Thursday, August 19, 2010

Sex Ed

I was never intimidated before. In kindergarten, I let everyone know babies were made by putting peanuts in the vagina. Apparently, the teacher called my mom to clear up the confusion. Just details, really.

In elementary school, I went through a couple rounds of sex ed programs. I nonchalantly shocked more than one family member with an encyclopedia of facts, such as the average length of an erect penis. Almost six inches . . . what’s the big deal?

There were the years I was responsible for a high school sex ed program. With lots of help from community speakers, I had no problem hitting the main points. Even those years when I was a live diagram for the reproductive cycle, I presented the facts and took all questions. On a couple occasions, a student raised a hand to say, “I know you’ve had sex at least once.” That’s not a question and not appropriate . . . next!

I was feeling confident in my ability to provide sex education to my own children. Not only am I a professional educator but HELLO . . . watch Oprah? Check! My kids have no worries. I will hook them up with all the non-embarrassing info they need.

This week, one of my daughters told me about an incident regarding another child who was in need of clearer boundaries around private parts. This is the second time I’ve confronted an incident of this nature as a parent. I knew it was time to have another talk with my girls. I have already established the concept of private parts with some basic terminology, but it was clearly time to further the conversation.

And suddenly, my mind went blank. I looked online. I still want to get a book – never underestimate the power of a visual aid - but I wanted some immediate advice on how to gently segue into the conversation without horrifying the kids. I’m not known for my smooth transitions. I found Planned Parenthood to be most helpful.

I liked the age-appropriate guidelines PP provides, but still, when was a good time? I decided to enter into the conversation on our way over the hill yesterday. Discussions with kids in the car can go really well. They often feel more comfortable opening up without concerned parent eyes burning holes into their faces.

Borrowing a line from PP, I asked, so you know why boys and girls look different? The car went silent and Daisy said in a low voice, “No.” Like I was describing the weather, I said, because it takes a man and a woman to make a baby. And also, when you touch your private parts, it feels good . . . and that’s normal . . . for everyone – even your grandparents (another line from PP and one that I thought might actually deter sexual activity). Do you have any questions? Daisy looked thoughtful, “Yes, before the woman becomes pregnant . . . is there? Does she have . . . um . . . um . . . does she have an egg?”

I was so relieved . . . yes! She has an egg but it’s really tiny. And she never sees it – I paused before rushing through the rest . . . and-the-egg-doesn’t-become-a-baby-without-sperm-from-a-penis. I glanced in the rearview mirror, trying not to look tense. Daisy looked embarrassed enough for both of us, “Mom! Please stop talking about this!” What do you mean? This is the truth. You can ask me anything at any time, and I’ll never get mad. No matter what. Your private parts are your private parts. No one else is allowed to touch them. But if that ever happens, even if they tell you nice things or mean things, you can always tell me and you’ll never be in trouble.

Daisy scolded me, “I know, Mom!” I repeated, any questions? Daisy emphatically shook her head no. But Violet piped up, “I have a question!” What’s your question? “Bwain!” OK but “brain” is not a question. Daisy, jumping to the defense of her younger sister, countered, “Your brain is a private part. You can’t see it. It’s totally private!” I found myself nodding my head . . . yeah, I guess you’re right.


Saturday, August 14, 2010

Whatever EDD

I officially cut all ties to EDD yesterday. I feel a little unsure and exposed . . . like a newborn without a steady paycheck. I didn't even know the break up had to be DECLARED. I already told them how it was going to be the last time I had them on the phone . . . I will not collect on an unfair claim that would do more harm than good on the job front. Maybe it was the loud sobbing that interfered with their comprehension.

EDD insisted on getting in touch again. I got a message with a direct number for a return call. I called it and left a message. Then I got another call. I called back and left another message. Then I got two calls. I called back once again, this time NOT leaving a a message. I got 12 calls.

For a brief moment, I wondered if by some miracle my benefits would be resuming. But no. Eventually, I was able to pick up when the dedicated EDD representative called. She wanted to know if I would be dropping my unemployment claim of $61 per week and needed to record me saying so. Kind of rubbing it in, are we?

I do have 14 hours of work scheduled this week. I'm neither set nor satisfied. Yet I'm strangely optimistic.


Tuesday, August 10, 2010


I've been reading in bed in my parents' guestroom for two hours. The room is on the fourth floor of their narrow townhome. I have the window open and can see the park below from my position in bed. When it first got dark, I watched a group of people on the grass spin lighted hula hoops. There's a train station behind the rows of townhomes, and I just realized the trains with clanging bells don't shake the top floor like the others. A cool breeze is coming through the window from the direction of the distant green mountains that I have to drive over to get home. My cluttered, dusty home feels like a million miles away. It doesn't matter that I worked a bit today . . . this is vacation. I don't have to serve anyone, clean up after anyone, cook, do laundry, take the trash out. Nothing. Well, I'm helping my mom with a couple things but still - no stress.

Earlier, my mom came in to try on clothes stuffed in her closet up here so I could help her decide what to donate. I gave my advice from a prone position in bed. My mom thinks I have what she calls "good fashion sense." I love her for that. My dad came up to see what we were doing. Maybe he heard the hysterical laughter and thought something fun was happening, but my mom had already left with a pile of clothes. He found me staring intently at The Week. Or maybe it was Family Fun. He didn't stay long. My younger brother, who also lives here, gave me The Most Boring award for the evening. I don't think he knows how rare it is that I do nothing much. He came in the room to strike up conversation more than once, until I cried for mercy.

