The Facts Of Life … In 5 Minutes Or Less

Illustration by Mark Stay

Illustration by Mark Stay

Thanks to Kirsten Gillibrand, my 7-year-old now knows all about how babies are made. Not that New York’s junior senator actually sat down with the boy to lay out the facts, with infographics and pie charts and Wikipedia references — though if I’d thought she would have obliged me, I’d have certainly asked her.

No, the good senator was the subject of an NPR Morning Edition profile I was listening to recently on the drive to school. NPR is my go-to station in the morning for the 10 minutes of news I might pick up to keep me connected to the larger world that exists outside of Cartoon Network, the Disney Channel and PTO scuttlebutt. My kid never listens to NPR. He’s usually far too engrossed in whatever book he’s reading on his Kindle to even notice something as old media as the radio. Or me (also old, I might add). Which is why I never get more than a distracted Uh … or, on a good day, an Uh, okay, sure … when I ask him anything while we’re in the car.

To wit:

“Fletcher, how was school today?”

“Uh…”

“Fletcher –”

“Hmmm …”

“Fletcher … you’re on fire.”

“Uh … okay … sure … Huh?”

See what I mean?

But when the Morning Edition reporter described how Gillibrand was made of such steely stuff that she’d endured 12 hours of painful pre-labor contractions when pregnant with her second child, all because she didn’t want to leave her committee meeting, that little tidbit, THAT my son heard.

“Mommy –” came his little-boy-voice, mere seconds later from the backseat. “Do boys have babies? … Do I have to have a baby?”

And with about seven minutes left of the drive to school, I realized THIS WAS IT. The Moment that most parents dread even more than swimming lessons, potty training and busting open the first Lego kit that has more than 20 pieces. We were about to have The Talk.

I still remember when my mom had The Talk with me. I was six. We sat down. She came prepared. She had a book. With pictures. I think one was of Michaelangelo’s David, who, on reflection did not live up to that maxim about the size of a man’s hands, which in David’s case were, um … quite huge. Sigh … anyway … My mom was great. We read the book together. She answered questions. We spent time talking about the Sperm + Egg = Baby equation. Never once did she get embarrassed or hedge a question.

I didn’t think much about this particular Hallmark moment until years later when I noticed that friend after friend would tell me that their moms never had The Talk with them. Or that they’d simply been handed a book and a box of maxi pads and were left to piece it all together on their own. I was grateful my mom had the confidence and comfort level to be so direct and matter-of-fact with me.

I’d planned to do the same thing for my son. I just hadn’t planned to do it on this particular morning. Otherwise, I’d have spent some time rehearsing. And maybe doubled up on my anti-anxiety meds.

But perhaps it was better that I was caught unprepared and so had to handle this on the fly. I’d read somewhere — no doubt in one of my many How Not To Screw Up Your Kid Too Horribly guides — that the trick to navigating these kinds of potentially land-your-kid-in-therapy-for-life conversations was to respond as if you are a prisoner of war. Provide only the information requested and nothing more.

My 7-year-old had asked about babies. So given our time constraints, I figured I could skip the hot-n-heavy part and go straight to the Cliff’s Notes version of baby-assembly mechanics. There’d be time enough for the sex portion of The Talk later. Much later. Like when he hit middle school. (And don’t think I didn’t know that delaying would also give me four more years to stockpile the small cache of prescription anxiety meds I knew I’d need to keep calm and carry on through that ‘tween minefield. Hey, there’s a reason they call that stuff Mother’s Little Helper.)

But back to the task at hand. With five minutes left and counting till we’d pull into the drop-off lane, I calmly explained that Daddy has sperm —

“Sorta like tadpoles …”

And Mommy has an egg —

“No, you can’t scramble this kind of egg … you just can’t … because we don’t eat these kinds of eggs … yes, they’re small … much smaller than your thumbnail, yes…”

And I wrapped up with the explanation that after the sperm and egg meet up (sidestepping exactly how for the moment), they go into a special sack in Mommy’s tummy, where the sperm+egg can grow into a baby.

