Monday, November 19, 2018

Hear That Ticking Clock? It’s the Countdown to “The Talk”

Last week my totally innocent, six-year-old son greeted my four-year-old daughter with a cheerful, matter-of-fact greeting: “F*** Emily.” Except he didn’t abbreviate.

“What did you just say?” I asked, convinced I must have misheard amidst the noise of school pickup.

“F*** Emily.” Yep, there it was, plain and clear.

“That’s a really bad word. Were did you hear that?”

Apparently, he had used his new decoding abilities to read the obscenity written on the bathroom wall at school. While I’m normally thrilled to see my kids reading the world around them, this is obviously not what I had in mind.
“That’s not an appropriate word for you to say,” I said.

“Why, what does it mean?” he asked.
“You don’t need to know exactly what it means, but it’s a word some adults use when they are very angry. Let’s go home.”

The next morning, I overheard my son giggling as he announced that every day when he sees his sister he will say the same thing: F*** Emily.

“I thought I explained this to you yesterday,” I said, frustrated that this had become a thing. “That is not funny. It is mean, offensive and disgusting.”

“What is? What did he say?” chimed in his twin sister. Yeah, that was inevitable too.

“I’m not even going to repeat it. Let’s use kind words.”

Needless to say, I stopped by the school later that day to see what could be done about removing the graffiti. Thankfully, the staff took my concern seriously. My son came home that afternoon eager to share that the custodian had already erased the bad word.

So here I am, confronted with the graphic, derogatory way language around sex has creeped into our everyday lives and vernacular. From a language perspective alone, my kids can no longer live in a protective bubble—if that is even possible growing up in New York City. If they can read and they can overhear conversations, then they are going to find out about sex. I’d rather not have their first introduction to the subject be in the form of bathroom curse words or misinformed joking with schoolmates.

Aside from all this, my four-year-old daughter, who is apparently the romantic of our family, lights up when she sees my husband and I kiss or hug, asking, “Is that what married is? Do you love each other?”

Today she explained to me that two of her toy horses got married. “See they, have matching purple tails,” she said, holding up the magic marker that made that possible. I guess that’s compatibility? She continued, “When they get home, they go to their bedroom and go like this.” The horses touched noses and hooked necks. “Then they go like this.” She laid the horses down and matched up four hooves with four hooves. Not sure if that was her version of horse sex or just a high five. Maybe both. But she definitely gets the concept that spouses are made to fit together in a special way.

“Aww, how sweet. The horses love each other,” I said. “They are having a nice snuggle.”

Finally, add to the equation my two-year-old’s fascination with babies and my older kids’ bath-time questions about body parts and baby-making. At this point, they know that it takes a man and a woman to make a baby. The mommy has lots of tiny eggs inside her that can grow into babies when the daddy adds his half of the ingredients.

Now it’s on me to add layer upon layer of depth and detail to the beautiful picture of what sex is and what it’s designed for: oneness, pleasure and procreation within the safety and intimacy of a loving marriage.

I’m pretty sure when I was growing up this conversation didn’t happen until puberty forced it upon us. But with sexualized slang and curse words abounding, the countless weddings that get reenacted during pretend play in our apartment (PAW Patrol fans, Marshal just married Skye at our place), and the naturally inquisitive minds wondering how exactly the “daddy half” meets the “mommy half,” this conversation is about to get real.

Ready to talk to your young kids about sex? I’ve picked up several talking points from friends as well as a great resource called Birds & Bees. Keep these tips in mind.

Start by becoming students of seeds and eggs. Look inside apples, pumpkins and pods that fall from trees to see that inside every living thing is part of what it takes to make another living thing just like it.

Present yourself as an expert on the birth process. Use the actual, medical words for body parts in a matter-of-fact tone. Break out the photos of you together in the hospital. A pregnancy (yours or a friend’s) or a child’s birthday is a great lead-in for a conversation about the day he was born.

