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?”


“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.

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 –”


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.



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.


Redshirting? Not For Me. Why I “Greenshirted” My Kid For School

Unlike many other parents I know, I went against the tide, the redshirting tide.

When my son finished kindergarten, I expected that he would move with his classmates into first grade. That’s the natural order of things, right?

There was just one hitch. Fletcher had started kindergarten early — at age 4. In Florida, children need to be 6 by Sept.1 to enter first grade. With Fletcher’s late winter birthday, he wasn’t even close.

As I began looking for a way around the birthday cutoff, I found my choice baffled other parents. “What’s your rush?” they demanded. “He’ll be younger than his classmates.” “He’ll reach puberty later.” “He’ll be the last of his friends to drive,” they warned.

So what? My kid already wants to do lots of things – play shoot-’em-up video games, ride huge water slides, drive go-karts – that his older friends and cousins can but that he’s too young for right now. Not getting to do every single thing you want to do when you want to do it is a good life lesson to learn.

For more, please follow me over to Lifescript’s Health Bistro blog where I am the new Mommy Talk blogger, blogging about parenting and family life issues every other Saturday. While you’re there, check out the new parenting channel — tons of cool stuff for families!

And if you like what you read, please share, share, share!

Photo credit:Deborah Cheramie

Missed some posts? Catch up here!

A Mom By Any Other Name
Card Shark
My Bout With Gout

Those Indelible Moments Of Parenting

Last night, I was a guest on Allison B. Levine and Julia Dudek’s BlogTalkRadio show Petting Unicorns, where we chatted about humor writing, parenting, magazines and how my blog got its crazy name. These two wonderful hosts were so gracious, they even asked me to read my favorite essay, Cougar Love, about my then 5-year-old son’s first big time crush on an “older woman” of 11 … and the inevitable heartbreak that followed. (Cue up to 35:00 to hear me read.)

Reading the essay again, reminded me how heartbroken I was for my baby when he realized he wasn’t gonna get the girl. That moment, cradling my son as he cried, will stay with me forever … just as the moments of his first steps, first words, first day of nursery school, first splash in the ocean will.

Care to share the parenting moments that stand out for you? I’d love to hear.

Photo: Graffizone






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







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!


rubber-glovesI was at Orlando International Airport when my cell phone rang.

“Hon –”

It was Stewart. My husband. He’d just dropped me off at Jet Blue’s curbside check-in. In moments I’d be headed for New York. My first business trip back to the City in six months. I’d just gotten done with the requisite shedding of shoes and electronics at Security, where my favorite high-protein-low-carb-low-sugar-Greek-strained yogurt was carefully scrutinized and ultimately confiscated by the TSA. Have a nice breakfast, I thought, exasperated, as I watched my $2/cup yogurt disappear. It was just 7:30 in the morning, but I could already taste the martini I was planning to down that night at the Campbell Apartment.

But back to my cell phone … which was ringing … insistently. Jeeeee-zus … Can I not get five minutes to myself? C’mon! I already shower with my preschooler parked right outside the (glass) stall, banging away on his toy synthesizer piano. And I’d long ago given up peeing and pooping (also known in Mommy Circles as — Shhhhh! — hiding out and reading) in peace and solitude. I’d been off Mom Duty for exactly 23 minutes. I hadn’t even left Orlando. Is it time to board — and turn off my phone — yet?

Sigh. I flipped open my phone.

“Hey — ” I answered, fully engrossed in CNN, where the news was all about an Air France flight that had disappeared somewhere between Brazil and France the night before. We can photograph car license plates from space. How does a plane just drop off radar? That couldn’t be good. And how nice that I’ll be watching this airplane disaster unfold as I flew to New York.

“Uh … Hon?” Stewart’s voice pulled me back. He sounded concerned. Guess he wasn’t just calling to say I love you before I took off. “Uh … Fletcher threw up all over himself … and the car seat … and his blanket … and Cee Cee.” [Cee Cee is Fletcher’s never-go-anywhere-without-it stuffed hermit crab lovee. Hey, when your dad’s a marine biologist, you get toy sea critters, not teddy bears.]

“How bad?”

“Remember Linda Blair in The Exorcist?

Head spinning. Spewing green goo. Disgusting stuff, really.

“This. Is. Worse!” I could hear the slight panic in his voice. It was a little funny actually, considering that this is a guy who, when he was curator of The Dolphin Habitat at The Mirage in Las Vegas, once KYd his entire arm, then stuck it all the way down a dolphin’s throat and into its belly to retrieve a toy car it had swallowed. But a vomiting child — his vomiting child — that was freaking him out. “What should I do?!?”