That was easy, I thought as the school came into view. The facts of life in under five minutes. And I hadn’t even sweated through my super-high-powered antiperspirant that I’d been fortunate enough to swipe on that morning.

“So why was that lady hurt?” my boy asked.

“When it’s time for the baby to be born, the sack starts squeezing to push the baby out. Like a tube of toothpaste. That squeezing is what hurts.” I explained.

“So, do boys have babies?”

“Only mommies.”

“Oh good,” he said, clearly relieved.

“So, did I answer your question?” I asked as I turned into the school’s drive.

“Well … I was afraid I’d have a tummy ache like that lady on the radio. I do not want to have a baby because I do not want to have a tummy ache.”

Oh … Huh.

So maybe I’d answered the wrong question. But at least my boy still got the answer he needed.

A version of this essay appeared on Lifescript’s Health Bistro blog on June 14, 2013.

One & Done

Can I have a brother? Actually, no.  Credit: Daydreams Girl

Can I have a brother? Actually, no.
Credit: Daydreams Girl

Out of the blue last weekend, apropos of basically nothing I could immediately ascertain, my 7-year-old announced that he wanted a brother. Or a sister. He’d take either, he informed me a bit wistfully as he squatted by a blueberry bush. He just wanted a sibling. And if I could produce one now, that’d be nice, thanks.

We’d been out picking blueberries at a local farm. Berry-picking on a Sunday morning being my best response to the perpetual I-have-no-flippin’-clue-how-to-entertain-my-kid-today dilemma that every parent who’s not indentured to a kids sports team confronts when they forget to make weekend plans. So when my dad texted me to see if we wanted to go pick berries with him and my mom, I grabbed at his invitation like it was the last ‘copter out before the fall of Saigon. Take me please!!

As we’d wandered up and down the rows of neatly planted bushes, looking for the darkest, ripest berries and dropping them into our buckets, I’d gotten lost in the zen-like, meditative quality of the pluck-n-drop, pluck-n-drop, pluck-n-drop of berry picking. So my son’s sudden request caught me totally off-guard. Of course, the kid always wanted something. Like every kid I knew, mine had a major case of the Gimme’s. But this wasn’t like the garden-variety pleas I usually got for Hot Wheels cars and water blasters and every Beyblade ever made.

Not that Fletcher had been the first to make such a request. Oh, noooooo. I’d been fielding questions about when Fletcher would be getting a sibling since before the kid was potty trained. The moment he turned 2, it seemed, there was an immediate pile on of When? When? When? from all quarters. As if some biological timer had gone off that everyone could hear but me. Apparently, two years was long enough to gain some equilibrium in the parenting department, so um, Batter up! Let’s go for Number 2.

My standard reply to these really-not-your-business questions would typically alternate between “We don’t want to have more kids than we can afford to send through graduate school” and “Well, maybe if we’d started earlier …”

I was just six weeks shy of 40 when Fletcher was born and three weeks past my 47th birthday when he made this particular grab for a sibling. I know that thanks to the wonders of reproductive science, women even in their late 50s have babies these days. And hey, if you wanna be pushing 80 at your kid’s college graduation, have at it. I hope that in the excitement of watching your child receive a diploma, you don’t fall over your walker and break a hip. Meanwhile, as far as I was concerned, my factory produced a single model and was hereby closed to business.