Rehearse your message. Come up with a go-to response such as, “That’s a great question!” to give yourself a moment to collect your thoughts when your child asks a tough question. Take the time now to think through what message you’d like to communicate to your child about sex and reproduction, so you won’t be fumbling for words when she pops the question. Make sure it aligns with your values and use it as an anchor point for future discussions. It could be something big-picture, if you’re religious: “Sex is a gift from God, intended for marriage” or more literal: “Sex is a way that adults use their bodies to show their love for each other”—or simply: “Sex is a special way babies are made.”

If your child asks how the baby got inside Mommy, here’s your chance to explain conception. If not, stage a preemptive strike and bring it up yourself: “Have you ever wondered how that baby got inside the mommy?” Start with the basics: “Sex is when a mommy and daddy fit together in a special way to make a baby.”

Add on more detail as your kids ask follow-up questions either during that conversation or later, keeping everything age-appropriate. Work up to something like this: “Remember how I said that mommies and daddies fit together in a special way to make a baby? This is called sex. During sex, the daddy places his penis inside the mommy’s vagina so that the sperm that is deep inside the daddy can meet the egg that is deep inside the mommy. When the sperm and egg join together, those cells grow and grow into a baby.”

Keep it scientific and save the pleasures and dangers of sex for when your child hits puberty.

Set yourself up as the safe, approachable authority on the subject, not your child’s best friend whose older brother sneaks around with his girlfriend. If you start young, they will grow to see that their questions about sex are not dark secrets but part of a natural conversation with mom or dad.

Stop putting off “the talk” and dodging the questions. This is our chance to have foundational conversations about the value and purpose of sex and to lay the groundwork for healthy sexual relationships into adulthood.
This article was originally published on Red Tricycle.

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Savvy Mom’s Guide to New York City with Kids

Oh, how I love a good staycation. And living in New York City as a stay-at-home mom of four kids provides the perfect occasion for exploring what this amazing city has to offer. During the school year, we don’t venture far beyond our neighborhood, but this summer we expanded our radius and fell in love with the Big Apple all over again. Read on for some of our favorite local spots.

Kid-Friendly Museums

New York City is brimming with family-friendly STEM, art, and children’s museums, perfect for when the cold, rain or humidity sends you indoors.

American Museum of Natural History – In addition to the Discovery Room (go there first to pick up free timed-entry tickets), the giant whale hanging from the ceiling, and plenty of dinosaur bones, don’t miss the splash pad on the Arthur Ross Terrace. This outdoor area is free to the public. Enter at 79th Street and Columbus Avenue and take the elevator up one level.

Brooklyn Children’s Museum* – Play in kid-sized shops like a pizzeria, market, and a travel agency in World Brooklyn.

Children’s Museum of Manhattan – For preschool-aged kids, head straight to the 3rd floor for sand, balls, tunnels, letters, puzzles, climbing, grocery shopping, a firetruck, and more.
Children’s Museum of the Arts – Check out the weekday drop-in art classes for ages 5 and under and stay for regular museum hours. Sign up early for the Clay Bar and dress for mess!

Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum – Design furniture, wallpaper, and buildings with interactive pens and tables. Enjoy a snack on whimsical chairs in the garden, which is open to the public free of charge.

Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum* – Explore a Cold War-era submarine (go early before the long line), take the helm on the captain’s bridge, and see vintage aircraft close-up.

Liberty Science Center* – Navigate a giant spider’s web. Spot the Statue of Liberty as you approach the museum in New Jersey.

Long Island Children’s Museum* – Explore the outdoor sensory garden.

Metropolitan Museum of Art – Take a step back in time to medieval Europe at the Met Cloisters in Fort Tryon Park in northern Manhattan. My kids call this “the castle.” At the Met 5th Avenue, peek at the armored horses on your way to the American Wing courtyard (great skylight, fountain, and smoothies at the cafĂ©). Wave at the crocodile as you exit through the Temple of Dendur. The museum has a pay-what-you-wish ticket policy for New York State residents.