Was it wrong that I took some perverse pleasure that this was happening on Stewart’s watch? Just when I was moments from fleeing the city on a big ol’ jet airliner? For five whole days?!?

Not that I was at all happy that Fletcher was sick. What mom, apart from the crazy Munchausen types, ever is? But a teensy part of me was doing the happy dance that this time, it wasn’t on me. Literally. It’s got to be some twisted Murphy’s Law of childcare that kids will get violently (and repeatedly) sick when you’re the only one around to clean it up.

(Show of hands — or comments — Moms if you’ve mopped up and hosed down more than your fair share of kid throw-up while Dad’s doing the three-martini business dinner at Peter Lugar’s on the company expense account? Post a comment or email me!)

Of course, immediately, reflexively, I snapped back into Battle-Ready Mom Mode as I ran down the checklist of things to do to forecast whether we could expect more projectile vomiting or if this was an isolated spill.

“Clean him up. Take his temperature. Keep him quiet. Monitor his activity level,” I instructed. “Lethargic and uninterested even in WordWorld or Sesame Street? Definitely sick. Hopping off the couch to play with trucks … and puzzles …. and race cars … and dinosaurs? Demanding waffles for breakfast? He can go to school.”

Of course, current behavior was no guarantee of future performance. Fletcher’s played possum before — or maybe I should say reverse possum. Not too long ago, after another random bout of vomiting, he’d seemed fine. Fine enough, anyway, to go see Mamma Mia!, then clamor for a cupcake at our favorite bakery/gelateria. But as the day went on, he began complaining about a tummy ache and that it hurt when he peed. Which is how we ended up at Night Lite Pediatrics late on a Sunday afternoon where, because he hadn’t yet learned to pee in the potty and they needed a urine sample to check for a bladder infection, they snaked a catheter up his baby penis. Now that is a fun time. And if you haven’t experienced that yet, I recommend skipping it.

If I had more Mom Experience, I probably would have sensed that things were gonna go south earlier in the day when Fletcher climbed into my lap as I was using the bathroom. (Remember what I said about never going alone?) It’s universally understood that I have a teacup of a bladder — seriously, Fletcher can hold it longer than I can, the little camel. So all dressed in workout clothes, I was making my last pit stop before setting out on a power walk with Fletcher in the stroller to provide extra resistance. He crawled into my lap, snuggled his sweet little head into my chest … and then vomited. All over me. Repeatedly. There was no warning. No Mommy, I don’t feel well that might have prompted me to quickly hop off and yield the bowl to Fletcher. Nope. He seemed fine one minute; the next, he was spewing like the Exxon Valdez. You know you’re a mom when you’ve had warm toddler vomit gush between your breasts, spill down your legs and soak into your cross-trainers.

All this is by way of saying that I’d been fooled once into thinking that a little vomit was no big deal when it really heralded a tenacious bacterial infection that had Fletcher spewing out one end or the other for more than a week. Vomit is just that much more special when it’s accompanied by its cousin, explosive diarrhea. There’s just nothing like opening your son’s diaper to find that he’s sitting in a puddle of diarrhea that comes nearly to his waist. It got so that I had to cover his changing table with a tarp. ‘Course, that didn’t help much the day Fletcher woke from his nap, crying because he, and the bedding and his clothing and his stuffed animals were covered in — you guessed it! Shit! Hours later, after I’d stripped and bathed Fletcher, then stripped and Lysoled the crib, washed all the bedding and the soiled clothing and stuffed critters, there was another, um … blowout. And I had to do it all again.

Just so you have a little better understanding about why I was — maybe callously, then again, maybe not — dancing the joy jig at the JetBlue gate, let me explain that the Great Vomit and Shit Storm of ’08 occurred while my wonderful husband was away for six weeks on business. Six! Weeks! For six weeks, I held the fort in the Shit Swamp without complaining (though you can see I’m making up for it now!) I figured Stewart could hold his own against a little projectile vomiting for what? A few days?

But just to make sure he didn’t get too bad a drubbing — and because I figured Fletcher would probably go to school after all — I called the nursery school director and left the longest list of In Case Of Emergency numbers — Stewart’s cell, the nanny’s cell, my parents’ cells, my sister’s office and cell and a few other random folk who could be counted on in the case of an unexpected relapse — in the history of childcare. The list went on (to quote playwright/screenwriter Tom Stoppard) for the length of a Bible. Okay, maybe I wasn’t immediately available, but I was still neurotic.

