Monday, February 28, 2011

Happy with what I have, in spite of popular opinion

Most of my friends and I are rapidly approaching that age at which we must fish or cut bait in terms of family size.

Since R. and I have managed to keep the Grape alive for over a year and a half now, people from family members to complete strangers routinely ask, "When are you going to have another one?" Nosy strangers may get the classic half-smile-and-shrug dismissal, but those closer to me hear the truth: I'm not.

This may seem shocking to those of you who've met me. I have a tendency to always want more. In this area of my life however, I'm content with the family I have.

And no, I don't agree that it's cruel to have an only child. To me, that statement constitutes one of the greatest hyperboles in contemporary discourse.

Yes, siblings possess some clear benefits. As kids, my siblings and I kept each other both entertained and exercised on rainy days and long family trips alike. It's also nice to have someone with whom to share filial duties as parents age. No, it's not ideal for any child to live in an adults-only world day in and day out.

But (and feel free to call me selfish, I've got thick skin), my pregnancy was the worst experience of my life. There's simply no way I would ever do it again, even if it were advisable from a medical perspective (which it isn't).

And no, I will not change my mind.

When people hear this, they assure me I could adopt. As if such an astonishing thought never crossed my radar. If you'd asked me a decade ago, I would have answered that two kids seemed like a good number to have. An heir and a spare, just like my own mom's late best friend often joked.

But today I don't have enough of that insatiable itch for more babies to pursue procuring a sibling for the Grape through adoption or surrogacy. Many of my friends have traveled down those roads and I think they're wonderful options for thousands of families. But, for lack of a better word, I'm content with "just" the Grape.

There are some infrequently discussed upsides to being the one and only. The Grape will get to travel more as an only than he would with a gang of younger siblings. Why? Basic economics, first and foremost. But also parental stamina. One kid on a long haul flight, totally doable. Two, manageable but more challenging. Three, veers close to insanity. Et cetera.

The Grape will get to grow up in the city, because we won't be driven to the suburbs in search of high quality public schools. One tuition bill seems much less daunting than several served up concurrently.

As an urban kid, the Grape sees more children his age on a daily basis than his suburban counterparts, whose parents must arrange play dates and coordinate transportation thereto. We can cross the street to the park and find kids of similar age on just about any day when the weather is halfway decent, which is not a high bar here in Boston. He might be a bit of a mama's boy, but he's not a lonely, under-socialized singleton.

As a tot, he gets more one on one time than any subsequent child would enjoy. We spend hours every day reading books. Such luxuries become nearly impossible for parents juggling a newborn and a toddler or toddlers.

A friend and mother of three (who is considering trying for a fourth pregnancy) recently quipped that everyone after the second or third child is inevitably a little neglected.

Obviously, spacing can play a role here.

But her comment stuck with me, perhaps because I'd just had a conversation with another woman, the third oldest of eight siblings. Her mom had one baby a year for eight years, which must qualify her for some medal from the Pope, right?

Anyway, she and all seven of her brothers and sisters are over thirty. All are childless by choice.

Obviously the younger ones have a few years to change their minds, but it still struck me as fascinating that none of them aspired to replicate their parents' feat. "I love the holidays at our house," she told me, "But the rest of the time it was madness and not in a good way. Our mother was exhausted to the point of illness. All the time."

Another friend, the youngest of four tightly spaced kids, told me the other day that her aging mom insists she read long bedtime stories to her children every single night. Friend, now an adult of childbearing age, swears on all that's holy that this absolutely did not happen.

I assured her that their mom undoubtedly read those nightly long bedtime stories to her oldest sibling, before the others came along rapid fire and diverted mother-child quiet time to more basic tasks.

"Yeah, yeah," you're saying, "There's a huge difference between one kid and four, six or eight little rug rats. Two should seem manageable for any normal, capable adult. Don't you want two? What's wrong with you?"

Who knows? Maybe I just don't miss those newborn months. Maybe I'm not fatalistic enough to need that spare heir. Or maybe I'm really looking forward to all the things the Grape can do and the places he can go - years sooner without a baby in tow. He's already so much more fun than he was a few short months ago.

