3 Parenting Classes We Never Got – But Need

July 22, 2011

Listen up, you local hubs of educational offerings – like UVA Health System, you offer some really necessary basics, and we’re grateful for them. Yep. And they stand us in good stead during those first few months of pooping, breastfeeding, bathing that runs us through the ringer of our own mental fortitude harder than a drill sergeant in one of those Vietnam movies.

But then the kids graduate, the classes for parents disappear – now all you can find are ballet, soccer, karate for the kids – and your brain, while not taxed to the maximum of human endurance, now faces ever increasingly mind-boggling strains of the psyche for which this parent at least feels utterly unprepared.

We need some Continuing Ed, people!

Here are my suggestions.

1. Scientific Answers and Cop-Outs

Okay, I somehow swam my way through advanced chemistry and physics in high school, and I doggy-paddled to some As in college biology. Still, my five-year-old daughter manages to come up with some questions that stop me in whatever tracks I thought I was making away from having to recall any of that stuff.

I can handle the philosophical whys, because the answers are themselves questions. I can handle rhyming games. And, English major that I was, I enjoy the word-origin queries – “Why is it called a Kitchen? Why is a seal called a seal?” and the abstract concept confusions – “But what is lying?” These are challenges I am happy to meet. That’s why I studied English. You could find the answer in a dictionary or make up a theory. I got that part nailed.

But the bulk of the questions fall into the category of Things I Should Know Because Didn’t I Learn Them in Earth Science 101? And they come. Incessantly.


Before dinner: “Why is part of the air conditioner outside?”

At the dinner table: “Why do we put things in refrigerators? But what does a bacteria do? Why are some good and some bad? Are they in the air?”

And, right after lights out: “So many animals have black stripes. But why?”

I don’t know. It seems like I should know, but I really really don’t. I’m making dinner, I’m trying to keep the three-year-old from somehow getting all of his dinner on the floor and not his mouth, I’m hoping they’ll fall asleep – I don’t know why the air conditioner is halfway out the window. I start to explain as if I DO know, and it becomes incredibly obvious I haven’t a clue.

“Well, you know, it brings in air and cools it” – and then is there too much air in the house? “or does it pull out the hot air?” – seems too old to do all that – “well, it pulls it out and puts it in – ” I’m scrambling – “so it sticks out.”

Bacteria? I try to steer the convo to a rationale for why she shouldn’t suck her toes. Yes, she needs one. But it just brings on more questions. I go to Wikipedia for a quick fix of facts. Good god, the explanation is complicated. I don’t have time for all this chemical crap and canoodly language. Do bacteria eat stuff the way worms do? Is that how they make things rot or curdle? Just tell me so I can satisfy the kid and finish my beans!

Scientists don’t excel at really getting to the nitty-gritty, concrete, obvious terms and analogies to help a parent like myself offer a kid like my daughter something that is both basically true and equally simple to grasp. Give us a class! Or at least a support group.

2. First Aid 101

No, I don’t mean Red Cross certification. I’m talking about your kid gets a cut on his or her face and you call the doctor and he asks you to examine the wound.

“How deep is it?” he asks. I dunno.

“Is there a separation in the tissue?” Huh?

“blah blah blah compression blah flap of skin poodle poo can help you determine whether or not to go to the ER.”

Huh? I have to know what kind of cut looks like it needs stitches? How the hell do I know? I grew up in the land of the 70s. We didn’t have helmets when we rode our bikes, seat belts in the backseat of the car, organic food, and we certainly didn’t go to the ER when we got gashes, sun burns, what have you. We just scarred and waited for the skin cancer.

So I need a class in how to talk to my pediatrician on the phone, what to look for in my kids’ symptoms, how to know if the thermometer isn’t working, whether you’re supposed to use a bandaid or not, what constitutes throw-up vs. regurgitation, etc. Basic stuff that some people learned and the rest of us didn’t but are expected to know, obviously, because there are no remedial classes around to take.

Subjects to be covered also include:

  • A little rehash of germ theory wouldn’t be hurtful. For instance, when my first baby peed in the bathtub at 9 months, I freaked: Evacuate? Restart? Let it go? No clue.
  • Temperatures: How to take them, read them, and what they should be (so I get confused sometimes)
  •  How to read OTC medications – Do I want the kid to suppress the coughs or express them?
  • Is the little proverb “starve a fever, feed a cold” true or a myth?
  • Cutting toddler nails and hair 101

3. What Can I Get Away With?

Other possible titles: How Bad Am I? or How Much Will Therapy Cost? or Grab Bag Miscellany

So this sounds bad, but seriously, there are some legal and psychological mysteries hanging around out there that I think all parents should have a clue about, like:

Is it allowable to leave your kids in the car while you run into 7-11 for a soda? (Answer: No.)

