Jennifer Wizbowski
Teens & Tweens
In the age of social media, the surge of a good story can circulate around the world and back — and leave you spinning. I’m a 40-something Gen Xer, the parent of two teens. I do my best to keep up, but I’m aware there are things trending all over the Internet that aren’t the soccer pictures of my fellow moms’ kids.Netflix’s 13-episode series — 13 Reasons Why, based on the 2007 young-adult novel by Jay Asher — is essentially a series-long suicide note, left (in the form of cassette tapes)... more
The second time around
With the advent of my youngest starting high school on the way, I can’t help thinking how ready I feel for her new adventure. With the first, it’s a guessing game, isn’t it? We so hope we’re getting it right. Then we — after one (or several) mistakes — start to seriously question things: Could I have done that better? If I... more
Teens and their squads
You’ve finally arrived. You’re the parent of teenagers. You’ve made it through the sleepless nights of babyhood, the tedious making of multiple lunches and snacks every morning. You share your home with somewhat independent creatures that may not keep a tidy bathroom, but show glimmers of their own future adultness. It’s hard... more
Parenting teens is hard
I have no excuse for my consternation. We’ve been warned for years. All along, we’ve heard comments in response to the antics of our kids’ younger personalities, playfully pointed out as little foreshadows of what might be yet to come: Oh, you think that’s bad? Just wait ’til they’re teenagers!She’s so pretty. Better watch... more
Why I let my teen date
The advent of middle teenhood has brought on a slew of stressful new challenges — grades, college-prep exams, varsity-sports dynamics, overscheduling, driving lessons and more. Just when you think you’ve had about as much as you can handle, you realize: My kiddo is sure taking a lot of Snapchat selfies. Does he even hear me talking... more
Decisively stubborn
From the beginning of my parenting journey, I’ve looked at the faces of my children with a bit of wonder and awe. I behold them as gifts bestowed upon me. I’ve studied their expressions, their reactions and their moods from the time they were just babes in my arms. I consider it my job to lovingly guide them to pursue who... more
My daughter’s iPhone
Three years ago, I reluctantly bought my then-fifth-grade daughter her first cell phone. We were new to the state and I didn’t have the comfort of known friends/neighbors to count on if a soccer practice ended early, or if I was running late to pick her up from school.I broke with my own firm belief that no elementary schooler... more
Introvert vs. extrovert
During a recent dinner conversation with my teens, I asked the age-old conversation starter: Who did you sit with at lunch today?I got two very different responses. As I took their answers in, I realized that this one simple question defines how they each approach life and relationships. When they were youngMy daughter is a 13-year-... more
Teens at work
I was 14 years old when my mom sent me off from my home in Central California to stay for a summer with my aunt in Hinckley, Minn.The trip was intended to ease me into a new move, which included changing high schools. I spent my summer canoeing on the local lake, experiencing my first thunderstorms and tasting my first brats... more
Feeling angsty, anyone?
Angst: Noun. A feeling of dread, anxiety or anguish. I recently had the privilege of hosting some very dear friends from Paris for a week.Our family friendship was one of those serendipitous discoveries. When we met, we found a playmate for each of us, if you will. They’re a family of four, with an older son and younger... more
Only two years left!
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about some tangible motto or quip that I might share with my eldest son as he enters his last two years of high school.As a mom of a boy, I’ve learned how important it is to economize my words.In his elementary years, I realized my ranting and long-winded explanations to him about making his bed and... more
Reluctantly 13
Thirty and Flirty and Thriving is the phrase Jennifer Garner’s 13-year-old version of herself says over and over to break free of her young teen stage in the film 13 Going on 30.The Razzle-eating teenager desperately wants to move past her awkward phase and into adulthood.I’ve read it’s kind of a thing for moms to show this flick at... more
The evolution of the hug
Having two children hovering around either side of adolescence brings up new concerns to both to worry about and anticipate. Some concerns tap you right square on the nose and make your eyes water. They get you when you least expect them. As both of my kids encounter the talked about “change,” I’ve been doing some introspection... more
Trusting my teen driver
Last summer, I took my son to the elementary school parking lot for his first driving lesson. His birthday falls in October, not only a busy time, but also a time when, here in Minnesota, precipitation comes in many forms. I liked the idea of him being over the initial shock of taking control of a car — without the added... more
Playing the numbers game
I never told my kids I expected straight As from them. I’m not sure whether this is a good, bad or better thing. I just want them to do their best. I suppose the next obvious question is: How do I measure their best, exactly? Admittedly, I haven’t come up with a system yet. All I know is that during their elementary... more
Embracing the new 'busy'
I remember when my kids were young and our evenings were spent with them playing with the neighbors’ kids in the street. While they rode bikes or rollerskated, I chatted with the other parents of the neighborhood and went in and out as I got dinner ready. I usually had a glass of white wine on the counter that I’d sip... more
Why we watch the news
I watch the news every morning with a cup of coffee in my hands — like clockwork — at 6:05 to be exact. The kids know this is the only time no one (not even dad) can ask to change the channel. No cartoons, no Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, no stage audience laughs, just the news.  My teenage son, who is up at 6 a.m. for the 7 a.m.... more
The secret lives of teens
Over the last couple years, my husband and I have taken it upon ourselves to introduce our 15-year-old to some of things we loved when we were teenagers.Call it a walk down nostalgia lane. We’ve had many a Friday night listening to music, hopping around Spotify to find our favorites. Inevitably, it always returns to the ’80s.My son, who... more
What's the deal with Snapchat?
