Monday, November 22, 2010

Denying that loud ticking sound

Dating is a spectator sport for me these days, which is fortunate because I'm usually in my pajamas by the time my single friends' tables are ready.

But I get to hear news from the trenches now and then, because the vast majority of my single, thirty-something girlfriends date. Avidly. Many have profiles on Match. Many go on several dates a month. Why? Not just for fun.

If you ask, they'll tell you, with a high degree of certainty, that they'd like to get married and have children.

They'll also confide that men in our age group don't seem to grasp their urgency.

I find this hard to believe, but I've heard it from so many women that I'm going to accept it as true: A stunning number of men in my age demographic (let's call it 30 to 45 to be inclusive) refuse to accept the existence of a biological clock.

Let alone its relevance to their dating lives.

A significant portion of these same men tell their dates that of course they'd like to have kids.


In the distant future.

Check, please.

Here's the unpleasant reality: If you are a thirty-five-year-old woman who knows she wants children, and your date, a thirty-five year-old-guy, thinks he wants "a few years" to date and then another year to commit, and maybe a couple of years on top of that to consider a baby, then you need to thank him for a lovely cocktail and move on.


Like before the entrees arrive.

You must to cut your losses, and no, I don't think that's too harsh.

If he's still in the having fun and playing the field stage, he'll be having a family with someone ten or fifteen years your junior, years after the biological baby ship has sailed for you.

So many women say they feel uncomfortable pressuring men about the biological clock question. They don't want to issue ultimatums. But because they're worried about seeming pushy and needy, they don't share the big thing that keeps them up at night. That can't be healthy for any relationship.

And let's turn the tables for a minute.

Who doesn't know a couple who dated forever, because the guy took his sweet time (also known as the woman's best child bearing years) about deciding he was ready for a long term commitment? When pressed, many of these guys claim they wanted a few more years of "freedom." Freedom to do what, precisely?

Next time some guy says that, please, please ask him to elaborate. And report back.

How many of these together-forever-but-not-officially couples now struggle with infertility? Answer: Many. And it's not because his sperm can't swim or her womb constitutes an inherently hostile environment. It's because she's north of thirty-five, the age the average healthy woman's fertility falls off a cliff.

Note to the guys: Grow up, already. If the woman you love is in her thirties, it's selfish to ponder whether you're ready for years and years. Biology isn't fair. You may have a decade to mull it over, but she doesn't.

I know one gem of a man who presented his wife with an article about women over forty-five conceiving through IVF. They were both pushing forty, had been together almost a decade, and he resented her desire to have a baby.

He always had an excuse to delay: After I finish grad school, after this promotion, after we move to a bigger house. When all these things happened and he still balked, he admitted he didn't want to be a dad anytime soon. Fine. At least he was finally honest with her.

But then he directed her attention to the miracle of reproductive science.

After her failed attempts to explain that just because something was medically possible, didn't make it desirable - or even likely to work, for that matter - she divorced him. But not until after a year of soul searching, during which she finally realized that she wasn't a selfish, demanding bitch just because she wanted to have a child with her husband during the medically desirable age window.

Note the ladies: Grow up, already. If biological children are important to you, then you need to have the backbone to state that clearly, early on in the relationship. I don't mean on the first date, but certainly by the third or fourth. You're not issuing an ultimatum. You're simply advising your prospective boyfriend that your casual dating days are behind you. If he's not on the same page, you're both better off moving on.

Just my humble opinion.

Friday, November 19, 2010

What do mommies do all day? Damage control.

People frequently wonder aloud about what stay at home moms do all day. They look at us with unmasked condescension if we report "accomplishing" a trip to the supermarket or the post office. They wonder why we don't have time to turn our homes into sparkling showplaces worthy of the pages of Architectural Digest, and why our other halves don't come home to five course gastronomic triumphs every single night.

I'll tell you some things I do every day: entertainment, catering and damage control. Entertainment and catering sort of explain themselves. Everyone knows little kids need to eat and play, often outside. And most people know that getting out the door with a baby takes at least fifty per cent longer than vacating the apartment solo. That doesn't mean they understand it.