National Museum of Math* – Ride bikes with square wheels, solve logic puzzles, and jump on interactive floor screens.

New York Hall of Science* – Experiment in the Maker Space. Pair the museum with a stop at the adjacent Queens Zoo and Fantasy Forest Amusement Park.

New York Transit Museum* – Climb aboard vintage trains in an old Brooklyn train station. Time your visit for living history performances.

Staten Island Children’s Museum* – Try on an exoskeleton.

*Association of Science and Technology Centers members travelling to NYC received free admission to these museums through the ASTC travel passport program.

Outdoor Adventures

When the weather is nice, set out on foot, bike, or subway to explore these sections of the city, which are sure to please kids and parents alike.

East River – Take the scenic route under the Brooklyn Bridge on a Hornblower ferry. Several routes along the East River (with free transfers) connect The Bronx, Manhattan (visit old ships at the South Street Seaport and relax on bench swings on the revamped Pier 17), Queens, Brooklyn ($2 Jane’s Carousel rides in DUMBO), and Governor’s Island—all for the price of a subway ride. Purchase tickets through the app, on the pier, or on board for travelers 44” and taller. Ride inside for the snack bar and air-conditioned comfort or upstairs for fresh air and great waterfront views.

Hudson River – Rent bikes in Battery Park or unlock a Citi Bike and ride along the Hudson River Greenway. For elevated views, skip over to the Highline, former train tracks that have been redeveloped into a park that runs from W 34th Street to Gansewoort Street in the Meatpacking District between 10th and 12th Avenues. Stop along the Hudson for Chelsea Waterside Park at W 23rd Street, refreshments at the Boat Basin at W 79th Street, and Hippo Playground in Riverside Park near W 91st Street (great shade in the summer and sledding hill to the east in the winter).

Coney Island – Ride the Q train out to Coney Island to take in the boardwalk, play at the beach, scarf a Nathan’s Famous hotdog, and pet a shark at the New York Aquarium.

The New York Botanical Garden – The annual holiday train show in the Bronx is breathtaking and well worth the price of admission. Kids and parents alike will love to see model trains zooming through miniature NYC landmarks crafted entirely out of plant material.

Northern Central Park – Meander through the Conservatory Garden at E 105th Street along 5th Avenue. Kids will love chasing butterflies, watching feathered friends in the birdbath, and running along tree-lined paths. Bathrooms and drinking fountains are near the elevated terrace. Walk west to take a hike through the winding North Woods. Bonus points if you happen upon the waterfall.

Mid Central Park – Rent remote-controlled sailboats in the Conservatory Water ($11/30 minutes). Enter at E 72nd Street and walk northwest down the hill. Watch the weather, as the rental shop closes on rainy days. Be sure to check out the Alice in Wonderland statue on the north end of the pond. Snacks, bathrooms, and a sandbox are next to the sailboat rentals. Walk west to the Loeb Boathouse to relax with a cheese plate on the patio and to rent rowboats ($15/hour). Walk northwest toward 79th Street to enjoy the vista from Belvedere Castle, share secrets at the “whisper bench” in the Shakespeare Garden, spot turtles from the pier beside Delacorte Theater at Turtle Pond, and watch a show at the Swedish Cottage Marionette Theater.

Southern Central Park – In winter, ice skate at Wollman Rink. In summer, visit the Central Park Carousel ($3.25 per ride) and Victorian Gardens amusement park. From the pathway near the Central Park Zoo, you can spot the sea lions sunbathing and catch the musical Delacorte Clock on the hour. Its animal sculptures spin to nursery rhymes, with a shorted performance on the half-hour. Walk west to Heckscher Playground (the oldest in Central Park) to get those wiggles out year-round.

This article was originally published on Red Tricycle.

Hear That Ticking Clock? It’s the Countdown to “The Talk”

Last week my totally innocent, six-year-old son greeted my four-year-old daughter with a cheerful, matter-of-fact greeting: “F*** Emily....