Tuesday, July 24, 2012

A note to my readers

An anonymous comment generated by my recent post Tricky Mittens prompts me to write this note to my readers. And because it came on the heels of another bizarre interaction (see below), I'm breaking with my policy of ignoring the trolls.

Dear readers:

Thank you very much for stopping by and reading The Little Grape. The views expressed in all posts on this blog are my own, and as the blog's subheading suggests, I tackle a variety of topics. Because 2012 is an election year, and I feel strongly about the candidates and issues, I write about politics from time to time.

If you believe I've made a factual error in a post, please send me an email or leave a comment to the post in question. If you can cite a reputable source, I'll gladly print a correction and/or apology.

However, I make no apologies for, or secret of, my politics. If you don't like my opinions, you are most welcome to leave a comment expressing your dissent. I'll publish all civil comments, regardless of viewpoint. You all, my valued readers, are every bit as entitled to your opinions as I am to mine.

But if the viewpoints of one mom/writer make you apoplectic enough to call me unprintable names, and do so anonymously, you're probably best advised to seek content elsewhere on the Internet.

I stand by my (wholly unoriginal) assertion that Mr. Romney's tax returns contain something (or many things) that wouldn't play well with the American public. My twelve guesses as to what could be in the Romney returns are just that: my  guesses, based on voracious reading of the news and commentary, including much written by several respected right-leaning writers.

Finally, I also respectfully request that the person or persons who subscribe to this blog and vent their frustrations with my viewpoints to my male parent: Please knock it off.  I'm a grown up, and not a newly minted one at that. If you don't like what I'm writing, kindly have the spine to say it to me directly.

My father is a class act. He's been a tremendous source of inspiration and support during my midlife career change. He would never presume to tell me what to write (or not write), even if he disagrees with my perspectives. And for that I am deeply grateful.

Shattering the Stratospheric Glass Ceiling

I was one of those many kids captivated by all things outer space. I spent hours in our basement playroom, pretending to be an astronaut in my space capsule, the big cardboard box that once contained our new refrigerator. I passed my late elementary school years in blissful ignorance that my lack of interest in math and physics and my propensity for motion sickness would pretty much disqualify me from a future with NASA.

Though I remember watching Sally Ride rocket into orbit on June 18, 1983, shattering the stratospheric glass ceiling, I doubt my ten-year-old self appreciated the full significance of the event.

Nor did I grasp how much some in the boys' club resented her. She endured countless patronizing jokes (Johnny Carson quipped that the shuttle launch would be delayed because she couldn't settle on a handbag and shoes) and stupid questions from legitimate journalists (such as whether she was worried traveling into space would harm her chances of having children). No writer, to the best of my knowledge, had ever inquired  as to whether male astronauts feared the effects of all those G-forces on sperm production.

Sally Ride died yesterday from pancreatic cancer.

Three things I learned from her obituary:

Although NASA had made a commitment to hire women, Sally Ride's first trip into space wasn't tokenism or a publicity stunt, like the tragically doomed Teacher in Space mission of 1986. Dr. Ride was instrumental in developing the shuttle's now famous robotic arm. The commander of the mission chose her because of her expertise with the device.

After retiring from NASA, Dr. Ride taught at Stanford and at the University of California at San Diego.  She started a company, Sally Ride Science, with a goal of making science and math more interesting to junior high school students, particularly girls. Dr. Ride  believed too many girls with aptitude for the sciences were pressured into different directions during the critical middle school years. Her company set up science fairs and festivals around the country, and provided teacher training work shops, with a focus on providing girls with female role models in the science world. In short, she worked hard to make the sciences cool.

Aside: I don't have a daughter, but if I ever hear the Grape saying that some jobs are for boys and others are for girls, I assure you he'll have another think coming.

Dr. Ride is survived by her partner of 27 years, who will not be eligible for federal survivorship benefits because of the misguided, discriminatory and harmful Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).

Any politician out there praising Dr. Ride's contributions to science and society should be ready to answer why we Americans, in 2012, allow a second class of citizenship.

