Tuesday, September 28, 2010

It Might Be Time to "Talk the Talk"

My oldest daughter's fourth grade teacher gave her class "the talk" the other day. No, not THAT talk; Health and Human Development isn't until fifth grade, and let's be honest - if the school is really giving your child brand-new information in that area, you are way behind the eight ball. No, I mean the "it's time to start wearing deodorant" talk. Yep, she sat them down after PE class last week and told them to go out and get some deodorant - and wear it - because some of the kids really need it, and she didn't want to embarrass anyone by pointing fingers.

Now, several other mothers were upset by this event. "It's not her place to tell my child he needs deodorant," said one mom. Another told me, "I don't think she should have talked to the girls and boys together in case anyone got embarrassed." A third thought that the teacher should have e-mailed the parents of the odiferous children and shared her concerns with them directly, rather than addressing it with the entire class. Still another thought that the way she talked to them was "far too direct and not gentle enough" for her taste.

Me? I appreciate her concern for the children, as well as her directness. And I'd rather she spend her time writing lessons than e-mailing individual parents about personal hygiene issues. But the bottom line is, I've been in that classroom after recess on a 98-degree day often enough to know that THEY ALL NEED TO BE WEARING DEODORANT. DAILY. Even the ones who don't really "need" it yet stink to high heaven after a half hour on the playground. And as far as I'm concerned, until you've spent the afternoon in an enclosed space with 23 nine- and ten-year olds after an hour of PE class, you are NOT, in fact, entitled to an opinion on this subject.

But I wasn't there for "the talk", and some of the other moms were truly bothered by it. So I asked my (overly sensitive and easily upset) daughter to relate exactly what her teacher had said to the class. She told me, "She was really funny, Mommy. She said, 'Y'all need to ask your parents to go out and get you some deodorant, because you're coming to the age where these things are important. I don't want to embarrass anyone, so I'm not going to name any names, but some of you are growing up and it's time to think about personal hygiene.' Mom, she's SO right. Some of the boys REALLY smell." Uh, yeah, they do. And did I mention that the teacher is pregnant? Imagine a room full of sweaty pre-teen bodies under those conditions. I could barely stand to smell MYSELF when I was pregnant.

As parents, we like to think we know when our kids are ready for the next step. When are they ready to be weaned or potty-trained? Are they ready for preschool? Time for braces? Is it time for "the talk"? Ages and stages are such a big deal when our kids are babies and toddlers and preschoolers, but we tend to forget that it's just as big a deal when they hit elementary school. Some girls get their periods in fourth grade. Some boys start to have, um, "special" dreams as young as age 10. Puberty, with its body odor, growth spurts, changing bodies and voices, hair in weird places - it's happening whether we parents want it to or not. If kids aren't prepared for these things, what will they think when it happens to them? If we don't tell them what the next step is, how will they know?

Too many parents bury their heads in the sand and say, "S/he's too young! S/he shouldn't know about these things yet!" I hear you, I really do. And in a perfect world, our kids wouldn't need to know this stuff yet. But the reality is, they are probably hearing about puberty from their better-informed peers on the playground. Imagine my surprise the day my oldest child came home - from second grade - and said, "What's sex?" I gave her the standard "It's whether you're a boy or a girl, you know, like when you have to check off a box on a doctor's form or something" thing. She said, "I don't think that's it. Lilly said it has to do with grown-up private parts rubbing together to make babies." Oh. Oh my. Okay. My husband is STILL thankful he worked late that day.

But this is exactly my point: Wouldn't I rather she hear it from me? Under circumstances that I control? In a setting where she's free to ask questions and get correct information? As a former teacher, I can tell you that what our kids hear on the playground is usually WAY off-base. (When I taught sixth-grade science, I had a student tell me, "But my friend says you can't get pregnant the first time you have sex." Oh, boy. I rest my case.) And even though, for most third- or fourth-graders, the sex talk isn't necessary just yet, the puberty talk is. Trust me, it's hard to "unteach" what they've erroneously heard. No, it's far easier to give kids accurate information the first time, with our own morals and religious beliefs involved, than it is to erase what their classmates have told them already. And really, who would you rather your kids get their information from - you, or a bunch of kids who are just as (or even more!) uninformed about this stuff than they are?

