges of this decoration in a way that makes the line of each branch spectacular, all on its own. Many more centimeters of the beautiful icy fluff lie on the ground.

The light is perfect. The snow is light but not powdery. It kicks up rewardingly with each step of my Sorels. The gentle hills in this old neighbourhood overlooking the river are just challenging enough to stride up on a warm day. In the snow, they test limits just a little more. The costume the landscape wears changes this place entirely. It is pure magic and wholly unfamiliar. Everything is new, cool, crisp and inviting to explore.

The hills of Jim Hadgkiss Park are the perfect slope for toboggans. Fast, but gentle enough and ending in a general upslope instead of a street. In the dark, with only the street lamps to light them, they seem lit like a movie set. Four or five parents and a few teens too sophisticated for childish pursuits stand by a lively propane fire pit at the top of the hill while children on every mode of slippery conveyance careen down the hill. Some manage to hit the one ramp built to give them some thrilling air before they land hard on their behinds and slide on. I am taken back to long afternoons in Edward’s Gardens in Don Mills, sliding down and running back up until my lungs burned with the effort.

The crisp indents of a big truck’s tires describe a perfect three point turn as I return up the hill to my home. Every snowflake has obediently conformed to outline this powerful and commanding graphic shape that describes intractability in the face of weather-born impediment.

In this complex, angry world, all of this has happened on a quiet Sunday evening in one tiny historic landing on a riverfront town. Hate, anger, prejudice and evil machinations have no place here. There is only calm, the hush of a snow-covered landscape. Peace.

Reposted from my post on Medium.

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Just this minute, I flopped down on top of the quilt on my bed. The first sense I am aware of is smell. Fresh air, fresh linens, fresh laundy. My dear cleaning lady has been here today, putting things to rights on a day I needed it more than almost any other. It reminds me of my room as a child on a spring day. Sheets fresh off the line made my bed the most fabulous place on earth.

My beautiful momma drew her last breath last night. She was (and this is not just my opinion) a force. Sheila Mary Diakiw (nee Sowden) was a fiery, intelligent, witty, funny and very talented juggernaut. She raised six children (carried eight). She loved and supported a husband who succumbed to alcoholism, mental illness and, finally, suicide of the most violent nature. Undeterred, she found work with the RCMP as a civilian member, and then joined CSIS (the Canadian Security Intelligence Service). Due to security concerns, I never actually knew what she did (but I did sleep better knowing she was doing it). All the while, she wrote creatively, gardened year-round, prepared incredible meals and entertained anyone who needed shelter from their own personal storm.

She was a Supermom. Nothing mattered to her more than all of you.
— Jerry Diakiw

My mom had a tough childhood, but not insurmountable. She grew up in Simcoe, Ontario. She had a good home, if you can describe alcoholic, warring parents who used their children as pawns as good….She was often spirited away in the night with her baby brother by her mom, back to Salt Lake City and away from her father. But she had food, love and shelter and beautiful memories here and there — growing up on a farm of peaches, asparagus, tobacco and a grand stone house built by her father.

She was a graduate of the University of Western Ontario, Brescia College. She read voraciously. She made friends easily, but suffered fools poorly. She was generous to a fault with her time and love. She volunteered at hospices, teaching her youngest children the importance of every aspect and milestone of life.

Mom was highly sensory. Smells, beauty, music and great food moved her to poetry. Newborns, flowers, laundry fresh from the line, Willie Nelson, Gregorian chant and L’il Abner pork chops. If there was sunshine outside, the windows were open, fresh air chasing out stale air and comingling with the smells of baking, pickling, or a roasting chicken.

She was Bellogia perfume, tailored little shifts, and hats — Jacquie Kennedy incarnate. Sheila Mary Lollipop was handmade gingham skirts adorned with bric-a-brac. Sheila Mary was size seven and a half, triple A, very, very fine shoes. Nonny was a threat behind the wheel and could sing harmony to anything. She was peek-a-boo, grilled cheese sandwiches and unspeakably bad language.

Her story is worth a book. Her life was priceless.
We will always miss you, mom.

Sheila left this world just before midnight on April 26, 2016, just two days after her 83rd birthday. 

In my last post, Mom was in Richmond Hospital…she still is.

