Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Travels with the Grape: Preparing for Launch

I apologize for starting with an unoriginal thought: Whoever said that getting there is half the fun clearly wasn't traveling with a toddler.

No one has told the Grape. He's beside himself giddy about our upcoming airplane trip. In fact, whenever he's pitched a fit over the past week, I've asked, "Do you want to go on the plane?"

"Yes! Yes! Yes!" he'll scream, with the enthusiasm of a dog asked if he'd like steak for dinner. The Grape has no idea the tickets are non-refundable, or that it would be illegal to leave him home alone. Although we have engaged a live in house sitter, a verifiable mature adult, so maybe... Kidding!

Instead of dwelling on the far fetched nature of my new favorite threat, I just say, "Well, then you need to [insert desired behavior here]."

Little does he know that the plane will be "fun" for roughly ten minutes, or that we'll all be exhausted by the time we actually board. Despite his insistence that he can't wait to go on a trip, the Grape is doing his best to undermine our departure at every turn.

With under twenty-four hours left until go time, and my evening tonight booked with a professional obligation, I haven't started to pack. Packing would require doing laundry, identifying the proper bags to bring, and assembling all our stuff in neatly folded piles  - all without alerting either the Grape or Lila the Dog.

Lila hyperventilates whenever she sees suitcases come out. She shakes, pants, pees herself and suffers palpitations.

Meanwhile, the Grape enjoys "helping," which involves unfolding each item and dragging our clean clothes up and down the hall, as if he's trying to ensure that every last speck of dust in our place crosses the Atlantic with us. Or jamming every one of his stuffed toys into the largest suitcase, then bawling when I tell him they can't all come. Or zipping Siren the Cat into one of the carryon bags (she is too senile to protest or care).

Note to self: Get visual on geriatric cat before leaving for airport, to avoid unpleasantness with domestic and/or foreign customs personnel. Better, yet: save a few bucks on the taxi and check for passports at same time.

For added pre-launch fun, the Grape, team player that he is, spent the past two and a half days convalescing with some kind of disgusting toddler plague, one that featured high fevers, mouth sores, malaise and a complete monopoly on my attention.

Thoughtful, locally produced hostess gift for cousin? Probably downgraded to duty free booze. Fun Bostonian souvenir for new nephew? Hopefully the airport stocks tot size gear.

Thorough house cleaning in anticipation of aforementioned mature adult's move in? She'll have to settle for a quick last minute vacuuming. Don't roll your eyes - the Grape is napping and there is no way I'm going to wake him up for anything short of a life-threatening emergency.

A few acquaintances have taken stock of all this and asked why I want to schlep overseas with a preschooler.

Because, once we get there, it'll be great. The Grape is a game little guy, and I know I can't expect him to become a good little traveler if we never take him anywhere. And if he's a  total disaster, at least I'll return home with copious amounts of new material.

Besides, my parents toted us overseas all the time. Back in the good old days when you could send the kids to the cockpit for the bulk of the flight. I'm told they frown on that kind of thing these days.

Since we're at T minus 23 hours, I should sign off and get on with key preparations. Such as finding a valium for the dog. I'll write again after our travels. Until then, as the Italians say, The Little Grape is:

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Just a Tollbooth on the Toddler Terror Super Highway

It's time to retire the time out, or at least send it on a long sabbatical. Last night, I threatened the Grape with time out if he didn't immediately cease bailing the water from his tub onto the bathroom floor. He laughed in my face and said, "Okay." I hoisted him out of the tub and he gamely marched his wet, naked self to the stairs, where he plunked himself down with a devilish smirk.

Message received: Mamma, this is so worth it.

The Grape treats time out like a tollbooth on the toddler terror super highway. A necessary inconvenience, not worth much fuss. Simply put, it's worth paying the toll in order to be naughty.

He pulled a similar stunt the other night, while eating in one of our favorite neighborhood restaurants. He screeched like a hawk on the hunt between bites of tartufo, which ranks in the highest caliber of Grape treats. R. and I told him, through clenched teeth, to knock it off. "Do you want to leave right now?" I asked. "No," the Grape said, contritely. He reinstalled his halo on his head and helped himself to another luxurious bite of the dessert. I exhaled, took a bite of my dinner, sipped my wine.

The Grape, sensing he'd won, shrieked again, loudly, triumphantly and just in time for vague (childless) acquaintances to sit down at the next table. I shot the Grape the Look of Death. He levered himself out of his seat with another scream for good measure. "I'm going to time out," he announced with a devilish grin, and tried to set off in the direction of the restaurant's stoop.

Obviously we had to leave in disgrace. I sucked down my wine in a swig reminiscent of certain college drinking games. R. foisted a wad of cash on the waiter and we hauled the Grape's protesting, kicking, writhing form home, without wrapping his dessert.

After the bedtime shuffle I sat and lamented the demise of the time out. Because its retirement heralds in a new form of punishment. One far more collective: the dreaded loss of privilege.

