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By: Shana Cooper | July 7, 2010

 

So I’ve been sort of out of (blog) commission for the past few weeks because we’ve been in the process of moving. And while we are firmly ensconced in our new home, it is still a mess of boxes, paint fumes and randomness.

 

 

I won’t beat around the bush – it’s been tough.

 

 

It’s been tough on my husband, who despite his slim physique and sharp mind has found himself thrust into the role of household muscle.

 

 

It’s been tough on me, for the very obvious reasons of running a household and holding down a job while still being unable to find anyone’s underwear.

 

 

It’s been tough on my 4-year-old daughter, who had been forced to repeatedly wear the same damp swim suit to camp day after day because of our lack of washer and dryer (thankfully, that problem has since been solved!).

 

 

It’s even been tough on our old dog, who’s been taunted by the neighborhood toads slapping their wet selves against our doors when the sun goes down and the rain kicks in.

 

 

But mostly it’s been tough on my 7-year-old son, simply because it’s been a big change in his otherwise stable life. If you’ve read this blog before, you know he’s not keen on change.

 

 

The day we moved, while I cleaned out the refrigerator of our old house and my daughter took one last dip in the pool, my son cocooned himself in a blanket and laid on the floor of his empty bedroom – catatonic in his stillness. He later announced he didn’t know what was wrong with him, right before he burst into tears.

 

 

A tight hug from mom and an afternoon play date seemed to snap him out of it for the moment. But I’ve seen the gloom hang over him for days now. He has his happy moments, his goofy moments, his annoying moments, but it’s as if the sun inside him needs a good polishing.

 

 

 I understand where he’s coming from. Even though we’ve stayed in the same neighborhood and he won’t be switching schools, his life isn’t as comfortable, cozy and predictable as it was just a few weeks ago. Mommy’s distracted, Daddy’s exhausted and no one seems to have an ounce of spare patience.

 

 

I also know in a few more weeks, he’ll been fine. He’ll have his neighborhood buds, his favorite fort-building corners, his Legos strewn across his bedroom floor.

 

 

But the thing is, he’s only 7. He doesn’t know that. At least not yet. So I’m hoping that when he faces future change, transition and adversity, he’ll look back on this summer as a kind of internal object lesson. He’ll remember how scared he felt inside, and how well he coped in the end. And he’ll know that know matter what happens, he’ll be OK – with or without clean underwear.

 

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By: Shana Cooper | June 2, 2010

 

I currently have at least five packs of gum in my pocketbook – all different brands and flavors.

 

Why, you may be asking, is this relevant? Because, I shall answer, gum is one of my red flags. It tells me I am letting my guard down a little too much – letting the inmates run the asylum.

 

What do I mean by this? (And are these rhetorical questions annoying, or what?) I mean that when I find myself digging through a rainbow of gum to find my wallet, I know I’ve said “yes” one too many times at the grocery store check-out.

 

Now I’m not the most lenient parent I know. I do have rules for my 7- and 4-year-old. But they’re mostly about bodily health and safety, the importance of education, and absolute kindness and respect to animals, humans and the Earth in general.

 

This means I am definitely not the strictest parent I know.

 

I know parents who only let their kids eat sweets twice a week. I know parents who insist their children sit at a table when nibbling even the smallest of snacks. I know parents who time TV watching down to the minute. I know parents who give and take away gold stars at the slightest provocation.

 

I am not those parents.

 

I think life should be reasonable. I think the relationship between parent and child should be balanced and fair, with a natural give and take that makes sense to all involved – as long as the broad rules of human decency (mentioned above) are upheld. I just feel my children will be better prepared for the gray areas of life with this kind of approach.

 

However, I must admit my leniency has its pitfalls. I often have a few more battles on my hands, a few extra minutes of parent-child negotiation, because I didn’t rigidly delineate every single rule when my kids were toddlers. But I like to compare myself to a liberal Supreme Court Justice who believes the interpretation of law must change with the times.