I've called my girls in Tahoe a few times since they left. Violet sounds tired and talks about swimming in the "yake." She asks me every time if I want to talk to our dog. No thanks. I was hoping to talk to Daisy, but Daisy mostly refuses to get on the phone. She's mad at me for not going with them, although I explained several times that I was staying here for job training. In other words, the gateway to Chuck E. Cheese and the mall. She still pleaded with me to get in the car when they left on Saturday. She is punishing me with no communication. All I got so far was an instantaneous "Hello. Goodbye." I know she's having fun with her family and bff up there. Still, she really needs to talk to her own mama.

Since I've been here, I've talked my parents' ears off with stories about the kids. My favorite story is about when the kids wanted to open a paint-a-birdhouse kit recently. I relented then discovered that first I had to assemble the wooden birdhouse. Like most toys these days, it didn't go together very easily. As I was struggling to attach the pieces, Violet grabbed the paint and started to open it. Daisy told her, "Wait! Mom has to screw it all up first!" Get it? Hilarious. And true. Don't be harsh if I tell that story again this week.


Friday, August 6, 2010

Ride Home from the Beach

I found myself alone with four kids at the beach the other day. After crushing their dreams when I forbid going in the water, I bribed them with cheetohs. (The kids have been pleased with the occasional junk food snack during my budget crisis. Whole Foods, I miss you.) We were at a beach known for its deadly undertow, so I kept them busy in the sand. I never realized what a workout Duck-Duck-Goose was. Then there was Anarchy Charades. You know how to start a healthy debate among little girls? Try to play a game with no rules. Thankfully, someone spilled their cheetohs in the sand, and we were invaded by sea gulls. The kids spent the rest of their time chasing the birds away while I relaxed in the warm sun. I'll remember that trick next time. Daisy had to sit in the front seat on the way home, a rare treat. I let her take pictures while the girls in the back discussed why she definitely wasn't the luckiest.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Bionic Budget

A friend I've known since high school stayed with me last weekend. The timing was not the best. I was still smarting from the end of my benefits and literally counting my pennies to go to the grocery store. I lucked out that this particular friend has mastered the art of the shoestring budget.

I called her Bionic Woman some time ago, and then I got her mixed up with OJ, who is actually my brother. I think I’ll go back to calling her Bionic. She’s an avid runner, biker and swimmer. She’s training for a marathon or something exhausting. She knows all the best deals on groceries. She reduces waste, volunteers, and grows her own food. She’s unemployed but has run out of benefits and therefore is no longer counted in the unemployment stats. She has scraped by on modest real estate investments and odd jobs.

Friday, the day Bionic arrived, was crazy. I was sweating my money issues. I had an interview that made me realize I was a different size the last time I needed to wear something more dressy than jeans. The kids were acting like little maniacs, probably in reaction to the anxiety emanating from my pores. I was fried by the time I picked up Bionic from the bus. (You know she got a good deal on her bus fare.)

On the drive home, we agreed to take our chances with whatever we could find in the fridge for dinner. Not long after getting home, Bionic found two sausages and had those going along with eggs and French bread she had picked up on the way. There was a frozen cheese pizza for the kids and dinner was served.

The other meals were equally easy. Inspired by Bionic’s example, I made bean burritos and a green salad with homemade balsamic vinaigrette the next night, mostly from what I could find in the fridge. I was feeling all proud about my salad with chopped apples, cucumbers and shaved parmesan. It turned out to be one of the better things I’ve made recently.

I did go to the store for a few things on Saturday while Bionic watched the kids. All three of them wanted candy and Bionic gave me strict guidelines on what to spend. I don’t normally buy candy but was trying to be fun. I found myself on my knees in the candy aisle, reading off prices and ounces for various options into my cell, completely engaged with Bionic’s advice before realizing I was getting looks. (What? This is a brutal economy!) I spent a total of $3.23 on a bag of gummy bears, a larger bag of gum drops, and an oversized candy bar.

Another normally forbidden item was Safeway Select grape soda. I mean kids can handle some high fructose corn syrup, can’t they? Did I mention it was $1.25 a six-pack? Don’t worry, I won’t do it again. Daisy who like me is poetry in motion spilled her grape soda at least eight times – she even spilled her sister’s grape soda. She had two cans and left splashes of purple on the rug, coloring books, clothes and pillows. That never happened with Hansen's.

Everything Bionic and I did for entertainment last weekend was free. We met an acquaintance who bought us drinks. We wandered around shops, especially bookstores. We stayed up late talking and watching CNN (she’s one of those news junkies). We went to the party she was in town for, where there were two dinners served. Bionic looked perfectly reasonable when she walked out with a good-sized doggy bag (not that they were offering those). We quietly made fun of strangers and pointed out celebrity look-alikes. She laughed at the drama created by my kids and took them out on their scooters with the dog.

I really couldn’t have asked for more from a houseguest under the current circumstances. There was a time when Bionic was fed up with my inability to return a phone call. I wonder what she’ll think when I call her every time I go to the store.