Monthly Archives: May 2010


“I want to do the Boy Scouts,” Zachary tells me.  He has been telling me this for quite some time now, although since the Scouts don’t start until first grade, he doesn’t actually know anyone in the Boy Scouts.

I give him my standard reply each time. “I’ll have to talk to Daddy about it.”    Usually, things like this are his choice.  If he wants to try an activity, we’re game as long as it works with the schedule.  But the Boy Scouts are different.

“Why?” he wants to know.

“Because the Boy Scouts are a discriminatory organization.  They don’t let gay people be Scout leaders.  Daddy I will have to talk about whether we are comfortable with you joining a group like that.”  He knows what I am talking about, because we’ve had this discussion before.

On the one hand, the Boy Scouts instill things like self-sufficiency, teamwork, and a love for nature.  Awesome.  We like self-sufficiency, teamwork, and nature.

Well, I love nature.   My husband loves s’mores.

On the other hand, the Boy Scouts is a discriminatory organization.

From what we’ve heard, individual dens or covens or whatever they call them may not subscribe to that philosophy.  The Boy Scouts are decentralized enough that the experience is really defined by the particular group to which a child belongs.

My husband and I tossed it around for awhile – like, for the last year – because we really would like our kids to have character-building experiences like scouting.

However, discrimination is not the kind of character we’d like them to build.

We just can’t stand tall and be paying dues to an organization that discriminates, no matter how much camping is involved.  We just can’t.  We can’t tell our kids discrimination is bad and then wink twice while driving them to scouting meetings.  We can’t look our gay friends in the face and tell them, “Our kids are in an organization that thinks you are too depraved for a leadership position.”

Zach’s friends might join the Scouts.  He might feel left out and resentful that we are not allowing him to be part of the group.

Parenting isn’t always about making our kids happy.

Working 5 to 9

Trust me when I tell you that you should buy the next issue of Bitch.  Actually, you ought to be subscribing to Bitch, but if you’re not, you should buy the next issue, because I have a piece in it.  It’s a Q&A with actress and writer Jamie Denbo, who is funny as hell onstage but over-the-top hilarious in an interview.

I loved doing the piece, not only because it gave me a chance to catch up with an old high school buddy, but because Denbo gives very good interview, and what she has to say is smart.  The Q&A covers comedy, sex, and – of course – being a chick in a man’s world.

What did not, however, make the final draft were a couple of interruptions.  First, my husband, exasperated at trying to get the kids to bed in the next room, decided to take Benjamin up to the attic to sleep.  (Don’t worry – it’s a very nice, finished attic.)

“Hang on a second,” I told Denbo.  “Honey, don’t take him up there.  That’s what he’s trying to get you to do.  He wants to go up there so he can stay up for two more hours and explore.”  I went back to the interview.  “Sorry.”

Denbo was laughing on the other end of the line.  “Please, don’t apologize.”

Fifteen minutes later, she told me to hang on a second.  “Hi, big girl,” she said to her toddler daughter, who launched into a description of a merry-go-round ride that her father had just taken her on.  Denbo’s husband (actor John Bowie Ross) started up Hairspray for the little girl, but there were several more interruptions to come – Denbo’s cell phone, my toddler daughter needing a kiss, Denbo’s infant son waking up.

After every interruption, we picked right back up in the conversation.  That’s just how we roll these days.


Several months later, I came downstairs at 5:30 AM to write.  I was working on an article for an alumni magazine about an entrepreneur who started a fair trade company.  (That interview was interrupted when Lilah got up early from her nap and then had a poopy diaper.)  Now I was trying to transcribe the interview so I could start writing the article.

I had been aiming for 5:00, but Zach has been having trouble falling asleep lately as he often does during a cognitive burst, and he had kept me up late the night before.  So, I only got in a half-hour of work before I had to shape a few cookies from the sun-butter, whole wheat dough I made the day before and put them on a cookie sheet.

While rolling the cookies, I noticed the sink was dirty.  Part of the nighttime cleaning is to wipe down the sink and counters.  Since I’ve been going to bed so early, I’ve left the evening cleaning to my husband, who both goes to bed and gets up later than I do.  He is less committed to wiping down the sink than I am, and – feeling myself getting annoyed – I forcefully reminded myself that I am less committed to things like filling out school and camp forms than he is.

I emailed my husband with the subject header “Please”: “put cookies in oven for 11 minutes at 375 degrees. bring up laundry from cellar.”  Then I stretched and left for a half-hour run.