On the 20th of September (two and a half weeks ago), my sister called me while I was in Chicago to tell me that the social worker on mom’s ward said she was medically well and they wanted her out and could we take her in the next few days? This was my written response:

I am in Chicago at the moment, but Libby called to let me know that you are anxious to discharge my mother. As I discussed with Gina Dhami on Monday, our mom has had a dramatic personality change since being admitted to Richmond Hospital a week ago, and we are trying to assess our next best steps to care for her.
We are deeply concerned that her behaviour and demeanour was not like this before she went into Richmond Hospital for an infection. We might attribute the deterioration in her mental state to the infection were it not for the fact that Richmond Hospital opted to change her antipsychotic medication. I am copying her psychiatrist, Dr. Rabin of Richmond Mental Health and Dr. Passmore of Mount St. Jospeh’s Hospital on this email so they know what has transpired.
Sash, my concern is that while Dr. Passmore took several weeks to wean my mother off of Seroquel and on to Risperidone to improve her mood and mitigate her agitation, Richmond Hospital chose to not only remove the Risperidone and put her back on Seroquel, but to reduce the dosage of Seroquel she had been on before she went to Mount St. Joseph’s. We do not understand why this was done and feel that our mother’s current mental state cannot be adequately or accurately assessed when her medications have been so abruptly changed. Furthermore, we’re baffled as to why this was done when our mother was being treated for a UTI, not an emotional issue. Libby has spoken to the hospitalist about this on a couple of occasions, but has been rebuffed and told that this is our mother’s new baseline. We respectfully disagree until our concerns have been properly investigated.
Making a decision on our mother’s living arrangements is premature until we know if this mood change is due to natural disease progression or to an ill-advised medication change. If it is the medication change that has done this, we would like that to be assessed and rectified.
I feel that we are being bullied into getting our mother “off the books” at Richmond Hospital. This is not the first time we have had an issue with Richmond Hospital, which is why I am also copying Claude Stang (DIrector – Critical Care/ED/Medicine/Patient Flow) who will be familiar with the last issue. We do feel that there is a “so what” attitude coming from the hospital because of our mother’s age and health. I believe that Richmond Hospital is ill-equipped to deal with geriatric psychiatric patients. If this is the case, perhaps Vancouver Coastal Health needs to consider transferring our mother to a hospital better suited to the task. Had we been able to take our mom to Mount St. Joseph’s for this infection, we would have done so, but she presented with a high fever after MSJ’s emergency department was closed and we didn’t feel she could wait until morning.
In the meantime, we are looking at housing options for our mom as, at this point, she is adamant that she not go back home because she is wildly angry at her family. This is not something that we can accomplish at the snap of a finger, so you will have to afford us a bit of time to figure it out.
Subsequent to writing this letter, my mom calmed down and has said she would prefer to live at home. So, we waited for the hospital’s response. It has, at this writing, not appeared. There was a brief email acknowledging my email, but nothing further has happened. I find it appalling that my email should remain unanswered. It reflects the lack of concern the hospital holds for elderly patients and, perhaps, patients in general.
I hope that Vancouver Coastal Health will either order Richmond Hospital to divert elderly patients to more suitable hospitals in the future, or institute the systemic change needed to remedy this untenable situation.

Dementia is the worst kind of trap, sometimes offering glimpses of sanity that fade away like fog through grasping hands.

Last Monday, before I left for a week-long trip to Chicago, I met with my mom in hospital. She had been admitted about a week earlier with a urinary tract infection, an almost bi-monthly event these days. Her fever was very high and we were forced to take her to Richmond Hospital again, a hospital that has about as much experience with geriatric psychiatry as they do with dolphin training. In the course of this particular visit, I was hit with the force of all that dementia can bring to bear in twisting a human mind.

My mom’s meds had been meddled with and she was in a fury like almost none I have seen before. She was beside herself with anger and vowing that she would never return to live at home with my sister. She had created all kinds of horrible scenarios in her mind of what she was living with there. I listened. She sounded deceptively lucid. I validated her feelings, but not her allegations. She made the case that she would do anything but return to that “ugly, gaudy house” that she lived in. I asked where she thought she should live, and she just repeatedly launched into a diatribe about how ugly the house is and how much she hated living with my baby sister. I thought,”Well, this is it. She really won’t live with Libby again. We’ll have to institutionalize her”.