I accidentally swore in front of my kids. Am I going to hell?

Are five year olds really preteens?

Is two really terrible? Because it looks pretty good now that we’re in three.

How long can they go without a bath and still be considered civilized?

Do they always need underwear?

What’s the appropriate etiquette in a restaurant when your two year old poops in the aisle in plain view of all the dining customers?

Do you give a child a time out for drawing on her arms a tattoo – when I have a tattoo, a real one?

How much TV will scar them – really?

How long can I let my kid suck her thumb? Her pacifier? Her feet?

Please let me push them in the grocery cart, even though it says they’re too heavy?

Is it ok I can’t answer all her questions?

Are they screwed because they get chicken nuggets (vegetarian at least) at least once a week because I’m a single parent and I’m tired?

Will they ever sleep?

Will I ever sleep?


Will they ever wipe their own butts?

Will they ever eat healthy meals?


So, those are the three I need. Any others I should add to the wish list?


The Gender Thing

July 19, 2011
My son in a dress

My son in a fancy dress

As those of us who waste time at work reading media headlines know, the issue of little boys playing with girl stuff has gotten a lot of panties wadded around a lot of conservative ankles recently. There was the ad with the boy getting his nails painted, the kid dressed as a girl for Halloween…

…and, simultaneously, there was my then-two-year-old son donning his older sister’s dress to preschool, pretending to walk in my shoes with his heels up, and getting deemed a girl by passersby because of his flouncy golden curls. Even today, at 3 1/2, Sam sometimes goes for days being a fairy princess named Chana, arguing with his sister that he IS a girl and DOES have the necessary equipment, and speaking in a high-pitched voice.

But is he a cross-dresser or gender-confused?

No. He’s THREE. He also tells us that he’s four, lives in an imaginary office where he has five daughters, shoots imaginary rainbow pellets with anything long enough to work as a gun, and believes he can fly.

He also pretty much adheres to a standard of saying the opposite of whatever his sister says. So, if she says it’s cold, he says it’s hot; if she says he’s a boy, he claims otherwise. (And she gets annoyed. It’s so predictable.)

What gets hard is all these voices out there, around us, telling Sam what he can and can’t be, in ways you wouldn’t, these days with a girl.

No one ever told Josephine that she needed to:

– Wear a dress

– Only wear pink

– Not play with balls or cars

– not pretend to be a boy supercharacter

And if anyone had, I would have hit them (like a boy?). But no one would; we all know better. Yet frequently, caregivers and others tell Sam – in my presence – :

– Boys don’t wear dresses!

– You don’t need a headband

– Be a big boy, don’t cry

– You’re a boy, you can’t be Supergirl

– You don’t want to play that, you’re a boy

– He needs more boy things

– he’s  a mama’s boy

There’s this huge concern that somehow, if he puts on a skirt or plays with Jo’s pony dolls or cries or prefers fancy clothes that there’s this huge, pending danger that he’ll end up – oh my gosh, as a girl, or gay. That if we don’t beat in enough Boyness now, he’ll be lost to that gray land of indeterminate identity…

…and what? He’ll actually know how to do laundry? He won’t beat his girlfriend? He’ll have healthy emotional expression? He’ll know how to trust people? He’ll be a fun dresser?

It distresses me how ANXIOUS people get about this.

Now, I didn’t really have a tomboy in Josephine; she has definitely been a girly-girl. But she does love to climb trees, kick balls, see fire engines, play rough and dirty with dogs, have adventures – she and Sam both. No one is worried about her not being girl enough.

I look around at most of the men I know who are my age, and I feel a great deal of pity for how many of them are so emotionally retarded, expressively restricted, psychologically bound up. Males in our society are offered such a limited range of identity – their clothes are standard-issue bland, their demeanor can range from tough to tough & quiet, their hair can be short and maybe a little shaggy, etc. And when they skew even slightly off this teeny band of Normal, they risk getting harassed, called names, beaten up, discriminated against, worse.