When I came back, J had fed Lilah and changed her diaper.  I fumed because J had not washed the tray from the cookies.  He went to shower. Children were waking up all around us.  The cookies had cooled so I packed lunches.

I went up to shower.  When I came down, Benjamin had eaten, Lilah had yet another clean diaper, and the cookie tray was clean.  J left for work while I started pulling clothes over children’s heads.


My Facebook status update read: “I blame Betty Friedan for my lack of free time.  Also Gloria Steinem.”  My inbox was suddenly flooded by comments from women who – despite being committed feminists – knew exactly what I was talking about.

We decided to blame Dr. Sears, as well.


Monday morning, I was upstairs brushing my teeth, trying my best to ignore Benjamin throwing a tantrum on the landing and Zachary screaming about something from the dining room.  We had twenty minutes before we needed to be pulling out of the driveway, no one was dressed, and only two of the children had even started breakfast.

I spit and rinsed, then hollered, “What is it?”  Zach responded, sobbing incoherently, and I stomped down the stairs.  “What?!”

“I have throw up,” he wept.

Shit.  He hasn’t thrown up in months, but he has a long history of vomiting up breakfast.  He has a very strong gag reflex, and a little bit of post-nasal drip in the morning is likely to bring up a rerun of breakfast.

“OK, don’t move,” I told him.  Not that I had to.  He’s been through this so many times that he knows the drill: contain the wreckage before cleaning up the child.  I grabbed a rag from the table, then thought the better of it.  There was an entire cup of orange juice vomit all over his pjs and chair.

This was a job for the Emergency Paper Towels.

Normally, we only use rags, which get thrown in with the rest of our wash.  We keep the EPTs for power outages, when we don’t want to be cleaning with rags that won’t get washed anytime soon.  And for special cases of Copious Vomit.  There were only four towels left on the roll, and I used them to stop the spill before it left his chair, tossing the cardboard roll onto the table.  I managed to get the child out of his bottoms, but he pulled off the top – smearing upchuck all over his face.

“OK, now you’re going to need a shower,” I remarked, lifting him carefully and heading for the stairs.  Zach, who cannot stand to get his face wet, does not do showers.  But I was not drawing a bath with less than 15 minutes before we had to leave the house.  I sidestepped his brother, still tantruming on the landing and stood Zach in the shower.

Five minutes later, everyone was at the now-cleaned-up breakfast table, with one child freshly showered and dressed.  “What’s this?” Benjamin asked, picking up the empty paper towel roll.

“It’s a paper towel roll,” I told him. “You can have it.”

“No fair!” Zach shouted.  “I never get a long one.”

Now, I would like you to know that I bake my children whole-grain muffins and they want Cheerios.  I make them fresh waffles and they ask for Goldfish.  I buy organic, local produce, and they want bananas from a continent-and-a-half away.

I have made the ordinary exotic, and I have made the exotic ordinary.

Which might explain why Benjamin spent the entire day finding eighty-seven different ways to play with an empty paper towel roll.

Scenes from a playdate

Three boys popped themselves out of my minivan as I unbuckled Lilah from her seat.  “Do you boys want to play outside for a few minutes while I make lunch?” I asked.

“Yes!” shouted Benjamin, not-yet-four and full of excitement that a six-year-old was over for a playdate.

“Nah,” said Zachary, prompting his friend to reply in the same vein.  Crap.  I was sort of hoping they would stay out at least long enough for me to run to the bathroom.

They filed into the mudroom, kicking off shoes and moving quickly into the kitchen to make space for the next child.  “Come on,” Zach urged his friend.  “Let’s get away from Ben.”

There was no place to get away from Benjamin.  The house is small, and the child was persistent.  I had not so much as opened a jar of jam before I heard wailing from the next room.  “Get him out of here!” shouted Zach.

This was Zach’s first playdate with Elliot.  He and Zach were spinning their wheels, trying to figure out what to do together, as they hadn’t yet developed a rhythm to their play.  Zach’s room is so tiny that it is hard to open the dresser without banging into the bed, so there is nowhere to play up there.  All they have is outside – which they had already rejected –, the small living room, and the adjacent sunroom.  Where Benjamin was.

For me to make lunch would mean walking away from the children, all of whom were required to be in the same space.  And as soon as I walked away, Zach turned from playing with his friend to fighting with his brother.  No one wanted to see a repeat of our last two playdates, during which Zach had gotten so anxious that his brother’s presence had sent him into a tailspin.