It's easy math, really: babies need an amount of gear and provisions, the amount of which is inversely proportionate by at least tenfold to their age. This means that despite careful staging, some mission critical item will often need to be retrieved from the house after we've made it to the sidewalk.

This in turn means I schlep the stroller back indoors, unstrap the Grape, haul him up three full flights of stairs, remove shoes, put the Grape someplace safe like baby jail (at which point he will wail like he's being stabbed because he thought we were going outdoors), locate the crucial item, scoop up the Grape, reapply shoes and head back downstairs. Fully half the times we emerge from the apartment, I'm a sweaty mess before we make it to the foyer. I tell myself at least I'm burning some extra calories, doing this crazy aerobic interval a few times every day.

But preparing to leave the home is mere kids' play when compared to the mother of all stay-at-home-mother time suckers. Damage control is the true wild card - the factor nobody can possibly understand until they have firsthand experience running interference between a toddler and the big, tempting world.

Today I had to take a phone call about the insurance on our new place. Sound boring? It was. So much so that the Grape decided to break up the monotony by unraveling an entire roll of toilet paper, dumping the cat's water dish all over the kitchen floor (by sitting in it) and smearing the better part of a tube of Desitin into the living room rug.

You might ask why he had access to such amusements, and I'll confess that the first two stunts are regular attention-redirection strategies the Grape employs when his antennae sense my focus veering elsewhere. Lucy the Kitten, a regular partner in the Grape's crimes, provided him with the open tube of ointment. By which I mean she nudged it off the table with her tortoiseshell toes. The Grape seized upon the treasure with such stealth and speed that by the time my brain registered what my eyes were seeing, the diabolical Desitin deed was done.

A ten minute phone call turned into an hour of clean up, and the rug will still need to be professionally salvaged. Drop off and pickup will eat another couple hours of my life.

Damage control also includes excess laundry, like the kind generated today when the Grape enjoyed his first juice box. He drank out of the straw angelically for about four seconds, then gave into the urge to give the blasted carton a hearty squeeze. Which of course resulted in a red fruit punch hose down for his face and his outfit.

I count myself lucky. The juice box incident occurred in a crowded public place. The Grape could have easily doused some humorless man in a dry clean only Italian suit. Like my kid brother did once on an airplane. At least my mom could claim the flight crew issued her kid his liquid grenade. In the Grape's case, I was the genius responsible for the soggy, sticky clothes.

I also spent about twenty minutes this morning re-shelving library books in the Grape's wake. Another five or ten gathering the remains of his breakfast from underneath the highchair. (I so cannot wait to get a dog.) This afternoon, he missed knocking over a pyramid of apples at the farmer's market by about half an inch, and it wasn't for lack of effort on his part. Evidently his wing span far exceeds the width of his stroller.

I practically had to plow through an old lady with a walker to prevent the Grape from leaning out of his stroller to cause Macintosh mayhem. Yesterday evening he had a blast removing all the tupperware from the one accessible kitchen cabinet and hurling it, piece by piece, over the gate and down the stairs.

Two days ago he attempted to flush a wash cloth. And no, he wasn't unattended near the minefield that is the bathroom. I was sorting laundry. He was so excited to be physically proximate to this fascinating domestic task that he grabbed the first thing he could and tossed it in the toilet.

Who knew he'd figured out how to flush?

At least it was just a washcloth. And a five to ten minute fix.

The Grape was so riveted by the plunging show that it hardly counted as damage control. If pressed, I would have classified the activity as entertainment.

Maybe next time we're stuck indoors on a rainy day, I'll let him flush something else. Just for fun.

Or not.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Princess saturation

A friend recently remarked that she'll be glad when her girls, both pre-school age, outgrow the princess phase.

Today's announcement from Buckingham Palace suggests she'd better not hold her breath.

