Sunday, January 29, 2012

It takes a village to fix Mamma's running injury

I'm having surgery tomorrow to repair torn cartilage in my knee. Various acquaintances say I'm crazy to have the procedure done. "Don't you have a two-year-old?" they ask, as if this detail has slipped my mind.

I do indeed. And at the moment, it's extremely painful to run after him, to make sudden turns or just to squat down to meet him at toddler eye level. I'm sick of sounding like an old lady who reports the weather by sharing the status of one of her major joints. I'd like to be able to ski with the aforementioned two-year-old when he becomes a three-year-old next winter. And on a more selfish note, I'd like to undertake some form of exercise besides the orthopedist-approved elliptical trainer before the Grape graduates grammar school.

If all goes according to plan, I'll spend less than twenty-four hours in one of the world's best hospitals, and my doctor will use a minimally invasive technique to perform the fix. In six to eight weeks, I should have a good as new knee.

I expect by then I'll also have a whole new respect for those who parent small children while coping with physical ailments of their own.

I don't have my precise post-op marching orders yet, but I know to expect the following: no impact, no weight bearing, and no bending of that leg, for about a month and a half.

First of all, a month and a half is like four years in little kid time.

The Grape is a big time Mamma's Boy, and I expect he'll think the doctor's orders are a whole lot of hooey. Especially the first morning I tell him I cannot pick him out of his crib and carry him down the stairs to the kitchen. Or that he can't crawl into my lap by way of my bad leg. Or that I can't chase after him in the park. Or shuffle him, Lila the Dog and several bags of groceries simultaneously. Or jog up and down the stairs two-hundred-forty-eight times in the span of a single day.

I have no doubt that life around our place will feel maddeningly slow over the next few weeks. I'm braced for the tantrums. He'll be a frustrated little Grape at first, though I'm hopeful that whatever visual aids the hospital issues me (crutches? monster metallic brace?) will help illustrate Mamma's predicament and sow some tiny seeds of understanding.

I'm not wildly optimistic. I've tried telling the Grape that Mamma is going to the hospital to have a small operation, in the manner of Curious George. The Grape points out that a) that's silly, b) Curious George eats ice cream in that book, and c) he, the Grape, wants ice cream now.

Luckily, I'll have the help of the metaphorical village. R. will take a day or two off from work, my mother will come up from Rhode Island for a few days, and we've hired a lovely granny type to help out during the month of February. She's a retired nanny from El Salvador. She speaks very little English. Hopefully the Grape and I can learn some Spanish while I recuperate.

I'm also fortunate to have quite a few mommy friends in the neighborhood, and I could call upon them in an emergency. Our local grocery store delivers. I can hire a dog walker if our sidewalks turn icy and Lila threatens to knock me off my one good leg.

But my planning for post-op brings me back to my original question: What the heck do parents of little ones do, if they find themselves temporarily physically limited and unable to press a friend or relative into service, and unable to throw money at the problem?

Most people who need long-term assistance eventually realize that the village must be paid. Child care isn't cheap. Mary Poppins won't float down to the doorstep on cue (especially for a temp gig). She must be targeted by advertising, interviewed, vetted and likely wooed. Many day care centers boast waiting lists measured in years, not months. Many of my contemporaries have parents too old, infirm or far-removed to assist with kiddie care, especially on any kind of on-going basis.

What do they do? I mean besides hope and pray that they make it though the early childhood years without significant physical maladies? Do they go into debt to pay the village? Do they wing it and hope for the best (e.g., hope Junior won't hurl his little body towards oncoming traffic)? Do they subsist on pizza or whatever other food can be delivered? Do their family members take family medical leave (a right available to many who work for large employers, but inconceivable to the self-employed and quite possibly career-stunting to millions of others)? And what if you're a single parent?

In the scheme of things, my knee isn't a big deal. It's more like a huge inconvenience. But my imminent operation got me thinking about larger questions. What the heck do parents faced with cancer, catastrophic injury or rapidly progressing degenerative disorders do when they have no real safety net available?

Friday, January 20, 2012

Another Straight Gal for Marriage Equality

Last month, a married couple I know had to pay legal fees of $3000 for one spouse to adopt the couple's newborn child. This isn't one of those step-parent, blended family, post divorce situations. The couple, two women, had been legally married for years. One of them is their child's biological mother.

The other mom had to adopt their child to ensure she would have full parental rights in the event that the biological mom became incapacitated or died before their child reached the age of majority.

This is nonsense, of course. Old, patrician statutes in most states bestow full parental rights on a married woman's husband, whether he's the biological father of the infant in question or not. So why can't a gay spouse benefit from the same presumption?

I was shocked to hear the lesbian couple in question had to jump through extra legal hoops. Although perhaps I shouldn't have been.

Consider for a moment, three scenarios:

Case A: Married heterosexual couple, unable to conceive due to male infertility, use donor sperm and woman's own egg. She carries pregnancy. Live birth results. Husband listed on birth certificate as parent. No further action indicated. He has full parental rights.

