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When Your LIttle Ones Ask About Touching Privates

July 29, 2015

Recently, my four-year-old daughter has become interested in genitalia. Not just her own, but other childrens’, too. While I’m not a prude, I do want to make sure I send her the right message. The one I never received.

I always taught my children the anatomically correct names for their body parts. My girls know they have a vagina and my boys, a penis. While some criticize my choice, (because my kids have, on occasion, yelled “penis” or “vagina” in front of company), I think it has been a smart one. I have never believed in giving silly and cute names to genitals. Also, experts encourage parents to teach their children that real names are best.

The other day my daughter thought it would be interesting to touch her two-year-old brother’s penis. I did my best to distract her and told her, “that is his private area. We don’t touch other people’s private places.” Whew, done. Awkward and strange, but handled well. I patted myself on the back and moved on. But, she hadn’t.

“Okay, but I can touch my vagina.” She replied. Whooza, here we go.

I, as the mother to four children had somehow dodged this bullet with my first two but obviously, my time had come. Again, I do not want to shame my children or make them feel like their bodies are bad or dirty. I realize I am about to give advice that can shape her for the rest of her life. No pressure.

I refer to parenting books because I’m no expert. I want to foster positive body feelings while downplaying my own discomfort. Is that possible? And now that I’m here, why am I so uncomfortable? The books and websites say it is fine and even healthy for children to explore their own bodies. The lesson, we as parents, should pass along is about privacy. Our kids should understand that while it is natural to be interested in their own privates, they should explore them in private.

I begin to sweat as I hear my daughter mention how touching her own privates is fine, because they’re hers. I smile, she is smart and she is right. Why, if she is so unashamed, should I be feeling so self-conscious?

I sit her down and remember back to the times I’ve had to talk to my older children about babies, after all they’d seen me have several. I wanted to be honest, but not overwhelm them with more information than they needed. Again, a fine line. I told them that moms and dads would give each other “special hugs” because they loved each other.

My older daughter (also four at the time) responded, “Can we give you a special hug?”

I thought quickly, “You can hug me like you always do, but not a special hug that makes a baby. Those are only for moms and dads.”

Done. They seemed content and I hadn’t lied or made something amazing sound shameful. Many friends have told me they’ve used the ‘special hug,’ with their own children.

But, the hug seems so much different than my four-year-old’s curiosity about her own body. I know, even as I tell people about my dilemma, that I make them uncomfortable. I suppose the best thing I can do is to reiterate what I’ve already said.

I will not shame my child and I will not create negative thoughts about her body.

I never felt open and proud of my body; instead I’ve always felt self-conscious and ill at ease in my own skin. And this is one of my first steps to instilling confidence in my little girl. I want her to feel proud and comfortable. I want her to own the body she will wear for the rest of her life. I reassure her again that it is, in fact, her body, and exploring it is okay, but remind her that we don’t touch other people’s privates or let them touch ours.

I notice that after saying these things, she smiles and walks away, having already moved on. She’s ready to go outside and swing in the sun.

Do you feel uncomfortable teaching your children about body issues because you are still carrying around some of your own?

Nicole Johnson is a fiction writer, blogger and stay at home mom raising four children, a dog, a cat and a husband. She fears birds, anything with the potential to cause fire, and Disney World. She loves scary movies, books with ambiguous endings and all things dark, absurd and funny. Her blog, Suburban Sh!t Show: Tales from the Tree-Lined Trenches chronicles her life in the sh!t show, and she can be found on Facebook and Twitter, which is her new obsession because it forces her to get to the damn point.

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7 Things the Mom of a Tantruming Toddler Needs to Hear

July 28, 2015

When I was a young mom, one of the best things I did was join a moms group. Every Tuesday morning in a musty meeting room at the back of a church I sat with other moms and enjoyed fellowship, tips for parenting and wife’ing, a free breakfast and the blissful freedom that comes from knowing someone else is watching your two year old for a while.