I was plenty comfortable with that. Earlier this week, a TODAYMoms.com survey came out with the news that moms of three reported far and above more stress than moms of one, two or even four-plus kids. Not that it’s a contest, but believe me, I stressed enough for all 7,000 moms in that survey just having my one. I’d resigned myself to the fact that I would undoubtedly sleep the rest of my nights with one ear cocked for the sniffled cries of Mommy? Mommy! … and ceded the luxury of being permitted to pee solo (even at 7, my son still feels the need to “chaperone” me in the loo) … and relinquished precious DVR space, first to Sesame Street and Word World episodes, and now to a collection of Disney Channel and Cartoon Network shows … and given up any hope of ever again reading the New York Times on Sunday in peace. But even as I cradled my son as an infant, I knew I wanted at least half a shot of getting some of my grownup, pre-mommy life back, at least in the form of a work day that wasn’t disrupted first by changing diapers and now dictated by homework, and a social life that didn’t revolve around play groups and birthday parties … unless said parties involved attractive consenting adults, condoms and some lube.

Besides, I was well-acquainted with the sturm und drang that even one more child could bring. Though my sister and I are incredibly close now — the best of friends who live just a quick 12-minute drive from each other — for much of our childhood, we fought our own bloody version of the Civil War, then approximated the frosty Cold War relations for the early part of our adult life. I honestly don’t know how our mother withstood the chaos we two wrought. I am not a particular fan of chaos. I wasn’t eager to gamble on having World War III unfold in my house just because I had a momentary bout of baby fever. So, my husband and I had one and firmly decided we were done.

That was one of the key reasons I’d wanted my son growing up near my sister’s kids, who I hoped would come to feel more like brothers than cousins. But considering all the time he spent playing with his older cousins, it never occurred to me that my son might miss having a sibling of his very own.

“What made you think about having a brother or sister?” I asked my boy gently.

“I just saw a brother and sister running up and down the hill,” he said softly. “And I thought, If I had a brother or sister, they could do that with me. I want someone to play with me.”

“Oh, Sweet Pea, I’ll play with you,” I said quickly, brightly, hoping to ease the sting of not being able to have the one thing I honestly could not give him. “I’ll be your playmate.”

“You’re always working,” he said, crossly.

Ouch. I do work a lot. It’s true. But ouch. Besides, if I was honest, running up and down a hill wasn’t exactly what I’d call fun.

“You know –” I tried to salvage the situation with a little logic of my own. “If you had a brother or sister, you’d have to share your toys.”

“Then can I have an older brother or sister?” he asked, hopefully, not missing a beat. “If they’re older, they won’t want my toys,”

I was both touched and tickled by his reasoning. Seriously, this kid is gonna be some kind of logistics expert one day. He is always trying to figure out a workable solution.

I thought about explaining the impossibility of pulling off a back-to-the-future maneuver that would allow me to go back in time and have another baby that would then become his older sibling. But that wasn’t really the point.

My boy wanted something — badly — that was beyond my ability to give him. There are lots of things I have no problem saying No to — more Hot Wheels, more Beyblades, more Minecraft, more video games of any stripe, actually. But though there aren’t enough squeezable, dimpled baby cheeks to lure me back to the Diaper Genie days, it still made my heart ache to have to say No to this.

So I did what any mom does to soothe over sadness. I offered something sweet. Fresh-baked blueberry muffins, to be precise, to be made when we got home with the bucket of fresh berries we’d just picked. And I pinky-promised that next weekend, I’d come up with a less lame play date than picking fruit at a farm with mom, so that my son would really have someone to play with.

A version of this essay was published on Lifescript’s Health Bistro blog on May 10, 2013.

 

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!

Am I Smarter Than A Seven-Year-Old?

Rapid Eye Media

Rapid Eye Media

Am I smarter than my seven-year-old? Apparently I am not. This is fairly amazing to me as I went to college. And graduate school. Okay, I studied theater and dance, not astrophysics. But still. You’d think that anyone with a masters degree in anything more intellectually rigorous than, say, papier mache would be able to skillfully refuse a request that they’ve shot down with big, fat Over my dead body’s so many times, it’s practically a rote response.

“Mommy, can I have –”

“NO!”

See? Simple.

