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That icky stage of life is perfect for learning

© St. Petersburg Times
published February 17, 2002

It's come time for the second round of human growth and development classes (a.k.a. "sex education") in the Miller household, and true to form, the newest adolescent has been throwing around that phrase quite a bit.

As a mom, it's music to my ears. In fact, I'm counting on the 11-year-old feeling that way until she's at least 25.

So far so good. Along with being "totally grossed out," the kid is declaring that, like Peter Pan, she'll never grow up.

But whether either of us likes it or not, time pushes forward.

I think being taught about the "birds and the bees," before the revulsion wears off is essential for adolescents. So are lessons on responsibility.

While I've done my share of enlightening these past weeks, there have also been discussions at school concerning "the book" with the icky but intriguing pictures on pages 7 and 13.

Then there was an optional assignment to look after a hard boiled egg for an entire week without breaking it. This lesson, outlined in a permission slip asking for "grandparental" assistance (ie. babysitting the egg from time to time) is supposed to give the adolescent an idea of the drastic changes a baby can bring.

I still think I'm too young to take on the role of a grandma, but I was happy to sign on.

(I risk being accused of male bashing, but I feel the need to interject here that the first life lesson came early, when my daughter discovered that while all the girls in her class were enthusiastic caretakers, all but four of the boys opted out of this optional assignment.)

Like many who decided to start a family, I remember well the days when I thought I had it all figured out. I was 23 and pregnant. The picture in my head of what life would be like after my first child was born was nothing less than perfect.

And in many ways it was. To me, the birth of my son was a miracle. It came with a whirlwind of emotions that had me riding high for weeks.

Reality, like a pail of cold water tossed in the face, hit one afternoon when a few of my single, childless friends dropped by and began making spur-of-the-moment plans to visit a local pub.

"I'm in," I said.

Then I was reminded that with a sleeping baby upstairs, I wasn't going anywhere -- not for a loooooooooooooong time.

I realized then that a part of my life was over -- for good. That's something I don't want my daughter to experience any time soon. So, I welcomed this "new addition" to our family with open arms.

"Clarice," as our egg is called, is quite attractive. Permanent marker has given her beautiful long eyelashes that never smudge along with a permanent smile. Her head is adorned with a pink pipe cleaner bow glue-gunned to the top of her head. She wears a diaper (also glue-gunned) that never gets soiled.

I have to say that Clarice is a good egg -- always content, never fussing. She sleeps through the night and during dinner sits quietly by my daughter's plate looking happy as all get out.

A little too happy I figured.

Time to toss that pail of cold water.

"You know if that was a real baby you'd be feeding her while your dinner got cold," I told the "little mother" one night. "And that diaper -- well it would be really nasty by now, and you and your husband would probably be arguing about whose turn it was to change it."

Okay, perhaps that was a little cruel. But it seemed like my daughter was having a little too much fun with this motherly assignment.

"If this was a real baby, you could forget the trips to the GAP to buy new clothes for yourself or ever finishing that book you really like," I told her. "And as for video games, well it's hard to play when you're holding a baby that's wailing away or spitting up all over you."

At this point my daughter was looking a little peaked, likely wondering why anyone would want to become a parent.

And when she's ready I'll tell her the flip side -- when she's 25 or so.

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