Archive for September, 2011


Sep 2011

The Joys of Boys

I’m the youngest of three and have two older brothers, and it seems that when there’s one girl and multiple boys in a family, there’s very little middle ground—the girl ends up being either uber girlie, or a serious tomboy. I was the latter, preferring Toughskins jeans, hand-me-down tee shirts, and beat-up, nondescript brown jackets over anything that remotely looked like it came from the girls department.

Brother and SisterMy mom occasionally tried to get me to wear a dress, but her efforts didn’t always work out so well: I very clearly remember scribbling brown marker all over the front of a dress I hated and telling my mom it was dirty. She was furious—the dress, in retrospect, was pretty cute, with a big red tulip hand-stitched on the front—but I found it itchy and horrible, and it was, well, a dress. My punishment was that I had to wear the dress for three straight days, with brown marker all over the front, and I think that was about the last time I ever pulled a trick like that. But it certainly didn’t make me embrace dresses, or tulips for that matter.

Not surprisingly, I spent a good deal of my childhood explaining to people that I was actually a girl. At one of my parent’s parties, the hired bartender asked me if I wanted a Roy Rogers, when all I really wanted was a Shirley Temple. A helpful salesman at Crown Books directed me to the superhero section instead of Nancy Drew. The barber who cut my brothers’ hair once gave me a boy haircut too, not quite understanding why I was crying by the end when I realized that the clippers he was using weren’t for neatening up edges but, rather, for cutting all the hair over my ears in a neat half-moon.

Things didn’t change all that much when I fell in love with horses and started spending all my time at the barn with other girls—while they rejoiced in wearing jodhpurs and beautiful paddock boots, I was happiest in jeans and muck boots. They braided manes and tails while I shined saddles with spit and Murphy’s oil soap.

After college, I lived in a group-house and shared the bathroom with two male housemates while the other female got the master bath. (She did pay more rent, and she was from a family of four girls, so it wasn’t something anyone ever had to discuss. It just made the most sense.)

And now, I’m the mom of two boys, which was probably a supremely smart move on the part of God or whomever is in charge of doling out babies to families, because I am far more comfortable digging in the dirt for worms than I am digging through piles of princess barrettes. And after growing up with boys, I find it relatively easy to interpret what is a preoccupied grunt vs. a rude grunt, or what is a game of hitting and kicking vs. an actual fight. I understand that being the mom of two boys is very similar to being the caretaker of two Labrador puppies: They need to be taken outside daily for a run, and their paws need to be wiped off before coming into the house.

Still, there are times when the inner girl in me cries out for a little attention. My dreams of reliving my youth at the stables was quashed early on, when both my baby boys cried in terror at a County fair’s pony ride, and when they refused to even look at the beautiful Park Police horse on the mall, let alone pose for a picture with him. My warm fuzzy thoughts of buying cute little outfits for cute little darlings were dashed when I realized that a) kids’ clothing stores are 75 percent pink and 25 percent blue, and that b) boy clothes are boring. Girls get to wear all sorts of awesome, outrageous clothes, mixing stripes and polka dots with abandon. They wear bedraggled tutus over snowsuits, socks of different colors, and hats and scarves that look like they’re straight from the pages of a 1980s Benetton ad. Boys wear basically the same clothes at five that they will at 50—gym shorts and tees, khakis and a Polo, jeans and a sweatshirt. Even shoe shopping is dull, as we pass by shoes with fantastical sparkles and neon laces for sneakers that look exactly like my husband’s. Yawn.

Even at school, I can’t help but notice that girls get to participate in the super cool Girls on the Run program, giving them a boost of self esteem, a shot of some healthy living, and the joy of participating in a large-scale athletic event with zillions of other girls. I’m so envious of Girls on the Run that I’ve come close to asking my neighbor if I can adopt her girls for the day and wear a pink tee while we’re running. Sadly, there is no Boys on the Run program.

So when the inner girl speaks, I find myself praising Lego and gratefully acknowledging that we live in Northern Virginia, next to a huge shopping mall. Because on those days, I pack up my boys and head to Tysons. They get the Lego store; I get to window shop, taking in some sparkle and bling and dazzle in a place without bugs, mud or sticks. Really, it’s a win-win.


