The Upside Down

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Season 2 of Stranger Things just debuted on Netflix. I haven’t had the time to watch it yet, but as I sat down to add the next entry into my Power Point Series, I was reminded of the Upside Down.

For the uninitiated, it’s basically a world underneath the one we live in. What is in the Upside has a sort of distorted reflection in the world of the Upside Down. It’s a scary place and it reminded me of one of the nuggets of wisdom I passed onto my kids, because this one is particularly scary, and many people never give it a second thought.

Anything you can get down here can, you can get up here. (Imagine a circle around the genital area, followed by a circle around the mouth area.)

The dangers of unprotected sex are well documented and widely known, particularly when it comes to sexually transmitted infections (STI). What is often left out of the discussion is the possibility of contracting an STI from oral sex. Yep, you can get cauliflower on your junk, and in your mouth. No amount of cheese sauce can make that thought appetizing.

There has been a lot of focus on the value of abstinence, as it relates to coitus. Unfortunately, there has been little to no attention given to the risks of oral sex. Many teens that want to remain virgins until they are married don’t consider a little oral contact with the land down under to be sex. Since you can’t get pregnant from it, it doesn’t count, right? And that is true, you can’t get pregnant that way, but you can contract a serious infection with life altering repercussions.

There are ways to diminish the risks associated with oral sex. I made sure to discuss those with the kids as well, but let’s face it, who really, aside from someone in the sex industry, thinks about the need to glove up before heading to the Upside Down? Hopefully, now those versed in the Power Point will.

So, dear reader, beware the Upside Down.

Blender or Blunder?

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I figured it’s been a long time since I expanded my Power Point Series, so I’ve got a new entry for you.

Navigating a romantic relationship is fraught with detours, roadblocks and the occasional IED. Add the complicated emotions that come with adolescence and even the smallest misunderstanding can lead to rivers of tears and a coffee table full of empty ice cream containers.

Nothing about romance is easy. It’s even harder to try to guide your kids through it. To help, I gave my kids a simple piece of advice. When you face conflict in a relationship it’s helpful to remember the following:

Boys are stupid and girls are crazy.

I know, I know, that’s sexist. And judgmental. And stereotyping. And (insert your objection/offense here). But it’s also mostly true.

Generally speaking boys do/say things without thinking them through. While girls have a tendency to overthink all actions and conversation. When you put a boy and a girl in a relationship, these two divergent operating systems can lead to a cataclysmic disaster over the smallest of misunderstandings.

To add insult to injury, during adolescence and the early 20s, our brains are still growing and developing. The frontal lobe, that helps us navigate the pitfalls of life and relationships, doesn’t reach full maturity until around 22-25 years of age. Men take a little longer than women to grow fully functioning brains. (Sorry guys, that’s why it sucks to be a freshman; all the girls your age are ready to date seniors.)

Here’s a snapshot of the situation:

Two immature brains

One underthinks (I am a skilled neologist. Just ask my spellcheck)

One overthinks

Tidal waves of hormones are coursing through both brains

Uh oh. No good can come of this.

There’s a scene from the Steve Martin version of Father of the Bride that perfectly sums up this issue. Steve’s daughter comes home from college engaged. While in the midst of wedding planning, the young couple celebrates their 8th month anniversary. When she returns from their night out, she is in tears and tells her dad the wedding is off because her fiancé has given her a horribly inappropriate anniversary gift. Steve looks in the box and is surprised by what he finds – a blender. Through the course of their conversation it comes to light that she is afraid her intended is expecting her to be a 1950s like housewife, instead of the architect she dreams of becoming. Why else would he give her a blender? When her fiancé shows up, horribly distraught, he explains that he bought her the blender because he knows she likes to make banana milkshakes.

At first it seems easy to blame the girl for being a little cuckoo because it really was a little crazy to assume that her fiancé was signaling his desire to chain her to the kitchen. However, considering they are about to be married, it’s safe to assume he had some inkling that she might be wrestling with her new role and that a household appliance might not be the best gift. (At least one would hope they had discussed something of that magnitude.) Of course, he didn’t stop to think about anything other than a banana milkshake. He didn’t think it through and she overreacted. Boys are stupid and girls are crazy.

