How To Live With a Thirteen-Year-Old Girl

©2016 Beret Olsen
©2016 Beret Olsen–Our well-worn copy of Twilight must be at school, so book 2 will have to do.
  1. Be ready for anything. Best case scenario: you are well-rested and patient, have a sense of humor and a full tank of gas, plenty of cash and Kleenex on hand, complete flexibility with your time, musical preferences, and volume tolerance, endless appetite for YouTube videos and Instagram feeds, a copy of Twilight, a portable charger, tasty, plentiful snacks, a working knowledge of 8th grade common core math concepts, endless sympathy and advice for tricky social and academic situations, and you don’t mind being completely ignored if none of the above is needed. Worst case scenario: you have a flask.


Photo Credit: Pabak Sarkar
Photo Credit: Pabak Sarkar

I remember it all like it was yesterday.

Acne, drama, self-doubt. Excessive mooning about. A variety of binges and very bad decisions.

I behaved irrationally, irresponsibly, disrespectfully, and the one I treated the worst was me.

Yet having a teenager may be even more terrifying.

Still plagued by acne and self-doubt, my lingering woes are compounded by close proximity to this raw lump of developing human–one who wears her disdain, depression, euphoria, and ill-founded bravado at the very surface. Nothing I can say or do will serve as salve. It is what it is–a tough row to hoe.

Bad Day

Detective Maria Cortez and Officer Sean Wilkins arrived on the scene at 8:30 sharp—seventeen minutes after the call had come in—and were immediately overwhelmed by the foul smell.

Wilkins’s face fell.

“Is this what it’s like?” He fingered his shiny new badge and gave his ill-fitting pants a quick hike.

As they neared the body, Cortez let expletives drop, and Wilkins regretted becoming a cop. One hand swatted flies; one covered his nose.

Only somewhat hardened by experience, Cortez knelt to survey the desecrated corpse, blanched, and rose.

Wilkins vomited, then spit; at 8:33, tossed his badge, said, “I quit.”

How To Foster Kittens


  1. Feed them three times a day.
  2. Play with them—avoiding bloodshed when possible.
  3. Change litter frequently.
  4. Weigh them by any means necessary. Amateurs use patience and baby food. Pros pop them in shoeboxes, Tupperware, whatever.
  5. Administer oral antibiotics (see also: claws and teeth).
  6. Mop urine from a variety of surprising places.
  7. Scrub excrement off litter box, scoop, floor, toys, dishes, bedding, furnishings, and walls.
  8. Attempt to remove excrement from fur (see also: claws, teeth, fear of water).
  9. Love them anyway.
  10. Weep uncontrollably when required to return them to the shelter.

One guy I’ll remember


At the last of a long string of unpaid internships, I was sent on an errand with the gallery owner. He asked repeatedly for my name, then shrugged. “No. I’m not going to remember you. Interns come and go.” He may have seen me bristle, because he added, somewhat apologetically: “Maybe if you tell me something about yourself.”

Then conversation unfolded in the most surprising fashion, until suddenly he was pulling over to the curb through three lanes of traffic to tell me, “There is no truth but the human heart; nothing greater than tenderness in the face of adversity.”


Note: Today’s post is the fourth in a series of 100-word pieces I’ve been writing in solidarity with NaNoWriMo. Couldn’t commit to the 50,000 words, but I could do a lot more than I have been…and at 100 words a day, I’ll finish on March 22, 2017.

Groundhog Day

I had the great pleasure of hanging out with a particularly hilarious friend over Thanksgiving.

After I had asked him how he was doing, and what was new, he embarked on a soliloquy about every Monday morning at work–where he is not only the boss, but “the elder.”

“It’s like f*cking Groundhog Day every Monday. All these guys in their twenties asking me, ‘Hey, how was your weekend?’ Maybe next time I’ll tell them:

‘OH MY GOD, it was INCREDIBLE. I can’t even BEGIN to tell you about it–in fact, I SHOULDN’T. It would make you feel SO JEALOUS, it wouldn’t be fair. It was OVER THE TOP. EPIC. TRULY.'”

I wish I could better convey his delivery; I laughed until I was a little teary.

If you’re under thirty and/or do not have kids, you may want to bury your head in the sand rather than continue reading.

It’s not like being a grown up or a parent is so awful, it’s just that this question “how was your weekend?” isn’t the right one to ask anymore.

How was my weekend?

Let’s see. I schlepped to Target and Michaels along with every other person on the planet–searching for the blue tri-board Miss Nine needs for her Blizzard project and presentation. There has evidently been a run on blue tri-board. (You will use white and you will not complain, small person.)  I laid awake one night worrying about one friend’s health and another’s imploding marriage. I tried to find a sitter so I might attend a holiday party. When that didn’t work, I tried offering time and a half. No luck. I sat on my kids until they acquiesced to do their homework, and then continually refocused them. It took three times more time than necessary to do the work–plus a lot of complaining. After the recycling bin handle broke, I swept broken glass off two flights of stairs in the rain.

I didn’t sleep in. I didn’t lie on the couch reading or listening to the rain. I didn’t stay out all night and go out for breakfast. Actually, that last one sounds awful, anyway.

