Rich and Beautiful in Second Grade

02.6.15

When my New York girlfriends visit town we play a game that doesn’t have a name yet. It goes like this: I tell her what it’s like to raise kids in LA and then she counters with anecdotes about what it’s like to raise kids in New York and then we both roll our eyes and hope that we’re doing it right. We hope that we’re doing parenting right because we’re smart enough to know that we really don’t know what we’re doing a lot of the time.

Usually it’s a draw. We match overbearing, crazy or inattentive stories coast to coast. Actresses’ kids and models’ kids have a lot in common, the tiger moms might choose different winter sports (if they allow sports) and occasionally we laugh at our own foibles. Like when I didn’t know what day school started, the time I forgot to pick up the kid I carpool with or when I cannot be bothered to make a sandwich for lunch but instead bring In ‘n Out midday. We laugh at parenting because parenting is funny and flawed and sometimes ridiculous but this week New York City won the Competimom Olympics in the most spectacular fashion.

My friend has a daughter in the second grade. Second grade kids in private schools are anywhere between seven and nine depending upon the parent’s philosophy. You see some parents know that their child is very advanced and absolutely must start kindergarten at five, other parents would like their children (boys usually) to be a little older and bigger so they can be on varsity sports teams in high school. Some parents read about the age requirements and don’t require any finessing. Stranger things have happened.

So, at this swank New York City private school a second grade girl is having her birthday party and the mother invites about two thirds of the girls in the class. The rule of thumb is that unless you are limited by capacity or if you are doing a small party for a kid who really doesn’t want a big crowd you invite all the girls. Inviting two thirds of the girls is a hostile move when there are only a dozen girls in a class, the difference between inviting 8 and 12 kids isn’t worth mentioning. What is worth mentioning is the theme of the party.

Rich and Beautiful

The theme of the party for a second grade girl is Rich and Beautiful and guess which four girls weren’t invited? Obviously, the four who were deemed to be neither rich nor beautiful. I cannot confirm that these girls were from families who required financial aid but when I asked my friend about it there was no denial.

Every so often I wonder if I’m just living in a different world so I asked some of my girlfriends if they’d let their second grade daughter go to a party that was themed Rich and Beautiful. About half of them said yes but all of them said they’d prefer it didn’t happen. When I asked them if they’d let their second grade daughter go to a Rich and Beautiful party when not all the girls in a class had been invited there was an audible gasp from each and every one of them, they would make up an excuse to not attend. When I told my children there was a Rich and Beautiful birthday party they thought it was cute, when I told them it was for a second grade girl there was a Gottlieb chorus of, “Oh my god!”

It seems as though second grade birthday parties range from Ocean themed parties to Frozen to roller skating and renting out an entire movie theater. Lots of friends are all about an activity like rock climbing or cake decorating but no one I know had hosted or been invited to a party that included the words Rich or Beautiful.

I’m sure that the omission of the scholarship girls was out of respect and cultural sensitivity. These are pillars of the community after all.

rich and beautiful

Who is Worth Saving?

12.10.13

The New York Times profiled an 11 year old homeless girl Dasani. Dasani is different. She’s smart and fast and she’s the de facto caretaker of her seven younger siblings. She lives in s shelter with her parents and siblings where they play host to vermin, roaches and mold. Indoor plumbing is iffy, Dasani’s mother Chanel is unpredictable and her biological father absent.

Maybe Dasani isn’t so remarkable? It’s clear that Andrea Elliot has fallen for the slight 11 year old child and her obvious love for her becomes it’s own character in the series. How could anyone not root for this child to overcome a very difficult childhood? How many Dasanis live in New York City? How many Dasanis are in Los Angeles?

Does living below the poverty line imbue children with strengths that would otherwise never develop?

If one can set aside some time to read the five part series on just one of New York City’s 22,000 homeless children it’s impossible to not want to do something. How can eight children live in third world filth two blocks away from $1.5 million apartments and $700 bottles of wine? How can we as a nation pity the poor children of emerging nations while tossing expired formula at our own? How do we fix this? How did we allow this to happen?

Great societies are measured by how they treat their poor, their children, their elderly and infirm. I’m not sure how we’d currently measure America. We try but we’re massive and the cracks that people can slip through sometimes seem like the Grand Canyon.

In the New York Post this week we met an attorney. He’s not a very good attorney. John Scarpa was defending Rasheen Everett who choked to death a trans woman he met on Craigslist. Unfortunately for Everett, Scarpa called Everett’s first wife to the stand where she testified that she and Everett split up after he strangled her. Just a few days later The Post reported:

“A sentence of 25 years to life is an incredibly long period of time judge,” John Scarpa said Thursday as he asked a judge to go easy on his client, Rasheen Everett, for killing hooker Amanda Gonzalez-Andujar in 2010.

“Shouldn’t that be reserved for people who are guilty of killing certain classes of individuals?”

Then, taking callousness to a new level, he said: “Who is the victim in this case? Is the victim a person in the higher end of the community?”

And because there are good people in the world (with neither Everett nor Scarpa being included among them) Everett was sentenced to 29 years in prison and the judge had tough words for Scarpa reminding him that we value every human life.

