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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Wednesday, April 16, 2014

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"Yes, Levi, sometimes monkeys wear shoes," I said.
"Yes, Levi, sometimes monkeys wear shoes," I said.

Parenting can be so cruel

Every morning, my 4-year-old son climbs into bed with me and snuggles into my body. Yesterday, while gazing up at me, he says in a croaky morning voice, "I like your face, Mom."

This is quite possibly the strangest and sweetest thing anyone has ever said to me.

Once we are out of bed, he asks me, "Do I have school today?"

"No," I say. He claps his sticky hands together and says, "Yay. It's a 'Mama Day.'"

I'm quite certain that no one has ever applauded at the mere thought of hanging out with me.

On the days he does have school, when I pick him up, he sees me from across the room and immediately, his eyes widen, he shrieks a little and runs to me. "Mama," he says, burying his face in my neck. "Mama."

No one has ever been this happy to see me. No one. Not even my dog when he really has to use it.

Oh, I've made my share of Oedipus jokes, but most of the time, I find myself thinking in sappy clichés. "Can I freeze you?" I actually asked him.

Today, it is raining, and he is singing "Puff the Magic Dragon" and chattering about whether or not monkeys wear shoes and I can barely stand it. To know a 4-year-old's love and to know you will have to let go of it is almost unbearable.

Balloon poodles are really kinda phallic, aren't they?
Balloon poodles are really kinda phallic, aren't they?

Clowns are no match for today's kids

It’s not just my kid that seems really smart; it’s your kid, too, right? In fact, most wee ones are remarkably sharp these days. They seem to learn faster and have a deeper understanding of concepts at a much younger age. Maybe it’s because many of our households are child-centered, or the modern commitment to breastfeeding or that it’s every generation's “job” to surpass the last. In fact, many times, I hear moms and dads say that 3 is the new 7, or 6 is the new 10.

That said, this weekend my 5-year-old debunked clown magic.

We attended my grandma’s 90th birthday party in Freeport, Ill., and she hired a clown to provide magic tricks and balloon art for the grandkids.

Most of the adults agreed the clown was on the creepy side -- she didn’t smile at all despite her heavily made-up face and had kind of a low voice. She also wore a button that said, “God loves clowns.”

Overall, my kids enjoyed the clown action. However, when she tried to wow them by pulling a flag out of a seemingly empty box, Kai said, “Can you pull a Guatemalan flag out of that box?”

The clown said, “You bet I can,” and proceeded to pull another flag -- definitely not the Guatemalan flag -- from the box.

“That’s not the Guatemalan flag,” said Kai.

“Yes,” said the clown firmly. "It is."

“No, it’s not,” said Kai, who was born in Guatemala. “The Guatemalan flag has two blue stripes and is white in the middle.”

Then he told the clown it was OK that she made a mistake and she should try again. The clown looked flustered and glanced at me with a “help me” look. So, I distracted Kai by asking to see his poodle balloon hat.

Later, I thought about the fact that if Kai could read more than three-letter words, he probably would have asked the clown how she knew God loved clowns. Luckily for Clarabelle, he can’t.

Levi chose this dragon image for his purple T-shirt.
Levi chose this dragon image for his purple T-shirt.
This one for his red T-shirt.
This one for his red T-shirt.
And he refused the "liger," much to my disappointment.
And he refused the "liger," much to my disappointment.

Picking battles and magical dragons

You may know this from previous blogs, but about two years ago, my son renounced all pants that weren't sweats. I honored his fashion request and bought him five or six pairs of sweatpants that he calls “softies.”

Recently, he informed me he only wanted to wear shirts with dragons on them.

The thing is, I quickly realized finding dragon shirts in his size that he liked wasn't easy, even when searching on the Internet. A wise friend / mentor suggested I make him the shirts by swiping images from Google and printing them on special transfer paper.

I wasn't sure what to do here. If I gave in to Levi's request, I was opening the door to more and more fashion restrictions, which makes my job more difficult. But it doesn't seem fair to say no, either. After all, I'm a fashion-conscious individual, so shouldn't I support my son's clothing choices?

As the boys get older, I find it more difficult to know when to give in and when to force what I want. Unlike marriage, parenting is not really a 50 / 50 compromise, but what is it then.

My wise friend told me that Levi might be trying to control his clothing because he was forced to give up his pacifier a few months ago. This made sense to me, and I decided to give in, knowing I might be falling down a rabbit hole.

What would be next? We've already got sweatpants and dragon shirts, so how about a crystal necklace and a purple-tinted “John Lennon” glasses? Maybe instead of soccer camp he could go on Ratdog tour this summer or become a Ren Faire carney.

Oppressing all of my fashion fears, I finally decided to give in. In the scheme of things, dragon shirts are do-able. So, I took Levi to Michael's and bought the transfer paper and five T-shirts. Then, I let him scroll through pages of dragon images and pick his favorites.

It turns out that the dragon images he loves the most are the “fantasy” genre kind that I find a bit on the cheesy side. Personally, I would opt for the Asian dra…

Waukesha's Nikol Hasler hosts the "Midwest Teen Sex Show." Wish this was around when I was a kid.
Waukesha's Nikol Hasler hosts the "Midwest Teen Sex Show." Wish this was around when I was a kid.

Memories of sex ed

Earlier this week, I posted an article about “The Midwest Teen Sex Show,” a funny and brutally honest podcast providing info for teens about many aspects of sexuality. The podcast is controversial because of its unconventional, tell-all nature, but for some kids, this is what really works. And I was one of those kids.

Writing the article inspired me to reflect on my own sex education, and it turns out, I remember very little. Probably because most of it was really boring.

I recall in fourth grade the boys were separated from the girls, and a health teacher handed out a pamphlet on menstruation called something like, "What Every Girl Should Know."

Also, I  vaguely remember that in fifth grade, there was a “sex question” box in the corner of the room that kids could write anonymous questions for the teacher to answer. Unfortunately, everyone was too embarrassed to be seen actually putting a question in the box. (I did, however, finally break down and write one. I was so nervous about writing it and dropping it in the box, that I wrote it way too fast. This caused the teacher to misread my sloppy handwritten question which was “What is porking?” as “What is parking?” She went on to explain that sometimes people kiss in cars which I already knew and had to wait until sixth grade to find out the definition of this non-kosher euphemism.)

However, what I vividly remember from my sex education is when the health teacher -- who was actually a social studies teacher that must have lost a bet -- dressed up as various forms of contraception. One day she came dressed in a garbage-bag-based “condom costume,” anther day she was “Diana Diaphragm” and later she wore a white, round sandwich board type thing embossed with the name “Polly Pill.”

This experience was way less sophisticated then “Midwest Teen Sex Show” -- and nowhere near as funny  -- but it made a lasting impression on me. It was outlandish first and informational …