Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Naughty. Nice. Indifferent?

The Grape is old enough to understand that elves aren't the indentured toymakers portrayed in too many Christmas specials and holiday ads.

Nope. He knows the truth. Or at least the truth according to my family's tradition: the elfin beings are highly effective agents of espionage.

They could be lurking anywhere, indoors or out, at any hour. Just because the Grape cannot see one personified on a shelf doesn't mean they aren't watching and taking copious notes for Santa.

They see him when he's melting down over nothing, like this morning, when I made him walk (gasp!) three blocks, because we had a large, fragile and unwieldy package to be mailed in the stroller. (It was another fine parenting moment, wherein I just hoped to arrive home before a passerby called CPS. God knows it's probably criminal to make your kid use his legs against his will these days. Aside to neighbors: the Grape's arm evidently stays in its socket no matter how many blocks I haul his resistant, boneless, howling form. Don't worry.)

Or yesterday, when he pitched an epic hissy fit over getting dressed. And another over removing his coat.  Or earlier this morning, when he shrieked at Lucy the Kitten for daring to step near his trains.

When faced with a beastly display of three-year-old defiance, I attempt to remain calm and ask, "Are you being naughty or nice? Because nice kids get presents from Santa."

If he's not beside himself, he'll bleat, "I want to be nice!" Or, more to the point, "I want presents."

"Well, then you have to be good."

"I want to be good," he repeats for emphasis, and continues melting down.

I strongly suspect that he thinks the whole thing is BS. Not about the elves, or the big man in red, or the magic reindeer. He buys all that, hook, line and sinker.

It's the nature of the transaction I can't manage to sell. The idea that presents aren't a quid pro quo, but rather a contingent reward that depends on good behavior.

Because obviously they're not. Even if I wanted to declare war on gifts (I don't), the Grape has two fully functional sets of grandparents who will over-buy for the little guy whether he's angelic or demonic in these weeks of the pre-Christmas home stretch.

Christmas will come just the same.

As it should.

Or perhaps the Grape figures the good and bad antics will wash, because he has plenty of angelic moments, too. Mostly at school, where his halo is always firmly affixed above his blond locks. But also at home. Sometimes he's so sweet and cute it's impossible to believe he's the same kid who pushes my buttons so adeptly. He likes holding hands and gazing at the moon. Reading stories to Lila the Dog. Singing songs at his little piano. Snuggling on the couch because that's what he feels like doing and whatever else can wait.

He must figure the elves notice all these harmonious moments, that they'll cancel out the unpleasant episodes that punctuate my days. In kid world, that's probably the right math. I'm still steamed over this morning's tantrum, but to the Grape, it's ancient history. Totally frigging finito.

Just as finito as my fantasy of extorting a month of exemplary behavior through dire warnings of elfin espionage.

Friday, November 16, 2012

What if I have a wimpy indoor kid?

There's a November chill in the air here in Boston. We've started waking up to frosty mornings and the last of the foliage falling from the trees. It's not winter yet; the sun still warms things up into the fifties most days. The Grape asks me, almost every night, when we'll get a Big Snow.

He's madly, deeply in love with the concept of a record snowfall.

He has no idea what he's wishing for.

We got bupkes last winter—one measly "snow event" that provided barely enough of the white stuff for two mornings of sledding. And by mornings, I mean the hour between 8 a.m. and 9 a.m., at which point I realized we have a problem.

The Grape loathes cold weather.

Hates it.

Asks for mittens and a hat when it's fifty-five degrees outside.

Pleads with me to stop the wind from blowing in his face. (I know he won't think I have that kind of power much longer, so perhaps I should shut up and enjoy it.)

Demands to know why we cannot immediately stop whatever we're doing and board a flight to Bermuda.

I don't know where my little thin-skinned cold weather wimp comes from. I like winter. I come from a long line of winter people. My mother was a huge believer in the benefits of the outdoors. I could count on my fingers the number of days in any given year she pronounced the weather too inclement for outside play.

And yes, we lived in New England.

In elementary school, my brother and I owned enough foul weather gear to survive a North Atlantic crossing.

In a row boat.

And no, our present pickle has nothing to do with lack of preparedness. The Grape has layers and layers of first rate winter clothing to insulate every inch of his precious person from the elements.

