Waking the Walker

A mother's quest to survive her son's "zombie" years – aka his teens.

Tag: teenagers

Home for Dinner

With the extremely busy schedules most families have today, sitting down to dinner, as a family is becoming a thing of the past. It’s actually more of a luxury when it happens. For many, dinner is grabbing fast food on the fly between practices, games, school events and lessons of some sort.

Growing up, my mother made sure there was a home-cooked meal every night, and we all sat down to eat dinner together as a family. Granted, this was in the sixties and seventies and we did not have the insane schedules most families have today, but my Mom was a single Mom who worked full-time.

88670557 - mom and daughter cooking together. home help, upbringing. vector

That in itself was somewhat rare for that time period, but my father passed away when I was three, and with five additional siblings, ranging in age from 18 month to early 20’s, my Mom had no other option but to get back into the work force. Thank goodness she had a nursing degree to fall back on.

So, for me, a single Mom who works full-time and cooks dinner every night was the norm. This is why I believe I am hardwired to be that way. Eating out, even fast food is and was a treat, not a common thing.

Even during our hectic marching band season through out my Son’s high school years, I would juggle my work schedule so I could be home on a Friday with enough time to heat up leftovers so my Son and I could eat together before we went to the stadium. I would calculate what I would cook earlier in the week so there would be enough for Friday night. Sometimes I’d supplement with some frozen food, but the bulk was home-cooked warm-ups.

Having that time together, no matter how brief, was and still is important to me.

Home for Dinner

My Son and I may be going in a million directions all day, but come dinnertime, we put everything on pause. We don’t answer the phone unless we know it’s important. Eating dinner together is a way to play catch-up after a day apart. 

As my Son has grown, and become more vocal about life in general, this has become the best part of my day. That’s why I get upset when he drags his feet coming to the dinner table because he’s caught up on something on his computer. Mostly gaming, which can infuriate me even more, but as long as we have time together at the end of the day, I let it slide, sort of.

Now that he’s working, I truly appreciate the nights he will be home for dinner. He has no regular schedule, so when he gets a day shift or a night off, I’m thrilled.

Even if I am still putting up with the feet dragging and late arrival for dinner, he’s home for dinner with Mom, something that will be a rarity when he heads off to college in August.

Being so programmed to pre-plan meals to work around my Son’s schedule, I’m quite sure I’ll feel lost the first couple months when I only need to worry about me.

It’s already evident the nights he works. Only having to plan a meal for me isn’t quite the same.

I am however using these nights as a means to mentally and emotionally prepare for dinner for one.

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There are many things I will have to adjust to when my Son is away at college, but eating alone will be one of the toughest adjustments.

Dinner has always been our time together. Not having him across the table from me will be a constant reminder that I am now an empty nester.

Granted, I can try to look at the positives that come with my son away at college. Like my food bills will be drastically less, and if I don’t want to cook, I won’t have to, but right now those things aren’t enough to balance the scales.

With time though, I know I will adjust, but I also know I will be looking forward to every visit home my Son will get, just knowing that he will be home for dinner will bring me great joy.

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© Mariann E. Danko and Waking the Walker, 2018. All rights reserved.

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What Would Carl Do?

It was these very words that sparked a new way of parenting for me fours years ago, and became the catalyst for this blog.


As any parent knows, dealing with a teenager creates a whole new level of challenges. As the hormones kick in, that once sweet, little, abiding child becomes a disconnected, zoned out, somewhat disrespectful foot-dragging walker. Testing you at every turn.

One has to get creative when approaching such a creature.

Zombie Teen

Just as I was at my wits end, it entered my mind that maybe, just maybe, by using “The Walking Dead” (our new found bonding agent) as a tuning fork, I could break through the teen brain fog and make a connection that my son would understand.

My Son had already connected to the character of Carl Grimes, the teenager on the show, so that was where I turned first.

With that in mind, I thought what better a way than then to ask, “What would Carl do?” at the times my Son was slacking and not carrying his share of the load. Or just plain not making wise choices about how he uses his time, particularly with schoolwork due.

