Tuesday, July 24, 2012

A note to my readers

An anonymous comment generated by my recent post Tricky Mittens prompts me to write this note to my readers. And because it came on the heels of another bizarre interaction (see below), I'm breaking with my policy of ignoring the trolls.

Dear readers:

Thank you very much for stopping by and reading The Little Grape. The views expressed in all posts on this blog are my own, and as the blog's subheading suggests, I tackle a variety of topics. Because 2012 is an election year, and I feel strongly about the candidates and issues, I write about politics from time to time.

If you believe I've made a factual error in a post, please send me an email or leave a comment to the post in question. If you can cite a reputable source, I'll gladly print a correction and/or apology.

However, I make no apologies for, or secret of, my politics. If you don't like my opinions, you are most welcome to leave a comment expressing your dissent. I'll publish all civil comments, regardless of viewpoint. You all, my valued readers, are every bit as entitled to your opinions as I am to mine.

But if the viewpoints of one mom/writer make you apoplectic enough to call me unprintable names, and do so anonymously, you're probably best advised to seek content elsewhere on the Internet.

I stand by my (wholly unoriginal) assertion that Mr. Romney's tax returns contain something (or many things) that wouldn't play well with the American public. My twelve guesses as to what could be in the Romney returns are just that: my  guesses, based on voracious reading of the news and commentary, including much written by several respected right-leaning writers.

Finally, I also respectfully request that the person or persons who subscribe to this blog and vent their frustrations with my viewpoints to my male parent: Please knock it off.  I'm a grown up, and not a newly minted one at that. If you don't like what I'm writing, kindly have the spine to say it to me directly.

My father is a class act. He's been a tremendous source of inspiration and support during my midlife career change. He would never presume to tell me what to write (or not write), even if he disagrees with my perspectives. And for that I am deeply grateful.

Shattering the Stratospheric Glass Ceiling

I was one of those many kids captivated by all things outer space. I spent hours in our basement playroom, pretending to be an astronaut in my space capsule, the big cardboard box that once contained our new refrigerator. I passed my late elementary school years in blissful ignorance that my lack of interest in math and physics and my propensity for motion sickness would pretty much disqualify me from a future with NASA.

Though I remember watching Sally Ride rocket into orbit on June 18, 1983, shattering the stratospheric glass ceiling, I doubt my ten-year-old self appreciated the full significance of the event.

Nor did I grasp how much some in the boys' club resented her. She endured countless patronizing jokes (Johnny Carson quipped that the shuttle launch would be delayed because she couldn't settle on a handbag and shoes) and stupid questions from legitimate journalists (such as whether she was worried traveling into space would harm her chances of having children). No writer, to the best of my knowledge, had ever inquired  as to whether male astronauts feared the effects of all those G-forces on sperm production.

Sally Ride died yesterday from pancreatic cancer.

Three things I learned from her obituary:

Although NASA had made a commitment to hire women, Sally Ride's first trip into space wasn't tokenism or a publicity stunt, like the tragically doomed Teacher in Space mission of 1986. Dr. Ride was instrumental in developing the shuttle's now famous robotic arm. The commander of the mission chose her because of her expertise with the device.

After retiring from NASA, Dr. Ride taught at Stanford and at the University of California at San Diego.  She started a company, Sally Ride Science, with a goal of making science and math more interesting to junior high school students, particularly girls. Dr. Ride  believed too many girls with aptitude for the sciences were pressured into different directions during the critical middle school years. Her company set up science fairs and festivals around the country, and provided teacher training work shops, with a focus on providing girls with female role models in the science world. In short, she worked hard to make the sciences cool.

Aside: I don't have a daughter, but if I ever hear the Grape saying that some jobs are for boys and others are for girls, I assure you he'll have another think coming.

Dr. Ride is survived by her partner of 27 years, who will not be eligible for federal survivorship benefits because of the misguided, discriminatory and harmful Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).

Any politician out there praising Dr. Ride's contributions to science and society should be ready to answer why we Americans, in 2012, allow a second class of citizenship.

Godspeed, Dr. Ride. I hope the view from wherever you are now is fantastic.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Tricky Mittens

This post is not about those vexing infant and toddler sized hand coverings, though I admit to crying tears of frustration at least once, whilst attempting to wrangle the Grape's tiny fingers and thumbs into their proper slots in well-padded winter gear.

Nope, this post is about why, when presumptive GOP presidential nominee Willard Mitt Romney appears on the Nightly News, I feel alright about telling the Grape, "That's a bad man."

The Grape, like many thinking people, finds Bad Man Mitt very frightening. The other night, he pointed to the TV in near panic. "Mamma, the Bad Man is holding a baby!"

