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Thursday, January 30, 2014

Let's Talk About Sex (To Our Babies?!)

We all have a story about how our parents spoke (or didn't speak!) to us about the birds and the bees, reproduction, the difference between boys and girls, "married love", um, sex. I am talking about sex here people. Hopefully we can all agree that sex is an important subject and one we can talk to our kids about openly, honestly and without a lot of embarrassment or shame. Or at least faking that we aren't embarrassed. I have a hilarious story about "the sex talk" that involves my mother. I was reading a Judy Blume book (GOD BLESS JUDY BLUME!) and I came across the word, "masturbation" and I asked my Mom what it meant. She turned beet red and stammered that it was just some thing that boys did.

I eventually just looked it up in the dictionary. Suddenly, some of the stuff I had been hearing at school was making more sense.

Today though, it seems a lot more complicated, we have to deal not just with playground talk but the vastness of the internet. We want to be open and honest, but protect their innocence, not over answer, protect them from predators, but not scare them to death. So today we are going to turn to my friend and sex educator Elizabeth Dilley.

Elizabeth is a UCC minister who served in a local congregation for nine years before accepting a call serving in the denominational setting. She has also served as a regional health educator for a Midwestern affiliate of one of the nation's largest reproductive health care providers. Elizabeth has led trainings for parents on how to communicate their values to their children, integrating sexuality and spirituality, as well as about a "zillion" classes on STIs, birth control and healthy sexual choices for children and youth of all ages. She is trained on a variety of human sexuality curricula. Today she is speaking for herself and not as a representative of the UCC or any other organization. She agreed to speak to me today as a friend and her answers are obviously informed by her faith, professional background, and her own experience as a parent of a (GORGEOUS, adorable!) toddler.

Thank you Elizabeth for speaking with me about this incredibly important topic, let's jump right in! When do you start talking about sex with your children?

Elizabeth Dilley: My goodness - this is such a complicated question. In some ways, we've been talking about sex literally since our child was born. In other ways, we never talk about sex. What I mean to say is, "talking about sex" is really a limiting frame to think about this. It's really a lot more about sexuality than sex, per se. Sex is all tied up with other values, experiences, and beliefs, and just as we can't separate the two in real life, it's best not to separate them when it comes to talking about them with your children.

The most important thing to remember is that as a parent, you are your child's primary sexual educator. They will learn from you from what you say, what you don't say, how you act around the topic, how you talk about your spouse/partner/co-parent (or all of the above), and what kind of shows you watch on TV or listen to on the radio. I always recommend that parents get clear about the values they want to communicate to their child, preferably before the child is born. Your children will take their cues from you! If you are religious, your religious beliefs probably tie into your beliefs about sexuality, and there's no need to try to separate the two.

For us, the values of mutuality, respect, sacrificial love, commitment, pleasure/delight, honesty, love, and monogamy are integral to our understanding of sexuality and the values we want to communicate to our child. We are progressive Christians, so we believe these values are central to couples, whether it is one man and one woman, two women, or two men. We are trying to raise a queer-affirming and trans*-competent child, too, so that comes out in our educating. (And while polyamory is not for us personally, we believe these values we endorse can be and certainly are present in poly relationships and we will do our best to speak honestly and fairly about them.)

Maybe you want to affirm that sex should only happen in the context of marriage between one man and one woman. Maybe you want to affirm that sex is something fun and you want your child to really enjoy himself/herself, whether it's in the context of a relationship or a one-night stand. Maybe you want to affirm polyamory, or have your child grow up believing that same-sex couples are normal, or that the act of sex is only for procreation, or ..... Whatever your values are, take some time to think about what it is you want your child to learn, know, value and believe - keeping in mind that they may not grow up to share your values or beliefs. Once you as a parent (or as co-parents) are clear on the values you want to communicate to your child, it becomes a bit easier to figure out the age-appropriate ways to share those over time.

