Thursday, June 30, 2011

Yucky naps and dressing up per my kid's request

"This is very, very yucky," the Grape explained to Lila the Dog, as she tried to sneak one of the dog park's well chewed municipal tennis balls into our living room this morning. His little face was a portrait of seriousness.

Lila gamely dropped her disgusting trophy and proceeded to inspect the freshly vacated stroller for stray snack foods. The Grape crouched by the discarded tennis ball, examined it as if it were roadkill, looked up at me triumphantly and repeated, "This is very, very yucky."

The Grape has had lots of opinions since he graduated from the blob stage of infancy and became a more highly interactive being. This is unsurprising. He is, after all, my kid. Lately, though, he's gotten much more adept at articulating those opinions. And at lording it over the dog. One thing the Grape has decided for certain is that he wants to rank as high up in our little family pack as possible. He's not giving that corpulent canine an inch (not that she's asked for anything - she's too laid back to notice their nascent sibling rivalry).

Some of his opinions make me laugh. He feels strongly about wardrobe choices. On more than one occasion, he's told me, "No, no, no shorts, Mamma. Dress! Pretty!" And yes, weenie that I am, I put on a sundress per my son's request.

He likes to draw attention to recent additions to his own sartorial repertoire as well: "New pants!" he will tell every stranger we pass on the sidewalk.

Last weekend, we moved the car seat to R.'s car at the Grape's insistence. The Grape prefers R.'s vehicle to my more staid sedan. Why? Because it's red. (Duh.) If the Grape could roll his eyes at that line of questioning, he would.

And I wrote last week about how we were the very first people on the beach every single day of our long weekend in Bermuda. Honestly, I don't mind these kinds of opinions. I love his childish enthusiasm, and I'm smart enough to know that he'll morph into a jaded teenager before I'm ready.

For now though, the problem arises when he wants to outrank me. The Grape has evidently not received the memo, that as far as he's concerned, Mamma is right up there with God (or whatever higher power you espouse). A minimum of five times a day, we argue over whether he must get in the stroller. Lots of times, I let him self-locomote. I get that he likes to move, and I agree it's good for him. But if we're heading out with the dog, or if we need to be somewhere asap, he needs to get his little butt in the blasted buggy. Why? Because I've learned from experience that I cannot mind an off-leash dog and an off-leash almost-two-year-old, in an unfenced city park with traffic on two sides. At least not without losing my mind.

"WALK! WALK!" he squawks, like some kind of deranged parrot. As I use my significant weight advantage and both knees to wrangle his writhing, shrieking, thrashing little personage into the stroller, I wonder if my neighbors will call social services.

He also would like to have the doors to our patio removed. Which would be fine, if not for the helicopter sized mosquitoes that rush any breach in home security; our escape artist cat Lucy (who possesses an explorer's thirst for the big city but the survival instincts of a toadstool); or the fact that I am not interested in paying to air condition the great outdoors. So we argue about egress every day, several times a day. At least once or twice every afternoon, we endure massive tantrums wherein the Grape yells, "OPEN! OPEN!"over and over again. It matters not which side of the door he's on. It's not that he wants to go indoors or out; he just wants the option available at all times.

A quick glance at the clock tells me it's already three-thirty. Any moment now, he'll roll awake in his crib and pronounce this nap "very, very yucky."

And even though my to-do-while-he-sleeps list remains long, his pronouncement on the palatability of his afternoon snooze will make me smile.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Doing it all, to try to have it all. And struggling.

I have a book coming out in a few days.

The Hazards of Hunting While Heartbroken isn't the first novel I've penned, but it's the first one to become an actual book. That is, barring any further calamities like the one that struck Thursday afternoon, ten minutes before my beloved regular sitter shipped out to enjoy a much deserved long weekend with her family.

Two thirds of the way through what I'd hoped would be a final proofread of the gorgeously type set pages, I realized a good six or seven pages had vaporized. Disappeared. Without a trace. And not from any one spot in the book.

Due to what technologically limited people like myself would call a "hiccup," the last round of my changes had been only partially accepted. Some new passages were there. Others weren't. And upon closer examination I realized that a good three or four pages that should have been struck forever persisted to exist on the unalterable PDFs under my nose.

I did what any professional would do. I panicked. I hyperventilated. I took the Grape back from the sitter and wondered if it would constitute very, very bad parenting to give him a little something to help him sleep over the next day or two, so that I could fix the conspicuous holes in my novel. (Answer: probably yes).

I spent the next day, Friday, silently freaking out while playing with the Grape - who must have detected a disturbance in the force because he flatly refused to nap. All afternoon. Then I cursed myself for not hooking the kid on television. Though honestly, since he's never watched a show nor even expressed interest in having the television turned on, I can't bring myself to use the automatic sitter. At least not yet.

As I watched the Grape play in the library, I struggled to figure out when I could get four or five (awake and alert) hours to do my meticulous manuscript repair project. And the whole time, I felt guilty for not feeling more fully present and engaged with my kid. He's only little once, and the weeks go by fast. I have this persistent nagging feeling that whenever I'm not focused on him, I'm missing out, creating regrets. Nobody dies wishing they spent less time playing with their kid, right?