I assured the Grape that the infant in question appeared likely to survive its ordeal.

I figure if every mother invented by the folks at Disney deserves the moniker "evil," Mitt more than qualifies as "bad." Rotten to his soulless core, I suspect. And while I make no apologies about my politics, my disgust for Mitt Romney is unlike anything I've ever felt for any candidate for high office.

Let's take George W. Bush. I disagreed vehemently with most of his policies. Like Mittens, W was born on third base believing he'd hit a triple.

Yet I understood W's appeal. I bet he'd make an excellent neighbor, a fun participant in a group outing or double date situation, or a popular Little League coach. I suspect W was, in many respects, pushed into a job he never truly wanted by his hyper-ambitious mother (Disney people- are you paying attention?), and perhaps felt over his head during his tenure.

Mittens, on the other hand, makes Richard Nixon seem likable. I cannot name one positive thing about him, in terms of politics or character. Mittens is smarmy and inarticulate during his best moments. His wife, whom he by all accounts adores, is an oblivious twit. Together, hawkish draft dodger Mitt and his wife have raised five sons, none of whom has given a day of his life to any type of national service. Mitt has shown, time and time again, his willingness to say anything to get elected, to throw women and gay people under the bus to pander to the right wing, and to refuse to correct his wife when she whines, "It's our turn [to be the nominee]." (!?)

Here is more on Mitt's lack of character and unfortunate stands on some important social issues.

None of this would be worth re-visiting in this space, but for Mitt's refusal to release several years of tax returns.

Indeed, Mitt's behavior on this issue is so distasteful  that respected conservative columnists like Charles Krauthammer, Bill Kristol and George Will  have joined every other educated person in America in demanding that Mittens release several years of his tax returns.

John McCain, the only person to have seen Mitt's returns, picked a political novice and college dropout as his running mate. Over Governor Romney and all his business experience.

I bet there's something damning - maybe career ending - in those returns. Something that will show the world Mitt's true colors.

Reasonable minds may conclude his refusal to release returns is due to at least one, and quite probably more than one, of the following reasons. The longer he sits on the returns, the longer the parlor game guessing can go on. Here are some of the most compelling theories:

1. Mitt's tax returns from 1999-2002 likely show income from Bain, from which he purported to retire before that time.

2. Because 2009 was a disastrous year for many investors, Mitt probably paid ZERO U.S. income tax during that year. Meanwhile, average Americans were losing their homes, and truly self made small business owners took their lumps and still paid income taxes to Uncle Sam, many at a marginal rate of 35 per cent.

3. Mitt has a hundred million dollars in an offshore IRA. This isn't normal. His tax returns might shed light on how that account grew to such an eye-popping size.

4. Mitt has money in blind trusts, which aren't truly blind. By his own admission, in 1994 when the trusts were established, he "gave rules" to the blind trusts, and explained to reporters that "they're not really blind." The returns might show the blind trusts are actually just a little myopic.

5. Mitt's returns might show evidence of felonious money laundering through shell corporations in Bermuda, the Caymans, and/or elsewhere.

6. Mitt's returns might show that he established offshore shell corporations so that he could avoid U.S. taxes by posing as a foreign corporation. I.e. Mitt forms XYZ Corporation in Bermuda. XYZ Corporation, now a foreign investor out of reach of the IRS, makes investments in the U.S. with Mitt's money.

7. The entire rationale for Mitt's campaign is that because he was a successful businessman, he is qualified to manage the economy. If the returns show Mitt cheated the Treasury, that argument falls like a house of cards.

8. Maybe Mitt (and his wife) give nothing to charity. It's not illegal to be a self-absorbed stingy person, but it doesn't look good. Aside: The Mormon Church, to which Mitt claims to tithe ten percent of his income, should not be a charity. It spends a fortune on political activities, e.g., the referendum on California's Proposition 8. But then, what can we expect from a "church" that preaches that its male members will get planets to rule when they die - to be populated by their wives. Sounds a lot like that 76 virgins bit to me, but I digress.

9. Mitt released his 2010 tax return earlier this year, and it turns out that one measly snapshot wasn't even complete. Obviously he can afford competent accountants who would never omit a section while preparing a client's taxes. Reasonable conclusion: He's hiding something in the missing pages.

10. The returns might show Mitt is a lot richer than he claims. Which is a big deal, not because he has all that money, but because he's lied about it, both in conversations with the public and on financial disclosure forms while serving in Massachusetts.