Drawing on my rational side, I accepted what she was saying and suggested I bring her lawyer by to chat with her before she made her final decision. I met with the hospital social worker, left a message with the lawyer’s office and got on my plane.

Now to today. I have spoken with her lawyer who asked me to tell her I’d spoken with him. He wanted me to make sure she understood that she had two options: home or institution. I was able to do that without once saying “institution” which makes her furious. In the week I’ve been away, she still loathes the house, and still imagines all kinds of bizarre scenarios in Libby’s daily life, but she doesn’t want to live away from “home”. She wants to be with her grandchildren (that’s a new one) and with Libby’s dogs.

I spent an hour and a half with her, making sure that she was “sure”. At this point, I don’t give any solution more than a week before she wants to change it again, but if she goes into an institution, there is no going back. If she goes into an institution, we have to sell her house and Libby will have to find another place to live. There won’t be a house for her to go back to.

It is a crappy situation for mom. Can you, yourself, imagine having only two real choices for where to live? When we are younger, even if we do feel “trapped” there are always choices. We have possibilities that we can work on to make things different. But when you are infirm, requiring 24/7 “eyes-on” care, most people have zero choices.

It’s no wonder that mom is furious. She’s not really angry about the house or about Libby, she’s angry that there is only a coin. That coin has two sides and she doesn’t like either one. So she tests it, trying to see if there is another side, another possibly. If she makes herself big enough and scary enough, can she make another choice happen. No, it’s horrible, but no. That damned coin keeps falling on the wrong side.

It is staggering that you can have a very large family (I have 4 living siblings) and countless friends, and yet have no one to which you can talk about a parent. Your siblings all have their own lives, their own baggage, their own hurts. Your friends have their own parental issues to deal with, in addition to the challenges they have with their children.

My mom, as previous posts will bear out, is a big challenge. She is razor smart and has her finger on every “hurt” button for every child she has. If her back is against the wall, she will press all those buttons and the missiles are unstoppable. She may have dementia big time, but she still knows how to bring every one of us to their knees. She herself is frightened, discouraged, angry and extremely frustrated by her situation. She can’t drive (like, 20 years ago, but she thinks they pulled her license yesterday), she has alienated almost every friend she’s ever made, and those she hasn’t alienated are dead. She is alone in the way none of us ever want to be. Her answer is to draw deep and hard on her kids. She needs us every waking hour. And when she tires of us, she’ll throw poison barbs at us for separating her from her “real” friends, her “real” life.

Dealing with a parent with dementia is a lose-lose proposition. No matter what is in front of them, they will see exactly the opposite. That leaves us kids with only each other to talk to. And that is the last place we can go. Dealing with a parent with dementia stirs up jealousy, suspicion and anger among siblings because we all feel guilt that what we do isn’t enough and that what our siblings do isn’t enough. It is a vicious loop that I know did not exist for my family before my mom descended into her madness. We have a large family…siblings we have been extremely close to for our entire lives…and yet we cannot safely reach out to each other. It is our albatross.

Emily Elias, a reporter for CBC Radio interviewed me and my mom last week about what it’s like to live in the sandwich generation. There are people who have it SO much harder than I do, including my sister Libby who cares for actual children (not grown ones like mine) as well having my mom living with her every day. This is just what people in our generation are having to do more and more. I appreciate that Emily read my blog and did this interview.

This post (and it is also a letter) has been brewing — not for a few weeks — but for over a year — well over a year, in fact.

It surrounds the fact that the medical staff at Richmond Hospital (in British Columbia, Canada), but for a few exceptions, is in need of a reality check. I speak of the ER and the wards in the North Building, with which I have direct experience.

