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.

 

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.

 

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