Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Gun Control Now, Please, Mr. President

Dear Readers: I hate that I am writing about guns when I should be drafting a funny holiday post, but I believe we have watershed opportunity to finally implement meaningful gun control. Pasted below is a letter I just mailed to President Obama, the House and Senate leaders, and my state's Congressional delegation. I am concerned the next few weeks will bring much talk and no action. The President and Congress need to hear from moms and other concerned citizens who want sensible gun control now.

To that end, please feel free to cut and paste my letter and send it as your own if you agree.

December 18, 2012

Dear Mr. President:

Please immediately propose meaningful gun control legislation to Congress. The nation should never have to endure the heartbreak of another massacre like last week's slaughter of children in Newtown, Connecticut. As columnist Gail Collins wrote over the weekend, every country has its fair share of dangerous mentally ill individuals. Only in America do we give them access to the technology to commit mass murder.

We need serious, common sense gun control now.

This is a watershed moment. Please don't let it slip away. Please propose federal legislation to:

1. Ban the sale and possession of all automatic and semi-automatic weapons by anyone other than active duty members of the military and law enforcement.

Such an assault weapons ban should include a buyback program, perhaps modeled on the successful assault weapon buyback conducted by Australia in 1996. However, to ensure the ban is effective, it must have teeth. Those caught in possession of automatic and semiautomatic weapons after the buyback period ends should face significant prison time, e.g., at least ten years in federal prison. Assault weapons are weapons of terror. We should treat those in possession of such weapons accordingly.

2. Ban all sales of expanded magazines and so-called "cop killer" bullets, effective immediately. Do this by executive order, if necessary.

3. Require all guns, even those used solely for hunting and target shooting, be registered. Under the taxation power, mandate states should to collect annual registration fees in an amount not less than $300 per firearm per year. Such licenses should be non-transferable. I.e. If Household Member A is licensed to own a firearm, s/he cannot share that firearm with an unlicensed household member or with any other individual.

All proceeds above the costs of administering the program should go into the state's elementary education coffers. Also under the taxation power, direct the states to mandate that gun owners carry a significant liability policy for each firearm, something similar to mandatory auto liability insurance. Firearms are inherently dangerous, and should be at least as regulated as automobiles. Consider, as Nick Kristof pointed out on Saturday, that we in the United States regulate ladders more than firearms.

4. Immediately close the so-called "gun show loophole" by requiring background checks and significant waiting periods for all gun sales, even those made person to person. Again, please make this sensible reform—one supported by 74 per cent of NRA members—by executive order, if necessary.

Re-run each gun owner's background screening once every ten years, just like we do for driver's licenses. Perhaps consider the Canadian model, wherein a prospective gun buyer must have two witnesses attest to his/her background and mental health status.

5. Ban all Internet sales of firearms and ammunition, effective immediately.

6. Limit the number of guns any individual may own. Give the penalties teeth. Allow citizens to turn in surplus non-assault-style firearms for cash during the assault weapon buyback period.

7. Impose a significant sales tax on all sales of ammunition. It should cost way more than 50 cents a round to murder someone's child.

Like many mothers, I've spent a great deal of time thinking about getting weapons of war off our streets in the aftermath of last week's wholly preventable tragedy. I don't want my child to have to go to school in a lockdown situation. I don't believe any citizen's second amendment rights trump my child's right to a safe and secure public education.

I don't believe any citizen needs an assault weapon to hunt, and I don't buy the popular nonsense argument that more guns/concealed carry permits are the answer, as there is no recorded incident of an armed civilian thwarting a mass shooting.

Finally, while I agree with those who wish we had better, more affordable, more accessible mental health services for everyone, I firmly believe the first, most important step is to get these weapons off our streets.

Thank you, and best regards,

Mari Passananti
Mom to a 3-year-old

cc: Mr. Speaker Boehner
Rep. Nancy Pelosi
Rep. Mike Capuano
Sen. Harry Reid
Sen. Mitch McConnell
Sen. John Kerry
Sen. Scott Brown
Sen.-elect Elizabeth Warren

Thursday, December 13, 2012

The plan, what happens and how to change it

This morning I heard a twenty-six-year old woman earnestly explaining her Life Plan. She's ambitious and high energy. She's considering law school, training for a marathon, debating marriage to a medium term boyfriend, and she adamantly, definitely wants two children—before she turns 31.

She wants the children to be twins, because she doesn't want to waste more than a year of the next decade (her best career ramp up decade, she's smart enough to realize) on pregnancy. She wants to work part time when her kids are small, then go great guns as soon as they hit kindergarten.

Listening to her took me back to the days before I realized that there's the plan.

And then there's what happens.

I think I understood this concept by my early thirties, but I've only embraced it more recently.

