Parents embarrass children. Public affection, singing, dancing — even your favorite jogging suit — can be gross in the eyes of your child. But if you're mom to a baby, you're lucky; the need for cool doesn't develop until around age 8. You still have time to brush up on a few skills and camouflage the sad, embarrassing truth for as long as possible!
With the help of Sue and Walter Browder, the authors of 101 Secrets a Cool Mom Knows, you can leave a lasting impression and survive your child's judgmental teen years.
We've borrowed a few secrets from their excellent book and added a few more of our own for this special list of 15 secrets a cool Northwest mom knows.
1. How to ‘do coffee,' kid-style
Most Seattleites are hardly strangers to coffee shops, and parents are no exception. In fact, a daily double-shot helps many moms jump-start a busy day. But, a cool Starbucks-savvy mom knows that there are kid-friendly latte options around. For less than the standard cost of a grown-up drink, kids can partake in the coffee experience without the unnecessary caffeine. Try a hot chocolate with an added shot of flavor, or, on a warmer day, a flavored Italian soda. A quick, kid-style coffee break after a long day at school might be as needed for them as it is for you. Check out our list of excellent kid-friendly java joints — then let the kids tip the barista.
2. How to flip a coaster
Your youngster isn't ready for a Northwest microbrew, but it's never too soon to learn a party trick or two. To help pass the time while waiting for chicken strips, fries and salad, remove the coaster from under your drink and balance it on the edge of the table in front of you (about half the coaster should be teetering off the edge). With your hand palm-down in front of you, keep your fingers extended and use the top of your fingers (the nail side) to flip the coaster up off the table so it makes half a rotation in the air. Quickly close your hand and catch the coaster on its descent. This takes practice, but eventually you can progress to two hands at once and multiple coasters in the stack.
3. How to build a compost pile
Recycling may be a no-brainer these days, but composting and vermiculture are cool. You need some brown stuff (like dead leaves, straw, newspaper and cardboard) and some green stuff (like wet grass, fresh leaves and pine needles). Exact proportions aren't important, but make sure you have more brown stuff than green stuff. Chop all your materials into pieces 2 inches or less, and when that's done, combine your green stuff with your brown stuff and top it all off with a scoop of potting soil. You can put the mix in a bin, or just leave it in a pile; a good pile should be about 3 feet long by 3 feet wide by 3 feet deep. Stir your pile about twice a week and add a little water if necessary to keep your compost moist, but not soaked. Food scraps like fruit, peels, rinds and egg shells, or paper products like newspaper and cardboard can easily be composted, but avoid meat, dairy or grease. (Why? In a word: rats.)
4. How to skip a stone
In the Northwest, it seems rare to find yourself more than a stone's throw away from the water. To impress the kids with your cool-mom skillz, find a flat, smooth stone about 2 inches in diameter. Curl your index finger around the top edge of the stone and support the other side with your thumb. Bend low near the edge of the water and keep the stone parallel to the water's surface. With your elbow close to your body, flick your index finger and wrist in a side-arm motion, and aim for a spot in the water about six feet away.
5. How to feed a seagull
Avoid this trick where feeding the birds is prohibited, but if you want to live on the edge, here's how to feed a seagull. Pinch a long French fry or large potato chip at one end with your index finger and thumb. Extend your arm overhead in the vicinity of a flock of seagulls, and be sure to keep your other fingers tucked in so the poor seagulls won't mistake them for French fries. If you're having trouble getting the seagulls' attention, throw a few chips in the air so they know what you have to offer. Be patient (and be brave). From the deck of a ferry boat this trick is super cool.
6. How to use chopsticks*
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Seattle's Asian-American population is considerably higher than in most U.S. cities. From sushi to dim sum, the Northwest offers a wide selection of Asian dining options. Teaching your kids to master the use of chopsticks will open a world of culinary experience. Rest one chopstick in the "V" of your dominant hand and balance it there with the support of your fourth finger (closest to the pinky). This chopstick never moves. Point your index finger in the air and pinch the second chopstick between your thumb and middle finger. The index finger just hangs out (or can be used for balance) and the middle finger does all the work of moving chopstick number two.
7. How to make a poncho
A cool Northwest mom doesn't let a little drizzle get her down — heck no! If it's raining, and staying indoors just isn't an option, make a poncho! A large garbage bag will work in a pinch: Just open it up, cut two arm holes in each of the bottom corners and a hole for the head in the center of the bottom. If you've got time to be crafty, slit the bag lengthwise from the neck line to the "hem" to create a jacket look. Then, let the kids have fun decorating with tape and trinkets, so they can weather the weather oh so fashionably.