So, as usual, when I found myself in a group of parents commenting on the deodorant issue, I couldn't keep my mouth shut and leave well enough alone. No, I had to put in my two cents, which is basically this: what better way to open a discussion of the changes their bodies will be going through than this? Let's just look at it as an opportunity to have a frank discussion with your child about what is coming. Yes, it's uncomfortable - for parents as well as kids. Yes, it's a tough subject to tackle. But being calm and matter-of-fact about it sends the message that we are comfortable talking with our kids, that we are willing to answer their questions, that we welcome them to come to us with ANYTHING at all. And isn't that the point? I want my girls to know that they can come to me and I won't be embarrassed or get upset at their questions. (Their dad, that's another story. I'm working on that one. He's mortified at the thought of them asking him anything, but he'll have to get over that.)

Slacker Mom Says... we can't bury our heads in the sand. Our kids will grow up. It won't go away just because we're ignoring it. We need to look for opportunities to talk with our kids about what's going on. We can't assume that they are too young, that they'll come to us when they want answers. Don't let their peer group educate them; teach them what they need to know, but with the emphasis on the moral standards that are important to your family. Open the dialogue. Whether it's puberty, religion, politics, finances, whatever, I want my kids to feel comfortable asking me for answers and sharing their concerns with me. It's important to me that they know I will always be there for them, that I will always help them with any problem, that I'll help provide answers and information when they need it. Because what's the alternative?

And for the record, my daughter started wearing deodorant last spring, as soon as it got hot again. I bought it, put in the bathroom, and said, "Use it. Every day. Here's how."

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Daddy Rules (And How This Mom Has Finally Come to Appreciate His Way of Doing Things)

Last summer, after weeks of isolation with the kids and nary a Girls' Night Out in sight, I noticed a blurb in our local newspaper. The YMCA was holding an Indian Guides informational kick-off party, complete with crafts, food, canoeing, archery, and face painting. The best part? This is a daddy/child program - no moms allowed! So I did what any self-respecting, overworked mom would do: I clipped the newspaper notice, handed it to my husband, said, "Have a great time with the girls!" and sent them out for an afternoon of fun.

A year later, my husband is the chief of Indian Princess tribe. Every good chief needs a hard-working squaw, right? So guess who makes the snacks and plans the crafts and writes the skits and, basically, is "The Woman Behind the Man"?

Holy Backfire, Batman.

What started as a chance for a summer Saturday to myself has turned into an activity that my kids and husband love. They've made new friends, they love camping (an activity that my husband used to think involved staying at a Holiday Inn instead of a Hilton), and mastered the skill of popping Jiffy Pop over an open campfire - not to mention the fact that they've spent countless Mommy-free hours enjoying each other's company under the ever-flexible "Daddy Rules."

Under "Daddy Rules", bedtimes are nonexistent. Volume control is rarely enforced. S'mores are, indeed, an excellent dinner comprised of the three camping food groups: sugar, fat, and burning hot marshmallows. Personal hygiene consists of a squirt of hand sanitizer and a baby wipe that may or may not remove the chocolate and marshmallow goo from one's face. Sunscreen and bug spray are mandatory, as are life jackets, but toothbrushes (though packed with care along with floss and flouride rinse) are completely optional. Breath mints do in a pinch.

While I would NEVER call my husband negligent, he is definitely, um, more "relaxed" than I am about certain things. He worries about the stuff that doesn't bother me at all: boys knocking on the door, our oldest daughter's desire to wear lip gloss, our little one's burgeoning interest in bungee jumping and hang gliding (thanks, Uncle Mike). But his more flexible style when it comes to certain things has made me realize that sometimes, my rules are kind of rigid. And it's not just limited to Indian Princess outings. If he's handling showers, he's the fun guy, yelling, "Touchdown!" so that they'll throw up their arms while he dries them off. He plays "Dentist with the Hydraulic Chair" when he brushes their teeth and "Face Cloth of Doom" when he washes their faces. If the girls and I are late getting home from ballet class and I'm trying to hustle kids off to the shower and into bed, he's teaching them roundhouse kicks and right hooks. He'll tie their shoes before school, carry their backpacks all the way to their classrooms, and drop their books off at the library. (Me? I already taught you how to tie your shoes, you know where the school library is, and I finally got rid of the giant mommy-bag when everyone started school. Carry your own crap.)

