Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Loose Lips Sink Ships

When I was a kid, my dad possessed an immense fondness for the old World War Two slogan, "Loose lips sink ships."

Normally, our family didn't discuss matters of national security at the dinner table. We took the quip as an admonition to refrain from gossip, and Dad repeated the line so frequently, that we inevitably responded with the standard-issue sarcastic teenage eye roll.

I haven't written much about politics recently, but five minutes ago, I hung up with a nice young man who answered the phone at my Congressman's office.

I asked him, "What else can I do to make sure we get a special prosecutor to look into  Russia-Trump collusion and Trump's Russian financial entanglements? A Congressional investigation no longer feels like enough, when we have a president who blithely compromises the lives of our agents and the lives of our allies' agents, along with the lives of any civilians inclined to help our armed forces abroad, to a hostile world power."

(Head desk.)

The young man in the Congressman's office said, "Ask your friends to call both their senators and their congressional representatives, and ask them to KEEP CALLING."

Congressional offices log constituent calls every day. Give your address. Make it clear you are a constituent, and you want your elected representatives in Washington to demand a special prosecutor. If they're already beating this drum, thank them. If they're hedging, urge them to put the republic over party.

Let's make their phones ring.

Russia is not our friend. This is not tricky math.

Russia guns down writers and political dissidents in the public streets. Russia jails protesters in Siberian gulags. Russia seizes assets of private companies whose executives piss off their dictator and then, often, Russia kills those business leaders for good measure. Russia poisons its exiled opposition leaders to try to silence them. Russia annexes land belonging to sovereign neighboring countries. Russia props up Bashar al-Assad and his henchmen, helping them gas children and bomb their country to kingdom come.

This latest aspect of the ongoing Russia Scandal makes Watergate look likes child's play, and unlike Watergate, where the Washington Post had the story months before anyone could corroborate the allegations, both the New York Times and Reuters had independently corroborated the details of the classified information leak by the president to the Russians last night.

Either the president is truly in Putin's pocket, or he's too stupid to understand the consequences of his boastful loose lips.

Either way, it's dangerous for the American people, our armed forces, and our allies. We all deserve so much better.

The traitor president's words might not sink an actual ship this time, but they could get our intelligence assets abroad beheaded, if the CIA and our allies cannot act quickly enough to protect their people.

Incidentally, I took a stab at writing political suspense once, involving collusion with the Russians, no less. I could not have made this level of crap up.

Why? Because nobody would have believed it, even in a fictional, chase caper/thriller context. What the Washington Post reported last night is just too mind-boggling to put in a contemporary novel.

So, Dad, I know you read this space. You were right: Loose lips do sink ships.

Please go call your senators and rep and remind them.

United States Capitol Switchboard: (202) 224-3121

Monday, April 10, 2017

The Meaning of No

If we can't teach our sons, from a very young age, that no means no, do we really expect some half-naked sixteen-year-old girl, hormones raging, to explain it better in the backseat of a car?

My friend, D., mother of an eleven-year-old, posed this question at a recent book club meeting. Everyone fell quiet for a moment as we shared one of those rare moments of true epiphany.

All of us admitted, that at least sometimes, we have let our children use our "no" as a starting point for negotiations.

We have told ourselves it's okay; they're developing reasoning and debate skills.

Meanwhile, our kids have learned that "no" can sometimes mean "maybe," and that their repeated, pleading requests stand at least even odds of wearing us down.

The flip side, of course, is that we often say give the kiddos an offhand no, when the stakes around whatever they're requesting don't matter much. Then we backpedal, when we said have said maybe, or I haven't decided yet, in the first place.

None of this is okay.

It's not okay for any kid. We all pride ourselves on being egalitarian, and we teach children of both sexes that privates are private.

However, the realities of relative physical size and strength in male and female humans (after puberty) mean it's especially not okay for parents of boys to fail to teach the meaning of NO.

Cosmopolitan published an essay in its most recent issue: How I Talked to My Son About Sexual Consent. I read this the moment I saw it last week.  So did countless other moms, because the editors blasted it out, using the creepy tagline "Every Rapist Is Someone's Son" as click bait.

