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.

 

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.

 

 

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

Playing The New Mom’s Game of Life

We’ve been playing Milton Bradley’s Game of Life quite a bit at our house lately. Fletcher, my 6-year-old, spent a rainy afternoon playing the game with his older cousin Dylan, and, predictably, within minutes of my picking him up from my sister’s house, clamored for a game of his own. I think I’d played this board game exactly once some 30 years ago, and the only things I remembered about it were the tiny plastic cars you moved around the board, and the tinier gender-rigid pink and blue pegs you filled the car with — plastic avatars of the spouse and children picked up, like hitchhikers, on your journey from college or first job to retirement. Still, I was game to play anything that wasn’t as mind-numbing as Candy Land and had an endpoint you could reliably reach within an hour or so. Unlike, say, Chutes-N-Ladders, which dumps you with maddening consistency right back at the beginning just as you think (hope) you’re nearing the end.

But as our family dutifully “drove” our plastic vehicles around the Life game board, landing on spaces that directed us to choose a career, get married, buy a house, lose a job, collect a salary, buy a bigger house, pony up for emergencies (“Car accident, pay $5,000”) and earn Life tokens (“Volunteer at soup kitchen,” “Visit Great Wall of China”), it struck me that while this looked like the classic American experience, it wasn’t exactly “life” as I knew it as a working mom. And not just because the odds that anyone will “Find buried treasure” are rather slim while my son lands on that square without fail every single time we play. (Though, I gotta say, the half-mil Milton Bradley offers would certainly fluff up my kid’s 529 college savings account.)

Where, I wondered, were those indelible, precious, all-too-human moments that come with family life that my mom friends and I experienced: baby’s first smile, first steps, first big-time diaper blowout; the midnight runs to the urgent care center (because what child actually gets sick during daylight hours?), the out-of-the-mouths-of-babes bon mots (and cringe-worthy moments), the blind rage and sheer joy, the always-shifting balance between work and family (and the feeling that no matter how hard you try, you inevitably shortchange both).

Sure, I know the game’s got to be generic enough to appeal to a mass (and at least half male) audience. But I’m thinking there’s room for a special edition here, a la Star Wars Trouble or the Green Day version of Angry Birds. So in the spirit of making Life a bit more like, um … real life, I’m offering The New Mom’s Game of Life.

Unlike original Life where the goal is to bank enough cash to retire in Millionaire Estates, in this game, everyone starts off pregnant, with elastic pants and a box of saltines. Whoever makes it from Childbirth Class to Kindergarten Graduation with their sanity, sense of humor, ego and ab muscles intact, wins. Multiple winners are possible. Are you listening, Milton Bradley? Let the parenting games begin!

Start childbirth classes. Get LIFE token.

Morning sickness! Spend next turn vomiting in bathroom.

Load e-reader with baby/parenting books. Pay $50.

Baby shower! Collect $5,000 in cash and baby products.

Stunned (and queasy) watching real-life births on One Born Every Minute. Contemplate C-section. Get LIFE token.

“The epidural needle is how big? Wait!! That needle goes into my spine??!!” Get LIFE token.

Maternity leave. Miss next two turns.

Breastfeeding success! Get LIFE token.

Nod off from sleep-deprivation. Snooze through next turn.

Order audiobook of Samuel L. Jackson reading Go The F**k To Sleep. Pay $4.99.

Postpartum depression. Skip two turns till antidepressants kick in.

Baby (finally) sleeps through night. Get LIFE token.

Car seat recall! Pay $80 for replacement.

Diaper blow out!! Get the wipes! Need More Wipes!! Miss next turn cleaning up.

YOU! RAN! OUT! OF! DIAPERS! Pay $50 for a month’s supply.

Get back into your skinny jeans. Get LIFE token.

Baby gets croup! Spend next turn at the after-hours urgent care center.

Stay at home? Return to work? Miss next turn agonizing over decision.

Daycare separation anxiety. Spend next turn bawling your eyes out.

Baby’s first word! Unfortunately, it’s “&@#%*!” Screamed. In church. Get LIFE token.

