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.

 

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.

 

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

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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.

 

 

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

The End-of-Vacation Realization

 

Scene: It’s 7 am in the Dworkin-McDaniel household. An eager Fletcher emerges from the bedroom and makes a beeline for the living room … and the TV remote.

MOMMY: Uh-uh-uh. [Wags finger.] School today. Get dressed.

Fletcher stops, puzzled. Then, realization dawning that this means vacation is over, and there will be no TV this morning, he spins around.

FLETCHER: Actually, Mommy, I’m still tired. [Heads back to bed, disappears under covers.]

End scene.

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

And The Winner Is … Circumcision Decision!

I almost never enter writing contests.

But a few weeks ago, on a whim, I entered my essay Circumcision Decision – about convincing my somewhat skeptical husband to go along with circumcising our then-newborn son — in the third annual Two Kinds Of People essay contest that I found through She Writes, an incredibly supportive online community for women writers of all stripes.

What tempted me to dust off this essay, one of my early ones for this blog (and a personal favorite, I have to say) was the side note to would-be entrants from contest founder, Susan Bearman: “It’s the dead of winter around here,” she wrote from Chicago, “so a little humor couldn’t hurt, if you know what I mean.” Having spent four years in the corn fields at Oberlin College in Ohio, I have vivid memories of just how gray and frigid those Midwest winters can be. And I thought, I bet I can make her laugh. So I hit Send and hoped for the best.

And, unbelievably, the best happened. My irreverent little essay won. You can read it here,  along with some of the other wonderful essays submitted to the contest.

Susan was kind enough to gift me with some 2KOP swag that I’m looking forward to flaunting around our Central Florida town. But even better was the excuse to bring Circumcision Decision out of the archives and share it with new readers who may have missed its first appearance on the blog.

If it makes you laugh or smile, please share or tweet it to others. Thank you!

[Ed Note: I am aware that this essay has prompted many comments on the Two Kinds Of People blog from people who feel circumcision is wrong and strongly disagree with my tongue-in-cheek way of writing about it ... and winning a contest for it. Even if your comments weren't posted on 2KoP, you can be sure that I've seen them all.  Humor is subjective and not everyone likes mine. You may hate mine. And in the last few days I've heard from many who do. That's the beauty of a free press. So, I welcome dissenting views and will post comments that are thoughtful, civil and offer a new perspective on the discussion. That said, anonymous comments, vitriolic rants, profanity-laced insults and repeats of what's already been posted on 2KoP, Reddit or Facebook will not be re-posted here.] 

Photo credit: kaisersosa67