We shared stories of tantruming toddlers and picky eaters while we snacked on Monkey Bread and hard boiled eggs. Even more nourishing than the food, however, was the wisdom shared by the Seasoned Moms. This special breed of wise, older moms had lived to tell the tale of motherhood. Looking back of course, I realize these ladies were probably in their 40’s. Not at all what you’d consider “old.” I’m just shy of 40 and I’m certainly not old! These women were survivors who made it to the other side of parenting. Their kids could make their own meals, dress themselves and even left the house for hours upon hours as they ventured to the magical far-off place toddler moms could only dream of… school. Their kids had whole conversations without one mention of traveling little girls with backpacks and maps or purple dinosaurs. They didn’t repeat the same questions over and over even though they heard the answer 5.8 seconds earlier. And most importantly, these kids wore underwear- real underwear that was free of sticky tabs and wrestling matches to put them on.

The Seasoned Moms circulated throughout the room looking for a Young Mom in distress. We were easy to find as we sported the signature dark circles and repeatedly searched the doorway for nursery workers coming to get us because our child was falling apart. Many of us could be found huddling around the coffee while shoving food in our faces. We’d become accustomed to eating like this at home as our toddlers attempted to climb the cabinets or sneak out the back door, so we often forgot how to behave in public.

Seasoned Moms spotted us Newbies right away and like fairy godmothers, they fluttered around us, wrapped a comforting arm around our shoulders and asked the question every new mom feared… “How are you doing?”

Such a simple question with a complex maze of answers. “I’m tired, frustrated and lonely. I’m never going to lose this baby weight. I have no idea what I’m doing and I’m pretty sure I’m ruining my kid.” And as I wept into my Betty Crocker Farmers Breakfast Casserole, these women offered me comfort and encouragement and, most importantly, peace. They shared stories of tantrums thrown both at home and ((gasp)) in public, failed meals, bad decisions and constant doubt and second-guessing. They made me feel normal.

As I left each week and I retrieved my 2 year old who inevitably pushed some other kid because he was in “that phase,” I was a little less mortified by his behavior because the Seasoned Moms promised me someone else’s kid would be doing the pushing next week.

It’s easy to forget those early years as they are replaced by thousands of days filled with new experiences. Then suddenly, you see one of those Young Moms and you’re reminded of what it was like to be in her shoes. Suddenly, you are the Seasoned Mom.

Two days ago, as I dropped my guys off at camp, I witnessed a mother’s nightmare: a kid completely losing his shnizzle at drop-off. I’m talking about the full-on crying, screeching, hanging-on-to-mom’s-leg, meltdown. We’ve all been there. I don’t care how well adjusted your kid is, every kid goes through this at some point. And as many of the other moms gave her a wide berth to work it out, all I wanted to do was run up to her and tell her 7 simple things:

1. You’re not a bad mom.

2. You’re kid isn’t freaking out because you don’t spend enough time with her.

3. You’re kid isn’t freaking out because you spend too much time with him.

4. The kid next to you, who is happily waving to mommy as she skips away, is not a better kid and does not have a better mom. We’ve all got issues.

5. You may never know why your kid is crying because just like the rest of us humans, he sometimes has feelings that are completely irrational and illogical. So stand strong. Tell him that you love him. Remind him that you’ll be here as soon as camp is done. Give him a really big squeeze and send him on his way.

6. It’s pretty much a guarantee your kid will not be the only one freaking out today. Take solace in that.

7. It’s OK to climb into your car and cry because it hurts seeing your kid in distress. And when the tears slow and the snot stops dripping, go back to #1: You’re not a bad mom.

I’d like to say I ran up to her and said those things. But I was too afraid I’d freak her out or overstep my boundaries (and I didn’t have any Monkey Bread to share). So, as I passed her as she stealthily hid behind the steering wheel of her car, I made eye contact, paused for a moment and gave her a subtle nod and the Mom Smile. The one that says, “I know what you’re going through. We’ve all been there. It’s going to be OK. You’re normal, and so’s your kid.”