Potty “trainee” has accident … sitting on your lap. Spend next turn blow-drying pants in ladies room.

“Mommy! Can you snuggle me!” Get LIFE token.

Lifting toddler, stroller, car seat, diaper bag X 2 years = totally taut arms. Get compliments. And LIFE token.

Pink eye! See pediatrician. $5 co-pay.

“Why, Mommy? But why? Why? Why? Why? Why?” Get LIFE token.

Face down mean moms on the playground. Get LIFE token.

Private school. Pay $15,000.

School uniforms. Pay $500.

School supplies. Pay $200.

New suit smeared with peanut butter and chocolate. Spend next turn dropping clothes at dry cleaner.

Lice! Spend next turn picking nits out of kid’s hair.

“Mommy, what’s s-e-x?” Get LIFE token.

Snow day! Reflect on how much less fun these are now that you’re the parent. Get LIFE token.

High-five! You scored boxes of Pokemon cards on eBay. Get LIFE token.

“I like Skylanders now, Mom. (Insert eye roll) Duh!” Resell Pokemon cards on eBay. Get LIFE token.

Forget to pick up Junior at school. Again. Get LIFE token.

Birthday party with 20 rambunctious classmates. Get LIFE token. And a cocktail. Or two.

Family vacation! Pay $3,000.

Hmmm … family vacations are really more stressful than blissful. Make pact with hubby to leave kids at home next time. Get LIFE token.

Totally, completely, utterly, lose your cool with your kid! Nominate self for Best “Re-creation of Linda Blair’s Scream Scene in The Exorcist.” Get LIFE token.

Stretch legs — finally! — after a week of nonstop driving to soccer, ballet, tennis, little league, Kumon. Get LIFE token.

PANIC!! You’ve lost your child in the supermarket. Hyperventilate … till you locate him in the bakery section … nose pressed against the cake display case. Get LIFE token.

Remember cookies for PTO bake sale. Store-bought. But still. Get LIFE token.

Kindergarten graduation! Get LIFE token.

Wonder where the time went. Get LIFE token.

A shorter version of this post was published today on Lifescript’s HealthBistro blog.

 

Strangers: Extremely Rude And Incredibly Kind

Last month, one of my essays won a writing prize. I’d written a broadly comic account of the “debate” I’d had with my somewhat skeptical, not-Jewish husband about circumcising our son. The essay was light-hearted and funny, and I got a lot of mileage out of our humorous sparring and the … um … go-for-the-groin tactics I used to finally win the “argument.” If you’ve read the essay, you know what I’m talking about. If you haven’t, I won’t spoil the punch-line. You’ll have to read it for yourself

When my win was announced, I figured I’d get some Atta Girl!’s — and I did. And a few faintly indignant emails extolling the wonders and virtues of loving the uncut penis — and I got those too. My friend and Cafe Mom blogger Amy Keyishian said it best when I first posted this essay in 2008: “Dahlink, don’t knock it till you’ve tried it.”

And that, I thought, would be that. Game over.

I had no idea what a hot button I’d pushed until the “intactivists” — those vehemently opposed to circumcision — began raining down hate like sulfur on Sodom and Gomorrah.

For circumcising my child — daring to make light of it — I was called evil. A horrible mother. A vapid bitch. A baby mutilator. An emasculator of men. A disgrace to my country — and apparently to all Jewish people too. One of the many rabid commenters who likened circumcision to female genital mutilation wrote that he wished I’d “get kicked in the vagina so hard I’d need my clitoris removed.” I’m not sure that’s the best statement he could make against authentic genital mutilation, but so be it.

I got taken to task on a public forum with a “Dear Norine …” letter in which the writer didn’t even have the decency to sign her name. She hid behind a pseudonym.

On my birthday, I woke up to this charming assessment of my work and character: You don’t deserve a prize. Or a son. What a gift, right?