My 15-year-old son, like most modern American teenagers, spends a good deal of time on his phone. It’s easy to be one of two things as a parent: I can be tired of keeping up — and just forget trying to understand what Snapchat is — or I can try to keep up. I admit I’ve done a little of both. The first option is much easier... more
Anything. But. Pink.
My 12-year-old daughter recently announced to me that she wanted to redecorate her room. She wanted it more grown up with a new color palette that involved: Anything. But. Pink.I saw this coming. She’s been looking, starry-eyed, at the new Pottery Barn Teen catalog for the past year, earmarking the pages along the way. ... more
Teens and stress
Do you remember what it was like to be a teenager? I have some recollections of the emotions I felt: I feared that the inner dialogue in my head was somehow shouting out to everyone around me. Of course, it wasn’t. But the crushes, the school pressures, the dynamics of my family life were all bubbling together inside me like... more
Sibling symbiosis
As parents living in a digital age, many of us have thousands of pictures of our kids. But among those many images, certain photos stand out — signature shots that somehow speak perfectly to how we remember our kids in certain stages. They transport us back in time. I have several photos like this, and I can get lost in them if... more
Tweens and trophies
As a young tween, my daughter participated in a Destination Imagination tournament — an academic, kid-focused, think-outside-the-box program in which teams create and participate in challenges. Its goals are admirable: Encouraging kids to work together as a team, trust one another’s different gifts and ideas, and improve their... more
Tools for global travel
I was 21 years old the first time I travelled abroad. My final destination was a semester-long study program in Cheltenham, England. My plane from the West Coast landed in Boston along with a terrible snowstorm that cancelled my flight to New York City, where I was supposed to meet the college group I’d be travelling with to... more
Summer redefined
For many years, the mention of summer brought to my mind images of my kids spending far too long in their jammies. I can picture them still holding onto the coziness of their sleep with untamed bedheads and quiet play in their rooms. A new day meant a new opportunity to linger at an undiscovered park or pool, and endless places... more
The power of friendship
There’s a sweetness in child’s play that sounds like nothing else. And I’m not eager for that to go away when it comes to my tween daughter. She’s in both worlds right now, still playing with dolls, but also Instagramming selfies with friends. I can’t say she does one or the other more. I see the days of make-believe arching... more
Why do our children pull weeds?
My kids pull weeds. I should say, my husband and I make our kids pull weeds. Torture?Maybe, for us. We started this when we lived in Austin, Texas. It’s hot there, like really hot. So the weed pulling thing didn’t have a lot of initial appeal for them. To be honest, it didn’t have much appeal for me either.Our yard started out like those... more
You're OK, kid
Years ago, when my kids were climbing out of their toddler years and starting school, I came across a fascinating theory about childhood development. It went something like this: A child’s trust belongs to his mom until about age 7. After that, the child transfers that same trust to his father to carry him into his tween years. As the... more
Teach them to run
I’m not what you’d call an athlete — at least not by my standards. I practice hot Vinyasa a couple times a week and try to get a short run in once or twice a week as well. (I prefer floating on my paddleboard, but snow and ice hinder that in winter.) I’ve learned that, for me, it’s all about the exhale.I was the kid in middle school... more
Love and lunches
The very first opportunity I had to live out my role as mom came before my first child was born. It was the simple understanding that everything I took in to my body was being funneled into the formation of my baby. Keeping track of what I ate was the one thing I could do externally that gave me the opportunity to mother the changes... more
Celebrating adolescence
My daughter is no longer a little girl. It sort of crept up on me. Yes, at 11, technically she’s a girl. She chatters about everything and nothing like a little bird outside my window. She giggles, she jumps and makes up dances on her trampoline. But she also shuts the door hard when she gets ready for school. I’m no longer... more
Tween phone woes
I have a picture of my son excitedly holding a small box that had arrived in the mail. It was taken just weeks before he started middle school. In it, his ecstatic expression says it all: I have arrived. I am among the elite. I have a phone.A few months into the school year, he realized: As exciting as it was to pull it out and... more
Momming ... in my car
I’m on this road, but I do not travel it alone.My ever-growing, three-egg-a-day-eating teenage boy and my spunky, determined tween daughter — who goes through her day in a constant hum — join me.It’s strange that these two who I watched oh-so-carefully as they grew in and out of car seats and into booster seats — and quietly awed at... more
Waiting out 'boy brain'
When my son entered middle school — the dead center of the tween years — he seemed to lose his head. And I couldn’t figure out why.During his elementary years, schoolwork seemed almost effortless for him. Always easygoing and friendly, confident and calm, he was a natural in the classroom.He was a verbal processer, so he’d happily talk... more
Parents, we need each other!
