Friday, November 18, 2016

Update to October Post: Life Isn't Fair

Dear Readers:

I'm reposting this update to my October 19th piece, Life Isn't Fair, as a new and separate post, to make sure it hits all subscribers' inboxes. If this update reaches you in duplicate, I apologize for the inconvenience.

I am blown away by how many of you wrote, called, and reached out to me through social media, to ask how to send non-cash and/or holiday gifts to the girls. THANK YOU SO MUCH for reading and taking an interest in their story.

There is now an Amazon Wish List, created with the help of some mom friends: C, H, and E. Thank you so much for your insights and suggestions. Thank you also to the readers of the Great Thoughts Book Club, for the avalanche of fantastic book ideas, some of which I'm holding in reserve for now.

Items ship directly to the girls, who are now living a couple of hours away from us. Suggestions for additions and edits are most welcome (they are ages 8 and 10).

Since many of you asked: basic clothing is not an urgent need, but as the girls are residing with childless relatives, all parents reading this will know they have some ramping up to do, in terms of toys, games, books, art supplies, outdoor/winter fun, and the like!

A. is a voracious reader, and S. particularly loves arts and crafts, dolls, and imaginative play. They both like creative projects, as well as Legos.

R., the Grape, and I miss the girls a lot, and it warms our hearts to know so many friends are rooting for them.

You can view the list through this link:

I wish you all a Happy Thanksgiving, and safe travels to those hitting the road next week! 

With deep gratitude,


Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Life Isn't Fair

Update: There is now an Amazon Wishlist, because so many of you wrote to me and asked how to send holiday gifts. Items ship directly to the girls. Suggestions welcome. This is only a first attempt! Thanks, everyone.

Life isn't fair.

Two little girls, friends of the Grape, became orphans last week.

I won't identify them, as they are eight and ten years old; I'll call them S and A.

Their mother had struggled for a long time with a chronic incapacitating illness, but her sudden death, by a brain bleed, I think the term is ruptured aneurysm, took everyone by surprise.

S and A went to school and their mama had a headache. The next time they saw her she was in an irreversible coma in the Neuro Intensive Care Unit.

Life isn't fair.

I can't imagine their shock and heartbreak.

The girls had lost their father some years earlier. The mother, an Ivy-educated physician, had been too ill for many years to work. The family lived in a subsidized apartment and scraped along, all three of them victims of a brilliant scientific mind imprisoned by illness.

When the Grape first started having S over for play dates,  I tried to befriend the mom. She politely but firmly put up barriers. All play dates were at our home, and she never set foot beyond my threshold. After a few weeks, I stopped asking if she'd like to come in for coffee or tea or wine, or if she'd like to stay for dinner with her girls.

She always looked down on her luck, a wisp of a woman, bundled in all kinds of weather, because her disease interfered with her body's metabolism and temperature regulation. Sometimes, you might have been forgiven, if you mistook her for a homeless person.

There was no family money. No adult child with special needs trust. No safety net beyond the bare bones the state of Massachusetts provides, and while Massachusetts provides more than most states, it doesn't provide quality long term inpatient treatment. No state does. And sometimes that means the state makes orphans. Life isn't fair.

S and A had one regularly involved relative, a grandmother whose biweekly visits S and A recounted with huge smiles and sparkling eyes.

The mother excelled at finding resources for her daughters: camps and art courses and donated clothes. She got them scholarships at a private school and took advantage of free events at the library and the art museum. She had the girls paired with Big Sisters. She did most of this from the computer at the library, because she didn't own one of her own. Nor did she own a smartphone.

She did the best she could, but more days than not, those kids were hungry.

As the girls grew, and her illness worsened, she occasionally admitted her task grew more challenging. Local charities like Cradles to Crayons have a wealth of items for the baby and preschool set, but far less for kids in the middle to late elementary years.

A few of us moms at the school noticed when they had no snow gear (in Boston), no Christmas presents, no school supplies. We tried to help discreetly, and quietly marveled that the school turned a totally blind eye.

Life isn't fair.

For that reason, I dedicate my No Trump Vote to S and A, because they are orphans, and Trump doesn't believe in any expansion of the safety net, or in expansion of universal healthcare to a single payer model.

I dedicate my No Trump Vote to S and A, because they are girls, and no man has the right to grab them in the privates without their consent.

I dedicate my No Trump Vote to S and A, because they are black, and I abhor the racist rhetoric of Trump's campaign. It smacks of fascism, as does his almost unfathomable threat to jail his political opponents. In America. In 2016. If a candidate in Africa or Eastern Europe said anything remotely resembling this, we would send election monitors.

I dedicate my No Trump Vote to S and A, because their mother was chronically disabled, and Trump mocks disabled people.

I dedicate my No Trump Vote to S and A, because I want them to know ambition should not be a privilege reserved for well-to-do white men

I didn't plan to write about this election, because anyone who's read me once can deduce I'm a solid blue voter. 