The first time I said it, my Son heard me, immediately, and gave me a strange look, like “what are you up to?” I just smiled, said think about it and walked away.

Over time these words have evolved based on what Carl was up to on “The Walking Dead.” Some seasons Carl has been a beaming example for my Son, other seasons he proved to be “What Not To Do” and I used both to my advantage.

Yes, at times my Son got annoyed, but because he was annoyed, I knew he knew what I was getting at.

Of course Carl wasn’t the only character that made for great examples. There is a huge cast on TWD, with characters behaving badly and saintly, all of which make for examples. The subject matter of the show, surviving a zombie apocalypse, sets up for a plethora of behaviors ripe for the picking.

Some may think I’m crazy for even considering such a notion as to use fictitious characters as examples of what to do or not do in life, but I can honestly say I’ve seen growth with my Son since adopting this tactic.

Read the rest of this entry »

My Walker is Waking

As I work my way through the last year of writing this blog, I find deciding on the theme for the month becoming more challenging than when I started the blog four years ago. 

This is actually a good thing because it means my “walker” may actually be “waking” to the real world around him. The teenage brain fog is lifting, allowing my Son to get out of his head and be in-tune to his environment.

29214417 - illustration of a male teen doing yoga

I’m thrilled because this is key to finding success in college, which will be the next leg of his developmental journey.

Not saying we don’t still have challenges and there is some regression here and there, he is a teenager after all.

The good thing is there have been definite signs of growth over the course of the four years I’ve been writing this blog. My Son is discovering whom he is and has gotten comfortable in his own skin.

He is also starting to look to the future with excitement and gets that his actions now have a bearing on how that future plays out.

In addition, he gets that he will no longer have Mom as a buffer and has to get better at being “independent” in all areas, not just some. Just the fact that he acknowledges there are areas he needs to work on is a huge step.


This all sets up for his success in the future which is all I hope and pray for.

Parenting is a challenging job and all too often over the years I have second guessed myself, so seeing positive results at this point in our journey is very gratifying.

I have no doubt that college will put before us a whole new set of challenges, but for now I will bask in the sunshine of my walker’s awakening.

So, during this the month of “Thanksgiving” when we all pause to count our blessings and ponder all we are grateful for, I most certainly can say I am joyous my “walker” is showing signs of “waking.”

I am also eternally grateful for all who have stood by, and continue to stand by, my side. Offering not only support, but also guidance. As a single parent I have never had a partner as a sounding board or buffer, it has been just me, facing some difficult decisions, so having access to outside council has been my saving grace.

Without it, I’m not sure we would be where we are in this journey. 


As they say, it takes a village to raise a child, and I have most definitely accessed mine and am beholden to all.

With my Son continuing to work on his driving skills in preparation for taking his driver’s test in hopes of getting his license, I am beyond thankful that he is “waking” and feel blessed that he did not rush into this extremely serious and responsible step prematurely.

Just like every other parent though, I can’t help but worry, praying that he does not relapse into “walker” mode while he is driving. 


This however is a “theme” for another month. I want to hang onto the euphoria of my “walker waking” for as long as I can.


© Mariann E. Danko and Waking the Walker, 2017. All rights reserved.

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Schooled by the Band

At any away football game, one never knows what you will experience from the home team fans. In general there are no major issues, but there are a few schools where the rivalry is pretty intense, so security tries to keep the students on their respective sides to prevent any clashes.

Over my Son’s high school years, his marching band has had to deal with some heckling as they exited the stadium, but in general it has not been that bad. That was until a game early this month, at which time our football team came out victorious after having lost in regular season to this particular team for the past 5 years.

We usually get a police escort when we exit at this school to aid in preventing any problems, but this time there were no police or even any security nearby. This obviously left the band vulnerable for abuse. Not just verbally either.

A bunch of kids were actually dodging in between the lines of band members as they tried to march. Of course they were trying to incite a fight. In addition, some of the group got in front of the band and took pictures as one of their buddies flipped the bird with the band behind him.