I also want to be clear that parents should agree on a strategy, even if it's unlikely that both parents (if both parents are active in rearing your child) have the same comfort levels in the actual talking about sex and sexuality. In our household, I'm both more knowledgeable, more comfortable, and more educated on the topic, so I'm the primary sexuality educator - but we both know that our child is learning from BOTH of us, and my spouse is very intentional about modeling healthy, open, compassionate and female-affirming sexuality.

This link provides a really helpful primer for talking about sexuality with your child: Planned Parenthood

But let's talk in more detail:

1. It's not just one talk - it's a regular, ongoing conversation that begins at birth. When we gave our child her first bath, we talked about each body part as we cleaned it - her head, her shoulders, her elbows, her chest, her back, her bottom, her vulva, her legs, her feet, her hands. We are vigilant about using correct medical terms, so babies don't grow in a woman's "tummy" but her "uterus." Of course, this also means that our toddler asked us this year, "Does Santa have a penis?" and she's been known to ask this about our friends and family members.

2. Know what your kid is really asking. "Where did I come from?" might be a question about childbirth. It might also be about adoption, or Toledo, or any number of things. "What do you mean?" can both buy you a little time to organize your thoughts and find out what they really want to know.

3. Remember - they will take their cues from you. If you are comfortable talking about it, or at least honest in expressing your discomfort, they will continue to ask from you. If you blow up or shut down the conversation, they will learn that sex and sexuality are shameful and maybe bad.

4. It's okay to say, "I don't know," or "I need a little more time to think about this before I answer." You can follow that up with, "Let's find the answer together," or "Can we talk about this at X time?" or even, "Let me find out more information."

5. I cannot stress enough that these conversations about "sex" are really conversations about "sexuality" and they often intersect with conversations about faith/belief, if you are religious. They also intersect with conversations about patriarchy, oppression, liberation, culture, history, hope, dreams, sensuality, etc. This PDF on the "circles of sexuality" may provide some context.

In one of the parent trainings I led, a parent who has very different values than I do expressed the ways she had talked with her children about sex. She described it as "sharing your body," which was a clear and concise way to communicate her family's values about what happens during sex, and she did it in a very positive and affirming way. There wasn't a lot of shame attached to this description and actually a lot of love and delight came through when she spoke in these terms. I was very impressed, and have been trying myself to think of a pithy way to express our own values to our growing child.

LLL: Thank you for sharing this with us Elizabeth! You have given me a lot to think about with how I talk with my kids and I feel a little better prepared! I look forward to this "ongoing conversation".


This is the first part of our interview with sex educator and mom Elizabeth Dilley! We will have parts two and possibly three coming to this blog soon. If you have questions or comments about having "the talk" or as we know now, a series of talks with your kids, please let me know in the comments below.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Laundry: The Neverending Story

I dislike housework, housekeeping, home keeping, chores, cleaning, straightening, organizing, putting away, whatever. It always feels like I am on an endless hamster wheel. Do the dishes, make the dinner, clear the table, do the dishes, repeat ad infintum. I married someone quite like me, he also would rather find something, anything else to do. This is a mixed blessing, because while neither of us is badgering the other person to pick up more or feeling resentful that the other person is more comfortable with mess, neither of us is actually leaping up from the couch to clean.

We got along okay in our mutual sloth until we had children. Children turn everything up to 11. We were both determined to do better and actually I think we have. We started small, with the laundry. First we bought a pink wood and cloth folding hamper for our daughter's room. She's 11 and still using the same hamper. I kept it next to her changing table near the closet. As I pulled the baby out of her tiny onesies and even tinier socks I would grab a bottle of stain treatment and hose down whatever messes she had accumulated. Then as I did laundry all I had to do was dump everything in the washing machine, and add the soap and hit start. This worked so well with her clothes that I started doing the same routine for my own clothes, getting them in the hamper, already stain treated, pockets emptied, turned right side out. My husband spontaneously bought some rubber sock rings and started pairing his socks before he put them in the wash. He puts clothes in the wash before he leaves for work, I make sure they go into the dryer when I get home with the kids, and then after they go to bed we fold the clothes. The folded clothes either get put on top of the dresser in the kid's room or left right outside their door. Our clothes get put into the dresser.