Isn’t it funny, how all of a sudden you find you're right where you are supposed to be?I have a lot of that happening lately, some days more than others. I'm new to the Twin Cities, after most of my life in Central and Northern California and most recently a five-year pitstop in Austin, Texas.  It’s been months of getting lost... more
Finding quiet amid chaos
It’s October: Papers are strewn in lockers and backpacks. Pencils, once tall and sharp, are now short and stubby from long math problems. Club meetings and fall sports practices are in full swing. And your kiddo looks … tired.   In fact, you’re tired — tired of running around and trying to figure out how to have a family meal... more
How to survive kid sports
One of my favorite parenting activities is attending my kids’ games. Sure, I complain about the busyness of practice schedules. And I don’t always enjoy rushing out the door on a Saturday. But once we start throwing the folding chairs in the car, willing the Keurig to fill our travel cups faster and remembering we didn’t wash... more
Back-to-school success
My daughter, 11, is starting middle school this fall, and my son, 13, is starting high school. Although, I know they’re both excited, I sense a bit of apprehension at the mention of a big step-up year. They’ve both heard the horrors of far more work and academic challenges at their next levels of school — the older one, of course,... more
Time for a transition!
Five years ago, when my daughter Louisa was finishing seventh grade, her English teacher gave the class one last assignment: Write a letter to your future, high school senior self. Include a description of your current likes, dislikes and accomplishments; write down some reminders of what you want to do as a senior; and make some... more
When should teens start touring colleges?
I considered myself lucky this spring. While many parents of high school seniors were helping their children cram in visits to multiple college campuses before making a final decision, our family was spared that down-to-the-wire stress. My daughter, Louisa, has known since last fall that she’ll be attending a four-year art... more
Playing it safe in the water
I learned the hard way, when my kids were little, how quickly fun in the water can turn to danger.My father-in-law and I were seated at the poolside entertaining Elias, then a toddler, while my two older kids took a quick swim before lunch.As 7-year-old Louisa and 5-year-old Sebastian laughed and splashed in the shallow end, joyously... more
Putting the fun back in sports
One of the best coaches I ever had as a kid was my older brother, Pete. He spent hours with me on our front lawn in the summer, patiently instructing me on how to position my glove to catch grounders, and how to keep my eye on the ball as I went after his pop-ups. On other occasions he taught me how to throw a football with a spiral, and... more
Learning beyond the classroom
My kids generally enjoy school, but there are times — Monday mornings, for instance — when they complain that school takes up too much of their lives. I can understand the sentiment, even though I don’t believe it’s true. If you account for holidays, breaks and weekends, the total number of hours they spend in a classroom is much smaller... more
Stressful times
My parents visited my house recently during a fairly typical weekend. The family calendar for two adults and three teens included three concerts, three play performances, two sleepovers, one concert rehearsal, one community celebration, and one cocktail party. The kids also had to squeeze in homework time before Monday, and I had a... more
In the driver's seat
My 15-year-old son, Sebastian, had his first taste of night driving a few months ago. He and I had attended a meeting for students who had recently completed or were taking driver’s ed training. Since we had his permit along with us, I suggested that he drive home. Until then, his behind-the-wheel experiences had been limited to... more
Our noisy society
If you have a tween, you’ve been parenting long enough to have navigated a number of safety issues regarding your offspring, whether it’s seat belts, sunscreen, or secondhand smoke. But if you’re like me, you may have overlooked a concern that’s been right under your nose all along—or, more accurately, on either side of your head:... more
It's a small world after all
The world seems a little smaller and friendlier these days following the two successful cultural exchanges our family had this past summer. We befriended two Japanese law students who were studying American culture at a local college, and we opened our home to a French high school student interested in living with an American family and... more
Building the teacher-parent team
I should always bring Kleenex to parent-teacher conferences. Every October, it never fails: something a teacher says about one of my three children will cause a lump to form in my throat and tears to materialize. Parental pride mixes with gratitude as I think to myself, “This teacher really gets my kid!”Last fall, it was a conversation... more
Later start is a good start
I’m not fond of waking up my 17-year-old daughter on school mornings. It can be downright dangerous. Even in a half-awake state, with her head buried under a twisted pile of blankets, Louisa can convey her anti-morning attitude with a powerful kick aimed in my direction.I try not to take it personally. That’s why I found it reassuring to... more