Their behavior was beyond rude and disrespectful.

21851969 - many hands pointing with their fingers to the center

Through all of this the band members just kept marching, not reacting, only politely requesting these intruders get out of the way. Once the band got to the instrument truck the intruders disappeared.

They weren’t gone for good though, after the instruments were packed up and the kids were all on their buses, they reappeared. This time they took to getting physical by volleying rocks at one of the buses. Fortunately the kids on this bus had the windows closed, so no one was injured, but they succeeded in putting a hairline crack in a window.

Needless to say, the band kids were not only extremely shaken up, but also fired up by all of this. They knew they did the right thing in not reacting, but seeing some of their “family” frightened by the intruders truly incensed some of them. As they said, “We are family and no one messes with my family.”

Read the rest of this entry »

Surviving the IN-BETWEEN Time

As of late I am feeling more and more as if I’m living in a state of limbo. A limbo caused by what I refer to as my Son’s “IN-BETWEEN” stage, the time between preparing for college and actually going to college. It’s kind of an amplified level of the tweens and in all honesty worse than the tweens.

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My Son wants to be independent, but at the same time, in some instances, continues to hang on to Mommies’ apron strings. He keeps me at arms length. Doesn’t want Mom involved, but needs to know she’s close by, just in case.

He’s OK with me being his alarm clock in the morning, but can’t handle when I get on him to speed things up so he doesn’t miss the bus.

He’s OK with me reminding him he needs gym clothes on gym days, but can’t stand when I remind him about college prep stuff that is due.

He’s willing to share the loft space with me, which is my office, to do his homework, but doesn’t want to hear my suggestions on how to work more efficiently.

Plus, he can get ornery when I’m at my computer for an extended period of time while he’s doing his homework. He thinks I’m spying on him, not actually working. Trust me I’m not, but it doesn’t help that he acts very suspicious more often than not.

Note, it was his decision to move his laptop from his room to the loft in an effort to combat his Internet wandering while doing homework. He felt if he were out in the open he’d be less tempted to roam.  SO, he wants me to be able to see what he’s doing, but he doesn’t want me to say anything when I catch him wandering.

Can I bang my head against a wall now?

22527628_m Read the rest of this entry »

Breaking Bad Habits

With a new year upon us, I have renewed energy and good intentions to change the things I know aren’t working or need tweaking in my household, thus creating a healthier environment for my Son and I. We all have bad habits. We are human after all and therefore not perfect. The issue though is whether we recognize them and realize they need to be broken.

As I have written about in the past, I can trigger rather quickly when frustration sets in and the bulk of my frustration comes from my Son’s lack of action. As the frustration builds so does my temper. With temper comes yelling, and some choice words, both of which I am not proud of.

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I know I can’t change my Son.

All change has to come from within. One has to want to change; otherwise all efforts will be half-hearted and set you up to fail.

So the key here is for me to find a way to prevent frustration from setting in or find a way to redirect my frustration and defuse the temper before it triggers. I know this is easier said than done, because if it were I would have mastered it already.

My Son does not see or understand my frustration. He believes I am a nag.

The dictionary defines nag as: to find fault incessantly; to be a persistent source of annoyance or distraction; and to irritate by constant scolding or urging.

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Considering the fact that my Son sees my questions or suggestions as me finding fault or badgering, not as helpful, by definition, in his mind I fit the bill.

Over the years I have stepped back from checking on my Son too much, particularly about schoolwork. I know he has to learn how to manage his time and workload on his own.

But, when his poor planning or work habits interfere with say our dinnertime, frustration sets in. Or things he used to do without any reminding, like practicing his trombone, or taking the garbage out, become a constant reminder, frustration sets in. Especially when he can still find time to game or watch an endless stream of useless videos on YouTube, which on some occasions is what he’s doing when he shows up late for dinner.