I found it encouraging that at least some of us have begun, in the span of one generation, to move the conversation from, "If you love me, you will" to, "Are you sure you want to do this?"

The type of frank and honest discussion the writer recounts having with her teenager doesn't materialize from nowhere. She clearly laid the groundwork for that awkward interaction over many  years.

Which means we should start young. Like elementary school young. Maybe earlier.

There was a great British public service video making the rounds, several months ago, that explained sexual consent in the most civilized, G-rated terms possible.

The video not only explains affirmative consent and the importance of no, it also illustrates the importance of recognizing when a person is too impaired to give consent: "Unconscious people don't want tea."

Every one of us women around the table that night was once a teenage girl, who at one point or another, told some teenage boy, "no," only to be met with "please, pretty please," or "come on, don't be a tease," or the slightly more dated, "if you love me you will,"  or a pseudo-progressive variant, "but I brought a condom, so it will be fine."

To borrow from the British PSA, we didn't want tea, or perhaps we wanted more time to consider the tea.

From where the boys were sitting, they stood at least even odds of wearing us down.

Those teenage girls said, "no," and the boys interpreted "no" as a starting point for more discussion.

They heard "maybe."

Friday, November 18, 2016

Update to October Post: Life Isn't Fair

Dear Readers:

I'm reposting this update to my October 19th piece, Life Isn't Fair, as a new and separate post, to make sure it hits all subscribers' inboxes. If this update reaches you in duplicate, I apologize for the inconvenience.

I am blown away by how many of you wrote, called, and reached out to me through social media, to ask how to send non-cash and/or holiday gifts to the girls. THANK YOU SO MUCH for reading and taking an interest in their story.

There is now an Amazon Wish List, created with the help of some mom friends: C, H, and E. Thank you so much for your insights and suggestions. Thank you also to the readers of the Great Thoughts Book Club, for the avalanche of fantastic book ideas, some of which I'm holding in reserve for now.

Items ship directly to the girls, who are now living a couple of hours away from us. Suggestions for additions and edits are most welcome (they are ages 8 and 10).

Since many of you asked: basic clothing is not an urgent need, but as the girls are residing with childless relatives, all parents reading this will know they have some ramping up to do, in terms of toys, games, books, art supplies, outdoor/winter fun, and the like!

A. is a voracious reader, and S. particularly loves arts and crafts, dolls, and imaginative play. They both like creative projects, as well as Legos.

R., the Grape, and I miss the girls a lot, and it warms our hearts to know so many friends are rooting for them.

You can view the list through this link:  https://www.amazon.com/gp/registry/giftlist/CZSA48EWO95R/ref=cm_gl_huc_view

I wish you all a Happy Thanksgiving, and safe travels to those hitting the road next week! 

With deep gratitude,


Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Life Isn't Fair

Update: There is now an Amazon Wishlist, because so many of you wrote to me and asked how to send holiday gifts. Items ship directly to the girls. Suggestions welcome. This is only a first attempt! Thanks, everyone. https://www.amazon.com/gp/registry/giftlist/CZSA48EWO95R/ref=cm_gl_huc_view

Life isn't fair.

Two little girls, friends of the Grape, became orphans last week.

I won't identify them, as they are eight and ten years old; I'll call them S and A.

Their mother had struggled for a long time with a chronic incapacitating illness, but her sudden death, by a brain bleed, I think the term is ruptured aneurysm, took everyone by surprise.

S and A went to school and their mama had a headache. The next time they saw her she was in an irreversible coma in the Neuro Intensive Care Unit.

Life isn't fair.

I can't imagine their shock and heartbreak.

The girls had lost their father some years earlier. The mother, an Ivy-educated physician, had been too ill for many years to work. The family lived in a subsidized apartment and scraped along, all three of them victims of a brilliant scientific mind imprisoned by illness.

When the Grape first started having S over for play dates,  I tried to befriend the mom. She politely but firmly put up barriers. All play dates were at our home, and she never set foot beyond my threshold. After a few weeks, I stopped asking if she'd like to come in for coffee or tea or wine, or if she'd like to stay for dinner with her girls.

