Friday, October 26, 2012

Things That Go Bump in the Night

The Grape sleepwalks.

It's kind of a nightmare. Not for him; he's not the least bit terrified of his nocturnal sojourns around the apartment. It's a nightmare for the rest of us. Every night for several weeks, R. and I have woken, multiple times most nights, to calls of "Stuck! Stuck!"

The Grape may not be awake, but once he's marched himself into a corner, or into the bathtub, or face first into an armchair, he's coherent enough to realize his pickle (at least subconsciously). We bolt to his side, marvel ("He really is asleep!?"), and steer the somnolent Grape back to bed, where if we're lucky, he remains until daybreak.

I understand sleep walking is a phase, it's not all that rare, and there's nothing to be done. We need to wait it out and hope it stops.

"When?" I asked the pediatrician this week.

"Usually by high school," she says, with a smile somewhere between encouraging and mocking.


Note to self: Stop talking about sacking the doctor and get it done already.

We've taken all the well-duh actions other parents ask us if we've considered. When the Grape took his second nighttime stroll, R. and I realized we didn't dream the first sleep walking incident. Our apartment is now Fort Knox. The Grape may wander, but he's not getting as far as the great outdoors. Or even the building's common hallway. We installed a really noisy knob on his door. If he leaves the bedroom, we hear him well before he can pitch himself down the stairs.

The animals get into the act, too.

Lucy the Kitten takes the Grape's sleep walking as some kind of secret signal to rouse herself and transform into Crazy Cat, a wild-eyed maniac who charges up and down the stairs like her life might depend on making maximum noise. Lila the Dog reluctantly hauls herself from bed and paces the hallway, panting and fretting over her charge. The Grape maybe oblivious to his unnerving behavior, but he's giving the rest of us agita.

The main issue with the Grape's sleep walking isn't that we need to shepherd him back to bed, or that we need to calm the menagerie after doing so. It's that I'm a lousy sleeper, and have been my entire adult life.

Once I'm up, I'm awake, whether it's a civilized hour or not.

I seethe in jealousy of those people who can pass out as soon as their heads hit pillows. The ones who can deal with a minor interruption and return to bed to wake rested and ready to rock. It's so bad that if I could magically change one thing about myself, I wouldn't wish for less belly or more height, less angst or more charm.

I'd use my wish to turn myself into a good sleeper. Or better: I'd morph into one of those rarified creatures who thrives on three or four hours a night.

Since the Grape's sleep walking phase started, I've averaged less than five hours a night—not nearly enough for my sleep dependent body. I feel like we have a newborn in the house, because I can't shake that bone tired feeling that affects everything in our day to day lives.

Chronic sleep deprivation makes me less  productive. I make sloppy mistakes and forget things. I have a shorter fuse and less enthusiasm. All of which feels even worse because we're completely in the dark as to when we might expect this latest little odyssey to end.

I'm hopeful (for no articulable reason) that one night in the very near future, the Grape will just stop strolling while a-snooze. Because the sunken eyed, dark circled ghoulish look I've been sporting goes out of fashion in under a week.

On that note, happy Halloween. May your little goblins not go bump in the night.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Blogging from the Left Coast

Dear Readers:

I'm delighted to be a guest at the incredible Style Substance Soul website today. The wonderful women who run the site let me write about two topics I love: the relationship between contemporary fiction and socio-political discourse, AND my upcoming second novel The K Street Affair.

I hope you'll surf over and take a look. Thank you, and happy weekend.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Publish the names of men who pay for sex

I'm often surprised by some of the news stories that gain national traction, although maybe I shouldn't be. Any local scandal involving sex and money probably stands an even money chance of grabbing headlines from coast to coast.

So maybe it's not the stories, but the angles I find perplexing. Today, all over the morning shows and the blogosphere, legal experts of varying pedigree are engaged in handwringing over whether or not a court in the lovely little town of Kennebunk, Maine did the right thing by allowing the police department to publish a list of men arrested for soliciting sex from a prostitute who happened to moonlight as a Zumba instructor.