Now I’m not begrudging the need for my Son to take a break, but when the break lasts longer than the time spent doing homework, chores or college preparatory projects, frustration sets in. Read the rest of this entry »



Much like walkers, teenagers can meander aimlessly, not in search of fresh flesh, but with their noses buried into an electronic devise and no destination in mind, unless they’re playing Pokemon Go. In addition they spend much of their free time hauled up in the dark cocoon of their room, staring into the blue glow of their computer monitor, but, unlike walkers who would be motivated by any loud noise, it takes more than that to get a teenager to leave their “cave” even when food is involved.

As a matter of fact, if their headphone wearing teens, like mine, they are even more insulated from noise, making the motivation factor an even bigger challenge. Not even the smell of food can lure them from the security of their virtual world. To be honest, I think walkers are more motivated than most teenagers, or at least my teenager.


Motivating my walker to do anything outside of what is absolutely necessary is a major challenge. Some days even that can be extremely frustrating.

Although, my Son was determined to get exempt from final exams this past school year, which meant getting straight A’s for final grades, which he did achieve. He had a goal and was motivated to follow through. I was glowing. I felt like we were actually turning a corner.

The problem was, once accomplished, he shut down. Some shut down over the Summer can be expected, but my Son was all about getting a Summer job so he could earn money for some games he preordered which are due out in November. I figured this alone would be enough of a catalyst.

Boy was I wrong.

He thought he had a Summer job all lined up at the Daycare he volunteers at, unfortunately when we approached them about it we were told they didn’t have the money in the budget. Of course, he could still volunteer. Why pay for labor when you can get it for free.

He is volunteering one day a week, but has decided he will not continue during the school year. Can’t blame him for that. He’s been helping out there for 4 years. He knows more than some of the people who were hired after he started volunteering. He should have been hired even if just one day a week.

SO, now he had to go back to square one and it was already June. Needless to say he dilly-dallied and till he even put one application in it was the middle of July. Who wants to hire you for a couple weeks?

Zoned Out Teen

The last thing I wanted was my already zoned out walker having too much free time on his hands over the Summer. I had previously told my Son there are plenty of things to do around the house that I could pay him, outside of his standard chores, but he wasn’t very receptive, so, I decided to create an application for a House Project Assistant. He seemed to like this and completed the application at which time we discussed the projects.

One of the biggest projects was shredding old documents. I have boxes of files to shred and just never seem to have the time. The position would pay $10 per box. Easy money, right? If he did all the boxes he would have almost all the money he needed. I thought for sure this time I had found the answer to motivate my walker.

The first Saturday after completing the application he came home from his second volunteer job at the library and went right to shredding, completing one box. I was thrilled. I figured the combination of convenience of work and desire for game related funds had done the trick to get my walker moving.

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We are now in August and he has not done any more shredding. He did purge his clothing which was a project avoided by both of us for a while, so I was grateful he got that done.

With Band Camp the last two weeks of August and football/marching season starting August 26th, I highly doubt I’ll see much more work out of my House Project Assistant and I’m concerned that a Summer with very little structure and self-discipline will spell disaster come his Junior Year in High School, which we all know is the year that counts the most when it comes to college.

My Son swears it will not. I hope he is right.

It’s not like he hasn’t done anything all Summer though. Besides his 2 volunteer jobs, he also had to get college and career research done and auditioned for Jazz Band and Section Leader in Band, which entailed more practice and essay writing. In addition, he did a one-week video game design camp, which turned out to be a worthy investment for his future.

Yes, I can actually say something video game related was good in reference to my Son.

As I have mentioned in the past, my son is a big gamer, and although that is not my thing, I am well aware of its relevance in the entertainment world.

Video games were not even a thing of the future when I was kid, but now there are many making a lucrative living as game creators and coders. It is for this reason that I had to finally acknowledge that it was a valid career to pursue, which made my Son very happy.

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We have already begun college visits and all of them have been to schools that offer game design as an arm of the computer science program. I find this all very exciting, but my Son seems far from exhilarated about any of it. I don’t know if it’s because the reality of moving into that phase of his life is frightening or if he just isn’t that enthusiastic.