Accentuate the positive
The transition between summer vacation and the start of the school year reminds me of New Year’s Eve. It’s an opportune time to shed unhealthy habits and initiate positive ones that will lead to a more balanced life. And like New Year’s resolutions, school year resolutions are most successful when you realize that good intentions alone... more
Adventures large, small, and in be-‘tween
When my three kids were younger, summers seemed to stretch endlessly before us like the horizon on Lake Superior. But the limitlessness was deceptive. To ensure that each family member carved out time for their favorite activities before August ended, I began making an annual summer to-do list, just like Arthur did in a second season... more
Here comes the sun
My son Sebastian received a nasty sunburn last summer after a spending a day at the pool. The tender pink blotches spread across his shoulders and across the back of his neck, emanating heat like a built-in furnace. Ouch. Although he had applied sunscreen before leaving home, he forgot to reapply it after the first few hours of swimming... more
An ounce of alcohol prevention
My husband and I reached another parenting milestone this spring when we allowed our 17-year-old daughter to stay home overnight by herself. We left her with the family dog, important phone numbers, and this admonition: “no liquor parties.”We were mostly joking because we knew that having friends over to drink was about the furthest... more
Running feat
My mom took up running when I was in high school. Although she’d never considered herself an athlete—she grew up in the pre-Title IX era, before it was OK for girls to sweat—she got caught up in the running craze of the 1980s, and she tried to recruit me, too.It was not an easy sell. I was a basketball player best known for my free-throw... more
Prepping the first time camper
There are times when parents make decisions based on their own well-being. There are times when parents consider what’s best for their child. And then there are those happy times when the two intertwine, and it’s a win-win for both parents and kids. That’s the situation I’ve found myself in now that I have persuaded my youngest child,... more
Watch your language
I was inching the station wagon out of a parking lot and down a slight incline on an icy winter day when I realized I was in trouble. The car began to slide past the stop sign into the city street, and another car was headed in our direction from the left, certain to ram the driver’s side if my brakes didn’t engage quickly enough.That’s... more
Puberty: it’s just around the corner
I know it’s not nice to torment a 14-year-old boy. But sometimes I can’t help it. I am compelled to utter the phrase “just around the corner” in conversation, knowing the response it will elicit in my older son, Sebastian—a cry of feigned, Charlie Brown-style anguish: “Aaugh!”“Going around the corner” has been our family’s euphemism for... more
Solving problems with science
Some girls go through a horse phase. My daughter, Louisa, went through a volcano phase. She was in elementary school when she discovered that baking soda plus vinegar—plus food coloring, if you’re feeling extra adventurous—equals messy, bubbly fun. She’d conduct these experiments on our front porch, or on our kitchen floor, and the... more
Obesity, motivation, and food for thought
It’s been years since I gave away the rubber-tipped baby spoons and the bibs with the built-in pockets. But I can still picture the milestone moments when my kids realized that a world of food existed beyond the dab of baby cereal or pureed fruits and veggies I dangled under their noses. Their bright, curious eyes focused instead on... more
Game-changing ideas
I’m not a video game enthusiast, to put it mildly. I would rather devour a book, take the dog on a walk, or even do laundry than spend my free time parked in front of a game system collecting gold coins or changing the virtual diapers of a Sims baby. My personal lack of interest in gaming, coupled with my concerns about the unhealthy... more
Overindulgence: the new normal
As my parents love to remind me, one of my favorite early phrases was “Me do it me-self.” They encouraged my self-sufficiency skills as I grew by giving me chores like feeding the dog, dusting the piano, and making the dinner salads.They also set limits/ I had a bedtime, and I wasn’t allowed to see PG movies until what seemed like... more
Challenging the culture of birthday treats
It’s an embarrassing moment from childhood that I’ve tried to forget: In fourth grade, I took a tin of homemade candy cane cookies to school to share with classmates on my birthday. As I handed them out, I discovered I’d miscounted and didn’t have a cookie for each person—I was two or three short, and I was mortified. I don’t... more
I can camp
We aren’t camping people. That’s the apologetic explanation my husband often gives when a conversation turns to the topic of outdoor recreation. And it’s somewhat true; no one would confuse us with a family of dedicated, experienced hikers who belong on the cover of Outside magazine. But we would sometimes like to be those people. That’s... more
Join the club!