That doesn't sound like a lot but the routine took years to establish. We tried a lot of other things first. Having a specific laundry day, where we did all of the laundry at once. We tried getting the clothes washed and dried before work. We tried having one person do the laundry by themselves, we tried trading that job back and forth. Sometimes the laundry routine would get so insane we'd load the entire back of the car up with dirty clothes and drive to the laundromat with soap, bleach, and baskets and go and do all of the laundry in 2 hours using the super capacity machines. The upside to the 2 hour laundry marathon was that the laundromat was right next door to a Goodwill charity shop. As clothes came from the dryer that were too small, or were unwanted for any reason, we could bag them up and drop them off on the way home. The cost was astronomical, but at least we could begin again without climbing a slippery pile of dirty clothes I dubbed Mt. NeveRest.

The story flipped again when we lived in a place that didn't have a reliable dryer, but did have a large clothesline. I learned that if you want gleamingly white undershirts, dry them in the sun. Seriously, blinding whites. Sheets smell fanatic dried in the sun. Bathing suits and leotards and any garment that has a lot of stretch, will last forever getting line dried. I quit ever putting my bras in the dryer after that. They dry so quickly and they last forever! The hooks never snag other clothes in the dryer, nor do the underwires get bent.

We live in a new place now, same old routine, except the washer and dryer are in the garage and we hang clothes from the garage door tracks. The garage doors on this house were sealed off 30 plus years ago, but the tracks remained. Things that get hung up to dry include, all dresses, all bras, bathing suits, leotards, tights, pantyhose. Anything that has glitter or sequins on it. All of my husband's work shirts, all of his work pants, anything that is made in a "stretch fabric" anything very sheer or that has beadwork, or complicated embroidery. When I dry things in the dryer, I make sure what goes in the washer is compatible. Towels get washed together, jeans get washed together, bath mats and throw rugs get washed together. T-shirts and similarly weighted clothes get washed together. This way everything will dry in the same amount of time and it causes less wear and tear on your clothes. I am obsessed with removing the dryer lint. The girls like to throw it in the yard for the birds to make nests. Recently we saved our in-laws' dryer by going to the outside of the house and removing the cap on the dryer vent. It had become clogged with dryer lint, we pulled out 2 feet of backed up lint from the vent and now their dryer does the job in less than half the time. It was getting to be a serious fire hazard. If your dryer starts to take longer and longer to dry I suggest you locate your vent and check!

Everything we wash is separated by color, all darks and reds go together unless I have enough reds to have their own load. Light colored clothes get their own wash as do whites. I wash everything in cold water, it saves energy and money. The only exception to that is bed sheets and whites, they get washed on hot water. I use very little bleach, but I do use it on things like white socks or t-shirts. I have taken to using the detergent pods, that just get thrown in the wash. I wash delicate items on the hand washing cycle with a little Woolite. My favorite stain treatment is a cleanser called "Greased Lightning" which is also an all-purpose cleanser. Such became my zeal to complete my laundry that I would even bring it with me. I once lived 6 hours from my Mom, if I was coming to see her over the weekend, I would bring my dirty laundry with me and bring it home folded and sorted into piles to go straight to the drawers. My kids' drawers were labeled with pictures of the appropriate clothes, so they could put them away themselves.

So now our laundry is all caught up, big deal right? Well, by establishing the hamper routine, you have to make sure the hamper gets emptied. That keeps clothes off the floor. The bathmats and towels are getting washed regularly, which helps keep the bathroom clean. The dishcloths and dish towels are always ready to go to work in your suddenly cleaner kitchen. When the clothes are clean you have to make sure you can put them in the drawers and closets, so these start becoming cleaner and more organized spaces. With me it started with my fantastically organized underwear and sock drawer, then the jeans all started going to one place, then I started folding my t-shirts like the professional organizers do. When you can see your clothes at a glance you can routinely weed clothes out of the wardrobes. For the kids we try and check in the Spring and the Fall, but sometimes they have a sudden growth spurt and you notice all of their clothes look like capri pants and 3/4 length sleeves. Regular laundry means these clothes are always ready to be bagged up and taken to a thrift shop or to a friend with smaller kids.