Of course the police should publish the johns' names. 

Why should an arrest for solicitation of sex be treated any differently from any other arrest? If law enforcement has probable cause to arrest and charge the suspect, why not publicize that information?

Look at any police beat column in any local paper. You'll find names, ages and addresses of citizens arrested and charged with various offenses, ranging from driving while intoxicated to simple assault to breaking and entering to possession of marijuana. Sometimes you'll even see their occupations.

Why not treat johns the same way?

Many of the talking heads on television, along with many in the defense bar, say that publishing the names of johns causes damage to their reputations and families. There's an unappetizing, boys-will-be-boys flavor to such arguments.

Details remain incomplete in the Kennebunk case, but some of the johns are rumored to be members of law enforcement, which if true, could explain local zeal for a cover up.

Perhaps these johns should have considered the potential fallout before committing their crimes.

Protecting those who pay for sex perpetuates the myth that most prostitutes are entrepreneurs— seductresses who tempt God fearing, unsuspecting family men off the straight and narrow. 

Sounds like Taliban reasoning to me. 

The thought of treating men who pay for sex like victims should shock our collective conscience. 

Why? A small percentage of prostitutes may indeed by entrepreneurs. But the vast majority are the real victims. There's a pervasive myth about women entering prostitution to afford drugs, but according to reputable studies, including those undertaken by the My Life, My Choice project here in Boston and GEMS in New York City, the average age a girl enters prostitution in New England is twelve.


Most of the child and teenage prostitutes are introduced to drugs by their pimps, the same men who sell them in online ads, beat them, isolate them, and traffic them across state lines to wherever great demand for paid sex exists (major sporting events such as the Super Bowl, the recent RNC convention in Tampa, etc.). 

And guess what career options are open to a girl who spends her teens selling her body instead of attending school? Let alone one who's repeatedly jailed while the men who participate in her crime walk with a slap on the wrist and a sealed record. Aside: I believe anyone convicted of paying for sex with a minor should be required to register as a sex offender. The alleged prostitute in this case, Alexis Wright, is an adult, so the buying-sex-with-a-minor issue is not at play here.

Don't get me wrong. I'm all for throwing the book at pimps, the only entrepreneurs in the majority of prostitution transactions.

But I'd love to see us rethink the entire jurisprudence of prostitution, by decriminalizing the actions of the prostitutes and prosecuting the johns far more zealously. As countries like Sweden that have gone this route have discovered, fines and the threat of public disgrace can go a long way to thwarting demand.

To that end, here is the Kennebunk Police Department's list of men charged with buying sex from a prostitute in the so-called Zumba scandal: Gary Bahlkow, Jens Bergen, Norman Crepeau, Joseph Cuetara, Kenneth Fairbanks, Donald Hill, Monie Hobbs, David Kline, Robert Labonte, Dale Madore, Paul Main, Harry McMann, Kevin Pagliccia, Claude Palmer, Philip Parker, Colin Powers, Clinton Ray, James Soule, John Verreault, James White, and Peter Wormell. 

More names will likely follow. 

Each accused john will have his day in court, just like any other citizen who finds him or herself charged with a crime. I wager we'll see many of them plead no contest. In any case, I hope the papers continue to cover the proceedings against these men, and I hope other jurisdictions will follow suit. Pay for sex, get your name in the paper.

Who knows? Perhaps a weekly column listing arrested johns would even save jobs by boosting straggling newspaper sales.

Monday, October 8, 2012

And on his farm he had a jumpy castle and a camel

Last week the Grape asked me where the farmer's market goes when it's not set up in Copley Square.

I told him the farmers pack up all the stuff they don't sell and go home to their farms.

He blinked at me, trying to process and failing.

I asked, "Where do you think the fruits and vegetables come from?"

"From the fruit and vegetable trucks," he said, with a sidelong glance implying he thought me somewhat limited.