Controversy inevitably comes with the writing territory. Unless you’re penning nursery rhymes, you’re bound to piss off someone at some point. See Ellen Seidman on why the word retarded should be permanently retired. Dara-Lynn Weiss on putting her 7-year-old daughter on a diet Lenore Skenazy on allowing her 9-year-old son to ride the subway aloneI didn’t get pilloried on a national level like these women. Still, the vitriol coming from this particular faction was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced as a writer. Given that I also write about sex, abortion and vaccines, that’s really saying something.

Blogger Ellen Seidman points out, “Comments sections on news sites tend to bring out the worst in people.” Do they ever! And I’ll go one further: Anonymity makes commenters even more malicious, freer to type things they’d never say to my face. Jeez-lah-weez. Disagree with something I’ve written? Bring it. But can someone tell me what happened to civil discourse? Do people really have nothing more important to do than spew hatred into cyberspace?

Apparently not. As both I and my husband (who defended me on Facebook and subsequently got branded a “pussy” for not “protecting” his son) were virtually drawn-and-quartered on this blog and others, the ping-ping-pinging of nasty comments hitting my In Box made my MacBook sound like a pinball machine.

For four days we rode out the hate storm feeling a bit like America’s Most Wanted. And then as quickly as the squall blew in, things quieted down. Eye of the storm? Maybe. But we went back to our lives, which at week’s end included taking our son and four of his pals to Food Truck Friday, our little ‘burb’s monthly family picnic and movie night in the park. Yep, that’s what the Most Evil Mom In America does for kicks: Eats ahi tuna sliders and watches The Smurfs under the stars. (Wanna bitch slap me for exposing my kid to The Smurfs?!? That I can understand).

So, thinking only of squelching the week’s stress with goodies from my favorite food trucks, I shoved a credit card into my back pocket and herded five children toward the park.

Now stay with me here because I promise this is going somewhere.

The first time I realized my credit card had slid half out of my pocket, I thought, This isn’t a very good idea. The next time my credit card came flying out of the pocket when I pulled out my phone, I thought, I really should move the card.

Of course, I immediately got distracted. Of course I forgot to move the card. And of course, you know what happened next.

Standing in line for hot dogs with five ravenous kids … after I’d finally memorized who wanted ketchup … who wanted mustard … who wanted ketchup and mustard … and who didn’t want a hot dog but wanted a veggie dog (that would be my child), I went to pay with my card and … gone.

You know how you can’t quite believe something happened, so you keep checking? I shoved my hand in my back right pocket. My back left pocket. My front pockets. My jacket pockets. All I came up with was lint.

“So?” Hot Dog Gal asked brightly, “What’ll it be?”

“We’ll be right back,” I said tightly.

I scooted all the kids out of line, marched them to a picnic table and left my nanny in charge so I could retrace my steps in what I knew would be a futile attempt to find the lost card. But you have to try, right?

The card had only been missing for maybe 20 minutes, but I’ve had my credit cards lifted twice. In the right hands, I knew that card could be maxed out and tossed in the time it took me to realize it was gone. Fortunately, while I was hyperventilating over how I was going to cancel the card when the bloody customer service number was on the back of the card, my sister came to my rescue with the phone number. Ten minutes later, the card was dead.

Secure in the knowledge that I would not be on the hook for two round-trip luxury cabin-class tickets to Abu Dhabi aboard Emirates Airlines, my blood pressure floated down. I circled back with Hot Dog Gal to feed the kids, gulped down a few sliders, and finally let the inanity of The Smurfs numb my brain like Xanax.

In fact, I forgot all about the credit card till I got in my car the next day. There, tucked in my windshield, was a business card from the Ocoee Police Department.

“Norine –” read the message, beautifully scrawled on the back, “Can you please call the number on the front of the card? Found some property that belongs to you!” It was signed Officer Carlos Anglero.

Obviously he had the card. Not only that, he cared enough to drive out to my home during his night shift to let me know.

“Officer Anglero isn’t on duty now,” two separate police department operators told me when I tried to find Officer Anglero that afternoon to thank him. “You’ll have to try back on Monday.”

The next night, the house phone rang. The caller ID showed the number at our community guard gate. “Hello?” I said. I just heard static on the other end.