I'm so tired of hearing about how awful it is that Clinton "wants to be President" and "She's worked at it for decades," and "She's too ambitious, not warm enough, too prepared, too thoughtful, not smiling enough."

I dedicate my No Trump Vote to S and A, because I want this glass ceiling to shatter. 

I want this catch-22, that says women cannot be feminine, but also strong and ambitious, to end with my generation.

Can you imagine anyone making similar criticisms of any male candidate for County Zoning Board, let alone President of the United States?

I'm also tired of hearing about voters sitting out the election, or voting for third party candidates.

I would strongly prefer a multi-party parliamentary system, but in the system we have, either Clinton or Trump will win the White House on November 8.

Which means nobody hears your protest ballot. If Trump scares you, but you don't vote for Clinton, you are as culpable as the Trump voters.

Before you cast that "I don't like either of them ballot," please think about the American military pilots under threat from Russian anti-aircraft artillery in Syria.

Yes, that Russia. The one Trump holds up as an example of a well run country. To be clear: the only aircraft in the skies above Syria are American. ISIS does not have an air force.

Clinton is not perfect.

Life isn't fair. We don't get perfect candidates. S and A don't get a mom, let alone a healthy one.

I am optimistic that the deliberative, thoughtful, highly analytical qualities that stifle Clinton's charisma on the campaign trail will serve her well as the nation's chief executive, and that her policies will benefit kids like S and A more than those proposed by her opponent.

#ImWithHer  #NeverTrump #DedicateYourNoTrumpVote

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Caught Between a Leprechaun and a Bunny

I picked a grumpy Grape up from school on March 17th. As soon as he strapped into the seat, he demanded to know why "our Leprechaun" didn't leave him anything.

"Excuse me? We don't have a personal Leprechaun." (?!)

"Why not?"

"We aren't Irish."


I exhaled. Softball line of questioning. I could deploy the speech about why we don't receive Chanukah gifts with a minor tweak.

I mentally prepared the standard "We can help our friends celebrate" spiel, this time filling the blanks with, "by wearing green and solving the shamrock-shaped maze your teacher printed out for you."

I figured he doesn't need, at such a tender age, to know about green beer. Though why so many educated people think celebrating Ireland by mixing food coloring into Miller Lite is good idea remains beyond me. Shouldn't they be raising their pints of Guinness in the direction of the Emerald Isle instead?

But I digress. Like I said, not our holiday.  I thought we were done when the Grape landed his knock out punch.

"[Kid in class]'s Leprechaun left him $100." The Grape paused for dramatic effect, before adding "And peed in his toilet."

"What? How would you know if a Leprechaun peed in the toilet?"

"He said it was green! Bright green!"

(Glee and giggles rose from the backseat—delight he'd steered his Mamma into bathroom talk.)

"That is disgusting."

"Yeah. Why don't Leprechauns know how to flush? And why didn't I get $100?"

At this point, I suppressed the urge to blurt, "Because Leprechauns aren't real!" and also, "Because some parents are overboard!"

I stopped myself. I was not mentally prepared to field challenging inquiries about Santa whilst speeding along the Mass Pike.

And if other families want to pour green food coloring into their commodes, I guess that's none of my business.

Before you call me a hypocrite, let me state in my defense: Among Christians, practicing, cultural, and all over the spectrum in between, Santa Claus has nearly one hundred per cent buy in. 

But Leprechauns leaving cash?

This was the first I was hearing of it, and all I could think was: Does every small celebration need to be about  cash and prizes  for kiddies?

Can't they draw a nice rainbow and shamrock picture and be happy?

Leprechauns, if memory serves, are greedy little trolls. They stash their gold. They don't like sharing. (The only way to get their gold is to steal it. Stealing is wrong. Irish friends, let me know if my first grade teacher bungled it back in 1979, and I'll print a retraction.)

This year, Easter arrives early.

And it's come to my attention that "Our Bunny" is lame.

Our Bunny traffics in chocolates and other sweets. It's fun, low key, easy.

Dare I say magical and sweet?
Easter morning 2015

We never speak of how the plastic eggs get on my mom's lawn every Easter morning.

He's got to know adults put them out there, right?

He's seen adults prepare eggs hunts in parks, every year of his little life.

He must know. He's six. He fools himself, because it's fun. It's part of the game. Like when he pretends to hear the Tooth Fairy (whole separate post involving recent violent destruction of a sink trap).

Yesterday, he asked me, his little face all serious, if it was "too late to write to the Easter Bunny."

I was not about to be pushed down a slippery slope. "We don't write to the Bunny. He does candy. Santa brings toys. You can save your wishes for Santa."

"If I asked for a play house for the yard would the Bunny bring one?"


The Grape's face started to crumple.

I tried to regain ground. "The Bunny doesn't have elves and a workshop. No transportation infrastructure. No fleet of sleighs. It's a one-rodent operation. Nothing like Santa. Besides, you love chocolate."

