Monday, February 25, 2013

In Which the Grape Attempts to Teach Me to Drive

Last week, the Grape's school followed years of tradition and issued the kids a week of February vacation. School vacations, while wonderful for the elementary and older set, mainly serve to discombobulate a preschooler's routine. One week, I can assure you, is plenty of time for the wheels to come off the bus in terms of getting a small child organized and out the door on schedule.

February vacation is a long held New England/American tradition, so we embrace it, and placate ourselves with visions of family ski trips in years to come. This year, the Grape and I, along with Lila the Dog, embarked on a minor road trip to visit family.

The Grape loves to ride in the car. His affection for automotive transport is no doubt enhanced by the fact that car rides are a moderately rare treat. We live in the city, walk to errands and play dates, and often go weeks without moving the car except for street cleaning. 

The Grape is a major backseat driver. He second guesses me at every turn, and the usual retort, "Would you like to drive?" is of course useless on a three-year-old. Obviously he'd like to drive, and obviously I can't allow such a thing for another fourteen years or so.

One thing that makes his backseat driver blood boil is stop lights. He gets the red, yellow, green drill, but turning arrows make him nuts. "It's green!" the Grape will insist from his car seat. "Green means go." He always says this last part with an air of put upon patience most often heard directed at small children, not by them.

I have lost count of how many times I've attempted to explain the turning arrow. "We need to turn and the light for turns is red, so we need to wait until the arrow turns green."

The Grape will indulge me, crane his neck and stretch as far as the five point harness will allow. "The light," the Grape will always proclaim, "is green."

Fortunately, we only need to make three turns at intersections in order to reach the highway, which brings its own set of challenges.

On the way home this weekend, we got stuck in a large traffic jam that doubled the length of our journey. Everyone was antsy, and everyone, including the dog, had a touch of motion malaise from the endless stopping and going. 

A black pickup truck suddenly made a sharp right into the breakdown lane and blasted off at a good forty-five-miles an hour. "Mamma! Go over there!" the Grape ordered.

"We can't. It's the breakdown lane and it's not allowed."

"Why did the black pickup truck go there?"

"I don't know, but it's not allowed."

"Is the black pickup truck naughty?"

"A little." Then I announce, with brightness I don't feel, "We are law abiding citizens. We do not drive in the breakdown lane. Also it's dangerous." 

The Grape chews on these facts for half a minute. "But Mamma, you can go fast over there. I like to go fast."

"I know, honey." I attempt to distract him and point to the southbound lane, where traffic is cruising at normal highway speed." "Look! A car carrier!"

The Grape ignores this aside and points out that traffic in the direction of my mother's house, from where we have come, is going fast. He directs me to turn the car around. Now. Now. Now!

"I can't turn around."

"Why not?" His little voice has a shrill edge now. He's had it with this adventure in gridlock. The dog whines, snivels, readjusts her rather large form on her side of the backseat. I crack her window and hope she's not about to puke. The Grape repeats his demand that we reverse course and return to my mother's house, some eighty miles south of our current location.

"I cannot turn around because this is the expressway. Mamma cannot do a U turn on the expressway."

"I want to go fast." Tears of frustration start welling in the Grape's eyes. I silently wonder whether I should let the Grape watch movies on long car trips—ones that last more than ninety minutes. As if reading my mind, the Grape announces that his friend, T., has a television in her car. "T.'s mom has a Toyota minivan. We should buy a Toyota minivan," he says, as we finally merge onto the exit ramp and start moving. 

I exhale. Only four stoplights to go between us and home.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

The Grape Skis, But For Whose Benefit?

In the days before the Grape, I used to ski as often as I could every winter. I love everything about it: the snow and outdoors, the first tracks in the morning, the silence on top of the mountain at the end of the day, the adrenalin, and the Irish coffee.

When the Grape was a baby, I reluctantly relegated my skis to the back of the closet.  I consoled myself by thinking that skiing is one of those great activities the whole family can do together at some not-too-distant date.

When he was still an infant I started asking outdoorsy friends with older kids, "When can I put him on skis?"

The answer, from those who didn't merely roll their eyes, was almost universally three. Or four, if I wanted to enroll him in a mountain day camp (daycare where they take your kid skiing in a group lesson with many interludes in the lodge to jack up on hot chocolate). 

Such all-day programs wisely deny admission to children aged three, probably because they've figured out that minding three-year-olds is not unlike herding kittens. 

