Eleven Signs You have Nailed this Parenting Thing

We worry about teaching our kids resiliency, kindness and how to eat a balanced meal. We are focused on the wrong things. If your kid can’t make a penis joke you have more parenting to do.
1. You kids understand penis humor

Me: “I like a firm banana.”

11 year old: giggle.

9 year old: “what’s funny? Wait…are you talking about penises?”

11 year old: “Why yes, yes she is”

9 year old: “Thought so.”

2. Your kids express a feeling of cosmic emptiness.  

11 yo: “You know what’s depressing? ”

Me: “That supergirl is a re-run?”

11 yo: (ignoring my guess) “Most of an atom is made up of wasted space. And we are made up of atoms. So we are mostly wasted space. ”

3. Your kids are mature beyond their years.

Setting:  Jungle Garden feeding flamingos some years back

Me: “I wonder what age you will be when you don’t want to come here.”

10yo: “No age, there will never be an age where I am not happy here.”

Me: “I’m glad you feel that way, but I have to imagine that at 16 you won’t really want to do much of anything.”

9 yo chimes in: “Are you saying I am 16?”


4. Your kids know how to handle bad hair days.

Me: “Do kids ever mention your hair when you go to school like this?”

11yo: “Sure, I just tell them it is bed head. Then if they ask again I tell them I already gave them an explanation and its not going to change.”

Somehow my 11 year old has gone to the Bill Belichick school of interviewing.

5. Your kids believe in justice for all.

9 yo (a little bit gleeful): “What would happen if there was no law against stealing?”

me: “What do you think? How would you stop people from stealing your things?”

10 yo: “Civil agreement.”

9yo: (even more gleeful) “Guns and knives!”

6. Your kids can manage screentime.

Me: “The average boy spends 12 hours a week on screentime.”

10yo: “I am no average boy.”

The fact that he says this while using the computer as a mirror to fix his hair is not lost on me.



7. Your kids’ jokes are actually funny.

Me: “Have we ever watched the movie Groundhog Day together?

10 yo: “Yeah…like every day.”

8. Your kids take an interest in sports.

While watching my beloved Patriots play there is an impressive tackle.

9yo: “Why are they trying to kill that person?”

Me: “They aren’t they are just trying to stop him.”

9yo: “Stop him from breathing?”


9. Your kids teach you not to interrupt.

9yo: “You will never be your best.

Me: “That isn’t very uplifting.

9yo: (rolling his eyes at me as he continues to make his point) “Because once you reach your best there is immediately a new best that you can be.”

10. Your kids understand nutrition.

9 yo: “The french fries are the protagonist in my meal. The ketchup is the antagonist.”

I didn’t document that particular meal because it was in fact comprised of only french fries and ketchup (a vegetable.)

This picture features another wholesome combination..and the appreciation my son felt for his supper.




11.Your kids can make penis jokes.

10 yo: “Florida is America’s penis…which explains why it is always so damp.”

9yo: “You are Florida.”

10yo: “You are right. I am hot.”


Because I have nailed this parenting thing I knew not to include an actual picture of a penis in this post.

Wondering how I managed to remember all of these quotes? Using Notabli. Check it out.

Also…my top two parenting books.

How to grow a grown up

How to talk so your kids will listen…and listen so your kids will talk.


Sharenting…what we are saying about our kids online.

My livelihood depends on me sharing secrets. Loyal readers know my bra size, that I cheated on my first husband, and the brand of pill that I take for my mental illness. The details, often intimate, that I share on my blog and in articles are a part of the stories that I tell.

My most popular posts are about parenting.

Steve and I have a free range parenting style that I call “lazy.” My writing is personal narrative, so even when I am creating a “listicle” for an outside website I tell stories about my family. Our fights, our loneliness, and our laziness illustrate my lists. More often the stories are the entire story. There are things I filter. Not many, but I avoid references to particular penises and re-telling embarrassing moments between my sons’ and their friends. (my trick for spelling embarrassing correctly? There is an ass in it) For the most part I treat outside characters obliquely.

Yet I do not finesse my boys. They are alive in this blog with the way they loathe flash mobs and love socks.  As every parent knows children offer us a new lens through which to view our world. Their questions and observations challenge long held beliefs. Their interactions with each other make us explore nature versus nurture. Their arms around our necks and spat out “shut up pleases” make us think about our own parents and our own childhoods. Their jokes make us laugh like no others. So they are of me and in me and all over these virtual pages…and I’m not sure how to quit that.

But I need to.