She always looked down on her luck, a wisp of a woman, bundled in all kinds of weather, because her disease interfered with her body's metabolism and temperature regulation. Sometimes, you might have been forgiven, if you mistook her for a homeless person.

There was no family money. No adult child with special needs trust. No safety net beyond the bare bones the state of Massachusetts provides, and while Massachusetts provides more than most states, it doesn't provide quality long term inpatient treatment. No state does. And sometimes that means the state makes orphans. Life isn't fair.

S and A had one regularly involved relative, a grandmother whose biweekly visits S and A recounted with huge smiles and sparkling eyes.

The mother excelled at finding resources for her daughters: camps and art courses and donated clothes. She got them scholarships at a private school and took advantage of free events at the library and the art museum. She had the girls paired with Big Sisters. She did most of this from the computer at the library, because she didn't own one of her own. Nor did she own a smartphone.

She did the best she could, but more days than not, those kids were hungry.

As the girls grew, and her illness worsened, she occasionally admitted her task grew more challenging. Local charities like Cradles to Crayons have a wealth of items for the baby and preschool set, but far less for kids in the middle to late elementary years.

A few of us moms at the school noticed when they had no snow gear (in Boston), no Christmas presents, no school supplies. We tried to help discreetly, and quietly marveled that the school turned a totally blind eye.

Life isn't fair.

For that reason, I dedicate my No Trump Vote to S and A, because they are orphans, and Trump doesn't believe in any expansion of the safety net, or in expansion of universal healthcare to a single payer model.

I dedicate my No Trump Vote to S and A, because they are girls, and no man has the right to grab them in the privates without their consent.

I dedicate my No Trump Vote to S and A, because they are black, and I abhor the racist rhetoric of Trump's campaign. It smacks of fascism, as does his almost unfathomable threat to jail his political opponents. In America. In 2016. If a candidate in Africa or Eastern Europe said anything remotely resembling this, we would send election monitors.

I dedicate my No Trump Vote to S and A, because their mother was chronically disabled, and Trump mocks disabled people.

I dedicate my No Trump Vote to S and A, because I want them to know ambition should not be a privilege reserved for well-to-do white men

I didn't plan to write about this election, because anyone who's read me once can deduce I'm a solid blue voter. 

I'm so tired of hearing about how awful it is that Clinton "wants to be President" and "She's worked at it for decades," and "She's too ambitious, not warm enough, too prepared, too thoughtful, not smiling enough."

I dedicate my No Trump Vote to S and A, because I want this glass ceiling to shatter. 

I want this catch-22, that says women cannot be feminine, but also strong and ambitious, to end with my generation.

Can you imagine anyone making similar criticisms of any male candidate for County Zoning Board, let alone President of the United States?

I'm also tired of hearing about voters sitting out the election, or voting for third party candidates.

I would strongly prefer a multi-party parliamentary system, but in the system we have, either Clinton or Trump will win the White House on November 8.

Which means nobody hears your protest ballot. If Trump scares you, but you don't vote for Clinton, you are as culpable as the Trump voters.

Before you cast that "I don't like either of them ballot," please think about the American military pilots under threat from Russian anti-aircraft artillery in Syria.

Yes, that Russia. The one Trump holds up as an example of a well run country. To be clear: the only aircraft in the skies above Syria are American. ISIS does not have an air force.

Clinton is not perfect.

Life isn't fair. We don't get perfect candidates. S and A don't get a mom, let alone a healthy one.

I am optimistic that the deliberative, thoughtful, highly analytical qualities that stifle Clinton's charisma on the campaign trail will serve her well as the nation's chief executive, and that her policies will benefit kids like S and A more than those proposed by her opponent.

#ImWithHer  #NeverTrump #DedicateYourNoTrumpVote

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Caught Between a Leprechaun and a Bunny

I picked a grumpy Grape up from school on March 17th. As soon as he strapped into the seat, he demanded to know why "our Leprechaun" didn't leave him anything.