Still, I checked with every mountain within a three-hour drive of our apartment. I felt I had to find a professional to teach him, since all my skiing friends cautioned against trying to teach one's own offspring anything. "He'll behave better for a stranger," I heard, over and over again. 

Two weeks ago, I declared the long wait over and booked a private ski lesson for the Grape.The whole family piled into the car  to whisk him to the nearest ski hill, located  twenty-five minutes south of Boston. They had tiny rental gear and the all-important magic carpet. From the parking lot, the Grape could see lots of bigger kids happily gliding down the hill at respectable speeds. 

"Let's do this!" he said. I grinned and high-fived him.

We shelled out a not insignificant wad of cash for a rental and private lesson package. 

The Grape's lesson would take place on a bunny hill noticeably smaller than the sledding hill in the park across the street from our apartment. When R. pointed this out, I reminded him that the park across the street lacks a ski lift.

The Grape gamely put on his gear. We went outside to meet the instructor. We were too early. The Grape got antsy. He started to complain. I tried to persuade him to put his feet into a wedge for me. "Make pizza!" I encouraged him, imitating the call of dozens of parents at the base of the bunny hill.

The Grape blinked at me like I was severely limited. Clearly there was no pizza oven in sight.

Finally the instructor arrived. "He looks tired," she observed. 

I gave her the stink eye. "He's fine. He's just a drama mama."

He was fine. More than fine.

The Grape loved riding the magic carpet.

The trouble started when he and the instructor reached the top. "I want to go fast," he announced, and pushed himself off. He made it at least two feet before face planting into the snow and declaring he was all done.

"He says he's done." The instructor called down to R. and me.

"No way," we yelled back, in unison.

The instructor spent the next forty minutes on her knees downhill from the Grape, nudging his skis into snowplow position. By the third run, if you can call it that, the Grape managed to move a few yards downhill on his own without falling.

We quit while ahead, and went in for hot chocolate. The Grape pronounced skiing fun. I exhaled audibly with relief, and R. went to return the gear whose cost per minute I refused to calculate.

On the way home, I  decided that the Grape would need his own gear. I found the most adorable tiny ski package on the web, for less than the cost of a seasonal rental. 

We went skiing a second time two days after UPS delivered the Grape's gear. This time we went with friends, and I brought my skis. It was a gorgeous winter day. The sun was blazing in a cloudless sky, and the hill was covered with fresh natural snow from the blizzard that had blown through thirty-six hours prior.

We trekked slightly further afield this time, to a little hill west of Boston that charges less than the price of a movie ticket to play all day in the beginner area.

The Grape's enthusiasm got a huge spike from watching his friends swoosh down the hill. We rode the magic carpet and slid down the bunny slope—the Grape tucked between my snowplowed legs— two whole times before he needed a break.

But then a wonderful thing happened.

After downing a PB&J in the lodge with his friends, the Grape announced he wanted to ski again. I cheered. He was good for two more runs. Three-year-olds tire out fast when they're doing something unfamiliar. After his last run, the Grape had a blast rolling around in the snow with his friends. Friends with older kids assured me that after a few more ski days, he will be able to snowplow down the bunny hill on his own. 

On the way home, the Grape fell asleep and R. and I wondered aloud, for whose benefit we were doing all this schlepping. 

Sure, I spent a couple of hours with skis attached to my feet, but even the three runs I took down the bunny hill without the Grape didn't really qualify as skiing

Next we congratulated ourselves on having the good sense to take the Grape skiing at a little local place. Even if we'd shelled out much bigger bucks to travel to some fancy big resort for a long weekend, we'd still be tooling around on the bunny slope. All the vertical drop and acres of skiing that northern New England has to offer would go to waste.

We asked ourselves if the Grape might take to skiing better if we waited another year. 

By the time we got home, I was ready to concede that I'm putting the Grape on skis this winter more for my own benefit than his. 

I don't think that's necessarily a bad thing. Our ski outings, such as they are, provide hours of outdoor togetherness.  He's having enough fun (mainly with the lift and the apres-ski amenities) to want to keep trying.

Clearly the right action is to run out and procure skis for R. so we can all ski again this weekend. 

Magic carpet, here comes the Grape.

Friday, February 8, 2013

New Look

If you're reading this, you'll see that The Little Grape has a new look. After many months of hemming and hawing, I've refashioned the blog to match my website. It's just a cosmetic change, and all the old content is here.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Monday Mailbag

I've received lots of email over the past week or two. Here's a sampling:

I miss your humorous little grape posts. Can you bring them back or is the Grape just not very funny now that he's older?