Of course there's no point in telling this to someone fifteen years younger. I'd only be raining on her parade.

Or is there?

I almost wish someone slightly older, but not old enough to be from my parents' age cohort, had sat me down and spelled out an uncomfortable biological truth: a woman's best years for starting a family coincide with her best years for establishing a career. Even if you don't plan for this inconvenient truth, it's a good thing to understand it.

Put differently, it's sub-ideal to put in five years in the career world, opt out to have kids, and expect to re-enter your old professional life when your youngest child marches off to elementary school. For most of us, the jobs we left just won't be there after a multi-year gap. And even if your old job is there, its scheduling demands may not be compatible with your life's new realities.

I've stopped counting the number of highly educated (i.e. Master's Degree or higher) women I know who have reluctantly left interesting, lucrative careers because their employers can't make part time or flex time arrangements work. When part time means thirty-five hours or more a week, that presents a logistical problem for most moms.

I've also stopped counting the number of women I know who put off starting a family (despite having stable relationships and decent financial footing), only to have their entire lives taken over by the Great Fertility Project. It's hard to be taken seriously at work when you slip out to medical appointments almost every day for months (or years) on end.

No, that's absolutely not fair, but it's the way it is.

Then, because we're older when we have kids, many of us face the prospect of caring for elderly relatives at the same time we're caring for toddlers. Because, yeah, young woman from the gym, you might as well know now that mom and dad's health crises are likely to be your problem time suck scheduling and financial challenge, because of your sex.

Women, particularly those in the "helping" professions (e.g., teachers, counselors, social workers, physician's assistants, specialized nurses, etc.) do the math and realize that their take home pay washes with the cost of hiring child care. Some bite the bullet and go back for adult interaction or intellectual challenge, but it's not practical for too many of us.

Those who work in law or financial services or scientific research routinely clock sixty-plus hour work weeks. Many women I know in these sectors went back to work after having children with promises of part-time schedules that vaporized forever with the first work "emergency."

I'm going to go out on a limb with this prediction: Staid employers in the boys' club professions will not truly accommodate working moms until they're forced to do so. Too much of the "she's taking a place that could have gone to a man" mentality still lurks in the executive suites.

When I was twenty-six and a third year law student, I figured these issues would sort themselves out. Female employees would force change from within. Bosses would become more enlightened by the time my friends and I faced the career-kids pickle. Women would rise to C-level jobs in huge numbers.

Hasn't happened.

Maybe, for the woman from this morning, her generation will succeed where mine has fallen short.

But the older I get, the more I subscribe to Anne Marie Slaughter's school of thought.  She eloquently spells out the case for top down change in how we think about work-life policy.

Her thesis: the American workplace will work for women when women start calling more of the shots in government. You can call me sexist, but I believe that family-friendliness remains a women's issue. Despite the growing number of stay at home dads and breadwinner moms, for most families the woman is the one responsible for the day to day, minute by minute needs of the children. She's the one the school calls when Junior vomits. She's the one who "figures it out" during school vacations. She's the one responsible for the 4 o'clock soccer shuffle and other activities logistics.

I've got a suggestion for the thousands of smart, highly educated career women I know who took maybe ten years off to raise babies, only to find the door of the old corporate suite slammed shut in their faces:


The incoming United States Senate will have twenty women: a record, but still a dismal, pathetic, ridiculous showing. Imagine if it had instead, fifty or sixty women. Imagine if the Supreme Court had five women justices instead of three. Imagine if just half the men in the House (many of whom have never worked outside politics) were replaced by women, moms with real careers under their belts.

Something tells me that a government stacked with women representatives would look at questions as diverse as our embarrassing national education system, healthcare cost control, child care, aging, parental leave, and wage and hour legislation with fresh eyes.

Women don't come near unanimous agreement on how to best handle any of these issues, but they bring perspective from the trenches.

To present just one example: I suspect a woman legislator, in most cases, is going to have an easier time than her male counterparts grasping why having millions of women working multiple part time jobs for poverty wages while attempting to parent young children, who subsequently go un- or under-supervised, isn't in the long term national best interest, even if it's good for some big box store's bottom line.

Yeah, yeah, maybe people shouldn't have kids they can't afford, but what most moms I know understand, and what too many old male politicians can't seem to grasp, is that in social policy, you deal with the problem you have, not with the problem you wish you had.

I'm not considering a future in politics.  My second novel comes out in a few weeks, and I'm working on a third. I spend plenty of time with the Grape. But I'm also smart enough to know that I'm an aberration, one of the lucky few who gets to do what she loves.