Godspeed, Dr. Ride. I hope the view from wherever you are now is fantastic.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Narcissism at a whole new level (and this one isn't about toddlers)

Just when I think no ridiculous, look-at-me trend can surprise me, I catch wind of a perhaps not-so-nascent fad: gender reveal parties.

Excuse me while I gag.

Alright, I'm back and sufficiently regrouped to press onward.

It appears, based on my weekly perusal of the busy Boston GardenMoms message board and a quick Google search, that a certain cadre of parents-to-be have devised such celebrations as a way of showcasing their narcissism  - at a previously unimaginable level.

And there is no reason, other than runaway parental narcissism, to host such an affair.

Let's review. You know the sex of your fetus. Yay for you! Sure, your friends and family are curious, but here's the bottom line: Nobody cares about the sex of a baby nearly as much as the parents to be. Not the grandparents. Not your BFF. Not your twin sister.


And if your friends gamely manage to muster some enthusiasm for your "big" surprise, it certainly won't reach a level at which said friends are happy to give up a perfectly good Saturday, schlep to whatever venue, bonus gift in hand (see below), to sit around and eat cake (with an either pink or blue center) while mustering fake squeals of joy.

And since gender determination technology is available by twenty weeks' gestation, (i.e. well before the time of a traditional baby shower), the "gender reveal party" is really a double dip on the present shakedown.

Double dipping is not something we as a society should encourage.

Not just because of the money, though that's a factor for most people.

I like buying baby gifts. Little stuff is cute and cuddly, and more so since I'm done having babies. But I prefer to buy gifts for kids who actually exist.

Out of cultural necessity, I've made a tenuous peace with showers - though I still find the idea of saying, "Hey! Come over and make sure you bring presents!" kind of icky, and never allowed one in my honor for that reason.

I've been to some appalling ones, and some quite classy ones, along the way.

Of course the appalling ones stick with me. I've never fathomed why any woman would allow a guessing game regarding her girth, or allow such a waste of diapers (the most needed item listed at most women's shelters) and fill landfills with idiotic parlor games like "stinky diaper." (Yes, it's real. I have seen it with my own eyes, though as a matter of aesthetics, I could not bring myself to participate.)

I'm not an extremist. I think showers have their place. If a mom-to-be is stretched financially, it's a loving and supportive act to shower her with the necessities, and some of the fun, adorable stuff, too. If she's got plenty of resources, I frankly stop seeing the point. Yes, it's a celebration, but as soon as the s-word appears on the invitation, gifts become expected rather than merely accepted.

Personally, I think it's more fun to give and receive spontaneously.

I watched about eighty per cent of a cute indie film called "Friends With Kids" on a recent plane ride. Why eighty per cent? Because the Grape woke up and reset the film. I couldn't fast forward or rewind to catch the ending.

Anyway, there's a great little scene wherein the female lead is on the phone, ordering personalized baby gifts. "I'll need eight boy versions, and six girl ones...  Wait. Did you say $1800 plus shipping? Yeah, um, I'm going to need to make some tough decisions and call you back." That's how your single friends likely feel. Babies, like marriages, tend to occur in waves within social circles. I know, pre-Grape, I would have balked at the idea of a third gift for a single birth.

Just like I'm balking at it now.

Gender reveal parties?! Seriously. You're going to be a parent. Grow up. It's not all about you anymore.

Monday, July 9, 2012

The Grape enjoys la dolce vita

We returned this weekend from the most ambitious trip R. and I have undertaken since the Grape arrived on the scene almost three years ago. Ambitious because it involved a significant time change, a trans-Atlantic red eye and a good deal of in-country schlepping, by which I mean packing up and switching hotels every few nights. We moved often enough in the span of almost three weeks that when we landed at Logan (our home airport) and collected our bags, the Grape asked if we were going to another hotel.

As expected, travel with the Grape wasn't always a picnic. He screamed like an extra in a cheap horror flick for the first three and a half hours of the late night trans-Atlantic hop. And no, the businessmen in nearby seats understandably did not care that he had missed the window to go to sleep and completed a death spiral into over wrought delirium. Now that we're home, fierce jet lag is kicking us all in the teeth. The Grape is up and ready to rock no later than 4 a.m.

