Thursday, May 27, 2010

Can a little holy water hurt?

My mother has voiced concerns that The Grape will grow up to be a heathen. She would really, really, really like me to have him baptized.

I go back and forth on whether to humor her or not. On one hand, it's a small thing to do to make her happy. Her church is as liberal as Christian churches come and I genuinely like the pastor. She's engaging, whip smart and articulate. And she's a feminist. The congregation welcomes people of all races and sexual orientations. They're pro-choice and pro-environment. They believe Darwin was onto something. They're pretty much the kind of church I'd join if I were shopping for a congregation.

But the thing is, I'm not. While I'm more than open to the possibility of a higher power, I have a hard time with that whole resurrection bit. Which (most Christian clergy would probably agree) renders me unfit for the faith. I also don't buy the baptize-him-to-keep-him-out-of-limbo approach. Holy water as an innoculation against hellfire seems downright silly to me.

For my entire adult life, I've been a C&E churchgoer. Hypocritical? Maybe slightly, but I like the holiday traditions and the familiar music. Oh yeah, and I love the candles at Christmas (Note to Pastor: The glow sticks last Christmas Eve sucked. Silent Night does NOT mesh with the rave vibe. I will not sue you if The Grape gets wax on him.)

I've made peace with my brand of hypocrisy. I mean, I know a gay man who frequents a Roman Catholic church, where they preach that his orientation makes him a sinner, because he just loves the smells and bells. They remind him of his youth.

Like him, I appreciate the option to drop into a church service for the nostalgic benefits now and then, but I don't find myself yearning for more spirituality in my life. While many people find great joy in the fellowship of like minded believers, I don't believe enough to crave that sort of communion either.

Many people have said just do it. Go through the motions. It doesn't hurt anyone.

I have trouble with that. I have enough respect for people who believe, and take their faith seriously, that I don't want to stand in their house of worship and promise to raise my son in the church when I know I won't do better than the two big holidays (plus whatever weddings and funerals we happen to attend).

Still, it would make my mother happy. And The Grape does love water. He would probably try to catch some in his mouth as the pastor pours it over his head. It might be a nice family event - one with a sense of occasion but none of the circus atmosphere brought on by most celebrations these days. My agnosticism doesn't mean I don't want The Grape to learn about world religions and their place in history, literature and culture. He's free to choose a faith, if he so desires, when he becomes an adult.

But I'm still feeling guilty about the Great To Baptize or Not Quandary. Maybe I should contact the pastor and ask about her policy regarding the offspring of the marginally faithful. Can't hurt to find out, right?



Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Self Help and Self Doubt

On my way to the picture book section in Borders the other day a confounding sight stopped me in my tracks. There between international travel and standardized test preparation, sat at least a dozen shelves of books dispensing advice on pregnancy and the rearing of young children. "Do these actually sell?" I asked the conveniently located and multiply pierced clerk. "Oh yeah. Like you wouldn't believe."

Except I do believe, because I've seen it in friends, acquaintances and strangers in waiting rooms. Borders wouldn't devote so much space to such volumes, and publishers wouldn't print them but for this fact: A stunning number of my contemporaries do not trust their instincts as parents. So they turn to tomes peddling everything from common sense to crazy fads.

I should say that I'm admittedly suspicious of self help books, whether they promise to make me a millionaire in thirty days, connect me with my spiritual self, or turn my child into a shoe-in for Leader of the Free World. I view this suspicion as a related symptom of (my probably genetic) aversion to reading directions.

Someone gave me What to Expect When You're Expecting when I was pregnant with The Grape. I was skeptical. The woman on the cover is sitting in a rocker, basically dressed like Holly Hobby. Then I noted that it was written by a man. If I was going to get someone else's opinion on the mutiny occurring in my body, that person was most certainly not going to have a penis. I tossed the book under my bed, where I believe it's still taking up valuable storage space to this day.

