Monday, September 30, 2013

The Postman Hardly Ever Rings At All

Anyone else feel disconnected from friends old and new in this era of hyper-connectivity? Anyone else feel warm, fuzzy nostalgia for the printed letter—the kind you had to sit down to compose, then stuff into an envelope and mail through the Postal Service? 

How did we let that method of communication go extinct? In our hunger for instant gratification, have we dispensed with meaningful social exchange?

For a while in the mid to late 90's and into the early 2000's, email largely replaced the posted letter. What was not to like? You didn't need a stamp, and you could correspond with, for example, multiple college friends at the same time, without composing multiple letters. We sat at keyboards, in awe of progress, and the "improvement" lasted a few years. Long distance friends exchanged lengthy email missives in lieu of waiting for the postman to deliver hand scrawled letters.

The phenomenon lasted almost a decade while email's commercial potential sat largely untapped—so much so that the leading provider at the time thought it would be a cute idea to have your computer announce, "You've got mail!" whenever a message landed in the inbox. 

But then, email became ubiquitous. I.e. Not Special, But Annoying. Really, Really Annoying. 

On any given morning, I have dozens, if not hundreds, of email messages, in various accounts, to delete unread: many asking for money, others updating me on news for which I lack bandwidth, others selling me items I don't need, others just spam that swam through the filters.

I've adapted by approaching email with a get-in and get-out attitude. It's great for setting appointments, sharing files, and blasting out invitations, but I don't want to sit in email and compose a multi-page missive to dear old friends, only to risk it getting lost in their inbox clear-outs. 

Even messages I flag for response rapidly drop from the main screen as the relentless tide of unwanted crap pours in. If you've taken the time to write me a real message, and I haven't responded, please ping me again. I didn't mean to blow you off.

Social media looked like the solution for a while, but it's not scratching the right itch. It's a great place to network, or share photos of the kids with a broad audience, but it doesn't work for the settle in with a cup of coffee to catch up kind of conversation I'm missing.

And I doubt I'm alone.

I have maybe half a dozen out-of-town girlfriends with whom I am engaged in a perpetual game of Phone Tag. 

The usual stuff gets in the way: conflicting schedules, kids that need watching, time zone issues, and plain old exhaustion at the end of the day. I've started to wonder if letter writing might prove more efficient. At least we'd get to exchange news in a thoughtful, present manner. 

Frankly, most of the time, I can't answer calls because either I've set aside the precious hours while the Grape is at school to write, or the Grape is home and will self-destruct if I give my full attention to a phone conversation. I offer as evidence the last time I tried to make a dental appointment. During the four minute call, I reminded the Grape that I was on the phone, and that he needed to wait until I was done, at least three times.

I used to love the phone and now I hate it, because I can't give the person on the other end my full attention when my kid is present. The resulting conversations feel scattered, rushed, cursory roundups of the main life headlines, and sometimes leave me feeling like I just gorged on junk food instead of savored a long awaited feast of catching up. 

Which is not to say it isn't great to hear the voice of an old friend, because it is. Always.

But I wonder, if instead of grumbling at the next inevitable round of missed calls, and messages that say, "I'd love to talk... Let's keep trying..." I might boldly go back in time. I might put pen to paper, power through the inevitable hand cramp, and write a few old-fashioned letters. 

One of these nights. After the Grape goes to bed.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

We've GOT to make noises in greater amounts!

Massachusetts Moms (and other concerned voters): What are you doing after school drop off this Friday?

I'm channeling the Mayor of Who-ville, who ran through his town, telling the ordinary citizens: "We've GOT to make noises in greater amounts! So open your mouth... For every voice counts!" —Dr. Seuss, Horton Hears a Who!

Which is another way of saying: I'm going to join Moms Demand Action here in Boston, for our state legislature's last scheduled public hearing on gun violence prevention.

Why? Because I support comprehensive common sense gun violence prevention legislation and I'm tired of being drowned out by a loud and vocal minority.

Under 13 per cent* of Massachusetts voters own guns, but the legislators hear them loud and clear, because they're organized and vocal.

Almost nine months after the massacre of first graders at Newtown, our state representatives are finally poised to act.

The hearing, which will take place in the Massachusetts State House's Gardner Auditorium, officially starts at 10 a.m. on Friday, September 13, but Moms Demand Action is encouraging those who are able to arrive closer to 9 a.m., because they expect lines at the entrance. Moms Demand Action will have signs and stickers for you. 

Massachusetts is already a leader in terms of common sense gun violence prevention legislation, but we can and must do better. Many legislators introduced a variety of bills after Newtown, and a key purpose of the public hearings is to craft a comprehensive bill for the consideration of both the MA House of Representatives and the State Senate.