This article was originally published September 21, 2011 on

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Sep 2011

Parenting by Googling

QuestionsYears ago, pre-kid, I remember reading a pretty amusing article in the Post about some of the crazy things docents at the Air & Space Museum overhear parents telling their kids when asked a question to which they don’t actually know the answer. The article was full of hilarious anecdotes that made it pretty clear that many parents, when faced with a difficult question about aviation or space exploration, simply made up an answer to satisfy their child’s yearnings.

Around the same time, my husband and I happened to meet the curator, and he confirmed what the article said: The answers, while creative and amusing, were almost always false.

I am convinced this was not the case during my childhood, because I am convinced that my parents didn’t make up the answers. I believe this because in our household (no offense, Mom), my brothers and I directed the vast majority of our questions to our dad, who seemed to know everything. His credentials were solid—PhD in chemistry—and he has this kind of quiet, understated presence about him that just make people listen to him and, at least for us, believe everything he said as the absolute truth. He has authority without being authoritarian.

His knowledge was also startling in its breadth: One day, my brother and I decided to play “Trivial Pursuit” with him. He had never played the game before, so we let him go first, and one by one, he marched his game piece around the board, ticking off the answer to every single question and filling all of his little colored pie wedges before either of us had even had a chance to roll the dice. When we sort of helplessly shrugged our shoulders and told him that he had won the game, he looked at us like we were crazy. What game, he wondered aloud, only lets one person go before it’s over? Meanwhile, we recognized that a man who can recite the periodic table of chemical elements and tell you who won a 1954 Oscar for Best Actor is perhaps not the guy you want to pit your mind against in Trivial Pursuit.

Sadly, I have not followed in his footsteps. In fact, I often wonder if my own kids think I’m an idiot. It’s getting to the point that I too am beginning to wonder the same thing, as every day, my children find new and creative ways of discovering how little I actually do know.

I blame it on the follow-ups. You see, it always starts the same way: They ask a fairly innocuous first question, which I can usually answer. Something like, “How far is a lap?” But I had no sooner told my swim team son that his age group swam 25 meters, when he asked me who decided that length (ummm …), followed by, “And how big is the biggest swimming pool in the world?” (ummm … )

I’ve been asked who invented cotton candy and how many people have climbed Mt. Everest and how many dogs are there in the world. I’ve been asked about meteors and comets and the speed of light and even how many gallons of water are in the ocean. I don’t think I could even tell you how many gallons of water the average bathtub holds, and to be honest, I can’t say I really understand how fax machines and televisions work, either.

I don’t make up answers though—no, I’m not like some of those parents at Air & Space. I just say I’ll google it. And google it we do, my husband and I. Reams of paper have been printed with explanations of hundreds of seemingly unanswerable questions. It’s turned into a bit of a game, actually: Almost every night, each boy asks a question, and one of us (usually my husband) googles it after they go to bed and leaves the print-out for them at their place at the breakfast table.

This is all well and good, and we’ve learned some fascinating things (The world’s largest swimming pool is in Chile, in case you’re interested, and is eight hectares in size.), but Parenting by Googling doesn’t work so well when you’re not within reach of a computer.

Just last week, I went on a hike at Riverbend Park with some friends. The kids ran ahead, finding all sorts of interesting creatures and leaves and bugs. Given that my friend is some sort of master naturalist or bug expert, it didn’t take long before my idiocy was revealed: A child saw a Daddy longlegs, another child said it wasn’t really a spider, my son looked inquiringly at me, and I found myself sputtering about something having to do with insects and spiders and segmented body parts, but really, it didn’t make much sense even to me. My friend saved me from further embarrassment, for which I was grateful, but inside my head, I was just crying out, “Why couldn’t we have visited a farm? I could have explained the difference between a horse and a pony! (14.2 hands!) I know what a hand is!! (Four inches!) I could tell you the difference between a jenny (a female donkey!) and a jack (a male donkey!)! Domestic animals I know! Spiders and bugs not so much!”

Seems when I do have all the answers, no one is asking the right questions.


This article was originally published September 7, 2011 on

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