I guess I’m the Seasoned Mom now.

Vicky Willenberg is is a wife, mother and obsessive volunteer at her sons’ school. She works in Digital Marketing and Communications while juggling the class bake sale, folding laundry from two weeks ago and searching for the dog who escaped, yet again. You can find her chronicling the good, the bad and the hilarious on her blog, The Pursuit of Normal and on Facebook and Twitter Vicky has been featured on Scary Mommy, Mamalode, Mamapedia and BlogHer. She’s also had the privilege of being published in both HerStories Project anthologies.

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Are you the Bitch in the House?

July 27, 2015

Are you a bitch? No? Don’t think so? I bet some would disagree with you. You see, I don’t think I am a bitch. I think I am quite nice, but it seems I have gotten quite the bad rap. And you know what? I am sick of it. And for those of you shaking your heads in disagreement, no you’re not a bitch, you are loved, you are a good mother and kind and you love animals so much that you have three rescues (and one pure bred just to shake things up), guess what?

I AM A BITCH.

I discovered last week that I am surrounded by people who have suggested that all I do is nag and complain. I spout things like “pick your clothes up off the floor… washing your hair only counts if you use shampoo… that is a sink not a dishwasher,” and so on. All. The. Time.

No one likes this. If you are thinking stop, just make like Elsa and let it go. Well sister, I am one step ahead of you. I stopped. Full shampoo bottles line the kids’ tub and wet towels lay molding on their floor.

I told a friend I didn’t want to be the wife who was always saying, “please put toilet paper on the roll when you are done, and if a light bulb is out please change it,” but I also can’t be the only person in a family of five to do it.

She said that I should see what happened if I ignored it and didn’t nag. I told her I had already conducted the grand “ignore it,” experiment.

“What happened,” she asked.

“We wiped our asses with paper towels in the dark.”

So yes, I am the meanie who makes kids eat spinach, and put dishes in the dishwasher, set the table and feed the animals. And I do it to spare the entire generation of millennials from having to write snarky blog posts about the “post-millenials,” who look in the dishwasher for eggs and stare at the sink in disbelief once they leave home while wondering why the sink is broken and the dishes aren’t magically being transported to the neat machine next to it to get clean. Yes, millenials, you are welcome.

But there are no thanks. There are scowls and disdainful remarks like, “why do you hate me so much”. But no one says, “thank you for preventing me from moving out one day and having moldy towels and cockroaches in my college dorm.”

So I am done with that. They can walk around with smelly heads and sleep next to stinky towels, but I cannot, I repeat I cannot ignore the SUMMER READING LIST.

And thank you. I mean it. I really want to thank from the bottom of my itsy, bitsy, ice cold heart, whoever put the word SUGGESTED on my children’s summer reading list. Because, guess what? Guess who is the asshole now? That’s right, me!

Last year, I could say that was all fine and good, live in filth, but you must read. Now, when I say that, the kids say “it’s suggested reading.” WTF? What is this? Why would school say it’s suggested when what they mean is, one more thing for mom to enforce?

Today, when I told my child I was taking pool time away until she reads she said, “I cannot finish five books.”

I gave my standard line. “Fine, but you will write a letter to your third grade teacher explaining exactly why you chose not to do your summer reading.”

This is what I got.

Dear Miss XXX

I did not finish my reading because it was a suggestion. Google says a suggestion means “an idea or plan put forward for consideration.” I have considered reading five books but think two is a better idea. I am excited for third grade.

Love,

L

I can’t win. Cannot win. So I am suggesting to my children that if they would like to live in homes with roofs, hot water and free of roaches, that they need to think of me as their ally in achieving these goals.

However, should they choose to discard my suggestions, they are free to find jobs now, get to the store, buy their sugary summer cereal, pay for their pool memberships, score rides there, and make sure to get rides to the sports shop to buy their three million dollars worth of Under Armour Sports crap. I will be at home, relaxing with my summer reading, enjoying the life we have as the result of people, namely their parents, having done things they didn’t want to do approximately 87% of the time.

