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!

 

My Next Big Thing

I rarely participate in chain letters anymore. No matter how many chain letters I sent out as a gullible hopeful youngster, I never got anything back, even though I was promised millions if I just I added my name to the bottom of the list and sent one dollar to the person at the top. Any day now, I’m sure.

The last chain letter I did — reluctantly — involved stickers for my kid. And I only agreed to participate in that one over the summer because another mom friend arm-twisted cajoled me into it, promising, “It’ll be fun for the kids to get stickers in the  mail!” How do you say No to stickers for kids? So I dutifully mailed a packet of sports-themed stickers to the first kid on my mom friend’s list; moved her kid’s name to the first slot; added my own kid’s name to the next slot; sent out six letters to other friends’ kids in the hopes that they’d join the “fun”; then sat back to wait for the deluge of stickers to come our way. We got exactly one package back. At least it was better than I did as a kid.

So, jaded as I am with regard to anything chain related (well, other than those of the 14K or platinum variety), you’d think I’d have dodged something like a Blog Hop, like a hard-thrown ball in phys-ed class. A Blog Hop is exactly like a chain letter. Except … when Susan Bearman of the Two Kinds of People blog (http://2kop.blogspot.com) posted on Facebook yesterday that she was looking to include bloggers in a Blog Hop post about her Next Big Thing, answering a few questions about my Next Big Thing writing project sounded like a whole lot more fun and satisfying than waiting for crumpled dollar bills to arrive in the mail. For starters, I love talking about my work. What writer doesn’t, right? But, bonus!! I got to find out more about Susan’s latest project, Animal Store Alphabet Book. And the memoir that Nancy Hinchliff, the blogger who originally tagged Susan, is working on. And this Blog Hop thing has also given me the opportunity to reach out to other bloggers whose work I love, so I can arm-twist cajole them into talking about what they’re working on these days too. In the next several days, I’ll be posting their links here, so please check back … and check out what Susan Bearman and Nancy Hinchcliff posted about their writing projects too at the links above.

So, without further ado, here are the questions I was asked to answer.

1. What is the working title of your book or project?

It’s a collection of humorous essays, based on this blog, about stumbling through parenthood, called Don’t Put Lizards In Your Ears … And Other Totally Bizarre Things I Never Thought I’d Do, Say Or Think, But Absolutely Did After I Became A Mom.

2. Where did the idea come from for the book or project?

My son was 18 months old when I caught him jamming something rather determinedly into his right ear. Q-tip? Pencil? String bean? Exact-o knife? Who knew what he had. But after I vaulted over several pieces of living room furniture to reach him and unfolded his tightly clenched fist, I saw he’d picked up a dead, desscicated lizard, something one of our cats had carried in from the patio. “Don’t put lizards in your ears!” I scolded. As soon as the words were out of my mouth, I burst out laughing. That’s a totally crazy thing to say. And I immediately thought, That’s the perfect title for a collection of essays about the crazy things that happen to you once you become a parent.

3. What genre does it fall under, if any?

Humor and memoir. Everything in it is true, but I’m known to play it broadly for laughs.

4. If applicable, who would you choose to play your characters in a movie?

If I ran the zoo (or production company), I’d tap Winona Ryder to play me. Eons ago, maybe back when she did Heathers, a friend grabbed an issue of Esquire with her on the cover — she could have been my twin. Greg Kinnear would play my husband Stewart. I’m not up on the current crop of child stars, but I’m sure we could find someone adorable and precocious to play my lizard-loving son.

5. What is the one-sentence synopsis of your manuscript or project?

A “snap-shot” style memoir in essays about the ridiculous things that happen to you once you become a parent.

6. Will your book or story be self-published or represented by an agency?

I’m hoping an agent will pick it up, but one way or another this baby’s getting published.

7. How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

I’ll let you know when I get there. I’m more than a third of the way through now.

8. What other book or stories s would you compare this story to within the genre?

It’s in the style of Justin Halpren’s Sh*t My Dad Says. 

9. Who or what inspired you to write this book or story?

I specialize in “fish out of water”-style essays about the often-strange situations I’ve found myself in — living off-grid in a solar-powered house, setting a world record during a masturbate-a-thon. My son just provides me with bizarre situations on a daily basis.

10. What else about the book or story might pique the reader’s interest?

Anyone who’s been flummoxed by parenthood will relate to these stories. And isn’t that just about every parent, at some point? Stay tuned!

 

These writers will be writing about their Next Big Things on their blogs. Please visit and comment. 

December 6: Cindy A. Brown Everyday Underwear: Do You Read Me? I Could be the Next Big Thing.

Cindy talks about Forty Days Without A Face, how a 40-day “fast” from hair and makeup “shed harsh light on her fears and insecurities, ripping away the mask she wore to hide her disturbing past.”

December 7: Liane Kupferberg Carter http://lianekupferbergcarter.blogspot.com 

In my memoir Love Is Like This: A Family Grows Up with Autism, I explore the uncharted terrain of raising the older child with autism into adulthood. Many autism narratives focus on recovery.  But the truth is that most children with autism are not “cured.”  And while much has been written about what it’s like raising a young child on the spectrum, few books tell you what really happens in the two decades after that diagnosis.  How do you make the trade-offs you must to create an ordinary life for a family, while dealing with the extraordinary needs of a disabled family member?  How do you keep your family intact?  How do you survive – and even thrive?

 

Photo credit: Deliormanli

The Accidental Latke Lady

latkes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“About 90 minutes.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo: Tova Teitelbaum

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