I’d love to tell you it stops after the early 20s, but not so much. If I sat down and tried to add up all the times I have made a mountain out of a molehill, I’m pretty sure I’d run out of numbers. And I’m sure my husband, if you twisted his arm, would admit that he’s done some pretty stupid things over the course of our 25-year marriage. A few of our more memorable fights involved, backseat driving, dishwasher loading and underwear folding. Yes, underwear folding. Didn’t you know the way you fold underwear is a sign of respect and it expresses your desire, or lack thereof, to make your spouse happy?

So why is this gem important enough to earn a spot on my Power Point? Because it’s a quick way to check your standing in any argument with your significant other. Considering the truth usually lies somewhere between her side and his side, a gut check is always a good idea.

Her: Did he really do something stupid or am I just being a little crazy?

Him: Is she being crazy or did I just do something stupid?

It’s an easy way to gain insight into motivations, reactions and even determine if it’s worth a confrontation. Honestly, if I was better about doing this gut check before reacting to my husband when I’m upset, we’d have a lot less conflict.

I definitely could have used this knowledge during the Great Burger Meltdown of 1992. Not long after my husband and I were married, we had a death in my family and needed to head to California for a funeral. The day we were set to fly out, my husband went to grab us some lunch at a local fast food burger joint. I asked him to get me a cheeseburger with no onions. In his haste, he ordered a cheeseburger, hold the cheese, with extra onions. He came home and handed me my burger. I opened it and could smell the onions. It was an instant fight. How could he not have remembered after almost three years together that I don’t like onions? How could I be so upset when he was trying to do something nice? It was bad, and utterly ridiculous. He could have paid better attention to what he ordered for me, and I could have refrained from flying off the handle. It was one of the stupidest fights we’ve ever had. Although, he has never ordered me anything with onions on it since, so I may have come out on top of that one.

I am hoping the teaching my kids this concept now will save them from unnecessary turbulence in their romantic relationships down the road. When they find themselves in conflict with a loved one of the opposite sex, I hope my kids will remember what it took me years to figure out. Lots of upset can be avoided if you take a minute to remind yourself of this one thing: Boys are stupid and girls are crazy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Don’t Be Ellen Griswold

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“If someone says, ‘Don’t worry, I’ll erase this later.’ Steal the camera.” – Uncle Ryan

At this point, I feel I must confess that not all of the slides in my Power Point came directly out of my mouth. A couple of them were actually uttered by my younger brother. I have him to thank for the quote above and the subject of this entry in the Power Point Series.

During the majority of my children’s formative years my younger brother, Ryan, lived with us. The situation worked out quite well for all of us. My brother was able to move here from another state and not have to worry about finding a place to live, and I had the benefit of another adult around while my husband was away flying from sea to shining sea.

Family dinner is a regular occurrence at our house and as I’m sure anyone that’s met us can imagine, we have had some interesting conversations at the table. At one such dinner we were discussing all the borderline inappropriate advice I had provided the kids when my brother came up with some sage advice of his own. (See above quote.)

Every time I remember my brother’s statement on prudent media management, I am reminded of National Lampoon’s European Vacation. For those of you unfamiliar with the film, let me give you a brief recap of the scene that comes to mind. Said scene involves a video camera, a shower & a promise from Clark to his wife Ellen that he will erase the footage he has just shot. Clark being Clark, of course fails to erase the video, the camera is subsequently stolen and the contents of the videotape are then turned into an adult film starring the erstwhile Mrs. Griswold. The titular star and her family discover what has happened when they run into a billboard advertising Ellen’s debut role.

National Lampoon’s European Vacation was released in 1985. At that time, Clark’s mistake was especially funny because of its absurdity. Today, in the age of social media, the reality is it would be very easy to have something like this happen to you. Just ask a few of the actresses that have had their phones hacked and then watched as very private photos spread like wildfire over the interwebz. Or even the myriad stories of high schoolers that sent all manner of pictures to people they thought they could trust, only to find they had been shared with the entire school.

Facebook, Instagram, SnapChat, Twitter, etc. are all incredibly good ways to stay in contact with friends and family. They’re also great ways to share what’s going on in your life, your thoughts on the weather, politics, your blog, photos, etc. But if you’re not careful social media can be an incredibly easy way for others to share things you don’t want shared. Such as the picture you sent your friend asking for advice on the new bra you’re trying on at Victoria’s Secret. Or the flirty cleavage shot you sent a potential partner. Or even the Richard (think private part, not Nixon) pic you sent to the head cheerleader in an attempt to get her to text you back. The truth of the matter is, nothing on the Internet truly disappears. It will be there in perpetuity, and you never know when a youthful indiscretion may come back to haunt you.