Yep, dads do things differently. And in my experience, there are a lot of moms who don't like that. Take, for example, my friend Elle. Her husband works full-time with an hour-long commute while she's home with their kids. When he gets home and puts the kids in the bath, she hovers over him, telling him that he's doing it wrong, that he's doing it "out of order." Then, when he sends his 4-year-old into the bedroom to get his jammies on, she yells that he's supposed to brush teeth BEFORE jammies, "because he might get toothpaste on his pajamas!" Um, I may be way off-base here, but the kid is FOUR. Can't the "routine" be a little more relaxed on Daddy days? And if he gets a little bit of Winnie the Pooh toothpaste on his pj's, can't you grab a washcloth and wipe it off? (Or, Slacker-Mom-style, let the KID wipe it off?) Let's be honest, Elle: you're getting an hour off. Don't fight it. Close the bathroom door, pour yourself a glass of wine, and go sit on your patio. Maybe if you back off, he'll put them to bed, too. Or take my neighbor Annabel. Her husband takes their 3 kids to soccer practice twice a week. But she gets mad when he takes them for a quick ice cream cone afterward, because then they get to bed 15 minutes late. My other neighbor and I laugh, telling her, "Seriously? You're mad because they came home 15 minutes late? Honey, that's 15 minutes that your husband and sons talked about guy stuff. You missed the lesson on armpit music and how to burp the alphabet. Count your lucky stars."

So yeah, it's taken me some time to appreciate that my husband does things differently, and even longer to understand that it's OK that he does. Of course I still think MY way is the BEST way; otherwise I wouldn't do it that way! But I've finally come to see the value in his way of doing things. He has more fun with the kids than I do; he enjoys that time with them because it's free of rigid rules and routines. Yes, I end up dealing with most of the unpleasant parts of parenthood: enforcing rules about chores, hygiene, homework and discipline. But I'm with them so many more hours in a day. Why can't his time with them be fun and happy and light-hearted? I've been there for the big stuff - the first gummy smile, the first steps, the first wiggly tooth. I'm the mommy, and while I'm not saying they love me the best, they kind of do - in the sense that they prefer me to him when they're sick or scared or hurt, and then I'm the one they want.

Slacker Mom Says... let dads parent like dads. So what if they "do it wrong"? So what if they act like big kids themselves? They kind of are! And they may be on to something with their goofy fun ways. Kids benefit from different styles of parenting. When my first child was about a week old, she had a really bad night - she just wouldn't sleep, and I was exhausted. In desperation, I woke up my husband and asked him to rock her for awhile. A couple of hours later, I found them on the couch, my sweet girl nestled in her daddy's arms, gazing up at him rapturously. They were watching a Bruins game; he was explaining hockey to her in a hushed voice. My first instinct was to criticize: why was she still up? I asked you to rock her back to sleep, not turn on the TV. But something told me to let it go, to let him parent in his way. To this day, she loves watching sports with her daddy; she loves ice hockey; and she loves curling up in the crook of his arm. Who was I to ruin that moment? Dads do things their own way. And that's OK.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

It's Time For Bed, Little Mouse, Little Mouse...

Since first grade started, my sweet six-year-old has a new habit: about 10 minutes after I make it downstairs after putting the kids to bed, she shows up in the kitchen (where I still have at least a half-hour's worth of work ahead - dishes, lunches, etc) and says, "I can't fall ASLEEP!" I end up walking her back upstairs, tucking her in, putting her covers over her ear (don't ask; it's one of her few quirks so I just go with it) and close her door. No big deal, right?

Wrong. It's been every couple of nights for a month now, and no matter how much my thighs thank her for the increased stair-climbing sessions, I'm pretty darn tired of putting kids to bed twice. So I told her that from now on, I'm only putting her to bed once. If she gets up after that, she's going to have to put herself back to bed. I'm off-duty after 7:30 PM. (Except of course for the ever-annoying reading logs. And packing lunches. And folding laundry. But I digress.)