Of course, it is the kid’s job to ask. And ask. And ask. And ask. I’m pretty sure that’s in The Great Big Book of How To Really Annoy Your Parents … For Fun & Profit. I can’t remember which page, but I know I’ve read it in there somewhere.

And it’s the parent’s job to dig in and hang tough and be firm and say No … No … No … No … No. And I know I read that in the Great Big Book Of How To Keep Your Kid Alive Till They Turn 18 After Which They’re On They’re Own, Though They Will Still Want Your Money. 

And given that my son is seven, and thus still covered under the Try Not To Kill Them clause of the parent-child agreement, when he asked me for the millionth time if he could have a soda, my response should have been the instantaneous and automatic NO! that it’s been the last 999,999 times he’s asked if he could have a soda.

All right. All right. So asking for a can of soda is not like asking to borrow the car. Or to have a cocktail. Or to have a cocktail and then borrow the car. Soda is considered by many to be perfectly acceptable beverage for young children. And if that’s you, then have at it. No judgment. (Well, maybe a little. But certainly not to your face.)

But I have my reasons … good reasons … sound reasons for why I’m not particularly interested in having my seven-year-old guzzling soda by the Big Gulp. Not least of which is that I’ve done a fair bit of health writing about the link between soda-drinking and childhood obesity. Given that my kid already spends more than his fair share of time laying slothfully on the couch watching TV and/or playing video games on his … I mean, my iPad, I’d rather not throw more gasoline on that particular fire, thanks very much.

So to recap: Soda = No go in our house. Kid = Ask, ask, ask, ask, ask. Me = No, no, no, no, no.

But my kid is quite well-versed in the If-At-First-You-Don’t-Succeed school of argumentation. And he has pinpoint timing for picking his battles.

On the day in question, my husband, my business partner Jessica and I were doing last minute setup for the launch party for our humor blog, Science of Parenthood. My house was filling up with guests, and as they arrived, all of the kids jumped in the pool — in their clothes no less — turning the blog party into an impromptu pool party. Which immediately necessitated my trying to locate all of the spare bathing suits and pool towels that had been packed away after last summer. Meanwhile, my husband and Jessica were trying to troubleshoot the iPad slideshow we planned to show during the party. And friends were bombarding me with questions like So how’d this all start? Tell me the whole story. Now! and Where’s the booze?

I merely mention this to underscore that there was a lot going on in the particular moment when my seven-year-old hit me with:

“Mommy … you know how you always want me to try new foods?”

I nodded, distractedly, unsure where exactly we were going with this.

“– and you know how you always want me to have a New Food Of The Day?”

Again, I nodded, hoping this was leading perhaps to my putting together a plate of food that the kid might actually eat.

“Well, I’ve never had Sprite before. I’d like to try it. I’d like this Sprite to be my New Food Of The Day.” And he held up a can. “So, Mommy, can I have it?” Then he flashed me his winningest, gap-toothiest smile. “Can I?”

Is that a logical argument or what? I mean, I had to give the kid props for creativity and the ability to completely spin my own tables back on me. I swear. Come back in a few years. This is the guy you’re gonna wanna hire as your defense attorney. Or hostage negotiator.

But I also had my reasons to say No. Sound reasons, remember? But in that crazy, chaotic moment, I choked. I had a Rick Perry brain fart. I couldn’t come up with a single reason why the kid couldn’t have a soda … I mean besides Because I said so. And I only like to trot that one out when I am truly, truly desperate. Why couldn’t he have soda? My brain scrambled for coherence and … and … and … I had nothing.

I looked to my husband. He shrugged helplessly, having already parried our son’s request with the totally lame “Go ask your mother.” So now we’ve got two college graduates outmaneuvered by a seven-year-old. (Please don’t tell anyone we went to Oberlin; they will probably revoke our alumni status.)

Can a moment be both exhilarating and utterly humiliating at the same time? On the one hand, I was wary of giving my kid an inch .. and having him down an entire 12-pack. On the other, I was so totally impressed with the kid’s verbal machinations, part of me wanted to give him the soda as just desserts for sheer ballsiness.