To be fair, my friend meant the Disney brand of princesses, eight of whom (by my recent unofficial count) are featured on everything from shirts to tea sets to bed linens. The kind of princesses who wear beautiful clothes, sing waltzes with woodland animals and find happiness (forever after, we're told as the credits roll) on the arm of a wealthy, handsome prince.

Which, apart from the compulsory bird and bunny serenade sequence, sounds an awful lot like the story of Will and Kate. He's the future king; she's a beautiful girl from a middle class family. Her likeness will appear later today - if it hasn't already - on a staggering assortment of household items from tea cups to towels to commemorative Christmas ornaments. Perhaps even, if she's unlucky, on bath tissue.

Disney has nothing on Buckingham Palace in the marketing department.

Obvious factoid of the day: The overwhelming majority of the Will and Kate merchandise will be gobbled up by female consumers.

Details of the royal wedding will mesmerize girls and women of all ages around the globe. Some analysts predict that global TV ratings will eclipse the World Cup, and perhaps, proportionally speaking, the moon landing.

The planet will slam to a halt as Kate Middleton, who seems like a lovely and clever young lady, lives the fairy tale. If the couple chooses a morning ceremony, little girls in America will wake early to tune in, and perhaps there's nothing wrong with that. The future queen is a public figure; the marriage of the Prince of Wales is a world event. I wish them all the best in their marriage. And, since everyone is obsessed with the happy couple, I'm thrilled that Ms. Middleton, at age 28, is a real grown up who can speak for herself, rather than a doe-eyed child bride thrust without life experience into the public eye.

But still, there's something troubling about the saturation of little girl world with all things princess. Visit any toy shop or website catering to children and you'll see princess everything. Princesses represent a huge percentage of Halloween costume sales, birthday party themes and film and book purchases.

I enjoy the old Disney films as much as the next person. They're beautifully drawn with memorable scores and familiar tales. Taken one by one, they each possess a certain charm and appeal. But if you take the princess movie genre as a whole, you cannot escape its central theme: Beautiful, agreeable girls get to make their lives complete, and indeed worth living, by marrying rich, handsome men. Some of whom appear markedly older to boot.

Of course that happens over and over again in real life, but I'm not sure it's a goal to which little girls should aspire with such single-minded focus from a tender age. Naturally, kids grow up and interests evolve, but I wonder if the underlying message: beauty and to a lesser extent, sweetness, will help you, as a female, succeed in life. The princesses tend not to get their guys by dazzling displays of wit or guts; two of the most famous are actually comatose at the climactic moment.

Brains and drive, if mentioned at all, are secondary virtues. By my tally, none of the eight big time Disney princesses have much in terms of education. In fact, they're usually isolated from society somehow, waiting to be saved perhaps, but also staying chaste and pure until Mr. Charming trots in on his white horse.

Success, even in updated fairy tales, equals marriage to a prince and not much else, because that's where all these tales end.

I'm not an absolutist; I believe there's a place in our culture for fairy tales. Escapist fantasies have entertained the human imagination since the earliest days of story telling.

It's the sheer volume of princess propaganda I find worrisome. That, and the fact that I bet you can go to any playground anywhere in the country, and find more than one little girl who will tell you she wants to be a princess when she grows up.

Go ahead, ask around. And please, please report back if I'm wrong.

Aside from my aforementioned concerns with this national preoccupation with princesses, today's little would-be-Cinderellas face a very real logistical challenge: our playgrounds suffer from a dearth of little boys who want to grow up and become princes.

When I was five, I wanted to be an astronaut. Before that, I think it was a farmer. I think there was a dolphin trainer phase in there somewhere around the first grade.

To date, none of those careers have worked out for me.

But, both now and at the time, they seemed like more desirable ambitions than "grow up and marry a prince."

I think I'm going to head out to the toy store now, to buy my two-year-old niece a doctor's kit. Or an art set. Or an airplane.