That's not to say I don't believe in reference books. I totally do. If I have a question, I like to be able to look it up. I'm a big Googler, but some times I like the retro feeling I get from seeking answers on printed pages. Pregnancy and parenting books ought to be approached more like the dictionary and less like the Bible. Most day to day issues don't require in-depth analysis. One thing I realized quickly is that babies require a ton of physical stamina and emotional investment. But parenting a baby, or even a little kid, isn't all that intellectually demanding.

I believe the majority of people who think they need to read books about child rearing from cover to cover, with a highlighter pen in hand, need to give themselves a break. Most new parents of healthy children would be a lot less stressed if they stopped charting diaper changes, weighing cereal portions and timing bedtime with military precision. Every kid is an individual. You should not feel inadequate because you can't make your day fit the model schedule prescribed by some expert.

In my humble opinion, modern kids need less pop-psychology and programming, and more time to run around outside and to engage in creative play. It seems to me that children with well exercised bodies and minds make for better, more inquisitive learners and happier parents.

Now that I think of it, perhaps I should write a book that says so.









Monday, May 24, 2010

Foolish investment choices

Amidst an avalanche of other depressing news this morning, Peter Goodman writes in the NYT Business Section about a phenomenon threatening to undermine a cornerstone of Bill Clinton's 1996 welfare reform: the program that subsidized care of small children so their parents could get off the welfare rolls and rejoin the workforce. In response to the economic crisis, several states have slashed child care programs in a misguided attempt to meet budget shortfalls. More than a dozen states now have long waiting lists for subsidized day care spots, which means the parents cannot go to work and must fall back on traditional welfare to survive. Crazy, right?

All social programs cost money, which seems to be in scarce supply these days. But a quick look at where the federal government spends each tax dollar shows that our priorities are grossly out of whack. It's a commonly held misconception that defense takes the biggest chunk of tax revenues. Not so. Twenty cents of each dollar goes to security and national defense, including the two wars. Meanwhile, an equal percentage of every dollar goes to entitlements for citizens age 65 and older, in the form of Social Security, regardless of need. Another 14 cents of every dollar goes to the same segment of the population, again regardless of need. Need-blind entitlements for the retirement age population only account for at least 34 cents per tax dollar collected by the federal government. Subsidized child care accounts for less than a penny.

Such programs count as a small portion of the 14 cents per tax dollar that funds what's known in shorthand as the Safety Net. It includes, among other things, monetary assistance to the disabled and the very poor; school lunch programs; programs for abused children; unemployment insurance; low income housing assistance; food stamps; earned income and child tax credits; and child care assistance that allows parents to get off the other types of assistance by going to work.

14 cents from each tax dollar covers all of that. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, the Safety Net kept 15 million citizens out of poverty and reduced the depth of poverty for another 29 million. Keep in mind that one in five American children lives at or below the poverty line, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Which, as Goodman writes, means that when subsidized childcare falls by the wayside while states scramble to balance budgets, more poor and marginally poor children will be pushed further down the economic ladder because their parents will have no choice but to give up work and collect traditional welfare checks. Hardly a desirable result, particularly for those who enjoy railing against entitlements.

What about this moderate proposal? Let's eliminate federal payments to senior citizens whose net worth, excluding primary residence, exceeds a million dollars. Sure, that change would only represent a drop in the bucket compared to the billions paid out in Medicare and Social Security to the rest of the senior population. I don't know if that would make up the amount needed, and it certainly wouldn't cover any broad expansion of this useful program.

Still, I think it's an interesting idea. Why can't we as a society eliminate an entitlement to rich old people to offset the price of a benefit to impoverished infants and children?

Recently axed subsidized child care programs that were keeping women like Alexandria Wallace, the first subject in Goodman's article, at work and off welfare, were only costing the taxpayers a less than one per cent of every dollar collected. Because affordable day care is no longer available, Ms. Wallace cannot keep her job. In its effort to economize, the government adds her and her child to the welfare rolls.

We should make a modest step towards sensibly reducing our enormous investment in the past generation while increasing our investment in the future one. Let's not let short sighted financial planning, misguided anger about entitlements and plain narrow mindedness derail one of the great policy successes of the previous decade.

I write often about choices, but I think it's important to devote some consideration to families who don't have the luxury of options.