When many other women see a mom with a tot and a newborn, something warm and fuzzy stirs in their core. When I look at the same tableau I think, she's been sent back to start.

I'm being provocative for a reason.

I understand that many people want big families. I don't presume to tell strangers expecting their third kid that it's unfair to their existing offspring to have to share mommy. Nor do I suggest that they'd better not have that fourth or fifth baby, because they'll change their minds after it's too late.

So please don't try to persuade me that I'll change mine. For once in my life, I'm happy with what I already have.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Giraffes are for everyone, and remembering Suzy the Brick

"Giraffes are for boys," a complete stranger told me when I was about seven months pregnant with the Grape and browsing at a chichi baby boutique in my hometown. "I'd get that stuffed giraffe if we had a boy."

Some women claim pregnancy hormones make them weepy, sentimental and all earth-mothery. Mine had different effect: they transformed me into the kind of shrill lunatic who gives a complete stranger an earful about everything that's wrong with him.

In public.

Over a stuffed animal.

Granted, my chosen tactic of (loudly and bluntly) telling this father-to-be that he was a moron and an affront to women everywhere if he thought girls couldn't be interested in animals, may have veered towards insanity.

But even now, almost two years later, I stand by the gist of my reaction.

I hate our society's penchant for hyper-sexualizing everything baby. I've written before about the dearth of cheerful unisex baby clothes (I refuse to dress the Grape as a mini jock, a little construction worker or a billboard for the Gap line of clothing stores). And the lack of palette beyond pink in the majority of girls' boutiques leaves me queasy.

But it's worse than just the clothes. Yesterday, a participant on Boston's perennially popular GardenMoms complained about one of my huge pet peeves: the displays at Pottery Barn Kids. She noted that the "boy room" display at our local store featured a telescope, a map and a dictionary. The adjacent "girl room" included a pink vacuum cleaner, ironing board and dustpan.

The first comment on the thread said, "The boy room is great!"

No argument there, except it shouldn't be a boy room.

Little girls can be interested in space, too. I think it's a giant leap backwards when corporate America suggests otherwise. When I was five years old (well before the days of Sally Ride), I spent hours playing astronaut. My lunar landing module was the box which previously housed my family's new refrigerator.

And while we're considering appliances, why are the toy homemaking supplies pink? I get that toddlers want to play at doing the everyday chores they see adults tackling, but seriously: Have any of us ever purchased actual pink appliances? Or whipped up dinner in a cotton candy colored kitchen?

The stores and manufacturers deliver their message with all the subtlety of a (boyish) freight train. Don't even think of buying this stuff for your son, lest you turn him soft.

But what about boys with "softer" tendencies? Some of the most talented artists and best chefs I know happen to be men. You wouldn't know by perusing the boys' section that these would qualify as acceptable inclinations.

I also know plenty of men who resent their parents to this day for espousing an all-boys-love-football mentality, a message the baby decor industry is happy to help new moms and dads convey.

Full disclosure: I haven't set foot in one of Pottery Barn's stores since before the Grape was born, and I know they aren't the sole offender. Indeed the items I have purchased from them have been of good quality. Also, I happen to like flowers and the color pink.

Yet every time their catalog arrives in our mailbox my blood boils.

Maybe it's because I was a little girl who loved animals, climbed trees and asked for books about dinosaurs and a microscope for my birthday. Not that I didn't play with dolls. I had lots of baby dolls and indeed found them far more interesting than actual infants - perhaps because they never fussed, squirmed or drooled. Also they made good fellow astronauts.

The girl down the street had Suzy the Brick.

No, that's not a popular toy of the seventies you missed.

C.'s mom would have needed a sedative if she'd lived to see the PBK nurseries. She bought into the feminist philosophy that girls shouldn't play with homemaker type toys, which in her view included baby dolls.

But some impulses can't be squelched. When my friend C. (who grew up to be a surgeon) was three or four she desperately wanted a baby doll. Her mom refused, so eventually C. hauled home a brick she found, cradled it, fed it a pretend bottle and dressed it in cast off infant clothes.

One of the Grape's favorite toys is a doll stroller. He hasn't had to resort to wheeling construction materials around in it, because I learned something from watching C. play with Suzy the Brick.