Case B: One half of lesbian married couple becomes pregnant using donor sperm, carries pregnancy, live birth results. Wife listed on birth certificate in a state recognizing gay marriage must still adopt the child to have full parental rights, simplify eventual estate planning, etc. Cost runs about $3000 for the adoption, at least here in Massachusetts.

Case C: Unmarried heterosexual woman gives birth to her biological child. She names the father on child's birth certificate. He gets all the parental rights the law grants a married heterosexual man. No adoption/legal proceedings/out of pocket costs required.

Anyone else find this scheme fundamentally unfair?

Those who claim "civil unions" are every bit as good as marriage often argue that issues including custody, visitation and inheritance can be addressed through the creation and execution of legal contracts. Seven states and DC allow gay couples to marry. The other states should be forced to recognize these marriages under the U.S. Constitution's full faith and credit clause, but that issue will probably take years to settle in the courts. In the meantime the IRS doesn't need to give gay married couples any tax benefits reserved for married heterosexual folks. And there are some, particularly where incomes are unequal, or when it comes to the taxable aspects of dying, or if the gay married couple moves to a state without gay marriage and decides to divorce.

Gay couples and especially gay parents, even in places like Massachusetts, need to fork out a sort of second class citizen surcharge, in the form of legal fees, to make their rights whole. And while the Obama administration has refused to enforce the patently discriminatory Federal Defense of Marriage Act, his challengers love riling up the right wing base with all their silly "sanctity of marriage between and man and a woman" rhetoric.

Never mind that his two front-running challengers are the progeny of a polygamist and a serial cheater-slash-divorcer, who happens to call himself Roman Catholic regardless. But I digress.

Marriage equality isn't about the government forcing any church to bless any union its leaders find unworthy of their sanction. That's one of the many beautiful things about the first amendment: Any citizen has a right to join a bigoted congregation of his or her choice, without fear of government interference.

Marriage equality is about equal treatment in the eyes of the law. Obama's refusal to enforce the draconian DOMA statute isn't an attack on faith; it's a brave stand for civil rights.

The harpies who pander for votes by saying the "institution of marriage" suffers when two consenting gay adults make a public, legally binding commitment to each other have yet to explain why they believe such nonsense. Likely answer: xenophobia.

Yet we heterosexuals are free to marry and divorce as frequently as we can stomach doing so. We can run off to City Hall with someone we just met, tie the knot, inherit property, own things jointly, and attach parental rights. We can also change our minds and scrap the whole thing months, weeks, or even days later. Regardless of where we happen to be living at the moment the arrangement turns sour. No hoops. No strings.

Shouldn't all our fellow Americans have those same rights, no hoops to jump or strings to detach?

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Resolution Re-do

It's mid-January and already, I'm kicking myself for failing at my lone New Year's resolution.

And no, my resolution has nothing to do with those perennial favorites, diet and exercise. Nor is it doomed to failure by virtue of its vagueness, like the popular holiday promises many of us make to "be more patient" or "reduce stress."

I resolved to keep in better contact with old friends.

Perhaps it struck me as odd that my phone bill is the only monthly expense trending in a downward direction. Or maybe I was motivated by all the stories I've heard about old people and their regrets. At least three different periodicals published features in this vein towards the end of 2011, and one of the top universal regrets among seniors from all walks of life was losing touch with dear friends.

Maybe reading about the old people made me realize an embarrassing fact: I'm hard pressed to pinpoint when I last spoke with anyone whose name I'd rattle off, if asked to name my best friends.

And I'm pretty sure it's my fault. Many of them had kids before I did, and we managed to keep up with at least a monthly phone call. Lately we're reduced to leaving abridged accounts of the headlines from our lives in voice mail recordings. Which just isn't the same.

All through 2011, I had good intentions, but life seemed to get in the way. The Grape doesn't nap reliably, and when he does, I try to work. I can no longer chat while out and about with him, because he refuses to remain confined to a stroller at the advanced age of almost two and a half. Half the time my ringer is off, because I can never answer the phone anyway. All hell breaks loose in my house from about 5:30 to 8:30 every night, which I understand (or at least tell myself) is common in households with young children.

The days of cooking dinner while sharing a glass of wine over the phone with an old friend are a hazy memory. And after the Grape sacks out for the night, I feel too spent to delve into a telephonic re-hash of the past several months.

The problem is compounded by the fact that toddlers are hard-wired to resist any attempt (no matter how fleeting) by their mothers to ignore them. The Grape can happily push his cars around the living room floor all by his lonesome. He'll coo and chatter to himself and to any passing household pets, for really respectable amounts of time.

He does this as long as I'm either watching him in awe or hovering nearby doing something boring, such as emptying the dishwasher. If he hears me get on the phone, he immediately climbs up my person like a squirrel scampering up a tree. Then he tries to wrestle the phone from my grasp like a possessed monkey. If I dodge his assault he will circle my legs and chatter about literally whatever pops into his mind. So conversations tend to go like this:

ME: It's been way too long. How are you? How are the kids?

