27 April 2011

To The Donald (Again)


Oh, Donald. Dear Donald:

Please.

You have to stop! You’re making such a fool out of yourself that even in this age of shame and gracelessness, you’ve achieved a triumph of national embarrassment. I don’t think we can stand anymore.

Now that you’ve beaten the dead horse of Obama’s birth certificate to a liquefied pulp, you’re starting on his education? That he didn’t deserve to go to Ivy League schools because you heard he was a terrible student? Is this for real? The guy graduated magna cum laude from Harvard Law School. That puts him in the top 5 percent of graduates of one of the best schools in the entire world. That works for me. How much more do you need? Or rather, how racist can you be? The birther issue wasn’t enough – now it’s about his grades?

And speaking of universities, Donald, we need to talk. About the many interviews in which you boast of your own excellent education. How you repeat, over and over, how very smart you are and how you went to the best schools. Yes, you went to Wharton. You say you mention it so the media doesn’t think you’re crazy due to the birther thing. But it isn’t working. You must see that. We think you’re a nut, Wharton or not.

Perhaps you should get an alumna university sticker for the back of your limo – or do they make big ones for private jets? Maybe one to plaster across your forehead: ‘Wharton Grad’ – save yourself the trouble of bragging. It won’t be more ridiculous than the hair already on there.

But I’m not writing to you about your education or the President’s.  I want to tell you about my sons. 

They happen to be good students too (at least so far). But due to some old, outdated laws they are among the few American kids who don’t believe they can grow up to be President. Despite the fact that we are about as American as they make them. My father, a son of the greatest generation, volunteered for two wars for our country. My mother, a naturalized citizen, still recalls the day she became an American as one of the greatest in her life.

I love my country. My sons do too. I taught them to sing the national anthem within 24 hours of 9/11, though they were only 5, 3 and 1 at the time. (OK, it took the youngest a little longer.) My eldest is a born politician, loves debate. I remember him at two and a half, I told him it was time for bed, and he informed me my reasons were ‘ri-dic-klee-us.’ At 11 he won a speech competition among four schools, and this year he attended the Model United Nations at Unesco headquarters in Paris. A politician, born and in the making, who like Obama did, hopes to go to Harvard Law and help save the world.

So it made me wonder exactly what the natural born criteria means. Are my boys, all three American citizens, born of an American mother and issued a Consular Report of Birth Abroad, considered natural born? If not, it is only because I lived outside the U.S. and elected not to travel back my last month of pregnancy.   

Jon Meacham examines the issue.* He attributes this effort to you and your revival of the birther movement. It turns out while ‘natural born’ remains open to interpretation; the clause comes from more than 200 years ago. America (at the time a very young nation) feared a European nobleman could come from abroad to take over the country.

There’s very little risk of that today, on that much we can agree. But it points out what is most ludicrous about this birther saga – how little it actually matters.

So, please, Donald, please, I beg you. Give it a rest. Challenge Obama if you want, but do it on the real issues, not ancient history. Stop accusing him of being the greatest con man alive. Unless, as my son hypothesized, you are the real con. Perhaps you truly believe in Obama and are doing one heck of a job pretending to be a right wing nutter so as to hand our President re-election on a silver platter. It would certainly make more sense.

25 April 2011

Contraband





O.K., admittedly I am an overprotective parent. I have previously confessed to being a huge worrier.  Nonetheless I’ve always prided myself on being a law-abiding citizen. Until recently. Last week’s trip to NY shattered all illusions.

I just smuggled contraband items over an international border. Items that I’ve previously and willingly supplied to my own sons.  (No, I did not attempt to import new Abercrombie clothing without declaring it, for anyone who read my post on recent efforts to aid the U.S. economy.) My crime was committed innocently and unwittingly as I re-entered the United States.

I brought gifts for cousins we were visiting. Easter Eggs - the same eggs that have brought my own boys considerable pleasure and many non-nutritive calories over the years. While it crossed my mind the gift wasn’t the healthiest, never did it occur to me it was illegal.

I am talking about Kinder Eggs. Chocolate eggs, which are among the most popular and best selling candy items globally. Inside is a brightly colored plastic shell that contains a toy, often with small parts needing assembly. Ubiquitous in Europe, kids just love them and have fun putting the prize together.  True, the parts could present a choking hazard for children under three.  Which is why every egg is clearly labeled ‘not for children under three.’