But to the many professional women I know who miss the work force and find themselves unable to pick up where they left off:

If you decide to run for office, I promise to work my tail off to help you win.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Toddler Sarcasm

One of the many things nobody tells you before you have a kid is that certain simple tasks, such as exiting the house at a prescribed time several mornings per week, become exponentially more challenging when you must propel out that door in the company of a small child.

This doesn't apply only to infants, though when the Grape was one and a half, I'd congratulate myself if we managed to get outside to walk the dog in under forty-five minutes. It was a very snowy winter, which meant Lila the Dog needed mushing boots. Not because we were training for the Iditarod, but because whatever budget cuts the City of Boston maybe implementing, they salt the sidewalks with near drunken exuberance.

Wussy pants Arkansas Dog can't abide salt, and I couldn't push the stroller (and/or drag the sled) and carry eighty pounds of canine. And the Grape, while not adept at running in snow boots, fought like a pissed off Tazmanian Devil whenever I tried to wrestle him into his snowsuit.

Getting myself, and the Grape, layered and bundled for subzero cold, without either of us breaking an immune-compromising sweat, while simultaneously applying mushing boots to Lila in a timeframe that didn't allow her an opportunity to remove them before propelling outdoors, was a feat I began practicing in November and perfected sometime around March. Yes, I'm still kind of proud of that. And yes, I was always a sweat ball by the time we made it to the patio.

Exhausting? Yes.

But ultimately easier than what I face this winter: copious helpings of toddler sarcasm and meltdown, served up on a roughly alternating schedule.

The Grape doesn't like doing things on any schedule but his own. I get it. I'm kind of the same way (hence I work for myself). But some things, like school drop off, wait for no tot.

Roughly three out of four mornings, my sweet angel throws a monster tantrum over one or more of the following: getting dressed, eating breakfast, brushing hair and/or leaving house. My position is simple: I should not need to pin the screaming, flailing child between my knees to get a shirt on his person.

He flails, he wails, he throws his body onto the floor in a cartoon-like matter that's so over the top it would be funny if he weren't my kid. He protests, for exactly half the trip, that he DOES. NOT. WANT. TO. GO. TO. SCHOOL.

Then we make the turn onto Dartmouth Street and he sees the school, three blocks away. He wipes his tears, whips his halo out of his coat pocket, places it firmly about his head and gleefully cheers, "My school! I. LOVE. SCHOOL!!!"

I've tried every carrot and stick known to modern, progressive, retro and regressive parenting.

Nothing works.

And then, about once a week, the Grape is an angel about the morning shuffle.

This morning, I mentioned at breakfast how happy I was that he was being good. I piled it on, told him Santa was happy, too. We went about the rest of the routine in an organized and peaceful fashion. As were about to leave the house, the Grape asked, "Aren't you going to put on make-up?"

Evidently my kid is embarrassed that his mom doesn't look like a fashion plate at drop off.  I bit my tongue, resisted the urge to inform him that most mornings I don't have time to do much more than brush my teeth because he's such an $#*@ demon child.

Then, as left the house patio, and we weren't even discussing the morning's behavior, the Grape comes out with, "You're welcome."

"What?" I asked over my shoulder, as I locked the door.

"I was good this morning. You're welcome."

I'd laugh it off it weren't part of a pattern. For weeks, we've been trying to get one decent, wintery snapshot of the Grape and his dog to print on holiday cards. Obviously this is a time sensitive task. After staring hopelessly at the photo library on my laptop for something serviceable, I decided all the good shots were too summery.  R. and I tried, three weekends running, to get the Holiday Picture. We chose times when the Grape was well rested, well exercised and armed with a full belly.

Three weekends in a row, he lost it as soon as the camera came out. The Grape hates having his picture taken. (He loves viewing photos of himself, and to date he apparently isn't smart enough to realize one must take the photo before looking at it.)

He scowled, he howled, he frowned and he grimaced. If he had possessed the vocabulary to tell me where to stick the camera, he would have done so.

ME (smiling, calm and bright in face of meltdown): "Santa wants a nice holiday photo. Don't you want to send Santa a nice holiday photo?"

GRAPE: "Santa gets a lot of mail."

What the f--- am I supposed to do with that? After an hour of begging, bribing, threatening, and crying (yes, me, too), I seriously contemplated sending out our Happy Holidays message with a photo entitled: Meltdown Next to Dog Butt.

I decided I could send that to friends, but perhaps not to elderly relations with whom we correspond once a year.

We went indoors, consulted the calendar (already December), and regrouped. We tried again, and finally the Grape decided to play along. Our 2012 card isn't anything to write home about. It won't win any design awards. Most of my friends won't believe it represents almost eight hours of effort over several days.

When I showed the Grape the proof, and told him how happy Santa and I were that he cooperated for such a nice, cheerful holiday photo, he shrugged and told me, "You're welcome."