Taking away the Grape's cars, dessert, Finnish troll television, or whatever, necessarily punishes me as much as it does him. He doesn't go down without a fight. And he senses, on some level, that he can push the envelope further now that I've raised the stakes. Whereas time outs were doled out cheaply and predictably, I stop and consider if X violation justifies Y loss of something fun.

Put differently, he knew he'd get a warning or two before R. and I threw down our napkins and left the restaurant in shame. The little guy has our number that way.

As I sit and write this, he's happily parked in front of a twenty-four-minute-and-seventeen-second episode of Muumipeikko cartoons, the only screen time he gets. I justify the videos because they reinforce the Finnish language. I also need this time to write my blog, wash my hair or just regroup, safe in the knowledge that he won't leave the hypnotic glow of television to burn down the house, escape into the alley, attempt to bathe the dog, etc...

Making him forfeit his video is not unlike grounding a teenager. It's tough to conceive of something worse, from a parental standpoint, than sentencing an alternately surly and hyper-emotional fourteen-year-old to days or weeks at your side. I recall enough of my adolescence to realize that a tantrum-pitching toddler, while exasperating, doesn't come close.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

The Father's a Bum and Go Sister, Go! (Part 1)

What would you do if your child's teacher was known to the school's principal as a child abuser, and instead of alerting the authorities, the principal used school funds to incentivize the rapist to seek other employment?

What if the superintendent of schools blessed the quiet pay off, indeed encouraged or authorized it?

You'd want both administrators' heads on platters, right?

At the minimum, a reasonable parent would call the cops. If faced with such a horrific, and thankfully highly unlikely, scenario, I'd also hire an attorney and make it my life's mission to throw the abuser and the protectors behind bars.

The awful scenario in the first sentence is exactly what happened in Milwaukee. Except the known child predators (yes, more than one) were priests and the administrator who gave them five-figure bonuses to leave their jobs was none other than Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York. Yes, the same blowhard misogynist who got all knickers-in-a-twist because Congress passed a law mandating insurance companies to offer contraceptive coverage.

Nine years ago, Cardinal Dolan, while serving as bishop in Wisconsin, authorized use of Church funds (those checks parishioners drop in the offering plates) to offer pedophile priests a bargain: laicize voluntarily and get $20,000.

Cardinal Dolan argues the payments were "charity," designed to help the poor child rapists buy health insurance (and pay for their Viagra) while they got new jobs. At no time did Dolan alert the authorities. Or lift one bejeweled finger to offer assistance to the victims.

Seems to me that reasonable minds could conclude he made the payments to save face and brush the crimes and criminals out of sight.  Where would a former priest's skill set transfer most readily? I dunno. But teaching and counseling spring to mind as viable career paths.

If Mr. Dolan can't be charged with conspiracy to endanger children and obstruction of justice, something is gravely wrong with our legal system. I don't know if misappropriation of donated funds is a criminal offense in this case. Perhaps $20,000 is petty cash to the Milwaukee Diocese.

I hope the prosecutors in Wisconsin will have the courage to proceed. Let the bully get a taste of judgment and inquisition, since he metes it out so freely against others.

This week was no exception. Mr. Dolan, the lead spokesman for the Conference of Catholic Bishops, was busy persecuting an elderly nun. A Sister of Mercy, to be specific. One Sister Margaret Farley, who taught at Yale for decades and published several peer-acclaimed academic titles that nobody would care about, but for the fact that the bishops decided to go on the warpath.

Sister Farley addresses the Church's need to evolve. She sees no reason to deny same-sex couples the right to marry.  She's a big fan of masturbation, arguing, quite convincingly, that many women would otherwise have no idea how to enjoy sex. Not a massive stretch. Know any totally inexperienced woman who ever had amazing sex with a totally inexperienced partner?

Me neither.

As an acquaintance once quipped, marrying a virgin is about as clever as embarking on a cross-country road trip with a student driver.

Here's an explosive quote from Sister Margaret Farley's book (the one condemned by the American bishops and the Vatican): "Seduction and manipulation of persons who have limited capacity for choice because of immaturity, special dependency, or loss of ordinary power, are ruled out."

Translation: Adults should never rape or molest children. 

No wonder Cardinal Dolan hates this book. 

The red-dress-wearing gents in Rome are backing him up. They've dispatched a posse of three Cardinals to investigate the good Sister. 

Guess how many emissaries the Vatican has dispatched (over the past several decades) to investigate the cover up of child rape by  bishops and other high-ranking Church officials?


I know, you're shocked. Please, take a second to recover. Then go out and buy Sister Farley's book.

I confess, that while I devour the newspaper daily, I don't read many non-fiction books. And I certainly don't go out of my way looking for semi-obscure academic tomes.

But I'm determined to do my tiny part to make Just Love: A Framework for Christian Sexual Ethics, by Sister Margaret Farley, a bestseller. Amazon shows it as out of stock, but you can place an order here. The publisher would be insane not to issue a new printing, and I hope Sister Farley gets an ebook out as well.

She probably will. She seems like a smart lady.