Then having done all I could by remote, I got on the plane. And I turned off my phone. And basked in the sweet, sweet silent bliss of no one asking for juice. Or help with the potty. Or one more episode of Sid, The Science Kid, Pleeeeeeze , Mommy before bedtime. Or to hose down the vomit-covered car seat

Two and a half hours later, when we landed at Kennedy, I checked in with the nursery school director. “Fletcher’s fine,” she assured me. When I got into my hotel room, before my first business meeting, I checked in with the nanny. “Fletcher’s fine,” she reported, then raced off to accompany him on some adventure, involving Play Doh and dinosaurs. And later that night, I checked in with Stewart. “Fletcher’s doing just fine,” he promised.

So, ‘twas just a touch of carsickness. A combination of too much chocolate milk early in the morning and a bumpy, twisty, turny ride on a turnpike perpetually under construction. As they say, “Shit (and vomit) happens.” But this time, I’m sure as hell glad it didn’t happen to me.

And There Were Three In The Bed …

bedroom-picture2Every time I get into bed at night I think of Roy Scheider. Not that way. I mean, yeah, he was hot — especially in All That Jazz. But I’m thinking of Jaws. You know when he’s out at sea with those two other guys, and he gets his first really good look at the shark and the enormity of just how fucked they are hits him full on. And then he says: We’re gonna need a bigger boat.

I know what he means. We need a bigger bed.

When Stewart and I bought our stupidly expensive, ludicrously tall queen-size mattress with the six-inch pillow top, and the gorgeous cherry-wood sleigh bed frame to go with it, I certainly felt that even with the bed’s shortcomings (too soft for my back; so high that when I was pregnant, I needed a step ladder to climb into it), it would at least be big enough for two slender adults and three cats. Okay, so the cats are pretty huge for house cats, but still. There was plenty of room for all of us to pile in. And then came …

Ah, ah, ah … with this essay’s provocative title I bet you’re thinking (hoping maybe?) we seduced our nanny into a permanent ménage a tois. Nope. So sorry to disappoint. The third in our bed is our child. And now, I wish with all of my interior design-challenged heart, that we’d splurged on the California King. Perhaps someone with more Mom Miles under her high-waisted jeans than I have can explain why it is that kids insist on sleeping perpendicular to whoever else is in the bed with them. My kid roams the bed at night like some pint-sized Ferdinand Magellan and flip flops more than John Kerry campaigning for the White House. And for one so small — not quite 3 feet and under 30 pounds — he takes up waaaaay more than a third of the mattress, leaving Stewart and I pushed to the edges, clinging to the sides like some ancient cliff-dwellers.

(Is anyone else having co-sleeping issues? Share your comments below or email me.)

Honestly, I still can’t quite believe it, but somehow in the six months after Fletcher graduated from crib to big kid bed, our bed — the marital bed! — became the family bed. I know … I know. At best, you’re thinking we’re some kind of hippy-dippy ’60s-wannabe parents who went to Oberlin College and wear tie-dyed hemp clothing while making our own tofu and whistling Kumbayah all day. At worst, you’re thinking: You guys are wimps!!! Spineless wimps!!! Hint: I hate tie-dye. Which leaves …. Yes, I know! We are wimps!

Not in a bazillion years would I have ever thought I’d have a family bed. Growing up, I’d often crawl into my sister’s bed when I got the willies at night. But my parents’ bed? Absolutely off-limits. No kids allowed. Period. End of story. Might as well have been Area 51 for as close as I could get to it. I carried this bias into adulthood, in the same kind of knee-jerk way that even though I don’t keep kosher, I still can’t stomach eating a slab of ham or drinking milk with a burger. Once, back in my magazine days, when another staff editor casually mentioned that she had a family bed, my reaction to this revelation was immediate, visceral (and mercifully contained in interior monologue): Your kids sleep in the same bed with you and your husband? Gross! And then: How do you guys have sex?

So, you can see I was an unlikely candidate for group snoozing. After all, we weren’t nomads living in a yurt somewhere. We were three people living in a house with four bedrooms, for god’s sake. There was plenty of space to crash. And in the early days of Fletcher’s arrival I was adamant about the whole separate bed thing. During the long stretch of 2 a.m. and 4 a.m. feedings, I kept Fletcher close, but terrified of the SIDS risk that comes with co-sleeping, always in his own little bassinet parked on my side of the bed. Even when we eventually moved him upstairs to his own room and his own crib — at 8 months, which was not soon enough for my husband and still too soon for me — he did okay on his own. Well, all right … he did okay after our steadfast nanny loaned us some backbone and helped us sleep train him. (Which, by the way, if you’ve never sleep-trained an infant yourself, it’s an agonizing process, known as Ferberizing, that requires nerves of titanium, ice water in your veins and construction-grade ear plugs to get through.) But after five days of steeling ourselves against Fletcher’s howls of abandonment, we were home free and sleeping soundly.

And then the whole megillah unraveled when we swapped his crib for his new “big kid” bed.