Late in December I learned that some of Leo’s online friends were reading my blog. The how and the why are both interesting (because really, why) but more urgent was the reality of Leo’s life being laid bare. We had taught him never to share his last name (clearly that ship had sailed somehow) or give his home city. Yet I had given them that and so much more. Pictures of his school, stories of his sadness, the ways in which I failed him. I provided both access and ammunition. When I thought about the impact of my writing it was mostly for Steve. Our sex life is public knowledge. I figured that might embarrass the boys, but it seemed really only Steve had a say. And he said yes. (Like, all the time)  Sometimes I imagined the boys reading the blog and then laughed at myself. What tween wants to hear what his/her mother has to say. Or teen. Or twentysomething. It felt safe. Ish.

For most people sharenting is telling a few stories over coffee, or posting naked baby pictures. My writing is over-sharenting. At least once you bring my ten year old’s friends into the picture. His skype chat is filled with links to the blog…friends telling him what they know about him. So much for online privacy.

So I asked the boys whether or not I could write about them. And told them I would be writing about the conversation. They were quick to see the flaw in this. “I can’t tell you what not to write about and have you write about it.” Right. So we had a conversation that I won’t write about.

My take away was that no one was clear about what I should and shouldn’t say. I gave some examples of stories that I thought they wouldn’t want me to share…and I can’t share them here. For the next week I kept at it. ‘What about this, can I write about this?” The pattern began to emerge. “Sure” said Oliver. “No” said Leo just as quickly. Oliver would shrug and I would try to tease out a reason for Leo’s hesitance so that I could create workable guidelines. The line seemed to keep moving.

For a few weeks now I have only been able to write about the dog. He doesn’t have a say. Yesterday we had a conversation about what being “cool” meant. It was excellent. It was great blog material…and it is off limits. In yet another effort to clarify my boundaries I asked the boys.” Can I write about this?” “No.” Said Leo. “You can always write about me” said Oliver. “You can do anything with me” he continued in his amiable way. (This from the boy who defined cool as “not trying to make other people like you”.)

“Wait.” said his brother. “Can I do anything with you?”

“What about this…this last part…can I write about this?”

“Of course” he answered with an evil grin. “You can always write about me taking down Ollie.”

How about you? What is your policy on sharenting?



No more f’ing stuff. Holiday shopping for kids who have what they need

g8oopghaday-markus-spiskeIf your house is like mine you navigate a Lego minefield and dine amongst art supplies. You sniff stuffed animals for cat pee, refold unworn sweaters and search fruitlessly for the dice of a thousand board games.

We don’t need any more stuff.

Yet the season of giving is steamrolling towards us. Our house features both eight nights of Hannukah and a visit from Santa. This means we are overcome with 9 days of wrapping paper and stuff to store and ignore.

This year things are going to be different.

With the exception of two Wii games and a six pack of socks every gift we are giving will be an experience.

I hit Groupon to get some ideas and some deals, and then looked a little closer to home. Here are twenty gifts my kids will be getting this year. None of which require batteries. Some of which are even free.

These cost some cash…but perhaps we would have spent it anyways.

  • Nerf battle for six.
  • Tickets to Star Wars.
  • An hour of snow tubing.
  • Sponsoring an animal in danger of extinction.
  • Upgrading to Sketch it Pro.
  • Having a star named after you.
  • Donating to your favorite Minecraft Youtuber so you get a higher rank. Whatever that means.
  • Giving a book to your school library in your name.
  • Giving you $25 to donate to a cause of your choosing. Which might or might not be your brother. (Like last year.)

The best of the bunch (free for you and me.)

  • A weeknight sleepover.
  • Getting to sleep in the big bed.
  • Ice cream for dinner.
  • A week off of contributions.
  • Breakfast in bed.
  • Bringing a friend skiing.
  • Two hours of your mom’s time to teach her Pokemon.
  • Having both parents watch Ant-Man with you.
  • Camping in the yard with your dad.

I can’t say I’m looking forward to everything on the list, but I will appreciate not having to clean up after any of them.

This post was previously published on Parent Co.

What you can learn from a loud group of fifth graders.

fifth graders
The whirl of activity is semi-represented.

My husband is away in Baltimore. He goes there quarterly and we joke about his second family. Does this wife cook for him? Do those kids listen? I am pretty sure he sits in generic conference rooms and tries to move along a project between one part of the government and another, captain of a ship whose movement has to be measured miles per month rather than miles per hour.

Left behind I order pizza and have to coach the fifth grade Destination Imagination team.

DI, ostensibly, is team building, imagination rewarding, iterative work for eager young minds. The teams meet for 8 months building vehicles for a structural challenge while creating a story around it a beautiful blend of science and art showing all of us how we can’t actually tease subjects apart and expect the world still to turn.

