Am I Smarter Than A Seven-Year-Old?

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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 –”


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.


Finding A Teachable Moment In A Forgotten Lunch

This morning, my second-grader forgot his lunch.

Naturally, I only realized this as we were idling in the school’s drop-off line. The teacher managing the car line opened the rear door, as she does every morning, and I said, Okay, Fletcher, grab your bag. Have a great day, as I do every morning. Only this time his black knapsack emblazoned with the school logo, the same one he picks up every morning on the way out the door, was not in the car. En route to the car, he’d grabbed his three favorite stuffed animals and the paperback encyclopedia of every Pokemon character that has ever existed … and left the knapsack, containing the hot lunch I’d made him right by the laundry room door, where it always sits, waiting to be picked up, every single day.

So I pulled out of the car loop and into a parking spot, then walked in to confer with Fletcher’s teacher about the best way to handle the Forgotten Lunch Situation. Our Montessori school has an interesting way of dealing with forgotten lunches, and it wasn’t going to involve me simply fetching his lunch box for him.

“We’re not going to rescue him,” Mrs. S reminded me as we talked just inside the classroom door. I’d read about the “no rescue” policy in the new parent handbook that had been given out before the first day of school. But I hadn’t understood what exactly that would mean in terms of ensuring that a kid who didn’t bring lunch ended up having something substantial to eat once lunch time rolled around. It’s not like our fledgling charter school had a cafeteria where I could have pre-paid the day’s lunch. And while there were always plenty of healthy munchies available at the snack table, I knew my son wouldn’t make it till 3 pm on handfuls of the Cheerios and raisins alone. The kid was going to need some protein.

Still, Mrs. S didn’t want me to just run home and return with his knapsack. Forgetting lunch shouldn’t be an offense punishable by starving, she explained. But she did want Fletcher to learn something from his oversight. My “rescuing” him wouldn’t do anything to help instill that sense of personal responsibility — the fourth “R” if you will — that is just as important in Montessori teaching as reading, writing and ‘rithmetic.

Mrs. S assured me that the “classroom community” would not allow Fletcher to go hungry — a very good lesson in taking care of those in our community when they need help. But as generous as I knew his classmates would be in offering up portions of their lunches, the classroom also has a no sharing policy for kids lunches. And really, other children shouldn’t have to sacrifice their lunches to feed my child when I could just as easily bring him something to eat.

Instead Mrs. S came up with an ingenious ruse to make it appear as if Fletcher’s lunch would be cobbled together from classroom supplies and the teacher’s lunches. In the end, I did go home and put together a turkey sandwich, a bottle of water and a banana. There was no Star Wars water bottle, no Spiderman thermos keeping his hotdogs warm. It looked like any brown bag lunch that any adult would take to work. And from that, Mrs. S said, she would “share” with Fletcher.

So this was a bit of a roundabout … all right, sneaky way of teaching Fletcher his actions would have consequences while still providing a safety net and demonstrating that his community would stand by him in a moment of need. I’m fairly confident he’ll get over having to eat a turkey sandwich rather than the turkey hotdogs he’d been hoping for.

And, yes, this did mean extra work and time on my part to procure a masquerade lunch.

But if it means that Fletcher won’t forget his bag again this year — and here’s hoping! — well, I’d say that was time and effort well-spent.

Reader question: What do you do when your kid forgets lunch?

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What A Boy Eats

Food always comes a poor second to whatever else my 5-year-old might be doing when mealtime rolls around: playing a game, coloring, watching a movie, building Legos, inspecting his sneakers, napping. Sure, his palate’s sophisticated enough, leaning more toward sashimi than a PBJ. Volume, however, is a completely different story. The ravioli or tortellini I send to school inevitably returns home barely touched. Come dinnertime, after two, maybe three, forkfuls the whining begins: How many more bites? I’m full. I want to be finished. His on-cue announcement usually punctuated with the requisite dramatic flopping of the head onto the table … as if he didn’t … have the strength … to chew even one … more … morsel. Most days, I’m convinced the kid just photosynthesizes his nutrients from the sun.

“Just wait,” my sister Shari laughs whenever I complain about how little my boy eats, pointing out that her 13-year-old is still ravenous after gobbling down a foot-long sub for lunch and that she now has to cook extra chickens for dinner to ensure that there’s enough for her and her husband to eat too. “His appetite’s coming,” she says.

Still, when you come from a dinner table where you have to beg, plead, cajole and threaten at every meal to make your own kid eat, when you bargain for every mouthful to be – score! – swallowed, you don’t quite believe that this same kid will one day grow up to have the appetite of a velociraptor. And, lemme tell you, my friend, that world view leaves you pretty unprepared for the task of feeding dinner to a ‘tween boy who can already chew his way through a well-stocked fridge like a Biblical swarm of locusts … and leave nothing but empty containers and wrappers in his wake. Which was exactly what I was about to discover when my youngest nephew had dinner at my house on a recent evening.

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 about my late-in-life parenting (mis)adventures.

And what about you? Did some aspect of the transition from babyhood to boyhood to adolescence catch you off guard? Please leave a comment at the end of the post or below and tell me about it.

And while you’re at Lifescript, click around. You’ll find tons of great health info for women there.

Photo: Ron Tech 2000


*Book Envy

*Hanging ‘Round The Men’s Room

* I’m Jealous Of My Nanny

*How New Moms Bond



The Accidental Latke Lady


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


*Book Envy

*Hanging ‘Round The Men’s Room

* I’m Jealous Of My Nanny

*How New Moms Bond



I’m Baaaaaaaack!!!

First, a big – and much belated – Hi There! to all of you patient readers who’ve periodically checked in with me and said encouraging things like I love your blog! It’s so funny! And When the f— are you going to get off your ass and post some more?!?

I appreciate the support, the loyalty. And the much-needed butt kick. Yes, yes … I’ve been lax. Ridiculously, terribly, embarrassingly lax. But no more. Since I clearly need someone else holding a whip to make me get my blog posts done, starting today, I’ll be flogged … no, wait …I made the deadline … I’ll be guest blogging about my parenting adventures and mishaps for the Health Bistro blog at Click here to join me today and the second Friday of every month! While you’re there, be sure to check out the rest of Lifescript, which is loaded with other cool health info for women – and, incidentally, where I also write about sex and relationships, which, is probably how I got into the parenthood game.

Up this week: Picky eating! In case you missed the first two links, click here to learn how culinary spin tactics can make even the strangest foods palatable to a preschooler. Got your own tricks for encouraging reluctant eaters? Please toss in your two cents in the Comments section at the end of the post.

Thanks for joining me at Health Bistro today! Leave a comment to let me know you stopped by – and what you think!