If you are swimming in a sea of chaos, you just start with one thing, anything and watch the ripple effects. Maybe you have your home life down, but work is where you are floundering. Make a commitment to one thing there and see what happens. Fix your files, check e-mail first thing, block Facebook from your computer, whatever it is that is your personal boondoggle. My opinion is that when we take a macro view of our lives, the problems seem insurmountable. When we look at our lives in smaller parts we can see solutions. Can I fix everything today? No? Can I finish this load of laundry, sort, wash, dry, fold, put away? YES, I CAN!

Monday, January 6, 2014

I Never Wanted a Dog

As a kid, we had dogs, several dogs in fact. I never remember going and GETTING a dog, either, it always seemed like they somehow appeared unbidden in our lives. Sometimes they overlapped by a few years, so we would have two dogs, a junior and a senior dog if you will.

Dogs I have lived with include, in no particular order: Pulgas, Patches, Red, Poochie, Hambone, Connie, and Tipper. This does not include the cats, birds, fish, ferret, Guinea pig, rabbits, hamsters and occasional turtle that we also shared residence with occasionally.

Later with my boyfriend/husband we had joint custody of a cat, but when his allergies flared and mine came back with a vengeance we re-homed her and lived the blissful life of non-pet owners. Non-pet owners have a charmed existence. The money that goes towards pet food, vet bills, boarding fees, special toys and groomers, can be spent on frivolities like bread or the good parmesan cheese. If you wind up at work late, or stuck in traffic you don't worry that there is a mad creature tearing up toilet paper while you are gone because they are bored, or alternatively, there isn't some poor soul crossing all 4 of its legs trying not to have an "accident" in the living room. The time you spend scooping a cat box or unfurling a tiny plastic bag in front of the neighbor's house can be spent reading or relaxing or just relishing the fact that the only feces you disposed of that day was your own.

Then we had kids. And for awhile it was quite like having a pet. They had to be walked, and taken for check ups, their shots were expensive, they required special food and of course you got up close and familiar with their defecation as well. But kids grow up! They learn to eat and even prepare simple foods! They toilet train! They go to free public school for 6 hours a day so it's like free boarding!

A dog always seemed like HUGE step backward in the slow process of freedom I secured for myself over the last few years. When you have a kid that can make cereal for itself and the other kid in your life? That my friends is the sweet taste of freedom to the prisoner. That extra 15 minutes of sleep for me in the morning would disappear if I had to walk a dog. No sir, nu-uh!

My children (then ages 10 and 5) had been campaigning for a dog for awhile. In fact when the elder child was only 5 herself, we had given her an option, she could have a dog or she could have a sibling. She negotiated for and received the promised sister, so her life and ours had been puppy-free. When the younger sister was a terrible two, the elder one tried to renegotiate for a dog again, so we introduced her to the legal term, "no backsies".

As the baby learned to speak she joined her elder sister in pleas for a dog. My rock-solid reasoning fell unheeded, "We move a lot. We are always on the road." didn't seem to penetrate their consciousness at all. In fact their whining only increased in volume and intensity.

When we moved back to Orlando, within whining earshot of their grandparents, the kids finally got their wish. As all grandparents are legally required to do, they caved immediately to the children's tiny terroristic demands. The grands announced plans to purchase a dog as soon as they were back from a 3 week trip. Knowing negotiation with them was as futile as dealing with the children, my husband and I moved quickly to secure a dog.