First, let me tell you about an experience shortly after the new year in 2012. My husband, in the last stages of an epic and heroic 6-year battle with pancreatic cancer, was directed to Richmond Hospital one night because BC Cancer Agency Vancouver (BCCA), where we would normally go, was slammed. He was neutropenic, which means that his immune system was so compromised that he could not withstand any bacterial attack. His situation was very serious and I knew this because he had been this way in the past and I was familiar with protocols. In a perfect world, I would have taken him to BCCA and he would, as usual, have been whisked into a bed and attended to immediately. We went to Richmond Hospital and waited. We waited, not for treatment, but for triage….for 45 minutes in an EMPTY waiting room. While we waited, the triage nurse chatted comfortably with an ambulance attendant and, as they were right near us, I could hear that the conversation was personal. When I got to triage, I asked what the timeline might be for my husband to be seen. The relatively disinterested nurse said she couldn’t say. I told her that this was inadequate given my husband’s situation and that I would proceed with my him to VGH. She protested mildly. We went. Although there was a waiting room FULL of patients at VGH, we were seen immediately and my husband was rushed through the underground tunnels to the safe haven of BCCA to be treated in relative isolation.

My beloved husband succumbed to his illness in March last year. Richmond Hospital staff continues to rule through its rather twisted work ethic. I call it that because of my own observations, but also that of a student nurse I know who was told that, “We’re not WalMart greeters, so don’t make eye contact with patients or families”. I have seen this numerous times where even the ward clerk will studiously avoid eye contact, even when someone is standing right in front of them needing help.

My mother is a “frequent flyer” with Richmond Hospital. She is a 79-year-old with advanced dementia. She has a nasty attitude, doesn’t want to be called “dear” and has an issue with people speaking to her as if she is either stupid or deaf. She is fiercely independent and demands that she be treated with dignity. She has chronic pain, a history of falling and a plethora of medical issues from diverticulitis to renal failure.

Taking her beyond “a number”, she is a mother of 6 children. Her husband shot himself when her youngest children were 7 and 5, leaving her to figure things out while mired in debt. She found a job with the RCMP which took her a full year to get clearance to do, all while working in minimum wage retail jobs. She subsequently became an employee of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service and protected our country from foreign threats for years. She lost her eldest son at the age of 40. She has 5 remaining children and eleven grandchildren who love her and respect her. She is a university educated, well-read, well-spoken woman who has lost her cognitive abilities as well as most of her physical mobility due to broken hips.

We have found a way for mom to live at home with my sister and her children, with help that is lightly subsidized by the Province, but which largely falls on my sister, backed up by the rest of us. We are deeply saddened by the people we have seen in care homes in Richmond, who simply pass the time until they die, without adequate stimulation, warmth or dignity. Our mom spent about 3 months in one of Richmond’s “best” care homes and we couldn’t get her out of there fast enough.

When my mom comes into Richmond Hospital by ambulance, which happens almost monthly, most of the staff know her by now. There are some great people in the ER, and there are some who see elderly patients as an annoyance. They treat her and other aged patients with deep disrespect, joking about them loudly at the desk, within easy earshot of their families. My sister has spoken to the staff there in the past about their cavalier attitude, but it continues.

When my mom makes it up to the North Building, things really deteriorate. My mom is treated (perhaps justifiably) as a “problem” patient. The solution is to tie her to a chair and leave her by the desk, or leave her in a room on her own and just ignore her. We have seen and heard staff speak to her with extreme rudeness, impatience and callousness.

Whether she is a problem or not, she is a patient. Many dementia patients are difficult. My mom is not unique in this regard. However, as trained healthcare professionals, the staff at Richmond Hospital surely must be able to deal with this. Or are they not?

The most recent event ended today with mom being discharged before she was physically ready to be discharged. It’s the Easter long weekend, staff levels are undoubtedly reduced and mom has nothing “medically wrong with her”, despite the fact that she came in able to walk 4 days ago and now can no longer do so. The staff was hostile with my sister who came to get her and objected to the fact that she could not ambulate. The overall impression we have gotten from the staff at Richmond Hospital is that our mom is old, she should be in a home and there is no point in doing anything more for her. She’ll die soon, what’s the point?

This is a human being I am talking about. Ignoring the fact that she is intelligent, well-educated and loved by a large family, she is a person.

I believe that much of the medical staff at Richmond Hospital has lost sight of why they are there. They are concerned only with “their system”, their “way of doing things” and in making sure no one expends any more energy than they are paid to. I have not seen this in Mount St. Joseph, Surrey Memorial, Children’s Hospital, Delta Hospital and most especially not at VGH or BCCA with which I have more experience than I care to have had. There is a level of professionalism at these other hospitals that doesn’t crack with the first glitch in a patient interaction.