And no, I'm not worried about making him girlie, as one relative suggested over the holidays. The Grape is who he is - a little kid who doesn't fit neatly into a nursery scene crafted on Madison Avenue. He plays with strollers and stuffed animals and trucks and blocks. His other favorite toy is a fire engine.

His room is his little sanctuary, filled with his various treasures. If he grows up a bit and wants more gender specific furnishings, I imagine we'll accommodate his wishes.

But for now, sexual identity hasn't crossed his radar. So why on earth would I create a room that enforces 1950's stereotypes - even if the Grape as a boy would land on the "winning end" of those stereotypes?

I wouldn't, obviously, but one disturbing thing is clear: Pottery Barn and other companies make money by selling consumers what the things they want to buy. Do we as a society truly desire such rigid gender differentiation, starting in infancy? Is there some benefit to this thinking that I'm missing?

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Living on Grape Time, Accomplishing Little

One inescapable truth about motherhood is that it's forced me to slow way down. I never thought I had enough hours in my day as a childless adult. Now I'm confounded by this paradox: How can the days go by so slowly, yet the daily accomplishments amount to so little?

First, we must consider basic math. If you have a toddler, each task or activity will take, at minimum, 50 per cent longer than that same task or activity would take without the tot. So a half hour trip through the bank and post office will chew up at least 45 minutes. If you don't budget the extra time, you are guaranteed to face some additional delay, such as thirst, throw up or a hasty retracing of steps to retrieve a Tonka toy quietly dropped fourteen blocks ago.

Once you make it into the bank or post office, it doesn't matter if there's no line, or if your transaction is simple, or if the person helping you is God's gift to customer service, because even if you accomplish your errand in record time, you've already budgeted the extra minutes for crisis management into your agenda. The savings get wasted, somehow, because you don't score enough extra time to embark on a new task.

Certain outings possess an inherently higher degree of difficulty.

Any excursion wherein the Grape comes within touching distance of any food or beverage item automatically takes almost twice as long as the same errand did in the pre-Grape days. Think about it: Before kids, I bet you didn't allot time to re-stack the six foot pyramid of (expensive, organic, imported) tomatoes that your little angel toppled while your attention was oh-so-briefly diverted to the bananas.

Not that this happened earlier today. It's just an example.

In the summer months, the tot time suck factor might decrease to about 35 per cent, since bundling and un-bundling everyone to face the Boston tundra accounts for at least half an hour of each sub-zero outing. During the average day, I spend almost two hours engaged in the act of preparing to leave the apartment.

Please note that parents of children just learning to use the bathroom should go ahead and add the fifteen per cent savings right back in, since we all know that toddlers in training need to seek out and use every disgusting, inconveniently located, disease harboring facility within seventeen blocks of their mom's planned flight path.

There's also an up-charge for children with strong opinions. Say you spend fifteen minutes browsing in a bookstore. You make your selection with your kid smiling happily in his stroller. Maybe you bribe him with a new story book which he clutches proudly in his little hands as you approach the cashier. Then the store's computers go down. The line extends into the street. The clerk summons reinforcements. They all frown and curse the computer. Your kid loses it.

Nothing works. Not singing about Old MacDonald's ducks and pigs in front of two dozen annoyed strangers. Not stale Cheerios excavated from under the stroller. You decide to cut your losses and leave the store.

The Grape (oops, I mean your kid) howls like a monkey when forced to relinquish the board book he'd never heard of but now cannot live without. You've spent a half hour and accomplished nothing. Add to that time the half hour spent leaving the house and the fifteen minutes needed to redirect the little lad after the summary confiscation of his would-be treasure. Now maybe you start to see where your time goes.

The second major toddler time management issue is that, unless you count yourself in the unfortunate minority, your small humans adhere to something resembling a nap schedule.

Naps are great; they save many parents' sanity every day. But, you cannot plan an errand that might infringe on nap time, lest you miss the crucial wind down window. If the tot sails past sleepy time without going down, the rest of his day and yours will, to put it bluntly, suck.

You will do nothing for the rest of the afternoon but beg, plead and cajole the child to go to sleep, until such time as he finally shows signs of succumbing. By then it's too late. If he sleeps during the time formerly known as happy hour, the whole night will be shot.