"Fine," he said. "I'm going to write to [Friend]'s Bunny."

If, next Monday, he comes home from school with reports of kids getting big ticket toys from Their Bunnies, I guess we'll have to spill the beans.

There's no "we don't celebrate" speech to bail me out of the Rabbit Trap.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Selling Out: A City Girl Moves to Wisteria Lane

A funny thing happened when I found myself with two days of free time right before Halloween.

I found a house I liked in the burbs.

Old friends expressed shock—the pigs are flying and they're making snow in the fiery pits kind of shock—that I, avowed city slicker and nervous driver (but excellent parallel parker, if I may say so myself) would even contemplate such a measure.

Most of my friends with children had made The Big Move. But me? With pickets and wisteria?

Heck, yes. And a yard, and room for guests, and a great public school system. And (gasp) a playroom.

Buying a house would mean selling the condo, which would mean showing it to prospective buyers. Which would mean we'd need to purge.

R., thrilled at the prospect of an old house with endless projects, sprang into action and rented a storage unit, before I could wrap my head around the scope of the purge and change my mind.

I spent a week boxing books, photos, and large or babyish toys for storage and donation. The Grape protested as I banished items he hadn't looked at for over a year. We sent the bikes and skis away, cleared out the crib. We wondered briefly why we stilled owned a crib. Or three strollers.

I called the realtor.  He came over. In the ten minutes it took him to walk from his place to ours, I realized my week-long purge wasn't going to cut it.

Did I mention I wanted to list the condo the following week? We had to, or we'd miss the fall market and vanish into the Holiday Vortex of Sales Doom.

I had a paper bag ready when the realtor rang the buzzer.

If you're going to make a person hyperventilate, I figure you might as well be gracious about it.

The condo was 1400 square feet, roughly 1375 of which were covered in toys, art projects, building blocks towering into cities with mass transit systems arrayed over days and weeks.

The other 25 square feet were reserved for snow gear. This is Boston, after all. 

"You need to purge!" he decreed. "All the toys need to be out!"



I followed him around, made mental notes. "Everything off the counters, expect the Kitchen Aid mixer. That I will allow you to keep."

Apparently potential buyers like to picture themselves baking cakes.

"Move out the pets," he ordered. "Get rid of the nightstands. Rake the front garden. Touch up the paint. Edit the stuffed animals. Put something smart but noncontroversial on the coffee table: Georgetown magazine or National Geographic. Nothing political. Vacuum the common hallway. Wash the windows, inside and out. Remove the plants. It's like the little shop of horrors in here."

"I like the plants. Plants are good for your health."

"Get rid of them, and edit the books."

"I already did. I sent nineteen wine boxes of books to storage."

He rolled his eyes. "Send nineteen more."

He marched around and pointed at photos and dishtowels and extra chairs. "This offends me, that offends me. That," he said, pointing at a scratching post frequented by Lucy the Kitten,  "THAT I can't even talk about."

R. rented a second storage unit. He moved the little shop of horrors to his office. I drove the fur kids to camp at my mother's. We washed windows. As the light streamed in, we wondered how we hadn't thought to wash the outside years before. What was wrong with us?

"Everything must go!" I realized I sounded like a street hawker advertising a liquidation sale, as I rendered our closets avalanche-free.

Prospective buyers apparently take a very dim view of suitcases falling on their heads when they open the alleged walk-in closet.

Not that such a thing happened to the realtor during his initial visit. And if it did, I had the sense to offer him an ice pack before the lump on his head swelled too much.

The Grape pouted about the temporary removal of his toys, but even he admitted in the end, "The apartment looks tremendous."

It did look a lot bigger, with the 1375 square feet previously dedicated to toys freed up for adults to walk through. The realtor was happy. "The place looks great," he said, unable to hide his shock.

Pleased with myself on the eve of the open house, I decided to tackle the last item on the realtor's list: touch up the trim.

I ran around with white trim paint and made the baseboards sparkle. I consulted the clock. One hour to school pick up. Perfect. I could touch up the bathroom vanity doors. They looked a bit tired.

I found the can in the laundry room that said "vanity." I dabbed a little on the largest scratch on the vanity doors. It looked kind of dark. Inexplicably, I kept dabbing. Maybe it would dry to match. I knew it wouldn't.

Maybe it was the paint fumes, but I kept dabbing at dings and scratches with the wrong color until the darn thing looked leopard spotted. I had to leave to get the Grape. I left a frantic message with the painter, "I did a bad thing."

I got lucky. He was in the neighborhood. After he was done laughing at me, he used his magic paint-color-matching computer gadget to determine the correct color. I spent the eve of the open house re-painting the vanity. Four coats. Okay, five.

I wish I'd taken a photo of those leopard spots, but that's my sole regret about the process.

The condo sold, to a lovely young couple with a dog. I hope they'll love the park across the street and the neighborhood and the restaurants as much as we did, but for us, it was time for a new chapter.