The Facts Of Life … In 5 Minutes Or Less

Illustration by Mark Stay

Illustration by Mark Stay

Thanks to Kirsten Gillibrand, my 7-year-old now knows all about how babies are made. Not that New York’s junior senator actually sat down with the boy to lay out the facts, with infographics and pie charts and Wikipedia references — though if I’d thought she would have obliged me, I’d have certainly asked her.

No, the good senator was the subject of an NPR Morning Edition profile I was listening to recently on the drive to school. NPR is my go-to station in the morning for the 10 minutes of news I might pick up to keep me connected to the larger world that exists outside of Cartoon Network, the Disney Channel and PTO scuttlebutt. My kid never listens to NPR. He’s usually far too engrossed in whatever book he’s reading on his Kindle to even notice something as old media as the radio. Or me (also old, I might add). Which is why I never get more than a distracted Uh … or, on a good day, an Uh, okay, sure … when I ask him anything while we’re in the car.

To wit:

“Fletcher, how was school today?”

“Uh…”

“Fletcher –”

“Hmmm …”

“Fletcher … you’re on fire.”

“Uh … okay … sure … Huh?”

See what I mean?

But when the Morning Edition reporter described how Gillibrand was made of such steely stuff that she’d endured 12 hours of painful pre-labor contractions when pregnant with her second child, all because she didn’t want to leave her committee meeting, that little tidbit, THAT my son heard.

“Mommy –” came his little-boy-voice, mere seconds later from the backseat. “Do boys have babies? … Do I have to have a baby?”

And with about seven minutes left of the drive to school, I realized THIS WAS IT. The Moment that most parents dread even more than swimming lessons, potty training and busting open the first Lego kit that has more than 20 pieces. We were about to have The Talk.

I still remember when my mom had The Talk with me. I was six. We sat down. She came prepared. She had a book. With pictures. I think one was of Michaelangelo’s David, who, on reflection did not live up to that maxim about the size of a man’s hands, which in David’s case were, um … quite huge. Sigh … anyway … My mom was great. We read the book together. She answered questions. We spent time talking about the Sperm + Egg = Baby equation. Never once did she get embarrassed or hedge a question.

I didn’t think much about this particular Hallmark moment until years later when I noticed that friend after friend would tell me that their moms never had The Talk with them. Or that they’d simply been handed a book and a box of maxi pads and were left to piece it all together on their own. I was grateful my mom had the confidence and comfort level to be so direct and matter-of-fact with me.

I’d planned to do the same thing for my son. I just hadn’t planned to do it on this particular morning. Otherwise, I’d have spent some time rehearsing. And maybe doubled up on my anti-anxiety meds.

But perhaps it was better that I was caught unprepared and so had to handle this on the fly. I’d read somewhere — no doubt in one of my many How Not To Screw Up Your Kid Too Horribly guides — that the trick to navigating these kinds of potentially land-your-kid-in-therapy-for-life conversations was to respond as if you are a prisoner of war. Provide only the information requested and nothing more.

My 7-year-old had asked about babies. So given our time constraints, I figured I could skip the hot-n-heavy part and go straight to the Cliff’s Notes version of baby-assembly mechanics. There’d be time enough for the sex portion of The Talk later. Much later. Like when he hit middle school. (And don’t think I didn’t know that delaying would also give me four more years to stockpile the small cache of prescription anxiety meds I knew I’d need to keep calm and carry on through that ‘tween minefield. Hey, there’s a reason they call that stuff Mother’s Little Helper.)

But back to the task at hand. With five minutes left and counting till we’d pull into the drop-off lane, I calmly explained that Daddy has sperm –

“Sorta like tadpoles …”

And Mommy has an egg –

“No, you can’t scramble this kind of egg … you just can’t … because we don’t eat these kinds of eggs … yes, they’re small … much smaller than your thumbnail, yes…”

And I wrapped up with the explanation that after the sperm and egg meet up (sidestepping exactly how for the moment), they go into a special sack in Mommy’s tummy, where the sperm+egg can grow into a baby.

That was easy, I thought as the school came into view. The facts of life in under five minutes. And I hadn’t even sweated through my super-high-powered antiperspirant that I’d been fortunate enough to swipe on that morning.

“So why was that lady hurt?” my boy asked.

“When it’s time for the baby to be born, the sack starts squeezing to push the baby out. Like a tube of toothpaste. That squeezing is what hurts.” I explained.

“So, do boys have babies?”

“Only mommies.”

“Oh good,” he said, clearly relieved.

“So, did I answer your question?” I asked as I turned into the school’s drive.

“Well … I was afraid I’d have a tummy ache like that lady on the radio. I do not want to have a baby because I do not want to have a tummy ache.”

Oh … Huh.

So maybe I’d answered the wrong question. But at least my boy still got the answer he needed.

A version of this essay appeared on Lifescript’s Health Bistro blog on June 14, 2013.

One & Done

Can I have a brother? Actually, no.  Credit: Daydreams Girl

Can I have a brother? Actually, no.
Credit: Daydreams Girl

Out of the blue last weekend, apropos of basically nothing I could immediately ascertain, my 7-year-old announced that he wanted a brother. Or a sister. He’d take either, he informed me a bit wistfully as he squatted by a blueberry bush. He just wanted a sibling. And if I could produce one now, that’d be nice, thanks.

We’d been out picking blueberries at a local farm. Berry-picking on a Sunday morning being my best response to the perpetual I-have-no-flippin’-clue-how-to-entertain-my-kid-today dilemma that every parent who’s not indentured to a kids sports team confronts when they forget to make weekend plans. So when my dad texted me to see if we wanted to go pick berries with him and my mom, I grabbed at his invitation like it was the last ‘copter out before the fall of Saigon. Take me please!!