Running across the street from school they enter our house before I get there. The snow is melting in the 65 degree Colorado sun so I trip over a pile of shoes as I push past the door to join them inside. There is an immediate crisis. Problem solving is just the sort of thing that we work on in DI. By we I mean the kids. The adult coaches are supposed to keep their mouths shut. So I let them weep about the fact that there is no snack.

“But Aaaaannnnnnaaaaa “ on of the more dramatic students asks “how can we build a hover craft on an empty stomach?” It is true. These kids are on the verge of death. They are STARVING. So I raise my arm and gesture towards the cabinets which they swarm like the vultures that they are.

They dump their feast onto the long table that they have already pushed aside in the dining room. Cookies, bananas, pepperoni, crackers, cheese. I had no idea that we had all of those things and in the time that it took for me to speak that thought it became irrelevant. The bananas had been eaten, the pepperoni slices sucked down and the crackers pulverized into crumbs on the floor. The only thing more impressive than their eating is the noise that they make while working. This group is particularly loud…my son the main culprit as he perpetually screams when he is excited. He raises his voice to a deafening pitch when it seems people aren’t attending to his message. Both excitement and being ignored are the natural state of DI so he is always at full volume.

I have complained about it for two years and mostly I love it. It is the sound of kids who are enjoying themselves and are engaged in their work. Who expects that to be quiet. This project is different. They are building a hover craft so their is a leaf blower going almost all of the time. There is also the teammate warning, loudly, that they shouldn’t run the leaf blower all the time because we will WASTE THE BATTERIES and I totally would agree with her if she wasn’t gesticulating with a power drill buzzing away in her hand. It is small and I have trouble keeping my ideas to myself. On of the team members is carefully patching the holes that the staple gun made in the thick plastic with matching black duct tape while another sits aboard the hover craft cutting holes into its bladder with big scissors. He is afraid it will explode without a vent. Which is sort of how I feel so I leave the room. I am not supposed to make suggestions and I find it very hard to watch him cut up two weeks of work.

The others are objecting and he is cutting and finally one of them distracts him with building a steering wheel and while he turns his attention some one is slipping away with the scissors. If slipping away looked like a galloping figures swinging large scissors over his head screaming “I got them I got them.”

So everything is going pretty much as I expect when I settle into the loveseat a room away with a crossword puzzle and a bottle of whiskey. Or one of them. I hear… “Where did the axe go?” and I feel I need to pay some attention. Turns out they simply wanted to chop firewood into perfectly square pieces to use to mount the wheels onto the hovercraft. (I know hovercrafts don’t have wheels and so do they actually its just that the DI challenge requires each vehicle to have two methods of movement and two means of propulsion. Plus a story. With costumes.) So my little guy heads outside with an axe to make his perfectly square pieces of wood. He seems to learn pretty quickly that the ax is designed for splitting not for squaring but unlike his mom my kid is not a quitter. He hops around outside with a reddening face set in stone. This wood will submit to his will if not his axe. He is turning himself 360 degrees with each chop. Sometimes the axe gets stuck in the wood and he has to slam it a few times against the patio. Sometimes he misses entirely and has to jump back. It is a losing proposition. The inefficacy of his tool of choice, his lack of coordination, and the fact that he will not admit defeat.

Slowly his team members gather to watch. First one drifts over to check on his progress then she calls the others and finally they are all there. Laughing at him. It seems as though maybe they are laughing with him but  I am pretty sure they are not when they scream that he needs turn towards the glass sliders so they can watch his face when he fails. He looks up to them ax and wood connected in his hand. “Do any of you want to try this?” He ask. “This ax is not maneuverable” he explains, maroon faced and blue eyed. Its design doesn’t allow for you to cut across the wood fibers. I knew that he knew this. His largest teammate slides open the door at the request of the girls on the team. He steps through, takes the ax wood combo and hits it once, sharply to the ground and the wood splits in two. The onlookers applaud and whoop and my son protests. “No. No! I know how to split wood!!! I was trying to shorten its LENGTH.” The other boy knows how to play this out. He hands my son the axe and slips back into the house with the two equal pieces in his hands. “Now YOU try again Oliver” shrieks on of the girls with laughter. Yeah, says another kid, I want to get this on YouTube. I have not defended him. I figure he can do that. But I wonder if I would have stepped in if it were one of the other kids being watched like a zoo animal on the other side of the glass. Just when I decide I would have my son rushes past in tears.