Kids trying to gain access to the neighborhood, I figured and hung up. The phone rang again. More static. I hung up again. The third time, I could just make out a quavery “Ocoee Police Department” between the crackles. Officer Anglero is nothing if not a model of perseverance. I buzzed the gate open.

He’d found me on Facebook, the officer explained when I asked how he’d tracked me down. A family had spotted the card in the grass and turned it over to him. And he hadn’t stashed it in the property room where it might have gotten “lost” again. Officer Anglero held on to it until he could put it in my hand himself. Is that public service or what?

I was floored. Completely and utterly floored.

In the space of one week, I’d been on the receiving end of some of the most extreme rudeness and incredible kindness I’ve ever experienced — from strangers who didn’t have to go out of their way to be vicious or considerate in either situation, but chose to do so anyway.

Oddly enough, I’m grateful to both.

And so, Kind Family, whoever you are … and Crazy Nasty Commenters, who’ve driven my site stats through the roof and made the essay you love to hate the most popular piece on my blog, the Most Evil Mom In America thanks you. Kindly.

Photo credit: James Brey

A Mom By Any Other Name

“Fletcher’s Mom?” The dental assistant called out to the waiting room.

I looked up, annoyed. I’d been engrossed in a New York magazine article while my 5-year-old was in with the dentist. For me, doctors’ offices are like airplanes at 36,000 feet — one of the last few places I can read without guilt because you’re not supposed to use your cell phone — at least according to the signs posted around the office, threatening, in BOLD CAPITAL LETTERS, to immediately bounce you from the building if you so much as peek at email. People still do, of course, but I’ll toe that particular line just to grab a few minutes to read something — outside the bathroom no less — not related to any article I’m writing, Magic Treehouse, Harry Potter or The Clone Wars. With fluoride and X-rays, I figured the 20 minutes Fletcher would spend in the chair might just give me enough time to finish the article I was reading. I was nearly done when …

“Fletcher’s Mom.” The dental assistant looked at me, pointedly, impatience creeping into her voice.

I resignedly dog-eared the page. Maybe I’d come back to it later, though I doubted it. More likely, the magazine would join the piles of half-read magazines cluttering my office, the kitchen counter, the downstairs bathrooms, that I keep for a while in the hopes of picking them back up … but that eventually just get tossed in the recycle bin and left at the curb.

Still, that’s wasn’t the source of my annoyance. It was the dental assistant’s choice of words that aggravated me: Fletcher’s Mom. With a single phrase, she’d managed to reduce my entire nuanced, multi-layered identity, fashioned over four and a half decades, to a state of biological guardianship.

I don’t know if this is some national trend, or a more regional phenomenon, but lately I’ve been getting this a lot in doctors offices. Sometimes the staff calls me Fletcher’s Mom. Other times it’s just Mom or — gag — Mommy. Seriously folks, if you didn’t enter this world through my birth canal, calling me Mom is weird and creepy. But beyond that, unless you’re under, say, age 7, calling me Fletcher’s Mom is vaguely insulting. Excuse me, but I was walking the planet for going on 40 years before Fletcher arrived on the scene. How did the genetic connection to my child become my single most-defining attribute?

Call me sensitive. Call me petty. But I don’t think it’s too much to ask for doctors’ assistants to actually call me by the name I use to — hello?!? — sign their bills.

Make no mistake. I love being Fletcher’s mom. The kid wows me daily with his certitude (he’s always right, just ask him) and finely honed negotiating skills (“Mommy, here’s the deal …”). But “Fletcher’s Mom” makes it sound like I spend my days wiping bums and runny noses. Sure, with a kid diverting any attention that I don’t focus on writing, I’ll cop to being more familiar with the Dr. Seuss and J.K. Rowling than anyone who’s made the New York Times Best Seller list recently.  There are weeks when I spend more time looking at Lego Magazine than New York Magazine. I haven’t seen The Artist or Shame, but I do have the dialogue from just about every Pixar film released on DVD committed to memory. And I probably know more about Bionicles and Bakugans than any adult needs to. Ever. But I also know know where my Personal Life fits, neatly, but separately, into my Mom Life.  I’m comfortable that, even as I lag a bit on pop culture and political news, I haven’t completely sacrificed my personal self on the altar of motherhood.