For the first time, I unequivocally understood why so many professional women, even those with the luxury to work less than full time, opt out. It's really very simple: I hate the feeling that I'm giving neither endeavor (the baby or the book, in my case) a hundred per cent.

And I presume I'm not alone in feeling this way.

Promoting The Hazards could easily be a full time job. I could also spend twenty to forty hours a week re-writing another novel I have in the hopper (not that I have that kind of time), and/or starting a third book that's been percolating in my mind for quite some time. I feel pressure to get the words down before the story loses its moment in my head.

And I waste an inordinate amount of time losing sleep over how little I accomplish each week. As if that makes anything better.

I envy people who can switch mental gears in a heartbeat, who can work in small, ten to twenty minute spurts throughout the day. I've never been good at that. When I try to write a few minutes here, a few more there, the result is usually a redundant, disjointed mess that I end up reconciling to the trash.

Thankfully, R. took the Grape on an all-day field trip to visit his grandparents on Saturday. I spent almost nine hours fixing the novel. All is back on track.

But Saturday got me thinking. How do professionals with small kids and without family/friend support networks make it work? How do you tell a client you need to jump off an important call to go collect your kid? How do you keep a part time schedule from morphing into full time, or more? How do you deal with unpredictable travel? If you opt out totally, are you bored beyond words, happy and amazed you didn't step off the treadmill sooner, or somewhere in between? Can those moms who go to work at an office come home and disconnect from work? Or do clients and supervisors employ technology to invade your dinners and play dates and story times? Finally, is "work from home" a Godsend or a curse from the devil? I.e. Are you always doing both, but doing neither especially well?

Because that's how I feel, much of the time. Yet I know my kid is happy, and my novel is good. Maybe life is just messier now. That's tough for my Type A self to accept, but what's the alternative? Less time with my kid? Less zealous pursuit of my dream? Neither feels tempting. So I forge an imperfect balance, and make peace with the fact that all my writing endeavors will take longer than they would have pre-baby.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Meatheads: Please let the Grape vacation in peace

R. and I accompanied the Grape on a recent long weekend trip to Bermuda - a charming destination rendered fabulous by the availability of a direct, ninety minute flight that does not depart before dawn.

The Grape thoroughly enjoyed his vacation. So much so that he woke at 5:30 every morning, yelling "BEACH! BEACH!" from the creaky hotel crib. He was the first customer at breakfast every morning of our stay. Surely there should be some award for that. Relaxing, our trip was not. While last year the Grape napped in the shade of his infant beach tent and I plowed through four novels, this year I managed a grand total of four pages while the Grape and R. checked out a beached kayak.

We also ate quite a bit of room service, as our little early bird crashed out during the prime dinner hour. And we discovered a wonderful amenity - the hotel babysitter. Twice, R. and I dined like civilized adults while the Grape ate room service pizza and read bedtime stories with a delightful local grandmother conjured up by the concierge.

One the whole, our trip was a lot of fun. We had great weather, and once the Grape got over his initial apprehension of the ocean, he was a like a lemming to the water. We all returned home thoroughly salt scrubbed, and I haven't played in the waves so much since I was a little kid. The Grape found boundless joy in banal things like the resort's trolley, which ferried us up and down a steep road to the shore. Pre-Grape, R. and I might have enjoyed the scenic walk, but since we found ourselves schlepping approximately sixty pounds of the Grape's beach gear, we were all about the bus.

Really, my only complaint about our trip concerns a large contingent of the hotel's clientele.

We visited the same property, the Fairmont Southampton, last year. We decided to return because the hotel was so welcoming of families with small children. Evidently, they also welcome corporate junkets - the kind designed to award productive salespeople. Our hotel was heavily populated with families sponsored by the State Farm Insurance Company. One breakfast waiter informed us that the company rotates groups in and out every weekend for five or six weeks, and they seem to go by region. During our stay, we bade goodbye to a largely very nice group of midwesterners and hello to several busloads of very loud Texans, most of whom sounded an awful lot like a certain brush-hauling ex-president.

And when I say loud, I mean loud. I'm half Italian; I'm used to several enthusiastic people speaking at once. But the new arrivals' collective volume could only be described as remarkable.

Suddenly our family friendly little hotel beach, previously dotted with sandcastles and tots in floppy sun hats, was overrun by a bunch of grown men acting like frat boys. The kind of frat boys who run out to the package store and buy several cases of the cheapest available light beer, which they proceed to consume, double fisted, on the beach before ten in the morning. They smoked, the swore, they said derogatory things about women and they left litter in their wake.

They also made me feel a bit like my mother, as I herded my little angel away from these gangs of beer gutted high school heros somehow teleported from the late eighties.

My efforts were stymied by the boors' collective interest in conversing with us about the Grape. It turned out most of them lacked the ability to process a boy without a crew cut. I, on the other hand, cannot fathom why I would snip off locks that countless men and women would kill for, especially now that the Grape's hair has grown past the sheep dog stage and he can see where he's going.