I'd be happy to give another penny to subsidize day care for needy children so their parents can have a fair chance at clawing their way out of poverty.

Just my 2 cents' worth.


(All statistics, unless otherwise noted, are from cbpp.org.)





Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Why would she lie?

A few days ago, a friend of a friend of a friend was going on about how great it is to work from home. She has a seven-month-old and a two-year-old, and she works in a field that requires a great deal of client interaction. She has no sitter ("Such a waste of money!" she sniffed). She claims to work thirty hours a week from her house.

I'm calling bullshit on this one.

Unless her children are narcoleptic (they're not), or she doesn't actually have to speak to another live human during all those hours of client time, there is no way she's getting thirty hours of work done while home alone with a newly mobile little person and a toddler whose settings appear permanently tuned to search and destroy.

Maybe, if her kids rank among those urban legend champion nappers and she devotes zero nap time to personal matters such as grooming or household management, she could manage two or three hours of work per day while the kids snooze.

She brightly explained to a small crowd of disbelieving moms that she's been working from home like this for several months. I presumed she was lying, or at least grossly exaggerating her professional responsibilities, which helped alleviate the surge of inadequacy her soliloquy inspired. What I can't quite put my finger on is why she'd lie.

First, here's why I was virtually certain she was lying. If it was as easy as she claims, everyone would do it. Who doesn't like the idea of extra money and a foothold in the working world if it costs nothing and fits nicely between snacks and story time?

I personally love the idea of working from the apartment. A home office with a door is a long time fantasy of mine, one that present square footage doesn't permit. There's no commute and no suits to dry clean. But my dream scenario always includes a sitter. Because unless someone else takes charge of The Grape while I work, nothing gets done. I don't mean literally nothing, but pretty close. And because I've been feeling inadequate about this state of affairs, I've been busy polling other moms. Universal consensus: Any previously simple task, such as cooking dinner, cleaning out the junk drawer or making a phone call, has about a 50/50 chance of getting done while responsible for the baby.

Today, my extra-child care accomplishments include baking one slightly crooked cake (which required an extra half-hour jaunt with The Grape in the steady rain when I realized, after the pans were greased and the carrots shredded, that I lacked both eggs and vanilla). And I've written the paragraphs you've just read, which are probably disjointed due to the countless times I've gotten up from my computer in the past twenty minutes.

I am neither Superhuman nor woefully incompetent. But The Grape, like any little kid, is a full time job. For me, or a sitter, or his dad. There is no such thing as working while watching the baby.

So that's clear. Now onto the more interesting question: Why would she lie?

I can't figure that out for certain, but my best guess is that she feels inadequate. Being a fantastic, involved, positive, loving mother to her children doesn't give her the sense of self worth she got from saying, "I do ______ at XYZ Company."

In turns out that, mere hours later, I learned for certain that Ms. Fabulous Job From Home was lying. Boston is a small place and nobody is the requisite six degrees from anyone else (it's usually more like one or two). Without spilling her secret or expending any energy, I confirmed she hasn't been with the company in over a year.

It's not my business to out her. If she continues to run around telling people she works there when she doesn't, I'm sure someone will catch her sooner or later. In the meantime, you might bump into her. She'll gush about having it all, and perhaps you'll walk away feeling like a bit of an underachiever.

Just remember this: She's doing the women who actually juggle childcare obligations and professional ones a great disservice by pretending it's easy.

I wish she'd give herself a break. There's value in raising children. Just like there's value in keeping one's career forging full steam ahead. She's made a choice to be home with her little ones.

I wish she would own it.












Monday, May 17, 2010

I expected more than a vegetable garden

For the first time in my memory, elementary school children live in the White House. They have a Secret Service detail and their grandmother helping to look after them. As they should. But I'm afraid their mother will squander a golden opportunity, one for which she's uniquely qualified and positioned. Here's the deal: She has unbelievable childcare. Most parents in this country do not.

I wish the First Lady would use some of her time and clout to direct the nation's attention to the debacle that is America's child care situation. Michelle Obama has a tremendous platform from which she could plant the seeds of change to correct a problem this country has stubbornly ignored, despite its great strides on various women's issues.