Keeping with family tradition, I did my best to ensure that the Grape was a winterized infant. Like most Finnish kids, he took long naps snug in his carriage on some bitterly cold days. Outside was the only place my kid ever slept like a champ. I ignored incredulous glances from nosy strangers and congratulated myself on being off to a promising start.

This was important to me, because before the Grape joined us some three plus years ago, I was an avid skier. I'd like to get the Grape on skis this year. I have this idea in my head that skiing is a fun, outdoor activity the whole family can do together for many years to come, and I confess I've been looking at a good deal of snowy travel porn lately.

One of my friends remarked years ago that when kids turn three, winter starts getting fun again. They're finally coordinated enough to remain upright while wearing boots in a snowbank, and old enough to follow directions in ski school. Active vacations are no longer held hostage by the demands of an infant's onerous sleeping and eating schedule.

Still, I fret.

Am I doomed to have one of those whiny indoor kids who only wants to drink hot chocolate by the fire?

I also fear that skiing, like the Grape's earliest sledding experiences, will work out better in theory than in practice.

Yet hope springs eternal. Maybe if the Grape sees other kids flying down the bunny hill, smiling, laughing, begging to go again, he won't notice his hands are cold, his ankles are stuck in a not-quite upright and locked position, and his nose is frozen. Peer pressure is a marvelous motivator.

And if all else fails, we can always try to bribe him with hot chocolate.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Surprise! (Not)

The only thing that surprises me about Tuesday night's election is the giant number of older white men, including the failed GOP nominee himself, who seem genuinely, deeply shocked that their guy lost got shellacked.

The talking heads will spend the next several days pontificating, but ultimately only two reasons matter.

First, Romney was a super crappy nominee. He exhibited four fatal flaws, the first three of which might have been within the campaign's ability to control had they wised up to the problem early.

1. Mitt Romney is a liar with no modern equal, even by the lax standards we allow for politicians. His relationship with the truth bordered on the pathological. This is not a matter of debate. He was fact checked throughout his campaign by various watchdog groups (and the chairmen of GM and Chrysler).

2. He embraced a misogynist agenda and got in bed with anti-choice zealots such as his running mate. Be warned: A national politician chips away at abortion access at his peril. On Wednesday morning, Romney was still sulking that he doesn't oppose "all" abortion and contraception. The women of America don't give a damn about his personal views on the pill. A majority of women view any attempt to rollback access to reproductive health services as an assault on our civil liberties and we're not having it. Romney also did himself no favors by refusing to embrace equal pay laws.

3. He told the fastest growing segment of the American population to fuck themselves self deport.

4. Nobody liked the guy. He never broke 48% in a swing state. His own party flirted with Newt Gingrich, Herman Cain and Rick Santorum before settling for Mitt. Simply put, his personality sucks and that counts when you run for president. The long primary season saved the Obama campaign lots of cash. Despite what the folks on Fox tell you, the Republican field painted Romney as a soulless "vulture capitalist." Sheldon Adelson financed the vicious movie-length attack "King of Bain." An already unappetizing nominee came out of the primary process bruised and bloodied.  

Second, President Obama inspires people. (Repeat as needed to internalize this fact.)

I spent election day as a volunteer with Obama for America in New Hampshire. In Manchester, I saw literally hundreds of volunteers, many of them students voting for the first time.  All of them were inspired by President Obama and his agenda to put in eleven to sixteen hour days for no pay. The campaign had similar war rooms set up in every medium to major town in every swing state. 

The Obama volunteer army turned out tens of thousands of voters who might have otherwise stayed home. All the ads and robocalls money can buy couldn't compete with that kind of ground game. Mitt Romney, even in his progressive 1994 incarnation, could have never inspired that kind of free labor force to help pull him over the finish line. Kids can smell a fake.

Because the GOP establishment and the nominee had difficulty processing any of these obvious factors, they kept the nation waiting almost two hours for a concession while they re-did Ann Romney's makeup (which was apparently ruined by shock-induced bawling).

Naturally, I'm delighted we've seen the last of Mitt and his dreadful wife.

But I'm even more excited about President Obama's second term. 

Mr. President, I hope you go big. 

Really, really big. 

You can do it. You have the most progressive Senate in decades. It's time to carpe diem.

Please pass comprehensive immigration reform that includes a path to citizenship for children of illegal immigrants and that keeps families together here in the U.S. Yes, I mean amnesty. 

Please tackle climate change, and not just by building cleaner cars in Detroit, but also by pushing though real controls on carbon emissions.