Not that I hope she'll become a physician, a painter or a pilot, but because I think it's beneficial to remind her that behind the sea of pink sparkles that makes up the girls' toy section, countless other possibilities exist.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Tutus in a twist over nothing

By now, unless you exist in a news blackout, you've heard the brouhaha over the five-year-old in Kansas City who went to school dressed as a female cartoon character for Halloween. Countless adults jumped all over the mom. Some nut jobs actually accused her of turning her son gay (as if such a thing is possible). Cooler heads questioned why she'd risk opening her child to ridicule. Psychologists on morning shows speculated on the challenges faced by parents raising transgender children.

All over a Halloween costume that a five year old selected. I don't know the child in question, but I'd bet anything he doesn't understand why the adults have their knickers in such a tight twist over his outfit. This is a one-time event. The child in question reportedly wears boy clothes most of the time. He just likes playing dress up, and for some reason he likes this retro cartoon detective. Maybe it's the bright red wig.

At age five, he gets the difference between real and pretend.

Sadly, legions of adults evidently don't.

Somewhere in the fifty states, several little girls probably elected to dress in "male" costumes. Before you condemn the Kansas City mom, do you think you'd react the same way if a little girl went to school dressed as Superman? Or as Dracula? Or as a football player? Would the news media descend like vultures, would the blogosphere hurl homophobic epithets, if a kindergarden aged girl went out dressed as a famous quarterback?

Very young children, as anyone who's been around them knows, often have somewhat fluid notions of gender. My niece, a true girly girl who loves pink and teddy bear tea parties, periodically decides that she's going to play at being a boy. She's two and a half years old and naturally attracted to feminine things. She knows there's some difference between male and female but she hasn't totally processed it. I offer this exchange from last summer, when she noticed the Grape had different parts from her own:

"Where's his vagina?"

"He doesn't have one."

"Oh." (thoughtful pause) "Will he get a vagina when he gets bigger?"

Truly transgender people, children included, identify so strongly with the other gender that they want to be dressed and treated as that gender all the time. They feel trapped in the wrong body. It's not a game to them. Clothes help them express their identity, not escape into a pretend persona for a Halloween event.

A four year old boy I know went through a princess phase last year. This year he was all about dressing as a very masculine super hero. I suspect lots of boy tots go through girlie phases. After all, princesses are sparkly and they garner way more than their fair share of adult attention.

When my younger brother and I were in that age group, we played with dress up clothes. We consequently have many photos of him decked out in mom's cast off finery. It was a game. Nobody thought anything of it. I think we would have been confused if the adults had objected.

A little girl of similar age went through what I like to call an early feminist phase last year, when she realized that boys got to do some things girls didn't, such as play in a certain soccer club and appear on money. I'm pleased to report that a quick trip to the bank to buy some British pounds restored her faith in her sex. And this year, she wanted - more than anything - an ultra girly costume for trick or treating.

Kansas city kindergardener might be gay. He might be straight. You'd really have to know him personally to speculate fairly. For now, he's just playing the dress up game. His mother decided to let him have that. She knows if the other kids tease him, she'll need to have a teaching moment. It seems to me she's doing the best she can, and nobody should have an issue with that.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

The Grape has his treats and eats them, too

This weekend, all across the country, parents gorged themselves on sweets, many under the pretense of "checking" their children's trick or treat loot for sinister foreign objects.

A significant minority of these parents confiscate most of the haul outright, on the grounds that they don't allow sweets. Some of those parents toss the offensive sweets, others dump the candies on co-workers, but many, many parents squirrel away a secret stash for post-bedtime adult consumption.

I think that's lame.

Now, before you jump all over me with arguments about rotting teeth, rampant obesity and the undesirable effects of mercurial sugar highs, let me say it's very irresponsible to let the little ones ingest their monster candy take in a single sitting.

But, come on, people. Despite what the costume and night club industry would have us believe, Halloween is a quintessential kiddie holiday. The costumes may be the main event, but candy figures into it, too.

How many alpha moms who never allow a morsel of inorganic food to cross their youngsters' lips got to eat their Halloween candy as kids? How many of those moms suffered lasting physiological damage as a result? Anyone? No? That's kind of what I figured.