Which means the next day will be a disaster, which can't happen since you already wasted five-plus hours today fighting with an eighteen-month-old over a two-hour snooze.

At this point the task becomes: keep him up until bedtime at all costs. If this means scrapping the elaborate dinner you'd planned to whip up in order to dump the kid into the tub to keep him alert, so be it.

Another universal truth about naps: If your child senses you have pressing business or a fun social engagement planned, he will sleep like a champ for hours upon hours. If however, it is raining sideways outdoors and you have nothing planned, he'll nap for fifteen minutes. At most.

The third major issue stems from children's biological programming. They must be the center of mom's attention at all times. If that means clinging to your legs and wailing while you make an important phone call, bake a birthday cake or attempt to use the bathroom in peace, that's what they'll do. They want to ensure you accomplish nothing extraneous to their immediate demands and they will pursue that goal with single minded focus.

R. grumbles it's ridiculous that I allow the Grape to follow me to the powder room.

But consider the alternative: At least if the Grape is busy grabbing at my person, I can see him.

Which means I know he's not turning the oven to self-clean mode while the aforementioned cake is in there, or clubbing the dog with his Mozart Cube, or throwing away my favorite earrings, the TV remote and my iPhone.

Not that any of those things happened yesterday...

Friday, February 11, 2011

Decision day for elite pre-schools, just another day for the rest of America

Anyone who harbors any teensy lingering doubt that America has become one of the most class-divided societies on the planet clearly doesn't know any affluent city dwellers.

Because then they'd know that today, in New York City, a certain set of parents are drinking vodka before 9 a.m., popping Ativan, breathing into paper bags and generally ripping their expertly coifed hair out over admissions letters.

Not letters from Yale or MIT or Stanford, silly.

From kindergarten. And pre-school.

They've whipped themselves into fits of apoplexy, because they've been made to believe that if Junior gets denied by the top-tier pre-schools, he can kiss Princeton bye bye. The pre-schools play to such insecurities; many of them proudly list the colleges their "alumni" go on to attend. And this is not some crazy New York thing. While Manhattan may have the most intense pre-school competition, the phenomenon exists in other cities and affluent suburbs.

I have a friend who jokes that she's morphed into a professional pre-school applier. Her family plans to relocate from Boston to New York this year. She has been flying back and forth with her three-year-old to attend tours, parent interviews, child interviews and school-mandated play dates at twelve prestigious pre-schools. Why so many? Because the odds are daunting.

What did she have to do to get to this phase of the process? Answer absurd essay questions such as, "If your child is in a room full of other three-year-olds, how would you tell a stranger to identify him without mentioning any of his physical attributes?"

Hint: Do NOT say he'll be the one in the corner by himself, eating paste.

Some of these schools have three or four open slots for September, and they'll choose their students from a pool of hundreds of applicants.

Friends, vague acquaintances and even complete strangers often ask what I'm going to do about the Grape's schooling. When I tell them I don't know yet, I'm met with incredulous looks.

Which I (kind of) understand. Many of my contemporaries have made the decision to fork over between $16,000 and $23,000 a year for pre-school tuition. They don't want to hear that law school didn't cost that much when I graduated. This set is acutely aware of the price of higher education. What these prospective pre-school parents desire is peer validation that they've made a reasonable investment decision.

And I can't fault them for that. They want to secure the best possible education for their children. As do I. So I haven't ruled any options in or out for the Grape.

One thing I think I'll do is enter him in the public school lottery. Among Boston's hundred and some elementary schools, three stand head and shoulders (and possibly torso) above the rest in terms of academics, facilities and quality of programming. Every year, the city holds a lottery to see which lucky kids will get to attend these stand out schools.

The idea of public school appeals to me; many of the elite private schools lack diversity and I'm loathe to bring the Grape up in a total bubble. But not so loathe that I'd send him to a typical Boston public school.

When the city's school lottery came up in a recent conversation, my dad was incensed. "It's ridiculous. All the schools should be excellent!" he boomed. And just so we're clear, my father is not a bleeding heart liberal. He pretty much views the Internal Revenue Code as a conspiracy directed against him personally. The man resents taxation more than he resents his own mortality.