The moral of the story is – make sure you’re in control of what you record and distribute. If you trust someone else to safeguard your reputation, you may regret it. And the consequences can be both devastating and life altering. Teachers, beauty queens, politicians, just to name a few, have lost jobs due to old pictures surfacing years later. Many teenagers have committed suicide following the release of compromising pictures without their approval. Sadly, the people that do the sharing often have no idea how negatively their actions may impact the subject of the released material.

In the unfortunate event that you have been recorded doing something you may regret, go ahead and heed Uncle Ryan’s advice; steal the camera. Of course, it’s not all doom and gloom if your pictures get leaked. There is at least one infamous instance of a sex tape success story. A certain video starring a Kardashian launched an empire. Unfortunately for my family, I’m no Kris Jenner…

Beware the Stick Shift

“Never have sex in a car. Especially not a stick shift,” I blurted out while watching the movie 27 Dresses with my ailing girl child several years ago. I don’t think I need to spoiler alert this since the movie is nearly a decade old, but just in case. **Spoiler Alert** The two main characters attempt to hookup in a VW bug. Thus my outburst.

While it was funny at the time, I got to thinking later about how it contained a kernel of wisdom. During our late teens and early twenties, sexual desire seems to be a constant companion. Problem is, we usually share space with so many other people, from parents to siblings and roommates, there’s no private place in which to get busy. Therefore, many a teen has lost his or her virginity in the backseat of a car.

If the only place you can find to have sex due to limited private space is a car, perhaps you’re not really prepared to have sex. (Rest assured I’m not talking about married/more mature couples, because there’s no denying the allure of enjoying the usually taboo vehicle assisted hanky panky. Particularly when there are toddlers and a baby sitter at home.) After all, barring some truly rare medical situation, there’s no 100% effective method of birth control other than abstinence. Every encounter could lead to a baby; just ask the couple in the VW commercial I’ve attached to this post. And I don’t know many roommates that are really down for you ruining your singles pad vibe by introducing your unplanned progeny to the mix.

Another aspect of the no car sex advice that is important to note is the commitment of the individuals involved. If you are in a committed relationship and have mutually decided the time is right to add the sexual component to your relationship, then you ought to be able to find somewhere else to play hide the salami. The no car rule can help you keep from making a rash decision that you will regret later. If you can’t wait long enough to find another place, then you may need to take a breather. It’s easy to be swept away by a passionate moment with no thought to the long-term implications of your dalliance.

Finally, the stick shift. I mean come on, who wants one of those poking them in a sensitive place? Seriously, unless it’s a high dollar sports car, it’s not worth the risk of becoming the case of the week on an episode of “Sex Sent Me to the ER.”

 

The Prophylactic Power of Taco Bell

“If you’re going to get stoned, go to Taco Bell first.”

Every person at some time or another feels the need to blow off a little steam and have some fun. Get rowdy, crazy, out of their mind. Turns out that is a natural part of the human condition. Dr. Andrew Weil, in his book “The Natural Mind,” describes the phenomenon as it often manifests itself in children. They spin themselves in circles, hang upside down from monkey bars, roll down hills, etc. All done with the promise of a tiny window into an altered consciousness.

I truly believe this desire is innate – we’re born this way (yes, Lady Gaga is right sometimes.) I even noticed it in my own child no long after becoming a mom. At the ripe old age of two months, my daughter loved to lie on my lap, then push herself away from me just enough to allow her to hang her head off my knees and see the world upside down. It was such a common occurrence that I would warn people holding her for the first time about her propensity to jettison herself off a lap. The warning was an attempt to protect both my child and my friend from a mishap.

There is no doubt in my mind that this impulse stays with us throughout our lives. And we all succumb to it in one way or another. Some use substances, others meditate, still others seek the adrenaline rush known as the “runner’s high.” There are myriad ways to alter ones consciousness in the world today. Furthermore, as technology increases our access to everything under the sun, the options continue to expand.

Perhaps at no time in our lives are we more susceptible to the temptation to give into this desire than during adolescence. New experiences, paired with the natural rebellious nature of teens and the allure of taboo substances is often too good to pass up. I can tell you from experience that, for some kids, no lectures, education, etc., will keep them from choosing to alter their consciousness with the use of drugs and/or alcohol.

Armed with this knowledge, I needed a way to make it clear to my kids that if they are going to make a decision like that, it behooves them to be as safe as possible about it. Akin to a lesson on safe sex, this is a lesson on safe, for lack of a better word, partying.