Federal law mandates a pathetic six weeks of maternity leave with pay.

I challenge anyone to explain to me how it can possibly be in the best interests of any six-week-old infant to be left in a day care setting. Let alone for the entire work week.

Day care providers vary in quality, from exceptionally good to plain awful. States have different minimum standards. The most progressive regulations require a ratio of one staff member for every three infants, which isn't horrendous but nor is it ideal. For too many women, mostly those at the bottom of the pay scale, six weeks at home is all they'll get. Busy day cares with exhausted, spottily trained employees are the only economically viable option for many who cannot afford to miss a single pay check.

Countless people rely on grandparents or other family members to provide regular baby sitting. I would argue it's fundamentally unfair to place the burden of full time child care on the backs of the retiree generation. Many grandparents lack the physical stamina to mind children full time. Many more would rather spend their golden years doing something other than changing diapers and chasing after tireless toddlers, but in too many families it's the only feasible way to make ends meet.

Professionals with higher incomes tend to have a bit more flexibility. Unpaid leave laws vary from state to state, but no state requires an employer to grant more than four months' time off for maternity. Not so kid friendly, in my estimation. To say nothing of what this draconian approach does for the mother's physical or mental health. The quickie maternity leaves prompt many financially secure women to opt off the career track, because while they'd like to go back to work, they'd rather have more time with the baby.

Things are different in Western Europe, where a new mother gets at least six months, and in many countries a full year, of paid maternity leave. Unpaid leave in some places can last up to twenty-four months on top of that. Which means while you're home, your job is secure, and you don't have to go back in a hurry in order to keep your health coverage. Nor do you have to burden your aging parents.

In Scandinavia, when you're ready to rejoin the workforce, your child is guaranteed a day care spot until school age, where he or she will be supervised by teachers with advanced degrees in child development, in clean and welcoming facilities with outdoor playgrounds, brimming bookshelves and meals cooked on the premises.

You and your partner can both pursue careers during normal business hours, knowing that your two to six year old is in capable hands. What a concept. So many lawyers, engineers, academics, doctors, office workers and teachers opt out of the work force when they become mothers because they can't bring themselves to leave their kids during that first year, when babies change and develop at light speed. Imagine how our workforce might look if we gave mothers the option to have a year off? It's not a stretch to think it would look more productive. Happy workers who occasionally sleep at night tend to make good employees.

Some new moms in Europe go back to work before exhausting their benefits, but the vast majority elect to use the time to stay home. It's a choice that's available to everyone, be they surgeons or waitresses, judges or store clerks. Here in the States, such a choice exists only for those moms on the top of the socio-economic scale. In the alleged land of opportunity, that fact ought to be a national embarrassment.

I'm not holding my breath for American employers to start offering reasonable maternity benefits. Such extras cost money that would have to be pried from the fists of both business owners and taxpayers. Maybe we need to start thinking about early child care benefits and maternity leave as a solid investment and not a mere fringe benefit. For all the talk about Head Start and Pre-K and Leaving Nobody Behind and whatever other initiatives the politicians roll out, perhaps we should consider that the infant-toddler years matter, too.

That's why someone with the First Lady Michelle Obama's smarts, platform and 82 per cent approval rating must lead the push for better benefits. American families need longer paid maternity leaves and top notch, subsidized day care options.

Sadly, Mrs. Obama seems too busy planting vegetables to tackle this much thornier problem. Don't get me wrong. I'm all about eating greens, getting outdoors and embracing healthy living. But unless the First Lady has an appetite for taking on the factory farms that are literally poisoning our children and our land, her nutrition awareness campaign seems almost as quaint as her backyard garden.

The First Lady would serve the country well by at least starting a national conversation about child care for the preschool set. It would be a courageous move befitting an impressive woman. Should she succeed, she would leave a legacy far greater than a couple of bushels of green beans and tomatoes.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Fashion Don'ts: Saying No to Little Construction Worker and Lil' Britney

An otherwise adorable boutique in my neighborhood sells really ugly baby clothing, and I don't understand why.