Did my "get tough" plan work? Well, yes - as long as my husband isn't home yet. If she comes down and her daddy's there, all my hard work goes out the window. All she has to do is turn those big blue eyes up at her daddy, and he's carrying her back to bed. Part of me wants to say, "What are you DOING? I've worked hard to get my point across!" But the other part of me says, "So what? I said that I wouldn't put her back to bed. I never said NO ONE would go up with her!"

The bottom line is, she's only 6. And he's away from her all day long, usually arriving home after the children are asleep. So if he wants to walk upstairs with her, hear a little bit about her day, give her some extra cuddles and kisses, does it matter? Sure, she needs her rest. Yes, it's important for her to get in bed and stay there. But I suspect that her "I can't fall asleep" is more about needing a little more one-on-one attention after a long day away from home and less about being unable to fall asleep - or breaking the rules. And who am I, with my seemingly-arbitrary rules about bedtime, to take that time away from a daddy and his daughter?

There are times that I am waiting, desperately, for bedtime to come, days when I think, "I can't wait to get these kids in bed so that I can relax for a few minutes and have some peace and quiet." But lately, time seems to speed up. I look at pictures from just a few years ago and think, "Where did those babies go?" My oldest is starting to think about boys, wants to wear lipgloss to school, and gets mad when her dad wants to walk her to her classroom door. My baby doesn't need me to tie her shoes or brush her teeth anymore. They can shower alone, wipe themselves, unload a dishwasher. Gone are the days of total dependence on me - and I'm not sure I like it. It's gone too fast. I haven't appreciated it or enjoyed it enough.

Slacker Mom Says... don't rush the small stuff. Extra hugs, kisses, wiping noses and bottoms and faces - it'll be over all too fast. No mom ever regretted giving one more kiss, one more cuddle, one more "I love you!" before bedtime. But I can tell you this: I do regret every harsh word uttered in impatience, every "hurry up!" muttered as we tried to get under the covers "on time", every night where I rushed them into bed so I could get back downstairs to finish the dishes. I wish I'd let the dishes sit and told them one more story about my childhood, or read one more book, or that I'd sung their songs to them one extra time. Soon enough, no one will want me to read Goodnight Moon or Time For Bed, and I'll have plenty of time for dishes - and won't that be awful?

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Not Only is the Grass Not Greener, it's Probably Dead (Or Married)

Last week, I spent a few days in LA, where I grew up. I moved away years ago, but my sister and my parents still live there, so I find myself making the pilgrimmage every year or so. One afternoon at my sister's house, while my niece colored quietly and my nephew chased the puppy around (nature vs. nurture, my ass) my sister and I commiserated a bit about our husbands and their annoying habits. We joked about how hard men can be to live with at times, and how sometimes we think it would be easier without them around. Her friend Amy, who'd stopped by for the afternoon, was not amused. She decided to share some stories to show that the grass is NOT necessarily greener.

Now, I've known Amy since she was about 14. The fact that she's old enough to date, let alone vote and own her own home, still surprises me. But Amy has remained, despite several long term relationships, a fascinating job on a cruise ship, and a stint in the Big Apple ala Sex and the City, the quintessential single girl. Me? I've been with my husband for 15 years, married 12, so I can no longer remember what dating is like. Or maybe I've just blocked it out of my memory, both the good parts (first kisses! waiting for the phone to ring! meeting interesting people!) and the bad ones (first kisses! waiting for the phone to ring! meeting people you think are interesting but who, it turns out, still work at the video store and live in their mother's basement because they peaked in high school!). But I digress.

Amy, it seems, has recently begun using a dating service. Not your average online dating service where everyone's photo is 10 years and 30 pounds out of date, but an actual matchmaking service - sort of like having someone's grandmother set you up with nice boys from her church but cooler, less embarrassing, and more expensive. Naturally, being the curious (read: nosy) type, as well as needing to live vicariously through someone, I begged for stories. Why a matchmaking service? Why not just meet guys the old-fashioned way, ie getting drunk at a bar and scrawling your phone number on his arm with lipstick? (Tells you how long I've been out of the game. My babysitter tells me everyone just dials their own cell from the guy's cell so they have each other's numbers. Now that's no fun. Can't "fake number" anyone anymore.) So Amy, in an effort to oblige me (and probably to thank me for years of being their only source of beer while they were underage), regaled me with her own "Greatest Hits - or Misses - in Dating."