On this gorgeous October Saturday, R. and I took the Grape on an outing to the nearest open-to-the-public farm we could find: a pick your own apple orchard whose website advertised farm animals as a side attraction.

We arrived to find a vast parking lot not unlike one you might encounter at an amusement park. "We're going to be parked in Dopey," R. said, as he navigated the rows, a reference to a far out corner of the lot in Disney World.

It turned out that everyone was parking in Dopey, because it cost an eye popping $14 a nose to set foot on the property. This struck me as crazy, perhaps because I grew up on a rural road where one could view all manner of livestock for free. And also because I've always assumed apples you pick yourself should be cheaper than ones harvested by others and trucked to the local grocer.

Seriously, though, I'm grudgingly okay with admission fees if charging them makes it feasible for the proprietor to keep substantial acreage so close to the city engaged in agriculture.

The cover charge included all manner of hayrides and other amusements for the Grape. It did not include the pony ride, a five dollar add-on featuring resigned but well-groomed shetlands spinning on a hot walker in an open sided shed.

He LOVED that unremarkable little pony ride. So much so that he asked if he could have a pony.

"What would you do with a pony?"

"Ride it to the aquarium," he said, with another withering look that clearly questioned my intelligence.

Because obviously an urban kid, who has no idea what ponies eat or where they sleep or how much space and maintenance they require, thinks such an arrangement would work out just fine. The pony could sleep next to Lila the Dog on its own memory foam pet bed.

The Grape had a blast on our fall farm outing, and I chalked the day up as a victory since he clearly learned that apples grow on trees rather than inside tractor trailers.

R. and I were pleased (and relieved) that he loved the actual apple picking part of the afternoon.

But he definitely went home with some wrong ideas about farms. The heifers, goats, geese, sheep and pigs on display looked more like someone's pets than anyone's livelihood. The featured critters were all incredibly cute examples of their respective species, and seemed ill suited for frank discussions regarding our place in the food chain.

The Grape also walked away with the impression that a farm is a sparkling clean and user friendly place (the trees were pruned in the espalier fashion to ensure easy access to abundant fruit for pint sized pickers). He also went home secure in the belief that farms feature jumpy castles, giant slides, lemonade stands, tractors dressed up like trains, and camels.

Yes, camels.

This last tidbit is especially problematic, since now that the Grape's version of Old MacDonald's farm will forevermore feature dromedaries, I need to figure out what noise the beasts emit. In my very limited experience, they do this unattractive thing between a bellow and a bray. And then they spit in your face for good measure.

Maybe I should just count myself lucky the Grape didn't come home begging for a camel of his own.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

You can't go back. Or can you?

For the past couple of months, the Grape (who is just north of three years old) has decided he wishes to be a baby.

At first I laughed and ignored his insistent pronouncements. All toddlers like to pretend. On any given day a preschooler could decide to be a child of the opposite sex, a dog, a cow, a rhinoceros, an astronaut, a sailor, a parent... You get the idea. Playing pretend forms the cornerstone of many children's games that are probably as old as childhood itself. "You be the teacher. I'll be the doctor," etc.

I am all about imaginary play. The Grape may be a sheltered only child, but he's not an unusually babyish kid. He has an excellent vocabulary, good motor control, and that irrepressible urge to insist on doing everything by himself. He can transition from one thing to the next without a freak out, and he's blessed with a near saintly attention span.

But this week, I've started wondering: What if the Grape isn't pulling my leg? He jumps into and out of all kinds of pretend roles throughout the course of a typical day at home or school. He is beginning to understand what's real and what's made up. He knows, when he measures my blood pressure with the cuff in his doctor kit, that whatever ailment I land with during the course of the game is in his head. And it's never something a bandaid can't fix.

The Grape has been telling me for the past couple of weeks that he wants to go back to the two-year-old room at school. At first I thought he might be homesick. We went to say hello to his old teachers and then proceeded to the three-year-old room, which is packed with his little friends. He likes these friends. He talks about how much fun they are all the time.