I don't mean the layette pieces -they include lovingly embroidered caps and nightgowns in luxurious fabrics almost too nice to subject to the inevitable assault of bodily fluids that will come with each wearing. Although the shop's selection of gorgeous items for newborns makes it even more puzzling that they can't seem to offer an equally charming selection in the bigger baby sizes.

The ugly stuff starts later. Around the 0-3 month size.

But first: Has anyone else noticed that most stores no longer feature a baby section? It's all divided, from size premie up, into girls' and boys'. This produces certain absurd results: ducks were classified as girlie in one major department store, which had deemed giraffes masculine. Try finding a newborn nightgown - the single best piece of infant clothing EVER designed - in the baby boy section. You won't find it, because somewhere, some brainless ding-dong in retail decided that putting a two-week-old boy in a nightdress for easy midnight changes would confuse his sexual identity. The Grape wore nightgowns for the first four months of his life. Remind me to ask him later if it damaged his manhood.

Something in my gut tells me that over-emphasizing sexual differences in infants seems like a bad idea. Pop culture bombards kids with sex as soon as they're able to change the channel or surf the web. Middle schoolers yawn at the mention of oral sex in a been there, done that sort of way. Sexting has become an actual verb, and it's not our generation that invented it. Everyone knows that little boys and girls figure out gender differences on their own soon enough. Can't we let them just be innocent babies for a short while?

Evidently not. If clothing for infant boys isn't boring powder blue, it's overtly manly.
I cannot possibly be the only mom dismayed by the inexplicable over-representation of browns and grays in the contemporary infant wardrobe pallet. One friend recently quipped, "It's like they give you two choices for boys, Little Hipster and Little Construction Worker."

Neither version of the "Little Man" look appeals to me. The Grape doesn't need steel gray waffle shirts with Harley-like motorcycles on them, drab onesies or acid washed jeans cut to accommodate his Pampers. Nor does he, despite his residency in Boston, need shirts that disparage a certain baseball team (who, while we're on the subject of fashion, happen to wear awfully sharp pin-striped uniforms).

The Grape is a baby. He should wear cute, cheerful, babyish things. He can look like he lives in a dorm, works at a building site or plays professional sports later. Much later. Like when he actually becomes a little (or medium or big) man.

The local omnipresence of drab baby wear has driven me to catalogs featuring clothes designed on the other side of the pond, especially those from northern Europe. I have a friend who sends me baby clothes from Finland. The Grape garners lots of compliments when he's out and about in his red jumpsuit with elephants on it. Try finding that sort of thing around here. You can't.

The Scandinavians prefer their children dressed colorfully. Perhaps it makes them easier to find during those long, pitch black winters. Their clothes also tend to be three things ours aren't: unisex, functional and built to last. You see lots of bright colors, fun prints, zippers where 14 snaps would otherwise be, and solid craftsmanship. The only thing worse than unattractive clothing is unattractive clothing that unravels or shrinks after a single wash.

I suspect the domestic baby fashion industry eschews those qualities because it's better for them if parents have to buy new clothes for each new baby. If everything you own is, for example, blue for your first, and your second is a girl, you'll buy more. If your second is another boy, you'll still buy more because the things procured for son number one will have frayed, bled color or fallen apart.

But I digress.

The local selection for infant girls' clothes is moderately better than for their male counterparts, although the infinite sea of pink can be disorienting. And that's saying a lot, coming from me. I love pink. I hardly ever leave home without something pink on my person, even if it's just my phone. But I like other colors, too. Why aren't there countless outfits for baby girls in bright colors like blue, green or red?

I think, and it's just my theory, that it's because primary colors don't scream, GIRL!!! (God forbid your little princess is bald - in that event, society will encourage you to tape a pink ribbon atop her hairless dome.)

Germaine Greer has said that pink is a vile color. I respectfully disagree, but I understand her underlying sentiment. Pink in our culture represents something delicate, fragile, in need of protection. Of course all babies fit that description, but little girls are told, both subliminally and directly, and almost from birth, that this is good, whereas little boys are encouraged to outgrow such neediness as quickly as possible.