11. Perhaps Mitt claimed amnesty for tax evasion through Swiss accounts during 2009.

12. The returns may show something so beyond the pale it defies even the most active imaginations.

George Will nailed the crux of many conservatives' disgust with their man this past weekend. He said that Mitt knew, the minute McCain lost in 2008, that he would be a candidate for president in 2012. Wouldn't a smart person have taken that opportunity to set his financial house in order? Perhaps Mitt isn't so smart after all. Perhaps he's an idiot savant: he excels at one thing (managing leveraged buy outs) but thinks like a simpleton about everything else.

Either that or he's playing the population for fools.  Not smart, Mitt.

Self made business owners who play by the rules and pay their fair share, even if they do so with a bit of grumbling, don't like cheats.

I figure Mitt should have paid, over the years, at least 15 to 35 per cent of every dollar in taxes. By dodging the IRS, he's been able to reinvest the money he should have paid, over and over again. If he so badly wants to be president, let him dip into his own money. Because he's gamed the IRS over the years, he has more than he should.

The way I see it, anyone worth a few million dollars, or heck, even a few dozen million dollars, who gives Mitt Romney a red cent of his or her hard earned cash is a total idiot.

It's not good to be an idiot. But, as the Grape already knows, it's even worse to be a Bad Man.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Narcissism at a whole new level (and this one isn't about toddlers)

Just when I think no ridiculous, look-at-me trend can surprise me, I catch wind of a perhaps not-so-nascent fad: gender reveal parties.

Excuse me while I gag.

Alright, I'm back and sufficiently regrouped to press onward.

It appears, based on my weekly perusal of the busy Boston GardenMoms message board and a quick Google search, that a certain cadre of parents-to-be have devised such celebrations as a way of showcasing their narcissism  - at a previously unimaginable level.

And there is no reason, other than runaway parental narcissism, to host such an affair.

Let's review. You know the sex of your fetus. Yay for you! Sure, your friends and family are curious, but here's the bottom line: Nobody cares about the sex of a baby nearly as much as the parents to be. Not the grandparents. Not your BFF. Not your twin sister.


And if your friends gamely manage to muster some enthusiasm for your "big" surprise, it certainly won't reach a level at which said friends are happy to give up a perfectly good Saturday, schlep to whatever venue, bonus gift in hand (see below), to sit around and eat cake (with an either pink or blue center) while mustering fake squeals of joy.

And since gender determination technology is available by twenty weeks' gestation, (i.e. well before the time of a traditional baby shower), the "gender reveal party" is really a double dip on the present shakedown.

Double dipping is not something we as a society should encourage.

Not just because of the money, though that's a factor for most people.

I like buying baby gifts. Little stuff is cute and cuddly, and more so since I'm done having babies. But I prefer to buy gifts for kids who actually exist.

Out of cultural necessity, I've made a tenuous peace with showers - though I still find the idea of saying, "Hey! Come over and make sure you bring presents!" kind of icky, and never allowed one in my honor for that reason.

I've been to some appalling ones, and some quite classy ones, along the way.

Of course the appalling ones stick with me. I've never fathomed why any woman would allow a guessing game regarding her girth, or allow such a waste of diapers (the most needed item listed at most women's shelters) and fill landfills with idiotic parlor games like "stinky diaper." (Yes, it's real. I have seen it with my own eyes, though as a matter of aesthetics, I could not bring myself to participate.)

I'm not an extremist. I think showers have their place. If a mom-to-be is stretched financially, it's a loving and supportive act to shower her with the necessities, and some of the fun, adorable stuff, too. If she's got plenty of resources, I frankly stop seeing the point. Yes, it's a celebration, but as soon as the s-word appears on the invitation, gifts become expected rather than merely accepted.

Personally, I think it's more fun to give and receive spontaneously.

I watched about eighty per cent of a cute indie film called "Friends With Kids" on a recent plane ride. Why eighty per cent? Because the Grape woke up and reset the film. I couldn't fast forward or rewind to catch the ending.

Anyway, there's a great little scene wherein the female lead is on the phone, ordering personalized baby gifts. "I'll need eight boy versions, and six girl ones...  Wait. Did you say $1800 plus shipping? Yeah, um, I'm going to need to make some tough decisions and call you back." That's how your single friends likely feel. Babies, like marriages, tend to occur in waves within social circles. I know, pre-Grape, I would have balked at the idea of a third gift for a single birth.

Just like I'm balking at it now.

Gender reveal parties?! Seriously. You're going to be a parent. Grow up. It's not all about you anymore.

Monday, July 9, 2012

The Grape enjoys la dolce vita

We returned this weekend from the most ambitious trip R. and I have undertaken since the Grape arrived on the scene almost three years ago. Ambitious because it involved a significant time change, a trans-Atlantic red eye and a good deal of in-country schlepping, by which I mean packing up and switching hotels every few nights. We moved often enough in the span of almost three weeks that when we landed at Logan (our home airport) and collected our bags, the Grape asked if we were going to another hotel.