As we’d wandered up and down the rows of neatly planted bushes, looking for the darkest, ripest berries and dropping them into our buckets, I’d gotten lost in the zen-like, meditative quality of the pluck-n-drop, pluck-n-drop, pluck-n-drop of berry picking. So my son’s sudden request caught me totally off-guard. Of course, the kid always wanted something. Like every kid I knew, mine had a major case of the Gimme’s. But this wasn’t like the garden-variety pleas I usually got for Hot Wheels cars and water blasters and every Beyblade ever made.

Not that Fletcher had been the first to make such a request. Oh, noooooo. I’d been fielding questions about when Fletcher would be getting a sibling since before the kid was potty trained. The moment he turned 2, it seemed, there was an immediate pile on of When? When? When? from all quarters. As if some biological timer had gone off that everyone could hear but me. Apparently, two years was long enough to gain some equilibrium in the parenting department, so um, Batter up! Let’s go for Number 2.

My standard reply to these really-not-your-business questions would typically alternate between “We don’t want to have more kids than we can afford to send through graduate school” and “Well, maybe if we’d started earlier …”

I was just six weeks shy of 40 when Fletcher was born and three weeks past my 47th birthday when he made this particular grab for a sibling. I know that thanks to the wonders of reproductive science, women even in their late 50s have babies these days. And hey, if you wanna be pushing 80 at your kid’s college graduation, have at it. I hope that in the excitement of watching your child receive a diploma, you don’t fall over your walker and break a hip. Meanwhile, as far as I was concerned, my factory produced a single model and was hereby closed to business.

I was plenty comfortable with that. Earlier this week, a TODAYMoms.com survey came out with the news that moms of three reported far and above more stress than moms of one, two or even four-plus kids. Not that it’s a contest, but believe me, I stressed enough for all 7,000 moms in that survey just having my one. I’d resigned myself to the fact that I would undoubtedly sleep the rest of my nights with one ear cocked for the sniffled cries of Mommy? Mommy! … and ceded the luxury of being permitted to pee solo (even at 7, my son still feels the need to “chaperone” me in the loo) … and relinquished precious DVR space, first to Sesame Street and Word World episodes, and now to a collection of Disney Channel and Cartoon Network shows … and given up any hope of ever again reading the New York Times on Sunday in peace. But even as I cradled my son as an infant, I knew I wanted at least half a shot of getting some of my grownup, pre-mommy life back, at least in the form of a work day that wasn’t disrupted first by changing diapers and now dictated by homework, and a social life that didn’t revolve around play groups and birthday parties … unless said parties involved attractive consenting adults, condoms and some lube.

Besides, I was well-acquainted with the sturm und drang that even one more child could bring. Though my sister and I are incredibly close now — the best of friends who live just a quick 12-minute drive from each other — for much of our childhood, we fought our own bloody version of the Civil War, then approximated the frosty Cold War relations for the early part of our adult life. I honestly don’t know how our mother withstood the chaos we two wrought. I am not a particular fan of chaos. I wasn’t eager to gamble on having World War III unfold in my house just because I had a momentary bout of baby fever. So, my husband and I had one and firmly decided we were done.

That was one of the key reasons I’d wanted my son growing up near my sister’s kids, who I hoped would come to feel more like brothers than cousins. But considering all the time he spent playing with his older cousins, it never occurred to me that my son might miss having a sibling of his very own.

“What made you think about having a brother or sister?” I asked my boy gently.

“I just saw a brother and sister running up and down the hill,” he said softly. “And I thought, If I had a brother or sister, they could do that with me. I want someone to play with me.”

“Oh, Sweet Pea, I’ll play with you,” I said quickly, brightly, hoping to ease the sting of not being able to have the one thing I honestly could not give him. “I’ll be your playmate.”

“You’re always working,” he said, crossly.

Ouch. I do work a lot. It’s true. But ouch. Besides, if I was honest, running up and down a hill wasn’t exactly what I’d call fun.

“You know –” I tried to salvage the situation with a little logic of my own. “If you had a brother or sister, you’d have to share your toys.”

“Then can I have an older brother or sister?” he asked, hopefully, not missing a beat. “If they’re older, they won’t want my toys,”

I was both touched and tickled by his reasoning. Seriously, this kid is gonna be some kind of logistics expert one day. He is always trying to figure out a workable solution.

I thought about explaining the impossibility of pulling off a back-to-the-future maneuver that would allow me to go back in time and have another baby that would then become his older sibling. But that wasn’t really the point.

My boy wanted something — badly — that was beyond my ability to give him. There are lots of things I have no problem saying No to — more Hot Wheels, more Beyblades, more Minecraft, more video games of any stripe, actually. But though there aren’t enough squeezable, dimpled baby cheeks to lure me back to the Diaper Genie days, it still made my heart ache to have to say No to this.

So I did what any mom does to soothe over sadness. I offered something sweet. Fresh-baked blueberry muffins, to be precise, to be made when we got home with the bucket of fresh berries we’d just picked. And I pinky-promised that next weekend, I’d come up with a less lame play date than picking fruit at a farm with mom, so that my son would really have someone to play with.

A version of this essay was published on Lifescript’s Health Bistro blog on May 10, 2013.

 

Big News!

263280_194568727352162_180792384_aWe have BIG NEWS about Don’t Put Lizards In Your Ears’ sister blog Science of Parenthood. Starting TODAY, Lifescript, the healthy living website for women, will be featuring SOP’s illustrations, created with Jessica Ziegler, EVERY OTHER FRIDAY. Check out today’s post HERE! And please help spread the word and SHARE the laughter! Thanks!