 

So that means that I have to look for signs of imbalance when my parental leniency morphs into laziness. What kind of signs? (There I go again, using that rhetorical device to advance this blog). Signs like the brain-dead stare that comes with too much SpongeBob; the whine of exhaustion that comes with too many late nights; the spontaneous deafness that comes with too much headphone wearing; and the sea of gum that comes with too many supermarket yeses.

 

And what are the signs telling me? I’ve got a metaphorical whip to crack.

 

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By: Shana Cooper | May 21, 2010

 

I’ve read the conflicting research about child care’s long-term impact on America’s youth. Some say it causes anxiety and aggressiveness in children. Others say it boosts social skills and cognitive abilities.

 

I’ve heard the debate from scientists, therapists, conservatives and liberals. Some say to keep families stable, moms should stay home to cook, clean and color with their children 24/7. Others say children who live in homes where family members share child-rearing and bread-winning responsibilities learn wonderful life lessons.

 

I’ve suffered both the guilt and the rapture of leaving my children with others for six to eight hours a day. I’ve seen their faces crumble when we part and I’ve seen them march with pride – backpacks dwarfing their skinny shoulders, chests out like a puffer fish – into a school where they feel loved and welcomed.

 

But I’ve got a little, tiny secret to tell. The arguments pro and con are all moot. Because the real reason mothers (or any primary caregiver of children) can’t work has nothing to do brain development, impulse control or even child abuse.

 

It’s all about sick days.

 

My kids get sick. A lot. Just ask my co-workers. I’m sure when they see those early morning e-mails from me telling them “so-and-so has blah blah blah and I can’t make it in today” they groan with frustration. I would if I were them. But if my daughter goes to preschool with a runny nose or an upset tummy, they’ll send her home faster than you can say doctor’s note. Same goes for my son, and he’s in second grade.

 

These are the rules in our modern society.

 

And this week was a perfect example. My daughter got a nasty stomach bug on Friday. My son got it Sunday. This whole week – for them and for me – has been a loss. And we are all exhausted, emotionally as much as physically.

 

But let’s be honest here, I’m sure whatever my kid has got your kid either had already or is going to get tomorrow. So let’s cut out the pretense that quarantine works. We all know with kids it’s always far too late. By the time we know they’re sick, they’ve already licked the Legos and kissed 72 of their closets friends.  

 

So I have a proposal: Sick School.

 

At Sick School, the ventilation system costs more than the PA system. At Sick School, kids snuggle in cozy cots to read and draw, rather than sitting at cold desks. At Sick School, lunch is chicken soup and ginger ale and the bathrooms are plentiful. At Sick School, kids are assigned to classrooms by diagnosis (colds in Room 122; vomiting in Room 138, etc.). And, best of all, at Sick School napping is encouraged and parents can go to work!

 

All we need now are a few haz-mat suits, some very kind grandmas and a good lawyer.

 

Are you with me?

 

(But seriously, if you're interested in quality child care, check out Children's Services Council's website - www.cscpbc.org. We've got loads of info for parents on what to look for and help in paying for it.)

 

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By: Shana Cooper | May 13, 2010

 

My son was chosen as Student of the Month in his second grade class, so like all the other parents jammed into that elementary school cafeteria this morning, I was a proud mama.

 

I brought my camera and my smile. I kvelled (a Yiddish word meaning to beam with pride – usually referring to the chemical reaction parents have when they look at their offspring.) when his name was called. I dolled out lots of hugs and kisses before saying goodbye and heading off to work.

 

But then I got to thinking…. and I realized a few things. I know May is the last full month of the school year. I know that there were at least eight other times he could have been chosen but wasn’t. I know that every child gets picked at least once – teachers double and triple up kids just to make sure no one’s left out.

 

So what does being Student of the Month in May really mean? I got to looking around that room this morning, scanning the risers packed with fidgety kids, listening to the buzz of parents talking over the assistant principal’s announcements, and the truth hit me like a rubber dodge ball: We are the elementary school riff raff.