Do you feel like all you do is nag?

Helen is a stay at home mom to three kids, three cats and two dogs. When she isn’t chasing one of said creatures through the woods she enjoys blogging at Bubble Gum Chic. She sees humor in the chaos of a life well lived. She also sees the therapeutic value of shoe shopping. You can also find her on Twitter.

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Do You Fight the Summer Sunscreen Wars?

July 26, 2015

Summer is well underway, and I spent my morning the same way I’ll spend the rest of my summer mornings: chasing a child while he tries to dodge my slaps of sunscreen.

Today I was lucky. I was able to land a couple of good smacks along the ridge of his nose and his forearms. But not without his Kermit flail that he usually reserves for when he’s told to unload the dishwasher.

It’s summer and that means time for sunscreen wars.

Ask your kids why they hate sunscreen and they’ll spit their reasons out like seeds in a watermelon eating contest:

It’s greasy.

It’s cold.

Too much creeper touching.

I don’t like to be manhandled.

It takes too long.

My clothes stick to it.

It feels itchy when it dries.

I don’t like to stand and have people rub cream into me.

You make me look like a little kid when you don’t blend it in.

You don’t blend it in.

You’re bad at blending it in.

And..

I don’t need it because I’ve never had a sunburn.

Yeah, right! Maybe it’s because I’m so damn GOOD at my job!

What my children forget is that parenting is not a democracy and that means sunscreen use is not debatable. No votes will be taken. It will not come down to you voicing your choice.

I hate sunscreen season and have tried to find ways to lessen the hysterics and wails that come with the months of June July August. I’ve fallen into the trap of following sunscreen-trauma-lessening-advice like, Let them feel independence and they will cooperate! I took my kids to the store and let them pick out their own sunscreen. Purple sunscreen is what they decided.

You know what happens to a kid when he sees you slathering purple on his arms and forearms and is screaming so loud about This is why I don’t have friends! that he drowns out your own screams of “IT BLENDS IN!” You end up going back to the shimmery pearl hue of Coppertone.

Here’s some more parenting forum advice of shared sunscreen strategies that I got suckered into, Let them decide where to apply it first.

“OK, honey, since you’re a big kid now, I’m going to let you tell me where you want the sunscreen to go first. See, because you are in charge.”

“Nowhere.” That’s what they told me. “Nowhere is where I want the sunscreen to go first.”

I tried even more genius suggestions from parenting groups:

Get the sunscreen stick!

Nope. Strike one. My kids screamed that I would get it mixed up with the purple glue stick. Make a mistake like that once and they never forget.

Apply it while they sleep!

Nope again. What you’ll get instead is one sunscreen stained $89.00 bedspread from Pottery Barn.

Sunscreen them up while you put in a movie!

You know what’s worse than a stained $90 bedspread? A stained thousand dollar sofa.

And my own solution:

Apply while they sit with a cotton candy tub in front of them. Bingo. And my go-to ever since.

Today, I’m wiser than I was 18 years ago in my first summer as a parent. I bark out orders in a baritone developed across two decades, so I tell my kids to take a deep breath and hold it, ‘cause mama’s spraying and she’s a human titanium dioxide crop duster. So get ready, young’uns, and make a mad run out of the cloud and toward toxin free air.

After I’ve sprayed them down, I ask them if they want to hear the story again about the number of nose reconstructive surgeries I had to witness while assisting a dermatologist in a job after college. They throw five bottles of sunscreen at my head and beg me to make them look like Data in Star Trek.

My children may never give up their resistance movement. But as long as I’m in charge of their health, my summer will begin and end with a sunblock stick SPF60 to their faces. With the noon day sun, I’ll move into a heavier SPF80 cream for all over their bodies. If their protests continue, their day will feature pictures of skin cancer. More swatting away of my sunscreen filled hands will just grow into a homeschooling unit of science experiments about the sun and potential damage of its powerful rays.