Am I Smarter Than A Seven-Year-Old?

Rapid Eye Media

Rapid Eye Media

Am I smarter than my seven-year-old? Apparently I am not. This is fairly amazing to me as I went to college. And graduate school. Okay, I studied theater and dance, not astrophysics. But still. You’d think that anyone with a masters degree in anything more intellectually rigorous than, say, papier mache would be able to skillfully refuse a request that they’ve shot down with big, fat Over my dead body’s so many times, it’s practically a rote response.

“Mommy, can I have –”

“NO!”

See? Simple.

Of course, it is the kid’s job to ask. And ask. And ask. And ask. I’m pretty sure that’s in The Great Big Book of How To Really Annoy Your Parents … For Fun & Profit. I can’t remember which page, but I know I’ve read it in there somewhere.

And it’s the parent’s job to dig in and hang tough and be firm and say No … No … No … No … No. And I know I read that in the Great Big Book Of How To Keep Your Kid Alive Till They Turn 18 After Which They’re On They’re Own, Though They Will Still Want Your Money. 

And given that my son is seven, and thus still covered under the Try Not To Kill Them clause of the parent-child agreement, when he asked me for the millionth time if he could have a soda, my response should have been the instantaneous and automatic NO! that it’s been the last 999,999 times he’s asked if he could have a soda.

All right. All right. So asking for a can of soda is not like asking to borrow the car. Or to have a cocktail. Or to have a cocktail and then borrow the car. Soda is considered by many to be perfectly acceptable beverage for young children. And if that’s you, then have at it. No judgment. (Well, maybe a little. But certainly not to your face.)

But I have my reasons … good reasons … sound reasons for why I’m not particularly interested in having my seven-year-old guzzling soda by the Big Gulp. Not least of which is that I’ve done a fair bit of health writing about the link between soda-drinking and childhood obesity. Given that my kid already spends more than his fair share of time laying slothfully on the couch watching TV and/or playing video games on his … I mean, my iPad, I’d rather not throw more gasoline on that particular fire, thanks very much.

So to recap: Soda = No go in our house. Kid = Ask, ask, ask, ask, ask. Me = No, no, no, no, no.

But my kid is quite well-versed in the If-At-First-You-Don’t-Succeed school of argumentation. And he has pinpoint timing for picking his battles.

On the day in question, my husband, my business partner Jessica and I were doing last minute setup for the launch party for our humor blog, Science of Parenthood. My house was filling up with guests, and as they arrived, all of the kids jumped in the pool — in their clothes no less — turning the blog party into an impromptu pool party. Which immediately necessitated my trying to locate all of the spare bathing suits and pool towels that had been packed away after last summer. Meanwhile, my husband and Jessica were trying to troubleshoot the iPad slideshow we planned to show during the party. And friends were bombarding me with questions like So how’d this all start? Tell me the whole story. Now! and Where’s the booze?

I merely mention this to underscore that there was a lot going on in the particular moment when my seven-year-old hit me with:

“Mommy … you know how you always want me to try new foods?”

I nodded, distractedly, unsure where exactly we were going with this.

“– and you know how you always want me to have a New Food Of The Day?”

Again, I nodded, hoping this was leading perhaps to my putting together a plate of food that the kid might actually eat.

“Well, I’ve never had Sprite before. I’d like to try it. I’d like this Sprite to be my New Food Of The Day.” And he held up a can. “So, Mommy, can I have it?” Then he flashed me his winningest, gap-toothiest smile. “Can I?”

Is that a logical argument or what? I mean, I had to give the kid props for creativity and the ability to completely spin my own tables back on me. I swear. Come back in a few years. This is the guy you’re gonna wanna hire as your defense attorney. Or hostage negotiator.

But I also had my reasons to say No. Sound reasons, remember? But in that crazy, chaotic moment, I choked. I had a Rick Perry brain fart. I couldn’t come up with a single reason why the kid couldn’t have a soda … I mean besides Because I said so. And I only like to trot that one out when I am truly, truly desperate. Why couldn’t he have soda? My brain scrambled for coherence and … and … and … I had nothing.

I looked to my husband. He shrugged helplessly, having already parried our son’s request with the totally lame “Go ask your mother.” So now we’ve got two college graduates outmaneuvered by a seven-year-old. (Please don’t tell anyone we went to Oberlin; they will probably revoke our alumni status.)

Can a moment be both exhilarating and utterly humiliating at the same time? On the one hand, I was wary of giving my kid an inch .. and having him down an entire 12-pack. On the other, I was so totally impressed with the kid’s verbal machinations, part of me wanted to give him the soda as just desserts for sheer ballsiness.

So that’s exactly what I did.

“Just one!” I said, wondering just how far down the slippery (sugary) slope this one capitulation would lead us. “It’s a special occasion. This is for today only,” I warned.

He barely heard me, as he dashed off to pop open his can of bubbly sweetness.

“Savor it!!!!” I called after him.

“Oh, he got me!” I laughed to my mom friend Brenda later. “He got me GOOD!”

“On the bright side,” Brenda said, fully appreciating the humor of my predicament, “when kids turn your logic against you, they are using their critical thinking skills.”

True, that.

So sure, I’d been verbally outmaneuvered by a second-grader. But I was still kinda cheering for him as he did.

A version of this essay first appeared on Lifescript’s Healthbistro blog on April 12, 2013.