In the girls' department, things start to get really frightening around size 2T, which is when you start to see a good amount of, for lack of a better phrase, Little Britney type stuff in the stores. It's enough to make you yearn for a closet full of nothing but those sweet frilly, pink, posy-pocked frocks.

I first noticed the Little Britney look last Halloween, but quickly realized it wasn't a seasonal phenomenon. Back when I was dressing up and trick or treating, Slutty Pippi Longstocking wasn't a viable costume option. And it shouldn't be now.

For a society hyper aware of the existence of child predators, we're awfully willing to dress our daughters in clingy and/or revealing outfits. I saw a little girl on Boston Common last week, out walking with her parents. She was wearing hot pink leggings and a black sparkly tube top that said "lil' hottie." She basically looked like sex on a stick, and she couldn't have been more than three years old. All I could think was, "Really?"

I'm relieved to report that, for all the flaws in its selection, my cute neighborhood boutique has so far resisted the trend to sell trampy clothes for tots. But with their infant boys' selection so big-boyish in spirit, I can't believe the girls' options will stay lovely and babyish forever.

Because I like to support local businesses, I stop in to the neighborhood boutique to peruse the wares every now and then.

Today, I found a pair of well constructed cotton overalls in my son's size. They were what would politely be called manure brown in color, with olive green trim. "Do these come in primary colors?" I asked the salesperson. She showed me the same item with camouflage green as the basic color and the aforementioned horse poop tone as the trim. "I think these are adorable," she gushed.

Maybe I was under-caffeinated, over tired or plain punchy, but I heard myself blurt, "They're ugly. There's just no other word for them."

Then I caught myself and said, "Sorry. But can't you get these in red?"

"Red is for girls," she explained, as if this ought to be obvious, even to a neophyte mom.

O-kay. Got it. But I had to ask, "So you don't have anything with a fire truck, for example?"

The sales girl brightened. "We have lots of fire trucks. She showed me a shirt with an olive truck on the manure colored background, and the same shirt with (surprise!) the color scheme reversed.

"Not exactly what I had in mind, but thanks anyway," I said, now in a hurry to eject out of there. She rolled her eyes as I beat a hasty retreat.

What I should have asked, and what I still want to understand is this: Why can The Grape's father rock a pink shirt but he, at the tender age of less than one, can not?




Saturday, May 8, 2010

Baby Jail: Welcoming Play Space or Psychological Torture?

It's time to find a way to contain The Grape, so I thought I'd go out and buy a play pen. I vaguely remember my younger sister (and several puppies) playing in such a contraption, and my mom suggested it might be a good purchase.

I didn't see any play pens in the cute boutique on the corner so I reluctantly schlepped to that big ugly baby gear store in the suburbs.

After wandering aimlessly under the fluorescent glare for ten minutes, I consulted a salesperson. "You can't say play pen anymore. It's damaging to the child's psyche. They're play yards these days," she explained, completely seriously.

Did I mention that The Grape is barely nine months old? Did I have to? I mean, he was sitting in his stroller during this whole exercise. I doubt he'll remember any of what transpired. And isn't that part of the beauty of parenting? You have a good two to three years to screw up seemingly basic things like play pens without permanently damaging your offspring.

When the sales woman finally calmed down enough to show me the alleged play yard, it was a travel crib. No good. Next she showed me an enormous plastic enclosure. The picture on the box featured an exuberant Golden Retriever behind the cage-like bars. Such a system might work well, if we didn't live in a smallish city apartment, but this take on baby jail would take up my entire living room. Maybe I'll get desperate enough to sacrifice the adult sitting area eventually, but I'm not there yet.

I shook my head and said, "So let me understand this. It's damaging to put him in a play pen, but a kennel is alright?" Then we left, empty handed and determined to find the elusive product elsewhere. I might be running out of time.

While The Grape hasn't figured out how to crawl, he's surprisingly adept at pushing himself backwards and getting his feet tangled in furniture. Also, his personal settings seem stuck on self destruction mode. His eyes gleam as they hone in on a power cord or an empty electrical socket.