In the grand scheme of things, it probably shouldn’t matter what some assistant I see at most twice a year calls me. After all, a rose by any other name, right? Still, this Fletcher’s Mom biz bugs the crap outta of me.

Mom defines my relationship with my child, not my identity,” I want to snap when these doctors’ assistants, some times even the doctors themselves, take the lazy way out, not troubling themselves to learn their patients’ parents’ names — a pity since we’re the ones who choose the doctors.

But mostly I don’t. Mostly I just stew silently and smile through clenched teeth. But this morning, something about the dental assistant’s attitude was really working on my last nerve. Maybe it was her impatience that I didn’t immediately hop to attention when she called the first time. Maybe I just had too little sleep. Or too much caffeine. Maybe it was just one of those mornings when everything irked me. But as I dog-eared the magazine page, my Inner Bitch sucker-punched my Inner Diplomat. And for one unguarded moment, my temper flared, and I was Howard Beal from Network — mad as hell and not going to take it anymore.

“Is there a remote possibility that you actually know my name?” I demanded, loudly enough for the other parents in the waiting room to hear.

The dental assistant, surprised into silence, nodded, dumbly.

“Then use it.”

And with that I strode past her into the exam room to see the dentist.

All right, so this wasn’t exactly a giant leap for mom-kind. And hardly the strongest language I’ve ever used in a confrontation. But I was fairly certain that when it came time for Fletcher’s next dental checkup, here was one doctor’s assistant who’d finally get my name right.

If this made you laugh today, please share or tweet! Thank you!

Cougar Love

My five-year-old apparently likes cougars. And not in an Animal Planet way. My son has a thing for … older women.

When I picked him up from tennis camp last week, did I hear about the forehands and backhands I’d spent a boodle for him to learn? Nope. However, I did get an earful about Anna Clare. Fletcher talked about Anna Clare as he buckled himself into his car seat. He talked about Anna Clare on the drive home. He was still talking about Anna Clare as we shared a post-camp snack. In fact, the Anna Clare Monologue was the most I’d heard about anything camp-related since summer started. The week before, Fletcher had been at Lego Camp – a thrill-o-minute experience if ever there was one. But no matter how many ways I phrased the seemingly straight-forward question What did you do today? he refused to say. It was like trying to pry information from an enemy combatant. I considered water-boarding just to find out who he had lunch with. But on the topic of Anna Clare? He was like a 24-hour news channel – All Anna Clare. All The Time.

“So, is Anna Clare your new friend?” I squeezed the question in when he took a breath.

“Mommy,” he said, impatient that I wasn’t keeping up with the conversation. (Clearly, I am the densest person my child has ever encountered in all of his five world-weary years.) “Anna Clare is my girlfriend.”

A girlfriend. Right. Apparently we’ve skipped over the Girls Have Cooties portion of childhood and landed smack in a Barry White Period. Any moment now, I expected him to start crooning, Darling, I … Can’t get enough of your love, Babe…

Not that it was a huge surprise that the kid likes the ladies. He’s had some wicked crushes lately. There was Anjali, Grace, Aris, Mariel, Johti, Raina, Autumn — I think that’s everyone. He doesn’t seem to have a type – the girls are a mix of blondes, brunettes and redheads — unless “older” counts as a type. To their credit, they’d all good-naturedly indulged his puppyish affections. But Anna Clare … she was the first to be accorded Girlfriend status. And I wasn’t quite ready to deal with that. I’d planned on at least another decade of Legos, pirate ships and Disney movies, before having to contemplate girlfriends and all that entailed.

So I did what any respectable mom does in a situation she doesn’t want to face: I wrapped myself in some sturdy denial, put on some blinders, jammed my fingers in my ears, buried my head in the sand … and any other cliché you can think of for avoiding reality. In this instance, I figured, apathy was my best policy. In a few days tennis camp would be over, and Fletcher would be off to yet another day camp. Out of sight, out of mind. All I had to do was do nothing. Eventually this Anna Clare thing would fizzle.