Naturally, the first night in the new bed went off without a hitch. That should have been my first clue that the situation was way too good to be true. Instead, I was lulled (naively I see now) into an utterly false sense of He loves his bed … This will be an easy transition! Uh-huh. How many ventures have been doomed by such gross under-estimations? Sure, Fletcher loved his new bed. In the daytime. When he could jump on it. Or off of it. He’d even nap peaceably in it. But at night, he wanted nothing to do with it. Once the novelty of the new bed wore off (about 24 hours after he got it), we found ourselves faced with a brand of toddler defiance that makes Daniel Craig look like a wuss. “Go ‘night, ‘night in Mommy and Daddy’s bed,” he’d insist.

Now here’s a bit of insight that I’ve gained through my anthropological study of toddlers, otherwise known as living with one. They may have the attention span of a Tsetse fly. But when they want something, then they’ve got the tenaciousness of a Jack Russell terrier, the lung capacity of an opera singer and the endless tears of Tammy Faye Bakker. And by the way, their ability to last you out rivals the decomp rate of a Twinkie. (Sure it’s easy to say Let ‘em cry it out when it’s not your kid wailing. When it is your kid wailing as if he’s Caesar to your Brutus, letting him cry it out is like being slowly filleted with long knives.) Even when I knew I was being played for a sap, I’d still crumble. And so that’s how we got sucked into taking turns laying down with Fletcher in his new bed until he fell asleep.

Of course, I could still pretty much count on being rousted from my bed nightly by the 2 a.m. cries of MOMMY! … MOMMY! MAAAAH-MEEEEE! That would be my cue to sleep-sprint up the stairs, scoop him up, and take him back downstairs to our bed. It was so predictable, I was practically on autopilot. But once potty training got under way, our nightly dance grew more complex. Now, there were trips to the bathroom to factor in. Diaper changes. Even wholesale switch-outs of sheets and pajamas. Sleep walking? Not anymore. I was double-espresso awake. And after the umpteenth week of fractured sleep, I was so dog tired I would have sold the kid to the gypsies for a solid 8. Like a Gitmo psych ops expert who deprives terror suspects of sleep in order to break them, Fletcher was wearing me down, down, down, down, down.

Now for those of you rolling your eyes and tsk-tsking at the gullible, newbie parents, I’m aware that we were cultivating a little Sleep Nazi. Our Munich came when Fletcher got sick and we let him, feverish and miserable, back into our bed to convalesce. The plan was to return him to his own bed after his recovery. But when that time came, he dug in. We gave him an inch, and he wanted Eastern Europe … aka our bed. And mounting our own resistance was turning bedtime into an escalating battle of wills.

Then at school, Fletcher’s teacher, Miss Evie, a sweet young gal with silky black hair and a spray of red stars tattooed up her neck, took me aside for a chat. Fletcher seemed weepy and out of sorts. He was hitting, kicking, acting out in ways that were completely uncharacteristic of the sweet-tempered child she’d come to know. Was anything going on at home? She asked in the way that one inquires if there’s been a death or a job loss. Were we, perhaps, beating him regularly? Her tone wasn’t exactly accusatory. But she let me know that whatever was going on at our house, it was spilling over into the classroom. And she’d taken note.

Now on top of exhausted, I was also concerned. Once upon a time when I was working on a magazine article, a children’s sleep specialist had shared with me that profound sleep loss in children is often mistaken for ADHD. In many cases, he told me, kids behaving badly were being doped up with Ritalin when probably all they needed was some more shut-eye. That gave me pause. With that in mind, as long as Fletcher was sleeping, was it really that important that he sleep in his own bed?

So I tried an experiment: That night when Fletcher made his nightly bid to sleep in our bed, I let him. And whaddya know? For the first time in I don’t know when, there was no 2 a.m. potty break; no Mommy! screams in the middle of the night. He slept like the proverbial baby. And so did we.

In the morning, he was in a great mood. And that afternoon, I got a thumbs up from Miss Evie.

After that, really, it was a no-brainer. To borrow from Robert Evans: the kid stays in the bed. When I confided to my friend Stephanie (who’s got two boys of her own) that I’d succumbed to this unorthodox sleep solution, she nodded, understandingly, but cautioned that whatever I was doing at this critical point, I’d just better be prepared to do it for a long, long, long, long time to come. She knows from when she speaks: For years, she slept with one child while her husband slept with the other. But, really, I don’t expect this situation to last all that long. At least not compared to the time it takes, say, water to carve out a canyon or for mountains to form. Meanwhile, it’s not lost on me that we all sleep better now that we’re sleeping together like nomads in a yurt.

And as for sex … well … thank goodness we’ve got three other bedrooms.