So that’s exactly what I did.

“Just one!” I said, wondering just how far down the slippery (sugary) slope this one capitulation would lead us. “It’s a special occasion. This is for today only,” I warned.

He barely heard me, as he dashed off to pop open his can of bubbly sweetness.

“Savor it!!!!” I called after him.

“Oh, he got me!” I laughed to my mom friend Brenda later. “He got me GOOD!”

“On the bright side,” Brenda said, fully appreciating the humor of my predicament, “when kids turn your logic against you, they are using their critical thinking skills.”

True, that.

So sure, I’d been verbally outmaneuvered by a second-grader. But I was still kinda cheering for him as he did.

A version of this essay first appeared on Lifescript’s Healthbistro blog on April 12, 2013.

 

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

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It’s absolutely true!

Everything I ever needed to know about parenting I learned in middle school science and math class. Only I didn’t realize it then because I was way too busy chasing boys to actually pay attention to whatever the teacher was droning on and on and on about. But I must have absorbed something through osmosis … or is it photosynthesis? Well, it’s definitely one of these -ois’s or -esis’s because once I caught my boy (er, husband), and then, incredibly, gave birth to another one, it all came back to me … like in one of those pricey SAT prep courses.

Turns out, those smarties Newton and Einstein and the rest of their science and math geek pals not only understood how the world works, those guys knew a little something about what it’s like to be a frazzled, over-scheduled, sleep-deprived parent who’s just one PBJ shy of going all Linda Blair in that head-spin scene from The Exorcist.

Which is why I teamed up with Jessica Ziegler — aka the greatest illustrator and web designer ever — to create Science of Parenthood. A new sibling blog/website to Don’t Put Lizards In Your Ears, Science of Parenthood is meant to shed a little light on those awkward, puzzling, all-too-hilarious moments (though, admittedly, it can take a little hindsight to see them as such) that we parents experience on a daily, sometimes hourly, basis as we shepherd our wee ones from crib to college.

If you’ve ever wondered how one kid can possibly lose so many Star Wars thermoses — at $16 a pop, natch — or marveled that the same kid who can play Mario Galaxy for eight hours without a single bathroom break cannot sit still for 10 freakin’ minutes to finish a math worksheet, then Science of Parenthood is for you. Think of it as better parenting through science … and humor that will make you lose whatever bladder control you might have left.

So, please join us on our Facebook page — we’re unveiling our website  next week — and tell us all about those parenting moments that make you wince and smile and shoot Diet Coke out of your nose. Then share the love — by which we mean, of course, share, share, share, the posts. The parent’s sanity you save may be your own!

 

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

I’m Jealous Of My Nanny

holding-hands2It’s a working mom’s cliché, being envious of the nanny. But really … can you blame me? Not only is my nanny younger and thinner and a bit more ballsy, but she actually she gets paid to drive my car, swim in my pool and play Candy Land all day with my kid. Where can I get a job like that?

Oh right … I have one. It’s called Being A Mom. (So how come “mothering” only seems like a real job when you pay somebody else to do it?)

Of course, the truth is, I don’t really want to spend my days playing Candy Land and doing crafts, especially since I have absolutely no talent for craft projects that involve anything more ambitious than peel-n-stick foam pieces. But while I’m fine with outsourcing certain aspects of childcare,to someone with more patience, not to mention facility with a glue gun, it’s still hard not to envy, just a little, the very necessary bond that gets forged between my child and the Mommy Stand-In who allows me to spend my days the way I want to – writing in my office.

To read more, please click here, and follow me over to HealthBistro at Lifescript where I’m guest blogging today and the second Friday of every month about my late-in-life parenting adventures.

And what about you? Are you ever jealous of the people who care for your kid all day while you’re at work? Please leave a comment after the post and tell me all about it.

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

Photo credit: Patrick Heagney

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