As I’ve often thought, feminists have only done half the work by trying to get women outside the strict boundaries of cultural gender biases. If we don’t get guys, starting when they are little boys, accepting themselves as whole people, developing their whole selves, we’re going to have an unequal society still, perpetuating this notion that women are civilized and men are not. Which is actually a very old notion. And doesn’t hold men accountable for much.

In an age when we need role models of every kind…

… well, I just beg you: Let my son wear a dress. Let your son try nailpolish. Let your kids cry. Let your children explore what it means to be human, whatever that means. And breathe. They’ll be okay – they’ll be even better than okay, if you just let them be who they are.

Shout Out to you, EH

June 11, 2010

You were totally ridiculous.

There I am, in clothes I grabbed from the bottom of the “clean” heap that is growing like a landfill on my bedroom floor. My eyes as puffy as marshmellows, wrinkles like fault lines criss-crossing age spots, hair ragged and indecisive. I’m struggling to make ends meet, find work, keep chaos from crumbling my sanity.

Next week I turn 35, and I tell you how I haven’t accomplished the things I’d hoped to do by now, and it just feels crappy.

If I could only insert a YouTube video here now of your response.

You kind of started to do one of those car dances people do behind the wheel.

And you started brightly chanting in this giddy skippy way that was completely unreasonable for a Chinese restaurant – something like:

What are you talking about? You’re a single, working mother, you got two fabulous kids, you got great hair, you’re smokin’ hot, you’re super smart, you’re on your own …

You made it sound like these were GOOD things. No – not just good – admirable, sexy, and fun.

I am still laughing.

And that’s what I want to thank you for. I don’t for a minute believe any of your compliments – though, thank you – but making me laugh my ass off at my life – making me imagine, as bizarre as it is, for a minute that the circumstances of what has felt like utter failure and hell were things to be thankful for – to celebrate – to car dance about – well, that’s something to cherish.

You lifted my spirits. You injected me with some of your sassy vibe. You’re crazy, but I love you for it.

Funny how sometimes we can get so wedded to our self-sculptured concepts of who we are – like having one of those drama masks over your face with a permanent frown or smile, despite the reality underneath.

Sometimes it takes someone else pulling the mask up – or showing you a mirror – to remind you that you’re wearing it at all.

Here’s to Friday, here’s to reminding each other to dance and laugh at ourselves and not take everything so seriously. Here’s to friends!

Fast Food, Slow Food

April 29, 2010

It’s like the title to a Dr. Seuss book:

Fast food, slow food

Green food, white food

Food in the car

Food with a star

Some food comes in packaging

Some food comes from gardening!

Food in the morning and food at night

Food in your tummy and –

Okay, I need to stop. This is getting out of hand.

The other day I ended up getting friended or fanned on Facebook to someone who wrote a book on “slow food.”

Sure, I’m a fan of slow food…

…just like I’m a fan of margaritas on a veranda overlooking the azure Mediteranean waters that lick the heels of my personally owned island…

…just like I’m a fan of sleeping through the night without getting woken by a kid… just like I’m a fan of not wiping other people’s bottoms… just like I’m a fan of getting a massage from my own personal trainer who visits my house on a daily basis…

That is, I’m a “fan” of a lot of things that just aren’t part of my reality right now. It’s something I find happens to me a lot, as a person of limited means: I can be a fan of expressionist paintings or of Spanish tiled roofs, or of really nice clothes, but I can’t afford them, so no one viewing my life externally would know these things about me – so:

  • Iis being a fan of something you can’t have just fantasy?
  • Is it something you can realistically claim if it’s only an idea, not an action?
  • Can you love something (or somebody) in thought only?
  • Isn’t true love – or fandom – the physical expression, the bodily commitment, the concrete evidence, that you show?
  • Am I starting to sound like the beginning of an episode of “Sex and the City” – sans the sex, sans the city, sans the shoes?

[In the background, we hear the rising volume of Eliza Doolittle singing, “Words Words Words, I’m so sick of words… Don’t talk of stars twinkling above, if you’re in love – Show me!”]

I definitely answer “yes,” to all of these, though on Facebook, I can see my “friends” seeing I’m a fan of “slow food” and thinking that this means I eat it.

I do not. Not really.

I mean, I believe in a world where all the food is organic and local and fresh and humane to both animals and workers – I believe that would be best. But putting my money where my mouth is – and my time – and my energy – is still a vague happy bubble of an idea.