8. How to pitch a tent*
There is no shortage of interesting places to camp in the Northwest, and a cool mom has got the art of tenting pegged down. While most tents come with easy-to-follow instructions, knowing where to pitch a tent is of utmost importance — especially in our rainy coastal climate. Look for high ground; avoid campsites located at the bottom of a hill. You'll also want to make sure the ground is flat, and have your little one remove any rocks or course brush. Grass and moss are fine, as they provide a little added cushion. Remind your camper to take wind and sunlight into consideration, and keep the door of the tent facing away from the breeze or out of the direct morning sunlight. Practice in the backyard. Show them once, and it will keep them busy all weekend.
9. How to greet a pooch
The most recent census numbers confirm that there are more dogs than children in Seattle (about 43 percent more). So with that in mind, a mom who encourages her kids to socialize with their furry friends is doggone cool. First, always make sure your child politely asks the owner if he can pet the pup. Then, show him how to curl his hand into a closed fist and let Rover sniff the back side of his wrist. Once the dog becomes familiar with the new scent, your child can gently rub under the dog's chin or the front of his chest. Or massage the cartilage where the pooch's ear meets his head.
10. How to shuck a shellfish
In a region famous for fresh seafood and dancing clams, a cool mom knows how to shuck a shellfish. First, "keep clam," then holding the oyster firmly in one hand, carefully run a knife around the slit where the top and bottom shell come together. Once you get the knife between the two shells, use a prying motion to leverage them apart. After you get the shell to pop open, cut the oyster free.
11. How to apply sunscreen fast and evenly
Our sunny days are numbered, so don't waste any of them suffering from sunburn. Kids hate stopping to apply (or reapply) sunscreen, but a cool mom knows the secret to fast and even sunscreen application. Squeeze a quarter-size blob in the palm of your hand, and lightly rub your hands together so you've covered both in a thick layer. Have your child stand like scarecrow with arms and legs spread apart. Pat your hands lightly over all exposed skin (replenishing supply of sunscreen if necessary) until your child looks like a mono-colored finger painting. Then rub remaining sunscreen into the skin just enough to cover any bare spots. Let the excess soak in.
12. How to guesstimate the age of a tree*
The Evergreen State offers ample opportunity to practice this cool-mom trick, and kids love to learn such science-y details. On average, a tree grows about an inch in circumference every year. The easiest way to guesstimate the age of a tree is to wrap a piece of string or a tape measure around the trunk of the tree at about chest level. Count one year for every inch of string. This measurement should give a rough estimate of the tree's age. Divide into teams to see who can find the oldest tree.
13. How to throw a Frisbee
There are dozens of disc (Frisbee) golf courses in the Pacific Northwest, and it's a fun and free family activity. As a cool mom, you must know the proper mechanics of a Frisbee toss. First, point your shoulder toward the target, standing with feet just about shoulder width apart. Your weight should be on your back foot, and you should hold the disc with your fingers curled under the rim and your thumb on top. Keeping the disc level to the ground, bend your wrist and coil your arm around the Frisbee so that the disc nearly touches your stomach. In one fluid motion, uncoil your arm and flick your wrist as you release the disc. When teaching kids to throw a Frisbee, practice at short distances so you can perfect the spin and release, before trying to "go long."
14. How to make the perfect s'more
First place a medium-sized rock near the campfire until it's hot. Place a chocolate-topped graham cracker on the hot stone surface and allow the chocolate to melt. While you are doing this, use a roasting stick to toast your marshmallow. Remember, perfect roasting takes time. Hold your marshmallow over the embers or near a low blue flame and slowly rotate your stick so that your marshmallow cooks evenly on all sides. When the skin of the marshmallow begins to bubble and looks golden tan, remove from the campfire and assemble between your melting chocolate and top graham cracker. For a delicious variation on the traditional s'more, use packaged chocolate chip cookies instead of graham crackers.
15. How to tell port from starboard on a boat
Just as important as left and right, a cool Northwest mom knows her port from starboard. When you're facing the bow (the front) from inside the boat, port is to your left and starboard is to your right. Easy enough, but sometimes tricky to remember, until you notice that the word "port" and the word "left" both have four letters. Another trick to remember port and starboard are the ship navigation lights. The lights on the port side are always red, just like the color of port wine.
* Ideas borrowed from 101 Secrets a Cool Mom Knows by Sue and Walter Browder, Thomas Nelson publishers.
Katie McPhail is a Seattle-based freelance writer and cool mom.
Originally published in the May 2008 print edition of ParentMap.