FRIEND: I'm so glad you called. We've been busy. You know we moved last month, right?

ME: That's a tractor. It's a yellow tractor. Uh huh. It's a nice yellow tractor. Sorry, what were you saying?

FRIEND: And the movers destroyed the piano, so we're fighting with the insurance company, which is a mess. But the new house is great. Then Junior had the croup over Christmas, so we never made it to my parents' house. But he's better now. Hey, I meant to ask, are you going to Suzy and John's wedding in June?

ME: Do not eat your shoe. Um, sorry, what was that? Suzy's wedding? Yes, we're planning on it. And please do not put my lipstick on the dog. No. No. Mamma said no. Because Lila doesn't like lipstick. And because I said no. Wait. Is that my new, unopened Chanel lipstick? Where did you take that from? No! Don't put lipstick on the wall, either. What else did you find in Mamma's purse? Hi? I have to call you back. I'm so sorry. And why is there yogurt on the carpet? It was so good to hear your voice. I said you have to eat your yogurt in the kitchen. Yeah, let's try to talk again soon. Bye!

Starting today, I resolve to do better. I will belatedly ring in the new year by turning the ringer back on. I'll leave messages that suggest times to call back. And I'll try not to let a little lipstick on the dog prevent me from hearing what's going on in my friends' lives. Lila the Dog is just going to have to be a team player on this one.

Friday, January 6, 2012

When the anti-choice choose

Inducing labor to deliver a fetus with no chance of survival is the same thing as having an abortion.

So why is this rarely discussed method of termination acceptable to many in the religious right, yet a D&E at 20 weeks constitutes mortal sin?

I venture to guess that many women faced with the miserable news that their second trimester pregnancies are non-viable would opt for the surgical route. I know I would. Why suffer through labor, knowing there's no chance of a live baby at the end of the ordeal?

But sometimes medical factors don't allow enough time to perform the safe and recommended three day, second trimester D&E procedure. Sometimes,the presence of the terminally flawed fetus in the womb causes such severe infection as to pose an immediate threat to the life of the expectant mother.

Delivery, whether by labor or by cesarean operation, becomes the only medically practicable recourse.

Such were the tragic circumstances faced by Karen Santorum, wife of suddenly relevant presidential hopeful Rick Santorum, back in 1996. Depending on which newspaper you consult, Ms. Santorum was 19 or 20 weeks pregnant when her fetus caused her to nearly lose her life to a massive infection. A devout Roman Catholic, Ms. Santorum nonetheless opted to deliver a severely pre-mature child with no chance of survival instead of laying down her own life.

For that, I applaud her rationality. Surely it's better to let a non-viable fetus die than to let a mother orphan her existing brood.

And no, this post isn't a cheap shot. Ms. Santorum wrote a book about her experience, and she routinely lends her voice and resources to a number of anti-choice causes. She opened the public dialogue about a subject most people regard as an intensely private matter.

And yet her husband, who was by all accounts present for the duration of her awful ordeal, opposes all abortions, even those medically indicated to save the life of the mother.

Few things rankle me like hypocrisy.

But anti-intellectualism comes close. There's simply no way around the fact that Ms. Santorum terminated her unhealthy pregnancy. She faced a horrible choice. But she made her choice.

Her husband would deny other women the same options.

Regular readers know I'm staunchly pro-choice. I believe in stem cell research and contraception. I believe in free access to safe elective abortion. I trust a woman to decide whether she wants to become a mother, and I think this country would be a better place if the religious right worried more about the millions of children living in poverty in our country than about telling women what to do with their bodies.

I don't think a zygote, or a fetus for that matter, counts as a human being. I usually dismiss the debate over late term abortions as a red herring thrown up by the anti-choice lobby. According to the Guttmacher Institute, one per cent of terminations take place after the 20th week of pregnancy.

And of those, the overwhelming majority are performed because the fetus is dead or dying, and/or the mother's life faces an immediate threat.

The thing that bothers me most of all is that, if Mr. Santorum got his way, well-heeled women like his wife would still be able to receive the elective abortion care they desired.

Albeit by forking out cash to travel, or by paying a trusted physician off the books. An extra hoop gets added.

But the result would be that the haves of America would maintain a privilege that the have nots would forfeit. That feels un-American to me.

So why am I once again preaching to the converted? (I'm smart enough to know my blog doesn't make many anti-choice reading lists.) Because some of my readers are in the one per cent.

And some of them admittedly vote their wallets, even if they might disagree fervently on a candidate's position on the "social" issues.

When Santorum surges so late in the process, and I mean in terms of fundraising, not in terms of convincing a bunch of white, evangelical Iowans to caucus for him, it serves to remind us that elections have consequences beyond our wallets. And this time around, a vote for the GOP, whether you're "only a fiscal conservative" or not, is a vote against the rights of women.