It is for this reason that I’m concerned my very creative child who has been coming up with game ideas since he was 7 years old will end up being nothing more than a tester of someone else’s games because he’s just not that motivated. He’s got the talent and brain to be the next great game creator, but he just doesn’t seem to have the drive and I have no idea how to change that. When he’s playing he’s very enthusiastic, but when it comes to reviewing and comparing schools and what they offer he does as little as possible.


Knowing my Son, I suspect fear of being a “grown up,” so to speak, is at the root of his ambivalence. Since he showed promising signs of maturity during his Sophomore Year, I hope and pray by the time he gets through his Junior Year he will have risen to a new level in the maturity department.

If he does not, Community College may be his best option. I do not want to put out a large chunk of change for a big dog school if my Son isn’t going to do his part. Fortunately for him, the local Community College does offer Video Game Design/Programing so, it’s not like he’d be giving up on his dream, he’d just be taking the longer root to achieving it and hopefully “growing up” through the process.

So, although my Son may be “dragging his feet” in the drive to achieve department, he does still at his core have the goal to fulfill his dream of becoming a Video Game Designer/Programmer, and it is this fact that allows me to keep the faith that his enthusiasm and motivation level will shift into at least the “rabid walker” mode sometime through his Junior.


© Mariann E. Danko and Waking the Walker, 2016. All rights reserved.

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We’ve all got jobs to do.

Literally waking my walker is a huge challenge. He has truly hit those “sleeping” walker years. At minimal, it’s a 30 minute process, ending only with counting (yes, like he was a pre-schooler) and threatening to take something, like his electronics, stash of Nerf weapons or, the biggest of all, the right to stay up Sunday night to watch the new episode of “The Walking Dead” live, not recorded the next day. (Note, this last threat is only effective during the new season and we’re down to the finale this Sunday. Ouch!) My now taller than me son knows these threats are not idle. I will follow through with them. As evident with the marking period long electronics ban because of a poor report card.

This weekday morning ritual is exhausting and on the days I’m running late, can be very stressful. Oh how I look longingly back at the years when my son woke up ahead of me and would play and sing to himself in his crib till I came in, at which time, he would greet me with great joy, excited to start a new day. Now I’m greeted with groans and hands clawing in the air, hoping to chase me away. No such luck for him. Mom doesn’t give up or give in that easily.

The waking process starts out sweet and gentle. I open his bedroom door, greeting my sleeping walker with a cheery good morning, push up the blinds and turn off the fan he uses for white noise. (Note, his clock radio has already gone off and is blaring top 40 music. This might not wake my sleeping walker, but it would most definitely attract the walking dead.) The sleeping walker lump in bed groans and rolls over, attempting to ignore my presence. Ten minutes later the hall light comes on along with a time reminder. Another groan from the walker and a blanket over the head maneuver. This won’t do, I approach the lump. Out come the claws or sasquatch feet or both. I back away, but not without grabbing a foot. I then apply a tickle hold, which gets the lump to squirm. I release my hold, give another time reminder and walk out of the room, flipping the bedroom light on as I exit. Now the groaning echoes throughout the house. Along with “I’m trying. My eyes won’t open.” Yes, the eyes have a mind of their own and they are in control, not my won’t go to bed on time over tired walker. This is the “King of Excuses, Procrastination and Dilly Dally” at work here. He’s another one I have to figure out how to tackle, but for now, I just want my walker up and getting ready for school, so he has time to eat at least a banana. “Brain food,” you know, not brains.

Saquatch feet and claws

Sasquatch feet and claws
Illustration by Pam Danko-Stout

My recent defense in the “waking the walker” morning challenge is the reminder that “We’ve all got jobs to do.” and his is to go to school. He hates this phrase, not just because it’s true and he knows I’m right, but because these are words of advice and counsel spoken by Hershel Greene (Scott Wilson), one of his most beloved characters from “The Walking Dead.” And, as it turns out, one of his teachers. (It’s a conspiracy. All those darn adults ganging up on the kids, reminding them to be responsible citizens. Why can’t they just leave them to run amuck?) Read the rest of this entry »

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