"Excuse me? We don't have a personal Leprechaun." (?!)

"Why not?"

"We aren't Irish."


I exhaled. Softball line of questioning. I could deploy the speech about why we don't receive Chanukah gifts with a minor tweak.

I mentally prepared the standard "We can help our friends celebrate" spiel, this time filling the blanks with, "by wearing green and solving the shamrock-shaped maze your teacher printed out for you."

I figured he doesn't need, at such a tender age, to know about green beer. Though why so many educated people think celebrating Ireland by mixing food coloring into Miller Lite is good idea remains beyond me. Shouldn't they be raising their pints of Guinness in the direction of the Emerald Isle instead?

But I digress. Like I said, not our holiday.  I thought we were done when the Grape landed his knock out punch.

"[Kid in class]'s Leprechaun left him $100." The Grape paused for dramatic effect, before adding "And peed in his toilet."

"What? How would you know if a Leprechaun peed in the toilet?"

"He said it was green! Bright green!"

(Glee and giggles rose from the backseat—delight he'd steered his Mamma into bathroom talk.)

"That is disgusting."

"Yeah. Why don't Leprechauns know how to flush? And why didn't I get $100?"

At this point, I suppressed the urge to blurt, "Because Leprechauns aren't real!" and also, "Because some parents are overboard!"

I stopped myself. I was not mentally prepared to field challenging inquiries about Santa whilst speeding along the Mass Pike.

And if other families want to pour green food coloring into their commodes, I guess that's none of my business.

Before you call me a hypocrite, let me state in my defense: Among Christians, practicing, cultural, and all over the spectrum in between, Santa Claus has nearly one hundred per cent buy in. 

But Leprechauns leaving cash?

This was the first I was hearing of it, and all I could think was: Does every small celebration need to be about  cash and prizes  for kiddies?

Can't they draw a nice rainbow and shamrock picture and be happy?

Leprechauns, if memory serves, are greedy little trolls. They stash their gold. They don't like sharing. (The only way to get their gold is to steal it. Stealing is wrong. Irish friends, let me know if my first grade teacher bungled it back in 1979, and I'll print a retraction.)

This year, Easter arrives early.

And it's come to my attention that "Our Bunny" is lame.

Our Bunny traffics in chocolates and other sweets. It's fun, low key, easy.

Dare I say magical and sweet?
Easter morning 2015

We never speak of how the plastic eggs get on my mom's lawn every Easter morning.

He's got to know adults put them out there, right?

He's seen adults prepare eggs hunts in parks, every year of his little life.

He must know. He's six. He fools himself, because it's fun. It's part of the game. Like when he pretends to hear the Tooth Fairy (whole separate post involving recent violent destruction of a sink trap).

Yesterday, he asked me, his little face all serious, if it was "too late to write to the Easter Bunny."

I was not about to be pushed down a slippery slope. "We don't write to the Bunny. He does candy. Santa brings toys. You can save your wishes for Santa."

"If I asked for a play house for the yard would the Bunny bring one?"


The Grape's face started to crumple.

I tried to regain ground. "The Bunny doesn't have elves and a workshop. No transportation infrastructure. No fleet of sleighs. It's a one-rodent operation. Nothing like Santa. Besides, you love chocolate."

"Fine," he said. "I'm going to write to [Friend]'s Bunny."

If, next Monday, he comes home from school with reports of kids getting big ticket toys from Their Bunnies, I guess we'll have to spill the beans.

There's no "we don't celebrate" speech to bail me out of the Rabbit Trap.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Selling Out: A City Girl Moves to Wisteria Lane

A funny thing happened when I found myself with two days of free time right before Halloween.

I found a house I liked in the burbs.

Old friends expressed shock—the pigs are flying and they're making snow in the fiery pits kind of shock—that I, avowed city slicker and nervous driver (but excellent parallel parker, if I may say so myself) would even contemplate such a measure.

Most of my friends with children had made The Big Move. But me? With pickets and wisteria?

Heck, yes. And a yard, and room for guests, and a great public school system. And (gasp) a playroom.