But the trip was a resounding success, thanks to a couple of key factors. First, we went to Italy, a country I feel fortunate to have visited many times. So there wasn't pressure to see every site. R. went out a few times on his own to see the big museums while the Grape and I took a siesta. I took those hours back in beach time, where I devoured an astounding three novels in five days while the Grape and R. napped.

Second, we built in almost a week at the beach to counter balance a week and change of culture and visits to various relations. The Grape actually applauded this decision. "This is vacation, Mamma," he told me when I procured a shovel and bucket, slathered him in sun block and dunked him in the Mediterranean.

But most important to the success of our adventure was the simple fact that the Italian birth rate has slowed to a trickle. Consequently, babies are a big deal almost everywhere you go. The Grape, while no longer an infant, evidently qualified as a bambino.

We didn't have to pay to get him into museums he found interesting for the first four minutes, since cut offs for free admission are a decade more generous than here at home. R. and I took turns viewing the treasures and preventing the Grape from destroying priceless works. While visiting churches, we marveled at his fascination with two features: painted ceilings and confessional booths. (When asked about the latter, I explained that they are kind of like toll booths on the super highway of sin. The Grape looked at me like I was a moron and pronounced them forts.)

The Grape really enjoyed looking at fountains and indulging in aperitivo hour - a nightly event during which R. and I prayed our drinks would arrive before the Grape reached the end of the bowl of complementary chips. Luckily the baby card landed us with limitless high value snacks.

We played the baby card up and down the peninsula - to score coveted beach chairs by the water, to get free stuff from room service, to get the tables we wanted in restaurants (no small concern when a typical dinner lasts close to three hours).

Which are no longer the tables we would have desired before having the Grape. We happily requested the loud ones near the non-stop show of the kitchen, or better, by the neglected seats by the entrance, where the Grape could explore between courses without interfering with other diners. In my childless days, I'd wait hours to avoid such low rent restaurant geography; now we sought it out, ate like kings and kept the annoyance of other patrons to a minimum. And really, any one silly enough to eat at the blue hair and high chair hour shouldn't be surprised to see kids at the next table, even in Italy when the aforementioned hour begins at 7:30 p.m.

For the first few days of our trip, the Grape whined that he wanted to go home and repeatedly demanded snacks not readily available in Italy.

I know I could have packed Goldfish and peanut butter, but I was too afraid that's the way those affected college kids who tote mac and cheese in a box on junior year abroad get started.

When in Rome, as they say, eat like Romans do. Or don't.  It turns out a toddler can stay alive and in fairly good spirits on nothing more than milk, strawberries, apples, bread and sweets, particularly chocolate gelato.

Fortunately, the complaints dropped off after the first seventy-two hours. Even more fortunately, he conked out before dinner the first two nights. R. and I enjoyed two incredibly civilized and memorable restaurant meals while the Grape snored softly in his stroller next to our table, undisturbed as the waiters reached over his inert form to pour more wine.

We had some bumps after he acclimated to Central European time. In Naples, stressed by the maniacal drivers whose tires barreled towards us relentlessly at little kid eye level, he melted down completely in the birthplace of pizza. On the way out, deep in disgrace, he recovered sufficiently to point out a family of four traveling at breakneck speed on a Vespa. (Not an uncommon site in old Napoli - Kid A stands between dad's feet, dad drives, Kid B, often with pacifier going furiously, sits sandwiched between parents, mom rides in back.)

We had a wonderful meal our second night at the coast. The Grape ate what the waiters put in front of him, charmed the hostess, which netted a visit to the kitchen to meet the chef as well as a souvenir chef hat, and called the owner beautiful, which netted free desserts. When we returned two nights later, the Grape refused to eat, refused to stay in his chair and made several loud breaks for the beach.  If we'd stayed beyond the second course, they might have encouraged us to leave.

Which really isn't all that different than what might happen if we tried to visit a neighborhood restaurant here at home more than once in the same week. Travel with a toddler is ultimately like living with one - you take the good with the bad. For anyone on the fence about taking a big trip with a little kid, I vote go. Life is short, and I've never once regretted time and money spent seeing the world.