The Secret To Keeping Your Teens Happy

Years ago, my husband and I used to drag all three of our children, including Shale, with all of his medical equipment, to a ball diamond down the road every Friday and play slow pitch in a beer league.

We were the youngsters on the team, surrounded by more seasoned parents and our children were the toddlers and infants in the ball diamond.

These games consisted primarily of me standing in the outfield, picking my nose and wishing someone would hit the ball in my direction as two of my children ran around like wild little heathens and their little brother sat in his carrier freaking out our slightly inebriated team mates with his tubes and medical equipment beeping away.

More than once a game was halted because Shale's oxygen levels dropped or his feeding bump squawked with it's alarm and the people around us panicked in fear that something was wrong with our kid.

Apparently it is not common to drag a wee child who is medically fragile out to the ball diamond but I was always of the opinion that the dude needed to learn to love ball just like every other member of our family. The reality was, I needed a few hours each week to escape the medical drama that surrounded us every minute of the day and I needed to build a support system within the community around me.

It may have been unorthodox, but it worked. People stopped seeing Shale's medical tubes and diagnoses and started seeing my kid. And I learned how to finally catch a grounder without it popping up out of my mitt and bopping me in the nose.

One summer night, after a particularly sweaty game, one which we likely lost, because we lost most of them, my husband was standing at the tailgate of one of the other player's trucks, doing what men do, bullshit and brag, as I herded our small tribe into their car seats and prepared to take them home for the evening. I was hot and sweaty and annoyed with my smalls for being uncooperative little turd nuggets and as I went to fetch my husband, the man he was talking to paused to take note of my now surly demeanour.

He chuckled at the sight of my dirty children squawking in our vehicle, and shook his head, remembering a time when his now grown children were the same age.

"Enjoy this now," he warned me. "It gets harder as they get older."

I snorted and rolled my eyes at him, because I just spent 15 minutes chasing two children around a playground trying to convince them it was time to go home, changed one boy's stinky diaper in the front seat of my van and then tried to buckle all three kids into their car seats as each and every one of them tried to make a mad dash for freedom when I wasn't looking. It simply couldn't get any harder than the last fifteen minutes of parenting had been.

"No, really," he insisted as he tossed back the final swallow of his soda. "When they're young, you have full control of them. You make all their decisions. What they wear, where they play, who they see. You even decide what they eat. When your kids get to my kids age, you lose all of that," he said as he nodded towards his teenaged boys who were standing around some girl's car, flirting with them.

"I have to tell you, it sounds like bliss," I admitted, thinking of a time when diapers were a bygone, purple dinosaurs never blared out of my television and sharing skills were firmly acquired.

"Oh, it's not all bad, but you'll miss them. They will never be around. They'll always want to be somewhere 'cooler' than home and you'll have no way of knowing if your kids are hanging with good kids or punks."

Remembering some of the punks in my past, I shuddered to think of my children falling into a trap of hanging around with a bunch of dumbasses.

"There is a secret though, a weapon you can use to keep your kids close to you. To bring the kids to your house. So that you can still parent and be involved," he whispered as my husband and I leaned in closer to hear the secret of the holy grail of teen parenting.

"It's sandwich meat."

It was so absurd and so not what I was expecting to hear, I burst into laughter as my husband simply nodded along with his friend as though he'd heard this truth before.

"Sandwich meat?" I guffawed.

"No really. Not just sandwich meat but food in general. But sandwich meat is the most important. Teens need to eat. That's all they want to do, besides sleep and play. They eat. Make sure your fridge is always stocked with sandwich meat and your pantry always has munchies in it and I guarantee you, your kids won't be leaving your house to go hang at someone else's. Your house will be the house where all the kids will want to be. As long as you can feed them and generally let them be, you'll never lose your kids. And you'll gain more than a few along the way."

Back then, I couldn't imagine how parenting could be any harder. Nor could I fathom a time when my kids wouldn't always be underfoot or a time when they would want to be anywhere other than next to me. A decade later, and I now understand what he meant about parenting getting harder. Learning to let go, while giving your kids the tools to navigate their path to adulthood, it's hard.

As I survey my house, filled with my teens and their friends who have set up camp in my living room for almost a week now, I can't forget that long ago conversation.

Mostly because I'm going somewhat delirious from sleep deprivation and having to listen to the late night cackles of a group of rowdy teen boys and one teen girl in the small hours of the night, long after I keep yelling at them to get their asses to sleep.

This morning, after I clanged a pot to wake up the crew of slumbering teens, I watched as they all filtered into the kitchen and made themselves breakfast while trying to rub the sleep out of their eyes. As the kids made plans for the day, one of them stood at the refrigerator and surveyed the contents with great intensity.

"Is something the matter? Looking for something in particular kid, or are you just trying to air condition my kitchen with the fridge?" I teased.

He blushed and shut the door and then said, "Nope, I was just checking out the lunch meat."

Turns out, my friend from all those years ago was right. Lunch meat is the key to keeping your kids close, and every other kid in the neighbourhood even closer.

All hail the power of some honey ham.