 

So I elbow my husband and tell him to “Look over there!” That’s the nose picker our son’s been telling me about for the last three years. And there is the kid sent to the principal’s office for throwing cake on the cafeteria ceiling. Ooh, right there is the annoying girl that doesn’t stop complaining about her boo boos. And there, in the middle of them all, is our son.

 

Now let me make this clear, my son is awesome. He’s funny and creative. He’s handsome and athletic. He doesn’t pick his nose (at least not in public). He doesn’t throw food. And he usually doesn’t complain – at least not too much.

 

But he has been known to run around the lunchroom and get a scolding (he’s not a fan of arbitrary rules). He did end up in the assistant principal’s office once this year for getting into a scuffle with a girl in the bus line. And his teachers were forced to move his desk to the center of the classroom so he wasn’t distracted by his friends.

 

There was no getting around it. He was one of them.

 

So what does that say about us, his parents? To be honest, I don’t know if I’m ready to look in that mirror just yet. But while I chew on it a bit, I know one thing for sure: the minute we get home this afternoon, I’ll be posting that Student of the Month proudly on the refrigerator door.

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By: Shana Cooper | May 4, 2010

 

This week I’m faced with two parenting dilemmas that I simply don’t have answers for. So I’m turning to you all, my parenting experts, for advice:

 

First of all, my 4-year-old daughter’s ballet recital is less than two weeks away. We’ve got the moves down, the music blaring and the costume ready. But the closer we get to the big day, the more she curls into an armadillo ball of fear. Let me preface this all by saying that last year, after much cajoling, she performed on stage at the recital with (virtually) no issues. Let me also say that I am by no means a stage mom. But the girl loves to dance; she’s good at it; she said she wanted to do the recital again this year; and it has already cost us a bundle.

 

Sooo, back to the problem at hand. As recital day approaches, my daughter has gotten more and more freaked out whenever she goes to her Saturday ballet class. One week, they moved all the tutu-ed little angels into another studio to practice so they get used to different atmosphere. My usually enthusiastic dancer stood stiffer than Lot’s wife. The following week, the teachers covered the mirrors with paper so the girls got used to dancing without seeing their beautiful selves reflected back at them. This also caused panic.

 

Now we’re mere days from performing and, to be honest, I don’t really want to put her – and us – through the trauma. She’s only 4. And she’s naturally shy. She doesn’t like strangers to take pictures of her (for class photos and such) or comment on her outrageous curls when we’re in public. As she once so clearly verbalized when she was a 2-year-old sprout, she really doesn’t “yike when dose people yook at me.”

 

So do I help her conquer her fears? Do I begin today preparing her for a life where performance, whether in school or at work, is a necessary evil? Or (and this is definitely the way I’m leaning at this point), do I avoid it all together and wait one more year before addressing her spotlight aversion?

 

OK, while you chew on that, here’s problem No. 2: My 7-year-old son has had some stomach issues of late. I won’t go into the details but, suffice it to say, it’s prompted us to take him to a pediatric gastroenterologist. The gastro wants us to get him tested for a number of things. This entails a blood test.

 

AHHHHH!!!

 

My son is not stoic. For years he couldn’t tell the different between a paper cut and a black eye. To him they were equally painful. While he absolutely loves sports, he’s the kid on the field who’d scream bloody murder when he fell and banged his knee. Other parents would gasp at the sound, thinking he’d broken a bone or worse. They’d glare at my husband and me for our seemingly nonchalant response – sauntering from the sidelines to his prone body to inspect what usually turned out to be a minor injury. To his credit, my son is always one to shake it off and get back on that horse. But the initial wounded-animal howl can be heart-stopping.

 

Need more anecdotes to get my point? When he was 4 and had to get his booster shots before school, he flipped out – turning into a red-faced, sweaty, violent mess – flailing at the nurses with such force, they eventually had to hold him down for his own safety.