I was recently surveyed by a polling agency about Richmond Hospital Foundation. I have to tell you that I cannot separate that Foundation from the wretched care my mom has received at Richmond Hospital. I would not, under any circumstances come to Richmond Hospital in an emergency…at least not while I was conscious and could make the choice. Patients are not the focus in this hospital. That much is abundantly clear.

We have decided as a family that we will find a way to hire a private ambulance or get mom into a car and take her to another hospital from now on. To subject her to the indignity and disrespect afforded her at Richmond Hospital should be considered elder abuse.

I hope that this letter will somehow precipitate change. As we are all aware, Canada’s population is aging. Dementia is not going away. Age-related illness and frailty are not going away. Richmond Hospital needs to step it up and re-evaluate why they are there and who they serve.

My mother is dying. Not soon…but soon. She is only 79 years old, a victim of stroke, broken hips, renal failure and likely a repeatedly broken heart.

Mom is an intelligent and well-educated woman. She earned her BA at University of Western Ontario’s Brescia Hall in 1953. She had a quick wit and a wonderful imagination. She raised six kids under the specter of a depressed and alcoholic husband, debt, and living in “nice” neighbourhoods that kept that sort of thing covered up. When my father committed suicide, my mom was only 44 years old. She sucked it up, went out and found a job with the RCMP that took her a year to get clearance to qualify for, and she managed alone. She advanced to the Canadian Security Intelligence Service. She retired at 60. She had her first stroke only two years later. Shortly thereafter, my brother overdosed and died on Vancouver’s downtown east side. She broke one hip, then the other. It’s been a downhill slide from there.

I would expect that most of us, knowing that someone had gone through so much in life and done it so bravely, would hope for that person to get a break in their “golden years”. Yet I have not seen evidence of that break for her, nor for anyone I know over the age of 60. Something happens to people over 60 if they are in any way incapacitated by illness. They are pulled from the assembly line. They become less than important — especially to the medical profession. There is a sort of slow motion triage performed, where those who are becoming troublesome with a lengthy list of medical issues are no longer a priority. My mother’s medical team’s biggest concern these days is that the Do Not Resuscitate Order is current and signed. When they found a new cerebral infarct of 15mm in her left hemisphere just after Christmas, they didn’t tell us about it until two weeks later. I can’t help but think that their reasoning is that she is going to die soon anyway…what does it matter. If my younger sister had had such a discovery made in her brain, the sirens would be wailing.

Do we ever expect our lives to go this way? 

Do any of us really plan for our senior years going sideways? I would assume that most people imagine themselves retiring and doing something fun with their freedom — travel, golf, volunteering — not becoming dependent on others or incapacitated. Has anyone really planned for assisted living or, worse, a nursing home? I’ve been pretty much unstoppable up to now. I’m still abundantly well, but I’ve noticed a change in the way doctors treat me. Where once a joint pain would be treated respectfully, now “it’s just arthritis”. When did arthritis become “just arthritis”? Is every patient measured against an age standard that qualifies the need to respect a symptom? Do we expect that medical care “tapers off” at a certain age? Will we smile benignly and respect our doctor’s word and play along?

What happens when we get sick as an older person? 

I would have to start with the approach. For some reason, seasoned medical professionals seem to believe that an older person is, by definition, deaf and more than likely incoherent. My mother is neither and she is justifiably livid when people yell at her like she’s a vegetable. When she is hospitalized for an infection, which is often these days, she is treated like a smelly mop in a closet rather than a human being. She is ignored, treated rudely when she asks for help, and disrespected at every turn. How did the bright, lively, fun woman of only 18 years ago become a less-than-human number with a chart, a medication regimen and a food plan — an inconvenience for busy nurses. Granted, dementia has made my mom difficult to deal with. She uses her sizable vocabulary and her amassed fear and anger to lash out at people. But that’s what the medical profession is trained for, is it not?

And how does the medical system treat us when we become “older”? My own experience being on the wrong side of 55 is that there is a shift in the attitude of the  medical profession when they address anything from an ache to a pain. The emphasis is on preventing death, not enhancing life.