Buying a house would mean selling the condo, which would mean showing it to prospective buyers. Which would mean we'd need to purge.

R., thrilled at the prospect of an old house with endless projects, sprang into action and rented a storage unit, before I could wrap my head around the scope of the purge and change my mind.

I spent a week boxing books, photos, and large or babyish toys for storage and donation. The Grape protested as I banished items he hadn't looked at for over a year. We sent the bikes and skis away, cleared out the crib. We wondered briefly why we stilled owned a crib. Or three strollers.

I called the realtor.  He came over. In the ten minutes it took him to walk from his place to ours, I realized my week-long purge wasn't going to cut it.

Did I mention I wanted to list the condo the following week? We had to, or we'd miss the fall market and vanish into the Holiday Vortex of Sales Doom.

I had a paper bag ready when the realtor rang the buzzer.

If you're going to make a person hyperventilate, I figure you might as well be gracious about it.

The condo was 1400 square feet, roughly 1375 of which were covered in toys, art projects, building blocks towering into cities with mass transit systems arrayed over days and weeks.

The other 25 square feet were reserved for snow gear. This is Boston, after all. 

"You need to purge!" he decreed. "All the toys need to be out!"



I followed him around, made mental notes. "Everything off the counters, expect the Kitchen Aid mixer. That I will allow you to keep."

Apparently potential buyers like to picture themselves baking cakes.

"Move out the pets," he ordered. "Get rid of the nightstands. Rake the front garden. Touch up the paint. Edit the stuffed animals. Put something smart but noncontroversial on the coffee table: Georgetown magazine or National Geographic. Nothing political. Vacuum the common hallway. Wash the windows, inside and out. Remove the plants. It's like the little shop of horrors in here."

"I like the plants. Plants are good for your health."

"Get rid of them, and edit the books."

"I already did. I sent nineteen wine boxes of books to storage."

He rolled his eyes. "Send nineteen more."

He marched around and pointed at photos and dishtowels and extra chairs. "This offends me, that offends me. That," he said, pointing at a scratching post frequented by Lucy the Kitten,  "THAT I can't even talk about."

R. rented a second storage unit. He moved the little shop of horrors to his office. I drove the fur kids to camp at my mother's. We washed windows. As the light streamed in, we wondered how we hadn't thought to wash the outside years before. What was wrong with us?

"Everything must go!" I realized I sounded like a street hawker advertising a liquidation sale, as I rendered our closets avalanche-free.

Prospective buyers apparently take a very dim view of suitcases falling on their heads when they open the alleged walk-in closet.

Not that such a thing happened to the realtor during his initial visit. And if it did, I had the sense to offer him an ice pack before the lump on his head swelled too much.

The Grape pouted about the temporary removal of his toys, but even he admitted in the end, "The apartment looks tremendous."

It did look a lot bigger, with the 1375 square feet previously dedicated to toys freed up for adults to walk through. The realtor was happy. "The place looks great," he said, unable to hide his shock.

Pleased with myself on the eve of the open house, I decided to tackle the last item on the realtor's list: touch up the trim.

I ran around with white trim paint and made the baseboards sparkle. I consulted the clock. One hour to school pick up. Perfect. I could touch up the bathroom vanity doors. They looked a bit tired.

I found the can in the laundry room that said "vanity." I dabbed a little on the largest scratch on the vanity doors. It looked kind of dark. Inexplicably, I kept dabbing. Maybe it would dry to match. I knew it wouldn't.

Maybe it was the paint fumes, but I kept dabbing at dings and scratches with the wrong color until the darn thing looked leopard spotted. I had to leave to get the Grape. I left a frantic message with the painter, "I did a bad thing."

I got lucky. He was in the neighborhood. After he was done laughing at me, he used his magic paint-color-matching computer gadget to determine the correct color. I spent the eve of the open house re-painting the vanity. Four coats. Okay, five.

I wish I'd taken a photo of those leopard spots, but that's my sole regret about the process.

The condo sold, to a lovely young couple with a dog. I hope they'll love the park across the street and the neighborhood and the restaurants as much as we did, but for us, it was time for a new chapter.