I'm a major food snob. I'm all about eating clean, healthy, local food. I don't buy processed food, or sauces and cereals featuring corn syrup. We don't patronize fast food outlets. We eat lots of fresh produce. We don't buy grain-fed meat or dairy products from cows subjected to rBGH. I don't keep candy around the house at all times.

Some people might find my food rules hard to live with; I don't. For the simple reason that the food rules apply to both the adults and the Grape. And because I eat candy in moderation, so can the Grape. In fact, he was really excited to discover on November 1, that the crinkly packages he'd collected so eagerly the previous evening contained chocolate.

On a nuttier level, Gardenmoms, that treasure trove of maternal angst, featured a post several months back from a woman who wanted to skip the birthday cake at her son's party. Not for a legitimate reason (i.e. the child or his siblings suffer from diabetes), but because she completely banned all sweets. Really?

Skip ahead a few years. I wonder if people who make candy the forbidden fruit do their kids any favors. It seems to me that the strategy could backfire. It's not hard to imagine a kindergarten kid who was barred from tasting his own birthday cake morphing into a ten-year-old who gorges himself on Twinkies and DingDongs in his tree house. It's kind of like the child of teetotalers who leaves home at eighteen and becomes a binge drinker. As with alcohol, I bet people who don't learn moderation with desserts tend to be the ones who end up with issues.

For many of us, certain foods conjure up wonderful childhood memories. While the trick or treat haul isn't as special as the certain cookies your grandma made at Christmas, or that incredible cake with the frosting animals you had on your sixth birthday, I bet more than one of you can still name the candy you were most happy to receive from your neighbors on Halloween night.

And let's be honest: admiring the Halloween haul strewn on the floor was only part of the fun. Consuming it made me and my younger brother pretty happy, too.

Which is why now, even with his whole foods obsessed mom, the Grape gets to have his birthday cake and eat his Halloween candy too.

Monday, November 1, 2010

The last legal option for women who really wanted to be mommies

Last summer, a woman I know well had to have a D&E at twenty-seven weeks. I say she had to, because tests showed that the fetus lacked the makings of a skull. It had brain tissue growing on the outside of what passed for its head. The fetus also had a neural tube defect and severe deformities of the face, legs and torso. Let's not dwell too long on the excruciating, unimaginable pain an infant would feel as a result of having its brain outside the skull.

My friend learned this information at twenty weeks. Her OB told her to expect a miscarriage. She was stunned. Miserable. Devastated. Disbelieving. She'd had a healthy baby a few years earlier, had no trouble conceiving and no birth defects on either side of the family. She and her husband had really wanted this child.

It took another two weeks for doctors to confirm the extent of the fatal and devastating flaws. Her body made no motions to miscarry. She was past the legal limit for abortion in her home state. She researched options in other states, but felt confident, based on medical advice, that her body would miscarry.

At twenty-four and a half weeks, the fetal heart beat ceased. Still no miscarriage.

Her OB (and another, more senior doc in the practice) told her that the fetus had no chance of viability, but that she was past the legal limit for an abortion. They explained that the fetus would likely die in utero.

And she'd have to go through labor to deliver a dead baby.

Anyone else think that's insane advice?

Because she lives in what I'll politely call a bright red state, it took her two weeks and a day to organize a termination in a state one time zone, a whole week off work and a pricey plane ticket away. After doing her own research (her OBs wouldn't help), she found a doctor in Boulder, Colorado to perform the abortion for her. He was quite literally her only remaining option in the U.S.

Every other woman in the waiting room was in the same boat. All were mourning wanted pregnancies ruined by profound defects. Some had traveled even further than she.

A late second trimester D&E is a three day procedure; on the second day one of the waiting room women confessed that she'd been up all night, panicking about what would happen if some anti-choice crazy managed to kill Dr. Hern before her procedure was complete. Her husband had insisted she take a sedative around four a.m., when she was up in the hotel room, Googling Dr. Tiller (the late term abortion provider murdered in Kansas last year). She wanted to know what happened to his second-trimester patients in progress. Answer: unclear.