I’m mostly okay with this. I have to be. I’m a “single, working mother”- I have two kids and sometimes, we run out of milk for cereal or syrup for frozen waffles – very fast food – so then we go to even faster food, the donut shop around the corner.

But – you are what you eat. So: Do I get to believe it, even, if I don’t actually do it?

We’re just talking about food here, but what about other things? Certainly no one is forgiving high-falutin slave owners for believing that all people should be free and equal, but not actually letting any of their own slaves go…

And even cycling back to food and the planet: It’s pretty hip to be “green” and eco-friendly right now – but wearing the badge without doing the action is basically a lack of integrity – it’s making your values as superficial as a fashion statement.

The thing is, it’s easy to wag our fingers at dead slaveowners 200 years later, and it’s easy to shake our heads at people who don’t recycle – it’s easy to question the gap between thought and action in other people – not so much oneself.

Let’s face it: For most of us, when it comes to living with integrity, we’re pretty forgiving of ourselves. We give ourselves an A for Effort and stay “realistic” about the rest of it. I mean, that’s what I tell myself: “Let’s be realistic; I’m a single working mother on limited income – I have to be realistic – I can’t afford everything organic; I don’t have time to cook slow meals; yadda yadda.”

I’m sure owning slaves seemed pretty “realistic” back in the day.

“Realistic” is a euphemism, I think, for “convenient.”

The real question I have to ask myself is, Do I really, truly believe in slow food?

Because if I’m not willing to give up making my eating decisions based on convenience, then maybe I don’t really think it’s the great idea I’m saying I do.

Maybe I’m just saying “it sounds good” – but I’m not really touting it as a core belief.

One thing I do know that I believe at the core is that, if you truly love something, are passionate about something, believe in something, there’s a way to do it/find it/ express it/ whatever – you will find a way. You can find a way.

For example, if I really believed in very nice clothes, I would probably save my money for spare, but planned purchases of said nice clothes and then spend more effort taking care of them. I may not have a whole wardrobe at my fingertips, but I could have a few items.

I obviously really don’t believe in nice clothes. And this is true: I’m not a person who pays attention to fabrics, materials, labels, and yes, sometimes even the size. I like to dress up but I’m not at all a clothes person. I don’t really care.

And the food thing? Maybe I don’t really care.

On the slow food website, they say they exist to:

counteract fast food and fast life, the disappearance of local food traditions and people’s dwindling interest in the food they eat, where it comes from, how it tastes and how our food choices affect the rest of the world.

Oh dear. I think this might be describing me.

What I do value? Getting time with my kids. I noticed this when last week we prepared an intensive soup that required over an hour to prepare and hectic shifts of grating and chopping and slicing, and while the result was awesome, it was not something I care to do every night. I hate to do it, but I’m one of those people whose interest in food is dwindling.

I think what I CAN safely say about slow food: I am a huge fan of other people cooking and preparing it for me; I am a huge fan of other people doing it; and I definitely believe it’s the way for people to go.

But maybe not me, not now.

Accepting this to be true may not be pretty, but it’s better than the pretense of pretty, which is ugly.

This is clearly a useful exercise in self-knowledge, for helping  one discern what is truly a core belief and what’s just a faddish notion or idea – take a minute and go through it yourself. What do you believe in – in idea only? And is that because you’re lacking integrity – or because you don’t really value what you thought you did?

DIY Hack

August 6, 2008

The other night I met another woman who, like me, saw a mobile and said to herself, “It can’t be THAT hard…!” and went about trying to make her own… failing miserably.

And the other day, I met a woman who, like me, approached potty training with the attitude, “It can’t be THAT hard, who needs to read a book? I’ll wing it!” only to find herself in poo hell.

I’m so glad I’m not the only one who approaches new things with this cowgirl attitude. I was beginning to think everyone else in the world studied up and prepared fully before doing everything, and that my cavalier, possibly arrogant, maybe lazy hack-it style was a flaw I was going to have to dig deep, unearth, toss.

Oh yes – but that’s the REAL reason that Into the Wild book felt so familiar – because the kid went off on his adventures with little preparation. He didn’t take a map on purpose. He wanted to follow instinct, trust himself, learn as he went, have a direct interaction with the world around him, without the interference of others at all… stupid, right? Brave? Foolish? Risky? Interesting?

