Tuesday, December 20, 2011

In Which the Grape bakes

Everyone I know has some food item, the presence of which makes or breaks their holidays. For me, it's the buttery pastries, filled with stewed plums, and baked in every home in Finland during the week before Christmas. The Finns are a conformist people in many aspects of domesticity. I wouldn't be surprised to find their Christmas pastry baking to be mandated by national law.

The prune filled pastry clause might appear in a sub-part of the ordinance dictating that all citizens enjoy a sauna bath on Saturdays. The Grape and I fail on that quid pro quo of our Finnish-ness. Though not for lack of effort on my part. When I asked a contractor about procuring a variance to install a wood burning furnace that would feature an open fire and several hundred pounds of volcanic rocks hot enough to burn off your skin, to heat a space the size of the master bath to 200 degrees fahrenheit, the salty, work boot clad fellow from Southie actually blanched.

So, because I only bake the pastries once a year, and I apparently suffer from some form of mild dementia that blocks out what a pain in the butt the whole procedure is, I made a pastry dough the other night. Per my mom's instructions, I set it in the fridge to cool.

6:42 a.m. Grape is still asleep. Pre-heat oven, re-fill coffee, extract dough from fridge and place on freshly scrubbed, gleaming, spotless kitchen counter. Congratulate self on tackling baking project before slumbering toddler wakes. Attack dough with rolling pin.

6:44 Dough does not budge under weight of rolling pin. Discover that dough is a hunk of ice, from being stuffed in back corner of overly cold fridge.

6:47 Take deep breath. Nuke homemade pastry dough.

6:48 Pastry dough emerges from microwave as gooey mess, resembling custard in August. Re-wrap dough in wax paper and return bundle to refrigerator. Grape yells from crib, "Who's awake? Who's awake?" Pause to retrieve child, issue him breakfast, etc.

7:47 Remove pastry dough from refrigerator once again. Grape places the remains of his bagel, complete with cream cheese, between sofa cushions and announces, "All done, bagel!"

7:49 Clean couch, issue Grape more orange juice, re-new assault on pastry dough with rolling pin. When it refuses to budge, hack at it in manner of railroad man working sledgehammer. Call mother to make sure this is the right approach. She says it is not. Grape, in an attempt to mimick my actions in the kitchen, assaults the television with a Tonka truck.

7:50 Save television from destruction. Re-direct Grape to kitchen.

7:56 Grape unpacks all contents of kitchen cabinets onto kitchen floor, demands yogurt. Dough finally yields to my assault. Grape dumps yogurt shake into pot of flour sitting too close to the edge of the counter. "Paste! Yay!" he announces triumphantly. Silently curse pre-school for introducing concept of paste to child.

8:10 Garbage disposal is clogged with remains of yogurt/flour mixture. Grape undergoes wardrobe change. Dough, now rolled out and ready on counter, grows warm, soft and difficult to work with as I wrestle with the sole jar of Scandi-approved Christmas pastry filling I could locate in this or an adjacent zip code.

8:15 Jar will not open with any usual ploys. Dough growing far too gooey. The Grape grabs a corner and smears it into his hair like gel.

8:59 Dough is back in fridge, laid out in a pile of sheets separated by wax paper. Oven is off. I am dressed. Grape and I venture out to find plums to stew. Grape leaves house with dough in hair, but it's alright because he wears his hat. Call gym to cancel Grape's 10 a.m. nursery spot.

9:37 Return to house to stew and pit plums. Read stories to Grape by Christmas tree. Carols play softly in background. Silently congratulate self on lovely holiday tableau. Fail to register that I should be STIRRING THE DAMNED PLUMS.

9:58 Correctly identify stench from stove as hazardous at same moment building fire alarm starts to blare. Grape shrieks in panic. Tears stream down his little face as I stand on kitchen island, next to pastry dough, and smack ineffectually at fire alarm with handle of Swiffer Wet Jet.

10:01 Alarm falls silent, most likely of its own volition. Dump pot of blackened prune brulee into sink, fill with water, contemplate cost of replacing Calphalon. Reassure Grape that this is fun and traditional, and that these will be the best treats ever. Grape demands a Hershey kiss for his troubles. Commence re-washing counter.

10:20 Contemplate opening bottle of wine to help adjust attitude in desirable direction. Decide the Grape might tell on me if I do so before sunset. Give jar of pre-made plum filling one last, frustrated whack with back of knife. Impudent jar pops open on its own.

10:26 Newly energized by victory over prune jar, I roll out the dough and use a knife to cut the proper, prescribed by Finnish law, half circle shapes. Use every last drop of filling, in the hopes that said filling is discontinued, and its absence will mean I never have to bake these stupid confections again. Fold now room temperature dough into decidedly unprofessional-looking lumps. "They're still going to taste great," I assure the Grape, who has affixed his little body to my leg in the manner of a sailor tying himself to a mast in an effort to weather a hurricane in a broken boat.

10:52 Prepare egg glaze to brush onto ugly, unbaked pastries, to ensure they gleam just like my mom's do.

10:59 Open oven door with cookie sheet in hand. Oven is cold. Dump cookie sheet on counter. Commence re-pre-heating of oven.

11:00 Grape tugs precariously positioned cookie sheet of unbaked delicacies off counter onto kitchen floor.

11:01 Spend next fifteen minutes ridding pastries of any pet hair they may have accumulated during brief run-in with kitchen floor. Grape, in desperate attention seeking bid, removes all ornaments from lower half of Christmas tree and stuffs most of them between the sofa cushions.

11:40 Gas oven finally ready. Insert pastries. Pat self on back for remembering to set timer. Commence cleaning kitchen.

11:53 Timer dings. Rush to oven to extract the fruits of five hours of labor: a measly eighteen pastries, two of which might be fit to show company. The rest look like Danishes that got run over by a fleet of the Grape's Tonka trucks.

11:56 Sit down with Grape to spoil lunch. Grape takes one tentative bite, wrinkles his little nose, and requests Parmesan Goldfish.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Behind the holiday eight ball

I don't know why it happens every year. Somehow December 25th arrives with remarkable predictability and yet, I'm never prepared. A season of peace and celebration morphs into a chaos that accelerates with the opening of each tiny flap on the Grape's advent calendar.

Maybe I should pause and be thankful I don't need to keep track of holidays that present as moving targets every year. I don't know how my Jewish and Muslim friends manage it.

Perhaps it's actually easier, in some ways, to be in the minority. No commercial machine tells them when to celebrate their magical season.

We're so bombarded with Christmas from the moment the Halloween candy leaves the shelves that I've conditioned myself to tune it out. I ignore the lights and wreaths in October. There's no amount of money you could pay me to get me to camp outside any store in the wee hours of Thanksgiving night. I refuse to hear carols before December.

But the problem is, by the time I'm ready to feel the holiday magic (sometime around today or tomorrow, and lasting through the traditional twelve days of Christmas), everyone else is winding down. That includes our tree - a Berkeley Street tree lot special that was probably felled in August. Of 2009. I'm sure it'll need an I.V. to make it through the new year.

And I'm not so worried about the annual holiday shopping. I actually don't mind the stores around December 23rd. I experience better clarity and sense of purpose when I know there's no time to kick the tires. Although I could dispense with the annual Christmas Eve dash to the corner store to buy wrapping paper, since I can't find the leftovers from last year. (They inevitably burst from the closet on their own power late in the evening on December 25th.)

I feel like somewhere in the unwritten mommy rules, it says we cannot commemorate the birth of Jesus Christ without at least seven kinds of homemade baked goods on hand. I like to cook. Really.

Baking, on the other hand, is a chore that looms over me in the manner of window washing or closet reorganization.

Yet I can't bring myself to outsource it. I love (and personally consume more than my fair share of) the treats my mother and her mother used to bake every December. And, even if it means making pastry dough in the middle of the night before Christmas, I feel duty bound to pass along the traditional family love of prune filled Finnish confections to the Grape.

Maybe I'll enjoy baking cookies more when the Grape gets big enough to participate. But for now, my attention span doesn't last past the first dozen. I get bored. The cookies end up super-sized because I don't have the patience to make hundreds of tiny treats.

I know I should step up my game. This is the first year that the Grape is old and interactive enough to grasp the concept of a holiday celebration. He loves trotting to the mailbox to check the day's haul of holiday cards. Have I written one seasonal greeting? That would be negative and I blame myself, for having unrealistic ambitions. I thought I'd have all the envelopes addressed during the first week of December. Ha.

The trouble started when, for the first time ever, I endeavored to have cards made featuring the Grape with Lila the Dog. I ordered them in a timely manner, by which I mean the week after Thanksgiving. It turns out I should have been on this season's greetings thing in July.

Early last week, the company delivered our cards to some random woman in Guam (okay, Connecticut, but with less than two weeks to go it's the same end result). She kindly sent them onward. They arrived last night. UPS dumped them on the neighbor's stoop.

Without envelopes.

And of course the cards are some weird custom size, and at least half of them are headed overseas.

I've learned my lesson. Next year I'll beat the system. I'll address my cards from a beach chair on Labor Day weekend. I'll buy wrapping paper half off in January and store it some place I'll actually recall. I'll pace myself with the dreaded baking, and have a freezer stocked with sweets marked "Do not open until Xmas" before Thanksgiving rolls around.

Yeah, right. If you believe that, I've got a winning lotto ticket for your stocking.

One last seasonal thought: Is it too early to break out the egg nog?

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The gender politics of book buying

Think fast, guys: If I gave you a recent bestselling novel written by a woman, would you read it?

If you answered yes, would you be inclined to do so on an airplane, on the beach, or in some other public venue?

Or would you feel compelled to peruse the pages while huddled in the privacy of your own bedroom, fearful that showing your face in public shoved between the pages of “women’s fiction” would somehow blunt your manhood?

This summer, Esquire published its list of 75 novels “every man should read.”
One woman author made the list.


Flannery O’Connor.