I honestly had not the slightest idea these eggs were banned in America nor that Customs & Border Patrol had confiscated more than 25,000 of them. My two eggs were intended for recipients ages 7 and 11 and entered the country and ultimately the cousins’ tummies without choking or incident. But banned they are, because of a law dating back to 1938, regarding ‘embedding non food items without a functional value inside food items.’ (Hence, you can get away with a stick for a lollipop because it keeps your hands from getting sticky and thus serves a useful and obvious purpose.)

Since giving birth in Europe, I’ve watched my sons grow up and gradually pass the myriad dangers of childhood only now to face those of young adulthood. Preparing them for those dangers is my responsibility as a parent. Just as I supervised my toddlers to protect them from choking, so will I supervise my teens from risks they will surely encounter.  I do not, however, expect some government entity to insure their safety in matters that are clearly my concern. My kids, my job.

My point is that America’s protective measures are hugely inconsistent. Like most of our current lawmakers, I am a Cracker Jack child. I survived my youth despite consuming treats of honey-coated popcorn, in a box that – horror of horrors, contained a plastic toy (one since replaced by paper jokes). But I didn’t eat the toy because my parents most likely watched me the first few times I tried to taste it and confirmed that I’d be better off sticking with the popcorn.  And yes, I could have choked on the popcorn. Young children have tiny windpipes and are easily distracted; so it’s always a good idea to watch over them when they eat. But do we need our nation to ban a chocolate egg that millions of children the world over ingest without harm? Just how much protection is necessary? Because it sounds a lot to me like we’re throwing up our hands and trying to pass the buck.

And lastly, if we really are that worried about plastic toys and protecting our kids, we might just want to continue our efforts when they get a bit older. The dangers only get worse. We might, for example, want to look at some other laws - like those allowing concealed weapons on college campuses. 

It’s just a thought.


18 April 2011

I’ll take that, and that...



I must admit I am something of a Monaco misfit, in that I am not much of a shopper. Occasionally yes, but although I love clothes and appreciate how beautifully my friends dress, I don’t enjoy shopping per se and only do so when absolutely necessary.

I still find shopping in Monaco somewhat daunting and rarely fun. You enter a store and are accosted. A salesperson demands to know what you want, need, are looking for – in short, what exactly you are doing on that particular salesperson’s turf. The thinly veiled message here is that you better not be wasting anyone’s time. And if you just want to look around and maybe try on a couple items on your own, uh, no. So unless I need something specific, I rarely go into a store.

But put me back in New York, where I am at the moment, and this Non Shopper goes into something similar to a feeding frenzy. Shopping in America is that irresistible. I was in one of my favorite malls yesterday, and I swear to you, it almost brought tears to my eyes. The selection, the sales, the prices and the service are not to be taken for granted, at least not by this expat. You can browse and look around, try things on to your heart’s content. If you need something, you ask a friendly salesperson and they bring it to you. It’s overwhelming.

I rarely visit the US without at least two or three empty suitcases and often need to buy one more. 

The frenzy is contagious, and the M-men have it too. We were in Borders when Harry Potter 7 was released on DVD. My son was beside himself – can we get it, Mom, please? We don’t have it!  The price of the DVD, just out that day, was $29. It also happened to be ‘on sale’ for $22. I asked why they didn’t just sell it for $22 right off the bat and the sales guy looked at me and explained that if they did that, they couldn’t put it on sale. Uh, duh! Was I stupid or what? But whatever, it works for me. We bought it for $22 and everyone was happy.

The same is true for clothes. Abercrombie is of course, a huge draw for the boys and it seems that at any given time literally three quarters of the merchandise is marked down between 30 and 50 percent. Add to that a favorable exchange rate, and you need an entire suitcase just for that store.

And it’s completely stress free shopping. You buy something, take it home and try it on again. If you decide it’s not quite as flattering as it seemed in front of the skinny mirrors with the music blaring and the dim lights, then no problem, you take it back. Heaven forbid you need to return something in Monaco – there it’s store credit only, Madame.  I know this is due to smaller shops and limited inventory, but it does add to the already considerable pressure of shopping there. 

So I do virtually all my shopping, the boys' shopping, the household shopping and much miscellaneous shopping in America. With the lower prices, even an occasional mistake is no biggee. Going through customs, however, is another story – one that merits another blog.  I’ll get to it, but not right now. It’s time to go shopping.