As expected, travel with the Grape wasn't always a picnic. He screamed like an extra in a cheap horror flick for the first three and a half hours of the late night trans-Atlantic hop. And no, the businessmen in nearby seats understandably did not care that he had missed the window to go to sleep and completed a death spiral into over wrought delirium. Now that we're home, fierce jet lag is kicking us all in the teeth. The Grape is up and ready to rock no later than 4 a.m.

But the trip was a resounding success, thanks to a couple of key factors. First, we went to Italy, a country I feel fortunate to have visited many times. So there wasn't pressure to see every site. R. went out a few times on his own to see the big museums while the Grape and I took a siesta. I took those hours back in beach time, where I devoured an astounding three novels in five days while the Grape and R. napped.

Second, we built in almost a week at the beach to counter balance a week and change of culture and visits to various relations. The Grape actually applauded this decision. "This is vacation, Mamma," he told me when I procured a shovel and bucket, slathered him in sun block and dunked him in the Mediterranean.

But most important to the success of our adventure was the simple fact that the Italian birth rate has slowed to a trickle. Consequently, babies are a big deal almost everywhere you go. The Grape, while no longer an infant, evidently qualified as a bambino.

We didn't have to pay to get him into museums he found interesting for the first four minutes, since cut offs for free admission are a decade more generous than here at home. R. and I took turns viewing the treasures and preventing the Grape from destroying priceless works. While visiting churches, we marveled at his fascination with two features: painted ceilings and confessional booths. (When asked about the latter, I explained that they are kind of like toll booths on the super highway of sin. The Grape looked at me like I was a moron and pronounced them forts.)

The Grape really enjoyed looking at fountains and indulging in aperitivo hour - a nightly event during which R. and I prayed our drinks would arrive before the Grape reached the end of the bowl of complementary chips. Luckily the baby card landed us with limitless high value snacks.

We played the baby card up and down the peninsula - to score coveted beach chairs by the water, to get free stuff from room service, to get the tables we wanted in restaurants (no small concern when a typical dinner lasts close to three hours).

Which are no longer the tables we would have desired before having the Grape. We happily requested the loud ones near the non-stop show of the kitchen, or better, by the neglected seats by the entrance, where the Grape could explore between courses without interfering with other diners. In my childless days, I'd wait hours to avoid such low rent restaurant geography; now we sought it out, ate like kings and kept the annoyance of other patrons to a minimum. And really, any one silly enough to eat at the blue hair and high chair hour shouldn't be surprised to see kids at the next table, even in Italy when the aforementioned hour begins at 7:30 p.m.

For the first few days of our trip, the Grape whined that he wanted to go home and repeatedly demanded snacks not readily available in Italy.

I know I could have packed Goldfish and peanut butter, but I was too afraid that's the way those affected college kids who tote mac and cheese in a box on junior year abroad get started.

When in Rome, as they say, eat like Romans do. Or don't.  It turns out a toddler can stay alive and in fairly good spirits on nothing more than milk, strawberries, apples, bread and sweets, particularly chocolate gelato.

Fortunately, the complaints dropped off after the first seventy-two hours. Even more fortunately, he conked out before dinner the first two nights. R. and I enjoyed two incredibly civilized and memorable restaurant meals while the Grape snored softly in his stroller next to our table, undisturbed as the waiters reached over his inert form to pour more wine.

We had some bumps after he acclimated to Central European time. In Naples, stressed by the maniacal drivers whose tires barreled towards us relentlessly at little kid eye level, he melted down completely in the birthplace of pizza. On the way out, deep in disgrace, he recovered sufficiently to point out a family of four traveling at breakneck speed on a Vespa. (Not an uncommon site in old Napoli - Kid A stands between dad's feet, dad drives, Kid B, often with pacifier going furiously, sits sandwiched between parents, mom rides in back.)

We had a wonderful meal our second night at the coast. The Grape ate what the waiters put in front of him, charmed the hostess, which netted a visit to the kitchen to meet the chef as well as a souvenir chef hat, and called the owner beautiful, which netted free desserts. When we returned two nights later, the Grape refused to eat, refused to stay in his chair and made several loud breaks for the beach.  If we'd stayed beyond the second course, they might have encouraged us to leave.

Which really isn't all that different than what might happen if we tried to visit a neighborhood restaurant here at home more than once in the same week. Travel with a toddler is ultimately like living with one - you take the good with the bad. For anyone on the fence about taking a big trip with a little kid, I vote go. Life is short, and I've never once regretted time and money spent seeing the world.