Time & Flies

August 5, 2008

… so, yes, I know. I haven’t been posting.

It’s amazing how the little things can get in the way, like:

a) my keyboard being destroyed by the toddler, making it nearly impossible to type

b) my computer forgetting my obscure password for this site, & me too lazy to skim through hundreds of emails to find it

c) having nothing to say, but a lot of identity crisis

Why am I writing now, then, you may ask?

Because it just hit me: Tomorrow, it will have been six months since I had child #2, my son; six months since I stopped working full time; six months being, suddenly, a long time…

Because, really, a lot changed.

I have changed.

I feel like I’ve been through fire.

Or water?

Having children is this amazing, beautiful, reality-altering experience that requires so much energy – mental, physical, emotional – that when I was recently reading Into the Wild, the beautiful interrogation of the rationale behind the adventuring boy who disappeared from society for two years and died in the Alaskan wilderness, of starvation, all for the sake of confronting reality – beauty – life with a full, unfettered, unfiltered embrace – I felt a sincere and deep understanding for the kind of gut-level survival force required for one to keep going when it seems everything is at risk.

Okay, an odd parallel – significant differences: Chris McCandless could have re-entered Normalcy any time he wanted (up until the end), whereas, a parent can’t really do that with the same lack of loss. And, also significantly, Chris’ journey was about being completely alone, unto himself, whereas the parent sojourn is all about never ever being alone, trying not to lose oneself, understanding what ‘the self’ is, completely submerged in the concerns and needs of other people.

Still, in the sense of a passage, a raw change that one must undertake to truly understand – even with great writing, I have a feeling that what Chris went through and what happens to parents are both things that must be experienced individually to be truly understood – these adventures have similar underpinings.

Anyway. The point is, it’s hard, and you don’t really know what that means till you’re in it.

And then it’s been six months, and you are realizing that not only is this blaze, this rush, threatening to overtake you – but it’s also, paradoxically, temporary. Soon the babies will be toddlers, the toddlers will be kids, the kids will be grown and gone – and you, the parent, whatever state you are in, will be left, alone, burnt, waterlogged, whatever metaphor works – and whether you are a husk, a ghost, or a fuller and deeper person – well, that depends on how you go through it, how you whether the phenomenon.

Which is why, I guess, I have been deepening my yoga practice, reading Buddhism, thinking about my writing, reassessing what to do with myself – because throwing myself into loving these children – my flesh, my blood, my spirit –

Let me start over. I am in love with my children. I mean, I adore them. I am head over heels, heels over head, tap dancing on the chimneys ecstatic over my kids. I am ridiculously crazy about them. And I do everything I can to make sure they know it.

Allowing myself to really love my children requires me to have the kind of patient approach to time, to irritations, to goals and plans, to desires of my ego that are often described in Taoist/Buddhist texts as enemies or stumbling blocks to enlightenment.

Loving my children, giving myself, also has made me absolutely fierce about my need, my bone-deep need, for time to myself, for self-nurturing, which has led, too, to a new love for myself, a new loyalty to the endangered species of my soul.

All of this rambling is meant to explain my lack of posts on this blog.

And to avoid the fact that I also have been indulging in watching episodes of “Homicide” instead of doing anything ‘of use.’ (I’m only starting the fourth season. Don’t tell me what happens.)

And to say that I am intending to move over to a new blog at some point, because ‘cville working moms’ is kind of a misnomer at this point. (I’ll let you know if I do.)

So there you go.

I wrote about my lack of writing!

And there you have it. One hand clapping… sort of.

Obama to a Two Year Old

June 30, 2008

Obama in the ParkSaturday, we scarfed some free food at the little hut of Obama followers signing up volunteers.

I was a bit surprised by the overwhelming majority of older white folk…

Still, we got free stickers, cookies, and watermelon, and to my toddler, that was great.

But trying to explain what was going on was hard.

It kind of went like this:

I show her the word on the sticker. “Obama.”

Yes, he’s a man who wants to be president. Of our country.
Our country?
Yes, the country we live in.
We live in?

Later, she points at the sticker again: What is it?
Yes. He will maybe be president. He will try.
Yes, in charge. We will all vote – choose – who gets to be in charge of our country.

Later, again pointing to the sticker: Obana? He maybe pee in potty?

I can see the headlines now…Of course, her big thing right now is trying to pee in the potty. It’s the greatest achievement she can imagine.