Again, no-one in my family ever buys a dog. You just GET a dog. As it turned out both my youngest sister and my mother had both recently acquired new dogs. My family traveled to see Mom and Sis and to quietly audition the animals. A mountain feist dog had recently turned up in a neighbors yard and ended up being fostered by my parents. A Chihuahua/terrier mix had been intercepted on it's way to the animal shelter by my sister. Both dogs were small, less than 10 pounds, which made them portable and appropriate for our peripatetic lifestyle and they both needed forever homes. The kids liked both dogs a great deal, but the little Chihuahua with the soulful brown eyes won the day. Also, I think my parents knew by this point that the mountain feist had bonded with their miniature pinschers and would make a lovely addition to their pack of ridiculously small dogs.

We broke the news to the girls while we were at the pet store. As we rang up a dog bed, dog crate, pet food, harness, new leash, chew toys, reward snacks, pet mess carpet cleaner, slicker brush, food and water bowls, and a book on puppy training I turned to the girls and said, "You have to get scholarships to college now." No joke, on pet supplies, spaying, shots and flea and worm medicines we easily spent $400.

We named her Delilah Jacqueline. She is commonly called Delilah. She likes to jump around and roll on the ground with the girls while they giggle like maniacs. She enjoys knocking over wastebaskets and chasing squirrels in the yard. She gets taken on a short walk in the morning by the kids, short walk in the afternoon to pick the girls up from school and then a long walk in the evenings. Her worms have finally cleared up, she's flea free. Can I say I am loving this entirely? No. I paid the neighbor kid to come over and play with the dog and walk her while we were at Disney all day. Coughing up another $20 on top of a trip to a theme park is, um, not my favorite way to spend money. That seriously cuts into my churro budget. I still really hate picking up poop, but I really hate people who leave the poop right there on the walk-way. Seriously, some of you people must be walking ELEPHANTS, the amount of poop that is out there! But a walk every night, that's good. Watching my kids play in the yard with their dog, that's good. Watching the dog sleep, curled in a ball, on my husband's lap while he watches football, that's good. Writing this post while the dog sits right on my hip, occasionally looking up at me with her goofy little face. That's good.

"Hey there Delilah, here's to you."

Friday, January 3, 2014


Like virtually every other woman my age, I use the social media site Pinterest, which combines the non-stop thrill ride of screwing around on the internet with the go-go hedonism of scrap booking. It's the perfect hobby for the exhausted mother of two. I feel like I am accomplishing something, "Making plans for the birthday!", "Collecting cookie recipes", "Decorating ideas for the kids' rooms." without actually having to, you know, make cookies or decorate anything. Because that crap is tiring. And messy. And may require me to talk to my family.

I have various boards for long-term projects, like when we finally purchase our own home, the poetically named "The Home Sweet Home of Someday, Somewhere" for home decor ideas. I have some lists of things I saw on the internet that made me laugh, and then I have some weird stuff I truly thought would only be of interest to me. My most popular board by far is "Odd Socks" which I started because my kids apparently can only have one sock of any kind at a time. In fact, I'm not sure how they did it, but we were at a friend's house recently and my kids managed to leave some random socks in her front yard.

I also have some inspirational pins featuring women I admire over at, "Awesome Women". I'm also slowly gathering statements that reflect "My Life Philosophies".

So, if you too are a person who wishes to escape the sordid reality of often being too busy to shower and you wish to join me in my fantasy world where I make my own bath products, follow me on Pinterest. And remember:

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Why I Shouldn't Be Allowed to be Anyone's Parent, Part 1

I hear people say the same things over and over again about being a parent.

These are often kind, well-meaning, mature people. People who probably have already raised successful children. I should listen to these people. Most likely I will not.

1) "Spare the rod, spoil the child."

Really, random person? You said that OUT LOUD TO ME? As I am dealing with my kid's tearful meltdown in the middle of the grocery store? Look, I appreciate that this is not pleasant for you to listen to. It isn't pleasant for me either but at the exact time that this little slice of motherhood was happening we had all just recovered from the stomach flu. My child was still cranky and feeling nauseated and my quick trip out into the world occurred because we were out of Pedialyte and ginger ale, AKA the only things we could keep down at that time. I'm sorry I didn't beat my 2 year old right there in the soda aisle, because surely THAT would have calmed her down. You know what I say, spare the rod, spoil the closet. We all need more hanging space. You go chill.