“If you’re going to get stoned, stop at Taco Bell first.” After all, pot leads to munchies, which leads to the need to consume large amounts of junk food. What a bummer it would be to smoke a blunt and then not have any food to eat, right? Talk about harshing a mellow!

Seriously though, the point is to make sure you have made your environment as safe as possible if you intend to imbibe. Secure a ride/driver, make sure you know and trust your companions, be sure you’re in a safe place, not some crack house down the street. Make no mistake, as hyperbolic as this may sound, even kids with the best upbringing occasionally make poor choices. I just wanted mine armed with the knowledge of how to protect themselves as best as possible. . A metaphorical condom for substance use, if you will. Thankfully, this condom comes with a reminder on many street corners in our nation; after all Taco Bell is a national chain.

Looking back, I guess I could have used the age old “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” But what fun is that?

Cauliflower – It’s Not Just A Side Dish

“You Don’t Want Cauliflower On Your Junk”

This may be on of my more famous, and shocking, Power Points. I know it’s one of the more memorable of the bunch. And it speaks to the importance of choosing wisely when it comes to sexual choices.

When I was growing up, we were shown a video in health class about sexually transmitted diseases, now known as STIs. The entire thing was a cartoon. It depicted the various infections as rebel soldiers, marching towards an invasion of your body. They even wore red coats because of course, they threatened your freedom. It talked about building good defenses, with pacifism (abstinence) being the most effective. I remember the entire class laughing through it. No one took it seriously because it was so incredibly silly. In its attempt to deal with the topic as gingerly as possible, it failed to make an impact or convince us that STIs are a thing to be taken seriously. As a result, the STI rate in my generation was fairly high.

While in college, I was required to take a Human Sexuality class to complete my Bachelor’s degree. The class was interesting & also horrifying. At that time a rather large scale research study came out that examined the average Sexual IQ of high school seniors. The large number of young adults that had no clue about the realities of birth control, STIs, etc. was astounding. One 18-year-old girl surveyed actually believed that if she stood up in high heels following intercourse, she could prevent pregnancy. Seriously? When the questions turned to STIs it became clear that the current course of sex education going on in this country was insufficient. With the rise of AIDS, the days of just telling kids not to do it until they were married were past.

When we got to the STI section in the text book, I found the most convincing reason to be sexually responsible. Pictures. The pictures of venereal diseases were disgusting. These were not the red coats coming for our nether regions, these were real life, scary looking things that grew in and even on you. And one of the pictures reminded me of a staple of the dinner table, cauliflower. I decided right then and there, that my textbook for that class would stay in my library. I knew that those pictures would become part of my arsenal in the campaign to educate my future children.

(This is where I have to put in a disclaimer that yes, I know all these things are now available on the internet. However, I’m so old that the worldwide web was in its infancy then. In fact, I had one of the very first .edu email addresses on campus due to my research work, but at that point we had no idea how the internet would one day rule the world. And replace my textbook.)

Cut to many years later, and it was time to deal with the heady subject with my children. And of course, in my all things blunt manner, when we got to the subject of STIs I blurted out, “You don’t want cauliflower on your junk.” There was a little shock, lots of laughter, and then a long, frank discussion about what I meant. We talked about all the options available when it came to your sexual decisions. After making it clear that the very best possible course of action, to protect yourself & your partner, is to wait until you have married, we continued on. We talked about abstinence, unplanned pregnancy, infection rates, the differences between treatable infections and lifelong ones, etc. My outburst, and the ensuing giggles, opened the door for a meaningful, edifying time. And it continues to do so.

At least in our family, laughter is often both the best medicine, and conversation starter.

Drinking, Driving & Drugs – Two of These Go Together

In my house music is a part of every day. Be it professionally produced, hummed by one of us, or completely made up – it’s an important facet of our lifestyle. I have a penchant for making up ridiculous songs about all manner of topics, however for this one I reached deep into my memory bank back to my Sesame Street days. There was a song I used to sing all the time, “One Of These Things Is Not Like The Others.” That song is what inspired this slide.

Let’s face it, everyone likes to have a good time. For many that involves an occasional adult beverage. For some, wisely or not, that means several. We also have a basic need to get from place to place on occasion; because although communes were all the rage in the 60s and 70s, most of us do not live with our friends. Since man (because of course women would never do this) first began to use modes of transportation other than walking, locomoting under the influence has been an issue. Actually, I’d guess that a fair share of walkers put themselves in danger while intoxicated even before there was no other choice of conveyance. And while it seems as if it’s nonsensical to hop into a two ton metal machine while inebriated, for far too many it is not.

