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.

Big News!

263280_194568727352162_180792384_aWe have BIG NEWS about Don’t Put Lizards In Your Ears’ sister blog Science of Parenthood. Starting TODAY, Lifescript, the healthy living website for women, will be featuring SOP’s illustrations, created with Jessica Ziegler, EVERY OTHER FRIDAY. Check out today’s post HERE! And please help spread the word and SHARE the laughter! Thanks!

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.

 

 

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!

 

Why My Six-Year-Old Isn’t Getting A Star Wars Blaster For Christmas

For the last two years, my six-year-old, Fletcher has been coveting a certain Star Wars blaster. It’s hard to tell the differences among the assorted Star Wars weaponry, but I think it’s one of the models the rebels use in the Clone Wars series. His older cousins have one, and he plays with it at their house every chance he gets. The last few times we’ve ridden the Buzz Lightyear ride at Disney World, which conveniently spills you out into the gift shop, he’s gone right for this particular weapon, touching it with the kind of reverence normally reserved for holy relics. He knows better than to ask me for it outright because the answer to his perpetual Can I have a gun? question has long been a flat No.

It’s challenging to be anti toy-gun when you’ve got a boy. The fascination must come with the Y chromosome because Fletcher’s been enthralled by toy guns since he could pull himself up and grab what he wanted to play with from a toy chest. I could refuse to supply him with toy firearms, but that doesn’t stop others from gifting him with water shooters. Or stop him from playing with toy guns at other kids’ houses. Staying with friends on a family trip to Denver when Fletcher was 3, I discovered my child had unearthed a substantial cache of toy guns that even my shocked girlfriend didn’t realize her son had.

As any parent knows, kids’ persistence is a force to behold. Over time, their repeated pleas can wear you down like water smooths a rock. And so it was that a few weeks ago, I reluctantly reversed my No Toy Guns policy and allowed Fletcher to purchase a stylized flintlock pirate pistol with his allowance. After that, the proverbial barn door was wide open. So when I saw the Star Wars blaster at Target, and it was on sale, I thought, Oh, what the hell. That’ll make his Christmas.

It was upstairs in the guest room closet with the rest of the toys, waiting to be wrapped in festive Christmas paper and tied with a bow. But after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Connecticut on Friday, I took it back. After seeing the pictures of those 20 murdered children, most of whom were exactly my son’s age, the idea of feeding my own child’s perception that guns are just big boy toys and the violence they can do is just a game made me physically ill.

And I say that as someone who’s not opposed to reasonable gun ownership. Though because the word reasonable has been so perverted by the NRA and their rabid devotees, let me explain what I mean by that. Years ago — long before Fletcher was born — when I lived off-grid on a remote mountain in Nevada, in an area where it could take 20 to 30 minutes for police to respond to a 911 call, my husband kept a 12-gauge shotgun, a .22 rifle, a 9-mm semi-automatic handgun and a HK91 assault rifle in the house. “I like to shoot things in the desert,” he said a little sheepishly when I asked him why on earth he needed a stash like that. They were his guns, and I wouldn’t touch them. But my husband traveled frequently, and I was often home alone. After an unnerving encounter with one of the other mountain residents (who I presumed was making meth in one of the lonely double-wides loosely scattered over the desert), I wanted to be able to protect myself if I absolutely had to. So I learned how to load and fire a Glock. At the time, I considered it a necessary survival skill.

Now we live in the Greater Orlando suburbs. The guns are gone, and we leave it to Orlando’s Finest to respond quickly if the need arises. No one in suburbia (or a city for that matter) needs that kind of weaponry. Ever.

On the afternoon of the Sandy Hook shooting, Lisa Belkin, the Huffington Post Parentry blogger, wrote that “guns are a parenting issue.” She said our job as parents is to keep our children safe, and “easy access to guns keeps us from doing that job.”

Of course, as many, many people have said in the wake of this horror, any real change in our nation’s gun culture has to start with petitioning our lawmakers and holding President Obama to his promise to “use whatever power [his] office holds” to pass gun control legislation that actually bans these weapons of mass slaughter. The same goes for demanding more resources to make mental health services readily accessible to those who desperately need them, and so perhaps prevent the kind of off-the-charts violence these tortured souls can commit. But closer to home, especially with Christmas approaching fast, perhaps it’s also time to think about the messages we send our children when we allow them to play with — and indeed give them — toy models that look so much like the real thing. However unintentionally, that tells our kids that that gun violence — killing — is appropriate imaginative play for children to engage in.

Telling a kid he/she can’t have toy guns isn’t easy. Believe me, I know. But tell me, what part of parenting ever is? Teaching that gun violence is abhorrent has to start somewhere, and maybe it starts with banning the plastic toys that glorify gun ownership in our households … as well as the shoot-em-up video games that I’m just as guilty of allowing my son to play from time to time.

Truth told, I’m not sure yet what I’m going to do about the super-soakers and pirate pistol we already have. Though I’m sorely tempted to do a full toy purge, I’m thinking that doing so may actually create more desire for the forbidden playthings. Better perhaps is to simply let them gather dust on the toy shelves and refuse to replace them when they break. Already, that pirate pistol has been forgotten as other toys from Chanukah have commanded my son’s attention. But this much is certain: I won’t be adding to the arsenal on Christmas. Over the weekend, I replaced the Star Wars blaster with a telescope. Rather than pretending to shoot at people and our long-suffering cats, I’m hoping it inspires my son to shoot for the stars.

Illustration: Jessica Ziegler

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

 

 

 

 

 

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