 

The Child’s Mealtime Contract

Photo: Mark Wragg

Photo: Mark Wragg

So, you thought feeding kids was simply about serving up tasty, nutritious meals? LOL! That’s a good one! If you want your kid to eat, you better get acquainted with the Mealtime Rules. By virtue of the fact that you gave birth, you entered into this Mealtime Contract, which is binding, absolute and, by the way, non-negotiable — for you. Beyond the “delicious” part, which goes without saying and is, naturally, subject to child approval, you should be acquainted with the contract’s other fine print:

1. Under no circumstances shall a child eat what the rest of the family — including her siblings — is eating. Special meals must be prepared per each child’s request.

2. A request for a specific food is no guarantee that said food will actually be consumed.

3. “Favorite” foods are subject to change without notice. Prior consumption is no guarantee the same food will be consumed again — ever.

4. No food may touch another food on the plate AT ANY TIME.

5. Minimum number of bites to be taken must be negotiated in advance. No exceptions.

6. Bite size to be determined solely at the child’s discretion. “Big” bites of cake and “tiny” bites of broccoli to both count as “one” bite.

7. Bribery — i.e., offering candy in exchange for tasting a new food — will not be tolerated. Any attempt will result in the immediate clamping shut of the mouth and refusal to eat anything else.

8. A fork must never be used when fingers will suffice.

9. A napkin must never be used when a shirt sleeve is more accessible. (And even in cases when it’s not.)

10. Boogers are a food group.

11. Healthy food should never be concealed behind cutesy names. Ants On A Log: Unacceptable. Jimmies On A Sundae: Acceptable.

12. Ketchup is to be used generously. Ditto ranch dressing.

13. All food must be “pure” and unadulterated. Any attempt to camouflage vegetables in mac-and-cheese, smoothies or cake will be met with projectile vomiting.

14. It is not a food “rut.” It is “consistency” in food selection.

15. New foods will be regarded with extreme prejudice. Requests to serve anything “new” must be submitted in advance. In triplicate.

16. Parent will not make “airplane” noises or attempt to trick the child into opening his mouth to accept food at any time. The child, however, may make farting, belching and “raspberry”-type noises at the table as he sees fit.

17. The ratio of French fries to green vegetables must always be 8:1.

18. Food must not be “weird” in any way. “Weirdness” to be determined at the child’s sole discretion.

19. Broken cookies/crackers are “tainted” and will be summarily refused.

20. There should be no expectation that any food eaten at Grandma’s house will be automatically eaten at home.

21. Food will only be eaten if served on the “right” plate. “Rightness” to be determined by the child as it may be linked to particular cartoon characters that may/may not be considered cool at the moment. “Rightness” may also be determined by the color of a child’s shirt or other yet-to-be determined random event. Parent has no say in “rightness.”

22. There is always room for dessert.

23. A parent is not permitted to eat anything on a child’s plate. A child, however, is permitted free access to everything on parents’ plates. A child may return any food to a parent’s plate … even after it’s been chewed.

24. Hurrying is not permitted. A child will be allowed to linger over his dinner long after everyone else’s dishes have been cleared and the leftovers put away. Mom must stay at the table with the child at all times.

25. A child who is “full” after three bites of dinner may still request a PBJ at bedtime because he is “starving.” If first choice of jelly is unavailable, parent must immediately procure said jelly from the nearest supermarket. Time of day is immaterial.

26. There is no crying over spilt milk. Screaming about spilled Skittles, however, is encouraged.

27. Chocolate is the only acceptable presentation for dessert. Concealing yellow cake with chocolate frosting is punishable by severe tantrum.

28. Use of knives is not permitted. Food will be shoved into mouth regardless of size.

29. Denial of dessert will not be tolerated. Any attempts to refuse dessert will be met with a severe tantrum.

30. “Mealtime” is relative. Any time a child is hungry is “meal time.” Even at 1 AM.

 

A version of this blog post was originally published on Lifescript’s Healthbistro blog March 15, 2013.

If this made you laugh or smile, please SHARE it with your friends!

An Inconvenient Truth

Credit: Ermin Gutenberger

Credit: Ermin Gutenberger

From our house in Orlando, we’re about 15 minutes from Disney World’s backdoor. Which makes the Magic Kingdom (and its satellite parks) a tempting fallback for those endless I-have-no freakin’-clue-how-to-entertain-my-kid-today weekend afternoons. The catch — natch — is that this fallback gets fairly pricey. Which is why folks around here look for ways — annual passes, resident discounts — to shave pennies here and there from the cost of enjoying all that magic.

For my part, I do whatever I can to avoid the parking fees. It’s not like I’m some scofflaw. I’ll feed the meter on a city street. But I get a leeetle cranky when Disney wants to nip another 12 bucks for parking when I’ve already ponied up close to $200 to spend the day with my six-year-old at the Happiest Place on Earth. At that price, you’d think parking would be a gimme.

But after attending a few Disney-based birthday parties, I discovered a teeny loophole I could squeeze my car through: party guests park for free! I didn’t even need a fake gift bag as proof of attendance. Merely announcing “We’re here for the birthday party at ________,” opened the gates for you. (Though after this posts, I’m sure they’ll be watching for me.)

Anyway … faking a birthday party was going to be the plan for the day Fletcher and I recently spent in the Magic Kingdom. There was no reason to think it wouldn’t go off without a hitch. But because Fletcher’s been known to unexpectedly chime in with his own two cents — especially when he sees a chance to correct me on a point of fact — and because I didn’t want him piping up at the gate with “But we’re not going to a birthday party …” I filled him in ahead of time.

Big mistake.

“Mommy!” he declared, his eyes widening with shock as I laid out the plan. “You’re going to lie?!? You can’t do that. Lying’s BAD!”