“What?” “Why are you crying?” “Why are you upset?” they chorus after him as he runs away. One of them turns to me, I’m not sure if it is in the capacity of coach, mother, or generic adult, and asks “Why is he so upset?” “You are his teammate” I answer. “You should work on this problem.” So they do, loudly, voices tumbling over each other footsteps thundering up and down the stairs as they search for my weeping child.

Finally they are all back. He is red eyed and damp, his team gathered around as he explains again that he COULD do it. No one mentions that squaring off fire wood might not have been useful anyways just like no one mentions the fact that they wanted to record his dances with wood. They are back at work. Now with a vacuum cleaner in the mix as a teammate cleans up the wood chips from our dining room. One of them is sitting on the hovercraft with the leaf blower set on high. If she turns it down the hovercraft will deflate the way my kids has. Sitting on the edge of the bench watching his team with uncharacteristic silence.

Like everything in the Ferber of fifth grade this is short lived. By the time they have reset the room he is back to full volume as they descend on their shoe pile tossing mates to each other preparing to head across the street to play in the school yard as the team they are.

Taking a deep breath in the quiet I list what j have learned, we have more snack than I think, upset can be set aside, and a random rumble of kids can come together in work and play. Not such bad lessons on this Thursday.

How Skype Saved My Son’s Social Life

The voice sneaking out from under the playroom door is guttural but child-like. I don’t know any German Elementary school boys but clearly there is one in my house not more than 10 feet from where I stand, paused before entering the powder room.

After I minute I hear the musical peals of my son’s laughter and his response. “Wait until you see this dog try to herd this turtle. He is just so slow! And I’m talking about the DOG!”

The turtle safely tucked away I crack the door to see only my son, his beaming face lit by the computer screen as he Skypes with another new International friend.

Four years ago he struggled socially. He was liked by many but loved by few, and playdate invitations rarely came. He had the small boy attitude of “everyone is my friend” which meant “no one in particular is my friend” on the loneliest of lonely days. He would trudge home bent under the weight of his backpack and irregular long hair as the neighbors piled off of the bus, limbs intertwined like a litter of puppies.

His brother stood back, waving vigorously at friends headed away to the next stop while my smaller boy came into the house to receive my kiss. When other kids might have played kickball he often stayed on the computer, and by 5 he was running his own MineCraft server. If you don’t know what that means then you are just like me…but kids across the country and beyond appreciated this attribute and began to approach him through this massive international game, and then exchange Skype addresses in what I assumed was a 2015 version of a pen pal.

[Tweet theme=”basic-white”]Decades of technological growth and connectivity have changed the terms of the pen pal. [/Tweet]His single topic texts quickly turned to regular chats and finally video chats, inviting friends from across the country into our playroom the way he never did from his school across town. Soon he was video chatting, introducing his cat, and comparing bedtimes and birthmarks. He even hosted a virtual birthday party where friends bought him special powers for his online persona.

Somehow those powers have transferred from the screen to the school yard. Today he comes home with other kids in tow and they play four square on the patio and tumble together in a way that requires three dimensions. After a while he leads them inside and expands their social life to the global level. They log on and connect with Germany and California, they compare the complicated rules of Jinx in each other’s communities, and practice them on each other voices piling on top of one another’s across time and space.

Parent Trap

iPad the parent trapLeo’s homework tonight is practicing his songs for the first grade concert. The music teacher had not yet posted the link to the tunes so he has been muddling through in a less than totally confident way.

I wandered into the room when I heard his voice falter and stop. He was at the computer and had entered “Let’s get together” into the youtube search. Complete with capital and apostrophe. He was scrolling through picture after picture of Hayley Mills from the Parent Trap.

For those of you that don’t consider Lindsay Lohan a peer this was the British version of the twins separated by divorce who meet and become fast enemies at sleep away camp. Put together in a small cabin as punishment for their mutual pranks they bonded and eventually figured out that they were in fact sisters.

They plotted to swap lives to get to know the parent that didn’t raise them. After a big reveal they planned to re-unite their mother and father and all live happily ever after.

The little girl fantasy fodder is thick. First comes sleepaway camp with loads of friends in the middle of big woods. Then finding a separated at birth twin. Really, what could be more exciting to a twelve year old girl? Perhaps having someone to scheme with and knowing more than your very own parents. It didn’t hurt that both of these parents lived in the lap of luxury, one on an old California ranch with her dad, the other in a city (London? or is that just because haley never quite shed her accent?) brownstone of some sort.

Guess what? There was a girlfriend to expose as shallow and scare away with snakes. And staff and grandparents to let in on the trickery. That was such a great time. It all ended with the family getting back together. Singing in the golden summer light.

Leo was not as moved by the youtube clips as I was. It was a bit trippy to watch my kid watching the kid I watched as a kid.