But it won’t be all terror and trauma around sunblock season. I’ve got some fun set aside too. Like scheduled refreshing sunblock breaks during the day. I take the light approach then and let them use spray versus stick. And while everyone is going in for summer haircuts, I’m letting my three go for the built-in scalp and face protection of a Shaggy do. Ear tips, foreheads and back of the necks are now safer with less struggle. The little one looks adorably… like a tiny Einstein.

I have accepted that as much as I dread it, my kids will continue to fight me as long as the sun rises in the sky. Other than applying sunblock at home to minimize public spectacles, there really isn’t a whole lot more that we can do. And I’m not giving up the sunscreen way of life.

Any desperate measure is acceptable in the name of Sun Safety to me. I will use myself as a walking caveat – “look at me” I say, and show them my sun spotted cheeks. While they sit frozen in terror, I dab a blob on each of their cheeks, noses, foreheads and say “Let me rub it in. I’m getting better at blending now!”

Solidarity, my fellow sun protectors. Remember that you are not alone in your misunderstood ways. Find strength and resolve in knowing that all we do, we do in the name of love.

Slather on. And sunblock the crud out of your crew!


Right here kids. Damage from the summer of ’85.

Alexandra Rosas is a national storyteller and mother of three. She lives in a small town where she tries hard to go unnoticed. She fails miserably. You can follow her on Twitter or keep up with her blog, Good Day, Regular People.

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Why Are We Afraid to Describe Someone by Their Race?

July 25, 2015

I was looking at a sea of teachers and students on the playground to find my son’s summer school teacher, so I asked the director, “Which one is Ms. Matthews?”

The director said, “She has curly hair.”

So I went out on the playground and looked for a teacher with curly hair. A lot of people have curly hair. I went back to the director and asked, “Does she have light curly hair or dark curly hair? Do you know about how old she is?”

The director leaned in quietly and said, “Ms. Matthews is African American.” As if she were afraid to say it.

Of course, the fact that Ms. Matthews is black is not her defining feature. She is a summer school teacher, and I am sure she is a whole lot of other things as well. But it would have been a whole lot easier for me to find her on the playground if I knew she was black. She was the only black woman out there. It took me three minutes to find her and introduce her to Isaac after I knew that.

The same thing happened at the pool. I was trying to find Isaac’s swim instructor. When I got there, eight teachers and about 30 kids were in the water. I asked the teenaged guard who “Mike” was and she struggled uncomfortably to figure out a way to describe him. She finally told me he was wearing a hat (they were all wearing hats). The situation was strange enough that I knew exactly what was going on and who “Mike” was.

I then said, “African American guy?” The guard’s eyes went wide with shock. I might as well have slapped Mike across the face. But here is the thing. Mike was the only black guy in the pool. It was very easy to find him with that descriptor. The hat was unhelpful.

I feel more comfortable talking about race now because I have to be. I am a Caucasian woman who adopted a daughter from Ethiopia. I am white and I have a black child. But at the pool, I am just a mother who is five minutes late to a 30 minute swim lesson. And I am about to go lane-by-lane asking people if they are “Mike”. If Mike were wearing a red shirt, that would be a distinguishing characteristic and there would be no problem. But Mike is not wearing a red shirt. Mike is the only black person in the pool and he has no other visually discernible feature so I can’t find him at all.

A person should be allowed to identify however they want to be identified. We also do not know a person’s race just by looking. But it seems like we, as a society, are afraid to mention race and we actually go out of our way to avoid it. It also seems like something my family is going to grow into and live with for a very long time.

So look for us at the pool. My daughter is adorable. You can’t miss her. She’s the one with the very curly hair.

How do you feel about identifying someone by their race?

Paige is a searcher for meaning. Attorney. Social Advocate. Failed Tiger Mom. You can read more on her blog, Politics of Playdates, or follow her on Google+ and Twitter.

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