"Boy or Girl?" one fat drunk man after another demanded. Really. This question has not come up anywhere else, and we haven't exactly kept the Grape locked in a box at home. He dresses in boy clothes and spends most of his waking hours clutching his favorite toy vehicles. When we replied, "Boy," we got a variety of responses, from "He sure is pretty. Don't you think he's too pretty?" to "You can't tell," all delivered in an accusing voice.

When one guy, sporting the same unfortunate crew cut worn by his buddies and no doubt inflicted by some one-trick barber, marched up to me in the lobby and demanded to know why I didn't cut the Grape's hair, I said, "It's the Jesus look. It's so hot right now in Milan."

He retreated to his wife, muttering about the nasty Yankee bitch's unfitness for child rearing.

In fairness, I will say the State Farm group from Texas included several lovely couples and families who appeared as appalled as I by their compatriots' behavior. Sadly, they were outnumbered by the meatheads. I suppose meatheads have a right to vacation, too, but is it too much to ask that they act like adults and leave the other hotel guests in peace?

Or have we reached the point in our society where standards don't exist, even in nice environs, because of fear of snobbery?

Seriously. It's a nice hotel. One that advertises its child-friendliness prominently and proudly. If they want to allow men in see-through mesh football jerseys in their lobby bar, I suppose that's their prerogative and they have business reasons for such an accommodation.

But R. shouldn't have to call security twice after one o'clock in the morning to complain about a keg party on a an adjacent balcony.

I love taking my son to the beach, and we enjoy visiting this property on the pink sands of Bermuda, but thanks to the junket goers, for the first time ever, R. and I were happy to pack up and head home.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

To snip or not to snip?

This year, the cities of San Francisco and Santa Monica will ask voters to decide whether to ban the circumcision of male children. Such measures, once dismissed as unfeasible, appear to be gaining momentum among the voting public.

I get it and I don't.

First, a note to my Jewish and Muslim readers: If circumcision is a necessary rite of your religious observance, I respect that, and I would oppose any ban that doesn't include a mohel exemption.

Second, I don't understand the fervor displayed by some of the San Francisco activists. Pursuing a circumcision ban when so many kids go hungry and uneducated strikes me as a waste of precious political capital. While I believe the procedure is unnecessary, I don't think it rises to the level of child abuse.

Why not? Unlike female genital mutilation, a successful male circumcision is a cosmetic procedure that won't affect urinary or reproductive function (although it does decrease male sexual pleasure - a fact that was no doubt obvious to those crafty authors of Leviticus). Unlike female circumcision, male circumcision in the U.S. is undertaken in clean conditions by trained professionals.

Activists who seek to equate the two procedures reduce themselves to the ranks of the ridiculous.

As for non-observant me: I happen to believe that the procedure is needless, brutal and a great way for doctors to make easy money for what it usually a simple and quick operation. Maybe insurance companies should simply stop covering circumcision. It's not like they spring for other cosmetic surgeries.

And frankly, if I was searching for a person to perform an infant circumcision, I'd certainly hire a mohel before I'd let an obstetrician who's been up all night slice up my kid. (If you think pediatric surgeons perform the surgery in America's best hospitals, you are mistaken.)

Anecdotally, I know enough firsthand cases of botched hospital circumcisions, where the young patients had to go in for repeat operations, to crystallize my opposition to the practice.

And what reasons did these non-observant parents give for choosing circumcision in the first place? So the boy's parts could look like his father's? Um, just because your mother-in-law allowed someone to mutilate her child doesn't mean you must do the same. To match some soon-to-be outmoded aesthetic? Less than half of all male infants in this country now undergo the procedure. Junior's future sexual partners will see for themselves that snipped and un-snipped male equipment looks the same when it's ready to perform.

I've never understood why the procedure became popular with non-religious Americans in the first place. The best information on Google suggests that male circumcision caught on Stateside sometime in the early part of the last century, probably as a measure intended to combat venereal disease.

Certainly, male circumcision has been credited in several legitimate studies to decrease the rate of HIV infection in third world populations. But frankly, not even the poorest Americans live in conditions endured in places like Lesotho, the war torn Congo, or the shantytowns outside Johannesburg. Those without access to sanitation can and should take whatever steps they can to try to to avoid AIDS.

In the first world, however, I believe you'd be hard pressed to find a parent who would say, "We circumcised Junior, so we don't care if he uses condoms or not."

Back here in the States, I don't believe we need a ban on the procedure. We don't need to create demand for back alley baby-cutting quacks inside the San Francisco city limits. But I do think that doctors should be more forthright in telling expecting parents that the operation serves no medical purpose, and is never without risks.

In my experience, and in that of the dozens of moms I polled, such inquires were only answered when the obstetricians were pressed; the costs and benefits of the surgery weren't outlined in detail before the new mom was asked to decide whether to snip her son. The default towards the procedure smells like a racket for the hospitals and doctors, and seems worthy of further discussion.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Comment problem resolved (finally)

Just a quick note to my regular readers that (at long last) I've fixed the comment problem so many of you have brought to my attention. You no longer need to have a gmail address, or to register as a user, to comment on thelittlegrape.