Trust me, you will never underappreciate your husbands again.

Bachelor #1: While living in New York, she meets someone who lives in Jersey. (Now, even if you've never lived on the East Coast, you should know enough about New Jersey stereotypes to see where this is going.) For their first date, he doesn't want to leave Jersey ("Why would anyone willingly go to Manhattan?" he asks, knowing that she lives and works near Wall Street) and he insists on meeting only for a drink "to see how it goes" - then goes to the wrong bar and calls her cell to yell at her for standing him up. (See, the last time I was dating, no one had cell phones. So in this case, I'd have left, thinking he didn't show, and he'd never have called me again, thinking I'd ditched him. Problem solved.) Meanwhile, she's in the right bar, sitting at a table, waiting for him. He finally shows up,an hour late, goes to the bar (rather than ordering from the waitress, thereby avoiding having to pay for HER drink, too) and orders a white wine spritzer. Um, a white wine spritzer? Could he BE less manly? I don't care how much you hate beer, order a damn Heineken and pretend to drink it. When the waitress comes by and asks, "Would you like to order any food?" he barks, "No! I already ate!" without giving Amy a chance to order - even though he knew she came straight from work. A few f-bombs later, and she's ready to fake a heart attack just to get out of there. Date over, Loser. Don't call me again.

Bachelor #2: This charming fellow, recently divorced, spends the entire evening talking about how he can't wait to get married again, how he loves being married, how he can't stand being single. Red flag, anyone? Can you say desperate and needy? When they leave the restaurant, he walks Amy to his car and says, "Check out my car. Wanna take a ride? I'll take you anywhere you want to go, Baby." The "ew" factor aside, like she's going to get in the car with a guy she barely knows. Appealing to the fact that he has 2 teenage daughters, she asks, "Would you want your daughters to get in a car with a man they barely know?" His response? "Whatever. I'm sure they already have." And laughs like a lech. The clincher? He's still married. Separated, but not divorced. She tells him she's "not feeling the chemistry" and "doesn't want to lead him on", but he calls and texts for days before she finally changes her number.

Bachelor #3: Think the third time's the charm? Think again. This guy's idea of a dream date was to invite Amy to watch him play hockey, then take her to the rink's bar for a beer - without showering first. Ever sat next to a guy when he comes off the ice? I have. It's not pretty. I'd rather clean up a room full of other people's puking kids.

Ladies, this is what's out there.

Thus, the new matchmaking service. It's an interesting approach: they send 3 men and 3 women out on a group date. Less pressure, more people to keep the conversation going, fewer awkward silences. Sounds good, right? Wrong. Not a love connection. But on a positive note, she likes one of the other women so much they end up having lunch and dissecting the 3 guys on their group date. Life long friendship, maybe. Life partner, not so much.

And it's not just Amy. One friend of mine says the dating pool is so shallow, she's now dating the brother of the guy she dumped ten years ago. Another friend says she's at the point where she'd rather date an old guy for his money than have to meet men her age, because the men HER age all want 20-year-olds. I can't argue with this; my 40-year-old brother is currently dating a 22-year-old. Even my 6-year-old thinks he's too old for her: "Ew, Mommy, that's gross. That's like that Ke$ha song, Dinosaur!" If you don't know it, download it. For $1.19, you'll get a good laugh. (My husband, of course, has a different attitude about my brother's girlfriend, but that's another story. Me, I'm just jealous of her "I've never been pregnant, popped out a ten-pounder, and then nursed her 12 times a day for a year" boobs.)

Yep, that's what's out there. Your husband's looking better already, isn't he? A few dirty socks on the floor, a little toothpaste in the sink, the occasional toilet seat left up - small price to pay for an otherwise good man who loves you, appreciates you, and won't ask, "Macaroni and cheese for dinner AGAIN?"

Slacker Mom Says... the grass ain't greener, ladies. Complain, vent to your friends, let it all out. But when push comes to shove, I know I've got a good deal. While I was in LA, my husband was here with the kids, playing Mr. Mom for a week, without complaining. We all have our annoying little habits, Slacker Mom included. I, for one, wouldn't trade my husband for anything. Well, not right now. Ask me again when he retires and is under my feet all the time.