We said hi to the former teachers in the hallway a couple of times and then the Grape dropped the request. For about a week, he bounded happily into the three-year-old room. Until this week.

Since the weekend, he has insisted he wants to go back to the two-year-old room. He doesn't want to go to school if it means going to the three-year-old room, even though I remind him that he always tells me how much fun it was, and that I sometimes have to drag him away because he's so engrossed.

For example, I've told him to eat his dinner. He says, "Only if I can go back to the two-year-old room." He'll be tucked in for the night and ask if the next morning is a school day. If I say yes, he'll say he's going to the two-year-old room.


"It's fun there."

"Is it fun in the three-year-old room?"


"You said it was so fun this afternoon."

"I want the two-year-old room."

I try appealing to reason. "Are you a big boy?"

And fail: "No. I'm a baby. Not a big boy. I'm Mamma's little baby." He wedges his little self as close to me as possible. Score: Grape, alias Baby 1, Mamma 0

This morning the grumblings of the past few weeks came to a head. The Grape yelled from his bedroom that today would be two-year-old room day. I said we'll see. In exchange for nibbling at his breakfast, he extorted a promise that we could visit the two-year-old room when we arrived at the preschool.

He must have sensed I might renege, because he dragged his feet all the way to school, and reminded me at least twenty-three times that he was going to the two-year-old room.

Luckily, we ran into friends from the three-year-old room outside the school. I exhaled. He could stop playing at being a baby now. The Grape said hello to his pals, bounded inside with them, then pulled up short in the hallway. He grabbed my hand and walked the long way around into the two-year-old room (so we didn't cross his actual classroom on the way).

We said hello to his former teachers and I told the Grape it was time for Mamma to leave so he had to go to his own class now. I said his friends were waiting. "They might miss you," I added brightly.

"I. Am. Staying. Here." The Grape settled himself into the two-year-olds' kitchen area and started directing pretend cake making like he owned the place.

I moved to physically remove the Grape. He wailed. He went boneless like a protestor under arrest. The actual two-year-olds began to congregate, to gawk in mingled amusement and amazement at the spectacle escaped from the big kids' room.

One of the teachers said they'd return the Grape to the three-year-old room in ten or fifteen minutes. I planted a kiss on my little tyrant's forehead, excused myself and turned to go. "I'll see you later, in the three-year-old room," I said.

"Nope. I'll be here, Mamma."

The Grape's face was unmistakable: Grape 2, Mamma Zip.

I called R. on the way out. "Do you think the Grape likes his old teachers better?" he asked.

At first I suspected such an obvious situation, but I think we have more of a gestalt problem. The two-year-old room rhythm works for the Grape. They propel out to the playground or some adventure, then come back and do an activity, then lunch and a fairly long story/rest/nap time. The three-year-olds stay in school for an activity, then head outdoors, and after lunch, they also have downtime, but it's much shorter.

"The little princeling also demands a high level of service," I said to R. He likes the three teachers to one kid ratio in the two-year-old room. It jumps to about 5 to 1 (counting the student teacher) in his current classroom. The bigger tots are well-superivised but perhaps not fawned over in quite the same way as the babies.

"Can we switch him back?" R. asked, his two other lines clanging in the background.

I'm sure we could. Some folks find the school's director fearsome, but I very much appreciate her forthright, capable manner and regard her as quite approachable. She wouldn't dismiss the idea out of hand, especially since the Grape is the youngest in his class.

But I don't know that I want to make that request.

The Grape wouldn't grasp that he needs to pick a team; he can't flit from class to class depending on his mood each morning. He'd be separated from the kids he knows, the kids he was with last year (when I never heard a complaint about going to school).

And nothing against the legitimate two-year-olds, but they aren't as chatty as the Grape. He might get bored with their conversation, or worse, become that awful large mouthed kid that holds forth so nobody else can insert a word edgewise.

So here we are. Mentally in the three-year-old room, emotionally in the two-year-old room. Should the left brain or right win this one?