I managed to sit Lilah and Benjamin at the table long enough to shove a slice of cheese in each child’s hand.  That meant I was left with two things that somehow had to be done simultaneously: feeding the younger children and helping Zach and his friend find something to do.  Were I to turn away from feeding Benjamin, he would be down from the table and in his brother’s face, triggering a meltdown.  Were I to turn away from the older boys, Zachary’s anxiety would kick into high gear as he tried to control every detail of the playdate.

I dumped some hummus on both plates, then turned to the older children.  “Would you like to play Guess Who?”

“Yes!” Elliot replied.

“No,” Zach moaned at precisely the same moment.  “The other kid always wins!”  The truth of the matter is that the kid who goes first pretty much always wins, but try explaining that to a kindergartener.

Seven minutes later, we had somehow managed to arrange a game of Guess Who, with Zach and Elliot on one side and Benjamin partnered with me on the other.  Since I had to keep excusing myself to reheat pizza and spread peanut butter, that meant that poor Benjamin was pretty much holding his own against a five- and six-year old.  He asked three turns in a row if the mystery person was bald.  Fortunately, he was so thrilled to be playing with the big boys, he could not have cared less whether he won, lost, or contracted pertussis.

After the children were fed, I sent the older boys into the kitchen to roll cookie dough into balls and place it on a sheet.

“I think we’ll have nine,” Elliot told Zachary.

“And there’s three already baked in the cake stand,” Zach pointed out.  “So we’ll have twelve.”

“Great!  We’ll have a dozen!”  I made a mental note to congratulate their teacher on her math instruction.

An hour later, the boys had eaten cookies, Benjamin and Zachary had argued over a broken toy, Lilah was weeping on the couch, and I was pacing by the window, hoping Elliot’s babysitter would arrive to pick him up so that I could put Lilah down for a very overdue nap.  Then it took five minutes for Elliot to get on his shoes while he and Zach both tried to convince us the playdate should go longer.  I waved goodbye and whisked Lilah up for her nap.

“Will you read to us?” whined Zach eight minutes later, as I came back down the stairs.

“One minute, baby.”

It was an hour-and-a-half later, and I still needed to pee.


Being completely and totally inept at all things technical, I once tried and failed to set up some sitestalker thingamagig to figure out who visits my site and from where.  Somehow, it managed to reflect that absolutely no one ever visits this blog, which I know to be patently untrue, because I click over at least once a week.

However, WordPress does kindly provide a probably somewhat incomplete list of the search terms people have used to find my site.  Normally, I just find those amusing.  And a little scary, since there seem to be an awful lot of people searching for Emily Rosenbaum, although maybe that’s because there’s a reality TV chick and a very prominent sociologist with my name.  Anyway, a recent uptick in certain combinations of search terms leads me to the conclusion that folks here in this very small town have learned that I have a blog and are actively searching for it.  And presumably reading.

That’s fine, of course, as there’s nothing I like more than increased blog stats.  There is a downside, however, to folks here in Rockwelland reading my musings.

I have to see them twenty minutes later in the school parking lot.

I have always aimed for brutal honesty here at Wheels on the Bus, with allowances made for the privacy of my family.  So, I don’t talk about my sex life,.  I don’t talk about my husband’s work, our arguments (not that we ever argue), or really anything about our relationship.  He’s a wonderful father and a supportive husband, but the man deserves his privacy.

I also try to respect my children’s privacy.  I am fine with the occasional poop post and a few years ago I included the requisite mocking of my toddler son’s interest in his willy, although you’ll note that for some reason I do not talk about my toddler daughter’s private parts at all.  I don’t know why that feels more invasive, but it does.  (Although, I guess that anatomically, it really is more invasive.)

A lot of my earliest writing had to do with my anxiety over Zachary.  He is complicated, and parenting him requires more ingenuity than I have on most days.  Over the years, I have used this space to figure him out.  I have made understanding my son’s psychology a bit of an obsession, and I continue that dedication to completely smothering my firstborn.

I just don’t think it’s right to do it in a forum being read by his friends’ parents.

Of course, I will continue to write about him, and I will try to be as honest as I can – as long as it is only my own psychology hanging out there like a big old moon in the bus window.

There is, however, an upside to knowing that people in this little town are interested in what I have to say.  It provides me an opportunity for the following public service announcement to those parents I will see in the school parking lot:

Please, for the love of Mike, when you are talking to your friends, picking up your kids, combing your hair, writing the great American novel on your iphone, or otherwise not actually driving somewhere in your automobile, turn the fucking thing off. That’s my air, my children’s air, and your children’s air that you’re belching foul toxins into.

And thanks for reading.


I have a discipline problem.