Please pass meaningful tax reform. Tuesday's exit polls show a huge mandate on this issue. Let's ease the tax burden on those who work for a living, and jack the capital gains rate up above the top marginal income rate. This would close the hedge fund/private equity fund managers' loophole with a minimum of new legislation. 

While you're at it, please also pass a law to make investment by Americans in offshore blocker corporations, which supposedly exist for the sole purpose of spurring investment in the U.S. by foreigners, a felony. 

And please folks, spare me the nonsense about taxing the job creators. I know plenty of rich people. When rich people get a tax break, they sock the money away for themselves and their kids. They only create jobs when their businesses have enough excess customers to necessitate hiring more help. The best way to insure businesses have customers is to make sure the middle class has more money; they'll actually spend the extra cash on goods and services. On a related note, Mr. President, it seems like a good time to raise the minimum wage.

For those of you still puzzled by Romney's shellacking, and confused about why Mr. Obama inspires such adoration among so many Americans, I highly recommend this clip. It's longish at sixteen minutes, and the last segment (about our democracy's need for two functional parties) is the best part. So, rich, angry white guys, watch, listen, and maybe you can avoid unwelcome (332-206) surprises in the future.

There. All done with Mitt Romney. Forever. HURRAH!

Monday, November 5, 2012

Far Better Off

I have a pre-existing condition. So does the Grape. I have friends who are cancer survivors. I know more diabetes patients than I can count. I've reached the age where many parents of friends suffer from ailments large and small.

The Grape and I are lucky. We live in Massachusetts, where we have Romneycare, the legislative model for Obamacare, which will take effect nationwide in 2014. Insurers cannot deny us coverage because of our medical histories. Thanks to Obamacare, kids nationwide already enjoy the same protection from discrimination. 

I believe access to health care is a civil right, and that one of the most fundamental functions of government is to protect the public health. I think it's unconscionable that a country as rich as America routinely drives its citizens to bankruptcy because they can't afford health insurance. It's equally unconscionable that countless American children go without basic vaccinations and preventive care, and that our children die before age five in far greater numbers than their counterparts in the rest of the Western world. Obamacare will make progress on both fronts by covering basic preventive care for all children.

Obamacare isn't perfect. Like many progressives, I wish it included a single payer option. I wish it contained more aggressive cost controls. But I can't, to save my life, figure out why the individual mandate is the least bit controversial among conservatives. The mandate was, after all, a Republican idea, first drafted by the late Senator John Chaffee, and designed as a way to avoid a public option. (In exchange for accepting everyone regardless of medical history, the private insurance companies get millions more customers.)

But whatever its imperfections, Obamacare will provide basic health coverage to tens of millions of citizens who would otherwise go without. It stops insurance companies from discriminating based on sex. It will ease the burden on the country's overtaxed emergency rooms: the only health care option for uninsured adults prior to Obamacare's full implementation 2014. Here in Massachusetts, ER usage as a primary care option is down as a result of Romneycare.

Aside: What kind of governor runs around the country disowning his sole legislative achievement anyway? (Answer: The shifty, tricky kind.) I'm actually not that concerned about Romney's ridiculous "repeal and replace" BS.  As the primary architect of Romneycare (and Obamacare), Romney knows the insurance companies will never cover all persons with pre-existing conditions unless they get the guarantee of more customers provided by the mandate. Not rocket science. Hence, you can't repeal the federal mandate and keep the "good parts," as Romney's campaign advisors have grudgingly admitted.

And whatever chest thumping certain governors may indulge in during the election cycle (about rejecting federal aid), I wager that not one will turn down the windfall of extra Medicaid dollars when crunch times comes. After all, seniors vote, and a full two-thirds of nursing home patients use Medicaid to pay.

But healthcare isn't the only measure by which our family is better off than we were four years ago. 

Like about half of American households, we have investments in the stock market. Nothing fancy, mostly mutual funds like many citizens have in their retirement accounts. They're all way up from four years ago.

R. works in high end residential real estate development and he was job hunting, both in 2009 and in 2012. 

2009 was tough going. Brutal, actually. Offers were few and far between, and universally of lesser quality than his prior position. 

Not so in 2012. Multiple offers, all a step up by multiple metrics. When high end real estate developers feel bullish, it says to me that the economy is on the right path. The monthly jobs reports agree.