Care Homes are Warehouses

There is no conceivable way that care homes can offer the kind of care our aged really need. Even though they might stare with blank eyes, there is someone’s little girl or boy in these residents — someone who had dreams and loved. They are not pieces of furniture do be moved about for the convenience of an efficient system.

Speaking for my own mom, who still has some fight in her, she was in a care home for about 2 months before we could get her home organized to live with my sister. It was awful. She was ignored, shushed and hurried along. Dining room attendants smacked plates down in front of her and snatched them up before she was finished. And that was in front of me. Who knows how they behaved without me there? The “entertainment” in these homes is geared to the lowest common denominator, so anyone who’s mind is still half engaged is bored to death.

Staff is, on the whole, just doing a job. They are not engaged and they are visibly repulsed by the smells and behavior of the elderly. They are, quite simply, cattle hands.  They move people about, prod them when they’re slow and lock them up at night while they cry and call out. This is not a dignified way to live and so, many just hurry up and die.

A Better Way?

In Copenhagen, there is a home for 23 residents, 70% of whom have dementia. Somehow, the Danish government has managed to see elder care as a major focus, and this home, called Lotte, is a shining example of its success. I heard about this on CBC Radio back in November while I drove across Vancouver Island one rainy Sunday. You can read a brief introduction and hear the whole story here. I was stunned by how beautiful the story was. This system, which places an amazing amount of trust and confidence in the ability of dementia patients, works. Why can’t we do this in Canada? Is it a mindset or is it really a budgetary issue? How is it that one can find the utmost — real respect — for dementia patients in Denmark, where here they are put out of sight and out of mind so they don’t bother anyone? I will venture to say that it has to do with the way we see our elderly. They are no longer useful. They are hard to talk to, as they know so little about our “modern world” and so we feel the need to park them somewhere safe. It is there that they slowly go mad from boredom, loneliness and being treated like livestock instead of family.

What do you think?

Am I being harsh or inaccurate? I’d like to know what you think. It’s not a problem that can be solved quickly but, as the baby boomers like myself age, it will become an inescapable moral dilemma for our children. Shouldn’t we all be focussing on the dignity of our elders, and finding innovative ways to preserve it, while taking safe care of them?

I had a bad day today. My mom beat me up as surely as I was a five-year-old and she a drunken brute.

I felt the loss of my soulmate, Ray (March 23, 2012) so acutely today. I keened for an hour this morning. But I had committed to go see my mom. She is in respite care for two weeks while my baby sister has extensive reconstructive surgery. My brother took her there yesterday. My mom thought that she could stay home and take care of Libby herself, such is her delusional state.

What I endured after I got there was excruciating. My mom railed against every one of her children for an hour, for their deceit and their manipulation of her. I was in a weakened state. I was powerless to stop her. I just listened and somehow managed not to scream.

I was a shaking, weeping wreck when I left. She couldn’t have cared less. She was pissed off and nothing else mattered.

I will grant you, my mom is terrified of her current state. She expressed her knowledge (and anger) that perfect strangers have observed her behaviour. She now knows that she is a handful and she can no longer hide it gracefully. She knows she is very difficult to be around. We no longer have to dance around that issue.

She believes we deceived her because, even though this has been discussed with her for three weeks now, telling her that she will be there for two weeks, she had it cooked up that it was a day or two. Even if it had been a day or two, she was angry that we “shanghaied” her and got her there without her being in control. It was the same when she was summarily moved out of her assisted living facility into a care home, and then again when we moved her into my sister’s (actually her) home, so that she wouldn’t have to endure the care home any longer.

I think it has to do with dementia patients’ inability to adapt to any sort of change. Although, I’m fairly sure not all dementia patients are able to lay waste to their families as effectively as my mom does. I know my mom is scared. I know she is feeling cheated and deceived. But, my GOD, it would be so much easier to comfort her if she wasn’t trying to hurt us as much as possible at every turn. Her only solution to anger is to throw caustic words, and her aim is very true. She can fester guilt where none should be. Like a border guard, you just know when you have to talk to her, you’re going to sweat for no reason. Not the relationship one would want with their beloved mother.