The Grape, at the ripe old age of three, remains a funny little guy. This weekend R. and I took him skiing for the first time and I'll try to write about that adventure later this week. The truth is, I haven't been in a funny mood in the weeks since the Newtown massacre and that's been reflected in this space.

I am going to go through old posts this week and tag the funny ones as humor, so you will be able to seek out our beaching, baking, traveling and other misadventures without scrolling through posts chronologically.

I'm surprised you haven't written anything about Cardinal Mahony... I am outraged he isn't under arrest... I hope he burns in hell.
-anonymous member of SNAP (Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests)

I share your outrage, and I commend SNAP on their tireless work on behalf of victims of child rape.

Cardinal Roger Mahony is the poster child for a reassessment by all states of statutes of limitations on conspiracy crimes.

He's yet another glaring example of why we cannot allow the Roman Catholic Church to police itself.

If the evidence against Mahony is accurate, he deserves to rot in prison for the rest of his days. I hope prosecutors in California exhaust all possible avenues before throwing up their hands on his case.

The Conference of Catholic Bishops was quick to point out Cardinal Mahony's work as an advocate for immigrants. While he may indeed have made valuable contributions to the dialogue on immigration, thankfully our rules of law don't work in such a way that good acts in one sphere excuse felonies in another.

I don't personally believe in hell, but if there is such a place, I am sure they have a special section for priests who rape, and aid and abet and conceal the rape of, children.

I love your pieces on gun control, please keep writing them, but what can I do? I think my congressmen already support background checks and the federal assault weapons ban.
-Sue in RI (mom of four)

You can still make your voice heard. Contact your reps to tell them that new federal gun control legislation is extremely important to you, and that you simply won't support your reps in their next elections if they don't support such legislation.

You can also urge them to reach out to other members who might be undecided, on both sides of the aisle. Sensible gun control doesn't have to be a partisan issue. Moms from both major parties have joined One Million Moms for Gun Control, and many decorated military veterans (e.g., Colin Powell, Stanley McChrystal) support common sense measures like universal background checks and a federal ban on assault weapons and extended magazines.

I'd urge you not to automatically write off all Republicans as enemies of sensible gun control legislation. Case in point: Massachusetts has the toughest gun laws in the nation. We have a state assault weapons ban that was signed by then-Governor Mitt Romney. Regular readers know I've never before written a kind word about Mr. Romney, but this is one big thing he got right, and he deserves credit for it.

I was reading the comment thread on your post One Million Moms for Gun Control, and I wasn't surprised to see the comment from an anonymous gun owner who wrote that he keeps a handgun to protect his wife and kids. 

Did you know that the presence of any firearm in a residence increases the risk of a female member of that household being murdered by a gun threefold?

Yes, I did, but the statistic bears repeating.

In a major peer reviewed emergency medicine study, researchers found that people of either sex who keep a gun in their home are almost twice as likely as those who live in gun-free homes to die in a gun-related homicide. 

The risk was much greater for women: women living in a home where there is a gun are almost three times more likely to die in a gun-related homicide than men similarly situated.  (Wiebe D.  Annals of Emergency Medicine.  2003; 41:771-82).

Were you scared to take your child to a gun control rally?
No. That honestly never crossed my mind, but then again, we live in Boston and my neighbors tend to be a progressive lot. I urge moms in every corner of the country to demand action on gun violence prevention. Don't be scared of the NRA and its affiliates. They are nothing more than lobbyists who choose to behave like a domestic terrorist group. Their radical views fall far outside the mainstream, and I'm hopeful I will live to see the day when the NRA is as irrelevant to our politics as the once-almighty tobacco lobby.

Your (sic) an idiot if you think banning assault weapons will stop gun violence.

That's not what I believe.

I believe, based on evidence collected in every other industrialized country in the world, that a federal ban on military style assault weapons and extended magazines, that required all grandfathered weapons to be stored in a secured, insured facility, would drastically cut down on massacres of Newtown variety.

Frankly, I find arguments of the you're-never-going-to-stop-all-gun-violence-with-an-assault-weapon-ban to be a tiresome distraction from the real work that needs to be done.

Of course we won't stop all gun violence through legislation. That doesn't mean we shouldn't all be busting our butts to reduce the scale of the violence. The Feinstein Bill isn't some radical, crazy, leftist proposal. Even Rupert Murdoch (yes, the one of Fox News fame) supports an assault weapons ban.