Don’tcha just love when your own sense of pragmatism runs smack into your kid’s inconvenient ethics? In that moment, I was reminded of a particular parenting tenet that had always resonated with me: When you teach kids to challenge authority, the first authority they’ll challenge is yours. And here I was experiencing that firsthand.

Now, I’ve yet to meet the parent who outright advocates lying. But fibbing … well, I’ll argue that that’s a lighter shade of untruth. Alas, six-year-olds don’t get this kind of … let’s say nuance. Their little black-n-white brains don’t get that sometimes it’s okay to fib. But how to explain that I held fibbing about a fictional birthday party at an over-priced theme park in the same category as, say, asking my husband, “Do these jeans make my ass look big?” and fully expecting him to come up with a bald-faced whopper … and sell it like he’s one of those shyster salesmen from the movie Glengarry Glenn Ross.

But here, I was torn. Fletcher clearly had the moral high ground. Plus, no matter what you tell them, kids follow what you do, not what you say to do. And it wasn’t like the parking fee would break the bank. I’d be forking out way more than $12 bucks in the course of our outing. But jeez! If I’m gonna get gauged, I’d rather it be on something  worthwhile, like chocolate ice cream at the Main Street USA ice cream parlor — not an 8 x 16-foot parking space.

So, faced with this kid conundrum, I did what any modern parent does: I  turned to Facebook.

“Help me, Parent Friends –” I typed. “Have you ever encouraged your kids to fib a little, say, to get into a theme park, etc?”

The response was so immediate, you’d have thought I was trading free iPads for the advice.

My friend Jennifer confessed that she’d slid her just-passed-the-cutoff-age kid into a theme park for free. “I didn’t lie,” she emphasized. “They assumed … and I let it go. I still feel guilty about it though.”

“For Jazz Fest purposes, where tickets are $50 for adults and $5 for kids, our children will be ‘under 10’ for as long as humanly possible,” wrote Erika, my college friend from New Orleans. “It is quite a point of pride.”

“My boys love when we “sneak” into a second movie or hide our own snacks in my huge purse,” my friend Robyn added. “But, yikes! I never thought of ethics and lying. I’m not about to stop, though.”

Seriously, what did we do before we could crowd-source our parenting decisions on Facebook?

Still the question remained: What should I do? I hemmed and hawed all the way to Disney. Bearing down on the entrance, it was the moment of, um … truth. I pleaded my case one last time. “Fletcher, I really don’t want to pay for parking. I want to say we’re going to a birthday party.”

But I had to hand it to him. The kid was unwavering in his objection. So much so that he actually looked up from playing Race Or Die 2. When a kid pauses a video game, you know he means business. “Mommy, I don’t want you to lie,” he said, staring me down with his big, brown, disappointed doe eyes.

Oh, yeah, the kid knows how to work it. If a moment can both infuriate you and make you proud, that moment was it.

And so I smiled through gritted teeth as I handed the toll booth attendant my credit card. Sure, I could’ve just done things my way. But there’s having no shame … and there’s being shamed by a six-year-old.

In another decade or so, when I’m grilling this kid about the mysterious dents that I’m already anticipating pocking my car, I plan to remind my child just how unflinchingly honest he was on that particular Disney day.

But today, I’d say that 12 bucks was money well spent.

 

Have you ever encouraged your kid to um … fib? Leave a comment and tell me about it!

If this post made you smile, please pass it on!

A shorter version of this essay was published on Lifescript’s Healthbistro blog on February 15, 2013.

 

 

Everything I know about parenting I learned in middle-school science class

for_n1

It’s absolutely true!

Everything I ever needed to know about parenting I learned in middle school science and math class. Only I didn’t realize it then because I was way too busy chasing boys to actually pay attention to whatever the teacher was droning on and on and on about. But I must have absorbed something through osmosis … or is it photosynthesis? Well, it’s definitely one of these -ois’s or -esis’s because once I caught my boy (er, husband), and then, incredibly, gave birth to another one, it all came back to me … like in one of those pricey SAT prep courses.

Turns out, those smarties Newton and Einstein and the rest of their science and math geek pals not only understood how the world works, those guys knew a little something about what it’s like to be a frazzled, over-scheduled, sleep-deprived parent who’s just one PBJ shy of going all Linda Blair in that head-spin scene from The Exorcist.

Which is why I teamed up with Jessica Ziegler — aka the greatest illustrator and web designer ever — to create Science of Parenthood. A new sibling blog/website to Don’t Put Lizards In Your Ears, Science of Parenthood is meant to shed a little light on those awkward, puzzling, all-too-hilarious moments (though, admittedly, it can take a little hindsight to see them as such) that we parents experience on a daily, sometimes hourly, basis as we shepherd our wee ones from crib to college.

If you’ve ever wondered how one kid can possibly lose so many Star Wars thermoses — at $16 a pop, natch — or marveled that the same kid who can play Mario Galaxy for eight hours without a single bathroom break cannot sit still for 10 freakin’ minutes to finish a math worksheet, then Science of Parenthood is for you. Think of it as better parenting through science … and humor that will make you lose whatever bladder control you might have left.

So, please join us on our Facebook page – we’re unveiling our website  next week — and tell us all about those parenting moments that make you wince and smile and shoot Diet Coke out of your nose. Then share the love — by which we mean, of course, share, share, share, the posts. The parent’s sanity you save may be your own!

 

How I Taught My Son To Ride

Photo credit: leFlo23

Photo credit: leFlo23

“Mommy! We don’t need your car anymore!” my six-year-old shouted happily as he pounced on his daddy and me Christmas morning. “SANTA LEFT BIKES!”