However, the fact that thousands upon thousands of four-year-olds will have their futures decided by lottery clashes with his image of America.

He's an immigrant and a bootstrap guy, the charismatic type whose success story could be the stuff of a popular feel-good memoir for those who buy rah-rah America kinds of books. Forty years ago, he bought into the concept that America is great because it doesn't matter who your parents are, that everyone gets the same chance.

Which he now concedes is total bullshit.

A lottery, whereby the winners get better teachers, superior materials, a more demanding curriculum and nicer facilities, while the unlucky enter an urban jungle of schools filled with drugs, gangs, outdated textbooks and a pitiful 60% high school graduation rate, offends his sensibilities.

When I think about it in such stark terms, I second guess my plans to enter the Grape in the lottery at all. He could attend private school. So many kids can't.

Should we be taking a spot from someone with no other decent option?

I'm glad I don't need to answer that for another two years. Still, every couple of days, someone asks what am I going to do about educating the Grape. "He's almost two!" they exclaim, as if I haven't noticed.

Here's my stock response:

People can do what they want with their money. I haven't ruled private pre-school out for the Grape (nor have I ruled it in). But I wouldn't drop anywhere near that kind of cash on a two-year-old program. Why? Because if you tour the local pre-schools, you're likely to get the sense that they added "toddler rooms" as an after-thought. That would explain why they're often located in basements, attics and annexes to the main school.

Pre-school administrators sometime in the not-too-distant past realized that parents would be willing to enroll younger and younger children in school. To some degree, the admissions folks exploit parental insecurities; they tell the parents, and it's true, that the kids face less competition at the two-year-old level than in later years. So if you have your heart set on this school, they say, and then their voices trail off, to let the anxious parents do the math.

The Grape will have to take his chances. Because not only do I refuse to pay that kind of money so he can learn his colors and numbers and how to line up for the bathroom, I also think he's better off trooping around town with me that sitting in some classroom devoid of natural lighting.

Maybe during that extra year, Mayor Menino will make good on his promise to start reforming the Boston schools. The Grape will be okay whether he does or not, but so many lottery losers won't.

And that, in the town that hosts more institutions of higher education than any city on the planet, is a travesty.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Free the Grape!

The Grape is all about taking Lila the Dog for walks. He follows her around the living room and festoons the leash over her shoulders, snout, tail or whatever doggie body part he happens to get ahold of. He also believes that since he must suffer the indignity of wearing mittens, then Lila should have to wear her booties whenever she ventures beyond our patio.

Instead of hiding under the dining room table like she does when I say it's time to get dressed, Lila gamely offers her paws for the Grape. I think she's realized he can't actually secure the velcro closures. But the Grape's latest thing is that he wants to take Lila out for a walk by himself.

He herds her towards the door with the leash, tries to apply his own boots and jacket, and shoos Mamma away from the exit. I may not be a parenting genius, but cute as this whole dance is, I recognize that it's a bad idea to let an eighteen-month-old exercise the dog. Or vice versa.

R. and I do speculate about how long it will be until the Grape can run Lila up to the dog park on his own. I imagine it will be several years until both of them learn to look both ways before crossing the street. Judging by the kids I see at the dog park unaccompanied by parents, the age seems to be around second or third grade.

But if the hysteria featured in Britain in this weekend's Express catches on Stateside, then it will be even longer before the boy and his dog can venture out without Mamma.

As Lenore Skenazy recounted in her excellent blog (a link to Free Range Kids is on the right hand side of this page), a woman in the UK was cited by police for leaving her fourteen-year-old home to supervise his three-year-old sibling while she popped over to the grocery shop.

She was absent a half hour, and although no incident occurred, the authorities gave her a warning for "cruelty." Preposterous and laughable, right? Not so much. Under local law, the woman now has a criminal record that disqualifies her from her job as a nursing aide. Incredulous, I had to surf over to the original news article to make sure Lenore got the facts right. Sadly she made no mistake.

This kind of over protection of adolescents makes me crazy.

When I was fourteen, many, many of my contemporaries had already been working paid baby sitting gigs for years. I had my first paid late night baby sitting engagement when I was twelve. And (the horror!) those parents, who left in charge of a four-year-old and a one-year-old, didn't even have a cell phone. It wasn't their fault entirely. The gadget hadn't been invented.