 

I still haven’t recovered from that particular doctor’s visit.

 

So needle? Blood test? Sure, no problem. While you’re at it, let’s pull out some finger nails and pluck some eyelashes. Needless to say, I need some advice. Or, at the very least, a stand-in body double.

 

Any takers?

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By: Shana Cooper | April 28, 2010

 

I have nothing against onion salt. It’s pungent, tasty and lovely on meats. But have you ever tried to get the smell of it out of your home?

Let me forewarn you: It permeates every crevice and pore.

Why, you may be asking yourself, are we talking about onion salt?

Because my son is obsessed with it – along with rock salt, baking soda, ground ginger and any other powder he can find in the spice cabinet. He’s also obsessed with hand sanitizer, hand soap, dishwashing soap, his sister’s detangling spray and any other random liquid or lotion he can pilfer.

His addiction? Experiments.

My 7-year-old is addicted to doing experiments. He’ll mix anything – filling plastic bottles, tiny medicine cups, old apple juice containers and precious Tupperware (with rare matching lids!) with his concoctions. Even my anti-wrinkle cream isn’t safe from his sticky fingers.

He tells me he’s making bug repellant; he’s helping the plants grow; he’s going to get rich on selling his unique perfume – a perfect blend of garlic and crab grass. And he’s so damn proud.

It’s driving me batty. I know I should be encouraging this scientific exploration. I know I should be applauding his creative thinking. But when I see him reaching for the recyclables and secreting spices, I cringe.

You see, being the pedestrian mommy that I am, I can only think about the mess. And, boy, is there a mess. In the bathroom; on the patio furniture; dripping down the driveway. He mixes and messes all over the house. And I’m left to clean it all up.

Yes, I tell him emphatically that when he’s done the house has to look just like it did before he started. Yes, he attempts to follow my instructions.

But he’s 7. And he’s a boy. So as I straighten up the house before bed, I’m often greeted with scrunched up paper towels and mysterious liquids.

Once he mixed baking powder, blue chalk, lemon juice and who-knows-what-else before tightly closing the lid and leaving it outside for days to ferment. When he opened the container, blue fizz exploded all over him and the backyard. Our wooden overhang is still awash in gentle sky colors. (Hopefully this will all pay off in high school chemistry, since he has now learned that mouthwash is a base that effectively de-fizzes whatever tempest he’s got brewing in my teapots.)

But recently, I gained a whole new perspective on my son’s annoying addiction.

His good friend was over our house the other day. The boys were playing so nicely together (Wii-ing and wrestling without need for parental intervention) when my son came to ask if he could do an experiment. I groaned with dread, “Nooo, please don’t make a mess.”

Then the other boy’s mother, a great friend of mine, perked up and asked if they could please do it. Her son – a rough and tumble athletic boy, is afraid to mix outside the box. He gets grossed out with the cafeteria “see food” jokes. He’s not a fan of bodily functions. And she’s slightly concerned.

She wants him to get messy. She wants him to explore with wanton abandon. She wants him to experiment.

So I reluctantly consented. And I’m still finding sticky, suspicious, tightly lidded plastics around the house. But I can rest peacefully knowing that thanks to my son… I’m not the only mommy cleaning up tonight.

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By: Shana Cooper | April 21, 2010

 

My 4-year-old daughter’s working very hard at becoming a woman.

 

If she sees me applying lip gloss, she asks me to hand it over so she can “be beautiful.”

 

If she spies me with a knife and cutting board, she races to chop those veggies along side me (don’t worry, her knife is plastic).

 

If she hears the tell-tale sound of sweeping – and knows I’ve started without her – she tsk-tsks, “Mommy, you know how much I like cleaning.”