When I was a kid, summers were my chance to ride my bike to the public library, load my basket with books, and spend my days immersed in faraway settings, all from the comfort of my own couch or lawn chair. It was a nearly perfect existence. The only thing that would have enhanced it—besides an unlimited supply of ice-cold lemonade and... more
Rethinking trampoline mania
When I was a kid, I would spend my summers engaged in a variety of outdoor recreational activities with my family and friends. We’d swim, bike, golf, play kickball, jump rope, climb on rocks, and do just about everything under the sun—except bounce on trampolines. I’m sure they were invented by then, but it was rare to see one in the... more
Growing veggie kids
My 11-year-old son, Elias, decided in January to become a vegetarian. I wasn’t shocked, since he’s never been a big meat eater, but I was curious about his reasons. When pressed, he said it was because he likes animals and felt bad about eating them, and because he thought it would be healthier. Who could argue with that?His decision... more
Embracing and exploring cultural heritage
When my son Sebastian attended his first meeting of an after-school Scandinavian club a couple of years ago, and students took turns explaining their cultural backgrounds, he proudly announced that he was…Irish.He told me this when I picked him up, and I had to laugh. “Um, Sebastian, you are Irish, but that’s not considered Scandinavian... more
The buzz on energy drinks
I’m going to date myself here: I remember when Jolt Cola became popular. I was in college, and people were buzzing—pun intended—about this new drink that contained all the sugar and twice the caffeine of a normal cola. It sounded crazy to me—who would drink such a product?Many people, it turns out. Twenty-five years later, the production... more
Don't lose sleep over slumber parties
I’m a pushover for sleepovers. Unless our family has a scheduling conflict, I’m usually open to the idea of hosting an overnight guest or two on a weekend night, or to allowing my children to spend the night at a close friend’s. It’s probably because I have fond memories from my own childhood of evenings spent baking cookies, whispering... more
Home, safer home
I’d never given much thought to toilet bowl cleaners until about five years ago, when my youngest child, Elias, entered his “willing helper” phase. Scrubbing the toilet with a brush looked like fun to him, and I was eager to encourage his interest in cleaning. But warnings on the labels of the cleaning products—which I’d always stored... more
Singing the praises of music education
When I attended a meeting last spring about proposed cuts to our school district’s budget, I wasn’t surprised to see parents and students speak passionately in favor of keeping the elementary orchestra program. I wasn’t surprised to see parents and students advocate for the elementary gifted and talented program. And, knowing about the... more
Sixth-grade scholars journey into history
It isn’t often that I wish I were 12 again. But every winter, when students in my local middle school embark upon their history day projects, I feel the urge to impersonate a sixth grader and delve into a meaty topic, just for the fun of it.The National History Day competition has grown immensely in the past three decades; more than half... more
Home alone
A few years ago, my two sons were big fans of the movie Home Alone. They’d respond to the slapstick antics with peals of laughter, and every subsequent viewing seemed to lead into an elaborate plotting of ways they could booby-trap our house to foil potential robbers.Now my younger son, Elias, is 10 and occasionally is left home... more
Making memories through family travel
This is the time of year when I envy all the Europeans who take a month-long summer holiday. By the time we reach August in Minnesota, it feels like we’re on the steep downward slide toward another stress-filled school year. Summers never seem long enough to pack in all the adventures we’d dreamed about in May.But we still have a month... more
Practicing cyber safety
As the parent of a ninth-grader devoted to her iPod, a seventh grader who’s enamored of video games, and a fourth-grader who knows his way around YouTube, I worry about the increasing role technology plays in my children’s lives.Yes, I am an old fogey. I prefer print copies of magazines, newspapers, and books. I just bought a CD at a... more
Don't feel like a number
Schools today must play by numbers: they’re forced to quantify learning through such measures as standardized tests, grades, and pass rates, or risk losing funding or being placed on watch lists. But most educators know this: important learning can happen at a social or emotional level, harder to quantify or measure today but more deeply... more