2) "He's such a dedicated father!"

Really, nice lady at the church nursery? I mean, he IS a dedicated father, but he's just changing a diaper, not giving up a kidney here. The fact is, if he changed every diaper on that child from now until she is potty trained in 4 more months, he WILL NEVER CATCH UP TO ME. In fact the primary reason we have a second child 5 year later is so that he can get the chance to at least EVEN UP THE NUMBERS. He is still woefully behind on breastfeeding.

3) "Boys will be boys."

REALLY, lady at the playground?! Your son battered my kid and left her crying and bleeding on the playground. The parallel scratches on her face will take a week to heal and leave her scared and shaken for 2 days. Your boy didn't do that to my kid because he's a boy, he did it because you are a jerk.

4) "She's such a cutie/beauty!"

Yes, my children are beautiful. I know that, they know that, people in Australia can see how cute my kids are. We appreciate hearing it! However after awhile if that is ALL you ever say about my kids I will know you are not paying attention. They are also kind, weird, fearless, friendly, curious, funny, demonstrative, dramatic, strong, resilient, imaginative, creative, compassionate, tough and cool. Just like their parents.

5) "How are the kids?"

Thank you for asking. I love talking about my kids, I really do, please see above or almost 85% of the posts I write on Facebook. We can talk about them, or talk about me, my new job, my continuing collegiate adventure, my husband's new business, the marching band I joined, a cool article I read recently, the plight of the diminishing honeybees, the new Hobbit movie, my recipe for homemade Chex Mix, or more importantly, YOU. We can talk about YOU for awhile, my friend. Just you, not your kids or your husband, your siblings or your parents. How are YOU doing, what are YOU thinking about these days? Let's go get a drink and be silly for awhile, you look like you could use a break.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Happy New Year

It's tempting isn't it to treat the "official" new year as a time to re-prioritize, re-direct our lives. The dominant cultural narrative is that after the excesses of the holiday season, we begin an ascetic new life as a more purified version of our "real selves"; a person who is always smarter, calmer, fitter, more prayerful, soulful, hopeful, learnéd than our current cookie-bloated wreck of humanity. How many of us start new workout routines, diets, diaries, BLOGS, attempt ONE MORE TIME to read Ulysses, or the Bible straight through, without skipping the "begats", or any other number of physical, mental or moral challenges set forth just because the calendar has slipped into another year?

The other day my darling younger daughter was talking, mostly to herself, in that unselfconscious monologue peculiar to street people and small children. She glanced up at our hand-written dry erase board calendar and said in a sad but calmly resigned voice, "Oh no! It's the end of the world." Sufficiently alarmed I looked up and saw her telling our dog, "That's it Delilah! We are out of numbers in a few days." She gestured languidly at the calendar and said in a sing-song, "Soon we will all be dead, even youuuuu, you'll be in doggie heaven" She patted the dog's head and said, "Don't worry! I'll fix it!" and in her kindergarten scrawl added a charmingly backward 14, 15, 16, 17 to the empty squares at the end of the board. (She had read the 31 as a 13) Looking back at our dog she said, "It's okay Delilah. I saved the world" and then wandered off to the living room, probably to build a nuclear reactor out of Legos and Barbie doll shoes.

I stood there, gob-smacked, is probably the best word? She had delineated for me the essential fallacy of the import of the changeover from December 31 to January 1. There are always more days! That's the very fact that defeats our best laid plans for a new diet, right? Chomping down on-sale early Valentine's candy in a doldrum of a winter afternoon, we despair of having "blown it" only a week or two into a our bright and shiny resolutions. What if instead, we acknowledge there are always more days, and some days require more candy than others. Tomorrow may well require grapefruit, or turkey pastrami, or miso broth and ginger ale, have confidence that you will know when you get there. Resolve to do your very best, always. But if you mess up, just write in some more days. You might save the world.