So, today, I am the walking wounded. Had I not had to endure so much in the last year, I might have been more resilient. But I’m not. And so I limp away, with hopes of bouncing back with a smile for her again very soon.

Are teenagers more difficult than they were 20 years ago? Consider the world then…1992. Desktop computers were a luxury for the few. The internet was a concept most of us couldn’t really get our heads around. In 1992, teenagers watched some TV. They talked on the phone and, for better or worse, made their own fun. They went to neighbourhood hangouts in churches and community centres. They went to the mall to meet and mingle and escape their hovering parents. Sure they drank, drove recklessly, used drugs, had sex. But it seemed somehow easier to control things in general.

In 2012, almost every one of them has a cell phone. They virtually live on Facebook, the Chive, Buzzfeed, Twitter and MSN. Virtually…literally. They talk to friends, they talk to strangers. They skewer their parents, but they do it in this virtual world where nothing ever disappears. A furtive conversation is permanently immortalized in cyberspace.

In this decade, they sit — glued to a computer for hours. Unless they’re committed to a sport, they are often immobile. They are out of shape and seldom see fresh air and sunlight. Think about this. The human body needs to move, and not just for muscle tone. The entire lymphatic system relies on movement to pump fluids through our bodies, to rid our body of toxins. Being out of shape may be the least of their problems. Diabetes, cancer and any number of illnesses have far more chance of gaining a toe hold in their inert bodies.

More importantly, today’s teens watch a steady stream of spoiled, narrow-minded celebrities and pseudo-celebrities whining about the most insignificant issues. They listen to their friends’ rants about not having the latest or the best. They hear threats — real or dramatized — of self-mutilation or suicide. They model this behaviour. Their attitudes are more caustic, nastier and in full disregard of any societal controls. The breadth of these influences is unprecedented.

They still drink. They use new drugs as well as old ones. They still have sex…perhaps even more casually. One thing is certain, the more we react, the more we control, the further they will go. Between the ages of 13 and 17 — now as it has been since the beginning of the industrial revolution — teens see their parents as frumpily-dressed, mindless zombies. They treat them like stinking piles of poop to be avoided at all costs. Don’t own it. You’re in the good company of every parent on the planet. It’s not personal, it’s nature pushing them out of the nest.

They need places to get away from you — to assert their independence. You might suggest the mall if nothing else. Many large centers now run club nights in clubs that would otherwise serve liquor, but don’t on these nights so that teens can have an “adult” night out, in safety.

I think we parents also need to provide an environment where, if they must engage in “risky” behaviour, they will do it with our protection (read supervision). I caution that this cannot be entered into with a view to “curing” them or trying to influence them with any social or religious mores.

When our kids were teens, (not that long ago), we encouraged them to host friends at home. We provided an environment where they could be “away” from us, but still under the same roof. We made sure all parents were aware of what would be going on, with full disclosure, and that they were okay with our supervision. We didn’t allow sex or drugs, but our kids knew that and self-policed well. Most of the parents were so glad to know where their kids were and that they were safe that they were thrilled to relax for an evening.

We monitored the activity to ensure that no one got hurt and no one drove home unless they were stone cold sober. We had piles of bodies sleeping on our floors. We made more breakfasts than a lumber camp cook. But we had a home that those teens felt safe in and in which they felt they could be themselves. We didn’t judge. Sometimes we listened to kids who would talk about how they felt with us, where they wouldn’t with their parents. They felt safe with us and they came back again and again. Many of them still call me  “mom”.

We can all provide homes like this, if we relax and let go of ancient dogma that says, “that wasn’t how it was when I was a kid”. It doesn’t mean sanctioning an orgy in your home. It means allowing kids to relax, with a few rules.

I encourage parents to distance themselves from the vitriolic onslaught brought on by their spawn. I encourage them to remember that they are the adults, even though their teens try to drag them down to their own age. I also encourage them to remember that there will be a tapering off to this torture. I remind them that, though it may seem unbelievable, their children still love them at the core of this horrible behaviour.

They need you. They love you, even though they hate you. Do the best you can to steer them in the right direction. Look for ways to distract them with sports or hobbies. And continue to love them. You are the adult. You have the experience. And you will persevere.

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