I know it’s a men’s magazine, and I certainly have nothing against Ms. O’Connor (or any of the men on the list). But still. I have to wonder if her gender neutral name helped her make the editor’s cut. Just as I wonder if J.K. Rowling went by the nickname J.K. before she published the first Harry Potter book.

Consider: Esquire couldn’t even offer a nod to Margaret Atwood, the long-reigning queen of literary dystopia? Or Alice Walker, for the brilliant and unfairly controversial Color Purple? Not a single title by Nobel Winner Toni Morrison?

These women do not write “chick books.”

I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised. I did a quick and utterly unscientific survey, and asked some of my male contemporaries to name the last good book they read by a female writer. Every one of them had to go back to high school, where the most common answers they came up with were To Kill a Mockingbird and Uncle Tom’s Cabin - both brilliant books. Indeed I’ve heard their titles mentioned by English professors as Great American Novels, alongside the work of Steinbeck, Twain, Fitzgerald and Hemingway.

The most interesting part of my inquiry came when I asked the guys to name the best book they’d read recently.

Most popular answer, in a landslide: Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom, a 562-page tome that brashly demands recognition as The Great American Novel of Our Time.

Don’t think the writer had such lofty accolades in mind? Please. You could design a drinking game around the number of Tolstoy references in his book. And his use of the family as a microcosm of society lends the work a certain Shakespearean undertone that will give the novel a certain measure of well-deserved staying power.

But here’s the bottom line: Mr. Franzen, in his signature brash but wordy style, writes about family dysfunction, people and the causes they hold dear, and relationships between those people, especially when their chosen pursuits cause conflict. He’s not working in the traditional male-dominated spheres of war, spy craft and violent crime. Indeed, he’s tackling subjects normally lumped under the overly broad heading “contemporary women’s fiction.”

I have to admire this about Mr. Franzen: the man shoots for the moon and makes no apologies for it. Many women writers I know could learn something from his strident confidence.

Yet Mr. Franzen famously freaked when no less a personage than Oprah endorsed his work, saying he didn’t want his books labeled as “women’s fiction.”

Really? First of all, let’s deal with the gift horse bit. Here’s what you say when Oprah Winfrey announces that she wants to endorse your work: Thank you very, very much. Period.

Women account for the lion’s share of fiction sales, a fact Mr. Franzen’s PR people no doubt internalized, since the author subsequently went out of his way to make nice with Ms. Winfrey. According to Goodreads.com, a book lovers’ site with 6.5 million members, women are twice as likely to read and review work by male writers as men are to do the reverse. So their buying choices matter to writers of both sexes.

Yet among the ranks of professional reviewers, men outnumber women by about 2 to 1. It’s not hard to understand why. Those are plumb jobs. One who aspires to review books for a household name newspaper basically has to wait for a reviewer to croak for a job opening to arise.

Male readers could argue that they just happen to hear about books by men more often. It’s true: male authors get the majority of coverage, particularly from the prestige publications. The New York Times boasts one of the closer gender ratios. Last year it gave about sixty per cent of its review ink to male authors, rendering its books section far more egalitarian than those of many other highly regarded papers.

Of course it’s a feather in any writer’s cap to receive coverage in a major national publication. But I believe women writers face a hurdle their male counterparts aren’t asked to negotiate.

Virtually every woman author I know has been asked, more than occasionally, if her books are “for chicks.” That’s code for: Is your protagonist female, and do you write about families and relationships? I’m not aware of a male writer being asked if his work is appropriate for female readers. (Please, if I’m wrong, gentlemen, write and set me straight.)

Biases in gender take generations to change. Acknowledgement that an issue exists is just the first big step, one that several periodicals and booksellers are tentatively taking.
But I can offer one modest suggestion for the immediate term future.

Ladies, when shopping for the guys on your holiday list, consider stuffing their stockings with the work of your favorite woman novelist. Measure recipients' delight. Report back here.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

When is it okay to tell someone their little darling is a brat?

All kids have good days and bad. Little ones in general have shorter fuses than adults. Tears and howls of exhaustion and frustration aren't foreign to any parent I know. Tots sometimes throw tantrums, and they need to be constantly reminded to share, to keep their hands to themselves, to say thank you, and all that. They show off for company, sometimes in loud and exuberant ways.

These things happen. Most of us understand that you cannot control a pre-schooler's outbursts anywhere close to a hundred per cent of the time.

Though somewhere between the earliest months of toddlerhood and kindergarten age, most kids stop behaving like little savages and start picking up on what is and isn't socially acceptable.

But what about the ones who fail to make that leap? What about the five-year-olds whose parents let them run around with a twenty-month-old's manners, coupled with a first grader's physical prowess, and spiced up with a robust vocabulary?

The other day someone else's five year old said to the Grape (age 2): "If you touch my toy car, I will kill you."

Little brat's parent registered no reaction. I piped up and told the kid not to speak like that in my house.

This wasn't an isolated incident. The same child, during the course of a not-overly-long visit, barked all kinds of directives at various adults both familiar to him and not. He interrupted, screamed like a howler monkey when he didn't get his way, and then bawled like an infant when told not to touch items such as my computer. He displayed a complete and utter inability to entertain himself, for even five minutes, despite an abundance of books, art supplies and toys at his fingertips and playground equipment right outside our door.

He also showed a complete unwillingness to play with the Grape. Fine. Ignore him. I'm more than okay with that. The Grape is younger and therefore probably not all that interesting to a five-year-old. But don't come into his house and torment him, because that's, for lack of a better and PG rated word, lame.

And no, I'm not being unreasonable. We have various friends with older kids who visit all the time. We've NEVER seen anything like this.

And fret not, my most charitably minded readers: there is no medical/developmental disorder at play with our recent guest. It's just (yes I'm going to say it in print): incompetent parenting.

I asked the young visitor if he likes school, if he has friends there. Care to guess the response?

Parents who equip their children with no social savvy do them no favors. Other kids don't want to play with bullies. And I imagine their parents soon tire of hosting play dates with early elementary schoolers who say things like, "You'd better get me a chocolate milk right now!" Never mind that adults are talking, or God forbid, tending to some other task. Or how about this one: "You can't tell me not to go in that room."

I get that I should feel sorry for the poor bugger. He's a product of parents blinded by the sun rising and setting around their offspring. Perhaps they're so busy, as R. suggested, trying to be Junior's pal that they forget to be his parents. Or perhaps the kid just watches too much violent, fast paced television. I don't know. And I don't really care, because I've confirmed from sources close to the child that his behavior in my home wasn't an isolated instance of psychosis. It was the norm for this kid.

In hindsight, I almost wish I'd said something to the parent. But it's awkward. I'm a blunt person, but even I have a hard time saying to my guest, "Your kid is unfit for polite society. Please pass the pepper."

One thing's certain.

Next time they visit, if their kid threatens the Grape with demise or orders me around like a drunken sailor barking at a bar maid, I'm putting child and parent in time out.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Turkey "Italiano" and the Grape shops for stemware

Since my parents are European immigrants, Thanksgiving was never a big deal at our house. My father despises turkey, indeed so much so that I suspect he's created out-of-country "emergencies" in order to excuse himself from any event planned around the detested fowl. When my brother and I were little, my parents didn't bother with the traditional meal at all.

I remember observing, at the age of four, when we were invited to someone's "real American Thanksgiving," that the women worked all day while the men sat on their butts in front of the television. Even at that tender age, I could understand my mother's lack of enthusiasm for staging such a production.

Then I went to first grade. The day before the holiday weekend, my classmates and I donned construction paper hats reminiscent of the Wampanoag tribe and those badly dressed religious wing nuts commonly known as The Pilgrims. Then we went around the room and said what special foods we would eat the next day.

"Apple pie. Mashed potatoes and gravy. Turkey. Turkey. Turkey. Squash."

My turn was upon me.

"I don't know. Probably spaghetti." I stared down at my desk, certain I'd given a wrong answer when shocked murmurs filled the air.

Later that afternoon our teacher, Mrs. G, who had gotten the wrong idea in her head, endeavored to provide my mom with a bird. After that my parents fell in line with the national mandate to serve turkey every fourth Thursday of November.

As I will be doing next week. I don't have any great affinity for the holiday, although I totally appreciate that for millions of exhausted, leisure starved American workers, it's one of the few sacrosanct days left on the calendar. That fact alone is reason to celebrate.

But if I don't get misty just thinking about the smell of pumpkin pie, why would I want to host Thanksgiving?

Because R. comes from a long line of Connecticut Yankees, which means the Grape does too. I suppose I can make one attempt a year to embrace their culture. And frankly, I would so much rather cook than schlep.

Thanksgiving has always been amateur day at the airport. The delays caused by clueless people who seemingly have never flown before may have been tolerable a decade ago, when air travel was still marginally civilized. In this age of filthy, packed, beverage free planes, the masses and their larger than regulation carry ons, contraband toenail clippers and leaky fruit pies become too much to bear.

And there's almost nothing I loathe more than driving, even under the best of circumstances.

The Grape, on the other hand, loves car transportation. For precisely fifty-four minutes. That's his maximum, although an additional fifteen minutes of calm can be purchased with a donut. You don't get very far in less than an hour and a half on the busiest travel day of the year. My reluctance to schlep is further compounded by the fact that it's difficult to secure a pet sitter over a holiday weekend.

So I will cook gladly. And I won't just roast a bird and lob the more labor intensive sides off on my guests. I figure they're doing the distasteful part by schlepping. I can provide the food and wine.

Though in preparing to do so, I've learned a few things about Thanksgiving. It seems that many people frown on creative additions to the standard holiday menu. They like to know what they're getting. When I suggested an antipasti tray, R. looked at me as if I'd suggested he decapitate the bird himself, on our patio. Ditto for the raw oysters.

I've also realized that when you host a dinner party of this magnitude, a certain amount of advance procurement needs to happen. The Grape and I conducted an inventory the other day and discovered we own six place mats and no table cloth. This is because, when I got married in my twenties, I lacked the maturity and gravitas for the institution. As evidenced by the fact that I registered for martini, cognac and margarita service for twelve, while ignoring the linens situation entirely.

Despite my extensive glassware reserves, my household has managed to break a decent amount of glass in recent years. So on Wednesday the Grape and I set out on a shopping expedition. (Note: Next time you can't find a salesperson to help you, go stand in the middle of a stemware display with a two-year-old and start touching the merchandise. At least three associates will stampede to your side.)

Now that we've acquired the necessary infrastructure to host the holiday, I can move on to finalizing a menu traditional enough to pass 13th generation American muster, but interesting enough to be worth cooking.

And while I'm at it, would it be so wrong to include a side dish of spaghetti?

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Of priests and coaches and those who protect them

I'm not a churchy person. Nor was I raised Catholic. So when I say there's no amount of money you could pay me to leave the Grape alone with a priest, the whole statement is academic.

Frankly, I don't trust the church. Of course, there are many good, non-criminal clergymen in the ranks. But to me, their mere participation in a hierarchy that preys upon the most vulnerable members of the flock disqualifies them as fit supervisors for anyone's children. The priesthood in the Catholic church is a fraternity. And allegiance to the frat trumps everything else.

Maureen Dowd described my general feeling about the whole situation in her column today: "it's an insular world that protects its own, that operates outside of societal norms as long as victories and cash continue to flow bountifully."

Of course, Ms. Dowd was addressing the tragic events at Penn State, and the victories and cash in question there were generated by the school's football program. But Ms. Dowd's statement also describes the church perfectly. As long as the pews are full of souls and the coffers flush, the hierarchy can ignore even the most offensive behavior among their ranks with impunity.

Priest molests a little boy and gets caught? No problem. The bishop can transfer the offender to some one horse town several hours away and pretend nothing happened. The cardinal, when caught lying about the systematic cover up, can flee to Rome and live out his old age in the Vatican.

Until the Penn State news broke, I confess I was blissfully unaware of the similar fraternity that exists among big school sports officials. And frankly, I cannot fathom why anyone who has a child would have even the tiniest shred of sympathy for Joe Paterno over his now ruined "legacy."

I don't believe in hell. But if I'm wrong and it exists, I'm sure they have space for those who fail to intervene when someone abuses a child.

Mr. Paterno was informed that his assistant raped a ten-year-old boy in the showers in Penn State's locker room. He failed to call the authorities. In fact, two days later, Mr. Paterno washed his hands of the whole thing when he reported the incident to the university's athletic director, who also failed to call the authorities.

Mr. Paterno, who for 46 years portrayed himself as a paragon of morality and good conduct, washed his hands of the whole unpleasant matter, thereby proving himself every bit as despicable as Boston's former Cardinal Bernard Law, who oversaw the systematic cover up of hundreds of counts of child abuse before fleeing the country.

You say it's not Mr. Paterno's job? If that was your ten-year-old, and the big boss heard his assistant victimized your kid in such an unspeakable manner, wouldn't you be beyond livid if the supervisor failed to follow up?

The Penn State debacle will no doubt make thousands of parents think twice about leaving their kids with strangers. Which is both a good and a bad thing. I cringe at the notion that all strangers are dangerous. I think it's possible to raise a child who can interact confidently with neighbors and members of the public, but who understands that adults shouldn't want to lure them alone to dark places to do dark deeds.

In fact, many psychologists say that the most confident kids are less likely to become victims. So the idea that we must fear all strangers is counter-productive. On the contrary, I think kids are better served if they're able to speak up for themselves with adults, whether they know those adults well or not.

Which leaves us with the sticky situation of the family priest, soccer coach, scout leader, music teacher, school principal, etc. You know, the people we assume to be moral pillars of the community.

Maybe the most prudent course is to ensure that kids know that anytime the adult leader of some activity seeks to separate one child from the group for "special time," that's a red flag. Anytime an adult wants to have "secrets" or a "special friendship" with a child, that's also a huge red flag. Anytime an adult supervising a group singles out a child for gift giving, the sirens should be wailing along with the huge red flag.

Fortunately, most organizations that work with kids lack the institutionalized fraternity exhibited by Penn State Athletics and the Catholic Church. And maybe some of those frat-type groups that work with kids will finally take notice that perhaps it doesn't pay (at least in the long term) to protect the Jerry Sandusky's among them.

I hope that Mr. Paterno and the university's president, Graham Spanier (with whom the buck should stop), pay for the cover up by losing their jobs.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Preposterous Parental Indulgence

Sometimes, it's tough to write believable fiction when real life seems so over the top. No, I'm not going to write about the Texas woman assaulted with a frozen armadillo earlier this week. That story made me say wow, but I saw no parenting angle. Other than the old don't hit people, it's not nice bit. I imagine it's doubly not nice to use an icebound carcass as a weapon, but I digress.

This particular story takes wow to a whole new level. The New York Times reported yesterday that an unemployed equity analyst named Todd Remis has sued his wedding photographers for breach of contract over his 2003 wedding (a concurrently filed claim for emotional distress was tossed by the judge). Now, as 2011 winds down, he seeks to recoup the $4100 paid to the photography studio, as well as an additional $48,000 to re-enact the entire event.

Why does Mr. Remis want his wedding re-enacted? So that another photographer can capture the bouquet toss and last dance, events Mr. Remis now contends that the photographers missed.

Here's the punchline: The marriage ended in divorce four years ago. Mr. Remis' former bride's whereabouts are unknown. Parties to the suit suggest she may have returned to her native Latvia.

So what kind of hack takes such a ridiculous case to court?

One of the nation's top law firms.

You see, Todd Remis' father is a man called Shepard Remis, and he's a prominent partner at a major national law firm called Goodwin Procter.

The senior Mr. Remis chairs the firm's intellectual property litigation department. I know he's a big deal at the firm because he's served on the executive and allocation committee. Law firms like Goodwin never let just any partner serve in such a key role.

Goodwin Procter is a fine law firm, full of talented, credentialed, serious professionals who do not usually make their living by filing silly lawsuits against small business owners.

Sicking a firm like Goodwin Procter on a family photography business is not unlike trying to fix a household rodent problem with a grenade launcher.

Let's just say that reasonable minds can infer that the younger Mr. Remis did not choose his counsel utterly at random. It's also safe to say Shepard Remis could have easily prevented his firm from accepting his son's case.

I understand wanting to give your child what he wants. Really, I do. But when what he wants is not only ridiculous, but indulging him opens your family and your employer to national ridicule, I think it's fair to criticize your parenting.

Perhaps the senior Mr. Remis might have persuaded his son that spending five figures to sue for five figures doesn't make a lot of sense, especially since Todd Remis hasn't held a job for three years. A far-fetched contract claim against a sympathetic small business doesn't strike me as the absolute best way for him to chip away at whatever savings, family funds or lottery winnings he may have in his bank account.

Similarly, one thing parents often must teach their children is when to let go.

Re-enacting a wedding that led to a failed marriage is creepy and weird.

I expect most people who were guests at the first event (from both sides) would decline to participate in such a wasteful, pointless charade. Mr. Remis' argument that he wants the photos for posterity also rings hollow. No children were born of his marriage, so it's safe to presume nobody will be scarred by the absence of a bouquet toss photo.

I can't be the only person who read the NYT piece and came away with the impression that Todd Remis harbors an obsession with his ex-wife that borders on scary.

If I were her, I'd stay in Latvia. Presumably she's moved on with her life.

Instead of indulging his adult son's insane behavior, Todd Remis' father might have encouraged his kid to move on with his.

Because ultimately, for the plaintiff, this case isn't about the cash. Assuming the senior Mr. Remis makes just the average annual partner's salary at Goodwin Procter, that means last year, he took home $1,450,000 (according to The American Lawyer). If his son were strapped for cash, he could presumably ask his indulgent dad for a loan of the $52,100 sought in the lawsuit. Maybe the older Mr. Remis doesn't want to give handouts to his adult kid. Who knows?

But one thing I'm pretty sure about is that parents who either passively or actively help their children lick old wounds for years on end do them no favors.

Life's too short to sulk over photos of the past.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Halloween scare: The Pageant Moms from Hell

In honor of Halloween, I thought it would be appropriate to write about something scary. And I can think of few things scarier than pageant moms.

I was blissfully unaware of their continued existence in the post Jon Benet era, until a regular reader suggested I Google "Anderson Cooper" along with "toddler" and "tiara."

Watching the segment was like watching the proverbial train wreck. I wanted to walk away and pretend I never saw it, but I couldn't tear my eyes from the spectacle on my screen.

Let's step back a bit. The three pageant moms featured on Anderson's show star, along with their tarted up tots, on a popular so-called reality program on the most ludicrously named network on cable television. Of course, the producers edit and encourage extreme behavior. What scared me most was that, even dialed back fifty per cent, these parents would remain utterly reprehensible.

Evidently, a segment of the population sees nothing wrong with dressing kindergarten age girls like hookers.

Why mince words?

These moms were giddy with the excitement of parading their daughters on national television in outfits including one called "Vegas showgirl" and a mini-version of Julia Roberts' now iconic streetwalker get up from the blockbuster Pretty Woman. That dress, with its bare midriff, and the shiny over the knee boots are almost as recognizable as Michael Jackson's Thriller garb. Not that the third mom was any better. She had her pre-kindergartner prancing on the stage in a costume reminiscent of a sexually pliable bar wench.

All three moms freaked when accused of sexualizing their daughters. One went as far as to make retching noises at the assertion that her kid might be garnering the wrong kind of attention.

The moms unanimously defended the pageants as a way to teach their children poise and as venues to practice music and dance. Right. And I'm Miss Universe. These kids were precocious - no question.

However, none of the three featured kids could carry a tune. And they'd clearly learn more about poise by trying out for a play, or dance by enrolling in ballet class.

One of the girls elicited an unforgettable face from Anderson when she did a song and dance about "shake my booty." Her mom defended the act as harmless fun. The third girl prowled the stage like a stripper eager for tips.

It seems so obvious to me that these girls are motivated by a need to please their mothers, a trio of washed up women who would have been better off purchasing Barbie dolls than reproducing.

Indeed, these kids are so desperate to please their mothers that they submit to physical pain to satisfy the demands of this twisted world.

For the record, if you cannot swat your kid in public for misbehaving, you should clearly NOT be allowed to WAX your toddler for cosmetic effect. I'm pretty sure that if I marched the Grape to the playground across the street and started yanking his hair out by the roots, some bystander would alert a police officer.

Therefore I'm comfortable going on the record saying that waxing a toddler or elementary schooler, even a tragically hairy one, is child abuse.

These girls aren't just waxed in the name of beauty. They're spray-tanned. They endure marathon hair and make-up sessions. Some wear fake boobs. (But the moms don't think this sexualizes them, so it must be okay.) And let's not even talk about how much outdoor and/or imaginative play time these kids waste primping and preening.

Some of audience members criticized the moms for the cash outlay required for pageant participation. Yes, the numbers sounded obscene, but I'm not going to bash them for investing in kids' interests per se. Plenty of parents of artists, musicians and athletes make great financial sacrifices to support their children's pursuits. The parents of true prodigies sometimes relocate the entire family to be close to the virtuoso, coach or ski hill that will take their prodigy to the elite level. (Important Side Note: If you have to ask whether your kid is a prodigy, he or she is not.)

What troubles me about the six figure cash outlay for pageants is the disgusting message these little girls hear from the cradle (all three girls started out in infant pageants)onward: Your most important asset is your sex appeal.

I'm normally a fan of live and let live. I believe there are horses for courses, so to speak. If adult women want to objectify themselves, I suppose that's their prerogative.

But kiddie beauty pageants exploit little girls in a vile way, and in my view, the world would be a better place without them.

Friday, October 21, 2011

The Grape goes carpet bagging

In less than two weeks, voters in Mississippi will vote on a "personhood amendment," declaring that human life begins at conception. Sponsored by anti-choice extremists, proposition 26 would outlaw not just abortion, but also most forms of birth control.

If question 26 passes, it won't be the first time we in the coastal metropolises roll our eyes at the backwardness of that particular state. The personhood amendment will be immediately challenged on constitutional grounds, and could be stricken down by the courts in an expedient fashion, rendering the only real damage the colossal waste of taxpayer's money.

(Note to proponents of austerity: All amendments are really expensive).

So why do I, secure in my oasis in the heart of blue state America, care? Why am I suddenly encouraging carpet bagging?

I have three main reasons:

Because if the personhood bit passes in Mississippi, other states will be more likely to try similar initiatives. Because any interference with a woman's right to choose makes my blood boil. And because the presumptive nominee of one of the major political parties doesn't seem to have a problem with legislating that life begins at conception.

The trouble, as alert Iowan Beth Schopis observed at a Romney town meeting this week, is that the most popular forms of contraception don't necessarily prevent conception. They avoid pregnancy by preventing implantation.

Anti-choice extremists believe that interfering with the implantation of a fertilized egg constitutes abortion. Lunacy, I know, especially when you consider that over 99 per cent of sexually active heterosexual women have used contraceptives (according to the Guttmacher Institute). But there you have it. Mississippi's question 26 would outlaw the pill, the IUD, and various other hormonally based methods of contraception, as well as the morning after pill (which is already tough to come by in many parts of this country).

The amendment's fallout wouldn't even stop there.

IVF? Forget about it. Fertility clinics are death camps for embryos. Sure, you can put the good ones on ice for years, but anyone who's ever read the first thing about assisted reproductive technology knows that the clinics fertilize way more eggs than they use. So what becomes of the B-list blastocytes? Down the drain.

Should the state really be calling this homicide?

What about fetal stem cell research? I'm guessing that's to be outlawed as well. Not that Mississippi was really in the hunt, in terms of attracting world class researchers to their state anyway.

Would rendering all abortion homicide have a chilling effect on the professional discretion of doctors faced with terminating a pregnancy in order to save a patient's life? What about the other frequently cited exceptions in abortion jurisprudence? Do we really want to classify the dispensation of the morning after pill to a rape or incest victim as murder? Isn't this starting to feel awfully Orwellian?

What makes me angriest of all is that Romney, the proponents of Mississippi's question 26, and indeed a huge majority of the right wing in general and self-described Christians in particular, seem to espouse as Gospel Barney Frank's old quip that the republicans believe life begins at conception and ends at birth.

Mississippi is one of the poorest places in America. It has a lousy education system, high unemployment and inadequate health care. A staggering 38 per cent of the state's ACTUAL CHILDREN live below the poverty line. Will this personhood amendment do anything to alleviate their suffering?

Should any major party candidate, but especially one who's running on his economic prowess, endorse such an idiotic, nonsensical, and hopefully Constitutionally doomed measure? And why am I hurling all these annoying questions at you from atop my soapbox?

Because the fact that a major party's presumptive nominee (and his main rivals, for that matter) seem to feel ambivalent at best about not just a woman's right to choose, but her right to prevent pregnancy in the first place.

Even if a caveman dresses in designer suits, speaks Harvard MBA and lives in a $12 million dollar beach house, he's a still a cave man. One no feminist should feel the least bit comfortable with.

Here's the link to Rachel Maddow's fantastic segment:

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Why bother with the crazy elf language?

The Grape and I speak Finnish exclusively when nobody else is around, and I try to keep it up when others are in ear shot as well. I find myself providing a running narration for onlookers, such as the Grape's preschool teacher. "I just told him that I'll see him after school," I explain after saying my goodbyes in Finnish, which someone in my family - I can't recall who - dubbed the "crazy elf language" years ago.

Finnish, unlike the Romance, Germanic or Scandinavian languages, is utterly incomprehensible to English speakers. It's therefore unlikely to serve the Grape in any significant manner, unless he wishes to converse with really elderly Finns or plan a career as a Finnish game show host. He won't need it to navigate Helsinki, since every Finn below a certain age speaks some English. Before I started my mission to inflict the crazy elf language on my kid, I used my Finnish while in Finland, when writing to Finnish friends and as a not-really-that-neat party trick.

Furthermore, it's an uphill battle to impart an obscure tongue spoken by less than six million people. English is everywhere, though I make an effort to translate many of our picture books, and to repeat the Grape's utterances in Finnish when he makes a remark in English. A guy at a party once asked me why I bother. "Wouldn't it be better to teach your kid Mandarin?" he asked, seemingly puzzled. I told him I don't know Mandarin and he muttered something about that being beside the point.

Except it's not. It's hard enough to have two languages going at all times. I can't imagine trying to learn Chinese along with my toddler. I presume such a folly would prove a total non-starter, since adult and child language acquisition work differently. Children learn through immersion, context and experience. That works for adults, too, but adults can also learn by drilling grammar and vocabulary.

The critical difference in my admittedly anecdotal experience: children who grow up in bilingual households think (and dream) in both languages. Kids who learn a language in school rarely do. Those who achieve total fluency without the benefit of immersion do so after many hours of hard work. Most people I've met in this situation say they rarely think in the second language. Their minds just get super fast at translation.

Kids exposed from the get go don't struggle with thinking, talking and expressing ideas in either language. And there's some evidence that bi-lingual kids may have an easier time acquiring third, fourth and more languages. Juggling two or more tongues from the start seems to activate some part of the brain that monolingual people don't really use. A different study earlier in the year noted that people who speak multiple languages are less likely to suffer from Alzheimer's disease.

Yesterday the New York Times reported something that moms in my shoes already know: babies react early on to the languages they hear regularly. Um, duh. Like any multilingual person, a very young child's ears prick up when he detects familiar sounds. Even before they're verbal, kids can be bilingual.

The Grape is fully bilingual. He spends a lot of time translating things for R., and he pays attention to the language being used by others before choosing which one to deploy. He talks in his sleep, in both languages. And when he doesn't get what he wants by using one, he'll always try asking in the other. He speaks each language without an accent from the other. I'm hopeful the phonetic skills will stay with him, even if the omnipresent English eventually takes over.

Once in a while, someone asks why I bother with Finnish. I don't have an easy answer. Sure, it would be nice to think I'm inoculating my kid against dementia or ensuring an easy A for him in high school French, but the body of research isn't so cut and dry. So I'm left with, it's just what we do. I speak it, so why wouldn't I want my kid to have the same ability? Maybe it's some primordial urge to connect one's offspring with their roots, to have a connection to the rapidly dying older generation. Maybe it's an instinct that more is somehow better. I really can't say, but I'd love to hear from other families where one parent is bilingual and the other isn't. Why do you teach the second language to your kids? Or why not?

Friday, October 7, 2011

Why such a pack of therapy hounds?

Many of us first world parents have too much free time. I know it doesn't feel that way, but how else could one explain the massive amount of "intervention" to which many modern, healthy, normal children are subjected?

Case in point: a grandmother with whom I'm acquainted mentioned this week that her two-year-old grandchild is seeing a therapist because, wait for it: she doesn't like to get dressed in the morning. The kiddo in question is a healthy child with an average activity level and average vocabulary.

Had I been sitting in a chair when I heard this, I would have fallen out of it. I assured the granny lady that the Grape pitches a fit about removing his pajamas at least every other morning. He's two. He's asserting himself. For no good reason by adult standards.

Most mornings, we need to get out the door. So the Grape hollers like a drunken banshee while I pluck him from his crib, disrobe him and get him dressed for the day. Is the behavior annoying? Of course. Is it worth seeking professional help? Not so much.

Evidently much ado is made about the pencil grip exhibited by four-year-olds these days. I know several tots whose teachers have referred them to therapy because of nonconformist crayon holding. I have, to this day, the most awkward pencil grip of any person I know. I think it's because I busted my hand in the first grade.

Fortunately for me, my teacher was too busy dealing with the kid who ate paste until he yacked to make an issue of my little pencil rebellion. That is, if she even noticed, which I kind of doubt.

Yesterday, in the sandbox across the street, a mom was pleading, in a whiny voice that made my skin crawl, with an apoplectically hysterical toddler who was screaming, hitting, flailing and throwing toys. She kept trying to ask the girl how she would feel if someone (some imaginary abstract person, I guess) struck her.

Meanwhile, the normal afternoon crew of nannies sitting nearby rolled their eyes and muttered to each other that the poor kid just needed a nap. Indeed.

The kid continued to flail, and the mom continued to grovel for civility, for at least fifteen minutes. Other children stopped and watched the spectacle. The mom's mommy friend asked, in the middle of the tantrum, if tantrum girl was autistic, and started urging the lady to switch pediatricians. I removed myself from the vicinity before something scathing could escape my lips.

Most toddlers who throw tantrums are perfectly normal, developmentally speaking. Empathy, i.e. this how-would-you-feel line of inquiry, isn't their strong suit. The Grape is a super verbal kid, but he doesn't, even in his best and brightest moods, show a lot of evidence of abstract thinking. He, like most toddlers, experiences glimmers of empathy when actual events unfold in front of his well-rested eyes. Not when presented as hypotheticals. And certainly not when he's already mid-meltdown.

Don't get me wrong. I think it's wonderful that we have intervention for those who truly need it. Speech therapists help thousands of pre-school aged children who literally don't speak at all. A range of services exist for kids who actually present with autism or attention disorders. But I wonder how much pushy parents of healthy children siphon strained public school resources away from those kids who actually need early intervention for one or many real issues.

And then there's a twisted minority of parents who actively push to have their offspring diagnosed with some learning impediment, so that Junior can be held to a laxer standard. That makes my blood boil. What favor, exactly, are they doing their kid by insinuating a fake handicap?

But I digress. The rush to find a cause for every setback and every tantrum leaves me cold. They're toddlers. They get tired faster than we do. They're asserting themselves as independent beings for the first time in their little lives. That they do so over things that, to our adult minds, seem trivial only underscores the point: Kids don't need therapy just because they don't behave like mini adults.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Preschool is making me itch

I am not, in a general sense, afraid of bugs.

Perhaps that's because I grew up in a rural corner of Rhode Island, and spent much of my youth pulling ticks off various dogs and ponies, swatting mosquitos, and as a younger child, catching caterpillars and feeding them leaves in the hopes that they would hurry up and morph into butterflies before my very impatient eyes.

Still, few things strike fear in my heart like those tiniest of creepy crawlers.

We were having a successful morning, despite a couple of false starts in the wardrobe department, caused by the local news erroneously reporting a thirty degree change in the weather. The Grape, Lila the Dog and I were precisely on time for preschool drop off.

I waltzed him happily to the door, only to be greeted by a sign, positioned at adult eye level, proclaiming, "HEAD LICE."

I opened the door, still processing what this would mean for our weekend, and there was one of the Grape's teachers. "Head lice," I said, in lieu of greeting. It wasn't a question or a statement; it hung somewhere in the middle in a you've-got-to-be-f-ing kidding-me tone. She laughed and said good morning. I regrouped and remembered to engage in some basic social niceties. The teacher told me that an older sibling of a classmate - not one of the Grape's classmates - had lice.

Phew. Weekend from hell pushed to next week.

But probably not averted.

In kindergarten, I brought home head lice from the nun school my parents had enrolled me in, for some strange reason they can no longer recall. (We weren't Catholic.) This is relevant because my friend K.'s mom (who was Catholic) swore that our teacher, Sister Mary, was the source of the nits. She was always scratching her head under that veil thing they had to wear.

My mom, on the other hand, blamed K., whose mother's house keeping fell short of my mom's unattainable Scandinavian standards.

Whatever the source, louse infestation was awful. The prescription shampoo burnt my scalp and the hours of fine tooth combing made me mental. And that was all I had to endure, albeit two or three times, since the outbreak kept circling through the school.

My poor mother had to bomb the house, boil the sheets, wash every piece of fabric and upholstery, steam the rugs and probably delouse the dog for good measure.

And then my younger brother caught them (not from a nun) and the process repeated start to finish, with a few modifications.

I was placed on the kitchen stool and my long blonde curls were unceremoniously hacked into a short pageboy cut.

My mother started buying wine by the case.

Throughout the autumn months, Sister Mary kept scratching her head.

I suppose that when I collect the Grape this afternoon, I'll know whether we've dodged the nit bullet. Until then, I'll be at my desk, fighting the urge to scratch phantom itches and googling whether cats and dogs can catch lice from a toddler.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

September is the most discombobulated month

Before this past Labor Day, I never understood why my friends with school age kids dropped off the radar as soon as the calendar turned from August to September.

What was wrong with them? The weather would be perfect and the kids would be back under the supervision of their teachers for a significant portion of the day. Free time (among those who stay home) should have been abundant. So why were they always so frazzled and unavailable?

Mystery solved.

The French have a word for it: la rentree. Literally, the re-entry.

There are mornings when getting out the door in time for pre-school is not unlike preparing to rocket into the outer layers of the atmosphere. The Grape has been late four times running. Why? Search me. One thing is certain: It's not due to anyone over sleeping. I really have no idea where the hours before nine go, because I'm usually not fully caffeinated before it's time to leave for drop off.

Contrast this with my pre-Grape life, wherein my friends remarked often on my punctuality, and I routinely made it to important breakfast appointments looking professional, alert and generally unlikely to damage my career through frazzled behavior.

I didn't expect the shake up in the normal rhythms of our household caused by the opening weeks of school to be so seismic. And I don't mean the crying and protests, which any preschool parent can expect to endure, and which have already tapered off to perfunctory levels. The real problem is that school seriously screws up our already tenuous sleep patterns.

The Grape naps at preschool, for roughly an hour. He thinks that, combined with his ever-shortening nights (averaging not much more than nine hours this week), should be enough. It's not.

Every day after school, I have a hysterical, delirious little maniac on my hands, who howls that he's hungry, but refuses to eat. Who screams that he wants to go to bed, only to up the ante to nuclear meltdown when I put him there. Who demands to go across the street to the playground, only to loll, half-conscious, yet stubbornly awake, on the little kid swings.

When he doesn't have school, he plays catch up on snooze time. He logged an almost four-hour nap yesterday, scuttling our exciting plans to visit the grocery store and dog park. Sure, I got some work done, but the little guy didn't go to sleep for the night until after ten. And woke up before six. His teachers should have fun with that today. Then of course, if he manages to get a real nap in at school, he'll be prematurely awakened by eager parents who refuse to wait until the prescribed pick up time. But I digress.

Why is this discombobulation such a problem? Because even when my chronically under-rested little scholar is awake after school, he most certainly isn't fit to go in public. Not even on errands, let alone to visit friends or eat out. I can't even manage a phone conversation in the after-school hours, because the Grape is on me like cling wrap when he gets over tired.

I frequently remind myself that enrolling him in school gives me time to work. And yes, pre-school may take the Grape off my hands for almost eighteen hours a week, and I'm sure once we make the adjustment, I will get a lot of writing done. Maybe I'll cut my email response time down to under a week. That would be impressive, right?

But the whole re-entry thing also leaves me more than a little cold with mommy guilt. Disclaimer: I know and appreciate I have a high class problem here, and am thankful to have the ability to make these choices in the first place... But why am I subjecting my child to a school routine, when he doesn't need to go to daycare so that I can work to support us?

During the last after-school delirious meltdown, I reminded myself of three points: First: If I want to write, I need blocks of child care time that exceed his haphazard naps. Because anyone who says they work from home "WHILE" watching their kid is, excuse the bluntness, a liar.

Second: I am happier, and therefore hopefully a better mom, when I have time to indulge my career-slash-dream.

Third: The Grape is an only child who loves being around other kids. He always tells me school was fun when I pick him up. And pre-school is more affordable than hiring a regular sitter - not that fabulous nannies who want to work very reduced hours grow on trees, at least not in Boston. Families tend to hang onto them, for good reason.

I'm just going to keep telling myself all this until everyone adjusts, which will hopefully be sometime before the holiday break. And in the meantime, if I owe you a call, or an email, or if I should have proofread this post, I apologize.

But I'm going to be late to pick up.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Why is he awake?

An unsettling premonition has crept up on me in recent months.

No, it's not about the 2012 election, though that keeps me up at night, too. My terror du jour is more localized.

I live gripped by the fear that the Grape will soon require less sleep than I do.

And no, I'm not some self-indulgent freak who needs to spend more than half her life slumbering.

But I don't function well on less than seven or eight hours a night. I never have, and I never will. When faced with more than two consecutive sleepless nights, I find myself reduced to an incoherent, unhinged and generally unpleasant specimen of the human species.

I have a friend from college who thrived on three to four hours a night and still does, twenty years on. I'm insanely jealous, but I'm also mature enough to understand there's no way to train my body to do more with less. Short of becoming a coke head, I suppose.

Not tempting.

Which is why I worry that there's no legitimate way to train my kid to need more z's.

I should have known it couldn't last. R. and I were so pleased when, after a very rocky first half year, we trained the Grape to sleep. We don't have the bedtime smack downs described by many of my parent friends, and while I see the humor in the bestselling Go the Fuck to Sleep, I don't share the author's particular brand of frustration.

But what to do when he obliges us by going down and staying down, just not for the length of time required by other members of this household?

It's not like things are anywhere near dire. The Grape sleeps through the night like a champ. But his nights have compressed in recent months. Where he used to snooze for eleven hours as recently as July, now he conks out for a mere nine and a quarter. He can stay up past his bedtime by two hours, and still wake at the usual time the next morning. More frightening: the loss of two hours doesn't render him an emotionally volatile disaster. Like his mom.

I believe the Grape should take a nap every day. His body needs that afternoon recharge. And frankly, I need him to need it. Once or twice a week, he sacks out for nearly three hours. I have to wake him, groggy, to face the evening so he won't sleep through and wake at midnight, ready to party. But most days, he naps about ninety minutes, and that spell, like the overnight that has my knickers in a twist, is on a shrinking trend. He fights his nap more fiercely lately, and more than once in a typical week, he won't log more than thirty minutes of daytime shut eye.

Why am I worried about this now? I mean, the writing is on the wall. I should try to carry on until the inevitable sad day when the other shoe drops.

But you see, tomorrow he will try to nap at his preschool for the first time.

I predict one of two things will happen. In the rosy/dream scenario, he will see the other children curl up on their cots and close their eyes, and he'll decide that napping is cool. It could happen, right?

In the doomsday scenario, I'll get a call from the director of the school, who will order me to collect my kid pronto, because his refusal to settle down is interfering with the other children's rest.

His teachers tried to reassure me yesterday, when I expressed doubt that he'll sleep for them. They said that school tires the little kids out. They asked, "Didn't he go right to sleep when you took him home from the half days last week?"

Um, nope. He had some lunch, hit the playground, took Lila the Dog for a short walk around our neighborhood, had a snack, had a story and took a comprehensive inventory of his toys. Finally, four hours after his abridged (and allegedly oh-so-exhausting) school day ended, he rubbed his eyes and yawned, and happily went to his crib to sleep.

For almost an hour.

Yup. Tomorrow should be pretty interesting.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Mamma can't run around naked in public, and other childhood disappointments

The Grape has one of those inflatable paddling pools on our back patio. Because we live in the middle of the city, the patio has wooden walls on all sides. One of the Grape's favorite things to do on a late afternoon in the summer is to get naked and splash in his pool.

"Shirt off! Pants off! Diaper off!" he demands. We've been through this rigamarole countless times, but last week, he had a novel idea. "Mamma, pants off! Mamma, shirt off!" he said.

I said no. He insisted. He demanded. He screamed and yelled and threw little plastic boats in my general direction. He ran into the pool and splashed around, as if demonstrating that it's fun. Then he kicked and screamed and cried some more.

After melting down for fifteen minutes or so, he wiped the tears from his now-red eyes and asked, "Why?"

And for a second, I was stumped. I knew he was due to start questioning the reasoning behind matters large and small, but it floored me that the first time the Grape articulated "why?" was because he wanted to wrap his toddler brain around the reason I couldn't join him in his naked gallivanting on the patio.

I could understand his confusion. He's been in the sauna and pool at my mother's house with me, without a stitch on either of us. But her place is in the woods, and our (let's call them authentic) sauna experiences have been taken in the company of women and small children only. I stalled for time by laughing and telling him he was silly, asking mamma to strip outdoors when we clearly weren't anywhere near the sauna.

He ignored this nuance. "L. naked," he added, as if to bolster his case. (L. is his three-year-old cousin, and yes, the tots do spend a fair amount of time running au naturel around their grandmother's pool and L.'s secluded back yard in the country.)

I conceded that L. does indeed spend a decent amount of time disrobed.

"Naked fun!" the Grape pressed, as he pulled at my pants and repeated his specific demands. At this point I snarfed the wine I had poured myself during the first meltdown.

"Yes, being naked is fun," I agreed. "But Mamma can't be naked on the patio. Mamma will just watch you play in your pool."


"Because I don't want the construction workers up on the scaffold across the alley tumbling down to their deaths in shock."

The Grape gave me his does-not-process face.

"Because I don't want to end up on the nightly news?" I could see the teaser: "South End mom arrested for indecent exposure in front of her son. Details at 11."

It could happen, right? God knows the morality police cannot imagine anything so scarring to a child as the sight of the nude female form, and I have more than one self-appointed hall monitor neighbor who might alert the authorities to any breach of adult modesty along their perimeter.

Not that I was considering stripping to my birthday suit and frolicking in a four foot wide baby pool in full view of at least three dozen other apartments.

I ultimately told the Grape that running around naked is one of those pleasures reserved for little kids. Kind of like the baby swings at the playground. Grown ups just don't fit.

The Grape detected an effort on my part to change the subject and melted down once more. "Mamma pants off! Mamma shirt off!" he howled at the top of his very healthy young lungs. It was an epic tantrum.

It didn't stop until R. came home from work, almost an hour later. And I'll leave you to wonder whether I gave in or not.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

How to replace an irreplaceable gem?

I have what fair minds could describe as a high class problem. Our beloved regular sitter, M., is leaving next week. I knew this day would come. She was here in Boston because of her scientist husband's research. He has wrapped up his multi-year project, and they're understandably eager to return back to their real lives, their own home and their extended families, in Brazil.

I'm not sure who's going to be more shattered next week, me or the Grape.

I understand that countless children grow attached to their paid care givers. I also understand and appreciate that the ability to hire any private care giver is a luxury not available to the vast majority of American mothers.

But I swear on all that's holy that M. is special. First of all, she holds an advanced degree in social work and child development. At home, she manages the adoption program at a large orphanage. She has two teenage kids of her own. She possesses an inimitable grace and serenity, and a seemingly endless reservoir of patience. Her mere presence brings calm to the chaos of our household. She's worldly, charming and for lack of a less loaded word, classy.

To say she's overqualified to watch my kid is not unlike saying that a space shuttle pilot is overqualified to drive a city bus.

She's spent 15 to 20 hours a week with the Grape since he was eight weeks old. They Skype on weekends. He tells me, when she returns him from a day packed with adventures, "It was so fun with M." He asks when she's coming to see him next. To put it bluntly, I believe he's in better hands than my own when he's with her. She's really that fabulous.

When I tried to explain that she will leave on a big trip soon, he ran up to the bedroom closet and used all the strength his little body could summon to haul out a large suitcase. He wheeled it down the hall to his room and started assembling his toys. And diapers. He told me, over and over, that he was going to go on an airplane with M. I don't blame him. It's been a privilege to know her.

I've been slowly, reluctantly, seeking a replacement.

The candidates seem to fall in two camps: earnest, sweet girls recently graduated from college and looking to earn extra money for a year or so, while they figure out what to be when they grow up; and grandmotherly types, mainly recent immigrants from the Caribbean and Latin America, who have no significant education to fall back on, and who desperately need the income, because they struggle every week to make ends meet.

I see pros and cons to both types. The college girls tend to have tons of energy, but they often lack experience in being out and about with a toddler. Their babysitting experience tends to be of the watch-the-kids-in-the-living-room variety. They tend not to have kids of their own, and therefore are understandably at a disadvantage in dealing with all the setbacks in a toddler's day: nonsensical tantrums, sandbox scuffles, hunger strikes. From what I've seen at the playground, many young sitters are uncomfortable setting boundaries or making rules. Another issue is availability: if they're also in grad school, their schedules may not mesh with my needs.

On the plus side, they tend to have varied interests and talents they could share with my child. From what I've seen, they also tend not to mind Lila the Eighty Pound Slobbery Dog. On the minus side, more than one newly minted twenty-something has flinched upon hearing that the Grape watches zero television. Presumably that cuts into Facebook time.

Sadly, hiring some clever and lovely student to watch the Grape while I supervise doesn't work for me, because I work from a desk at home and because I believe that the Grape should get as much fresh air and exercise as possible. Sure, many of these candidates would be up for expeditions, but it seems clear that I would need to plan and manage each day's activities - something I never thought about with M. She found all the great parks and the best fountains, and she knew about all the kid centric community sponsored activities. She knew when he needed to eat, or have quiet time, or chase after other kids.

On the other side of the spectrum, the grandma types have decades of experience, but I worry that many of the women I've met lack the physical stamina needed to keep up with a two-year-old, particularly outdoors. The Grape isn't a rowdy boy, but when he runs, he runs fast. He's also a little monkey - he'll climb anything remotely inviting and he's not intimidated by playground equipment designed for the late elementary set. It's inevitable that his sitter will need to run after him, physically stop him from running into streets, muscle his protesting form into his stroller, and perhaps fetch him from high heights when he climbs too close to the sky.

On the plus side, it would be nice for the Grape to have daily interaction with an older person, especially since neither grandmother lives in Boston.

But it's also not a stretch to hypothesize that many women with twenty-years-plus of child minding experience are set in their ways. They have expectations of how the Grape should behave that might not always mesh with mine. One candidate remarked that he holds his fork incorrectly. I told her to not interfere - he was eating - something he hadn't done for most of the day.

What I love most about M. is that she lets the Grape be himself, and when he's with her, his only task is to have fun and be a little kid. I hadn't thought about it before I met M., but this Mediterranean/Latin American view of children (basically that little kids should be able to play and do whatever they want, within reason, because life is short and there will be too much structured time in their not so distant futures) appeals to me.

M. and I share a distrust of overly regimented schedules. The Grape's nap and mealtimes fluctuate and nobody makes a big fuss over it. We cheer when he shares, finishes his spinach, or puts his toys away, and we don't sweat it when he acts like a typical two-year-old.

If I'm being completely honest, however, I will concede that letting kids just be kids at all times is another luxury of the upper classes, and it's therefore somewhat foreign to sitters who desperately need that paycheck to eat. Where I see joie de vivre, they might see indulged precocious brat.

I'm also wary of those who seek to accelerate the Grape's natural learning curve. Regular readers know I'm not a fan of "educational" toys or gimmicks, and I'm not interested in over scheduling my kid. (He goes to one hour of music a week, a revelation met by a stern frown from one candidate, who thought a child of two years of age would benefit from at least two structured group experiences a day.)

So where does this leave me?

R. keeps telling me that nobody will ever measure up to M. And I agree it's unlikely I'll find anyone half as wonderful. M. herself suggested I enroll the Grape in play school or day care a few mornings a week. That's not a realistic option, because I should have been on the wait lists eighteen months ago.

R. half jokingly suggested I just decide whom I'd prefer to fire first (for the unpardonable sin of not being M).

I hope it won't come to that. All transitions are stressful, and I'd like to make this one, unavoidable change and have it stick until the Grape goes to nursery school, probably in another year. Maybe the Grape and I need a week or two without M. to regroup, to get used to life without her reassuring, quietly smiling presence.

Maybe when I get nothing accomplished, the applicant pool's perceived flaws will start to look less consequential.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

You aren't a failure if your kid hates broccoli

I say this in the most supportive, constructive manner possible: Some moms have way too much free time.

How else to explain the hordes of moms to tots who waste hours of their lives beating themselves up over nonsense?

A recent sampling, overhead during various visits to the playground: "I feel like I'm failing and my kid is going to suffer from malnutrition and be stunted." This from a mom to a two-year-old whose diet was heavy on carbs, fresh fruits and milk.

The list of things her son would consent to eat was far more varied than what a lot of toddlers ingest on a daily basis, and apparently included an assortment of fortified cereals. I felt like butting in and telling her to chill. You cannot, without medical equipment and expertise, force feed a two-year-old, and besides, a kid who eats fortified cereal and drinks milk isn't going to wind up stunted. My younger sister spent her second year eating nothing but milk, buttered pasta, honey nut cheerios and the occasional berry. She grew up into a woman of above average height and intelligence.

Indeed, the Grape eats like a giant snake. Some days it seems like he's on pace to put away his weight in food, much of it flavored to adult tastes. But two to four days a week, he prefers to subsist on crackers and milk. He went on a month-long produce strike in June. Then one day in July, he launched himself out of his stroller to lunge for the vegetables at the grocery store. I literally couldn't get them in front of him fast enough.

I could have told the mom at the park not to sweat the hunger strike. I could have passed along a theory I heard from a nurse about toddlers and food: you look at what they take in over several weeks instead of during the course of a day. But she would have either freaked out on me (she looked awfully close to a nervous breakdown) or found some other perceived failing for which to blame herself.

I read a couple of internet message boards about motherhood. Smart, educated, accomplished women literally drive themselves half insane over everything from the "right" bottles, bath tubs and sleep sacks, to the "best" Halloween costumes and birthday party venues (for kids who won't remember these events). It's as if our endless choices, chat boards and product reviews have paralyzed a generation's ability to set aside the marketing and noise in favor of trusting our instincts. I can't imagine trolling cyberspace for reviews of every diaper and toy. Who really has (or wants) the bandwidth for that?

Moms who obsess over ridiculous items like wipe warmers and bath water thermometers might be happier if instead they read a book or did some exercise. And their children would be no worse off.

Even more perplexing to me are the women who beat themselves up other their "failed" birth experiences. It's as if they're eager to get a head start on the excessive guilt that all too frequently seems to come with motherhood.

Here's a successful "birth experience": An internal baby becomes an external baby. Baby and mother emerge from the ordeal without medical complications such as hemorraging, cardiac arrest, clinical exhaustion, oxygen deprivation or death.

The mode of delivery speaks to one's fitness as a mother about as much as the cost of the wedding predicts a couple's chances of success at marriage. Childbirth isn't an end goal unto itself; it's the beginning of a long journey.

A woman in a pilates class I attend semi-regularly scheduled a c-section because her baby was breech. A couple of women from my mom's generation actually seemed stunned that she didn't want to try to deliver naturally.

First of all, how her baby exits her womb is nobody's business but hers and her doctor's. But from a practical standpoint, if I knew I was likely to need abdominal surgery, I would want to show up for the operation as well-rested as possible, and have it proceed on a civilized schedule with a fresh surgeon. I would not wish to labor for endless hours and endure the stress of a last-minute procedure, possibly in the middle of the night, a probably with a tired physician.

But's that's just me. If any of you want to give the breech birthing thing a whirl, I'm not a doctor and I'm certainly not going to stand in your way.

I will say this, though: The self-flagellation rampant among mommies (often of very privileged children) isn't healthy or productive. Stressed out moms make for stressed out kids. Your two-year-old won't be worse for wear for rejecting his broccoli, but he might actually get a complex if your head explodes from the stress of trying to coax him to eat his veggies.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Sometimes fundamentalists are funny (or sad)

Generally speaking, I agree with the premise that we shouldn't tell toddlers that someone is crazy. Or stupid, for that matter. Tolerance is a virtue.


But sometimes, as they say, if the shoe fits...

I carved out my first exception to the basic rule as soon as the Grape became both verbal and aware of strangers: I feel no shame in telling him, when he sees someone smoking, that it's stupid.

Thanks to my remarkable luck yesterday (I hopped on the treadmill just in time for a recent re-run of The Colbert Report), I found another group I see no harm in labeling crazy and stupid - even if little kids might be listening:

People who shell out anywhere between $10,000 to $50,000 per person for a six to twelve month stay in one of these goofy doomsday bunkers some salty California real estate developer is building - in lovely places like the outskirts of Omaha and the middle of the Mojave Desert.

When Colbert first showed the bunkers, I thought it was a made up story. Not so. Media outlets from NPR to ABCNews to Forbes magazine have covered the shelters in recent months.

People have been predicting the end of the Earth for thousands and thousands of years. Nothing newsworthy there. And every society has its share of religious yahoos willing to seize upon their erstwhile "prophet's" end of times edicts. We've always had weekend warriors among us - those usually bearded, badly dressed men who stockpile canned goods and ammunition in the event of a global meltdown.

But never before have the most paranoid and narcissistic among us had the opportunity to throw away so much money on their special brand of insanity.

While I haven't seen the company's registration and payment procedures, I'm going to march out on a limb and wager that the bunker developer gets his cash upfront. After all, one of the oft-cited doomsday scenarios is a complete collapse of the financial system, an apocalyptic event that will render the dollar worthless.

I imagine the developer will want to spend his bucks before that happens. He may be creepy, but he's clearly not a total dumb ass.

A few other questions crossed my mind as Colbert went to commercial.

Assuming the world ends with inferno, earthquake, flood and whatnot, how are these chumps who plunked down their life savings supposed to get to the bunker? Won't the end of the world cause air travel delays? Or hazardous road conditions?

And assuming you're willing to plunk down $150,000 to save your family of four, do you feel obligated to spring for less well-off extended family members as well? Is it alright to put your in-laws in the Spartan "economy class" bunkers for a paltry $10,000 a nose?

Another interesting nugget: The company aggressively markets its bunkers to members of the fundamentalist Christian movement.

How can people who claim to look forward to the end of the world, so that they can be with Jesus while drinking non-alcoholic punch and watching the rest of us roast on spits, be so afraid of that same end of the world that they're willing to spend a small fortune to hide from the second coming in a subterranean vault in the middle of nowhere?

My church going lapsed some twenty-five years ago, but I'm still pretty sure it would be more Christian to give your hundreds of thousands of dollars to the poor, sick and helpless (Somalian babies, anyone?) than to spend it cowering in a concrete bunker. Self-described "Christians" with no sense of charity have always made my blood boil. The doomsday bunker buyers just kick my contempt up a level.

I see no reason to hide that contempt from my kid. Thankfully, he's too young to know about the apocalypse crowd. But if and when he does ask, I'll tell him exactly what I think about them: They're selfish, sanctimonious, idiotic, and often hypocritical, twits.

And no, I don't think it's bad parenting to say so.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Kid free restaurants and movie theaters? Bravo!

Not so long ago I wrote about travel with children and advised those who don't want to fly near small kids to purchase their own planes. I stand by that sentiment. Commercial air travel is mass transit, and in countless instances, the only practical way to move from point A to point B.

In that post, I also said I would never in a million years take the Grape to a five star restaurant.

If a new trend picks up steam, I won't have that option much longer.

A number of restaurants and movie theaters across the country are doing what hundreds of small hotels have done for decades: they've banned children. And I say, Hooray!

I love my kid. I love eating in restaurants. And I'm blessed with enough self-awareness to understand that other people don't find the Grape as charming as R. and I do. We've bolted from neighborhood restaurants because he was disturbing other patrons. But we've also left restaurants without ordering more drinks or dessert that we would have otherwise purchased, because someone else couldn't (or wouldn't) shut up and/or remove their brats.

Parents often say, we need to practice dining out, so Junior learns to behave.

Absolutely. We're with you. A hundred per cent.

But may I suggest that certain establishments are more suitable "practice restaurants" than others? And that if you need to ask if a place fits the bill, you already know the answer.

We take the Grape out to eat often, and we tend to choose places with children's menus. Because let's be real. Last Friday night, we ate out with another family. It was duly early, around 6 p.m. The place offered an extensive kids' menu, plenty of high chairs and even crayons. The Grape and his little friend (who will also celebrate her second birthday soon) had a ball smearing butter into their hair with their spoons, while her parents and R. and I tossed back a couple of beers and pleaded with the waiter to bring out the kids' meals pronto.

Here's the thing that gets me: I'm okay with this kind of behavior before seven p.m. in a self-described family restaurant. I am not okay with seeing it, even from across the room, in a fine dining establishment. Every once in a while, in response to an innocent request for restaurant recommendations, some SanctiMommy or other posts on GardenMoms about how she takes her less than two-year-old to a five star place after nine p.m., and "It's totally fine!"

Let me be crystal clear: It is NOT fine.

People who shell out upwards of fifty bucks a nose for dinner aren't just out to get fed. They expect a certain ambiance with their food and wine. One that does not include children of a certain tender age. Even if they're relatively quiet. And yes, it's still obnoxious if your kid is watching a movie on your iPad in an establishment of white linen caliber. Especially after the blue hair and high chair hour.

Why? Because the kid with the movie or Angry Birds or whatever isn't learning to behave in a nice place; he or she is learning that mom and dad must provide kid centric entertainment at all times and in all places.

Sometime last year, an indignant world-revolves-around-my-kid parent attempted to incite a boycott of a wildly popular sushi bar because they refused to seat her and her (under three-year-old) children at eight o'clock on a Friday night.

R. and I immediately added the place to our date night rotation.

I also expect that movie theaters offering adults-only screenings at evening show times will rake in more money. Wouldn't you pay a teeny bit extra to avoid the dolts who think it's okay to bring their newborn to a late night action flick? It's kind of the same concept as the restaurants: If you go see Winnie the Pooh, you should be happy to sit among squirmy, chatty children. If you're there to see the latest Oscar winning picture, you're within your rights to expect an audience mature enough to sit quietly through a two hour feature.

This really shouldn't be controversial. At least not in my humble opinion.

Friday, July 22, 2011

The Hazards is Here!

Please forgive me for veering off topic today, but I'm thrilled to announce that my debut novel, The Hazards of Hunting While Heartbroken, is officially available on Amazon!

Fear not. I promise that I am not going to turn this space into a blog about writing and book sales. Though I will probably note when it trickles into other sales outlets. And today, I can't resist sharing the text from my book's back cover:

Zoë Clark thinks her world will implode when her fiancé dumps her on the eve of their splashy wedding. After nearly a decade with her college sweetheart, Zoë feels like a teenager about to be eaten alive by the New York dating scene. And her problems don’t end there. Zoë works a less-than-ideal job, managing other people’s careers while her own ambitions wither.

Enter Oscar Thornton. He’s handsome, charming, attentive and rich - the perfect boyfriend. But does he harbor a dark secret? Or will Zoë torpedo her newfound happiness by indulging a far fetched suspicion?

The Hazards of Hunting While Heartbroken tells the story of a young woman who sets out to find a man to solve her problems. Instead she finds herself facing her own shortcomings, testing her oldest friendships and realizing that she has the power to make herself happy.

Packed with snappy dialogue and playful wit, The Hazards of Hunting While Heartbroken will strike a chord with any woman who’s ever allowed herself to think, My life would be perfect, if I could just meet the right guy.

I'm incredibly excited to see my novel in print. It's been a long road. I wrote the first draft of The Hazards several years ago, after writing a suspense novel that garnered rejections in the vein of "too complicated for a debut novel," and "I like this, but the world isn't ready for a female Jason Bourne." So I reluctantly put that novel away, and started work on a more mainstream women's fiction manuscript, which became, through several rounds of edits, the book that launched this week.

I shopped it, collected rejection letters, re-wrote extensively. Two days before my son was born, I thought I had sold The Hazards. Then life got in the way. Distracted by the Grape's health and my own, I couldn't get the necessary revisions done. Honestly, I slept so little in those months that I couldn't remember what I'd had for breakfast most days, let alone what changes I had inflicted on my book.

The deal slipped through my fingers. I put the manuscript away for a year, got healthy, learned to sleep again. One day I decided I had put so much work into The Hazards that I was going to kick myself if I let its moment pass. So I undid the crazy revisions I'd done from my sick bed, re-wrote several scenes, and confiscated the characters' flip phones in order to issue them iPhones. Here it is at last - and just a few weeks shy of the Grape's second birthday. I hope, if you decide to read The Hazards, that you'll take a moment to stop back and tell me what you think.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Mourn, but please don't panic

I had all kinds of light material to write about this week, but somehow it felt wrong to ignore poor Leiby Kletzky. In case you've been living in some kind of weird and absolute news outage, Leiby Kletzky was an eight-year-old Brooklyn boy who asked the wrong stranger for directions while walking home from his summer camp, made the tragic decision to get in that stranger's car, and was found two days later, suffocated and dismembered. The suspect, who has confessed to kidnapping and murdering the little boy, has no prior criminal record.

It's one of those crimes that shocks the conscience, makes strangers oceans away cry, and sets off a frenzy of media attention. It's also incredibly unusual - the last time NYC saw a crime with a similar fact pattern was thirty years ago.

I shouldn't have been shocked when CNN's "crime analyst," who annoyed me so intensely that I won't give her a plug here, breathlessly barked that "No place is safe!"

But I was shocked. So much so that I almost careened right off the treadmill.

Why? Because, first of all, inciting panic is idiotic. I would love for someone - anyone - to give me just one example of a circumstance in which the absolute, best course of action is to panic.

Secondly, because hysterical squawking about this rarest of dangers in an evil world implicitly places blame with the boy's parents.

Who did nothing wrong.

Anybody else remember what it's like to be a kid?

Didn't you want to do things yourself? Didn't you roam your neighborhood on long summer days, often in the company of a gang of children, but sometimes on your own? Don't those memories still make you smile? I know that I wasn't monitored 24/7 at Leiby's age. And neither were any of the kids I knew. We were sent outdoors to play and no, we didn't stay in view of the kitchen window. By the time I was ten, I biked a couple of miles to meet friends. We got off school buses and walked up to half a mile, sometimes alone. And all this was a normal part of growing up.

Guess what? Monstrous individuals existed back then, too. Sure the internet makes predators' lives easier. But if your kids are playing outside, wandering with gangs of other children, I would argue they're safer from the odd freak than they would be hunkered over laptops at home. I worry that a generation of privileged kids, raised in lockdown, will not develop street smarts.

I'm not saying kids should be allowed to go wherever they want, whenever they want. But a little freedom is healthy, and I would argue, necessary to the growing up process. Leiby's parents did everything right. They rehearsed the route. For Leiby's maiden solo voyage, they agreed on a meeting place halfway between the camp and their home. When Leiby was late, they mobilized the neighborhood and authorities to search for him.

Leiby was just profoundly unlucky. In fact he wandered into a perfect storm of horrendous, abysmal luck.

So what's the right take away here? I've already said I don't believe in helicopter parenting, or keeping mid-to-late elementary age kids in lockdown. But I do see a teaching opportunity, and it's not as simple as "don't talk to strangers." The Grape sees me and R. chatting with strangers all the time: at the playground and dog park, most frequently, but in other places too. I don't want him so terrified of the neighbors that he's unable to function.

Instead,kids should have it hammered into their heads that they must NEVER, under any circumstances, get in a vehicle with a stranger. No matter what that stranger says, offers or promises. If someone grabs them, they should scream, kick and fight like hell to cause the biggest scene possible.

If they're lost, they should go to a crowded store or business and ask to use the phone, ask a woman (ideally one with kids) for help, or even call 911 and stay on the line with the dispatcher until the police arrive.

Why do I feel so strongly about this? Because I think a confident kid makes a much less appealing target to the rare psychos of the world than one who's been raised to fear his own shadow.

So please, let's mourn Leiby Kletzky, but not paralyze ourselves with panic.

Friday, July 8, 2011

The Grape will keep his wings (and leg room)

Sometimes it pays to complain.

I forwarded last month's post Meatheads: Please Let the Grape Vacation in Peace to the manager of the Fairmont Hotel in Southampton, and received a very nice letter in return. He apologized for the uncouth behavior of the State Farm entourage and enclosed vouchers for four free nights at the hotel, saying that he was confident our former high opinion of the establishment would be restored.

Indeed. The Grape will fly to Bermuda once more.

Which brings me to a different kind of complaint. Last week Malaysian Airlines (not a carrier I have ever had occasion to patronize) announced it would ban children under two years of age from its first class cabins. They're a private company; they can do what they want, and frankly if they want to make first class a quiet cabin on long haul flights, I see merit in that idea. Amtrak does it. Why not the airlines? Though I doubt that many newly minted two-year-olds will be much quieter than their 23-month-old counterparts. Children of all ages remain welcome in business class on Malaysian Airlines.

The news set off a lively discussion in The New York Times and other publications that deal with parenting issues. I had no idea people had such strong feelings about where kids belong on planes.

Several commenters said kids don't belong in business class, for the same reason they don't belong in nice restaurants.


Dining out in style,as opposed to eating in a family friendly restaurant, is a choice. I know of no city in the developed world that boasts ONLY five star restaurants. I would NEVER IN A MILLION YEARS take the Grape to any of the city's finest eateries, because I feel his presence, even with his halo affixed firmly to his head, detracts from other diners' experiences. R. and I take him to loud, busy, casual non-chain restaurants, but we always eat at the blue-hair and high-chair hour. By which I mean, we are gone by seven.

Flying is different.

Flying on a commercial airline is like using any other kind of public transportation. You pay your fare and they take you from A to B.

If you don't want to see and hear children, loud snorers, verbose religious fanatics, drunken boors, or other members of the unwashed public, then here's what you do: You get your own plane.

I've sat near screaming kids and it was no fun. I've also sat next to people who think the plane is their own personal keg party, a man who tried to convince me for six hours that the world was only five thousand years old (even though my nose was in a book the whole time) and a man my father's age who apparently suffered from a deviated septum and violent intestinal trouble.

Trust me, I don't want the Grape to scream all the way across the ocean either. So I fly him overnight whenever possible, in the hopes that the white noise of the plane, his normal biorhythm and a generous dose of Benadryl will konk him right out. When he's awake I carry him and/or follow him up and down the aisles so he doesn't get fussy and restless. And I'm fully prepared to spring for new toys and exempt him from our no television rule if things look like they could turn desperate.

Frankly, as long as I have the requisite miles and/or willingness to spring for business class when traveling with the Grape, I am going to do so. Why? More space to maneuver. Better service. Cleaner facilities in airports. Priority handling of crucial luggage such as the stroller. Flight attendants in long haul business class have been very welcoming of the Grape, and ground crews on flights with two business class cabins (such as British Airways) do their best to keep one cabin kid-free.

I can understand that.

But I also understand that it pays for major carriers to cater to families with kids. On our last trans-atlantic flight, there were seven small children (including the Grape) in the business cabin. I talked to two of the moms as we passed in the aisle. Consensus: worth every penny.