Monday, August 31, 2015

Summer Camp Wrap Up

Earlier this summer, we shipped the Grape to camp for two weeks.

He would've stayed longer, but the camp books up in the dead of winter, and R. and I weren't going to pony up for more than the minimum stay, before we determined whether our cab-hailing, museum-frequenting kid did well in the wild.

Or the water. (The thing that first caught my eye about this place was the fact that the kids swam twice a day, every day.)

We wanted something out in the country, where he could swim and tramp through the woods—an old timey, totally unplugged camp experience, the kind of place where "indoors" means a covered porch. 

He was five, we couldn't very well send him to the woods of Northern New England armed with some stationery, a can of bug spray, and two dozen pairs of underpants with his name scrawled  inside the waistbands.

This meant taking a bus some twenty miles west of the city.

"It's a reverse commute," R. and I assured ourselves. "There are three adults on the bus. He'll be fine."

Making the bus meant leaving the house with a lot of gear, as well as a camp nurse approved lunch, no later than 7:10 a.m.

In a few short days after school ended, the Grape had become accustomed to sleeping until almost nine. I had to drag his sleeping body out of the bunk every morning.

It was a lot like trying to haul a fifty pound suitcase from an overhead bin, while standing on a ladder.

We would run, frantic, through the park and up the street and past the laundromat, exactly like the folks in the Mo Willems picture book Knuffle Bunny, only with a greater degree of urgency, because if we missed the bus, I'd be in for hours of driving, and part of the point of this exercise was to secure a block of time to finish my third novel.
Note the utter lack of urgency on the part of the Grape on his way to the bus.

I'm proud to report we never missed that bus.

But all this did happen:

He almost capsized under the weight of his backpack the first day.

When the dad who caught him mid-fall suggested I hang a counterweight on his front, I decided to nix the sweatshirt and sweatpants.

The first two afternoons, he came home with both his pants and underwear on backwards.

One of the moms at the bus stop told me that was very good. She explained that her kid wore his wet bathing suit all day, because he didn't want to change clothes. This particular child was signed up for eight weeks.  I saw a lot of Desitin in their future.

On the third day, the Grape wore his swimsuit home, having lost three full changes of clothes, who knows where.

My repeated inquiries as to the location of his clothes and other swimsuit were met with an indignant, "It's not a cubby. It's a crate!" As if that was somehow the crux of the matter.

I think that was the same day he earned an award in tennis, and I didn't believe him, because his school P.E. teachers claim he possesses zero hand-eye coordination.

Moments after he convinced me of its probable existence, the Grape discovered the tennis award had gone missing on the afternoon bus.

He nearly lost his mind.

I had to call the camp and have the person in charge assure the Grape that he would be reunited with his ten-cent pin major achievement award.

I know, I know. They need to learn to deal with disappointment, but maybe not at the same moment I'm about to receive foreign house guests.

While I had the director of the little kids' section on the phone, I asked if the camp might launch a search for the Grape's three sets of lost clothes.

"No problem," she said.

They sent him home on day four bearing two huge plastic bags, full of the belongings of other children in his group (an assortment including a wet towel, a thermos, and a pair of brand new shoes).

We continued in this fashion for the duration of the camp session. Exasperating? Mildly.

Ultimately the little hassles didn't matter, because the Grape had the time of his life.

The camp issued a shirt to be worn the first day. The Grape wanted to wear it every morning, because he was so thrilled and proud to be going to camp.  Who wouldn't be? The place was a slice of kid heaven. He learned to swim (HURRAY!).  He made new friends. He went boating. He climbed a rock wall. He even caught a fish.
The Grape with his "lucky" rod and a perch (?). I suspect the campers have been catching and releasing the same fish for years.

So I washed the shirt every night, and promised to sign him up for next year, even though the 7:15 to 4:30 absence every day had started to feel really long (to me—he was fine).

He'll be a year older. By then I'm hopeful he'll remember that the flap belongs on the front of the underwear.

And if he doesn't, who cares?