The bikes’ provenance notwithstanding, my son Fletcher had guessed at least one essential motive for the shiny new road bike with the half-bike hitched to the back (a “tug-a-bug”) parked in our living room. It was the one holiday gift I’d specifically asked my husband Stewart for.

Now, I am not an outdoorsy person. I’m not even a particularly athletic person. My most vivid bicycling memory is of a outing Stewart and I took years ago, pre-baby, on Cape Cod. I’d spent most of that picturesque excursion cursing that even as a pack-a-day smoker, Stewart had still left me in the dust. Which tells you a lot about my fitness level.

And there was the problem. Although my other “job” is writing about health, I’ve got a fairly lackadaisical attitude toward exercise. Which is a fancy way of saying I’ve been spending way too much time on my keister. Now that my son was in second grade, I couldn’t really hide behind the “I chase a toddler all day” excuse for why it was okay that I wasn’t going to the gym. “Find ways to squeeze exercise into your daily routine” is what the fitness experts always say. Heck, I’ve written that advice a dozen or so times myself. But where exactly to squeeze it was the eternal dilemma.

And then … lightbulb!  It hit me. We could ride bikes to school. Other families did it. Why not us? We lived just two-and-a-half miles away — close enough that a child could do it without whining (much anyway); far enough that it would still be a workout for me. With two roundtrips, I could be riding 10 miles a day.

But multi-tasker that I am, I had another agenda as well. Daily rides would also satisfy a vexing parental need: teaching Fletcher to ride a two-wheeler. At 6, the boy still couldn’t manage without training wheels. And while it didn’t seem to bother Fletcher any, it was starting to bug me. Teaching your kid to ride a bike is one of those things all parents have to do. I think it says so on page 328 of the Parenting Club Handbook they stick in the swag bag you get as you’re leaving the maternity ward. (“Thanks for delivering! Here are some lovely take-home prizes!) Seeing other kids, younger kids, racing around our neighborhood on their bikes was a constant reminder that I’d been slacking off with this particular parental responsibility.

To this day, I can still remember my dad teaching me to ride my first two-wheeler, a teal beauty with a sparkly banana seat and a basket with flowers on the front. But this gig’s really a young parent’s game. My dad was 32 when he doggedly jogged behind me, steadying my seat until I finally found my balance and took off. I am 46. And while I don’t feel “old” per se, my back felt otherwise after going about a block. So I’d let the whole bike riding thing slide. The kid would learn eventually, I figured. Though I had no real idea how exactly that would happen. The tug-a-bug seemed to offer the perfect solution. Using that, I could steady the bikes for both of us — without risking permanent back injury — till Fletcher learned to balance himself.

So, over Winter Break, we mapped out a route, noting where we’d have to cross the three busy intersections between us and school and still have sidewalk under our tires. We ride as often I as can get Fletcher off the couch and away from the TV, which, as far as I’m concerned, should really count as weight-lifting. We ride to nearby parks, to friends‘ houses, to school and back several times. I want us to get used to the chill, the distance, the busy-ness of the streets, the strange dips and jogs the sidewalk makes along the way, the places drivers are likely to roll into right turns without stopping — or looking. I want Fletcher to get comfortable with all of that so that on Bike Day, our first ride to school after Winter Break, the trip will seem easy, even routine.

The Monday we head back to school, the skies are overcast. The Weather Channel app predicts a 30 percent chance of rain. I optimistically decide to see that as a 70 percent chance there won’t a downpour, and I hitch together the bikes.

My next-door neighbor, who’s either named Craig or Greg or Doug, I can never remember, waves at me. “Little cold for a bike ride,” Craig-Greg-Doug calls over before getting into his Mustang, which is warming up at the curb.

At 7:30 am, it is 57F. Not as chilly as Dubuque perhaps, but cold enough. And I know it’ll feel colder as we ride. Am I insane? I grab my leather gloves and pull Stewart’s golf windbreaker over my turtleneck and sweatshirt. I look wistfully at my Volvo in the driveway. The heater in that car is fantastic.

“Mommy, are we really going to ride?” Fletcher asks, stretching the question into a slight whine when I come back inside to check his progress with breakfast. “It’s gonna be cold.”

“It’ll be fine,” I say. Though I grab a thermal shirt for him to slip under his school polo and hoodie just in case. “Wear your mittens. You’ll be fine.”

“It’s cold,” he complains again when I open the garage to leave.

“It’s cold,” he says again as I tuck away my keys and phone and sling his Superman backpack over my shoulders.

“It will be fine,” I repeat with what I hope sounds like conviction rather than frayed patience. “Are you ready?”

The moment we leave the driveway, I realize we’ll be pedaling into the wind the entire way. It’s hardly an auspicious start.

“This was a bad idea, Mommy. A very bad idea,” Fletcher whines about one minute into our ride. “I’m cold. My legs are cold.”

Truthfully so am I. Quite cold. But if I turn back and succumb to the alluring comforts of my Volvo now, I know it’ll be spring before I get my boy back on the bike again.

“Keep pedaling,” I answer. I mean to sound encouraging; with my teeth chattering, it comes out like more of a bark.

But gradually, as we pedal, we warm up, and the whines turn into humming and then … remarkably singing.

“Copy what I say, Mommy,” Fletcher calls to me, sounding more enthusiastic. “Bee bee boo boo bop.”

“Bee bee boo boo bop,” I parrot, willing even to sound like an idiot if that will distract him from the morning chill.

“Zing zing zang,” he says.

“Zing zing zang,” I echo.

“Boop boo ba loop boo ba loop boo ba loop,” he continues the game.