 

For some reason, she seems to think that working, wiping, food shopping, cooking and child rearing is a laugh riot. And I’ve got to tell you, I have not been sugar-coating the job. I am not June Cleaver with a smile on my face and an apron on my hips. But no matter how much I warn her that mommying isn’t all fun and games, she can’t be deterred in her desire for womanhood.

 

Just the other day while I was towel-drying her after her shower, she decided to take a peek down my shirt. Now I’m not that modest a person. If I’m changing and the kids are around, I don’t hustle to cover up. If I’m in the bathroom and they barge in, as they are wont to do, my pleas for privacy go unheard. But something about the way she was pulling at me made me a tad uncomfortable.

 

Before I could react to the kid-handling, however, she had her defense ready: “Mommy, boobies aren’t private.”

 

They’re not? Since when?

 

“Yes, they are, honey,” I said calmly and sweetly, while trying to pry her hands off me. “No they’re not,” she sing-songed. Which is true, I guess, if you haven’t hit puberty. But I digress …

 

“Do you see mommy walking around outside without a shirt on?” I asked her. “Do you see your aunts without shirts on or Grandma and Nana?” “No,” she responded.

 

“That’s because they’re private.”

 

(A side note here: I don’t know where she got the word boobies from, but it’s not from me. I’m a part of the real-words-for-private-parts fan club. I think I’ll blame my 7-year-old son for this one.)

 

Anyway, that seemed to mollify her. But it got me wondering, why the interest all of the sudden? Why the fascination with laundry folding, vegetable slicing and booby peeking? Are we all in training from Day One for the division of labor that adulthood brings? Is it simply inevitable?

 

While I know I’m outrageously stereotyping here, my son has no desire to cook, clean, fold or pack. And while he’d never turn down a peek at privates, he’s certainly not grabbing at them either. He loves tools, sports, explosions and vehicles of all kind. He can rake for hours in the dirt patch he calls his “Japanese Garden.” And he never turns down a chance to don a weapon.

 

My husband enjoys many of the same things as my son – sans weapons. But he’s not afraid to roll up his sleeves and wash some dishes or make a meal once in a while. Our household is not a bastion of gender-specific roles. But, I must admit, on any given Sunday we do seem to be tipping toward the traditional.

 

So what gives with my daughter? Is it just a stage? Or is she more woman than I’ll ever be? As my friends and family can attest, I hated pink as a girl, refused to where skirts and scoffed at prisses who wouldn’t get dirty. I minored in Women’s Studies in college and proudly proclaim myself a feminist.

 

And yet despite all the rah-rah, Free To Be You and Me, “girls are great” stuff I was fed as a child of the ‘70s and ‘80s, I’m still doing the same job my mother did – except I’m working outside the home as well.

 

So what if my daughter is simply reflecting what she’s seeing at home? What if I am the woman I thought I’d never be?

 

Then I guess my new slogan should be: I Am Mommy Hear Me Roar. And I’ll be sure to cheer it, right after I finish matching the socks, making the lunches and scrubbing the baseball uniform.

 

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By: Shana Cooper | April 14, 2010

 

My 7-year-old son had a cold this week so I kept him home one day to rest.

 

I still haven’t recovered.

 

Just a few extra hours together has produced a maelstrom of unexpected conversations – each one darker and more complicated than the last.

I pride myself on being fairly unflappable. I’ve read the parenting books and web sites. I can handle gross bodily functions and private part curiosity. I was ready for the “tough” inquiries about how babies are made and why some kids are bullies. But that stuff is Mickey Mouse parenting compared to the questions you can’t even begin to anticipate.

 

Let’s set the stage, shall we?

 

My son decided a few weeks ago that for his 2nd Grade geography project he was going to focus on Korea. Great, we said, let’s go to the library and get out some books. While there, my husband explained that there are actually two Koreas today – North and South. He went on to say that they’re very different places.

 

And, of course, our kid just had to choose North Korea. (Have I mentioned his penchant for being contrary?)