Hurricane Sandy missed us here in Boston, but I'm hopeful the storm finally got people talking about climate change. I trust President Obama to push for cleaner cars and sensible environmental legislation—which benefits the public health and safety. The president who saved the Detroit auto industry has a golden opportunity to push the building of cleaner cars in America, for both the domestic and export markets. 

President Obama inherited two wars. He ended one and is winding down the other. Far too many soldiers have been deployed three, four, even five times. They come home to an underfunded, overwhelmed VA. Some have traumatic brain injuries that will never heal, that make them unable to work, and in some sad cases, a danger to themselves or others. Military suicides are up to one per day. The Romney/Ryan budget would gut the VA at a time when we ought to be stepping up services for our veterans.

Yet Romney, the ultimate despicable chicken hawk, who deferred Vietnam service four times to gallivant around Paris on a mission during which he made zero converts, appears eager to embark on another wholly elective war.  I have a proposal, one I don't make lightly as the mother of a son: If America is to pursue a policy of first-strike wars, then perhaps we need to revisit the political kryptonite that is the draft. Our volunteer military is stretched beyond reason. The same soldiers (and their families) pay the human toll of war over and over again. 

But if we bring about a draft, we need a draft where every citizen has skin in the game. No more college deferrals, and certainly no more religious deferrals.

Make you uneasy? Me too. Don't vote for the chicken hawks.

I trust President Obama to continue a sensible Middle East policy. The economic sanctions against the Iranian government are working. Our allies are on board. Obama managed a successful intervention in Libya that helped remove one of the most hostile regimes on the planet. Israel's largest paper states unequivocally that a second Obama term would be good for Israel.

I could keep going, but I'll rest my case. I hope I've answered the criticisms in my mail that I'm a one issue voter. I do place great weight on women's rights, but I follow the other news too. 

Which means that when I vote tomorrow, I won't just be casting a fear and loathing vote against Mr. Romney and his backward thinking on women's rights. 

I'll be enthusiastically supporting President Obama on a broad spectrum of issues important to my family and my country.


Friday, November 2, 2012

1978 Roaring Back at Me

In 1978, my parents moved us into the house they still occupy on a relatively rural street in southern Rhode Island. I was five years old.

Shortly after our move, my parents attended some cocktail party where they met one of their new neighbors for the first time. The man, now deceased, was probably twenty years their senior and had grown up on the same plot of land he then occupied. He marched up to my father and said, "We don't want your kind on this street." ("Our kind," in his view, meant Italians.)

I heard the remark repeated because I was eavesdropping on my mom the next day. I knew something was up, because noise carried in our new house and I'd heard my parents come home, Dad in a major huff.

I remember vividly, that while I didn't totally understand the thrust of the comment, I grasped that this man didn't like us because we were different from him. My five-year-old brain also decided I shouldn't ask my parents about what I'd overheard. Clearly there was something shameful going on, something not meant for my kindergarten age ears.

And clearly, our grouchy neighbor was just going to have to deal, since we had no plans to move again, or change our ethnicity. I shrugged it off as "grown up stuff."

Nine years later, the old comment reared its ugly head when the man's brother, a class act nothing like his boorish sibling next door, flagged me down as I was traversing his largish farm on my pony, and sincerely apologized for "any unpleasantness my brother may have ever caused you or your folks."

I stampeded home and asked about that long ago party. Family legend now states that Dad told the guy to do something biologically impossible to himself. The guy then tried to regroup by telling my mom, who comes from Finland, that she was a "desirable immigrant."

I didn't know the word "bigot" in 1978, but I understood its gist: a bigot is anyone who discriminates against someone else based on a characteristic that person cannot control. Race. Ethnicity. Sex. Sexual orientation. Health/Disability.

I hadn't thought about the "your kind" comment for years, but the election season drew it back from the recesses of my memory. Why? Because it dawned on me, perhaps a month ago, that this election is about civil rights.  And a vote for the GOP ticket, however qualified with excuses about taxes or regulatory policy, is a vote for bigotry.

Most overtly against women and against gay citizens.

But also against racial minorities.

I'm lucky. In four decades, that's the only time I've been told to go away, that I don't belong somewhere, because of my ethnic background. Discrimination against Italians is not rampant in our society. Sadly, I cannot say the same for:

Women: Mitt Romney has yet to take a position on the Lilly Ledbetter Act: crucial legislation that guarantees equal pay for women in the workforce. In yesterday's endorsement of President Obama, Mike Bloomberg cited climate change, but also referred to "the kind of world I'd like to leave for my daughters." Anyone's daughter should have the same opportunities in America as my son. Period.