I suppose, looking back, that the reasonable thing for this couple to do would have been to wait until the advent of the Blackberry in order to leave their children in the hands of a CPR certified adult. Preferably one with a Ph.D. in child development.

Not trust that a kid from down the street would have the cerebral capacity to summon both 9-1-1 and her own mom in the event of a true emergency.

I never really enjoyed baby sitting. I wasn't a fan of other people's kids and greatly preferred to spend my time (and pick up a couple of extra dollars now and then) by doing manual labor around other people's horses. Yes, that was an inherently dangerous activity. No, my parents didn't agonize over whether to let me handle thousand-pound animals or expose myself to all manner of germs and worms. They figured barn work was, like baby sitting, a good way to learn a little responsibility. They were right.

Once a week, I rode five miles from one barn to another by myself, through the woods and across a busy road, to take a lesson. In the winter, it was dark on the way home. I was fourteen when I started doing this. Nobody thought much of it. These days my mom would probably get hauled off to jail for allowing this weekly adventure.

Maybe I was a weird kid, but I savored those solitary jaunts through the woods. It makes me sad to think the Grape will likely never enjoy a comparable opportunity.

When my sister was about a year and a half old, my mother routinely left her with me (age 11) or my brother (age 8) so that she could run quick errands unencumbered by the baby. We all survived. I remember it was kind of fun to be left in charge for short spells.

And I was in the first grade when I realized that a good third of my class mates were what we used to call "latch key kids," meaning they went home to empty houses after school. Would parents who permit this practice today risk ending up as featured freaks on the evening news?

I don't buy that the world is so much more dangerous now that it was then. Yes, there are more cars speeding down country roads. And perhaps there are more twisted deviants out there; although I would wager not.

The majority of basic household hazards remain the same today as they were thirty years ago. Yet we're more able than ever to summon help by a broad spectrum of communication devices.

If kids never get to be responsible for anything, or never have to make snap decisions, why are we surprised when our high schoolers perform abysmally on critical thinking tests? News flash: critical thinking is one of those things, just like riding a bike, that you cannot learn from a textbook. You need to practice, and experience the inherent setbacks, in order to learn.

Even more troubling: If we don't allow fourteen-year-olds to stay home alone, or to take on any modicum of responsibility for themselves or anyone else, does it make sense that we routinely issue them cars two short years later? Anyone want to run the numbers on how many teens die in automobile wrecks versus how many adolescents perish while home alone or home with a sibling?

The Grape won't be walking the dog unaccompanied any time soon. But the day will come that I let him run across the street to the park or leave him in front of the TV to go buy a carton of milk. I can't say for certain when that day will come, but I promise it's not twelve years away.
Because I believe that if I want to free his mind, to let him grow into a thinking, deliberative little person, it can't be done without allowing a taste of physical freedom first.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Of crime, punishment and Tabasco(?!)

The first thing I thought when I heard about the hot sauce mom was that her chosen disciplinary methods, namely forcing her seven-year-old son to drink hot sauce before shoving him into an icy shower, are abusive.

For the record, the authorities agree. Prosecutors in Anchorage, Alaska have charged Jessica Beagley with child abuse. The basic facts of the case are not in dispute, as the incident was recorded on video and aired on national television.

The second thought that crossed my mind is that I bet Ms. Beagley is a product of the parochial school system. Because doesn't the idea of punishment via hot sauce have a certain nun-school feel to it? (Although I suppose Biblical purists would give a naughty child vinegar to drink, but I digress.)

Because I grew up in the nation's most Catholic state, many of my contemporaries endured physical punishments that could be politely described as "creative" at the hands of their nun teachers. Forget the ruler-wielding stereotypes; palm slapping is for novices.

Some of the senior nuns practiced true sadism. My sister-in-law recalls kneeling, bare legged, on uncooked elbow macaroni. She had to hold up a Bible while doing so, though not read from it. I'm still hazy on what purpose that element served.

When I first heard about the macaroni punishment, I wondered whether the nuns had to do penance afterwards, for the sin of wasting food.