Zachary screams and talks back to me, every now and then even pinching me.  He intentionally wakes his sister, tortures his brother, and this week hit a friend at school.  His favorite game is to get his brother to misbehave, then sit back innocently and watch him get in trouble.

Benjamin smacks his sister for fun, breaks things, and calls people “stinky butt,” a term I fear he learned from his brother.

Lilah, bless her little heart, is delighted that she understands my directions and – other than getting pissy when I refuse to change her clothes for hours – is incredibly obedient.

I can yell, I can take away privileges, I can send them to their rooms.  And it works.  On Zachary.

Benjamin?  He won’t stay in his room.  He feigns nonchalance when I take away TV time.  He laughs maniacally and breaks things.  And how the hell do I send him to his room when he hits his brother’s friends in the kindergarten line in the morning?

I truly fear this kid will end up in juvie.

You may have heard about the mom who had her friend in the sheriff’s department pretend to arrest her five-year-old because he was lighting fires.  The neighbor was shocked, but I wonder what the neighbor would have thought if the house had gone up in flames.  My guess?  Everyone would have been aghast that the mom hadn’t found a way to stop her kid from starting fires.

Really, to my mind, there is only one question: where can I get a friend in the sheriff’s department?

We call him “Cotton Eyed Joe,” because we have no idea where he came from

Benjamin is in the backseat, still in the preschool afterglow.  “Mommy,” he says.  “I really, really want a pet dog.”

I am accustomed to these statements.  Last week, he wanted a pet bull, which he was going to keep in a bull cage in the living room.  Currently, there is a circle of rocks in our yard, just in case any passing penguins want to use it for their nest.

“A pet dog,” he repeats.  “And a bull, and a cat, and a T-Rex.”

“A T-Rex, huh?” I reply, half-listening.

“Yes, but you can’t let the T-Rex cross the street.”

I start to focus in on what he’s saying.  “Why can’t the T-Rex cross the street?”

“Because of the cars.”  He looks out the window and sighs, satisfied that we have settled the matter.

On grandmothers and board games

I check in on Zachary fifteen minutes after putting him to bed.  He is awake.  Although he has discovered that the testing is really quite easy, it threw off his sleep patterns.  I sit down on the edge of his bed.

“What’s wrong, my sweet?”

“I’m going to have bad dreams,” he tells me.  “Someone brought in Spider Man checkers today.”  We chat for a few minutes about Spider Man checkers and board games in general.  He is quite sure that he is stupid – that he always loses the games.

“You know, you changed my life when you were born.”  I am thinking of the way he taught me about unconditional love and parenting, opened up a world of emotions that people who have parents come to understand in childhood.

“I know,” he says again.  “You stopped teaching when you had me.”

“That’s true.  But I’m sure sometime I’ll teach again.”

“You know, people who have children still can teach,” he tells me.

“I know, but I wanted to be here for you guys.”

“Well, if my grandparents lived in town, maybe my grandma could take care of me while you taught.”  Then, silliness kicks in.  “Or, maybe grandma could teach for you while you took care of us.  No, that would be backward.  I think grandma better take care of us while you teach.”

“That’s true.  If she lived here…”

“But grandma doesn’t really take care of us,” he remarks, as though taking care of someone implies boring.  “She plays with us.”  Which, in case you were wondering, his mother does not do.

“That’s true.  She’s a pretty fun grandma.”

“She’s the best grandma.”

“That’s right,” I reply.  “There isn’t a better one out there.”

He smiles.  “You’re joking!”

“No, you got the best grandma,” I assure him.  He looks at me, all earnestness.  Then he speaks.

“I think your mother would have been just as good.”

Sense and sexuality

When I was a first-year teacher, I directed a group of high schoolers in a play and included a scene in which two of the characters got hot and heavy on the couch.  It was all strictly first-base, and it was mostly staged, so I was quite surprised that several people on the staff felt the scene was inappropriate.

Looking back, the scene itself was not inappropriate.  Had it been a scene that the two high schoolers had developed to perform, I think it would have fallen 100% under the heading of “Freedom of Artistic Expression.”  However, I was a teacher and I was the director.  I should have been a bit more sensitive to the discomfort those teens might have felt being asked to suck face in front of an audience.

At the time, I figured kids were doing a lot more, so it was not a big deal.  Now, I understand the distinction.  Teens are absolutely sexual creatures and they express that in their way.  But I was having them express not their sexuality but rather their characters’ sexuality.  It was done at my direction, and it was not an artistic rendition of their sexuality.

No one was scarred for life, and in the scheme of things, it was pretty damned benign.  Nonetheless, it was inappropriate, and if I had it to do over, I’d be more sensitive in how I staged the scene.