12 April 2011

Terra Firma



I’m a bit behind on posting, but in my defense it’s difficult to write when the words move up and down on the page. Yes, I’ve been back on land more than 24 hours – but the seasick sensation hasn’t exactly ended.  Something about inner ears and ‘Mal de Mer’ turning into Mal de Terre… 

This past weekend we took the maiden voyage on our new sailboat.

It was a long time coming. The boat – my husband’s dream since well before me. It became mine too – as happens when you marry a sailor, live on the sea and together produce three smaller sailors. Our sons were on Optimists shortly after they walked and now sail competitively. I am as committed a ‘sail mom’ as all soccer moms out there who don’t run around and kick the balls either. It was a question of time until the inevitable sailboat ‘Mindblower’ entered our lives.

The selection process was exciting. It involved countless boat shows, travel to several countries lining the Med and many visits to boats of the chosen model. Once, we drove four hours to see a ‘practically new’ boat in ‘perfect condition’ – only six hours on the engine. ‘Perfect’ of course, not exactly a spot-on description, ‘severely banged up’ far more accurate here. While I expressed considerable consternation and my husband some less considered, choice words about wasting our time, the broker explained. It was during the few hours the boat was used that it capsized. Yes, one would have thought it impossible for a boat that size, but... Oh! Perhaps he should mention - the owner drowned in the main cabin during the incident– hence reason for the sale – poor guy definitely couldn’t use it anymore!  That the broker hadn’t thought it necessary to mention this prior to our trip was fortunately one of the few lows in an otherwise interesting process.

It involved lists. If there is a way to guarantee making my husband perfectly happy (at least one I can write about) it involves making boat lists on Excel spreadsheets. Lists of indispensable items, lists of safety equipment, lists of nice-to-have items, list of toys-for-the-boys and lists of items I have never heard of nor have the slightest idea what purpose they could possibly serve.

I enjoyed it. It was wonderful to see the M-mens so excited, especially with feet firmly planted on that heretofore taken for granted surface known as terra firma. From the flat calm of our living room, I selected fabrics and cushions and imagined the adventures we would have crossing the Atlantic, sailing the Arctic and seeing polar bears in the wild.

But we began with St. Tropez. An excellent call on my husband’s part.  No polar bears, but great shopping. An easy cruise to try out the boat, whilst remaining in view of shore (which in my now expert opinion, is highly overrated as a fixed point to help with seasickness.)

We set sail. The weather was gorgeous and the sea calm. A lot riding on this first trip – mainly me. The Sail Mom who had never sailed. The amazing wife who went along with the purchase of a depreciating asset based solely on the absolute assurances of the M-mens that I ‘would love it.’ They looked forward to the trip with great anticipation, I with minor apprehension.

I had every right, needless to say. We anchored the first night in the Bay of Cannes and while the four M-mens ate the wonderful meal I had pre-prepared, I fed the fishes off the back of the boat… By 3 in the morning I was dry heaving and even my non-worrier husband was hyper-stressed, offering to drive the boat anywhere I wanted and take me ashore. I finally kept down two Dramamine and fell asleep.

And miracle of miracles, the next morning, it was better. The sea calmed as I found my sea legs. We sailed to St. Tropez, had a fantastic weekend, and I think I might really like the boat. The question now we’re back is if I will ever like land again – when and if it stops moving!

07 April 2011

It's Thursday, Thursday...



O.K. Here goes: It’s Thursday. This morning, I woke up. Had my protein bar. I sent the boys off to the Bus Stop. Tomorrow is Friday. The day after is Saturday and Sunday comes afterwards.

In case you are not one of the 87 million people (and counting) who sadly, realize to what my first paragraph refers – I am making my very best attempt to take State of Minder ‘viral’ with some really bad writing, a la Rebecca Black’s internet sensation. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CD2LRROpph0

I’ll flash back to a couple weeks ago. By coincidence, it happened to be a Friday, and we were having dinner en famille.  I might have casually mentioned (all right, deliberately bragged, I sometimes do) that my blog’s average number of hits per day was growing nicely. I might even have casually dropped a statistic or two – like my all time highest number of views  – something along those lines.

The Minder men all dutifully nodded and feigned admiration, throwing out a few semi-enthusiastic ‘that’s great Moms’. And then one asked ‘Did you see the new Rebecca Black video?’ Teen, tween and child of course already had. Neither my husband nor I knew what they were talking about and so agreed, exceptionally, to allow a laptop to the table. And exactly 3.48 seconds after they hit play, any illusions of grandeur I ever had were forever shattered. Seriously, I’m still debating whether or not to shut down State of Minder completely and call Ark Music. It’s just as safe a bet that I can sing and dance worse than Rebecca as it is her parents will never have to worry about paying for her university.