Or would it? To read more, please click here and follow me over to Lifescript’s Health Bistro Blog where I’m guest blogging today and the second Friday of every month on my late-in-life parenting adventures. Meanwhile, have you got a story about your kid’s first girl or boyfriend? Please share it at the end of the post or below.

Photo credit: Pepifoto

HEY — DID YOU MISS THESE POSTS? CHECK ‘EM OUT HERE!

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How Do You Explain Death To A 5-Year-Old?

“Mommy–” came my five-year-old’s still-babyish little voice from the back seat.

“Mmmm?” I said distractedly, as I dug blindly in my bag for sunglasses while trying to buckle my seat belt and back the car out of the driveway at the same time.

The day had gotten off to a very late start – the result of my foolishly trying to squeeze in some pre-dawn writing before waking Fletcher for school. Naturally, I’d lost track of time …and the morning had been a frantic rush to drag my still-sleeping kid out of bed, hustle him into his clothes and force-feed him breakfast. We were finally in the car. I had about three minutes to make the 10-minute drive to school.

“Maaah-meee!” he tried again, impatiently, drawing the syllables out like taffy. His voice had the high-pitched whine that creeps in when he’s frustrated. “Maaah-meee! I have a question,” he insisted. “When we die, do we get to come back to life again?”

That got my attention. This wasn’t some random Can I get a Star Wars video game? question that he already knows the answer to – because it’s been No the last dozen times he’s asked … but he’s going to ask once more just to see if I change my mind. This was the kind of serious kid stuff you put your coffee down for. I turn around. His usually impish face is dark, and he’s holding his favorite stuffed toy tightly in his lap. What could have possibly put this in his head in the time it takes to walk from the kitchen to the car? Who knows. Kids’ emotions spin on a dime.

I turn off the car, unbuckle my seat belt and turn back to face him. Clearly, school will wait.

“Are you worried about dying? About Mommy and Daddy dying?” I ask, stalling for time. He nods as my brain scrambles to put together an appropriate response … thinking, thinking, thinking … How do I answer that?

To read more, please click here and follow me over to Lifescript’s Health Bistro blog, where I’m blogging today and the second Friday of every month on my misadventures in late-in-life parenthood.

Got a story about how you explained death and dying to your child? Please share it at the end of the post or below.

Photo credit: ollo

HEY — DID YOU MISS THESE POSTS? CHECK ‘EM OUT HERE!

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The Accidental Latke Lady

latkes

So, an atheist and a Hindu walk into a kitchen …

It sounds like the set up for a joke, right? Well, the joke was on me – the atheist in this story – when my son’s Montessori school director pulled me aside to ask if I’d talk to the class about Chanukah, the week-long Jewish holiday.

“You can show them the menorah and the dreidl,” she explained excitedly. “Maybe share a special story that your family reads on Chanukah, or make some of those potato pancakes.”

Now the joke wasn’t that she was asking. I loved that the kids would be learning about all kinds of winter holiday traditions – next up was Kwanzaa, and I think I heard something about Festivus. The joke was that she was asking me. Because, really, I’m the last person to be educating anyone about the rituals of Chanukah.

I’m sure the director just assumed that being Jewish for some forty-something years, I had this stuff down. But I’m more Bagels-n-Lox-Eat-Chinese-On-Sundays Jewish, than Go-to-Synagogue Jewish. I haven’t lit the menorah or said the prayers in years. Other than the fairytale bit about some lamp oil “miraculously” lasting eight days, I barely remembered what Chanukah was about. I mean besides ensuring that Jewish parents had a reason to run up their credit cards during the holiday shopping season like everyone else. Though that holiday explanation seemed a little cynical for the Montessori crowd.