Assuming you are not in a coma, you’ve probably heard the controversy around then video of eight- and nine-year-old girls doing a dance routine to Beyonce’s “Single Ladies.”  If, however, you are in a coma or have been preoccupied with administering standardized tests to kindergarteners, allow me to enlighten you:

OK, people.  I do think children are sexual creatures.  I have changed quite a number of diapers in my day, and I can tell you that kids are universally delighted when they discover that delightful little treasure that is contained within their diapers.  However, that kind of exploration – along with playing doctor, masturbation, and any number of other activities – is a personal expression of sexuality.  It comes from the kids, and it is childhood sexuality.

The problem with little girls bumping and grinding is that they are expressing adult sexuality, and they are doing at the direction of their parents or choreographer.

There is a world of difference.  It’s a distinction I did not understand as a director fifteen years ago, but I do understand it now.

Kids should be kids.  They should dress like kids and play like kids and – hell, yes – dance like kids.  Don’t tell me they love what they’re doing.  That’s fantastic.  Let ‘em love dance, just don’t teach them to dance like they are strippers.  Don’t act all outraged that people are not focusing on how much fun they are having – you made the damned dance inappropriate, so you took the focus off of the kids.

Don’t tell me the costumes are about movement and lines.  Um, ever heard of a leotard?  And, please, honey, don’t talk to me about rhinestones and ruffles.  Don’t insult my intelligence.  Because the issue with those costumes has nothing to do with rhinestones and ruffles.

Finally, don’t sit there and tell me that’s just what kids do in dance.  Because, if your kid is in an activity that requires her to dress like a two-bit hooker and shake her money-maker at an audience, maybe you oughta find her a new activity.

I’m just sayin’.

Scenes from last week; or, Cheese with that?

It’s 6:45 Tuesday morning.  I am exchanging emails with the kindergarten teacher, trying to schedule a time in the remaining few weeks of school for me to come read to the class.  Zach has been wistfully referring to the “guest readers” for months now, and I have finally taken the hint. The teacher – a new mom – has been up for hours and is cheerfully replying to my emails, wedging in an extra slot.

I do this all before dropping Zach at school.  He’ll go straight to the Y after morning kindergarten for Fun in the Afternoon.  The afternoon kindergarteners do Fun in the Morning.  This is how we extend half-day kindergarten.

I pick him up at two o’clock, waiting for ten minutes outside the classroom, which has a glass door.  I stand to the side of this glass door; the teacher doesn’t see me right away, so she calls several other children first. He scowls at me.  “You weren’t standing in the hallway.”

I give him the Sun Butter cookies I made.  It turns out that Joy of Cooking peanut butter cookies are just as tasty if you sub in honey for all the sugar, whole wheat flour for white flour, and Sun Butter for peanut butter, thereby rendering them acceptable even for nut-free classrooms.  By the time I was done tinkering, they were a mighty healthy treat, and Zach even likes the ones that were slightly overbaked.

We pick up his brother from preschool and go home.  I offer them more cookies, but explain there won’t be enough for everybody if they don’t also eat the darker ones.  “No fair!”  Zach yells.  “They’re disgusting!”

The boys rest a little, eat snack, refrain from beating one another up for the most part.  Lilah wakes up from nap and I nebulize her before we run out the door to go back to the Y.  We’re overscheduled, I know, but Zach loves the Tuesday afternoon art class and Ben needs to swim at least twice a week or he shrivels up into a ball.

Picking Zach up from the same classroom, I am careful this time to be standing on the opposite wall so I can be seen as soon as the teacher opens the door. She comes out and begins hanging pictures on the wall.  Finally, she sends out the kids.  “Guess which mask your child made!” she tells the parents.

I scrutinize the pictures, masks inspired by Native American art.  I know Zach’s style, and after a moment, I pick out the correct piece, much to his teacher’s surprise.  “No!” he pouts, sticking out his lip.  “I didn’t want you to guess.”

Because, apparently, knowing his artwork indicates some basic lack of concern for him.

In the car on the way home, I mention that I am going to be the guest reader.  “You know, you’ll need to pick a book for me to read to the class on Thursday.”

“The only books I like the other kids in the class won’t be into!” he mopes.

“You mean chapter books?”

“Yes.  I only want you to read chapter books.”

“But, honey, I can’t read a chapter book to the class.  I only have fifteen minutes.”  This, I think, is a reasonable response.

“The only books you can read are chapter books,” he insists.  “Or you can’t come in.”