 

So we’ve been immersed in discussions about dictatorships, closed societies, spying and the like. And that led us to spending part of our sick day working on a diorama of the Freedom Bridge, a part of the DMZ (Demilitarized Zone) that spans the Han River and connects the two Koreas.

 

Needless to say, my son’s popsicle-stick bridge is complete with pipe-cleaner barbed wire. Army men from Party City are waiting patiently on our kitchen table for their rightful place to stand guard in our makeshift scene.

 

So, with North Korea in the forefront of his mind, my son’s ears were on high alert for geo-political controversy.

 

When he heard about the Day of Remembrance on the radio, he asked me what it was.

 

As I’ve mentioned before in this blog, we are raising our children Jewish (although my husband is Protestant by birth). And while we’ve never shied away from discussing religion in our home, the Holocaust hadn’t come up – until sick day, that is.

 

So I tentatively began explaining genocide to my child while parking our SUV in the Publix lot. Gotta say, it’s a strange dichotomy of danger and safety – talking death camps while holding hands to cross the parking lot.

 

I skimmed over the gory details but he got the idea – a mad man decided all Jews (and anyone else he didn’t like) must die, including our relatives. My son walked away knowing we must never let that happen again to anyone of any faith or ethnicity.

 

Heavy stuff, no doubt.

 

But it was only to get heavier come dinnertime, when – out of the blue – my son told me that our 11-year-old neighbor told him that a man can go to the hospital and get an operation to become a woman.

 

“Is that true, Mom?” he asked incredulously.

 

“Um, well, people can do lots of things at hospitals, but that’s not something we need to discuss right now,” I said, thus shutting the door on the day’s question-and-answer period.

 

So my unflappability failed me. And while I could handle the Holocaust, I got squeamish with the sex-change talk.

 

Seems I’m not the Mommy I thought I was. And to prove my point, the next time one of the kids gets sick, I’m thinking Daddy can stay home.

 

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By: Shana Cooper | April 8, 2010

 

Remember that Seinfeld episode where Elaine becomes George, George becomes Elaine and everything comes out Even Steven for Jerry? Yeah, life’s not like that.

 

Ok, maybe I’m dating myself here by referring to a long-gone sit-com but I think, even if you’ve never watched the show, that you get my point.

 

Life is not a scorecard, a balance sheet, a scale.  

 

Everything doesn’t come out even in the end. Everyone doesn’t always get an equal share.

 

But try telling that to my kids.

 

They have an innate sense of fairness that’s downright annoying. In fact, it’s driving me batty.

 

Sasha thinks Ben gets more dessert than her. And maybe he does. Ben thinks Sasha gets more snuggle time. And maybe she does.

Sasha says she took a shower first yesterday, so today it’s Ben turn to go first. Ben says Sasha got book-time first yesterday, so today it’s his turn to go first.

 

And on and on and on.

 

To be honest, I don’t know who got first when. And I don’t care.

 

Of all the things I have to keep track of on a daily basis, who gets more or less of what just isn’t important to me.

 

But to my kids, Even Steven is a credo to live by. They can’t comprehend a world without fairness. I guess that’s the beauty of youth and innocence. But my little constitutional lawyers-in-training are pleading their case until my ears bleed.

 

And that, my friends, is the curse of living in a Democracy. Here in America, everyone thinks they have equal rights to life, liberty and, well, you know the rest.

 

But really, we know that’s bull. Some people get more. Some people have it easier. Some people are just lucky.

 

It’s a tough life lesson. I know. I choke it down everyday when I pass beautiful people driving luxury cars along boulevards flanked by mini-mansions.

 

Makes me think that if we lived in a dictatorship, my children would get what they get and they wouldn’t get upset (to quote my daughter’s amazing preschool teacher).

 

If we lived in a caste-system society, my children would know not to expect more than what they were given.

 

If we lived in a war zone, they’d be happy to be safe.

 

Which makes me think maybe it’s time to take my Elaine, my George and my Kramer (that’d be the dog) and move.

 

 

 

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