Romney is on the record saying he'd "get rid of" Planned Parenthood, which provides health services and family planning assistance to millions of women and families. He's promised to nominate justices in the mold of arch-conservative Antonin Scalia, a move that would imperil Roe v. Wade.  He's said he'd be "delighted" to sign legislation outlawing all abortions, and that he'd "absolutely" support a federal personhood statute, such as the failed attempt championed by his running mate, which would have banned abortions, IVF, and many forms of contraception. He may not come out and say he's against contraception, but his on-the-record remarks leave no doubt the Mitt has no issue with efforts to limit access to contraceptives.

"He wants to take women back to 1950's nun school," my friend M., a veteran of such an institution, said last week. "Back then, girls were told we were only fit for three careers: nursing, teaching or secretarial work. We were told we would leave work when we got married, because we'd be busy with babies."

Contraception is an economic issue. Every woman and every employer knows that if a woman cannot control her fertility, she cannot compete on equal footing with men in the workforce. Period.

And then there's rape. I cannot believe it's 2012 and we're discussing rape in national politics, but consider this: the ONLY candidate for Senate for whom the GOP nominee made a video endorsement is Richard Mourdock. Yup, Mourdock. The rapist's baby "is a gift from God" guy. This isn't the Moderate Mitt of so many swing voters' fantasies. This is Hard Right into Crazy Town Mitt. And frankly, if Mitt is going to run around saying he personally supports abortion access for rape victims, regardless of what his party thinks, I'd like to know how that exemption would work, in administrative terms.

Gay people: Romney's official website says the candidate supports a federal constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. Let's put aside the fact that constitutional amendments are very, very, very expensive. And the fact that it's hard to imagine anything less American than an amendment codifying bigotry.

I could keep going, but fellow author Kergan Edwards-Stout said everything that needed to be said (better than I could) in his bold and brilliant piece "Please De-Friend Me." Read it and share it.

Racial minorities: Anyone who thinks we live in a post-racial society, please Google racist attacks on the president and get back to me. Caution: not for the faint of heart. Romney is smart enough not to talk about race, but that hasn't stopped some of his surrogates from stooping into the gutter.

I ran into a woman my mom's age at the gym. She was wearing a Romney/Ryan T-shirt. I guess I did an inadvertent double take, as I've never seen one of those in real life before.

In response to my puzzled pause, she grinned like a criminally insane individual. So I went there.

Me, big smile, voice as neutral as possible: "Why do you like Romney?"

Her, without missing a beat: "Oh, I don't really like Romney, but anyone is better than Obama."

Me: "Why's that?"

Her: "I just don't like him."

Me, ignoring inner voice that is screaming, walk away: "What don't you like about him?"

Her, with less certainty: "I just don't like him. He doesn't look presidential."

Me: "I'm going to suggest that you consider the possibility that you might be a racist."

Her: Mouth opens, nothing comes out, mouth clamps shut.

Did I change her mind? Of course not. But in my mind, if you wear a campaign shirt, the public can reasonably conclude you have enthusiasm for your candidate. Maybe if you're going to wear the shirt, you could think of one thing you like about your guy.

It shouldn't be hard. I'll demonstrate. Here are some things I really like about President Obama:

President Obama believes in equal opportunity for all Americans. He will protect my right to choose, and my right to earn as much as a man. He'll appoint progressive judges who share my world view. He believes in marriage equality. He believes health care is a civil right (more on this later in the weekend), and that the Grape and I should not be denied coverage because we have pre-existing conditions.  He believes that folks like Mitt Romney (who happens to be in the top one percent of the top one percent) should pay more taxes than folks who work for a living. He believes FEMA plays a critical role in disaster relief and that climate change is real. He believes we need sensible regulation to protect us from Charlatans like the men who ran Enron, or  from fraudsters like Bernie Madoff, or from other shysters who smirk at us and say, "You people don't need the details. Just trust me."

I could keep going, but I think I've made my point regarding the wearing of campaign clothing. Which is why I'll feel confident about wearing it when I volunteer for Obama for America on Election Day.

And I'll be thinking of how far we've come since the reality of bigotry first crossed my radar in 1978, and how far we still have to go.