It’s sheer silliness, but at least he’s no longer complaining he’s cold.

The traffic gods are with us as we cruise along — incredibly, we make every green light. The riding prep we did over winter break paid off: Fletcher’s happily nattering on and singing behind me, waving to the people in cars at Stop signs who graciously let us cross in front of them. The entire ride, I don’t hear a single Are we there yet?

As we approach school, I drop my feet from the pedals and coast. The wind’s lashing my face, burning my ears. But in that moment, I can feel my boy behind me, pedaling steadily for both of us. Perfectly balanced.

So, how did you teach your child to ride? Leave me a comment and tell me all about it!  And if you liked this essay, please LIKE and SHARE with your friends! Thanks!

A shorter version of this essay was posted on Lifescript’s HealthBistro blog on January 11, 2013.

 

 

Why My Six-Year-Old Isn’t Getting A Star Wars Blaster For Christmas

For the last two years, my six-year-old, Fletcher has been coveting a certain Star Wars blaster. It’s hard to tell the differences among the assorted Star Wars weaponry, but I think it’s one of the models the rebels use in the Clone Wars series. His older cousins have one, and he plays with it at their house every chance he gets. The last few times we’ve ridden the Buzz Lightyear ride at Disney World, which conveniently spills you out into the gift shop, he’s gone right for this particular weapon, touching it with the kind of reverence normally reserved for holy relics. He knows better than to ask me for it outright because the answer to his perpetual Can I have a gun? question has long been a flat No.

It’s challenging to be anti toy-gun when you’ve got a boy. The fascination must come with the Y chromosome because Fletcher’s been enthralled by toy guns since he could pull himself up and grab what he wanted to play with from a toy chest. I could refuse to supply him with toy firearms, but that doesn’t stop others from gifting him with water shooters. Or stop him from playing with toy guns at other kids’ houses. Staying with friends on a family trip to Denver when Fletcher was 3, I discovered my child had unearthed a substantial cache of toy guns that even my shocked girlfriend didn’t realize her son had.

As any parent knows, kids’ persistence is a force to behold. Over time, their repeated pleas can wear you down like water smooths a rock. And so it was that a few weeks ago, I reluctantly reversed my No Toy Guns policy and allowed Fletcher to purchase a stylized flintlock pirate pistol with his allowance. After that, the proverbial barn door was wide open. So when I saw the Star Wars blaster at Target, and it was on sale, I thought, Oh, what the hell. That’ll make his Christmas.

It was upstairs in the guest room closet with the rest of the toys, waiting to be wrapped in festive Christmas paper and tied with a bow. But after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Connecticut on Friday, I took it back. After seeing the pictures of those 20 murdered children, most of whom were exactly my son’s age, the idea of feeding my own child’s perception that guns are just big boy toys and the violence they can do is just a game made me physically ill.

And I say that as someone who’s not opposed to reasonable gun ownership. Though because the word reasonable has been so perverted by the NRA and their rabid devotees, let me explain what I mean by that. Years ago — long before Fletcher was born — when I lived off-grid on a remote mountain in Nevada, in an area where it could take 20 to 30 minutes for police to respond to a 911 call, my husband kept a 12-gauge shotgun, a .22 rifle, a 9-mm semi-automatic handgun and a HK91 assault rifle in the house. “I like to shoot things in the desert,” he said a little sheepishly when I asked him why on earth he needed a stash like that. They were his guns, and I wouldn’t touch them. But my husband traveled frequently, and I was often home alone. After an unnerving encounter with one of the other mountain residents (who I presumed was making meth in one of the lonely double-wides loosely scattered over the desert), I wanted to be able to protect myself if I absolutely had to. So I learned how to load and fire a Glock. At the time, I considered it a necessary survival skill.

Now we live in the Greater Orlando suburbs. The guns are gone, and we leave it to Orlando’s Finest to respond quickly if the need arises. No one in suburbia (or a city for that matter) needs that kind of weaponry. Ever.

On the afternoon of the Sandy Hook shooting, Lisa Belkin, the Huffington Post Parentry blogger, wrote that “guns are a parenting issue.” She said our job as parents is to keep our children safe, and “easy access to guns keeps us from doing that job.”

Of course, as many, many people have said in the wake of this horror, any real change in our nation’s gun culture has to start with petitioning our lawmakers and holding President Obama to his promise to “use whatever power [his] office holds” to pass gun control legislation that actually bans these weapons of mass slaughter. The same goes for demanding more resources to make mental health services readily accessible to those who desperately need them, and so perhaps prevent the kind of off-the-charts violence these tortured souls can commit. But closer to home, especially with Christmas approaching fast, perhaps it’s also time to think about the messages we send our children when we allow them to play with — and indeed give them — toy models that look so much like the real thing. However unintentionally, that tells our kids that that gun violence — killing — is appropriate imaginative play for children to engage in.

Telling a kid he/she can’t have toy guns isn’t easy. Believe me, I know. But tell me, what part of parenting ever is? Teaching that gun violence is abhorrent has to start somewhere, and maybe it starts with banning the plastic toys that glorify gun ownership in our households … as well as the shoot-em-up video games that I’m just as guilty of allowing my son to play from time to time.

Truth told, I’m not sure yet what I’m going to do about the super-soakers and pirate pistol we already have. Though I’m sorely tempted to do a full toy purge, I’m thinking that doing so may actually create more desire for the forbidden playthings. Better perhaps is to simply let them gather dust on the toy shelves and refuse to replace them when they break. Already, that pirate pistol has been forgotten as other toys from Chanukah have commanded my son’s attention. But this much is certain: I won’t be adding to the arsenal on Christmas. Over the weekend, I replaced the Star Wars blaster with a telescope. Rather than pretending to shoot at people and our long-suffering cats, I’m hoping it inspires my son to shoot for the stars.