This same desire to have a good time exists in our kids. It would be great if they just chose not to imbibe until they are of age, however that often doesn’t happen. In many ways, adolescents are more likely to make poor decisions when it comes to driving under the influence. The arrogance of youth and faith in their own invincibility often leads to ruin. Theirs, their passengers, other drivers, etc. A poor decision in this arena can be life altering, or even ending.

In both their ability to alter consciousness and their tendency to coalesce, drinking and drugs are the two that go together. Driving is obviously the one that’s “not like the others.” The discussion could have ended there, but I used this slide to cover one more facet of the drug and alcohol subject. The debate over what a true “gateway drug” is continues to rage on, even in professional circles. No matter how that debate ends, or continues in perpetuity, the evidence that alcohol use typically precedes drug experimentation in adolescents is irrefutable. (Cigarette use is also highly correlated with both drug and alcohol use, but that gets its own slide.) When you choose to drink, particularly at a party, it’s much easier to decide to take the next step. Especially when it’s a good friend passing the pipe.

I’m certain my kids are tired of me singing that old Sesame Street song as they walk out the door. Honestly, at this point, I tend to get a good natured eye roll. But I’ll keep doing it. I continue to hope that it reminds them how high the stakes can be, and helps the message stick in their consciousness. So far, I haven’t had to bail anyone out or rush to an ER, so they couldn’t have completely blown this slide off, right?

Love, Logic & Laughter

There’s a popular parenting paradigm called Love and Logic. The school district we live in has offered several seminars with the author and those trained in the method. Of all the parenting approaches I’ve heard about, this one seems to make the most sense. Natural consequences, setting clear expectations, consistency, etc. But I think it’s missing a key that the husband and I use. Laughter.

There’s a medication on the market currently that is used to treat the post-stroke phenomenon of inappropriate affect. What does that mean? Well, as Danny Glover explains, it means displaying an emotion/reaction that isn’t necessarily appropriate for the situation. Outbursts of crying or laughing. The first time I saw the commercial I was afraid someone was going to tell me I needed it. You see, right or wrong, I tend to try to find a reason to laugh. My friends, I’m sure, are sick of hearing me say it but my motto is, “You can laugh or you can cry. I’ll laugh if at all possible.” It helps that I have a well-honed, slightly sick sense of humor. Spending several years in the mental health field tends to do that. Either that, or those of us with that type of personality gravitate towards the field. Hmmm, that sounds like a whole other post…

Anyway, given my propensity to find the humor in all situations, it should come as no surprise that I have approached parenting in much the same way. With an irreverent, often inappropriate sense of humor. No topic is off limits in our household. In fact, the more difficult the topic, the more we have tried to normalize discussion of it. Believing that it is our job to equip our kids for life in the real world, we have held little back. Sex? Yep. Drugs? Check. We have done our best to answer questions openly, and honestly. Sometimes a little more honestly than we feel comfortable with, but the thing about kids is, they know when you’re not honest with them. And every time you fib, they trust you a little less. Do I mean that we’ve told the whole unadulterated truth to a five year old? No. But I did have to have a very uncomfortable & frank conversation with my 12 year old about sex. You see, we wanted to be the main source of our kids’ education, in that area especially. Sometimes that meant getting ahead of the curve. As uncomfortable as it was for everyone involved. Especially the kid.

Unfortunately, my internal filter doesn’t always work so well. Especially when faced with a difficult task like discussing oral sex with a 6th grader. (Necessitated by a situation in our neighborhood.) As such, from time to time I have expressed my thoughts in a completely irreverent manner. The first time I did it I was horrified with myself. I even apologized for it. Alas, that didn’t keep me from doing it again. And again. And again. My inappropriate declarations became so regular that one of my kids created a power point with all of my catch phrases. As I paged through it, I was slightly horrified, but also entertained. And when my kids went through it with me, they appeared to feel the same way. The advice was funny, but honest and true. And because of the way it was presented, it seemed to stick a little better than any serious lecture on the topic could.

Just as I’m slowly introducing you to My Tribe, I’m going to run through the Power Point in several posts. Hopefully you’ll be more entertained than horrified. As I share them, I ask for your grace as I’m pretty much just spit-balling my way through this parenting thing.

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