My friend admitted later that the same thought had crossed her mind. And she asked me to write about it a few weeks ago. I thought it was too heavy a topic for this space. But she was persuasive.

She's a lawyer in a medium-sized Southern city and now she's a woman with a cause.

She called me again the other day, very excited that the feds had impaneled a grand jury to evaluate conspiracy charges against Operation Rescue and other anti-choice extremists. She also sent me an interview with Dr. Hern from the Guardian (link below), in which he makes a convincing argument that anti-choice organizations share responsibility when their adherents turn violent.

Another woman I know here in New England went through a similarly heartbreaking ordeal. Her baby, a desperately wanted infant conceived with the help of fertility medicine, seemed healthy and strong all through the first trimester. Then the doctors discovered a series of catastrophic genetic defects. Her fetus had a weak heartbeat. Her doctors worried that she showed no signs of miscarriage. If she elected not to terminate, the fetus would likely die inside her womb and become septic. She'd face either major emergency surgery or a labor to deliver a dead baby.

She chose to have the same procedure as my red state friend. She had a D&E at about twenty-three weeks, which is within the legal window for elective abortion here in Massachusetts.

As it should be everywhere. Because here's the thing that the anti-choice mobs can't or won't acknowledge: The overwhelming majority (over ninety per cent) of women having second or third trimester terminations are doing so because of either a catastrophic birth defect or (even more rarely) imminent danger to the mother's own life.

In case you're wondering about the other patients in late-term clinics, the majority of the remaining less than ten percent are scared teenagers. These girls either didn't understand they were pregnant, or (even more commonly) were raped and unable to secure an adult's help in getting an abortion until they were visibly pregnant. Why? Ask any domestic violence counselor. Many, many victims of child/teen rape are attacked by their fathers, step-fathers or other male relatives. I challenge you to explain to me how it's in any teenager's interest to become a mom; let alone one who was raped by her father.

Just because the second woman lives in a blue state didn't mean she was spared the fanatics outside the clinic. A second trimester D&E is a three day procedure. Every day for three days, she had to haul herself to the clinic, walk past the nut jobs and nuns with their pictures and prayer beads, through a metal detector, into a lobby where she passed two forms of ID through a window made of bullet proof glass.

Yes, in Massachusetts. The Heart of Blue State America.

The staff advised her that there was no point in explaining to the protestors that her desperately wanted baby was tragically not viable. I guess they've decided it's better not to engage with crazy people.

The demonstrators who hassle patients outside abortion clinics know that children are vulnerable to their emotional appeals. "Don't kill your baby!" and "We can help!" As one of Dr. Tiller's nurses said about their "help," it takes a lot more than a pink receiving blanket embroidered with a cross and a toll-free number for social services to help a troubled child parent an unwanted child of her own.

I challenge any person protesting outside an abortion clinic to look a woman in the eye and say to her, calmly and politely, that you feel it's in her best interest to carry a dead fetus to term. Or to parent a profoundly abnormal child. Or become a mother before becoming an adult. Tell her that you know what's better for her than she does. Tell her that you believe she's a sinner, and that your religious beliefs should dictate her actions.

Isn't that what America is all about?

You won't see this happening. It's easier for the anti-choice extremists to scream and taunt and dehumanize. And wait and hope that another gun toting crazy person will dispatch another doctor.

But I digress. I know I'm preaching to the converted, and maybe even pissing off some regular readers who tune in for the slapstick accounts of my adventures with the Grape. I promise that will be back in my next post.

But tonight, on election eve, I want to leave you with this thought:

A vote for any far right and/or tea party candidate, even if solely motivated by a desire to pay fewer taxes and be left alone by the folks in Washington, is WITHOUT EXCEPTION, a vote to put up even more hurdles for desperate, grieving, wanted to be moms like my friend.

Here's the Guardian piece on Dr. Hern: