Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Of big cat mothers and dental dissolver cereals

The public loves to hate an over achiever, and Amy Chua, "Tiger Mom" and media darling of the week, is no exception.

I'm going to swim upstream and say, I kind of like her.

First of all, she's smart. She's written a timely book, created a swirl of attention for herself and rocketed to fifth position on the NYT Bestseller List - no mean feat. But she's more than smart; Ms. Chua has the kind of drive that commands respect, at least from me. Not just drive to sell books, but drive to make her children's success the main thing in her family's life.

Her whole life, and indeed that of their entire family, revolves around raising academically and musically accomplished children. I don't possess the self-discipline to emulate her, and I'm not sure I'd want to, although some aspects of her approach make a lot of sense.

Boiled to its essence, her premise seems to be: hard work and dedication will pay off. Hardly a revolutionary idea, but nonetheless a refreshing concept in this age of everyone-gets-a-trophy. Maybe those children who dedicate more time and effort should reap bigger rewards. Or are we raising a generation of kids who won't bother to pull their weight on group projects or in team contests? Because, really, why should they exert themselves, if all the credit derives from simply showing up?

I also wonder if she'd receive the same volume of hate mail if she was pushing scholar/athletes as opposed to scholar/musicians? Our society has a long history of admiring young elite athletes, and by extension the parents who borrow money for private tutors and relocate their families so the kiddo can train. Would Ms. Chua have sparked equivalent vitriol if she had rearranged her family life so her younger daughter could hit tennis balls for six hours a day?

There's no way to know for certain, of course, but I suspect not. Which leads me to another thing I like about her: she's not bending her values to secure public approval. In her culture, musical education garners more prestige than athleticism. Fine. Hate her for that, but then you should also despise the man who forces his son to play baseball because that's what he did growing up, even though the lad would prefer cello, track or gymnastics.

What I do find surprising about Ms. Chua is that she had such a tough time realizing her children could cultivate more than one extra-academic interest.

And not give up all hope of admission to an Ivy League school in the process.

It's been interesting to watch hordes of parents who claim to arrange their lives around their children's needs and future prospects tear into Ms. Chua. Isn't she doing the same thing, albeit in a more absolute fashion? Really, she's a Martyr Mom on steroids, and that's where she loses me.

I've written frequently in this space about my belief that parents need to have lives and interests of their own. Ms. Chua's brand of parenting leaves little time for that. No play dates for the kids means no time for the moms to visit while their tots run around. Hours of homework and extra academic enrichment every night leaves no time for more "frivolous" entertainment oriented outings. Time spent at the piano equals time locked indoors, which I don't happen to believe is healthy.

And all children simply won't make straight A's in a non-grade-inflated environment, no matter how much they study. I can promise you that China has its fair share of average students, too. Perhaps Ms. Chua, with her insistence on perfect marks, merely meant that standards in her children's schools were too low - a sadly common phenomenon in this part of the world.

You need only look around a park, restaurant or shopping center and see that standards for behavior have slipped as well. Yet, notwithstanding the one meltdown by her teenage daughter recounted in a widely reprinted excerpt of the book, it sounds like Ms. Chua has raised immaculately behaved children. How? By making it clear - early and often- that some things are just plain unacceptable.

I cannot imagine Ms. Chua negotiating in a saccharin voice with a pre-schooler who had thrown himself on the floor of the cereal aisle in a full blown tantrum over Candy Coated Dental Dissolver Cereal.

I saw this exact incident just the other day in our local supermarket. The child, who looked about four years old, hurled himself on the floor of the store and howled like a possessed monkey. He kicked and bit when his mom tried to pick him up. She pleaded with him in a high pitched whine to please, please stop. Eventually she gave in, placed the cereal in her cart and actually - I swear I am not making this up - praised the kid for ceasing the tantrum.

Score one for the brat.

I felt like marching over to the woman and telling her to get down on his level, look him in the eye and tell him to knock it off in a voice that left no doubt she meant business. Because it seemed so obvious that her abdication of parental oversight wasn't doing the child any major favors.

Which ultimately is what Ms. Chua's Tiger Mom schtick is all about.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Things don't usually end so well for martyrs

Every one with kids knows a Martyr Mom, or probably more than one. Martyr Dads exist too, albeit in lesser numbers. Variations on the MM theme exist, but the underlying concept is simple: I will make any sacrifice, and do it with a smile, for my child.

There's a profile. Most MM's I've encountered make the decision to martyr themselves for their kids consciously. Most stay at home full time, although cases of Martyrdom by Proxy also exist, wherein the MM expects a paid employee to carry out her vision. MM then spends a significant percentage of her time at work supervising her proxy telephonically.

I find the prevalence of MM parenting puzzling, since historically, martyrs acted selflessly for years, only to suffer death in some grisly, creative and time consuming fashion. While the smug woman at the park probably won't burn at the stake for her beliefs, I have to wonder about the long term costs of completely child-centered parenting to couples and family units.

Martyr behavior might mean the Mommy never takes a few hours for herself, because Junior doesn't like when she leaves him with a sitter. It might mean breast feeding exclusively for a year, even when the child is screaming non-stop, because she's hungry. Added bonus for some families: the partner is screaming with sexual frustration because, for some women, lactation can act as a powerful libido stifler.

Martyr behavior might mean refusing to let a healthy baby cry it out at night so the whole household can get some sleep. Some kids don't sleep as much as others, and that's really rough on parents. But once they're able to stretch through the night without a feeding, there's simply no fathomable excuse for the whole house being awake at all hours.

With older kids, martyr parenting might mean moving to the suburbs and saddling the parents with a soul killing commute so that the kids can ride bikes on a cul-de-sac. Plenty of families leave large cities because it's the best thing for everyone, considering space concerns, education costs, et cetera, but read some of the big city parenting message boards, and you'll find that many families move just because they think they must, in order to be good parents.

The only manifestation that's worse than a kid-driven move: having another child just because Junior wants a sibling. If you don't want another baby, don't have one for someone else, because resentment will cancel out any potential benefit to the family.

Martyrdom can often seem more innocuous, too. It might mean giving up every hour of every weekend to shuttle the children to soccer, origami, synchronized swimming, yoga, pottery, tennis and acting. I'm all for activities, but since when does every child have to learn every sport and every art form before kindergarten?

Note to the MM's of the world: You are not failing if your children have time for unstructured (gasp), imaginative play. You are not "lazy" if your kids occasionally have to figure out how to amuse themselves.

I tend to cringe when I meet MM's. And not just because they veer towards insufferable smugness. I can't fault them there; their delusions of moral superiority are all the poor things have left for themselves.

Here's the crux of the issue: To a degree, all parents live to serve their children's needs, particularly when the kids are very young. But (and this is a big but) when the demands of a healthy child compromise the health of the parents, or determine the course of the lives of the entire family, something is horribly wrong.

When a child's demands (or perceived demands) set the agenda for the family unit, month after month, and year after year, marriages or partnerships suffer. Sometimes the parents' relationship suffers irretrievable damage: the adults become so wrapped up in the child that they forget to check in with each other. Too many couples talk about nothing but their kids. They don't make time to socialize with other adults, and their world shrinks.

Call me crazy, but self-imposed exile from adult society cannot possibly set a good example for children. And frankly, kids whose parents never do anything for themselves (whether it's talk on the phone with a friend, go on a date night, go for a jog, read the news or whatever floats their particular boat) tend to be major brats.

I'll get hate mail for this last one, but too many parents let themselves go physically when they have small children. Please note I said parents, not just moms. Because I'm not talking about pregnancy weight. Just because you have a toddler does not mean it's okay to make peace with twenty extra pounds. Or to wear sweatpants every day for a week.

The good news is that the fix for martyrdom is obvious and easy. You can cook what you want to eat a few nights a week. You can hire a sitter and go out on the town with some old friends, or indulge in a date night. You can restrict your pre-schooler to one or two organized activities a week. It's okay to be yourself and be a parent.

Still not convinced? I'll leave you with one final thought: kids can sense, pretty early on, when someone's faking. The mommy is usually the most important person in a child's world. The child can sense whether the mommy is happy or not, regardless of any forced perma-smile she has plastered on her face.

So go ahead, do something every day, just for yourself.

It's in the best interests of the whole family.

Friday, January 14, 2011

You cannot be a good parent and support the NRA. Period.

You cannot be a good parent and support the NRA.


Like most people who enjoy writing, I appreciate life's nuances and shades of gray. I love thoughtful debates and open ended questions. Rarely do I believe an issue to be so black and white. But this one is. I'm not naive enough to believe we as a nation will come to our senses and outlaw semi-automatic weapons and handguns, but I'm hopeful that we might, in the wake of these senseless murders, go back to the way things were before 2004.

Because I'm not excited about the Grape growing up in a place where just about anyone can buy a weapon designed to massacre people. Quickly.

We have a problem in this country with people using firearms to commit mass murder.

The NRA would have us believe that guns aren't the problem, mentally disturbed people are. To those who lose loved ones, like the parents of 9-year-old Christina Taylor Green, it's rather academic whether the killer suffered from mental illness for a long time, or whether a hyper-aggressive yet previously law abiding individual just snapped and went on a rampage.

Either way, in the United States, such individuals have access not just to guns, but to guns designed for the sole purpose of inflicting mass human casualties in a very short time period.

By now, unless you live in a cave, you've heard that the Tucson gunman killed six people and wounded over a dozen more using a German-made Glock pistol with an extended magazine.

The Glock is used by many law enforcement agencies, including the FBI. Many of Mr. Loughner's fellow Arizonans carry the same (or similar) handguns. Someone else in that Safeway parking lot almost certainly had a legal concealed handgun on his or her person at the time of the incident. Did Arizona's permissive guns laws save lives?


What did? The quick thinking and action of innocent bystanders who tackled the shooter when he was forced to stop firing to reload. He shot 31 bullets before that happened. Had he been limited to a standard Glock magazine, he could have been intercepted after firing nine rounds (still a tragedy, but perhaps some one's grandmother or nine-year-old child would have been spared a bloody death).

If you Google "gun control" you will find all kinds of NRA sponsored propaganda, arguing that guns make us safer.

This is probably the greatest fraud perpetrated by a special interest group on the American people. Bigger than the Iraq war. Bigger than Ethanol.

A few things you may not know the NRA lobbies for:

The legalization of fully plastic firearms. You know, the kind designed for the sole purpose of slipping through metal detectors. Excuse me? What kind of absurd society would we inhabit where we could not take a juice box on an airplane, but a plastic semiautomatic pistol would pass inspection? Fortunately, Congress voted to ban such weapons after the Reagan administration introduced legislation to do so. Only four members voted in favor of plastic guns at the time (Dick Cheney was among the four). The GOP(until last week) wanted to bring the question up again.

The legalization of magazines such as the one used by Mr. Loughner. It's bad enough that President Bush allowed the assault weapons ban to expire in 2004. The ban on extended magazines expired with it. Mr. Loughner bought those extended clips perfectly legally. Anyone need 31 rounds to take down a deer? No? That's what I figured.

The preservation of gun show loopholes, whereby gun dealers can sell weapons to those who would not meet the lax background check criteria. I'd prefer the Grape to grow up in a society where gun shows are a thing of the past, like the other trappings of the Wild West. Right here in Massachusetts, an eight-year-old boy died while handling an Uzi (an Israeli made automatic assault rifle) at such an event. I hope this boy's father goes to jail for the rest of his life.

If any pro-gun folks are still reading, they're indignantly screeching about the second amendment. The second amendment preserves the right of the individual to bear arms in order to maintain a well-ordered militia. It was drafted in the days before the nation had well established national armed forces and relied on locally organized regiments to defend the country. I know all about the second amendment, having actually graduated from a very good law school. The ban that President Bush allowed to expire back in 2004 had passed Constitutional muster. Courts have long held the right to bear arms is far from absolute.

Furthermore, the historical context under which the amendment was conceived no longer exists. Indeed, the United States military is the most advanced centrally managed fighting force on the planet. Every one-horse back water no longer requires a militia. The NRA knows that, but playing down the pesky militia language serves their goals.

Here's the bottom line: Guns do not make anyone safer. The vast majority of children who die from gunshot wounds aren't killed by crazed criminals. They're shot by other children, or by themselves, while playing with guns that their parents or their friends' parents keep "for safety."

I don't care if your gun is a unloaded and locked in a cabinet. I don't care if you just have a rifle to shoot Bambi, or a pistol to shoot clay discs.

If you have firearms in your home, my child will never visit you. Ever.

I can do that much to keep him safe from the crazy gun culture.

I can only hope that Congress does its part in passing sensible restrictions, so that the next time some lunatic goes on a rampage at a school, or an airport, or a parking lot or an amusement park filled with little kids, at least the damage might be limited. That won't happen if the NRA gets its way.

And that's precisely why, in the wake of this latest slaughter, no good parent can support their agenda.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Winter wonderland memories (made up in my head)

Some people whine about the snow and cold. Not me. At least not before yesterday. Until this past weekend, I viewed the winter landscape as a place to create wonderful lifelong memories with my son.

The park across the street from our new place features a perfect little kid sledding hill: the kind of wide, medium sized knoll that starts off steep but flattens gradually to ease the little ones' toboggans to a gentle stop.

Contrast this with the backyard of my childhood, which alternately entertained and injured my brother, sister and me during our formative years. That hill had (and still has, of course) a short, steep drop that could rocket your sled at speeds not unlike those routinely clocked on an ice luge, then slam it to a halt in one of three places: a swampy ditch, a stone wall or a big tree. I tended to opt for the tree, as it had more give that the rocks and there was no chance of falling through the ice into semi-frozen muck.

A couple of weeks ago, when we had a big snowfall, the Grape had a nasty cold that kept us indoors. So when we got a couple of paltry inches of the white stuff this weekend, I decided it was high time to try out his new sled. Perhaps we'd meet friends at the park. Then we'd return inside for hot chocolate, red faced and delighted from a full afternoon in the great outdoors.

The Grape would laugh with delight as R. and I took turns sliding down the snowy hill with him. He'd charge back up to go again, too eager to sit in his sled and be towed. Maybe we'd even remember the camera to chronicle this high point of his second winter.

That's how it went in my head.

Here's how it went for real:

1 p.m.: Lunch is finished. The Grape is changed, well rested and ready to play. I add a sweater and pants on top of his long underwear. He cooperates gamely until he notices his snowsuit lurking behind me.

1:02 p.m.: The Grape wriggles out of my grasp and attempts to hide in a kitchen cabinet. R. calls from the patio that he has located string for the sled, but he needs scissors. I remove the Grape from the cabinet, take the scissors to R. and launch a search for one of the Grape's socks, which somehow became lost during phase one of preparation. I remove the wayward sock from Lila the Dog's teeth. Lila, sensing something fun is about the happen, commences jumping all over my back as I try to wrangle the Grape's legs into his snowsuit.

1:o4 p.m.: Shove Lila onto patio. Make second failed attempt to apply snowsuit to child, who is now crying in protest, and claiming (falsely) that he has pooped. Place child on dog's bed, employ arms and knees to wrestle him into snowsuit. Promise him, in best happy mommy voice ever, that this outing will be really, REALLY fun. Feel sweat percolating under own sweater. Zip Grape's snowsuit shut, then pause to remove a layer of own clothing.

1:11 p.m.: Grape removes his hat and shoves it behind the couch as I manage to wrangle one of his boots into place. Call R. to hold down child for application of remaining boot. Retrieve hat from behind sofa. Launch search for mittens. Locate mittens out on patio, in Lila's teeth. Lila realizes we want what she has. R. releases the Grape and reapplies his own boots to chase dog around tiny patio. Dog relinquishes mittens. Grape stops crying when he notices we're bringing the dog along.

1:17p.m.: Two adults manage to place mittens over one crying child's hands. R. harnesses dog while I launch frantic search for own mittens. The Grape, bundled in four layers, starts to sweat.

1:21 p.m.: Everyone is finally ready. We step outdoors. Grape eyes sled suspiciously and announces he is thirsty. I remove boots, go to kitchen and retrieve his sippy cup. The Grape pushes his drink away with disdain. "Done!" he squeals before it touches his lips.

1:25 p.m.: We cross the street and enter the park. Lila, who normally heels beautifully, takes one whiff of the carnival atmosphere at the sledding hill and commences running around R. as if he has morphed into a Maypole. R. disentangles self from leash. Dog escapes, runs like a banshee on speed around the park.

1:28 p.m.: Borrow treats from innocent bystander and re-leash dog. I sit in the sled and R. places the Grape in my lap.

The Grape howls as if he's being hacked with an axe.

Undeterred, R. smiles broadly, counts down from three, gives us a push and off we go. The Grape stops crying as we reach the bottom. I cheer silently to myself; maybe he's figured out this is fun. No such luck. As soon as we extricate ourselves from the sled, his snow-booted legs fail him and he falls on his face in the snow. He bawls again and spits ice crystals from his teeth. Bystanders, in a stage whisper, consider calling social services. I scoop up my crying child and wonder aloud whether we should at least take a picture of him in his sled. R. looks at me like I'm clinically limited, fibs and says he forgot the camera.

1:29 p.m.: R. and I drag Grape to top off hill so he can see how much fun the other kids are having. A very cute little girl pushes off gleefully, then somehow careens off her sled headfirst. Splits lip. Screams, cries, blames her younger brother (who was thirty feet away at the moment of impact), demands to go home. The Grape sniffles in pretend sympathy, whips up extra-large tears for dramatic effect. R. and I tote him home, shoulders slumped in defeat. Lila looks up at us questioningly: All that for this? R. advises dog to keep her sarcasm to herself, asks if we have any beer, and whether it's too early to consume one.

1:33 p.m.: I fret that we have a cold weather wimp on our hands. How can this be? I'm half Finnish, for God's sake. Is the Grape going to be a bad Finn? As if to answer my question, he crawls into my lap with a book.

Its title: Beach Babies Wear Shades. He coos contentedly while we flip though the pages showing sandcastles and Caribbean sunsets. As the Grape babbles appreciatively at the picture of a boy and his dog splashing in the waves, R. asks whether seventeen months is too young to understand the concept of vacation porn.

The Grape turns the page and points excitedly to a picture of a kid napping on a beach blanket. I gaze out the frosty window at his sled and dream about swooping breathless down the snowy hill.

I suppose there's always next year.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Straight to Satan on the Hogwart's Express and other banned book BS

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn will hit book store shelves once again, this time scrubbed clean of the vile n-word and another, less frequently debated pejorative term for Native Americans.

The much touted new version of Mark Twain's classic replaces "nigger" with the word "slave." The publisher argues that the edit renders the book "more appropriate for school children."

Excuse me? Is nothing safe from "improvements?" Not even classic literature? Proponents of the change argue that it's just one word, and its removal doesn't change the novel in any material way.

Except it does. Mark Twain wrote Huck Finn as an adventure story, but also as a pointed critique of racism. His characters speak according to the norms of Twain's day. Watering down the language for modern sensibilities sends the message that certain likable characters were above the language of the day, when clearly they weren't.

If last week's public outcry doesn't sway the publisher, millions of students will henceforth read and study Huck Finn Lite. A powerful teaching moment will be swept to the cutting room floor. One of the fascinating points of the novel is the unequal camaraderie shared by Huck and Jim, which begs the question of whether such human relationships exist today.

The absence of the n-word also makes it easy for educators to sidestep any discussion about what makes the novel so objectionable to so many people in the first place. But just because kids won't hear the word in the classroom doesn't mean their ears are safe forever after.

The Grape, at the tender age of 17 months, hears that ugly word with monotonous regularity, mainly from the mouths of teenagers, whenever we walk on any major street in Boston. It's not like erasing the printed word will strike it from the vernacular.

Maybe if the original version of the novel were more widely taught, along with a discussion of the origins and historic usage of the n-word, it wouldn't be as lovingly deployed by the adolescent masses. And if teachers complain they're uncomfortable discussing the n-word, then good. It seems to me that their visceral reaction to the vocabulary would serve as an excellent starting point for a thoughtful discussion.

Besides, any English teacher who feels squeamish in the face of Mark Twain should saunter down to the sex education classroom, where (I'm told on good authority) their colleagues wrangle prophylactics onto pickling cucumbers at least once a semester.

I'm worried that the sanitizing of literature won't stop with Huck Finn. What if the new version catches on with school boards? Can you teach Night without violence, or indeed much of Shakespeare or Tolstoy? If we can't talk about the history of race relations, can we still discuss the changing roles of women in literature and society? Is "whore" another automatic taboo word that reconciles a book to curriculum exile? Or "cunt" for that matter? Because I promise you, it's not like high schoolers haven't heard them before.

Does anyone truly believe that white washing our historic and literary record will do our students any favors? Unfortunately, a vocal minority apparently does.

I mean, first we as a nation have to endure the periodic humiliation that results whenever some yahoo school board in Nowhere Central, USA insists on having science teachers present creationism in the classroom.

Then we get the "Texas Textbooks." You know, the ones that question whether the republic's founders really meant to separate church and state; that sweep that whole unpleasant slavery business under the rug.

I suppose we will always have dim-witted parents challenging books that offend their particular sensibilities. I think for many, the bad words are no more than a lame excuse for parents who don't want their children exposed to uncomfortable ideas, or to concepts that might force them to think critically or challenge their fundamental beliefs.

I was surprised to see that J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series tops the list of most challenged and banned books of the past decade. To me, any series that captures the imagination of tens of millions of middle schoolers should be a cause for celebration.

Not so to many in the religious right. Fictional wizardry dances too close to the occult for their tastes. God forbid Junior should be whisked straight to Satan on the Hogwart's Express.

The banned books list includes a mix of classics and popular contemporary titles. I was unsurprised to find Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret still hanging on in position 99 on the list. I devoured that brilliant book in the third grade, mens-troo-ation references and all. I don't think I suffered any lasting moral damage, though apparently many parents still find the topic of puberty too controversial for kids in the throes of the experience.

Here's a news flash: teenagers, like adults, tend to enjoy stories with a bit of an edge and characters with human flaws. Many of the frequently challenged titles tackle tough issues like racism, mental disability, totalitarianism and sexual violence. Several are laced with colorful language. Others do nothing more offensive than suggest that sex can be fun.

My hometown's public school curriculum included titles by Harper Lee, George Orwell, Joseph Heller, John Steinbeck, Ernest Hemingway and many of their compatriots on the banned books honor roll. We also read Huck Finn.

And guess what? I feel confident that none of my compatriots in English class interpreted Twain's use of the n-word as an endorsement of the slur. I'm curious enough as to whether Huck remains a staple of the North Kingstown High School curriculum to check and report back.

Incidentally, Huck Finn came in fourteenth on the American Library Association's list. The rankings of the top hundred challenged books for the past decade can be found here: http://www.ala.org/ala/issuesadvocacy/banned/frequentlychallenged/challengedbydecade/2000_2009/index.cfm)

Monday, January 3, 2011

Breath taking obliviousness

Last week's New York Times Magazine allocated a stunning amount of prime print real estate to an account by a forty-something woman who built her family through the use of not one, but two surrogates, plus an egg donor. I slogged through the entire article, because it was a long, cold weekend and because the topic seemed interesting: a close friend recently welcomed twins delivered by a gestational carrier (a surrogate who provides a womb but doesn't have any genetic connection to the baby).

I was so disappointed.

First of all, if the NYT wanted to highlight this relatively new and therefore controversial practice, they could have assigned a reporter to interview all the parties involved. I get why Ms. Thernstrom went this route: she wanted babies desperately and none but her husband's genetic offspring would do. What I would have been fascinated to read would have been an account of the thought processes of her egg donor and the gestational carriers.

Egg donors receive a fair amount of compensation: usually upwards of $10,000 a cycle, which is a considerable sum for most twenty-somethings. However, these young women subject themselves to hormone treatments, anesthesia and surgical retrieval of the eggs, none of which come without risk. Of course the gestational carriers take on the risks of pregnancy and childbirth, but since only a total moron would hire a gestational carrier who hadn't previously delivered a healthy child, there's something that feels more knowing and voluntary about the gestational carrier's decision. Besides, the risks of pregnancy and delivery generally don't stay with a woman for life.

Not so for hormone injections. There's simply not enough data on the long term effects of the mega-doses administered to hyper-stimulate egg production. No reasonable physician would tell a patient, there's absolutely no risk of future cancer if you take these (medically elective) hormones in your twenties. To me, anything designed to kick one's body into overdrive should be undertaken only as a last resort, not as an income source.

Ms. Thernstrom, for an educated person, seems blithely dismissive of the risks undertaken by her children's biological mother, a woman she cheekily refers to as the Fairy Goddonor, a woman who (unsurprisingly) seems eager to keep her distance from the family she helped create. So sadly, we don't get to hear from the college girl who provided the eggs.

Nor do we hear first hand accounts from either of the gestational carriers. I would have been fascinated to read their thoughts, largely because I loathed pregnancy so intensely that you could not pay me any amount of money to do it again - especially for someone else. Not that anyone would ask me, with my medical history and age.

Instead we get an excerpt from the journal of a woman who comes off as so out of touch it takes your breath away. Here's a hint: if you're going to mistreat well-meaning nurses, doulas and various innocent bystanders, it's probably better not to brag about your irrational short fuse in an international forum.

Melanie Thernstrom produced a self-indulgent, rambling piece about her experience, wrought with angst about what to call everyone in the picture. The whole thing screamed, look at me. Case in point: her two surrogates delivered her son and daughter five days apart. Ms. Thernstrom agonizes for inches upon inches of NYT ink about how to explain the relationship between the children. She settles on the idiotic term "twiblings." Nonsense. Her kids are full biological siblings, the biological offspring of a single egg donor and Ms. Thernstrom's husband.

And since they're only five days apart, it seems reasonable to let the larger world assume they're twins. People not close enough to know the whole story, for example, pre school teachers, won't have their lives enhanced by enduring the entire explanation. And as an aside, since when do new mommies of twins have time to ponder such trivial questions anyway?

Nowhere in the eight pages did Ms. Thernstrom acknowledge the fact that surrogacy is an option for the wealthy only. Agency estimates vary, but typical costs range from $60,000 to $80,000 and up (and that doesn't include the egg donation, which could easy tack another $20,000 onto the bill). So, conservatively speaking, Ms. Thernstrom's twins cost a minimum of $140,000 to create, and quite probably much more. And that's not counting six failed cycles of IVF at about $16,000 a pop, assuming they weren't living in one of 16 states where insurance covers the bill. Or the significant legal fees incurred by drafting not one, but two, lengthy surrogacy contracts. People have a right to spend their money as they see fit, but a little empathy from the author, acknowledging that most women devastated by infertility could not dream of creating a family this way, would have been refreshing.

My friend, RC, and her husband chose to pursue the surrogate route after several years of more traditional fertility treatments failed to produce a full term pregnancy. They had a couple of frozen embryos left over, and they hired their gestational carrier through word of mouth. Over the next nine months, RC and her surrogate forged a bond that's probably difficult for most people to comprehend, but one that incorporated clear boundaries. The surrogate always referred to the twins in utero as RC's babies. Although they met without an agency, RC and her husband paid the surrogate. They signed a thick contract covering all kinds of crazy eventualities. The surrogate got a bonus check when circumstances necessitated an emergency cesarean.

Now that the twins are here, RC and the surrogate continue their friendship, but there's no blurring of the mommy lines: the surrogate has a family of her own, she's clear that it's complete, and care and feeding of the twins falls to RC and her husband. RC's twins won't be confused about their origins, largely because their parents, unlike Ms. Thernstrom, are at peace with the way they came into the world. Their surrogate, should everyone remain friendly, will be a sort of friendly auntie type - not another mom.

The NYT piece yielded a torrent of comments, many laced with unwarranted vitriol. Yes, the author comes off as an oblivious, unsympathetic twit. But, her children are loved, wanted and apparently will not lack for resources or opportunities. I didn't read all the comments (the weekend wasn't that long), but I was surprised by the volume of readers who insisted Ms. Thernstrom was a narcissist who should have "just adopted."

There's no such thing as "just adopting." If prospective parents doubt their ability to bond with a child of unknown parentage, or deal with the uncertainty of the process, or the special needs of an institutionalized child, or one who's not an infant, then they're doing the right thing by not adopting. Simply put, the infertile masses do not exist to provide homes for the hard-to-place children of the world. Life's just not that neat and easy.

I wish the NYT had chosen a more sympathetic writer. Surrogacy, with its costs and pitfalls, does provide a legitimate avenue for many women desperate to have children. Unfortunately Ms. Thernstrom gives the imperfect, yet largely positive practice of surrogacy, a highly disagreeable face.

Here's the link to her piece: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/02/magazine/02babymaking-t.html?_r=1