Many people hire professional baby proofing consultants to batten down every hatch in the home. Toilets are clamped shut, cabinets rendered inaccessible without a twelve digit code. The consultants confiscate fireplace tools, remove blinds and install alarm sensors under rugs to detect any unauthorized movement beyond the parameters of the Designated Safe Play Space.

My brother and sister-in-law (who are fantastic and loving parents) hired one of these people. Six hours later, their previously charming home resembled a padded, maximum security institution for mentally unstable criminals. I was dismayed to visit and find the toilet seat locked down with something resembling a vise from sixth grade wood shop. I was not, however, the least bit surprised. This level of caution fits completely with their overall parenting philosophy, which can be summarized as: "OH MY GOD! SHE'S GOING TO DIE!!!"

On some level, they buy into the popular notion that jailing the baby for short periods of time is somehow wrong. Doing so would be an admission that they cannot watch her every second of every day of the first three years of her life. So they jail all their stuff instead and let her run amok over hundreds of square feet of empty carpeting.

For better or worse, I don't share this philosophy. Maybe it's because I don't remember my mom's house being like that when my sister was in the infant-toddler age group. Maybe I have an antiquated, wrong headed notion that if everything is padded, he'll never learn the word "no."

Also, I watch friends who are raising kid number two or three, and they make their homes safer without creating a state of complete lock down. So, for now at least, I do what they do: I put the fragile things out of reach and gate the stairs. I've purchased plastic plugs for the sockets and latches for the cutlery drawers.

Still, it would be nice to be able to turn my back long enough to take a shower, pay a few bills or get dinner going. So if anyone has one of those retro play pens I could borrow (I'd be extra interested in wacky old millennium color schemes), I'd be delighted to take it off your hands.


Thursday, May 6, 2010

Happy 50th to The Pill!

Happy birthday to The Pill, and many happy returns!

Last night, by some unusual instance of cosmic alignment that comes around about as often as Haley's Comet, I actually saw the nightly news, during which Brian Williams informed us that The Pill turns 50 this month.

Which, to give a cultural point of comparison, makes those tiny doses of hormones roughly the same age as the home economics textbooks, so frequently forwarded as email jokes, that told young wives, "No matter what happened today, his day was far more stressful than yours," and urging the young Mrs. to be ready for Darling's return from the office with "touched up lipstick, a freshly mixed martini, bathed, happy children and his slippers."

I started to think that the little white dial packs, which my friends and I grew up taking for granted, truly did change the world more than most of us ever realized when we skulked into health services at school seeking prescriptions behind our parents' backs.

Simply put, I cannot conceive of a world where men could exercise virtually absolute power regarding when and how often women would become pregnant. There are women reading this rolling their eyes and saying, "There are other methods!" and "I'd never let my guy tell me what to do with my body."

Not so fast. Ever consider whether your grandmother and her friends from bridge club actually wanted a new bundle of joy every year for a decade? Especially during a time when child rearing fell almost exclusively to the mother. Some did, for sure, but I'm equally certain most did not.

The Pill (more than any other breakthrough in my humble opinion) allowed women to change an ancient dynamic. Marriage no longer meant the automatic and immediate sacrifice of a woman's own ambitions to her mate's. Equally importantly, she could have some say in the spacing of her brood once she decided she was ready for the tremendous but exhausting adventure of Mommyhood.

I'm getting older and no longer fit the ideal demographic for Pill taking, so why am I on my soapbox about it?

Because I'm afraid that in our socially polarized republic, even with a progressive president installed in the White House, the right of women to control their own bodies is under threat.

If we allow, as we do in parts of this vast country, pharmacists to decide which prescriptions they will honor; or physicians to lie to their patients regarding the results of prenatal tests; or school boards to write curriculums that mislead children about sex, or worse, reinforce the notion that a girl's entire worth is tied to her virginity; then it's not a stretch to think that, especially in some backwaters of America, access to female controlled contraception could come into question.

I'm not saying that I expect The Pill to become illegal, but I wouldn't be surprised to hear about new hoops for women to jump through in order to get their hands on it every month.