And yet, it wasn’t like there were dozens of moms vying to do this. The ‘burn we moved to a few years ago isn’t exactly overpopulated with members of the Tribe – though the deli’s not bad, and I have found some decent Chinese. My son has attended three schools in his short life, and I’m pretty sure he’s been the only Jewish kid in each of his classes. If I didn’t step up, who would? It was one of those offers you shouldn’t refuse – even as I was trying to figure out how I might. But I somewhat reluctantly promised the director that I’d scare up a menorah and the spinning tops called dreidls and make potato pancakes (aka latkes) for 30.

Now I just had to figure out how to pull it off.

“You’re the school Latke Lady!” squealed my sister Shari — my go-to source for all Jewish holiday knowledge — when I went to her for advice.

Oh joy. I hadn’t realized the job came with an honorific. Shari’s held the … um, “Latke Lady” title at her sons’ school for years. She had this stuff down cold. I, on the other hand, was rusty on the rituals and clumsy in the kitchen. For the umpteenth time since I made the commitment, I kicked myself for agreeing. Chanukah really wasn’t part of our little family’s tradition. Rather, we embraced the holiday season as a time to over-decorate. Each year, we tricked out a tree, strung lights, and hung garland, while the menorah my mom gave me years ago gathered dust on a shelf. For a second, I considered falling on my knees and begging my sister to please, please, please take my place as Latke Lady. What could I barter? A month of chauffeuring her kids to soccer practice? Picking up her mani/pedi tab? A case of her favorite sulfite-free vino? But then I thought, NopeMy kid. My job. Though our little mixed family has no religious affiliation, our son will always be considered Jewish because I am. And being Jewish is a lot like being French or Irish or Italian. You might shake off the belief in the All Mighty. But the culture? Bubela, that’s with you for life. I suppose it was time I passed some of it on. So I mommed up.

“All right,” I sighed resignedly to my sister. “Remind me again what the holiday’s about.”

Now, if this were a movie, here’s where the montage of the newbie training at the hands of the master would be. Shari gave me the Cliff’s Notes’s explanation: Small band of Jewish fighters defeats Syrian army to score religious freedom; returns home to find they’re low on lamp oil that lasts longer than expected. Then she brought me up to speed on playing dreidl, where you spin the top, then either put pennies into the pot or take them out based on how it falls … which essentially means it’s craps for kids. Finally, she loaned me a menorah and griddle and bid me bon chance. “You’ll do fine,” she assured me. I hoped so.

On the first Chanukah morning, I was in the kitchen, nervously eyeing the griddle and potato pancake mixture. Shari had given me a crash course in latke-making, but this was the first time I’d be frying solo. Just me, the griddle and hot, sizzling oil. Having once set my mother’s kitchen ablaze making toast, I kind of have a sketchy track record with the culinary arts.

I called another school mom friend to come keep me company. An ex-pate New Yorker like me, she also shares my one-off status as mom to the only Hindu kid in class. Besides, if things went horribly wrong, I figured she could call the fire department while I tried to contain the flames.

“You’re really making 60 of these?” Gauri asked when she got here, looking doubtfully at my first batch of latkes that were cooking painfully slowly, and then at the clock. I nodded. “What time are you supposed to be back at school?”

“About 90 minutes.”

“You’ll never make it. Mind if I help?”

She shrugged off her jacket, picked up a frying pan and started her own batch. I smiled at her, too grateful for words. Isn’t that the meaning of a good friend — someone who’ll fry potatoes with you in a pinch?

“Think I’m doing this right?” she asked me, pondering the lumps in her pan.

“I dunno. You actually know how to cook. Do you think I’m doing this right?” I asked her.

So that’s how the two of us – the atheist and the Hindu – ended up, side-by-side, making latkes for Chanukah, figuring it out as we went. And if our sons’ classmates, who gobbled them up and came back for more, are any sorts of judges, I’d say we got that part right.

And what of my Chanukah talk? Well … I kept cramming for it on the drive to school, like I was back in college, studying for finals — and it still ended up being awkward, halting and a bit disorganized. But that’s okay. I figure I’ve got a whole year to prepare before I have to talk about Chanukah again.

Photo: Tova Teitelbaum

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