Illustration: Jessica Ziegler

My Next Big Thing

I rarely participate in chain letters anymore. No matter how many chain letters I sent out as a gullible hopeful youngster, I never got anything back, even though I was promised millions if I just I added my name to the bottom of the list and sent one dollar to the person at the top. Any day now, I’m sure.

The last chain letter I did — reluctantly — involved stickers for my kid. And I only agreed to participate in that one over the summer because another mom friend arm-twisted cajoled me into it, promising, “It’ll be fun for the kids to get stickers in the  mail!” How do you say No to stickers for kids? So I dutifully mailed a packet of sports-themed stickers to the first kid on my mom friend’s list; moved her kid’s name to the first slot; added my own kid’s name to the next slot; sent out six letters to other friends’ kids in the hopes that they’d join the “fun”; then sat back to wait for the deluge of stickers to come our way. We got exactly one package back. At least it was better than I did as a kid.

So, jaded as I am with regard to anything chain related (well, other than those of the 14K or platinum variety), you’d think I’d have dodged something like a Blog Hop, like a hard-thrown ball in phys-ed class. A Blog Hop is exactly like a chain letter. Except … when Susan Bearman of the Two Kinds of People blog (http://2kop.blogspot.com) posted on Facebook yesterday that she was looking to include bloggers in a Blog Hop post about her Next Big Thing, answering a few questions about my Next Big Thing writing project sounded like a whole lot more fun and satisfying than waiting for crumpled dollar bills to arrive in the mail. For starters, I love talking about my work. What writer doesn’t, right? But, bonus!! I got to find out more about Susan’s latest project, Animal Store Alphabet Book. And the memoir that Nancy Hinchliff, the blogger who originally tagged Susan, is working on. And this Blog Hop thing has also given me the opportunity to reach out to other bloggers whose work I love, so I can arm-twist cajole them into talking about what they’re working on these days too. In the next several days, I’ll be posting their links here, so please check back … and check out what Susan Bearman and Nancy Hinchcliff posted about their writing projects too at the links above.

So, without further ado, here are the questions I was asked to answer.

1. What is the working title of your book or project?

It’s a collection of humorous essays, based on this blog, about stumbling through parenthood, called Don’t Put Lizards In Your Ears … And Other Totally Bizarre Things I Never Thought I’d Do, Say Or Think, But Absolutely Did After I Became A Mom.

2. Where did the idea come from for the book or project?

My son was 18 months old when I caught him jamming something rather determinedly into his right ear. Q-tip? Pencil? String bean? Exact-o knife? Who knew what he had. But after I vaulted over several pieces of living room furniture to reach him and unfolded his tightly clenched fist, I saw he’d picked up a dead, desscicated lizard, something one of our cats had carried in from the patio. “Don’t put lizards in your ears!” I scolded. As soon as the words were out of my mouth, I burst out laughing. That’s a totally crazy thing to say. And I immediately thought, That’s the perfect title for a collection of essays about the crazy things that happen to you once you become a parent.

3. What genre does it fall under, if any?

Humor and memoir. Everything in it is true, but I’m known to play it broadly for laughs.

4. If applicable, who would you choose to play your characters in a movie?

If I ran the zoo (or production company), I’d tap Winona Ryder to play me. Eons ago, maybe back when she did Heathers, a friend grabbed an issue of Esquire with her on the cover — she could have been my twin. Greg Kinnear would play my husband Stewart. I’m not up on the current crop of child stars, but I’m sure we could find someone adorable and precocious to play my lizard-loving son.

5. What is the one-sentence synopsis of your manuscript or project?

A “snap-shot” style memoir in essays about the ridiculous things that happen to you once you become a parent.

6. Will your book or story be self-published or represented by an agency?

I’m hoping an agent will pick it up, but one way or another this baby’s getting published.

7. How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

I’ll let you know when I get there. I’m more than a third of the way through now.

8. What other book or stories s would you compare this story to within the genre?

It’s in the style of Justin Halpren’s Sh*t My Dad Says. 

9. Who or what inspired you to write this book or story?

I specialize in “fish out of water”-style essays about the often-strange situations I’ve found myself in — living off-grid in a solar-powered house, setting a world record during a masturbate-a-thon. My son just provides me with bizarre situations on a daily basis.

10. What else about the book or story might pique the reader’s interest?

Anyone who’s been flummoxed by parenthood will relate to these stories. And isn’t that just about every parent, at some point? Stay tuned!

 

These writers will be writing about their Next Big Things on their blogs. Please visit and comment. 

December 6: Cindy A. Brown Everyday Underwear: Do You Read Me? I Could be the Next Big Thing.

Cindy talks about Forty Days Without A Face, how a 40-day “fast” from hair and makeup “shed harsh light on her fears and insecurities, ripping away the mask she wore to hide her disturbing past.”

December 7: Liane Kupferberg Carter http://lianekupferbergcarter.blogspot.com 

In my memoir Love Is Like This: A Family Grows Up with Autism, I explore the uncharted terrain of raising the older child with autism into adulthood. Many autism narratives focus on recovery.  But the truth is that most children with autism are not “cured.”  And while much has been written about what it’s like raising a young child on the spectrum, few books tell you what really happens in the two decades after that diagnosis.  How do you make the trade-offs you must to create an ordinary life for a family, while dealing with the extraordinary needs of a disabled family member?  How do you keep your family intact?  How do you survive – and even thrive?

 

Photo credit: Deliormanli