A few of the common sense measures under consideration include:

  • Universal background checks for ALL gun purchases, including all private sales, no exceptions
  • Stricter penalties for violations of existing laws
  • Prohibition of high capacity magazines (like the ones used by Adam Lanza)
  • Mandatory liability insurance for gun owners
The gun lobby—the NRA—must not be the only voices our elected representatives hear. At the last hearing, the gun lobby bussed in roughly 300 Smith & Wesson employees, who got the day off from work to hear their boss testify. It sounds like a lot of people at a state house hearing, but remember, that crowd of attendees represents less than thirteen per cent of the electorate. They're just well organized. 

We moms, who stand for common sense laws to protect our children, who may not be politically active most of the time, can and must do better. 

So let's pack the Gardner Auditorium on Friday. Don't be shy about bringing your little ones.

Your representatives need to see that you care, that you won't be bullied by those who dismiss you as "just a mom." 

* Violence Policy Center says 12.8 percent of MA households own one or more firearms. Gun Owners of America (a gun lobby group) knows that gun owners are a minority: according to their statistics, 36 percent of households nationwide own one or more firearms. 

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

He's a Watcher

I'm a plunger and my kid is a watcher. For better or worse, I'm good at making big decisions. I forge forward, sometimes too fast for my own good. I don't like taking no for an answer, and when I get knocked down, I have a tendency to hop back onto the horse. This last trait—which distills to basic stubbornness—I share with my son. The others, not so much.

I work against the urge to rush him every day, often with a forced smile and gritted teeth.

I was never the last one in, the rotten egg. My kid is, almost always.

All children teach their parents patience. Mine is just extra cautious, and oblivious to my innate need to be on time, to respect schedules. I think it's the Finnish genes; we are a punctual people. I'm hard wired to hurry, so it's not the easiest thing for me to have a pontificating kid.

I'm even like this on vacation. I may love to relax on the beach for hours on end, but I also want to be the first person on the beach, to extract every possible minute of luxurious vacation, even if it means rocketing into motion at an inhuman hour.

True confession: it took me a year to realize that when I was with the infant Grape, what I was "accomplishing" was child care. I started each week with these (mostly secret but highly ambitious) to do lists and ripped my hair out when items lingered day after day.

Four years on, I've learned to adjust my expectations, to slow down, to think of little children like the very elderly: they can only handle so many activities during a day before hitting a wall, and often "so many" equals one.

The Grape, since infancy, has been a careful kid. "He's a watcher," a seasoned music teacher informed me at our first class, as the other babies scrambled for the simple percussion instruments while the Grape sat and stared from the comfort of my lap.

So while other parents jubilantly send their kids back to school, I brace for a rough emotional September.

The Grape likes to think things through before forging ahead. He walked late, at almost sixteen months, but when he finally took those first steps he was off at a trot. None of the stumbling and falling business for the Grape.

My kid doesn't want to do anything until he's decided he can. It was the same way with the toilet. He refused until he was totally ready, and then trained cold turkey in one weekend at the age of two months shy of four. Upsides: Single digit accidents, no disgusting plastic potty, no reward chart, no should-we-put-him-in-pull-ups-today-because-we're-leaving-the-house-for-over-an-hour parental wavering. In retrospect, I highly recommend waiting.

His timid tendencies are maddening when we go to some activity with a limited time frame. As he's warming up to skiing, or swimming, or singing, or whatever, everyone else is winding down. Two years running, he's let a friend blow out his birthday candles because he can't summon the nerve.

(I can see how caution might serve him well, especially if his wariness of new experiences and/or surroundings persists into the teen years. Nothing scares me as a parent more than kids and cars. I think if I had one of those damn the torpedoes, full steam ahead kids, I'd need a sedative to get through the first years of driving. Heck, I might need one anyway. Or maybe we'll move to some huge city where nobody keeps a car and sidestep the issue. But I digress.)

Today the Grape and I went to check out the four-year-old room at his preschool. He knows the other kids. He's met the teachers in passing. He twitched with excitement on the way to the school, marched himself right up to the door, and froze.

He spent a full six minutes skulking in the hallway, mustering the courage to step into a room full of children and parents he already knows.

At this point, I know better than to try to cheer him onward. The Grape meets any attempts at parental encouragement with silent disdain, or worse, with the astonishing directive he favors of late: "Don't worry about me." Yes, I cringe whenever he pulls that out in public.

Of course, once he plunged forward, he had a ball. I had to drag him out of there when the open house ended.

This doesn't mean tomorrow, the first official day, will go smoothly. The Grape, I can assure you, will not have a first day of school photo in which he waves, happy and carefree, at the camera.

He's more likely to channel Woody Allen: stare at his shoes, shuffle forward reluctantly, offer up a litany of silly and neurotic reasons why going to school on that prescribed day isn't the world's greatest idea. And that's the best case scenario.

For now, all we need to do is get through the first day of preschool re-entry on Thursday. He's already worried. He wants to know he won't need to stay for rest time on the first day. (He won't. The preschool does short days for the first week.)

Maybe I should be tougher, but I can't help thinking, he's still so little. If he wants to ease into the pool instead of diving without checking for water first, I guess I can let him have that.

Even if it means he's the last one in.