There were fabulous moments. I was surrounded by people I love. I saw friends. I did some yoga. I laughed a lot. I devoured way more than my quota of deliciousness. I even went out one evening UNCHAPERONED. It really was a lovely weekend.

It’s just different, you know? Weekends do not equal time off.

I’m hoping someone out there will think of a more appropriate question for Monday mornings, something that twenty-two-year-olds can ask their elders without rubbing them the wrong way.


Shaniqua 1


Not her real name, but let’s say it was.

Shaniqua was what we teachers called a hard head—a stubborn, angry child. Her hands curled into fists without thought of consequences. She was tough and short, with chubby cheeks and an occasional toothy grin–an odd mix of Mack truck and teddy bear.

A little unkempt, she always stood out in a sea of school uniforms. Her white blouse was dingy, untucked on one side, and her navy pants were short enough to be last year’s pair. Her hair was not in meticulous cornrows like the other girls’. Brushed tightly against her scalp, it had been scraped into a tiny paintbrush of a ponytail.

Everyday I had my third graders write for fifteen minutes in their journals, but Shaniqua would not write. She despised writing. This frustrated me to no end. I provided prompts. And story starters. And incentives. I encouraged. I waited.

One day, I peeped over her shoulder and was surprised to see half a page of her strange, unformed scrawl. Thrilled, I bent closer to read:

“Today I am really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really bored.”

I was not getting through.

I tried to talk with her about the importance of her stories. She must have some truly amazing ones. And given the signals she was sending, she likely had some troubling ones as well.

“You have important things to say,” I told her. “We all want to hear.”

Still, she stubbornly resisted.

But one morning late in the school year, Shaniqua came into the room before the bell, flushed and breathless. Though this was strictly forbidden, I happily waived the consequences when she handed me a fistful of letters she had written to her classmates—one for each. I was overwhelmed. I was so proud and excited for her. SHANIQUA HAD WRITTEN TWENTY-SEVEN LETTERS.

I hugged her, and wrote “Shaniqua’s letters” on the daily schedule, just after recess.

“We will pass them out,” I told her, “and we will spend class time celebrating your beautiful writing.” She beamed and ran back outside as the bell rang for line up while I stowed her priceless bounty in my desk drawer for safekeeping.

During recess, ny curiosity peaked; I pulled them out, gingerly opening the first one.

“Andrea, why you think you all that?” she had written. “You NOT.”

I opened another. And another. Turns out, she did have something to say. She had something to say to everyone, but we couldn’t pass out her letters. I wonder if I still have them somewhere, in a box in the garage.


A few weeks later, there was a school assembly.

Imagine trying to keep 28 third graders silent and respectful for 90 minutes. Then, when they hear the recess bell ringing, still they must sit attentively–despite being unable to hear or see properly. Most kids try their best, many struggle, and some give up. I wouldn’t mind throwing in the towel myself, sometimes, but I’m pretty sure that’s not acceptable.

Not surprisingly, Shaniqua was having a tough time. She fussed, made annoying peeping sounds, and poked the students in the row in front of her. She leaned back and forth, purposely moving her head into everyone else’s way. She kicked chairs and booed one of the acts. I complimented the students on either side of her. I laid my hand on her shoulder and whispered in her ear. I gave fierce looks. I administered check marks on the behavior chart on my clipboard. Teachers and administrators were looking sternly in our direction. What to do? If I took her out of the auditorium, who would watch the other 27? What to do?

“Shaniqua!” I whispered fiercely. “Pull it together!”

She glowered and continued to poke and annoy.

“Shall I send you to the office?” We both knew this was an empty threat since no one was there to keep an eye on her. “What can we do with you?”

Then, for some reason, I said something I’d never, ever imagined myself saying. “You are acting like a little kid! Do you need to sit in my lap?” My tone was awful, patronizing, and I was ashamed the moment I let the words leave my lips. But there was no way to retract them.

Shaniqua stared at me for a long moment, then crept over and heaved onto my lap.

I had to turn away so the others would not see my eyes fill with tears. She was a little kid–of course she was–and her hard head had not yet frozen her heart.

She rested her little hair paintbrush on my shoulder.


A Thanksgiving Lament: How can anyone possibly focus when the house smells this good?

I’m sure I’d be writing something witty or poignant except that I can’t stop thinking about those artery-clogging potatoes in the oven.

I’m thankful for so much. Friends, family, readers, good books, music, walks up my small mountain, cranberry sage stuffing.

My cup truly runneth over, except for writing ideas, which I still have to claw from a big box of nothing I keep next to my blank screen.

Thought I might drag something out between stuffing the bird and stuffing myself, but I’d rather hang out with my loved ones.

And rescue the wine from the freezer.

Happy Thanksgiving!



From Moth-Eatn Productions.
From Moth-Eatn Productions.

It sounded like someone sawing a hole in the cabin—which was, in fact, the case. The corner outside my parents’ bedroom was the tastiest.

“Art,” my mother would say, interrupting his snoring. “They’re back.” She’d toss on a robe and march outside, waving the vacuum hose, my father right behind her.

“There’s only one way to negotiate with porcupines,” our neighbor finally said, sliding a cigar box across our table like the scene from a movie.

But no one used the gun.

Instead, we continued to sic mom on them in hopes they would soon tire of the Hoover.