That was two weeks ago. At that point Rebecca Black had 47 million hits. Now it’s almost twice that. As we watched the ‘singing calendar’ the comments were being posted at the rate of one per second. Granted, 98 percent were negative, even violently so, but in our day and age, it doesn’t seem to matter. 

I find the whole thing really sad. Not specifically Rebecca Black, who I’m sure is a nice kid, but that with so little effort and no distinguishing talent someone becomes a household name. In the worse cases, it’s dangerous, as we see in the news with stories ranging from balloon boy to the sick ‘preacher’ so desperate for his 16th minute of fame that he burns the Koran. He is just as responsible for the loss of innocent lives as if he personally wielded the knives that took them. He has that kind of global reach.

The ease with which one can attract attention today is amazing and frightening. Whether it’s due to a catchy tune, (which Rebecca’s song Friday kind of is) freak luck, or jumping on the train wreck (several You Tube commentators on Rebecca Black have also received hits in the millions) such numbers were unimaginable a few years ago. I was in marketing and we measured impressions, so I know what I’m talking about.

Anyway, as I did fall into something of a major depression over State of Minder’s measly little, pathetic number of hits that just prior I had been so proud of, my boys tried to make me feel better. They said that the point isn’t just to be recognized, it is to be recognized for something good. I couldn’t agree more.

04 April 2011

Ground Control



A few years ago, when my sons were old enough to wonder what I did all day when they were in school and Daddy was ‘at work,’ I decided to write my Mom CV (resumé for my American friends). Not that I was looking for another job, thank you very much – quite satisfied with my position. Still, I thought the role needed defining (and yes, perhaps a bit more respect). Also, to be perfectly honest, as someone who moved to Monaco from a ‘real’ New York career in Advertising and Marketing Communications, I knew a CV could only enhance my credibility, at least on the ‘what did you do all day days?’

So I listed a few obvious functions every mother will recognize: primary caretaker, teacher, nurse, nutritionist, doctor diagnostician, chef, chauffeur, mediator, music tutor, sports coach (it wasn’t my Swiss husband who taught the boys to play baseball!) psychologist, photographer, videographer, detective (to figure out who did what to whom first) disciplinarian, fixer and worrier-in-chief.

That didn’t begin to cover it, so I added a section: responsible for household management. With two homes, cars and a boat, maintaining everything in proper running order required time. In this section I also included chief organizer, accountant, secretary, interior decorator, shopper, deal negotiator, and vacation planner/travel agent. (I specialize in luxury adventure holidays that appeal to growing boys and are not too strenuous on well-grown parents.) Add to that special event manager, social coordinator and party planner – children’s birthdays, business dinners and various other themed events offered, and you see clear evidence of managerial skills.

Nonetheless, the above still left a small chunk of time, so I grouped a host of non-paid, semi-professional positions under ‘volunteer extraordinaire.’ From PTA rep to School Board member, from sailing team helper and charity worker. Then if any time remained I tried to do some writing. Trust me, like most moms out there; I never had the slightest problem filling my days.

Lately, however, I find myself obliged to take on a new and rather challenging mission – and hence it’s time to update my resumé. (Please note: I’ve always been fascinated with aviation. My father long ago served as a fighter pilot in the war and flew a P-47, the hottest plane of its day.)

In any case, with one teen, one ‘tween, one child and one husband, I’ve been thinking how closely my Mom Job today resembles that of an air traffic or ground controller. Perhaps not in the most literal sense, but certainly in terms of filing flight plans and orchestrating multiple takeoffs and landings to various destinations.

I’m not so sure how I feel about it - because basically it means the boys are growing up and beginning to go their separate ways.  My husband calls it the era of partial family. Instead of us all together being the norm, it is now happy circumstance. So to maximize family time, traffic control is ever more important.

I’m still learning the ropes. My teen would say I’m far too strict with the controlled airspace and he shouldn’t be limited to visual flight rules (no flying after dark.) They all three take exception to my frequent ‘Report Position’ calls and there are times despite my best efforts that we experience radio silence. 

Still, I continue to clear them for take off, over and over again, as any good controller must. It has to happen. I just hope that if I let them fly away they will eventually land safely and not too far from home. 
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