Which is completely backward for many reasons, especially if you consider the alarming teen pregnancy rate in this country. If we made it easier for teens to get The Pill, we'd take the onus for birth control off of hormone crazed 17-year-old boys, half of whom didn't pay attention when their health teachers wrangled a condom onto a cucumber, and half of whom are just too horny to care. I find it hard to imagine that giving teenage girls The Pill could in any way increase teen pregnancies, but that's what more than one school board in America would have us believe.

And that's only one hurdle. Even if a young girl can get the prescription, in many places she will still need to find the funds to fill it.

In most states, health insurance doesn't have to cover contraceptives for anyone. Congress has taken up that issue at least three or four times, but refused to correct the travesty. Does anyone really wonder if the result would be different if we had more female than male representatives?

So it's a bittersweet anniversary: we should look proudly at how far we've come, only if we also pause to consider how far we still need to go.



Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Coffee, foot care and fending off unsolicited advice

A visibly pregnant friend told me that an older woman tried to prevent her from getting a coffee at Starbucks this morning. As in, the complete stranger physically tried to block her path to the counter while holding forth on how she might as well start her day with a martini.

Before I had walked in my friend's flip flops, I would have accused her of lying. Or at least exaggerating.

But I've learned there's something about pregnancy. It makes a significant number of people believe it's alright to suspend the rules of social interaction.

So I asked my friend if she had the presence of mind to tell the woman that most of the functional adults living in the western world gestated on coffee and came out just fine. She said she was too tired to engage a crazy person, so she went to the Starbucks across the street. I'm happy to report that she was able to complete her transaction without further audience interference.

Nothing surprises me after my last pre-baby pedicure. At nine months, I was exhausted, sick all the time and feeling more than a little unhinged as a result. For some reason, I decided that I needed beautiful feet in order to face my c section.

So I was sitting in Lauren's Nails with my toes (which I hadn't seen in four months) in the tub, and my nose in a fashion magazine. A well-dressed woman slightly younger than my mother sat in the next chair and asked, "Is this your first?"

Me: Yes. (My nose went back in Glamour. I was tired, uncomfortable and wanted to be left alone.)

Stranger: Boy or girl?

Me: Boy. (I stuck my face back in the magazine and feigned fascination with the fall's new lipstick colors. On airplanes, this tactic usually works.)

Stranger: Have you taken any classes?

Me: No. (I was utterly mesmerized by the make up article.)

Busy Body Old Bat: Why not?

Me: (I forced a smile with shrug and pretended the conversation was over. I flipped to article about shoes and gazed longingly at stilettos rendered impossible by my condition.)

BBOB: I've taught Lamaze for 17 years. You really have to take a class.

Me: I'm having a c section. (Not that it's any of your business, but this should end the conversation.)

No such luck.

BBOB: You should get a second opinion.

Seriously. What is wrong with people? Remember: She doesn't know me. Or the first thing about my medical history. And even if she did, it's still none of her business. I put Glamour on my lap and turn to look at BBOB. She's gazing into my face with the earnestness of a misguided evangelist who smells a prospective convert.

Me: You know, you look like you're over fifty. You should probably go get a colonoscopy.

Pedicurists stifle laughter. BBOB evidently decides she cannot sit next to me for another minute and rushes out with her toes unpainted. I return my attention to Glamour, which is offering sex tips that a person in my condition would try at the risk of landing in traction.

Many childless friends told me that the colon health quip was horrid. My mother said she wished I'd stuck with my standby, "I have an OB. I don't need any advice. Thank you." She'd encouraged me to rehearse this line so I could deploy it as needed. (Note to Mom: It failed to scare off the paisley-clad, wild haired woman in Ben and Jerry's who pushed aside other patrons, grasped my hands and pleaded with me to stop eating ice cream and meditate on childbirth.)

Pregnant girlfriend just sent me a text from work. Some man her father's age tried to feel up her belly. Without asking.

I'm not about to launch into a whole separate rant. So I'll end with a request: If anyone guilty of belly grabbing is reading this, can you please promise to refrain from this vile practice? It is NOT okay to grope strangers' children. Whether they are internal or external. Thank you.