I'm told parochial teachers in the south preferred to use uncooked grits. The choice of starch is irrelevant; it's the twisted nature of the punishment - one that inflicts prolonged discomfort - that makes it so objectionable. Just like the methods used by Ms. Beagley.

My parents sent my brother to a Catholic high school, even though we weren't Catholic, because they felt he "needed more structure than the public school could provide."

I joke that they basically outsourced beating him.

I remember him catching backhands from the monks for a wide variety of transgressions: calling his Italian teacher a Smurf, forgetting his Bible or requesting the wrong thing for lunch on a Friday during Lent. Obviously the parents who sent their kids to the school had no issue with heavy handed maintenance of order; indeed they paid good money for it.

Though the brothers were rough, they weren't noted for devising tortures reminiscent of the more shameful days of their Church. At least back in the eighties, that rendered their brand of corporal punishment acceptable.

Those holy brothers sometimes veered towards practicality, though, and believed physical labor benefitted the soul. My brother and his companions spent several detentions stacking kegs for the brothers' weekend libations. This turned out to be good preparation for pledging a fraternity three years later, but I bet it would be frowned upon nowadays.

Before you accuse me of Catholic bashing, let me point out that several Christian parenting sites (the majority of which profess Protestant affiliations) advocate "hot saucing" and ice water immersion, among other punishments. Many of them also recommend beating kids with sticks or belts, which surprises me since it's settled law that inflicting bruises or cuts constitutes criminal abuse.

I humbly suggest the following handy rule of thumb (no irony intended): if the Central Intelligence Agency can get into trouble for perpetrating an act on a suspected enemy combatant, then don't use that method on your kid.

Such a regulation would encompass beating, freezing, scalding, humiliation, sleep deprivation, sensory overload and forced eating.

A third, and perhaps more troublesome, thought struck me as I watched Matt Lauer interview his assembled child rearing experts after presenting the hot sauce mom clip. He, like I, was appalled by the video. But, and this is a BIG but, he was visibly skeptical of the featured pediatricians' condemnation of all physical punishment for children who have reached the age of reason.

Let me be crystal clear: I am not talking about babies or toddlers here. I am talking about kids in the elementary school set and older.

As Matt Lauer observed earlier today, reasonable adults can discern a VAST difference between an open handed "swat on the derriere" and the systematic torture of a child. While the latter is always abhorrent, I believe the former, when administered calmly, can provide a lasting deterrent more effectively than an impotent time out.

No one should ever be beaten. But sometimes a smack is justified when a parent needs to make sure a message is received. The most common scenario I've heard from friends who normally eschew physical punishment: I whacked my kid when he/she maliciously hurt the dog/cat/smaller child.
Why resort to a well placed smack in those instances? Swift certainty. The Grape isn't old enough for this to apply in our household, and I honestly cannot imagine my animal-loving angel maliciously hurting one of our pets. But if he ever does, I won't think twice about making sure he regrets it sorely.

I also know a few moms who spank their kids fairly frequently. I don't think it makes them bad parents, and I disagree with those who say that all physical punishment should be made criminal. (Although picture a chain gang of nuns for second. Funny, no?)

Seriously, though. My brother and I got slapped once in a while, and it didn't do us any harm. When we were pre-pubescent brats our au pair, whose job was to look after our much younger sister, would whack us with her shoe when we got particularly obnoxious. I'll say this: it wasn't pleasant, but it did have the desired effect of chilling bratty behavior. And neither of us has morphed into a sadistic psycho as a result. Although we did once hose down a less imposing (male) sitter with ketchup and mustard, if you consider that a violent outburst.

Maybe if it remained socially acceptable to swat your kids from time to time, parents wouldn't resort to more creative, infinitely crueler punishments. According to the Today show's poll of five thousand American parents, a full third find "hot saucing" acceptable.

I vigorously disagree with the hot sauce camp, but I leave you with this thought: at some point, most parents will need an option besides time out. I'm not saying the correction must be physical, but parents should feel able to discuss stricter disciplinary alternatives with pediatricians and other professionals, without fear of being branded abusers.

Swatting the kid's posterior isn't torture. Dousing him in freezing water after burning his throat is. Enough said.