In reading headlines I wonder if we do. I know that we want to intervene and bring the Dasanis of the world out of poverty but I wonder if anyone wanted to save Amanda Gonzalez-Andujar from a life of prostitution and risk.

What if Andrea Elliot had profiled another child. Maybe one with fetal alcohol syndrome or ADD and crooked teeth? What if shelter kids are just average? How do we decide who is worth profiling or saving? Who tugs at our hearts and why are they required to tug? Is it enough to just exist? Will that ever be enough to make us want to care for people or do we need to save the exceptional people first?

What if the New York Times profiled an ugly child with a terrible story and even worse skin? Would we be abuzz and horrified and demanding that the system change or would we just look away? No one’s freaking out that a transgender prostitute was murdered. In fact you’re probably calling her a him and noting that hooking up on Craigslist is risky behavior. It’s okay to admit it to yourself, you don’t have to say it out loud but you do have to acknowledge what we’ve become.

I mean, we basically look away right now. Maybe it’s just more of the same?

My Mom Was Born Without Gaydar

05.13.13

As a New York City teenager in the 50’s my mother spent her time in the Village smoking Gauloises and otherwise being fabulous with her girlfriends. I know about some of her favorite haunts because she brought me to them endlessly and repeatedly since before I could even remember. There was Chumleys, DiRoberti’s, El Faro and then there were the Chinese restaurants everything South of Houston (Yona Schimmel’s, Katz’ and Russ and Daughters). There was a midtown and an uptown to Manhattan but they were never as interesting to us as My Mother’s Manhattan which would occasionally lead us over a bridge into Williamsburg (which was definitely not Manhattan but somehow belonged to My Mother as well).

Bars in New York City never felt like bars in Los Angeles. There was one bar in Marina Del Rey that my father used to take us to and it felt like a New York bar because we weren’t the only kids there and food was served. We played pool, my dad smoked his pipe, Englishmen talked about cricket and other ridiculous games, they sang songs and the food was crap but everyone tried to convince us that fish and chips were delicious. We weren’t quite sure about that.

Mom came over for dinner last night and told me the most remarkable story. She started by telling us how New York’s drinking age used to be 18 so by the time she was 16 she would hang out in the West Village and she and Alice and Sandy would hang out in local bars drinking cokes and eating french fries while feeling both very adult and very safe. One of their favorite hang outs was Julius‘. They loved the cool factor of hanging out in a bar and with the added bonus of never being bothered.

When Mom would tell LA friends about wasting her teenage years at a bar named Julius’ which was inhabited by men who were really nice to teenage girls but didn’t hit on them her friends would roll their eyes. I’m pretty sure they thought that my mom was a little socially retarded or perhaps she’d neglected to mention that she was a morbidly obese teenager with cystic acne and a drippy nose. The bar she was describing could not possibly have existed.

This week she’s been reading John Irving’s new book In One Person and on page 111 there was a revelation.

in one person irving

Mom’s favorite “safe” hangout was a gay bar and she’s only finding out about it 55 years later.

I’m like, “Mom, how did you not know that it was a gay bar. Were you the only women there?”

“What did I know from gays? I was 16 and people called them fruits. There were no fruits there.”

 

It’s Not Like You Need ALL Ten Toes: Plastic Surgery for High Heels

12.3.12

The title of CBS News’ story is Women Undergoing Foot Surgery to Fit into Heels Better. I saw it and thought, “Old news. Everyone gets those collagen injections into the balls of their feet so they can toddle around in sky high heels. Some women have collagen injections to make their feet look younger.” But I was wrong. It’s actually more invasive than some random injections.

Apparently the ladies of New York City are asking surgeons to shorten their toes so that they can fit into high heels.

I find this fascinating. Now keep in mind that I’m not in the shoe business so I don’t know everything there is to know about shoes, but I wear them and lord knows I buy them but… I’m pretty sure shoes come in sizes. Lots of sizes. Big sizes, small sizes, wide sizes, narrow sizes, medium sizes and Dr. Seuss Sizes. There are shoes to fit every foot.

I think (correct me if I’m wrong) that rather than lopping off the part of a foot that provides balance these women could [gasp] buy a larger shoe.

I’m also totally confused about how a toeless New Yorker would resolve the peep toe issue?

Of course I’m just a blogger and I’m not a physician.

There are some acceptable reasons that women would opt to get cosmetic surgery on their feet, including painful bunions or deformities, Dr. William Spielfogel, the head of podiatry at Lennox Hill Hospital in New York and a member of the New York State Podiatric Medical Association, said to CBSNews.com In Brenner’s patient’s case, the especially elongated toe cwas causing corns and ulcers that could get infected. Both doctors said when they decide to take on foot surgery patients it is because there is a medical need.

And then I remember that there are also physcians who think that women’s labia need trimming. And just when I think that we’ve done ourselves in I get a text from the always insightful Jonathan Bell that reads:

Please tell your sisters that men don’t give a shit. To be honest, I don’t know if i’ve ever really looked at a woman’s feet. Even one I’ve dated for years. Sad? Maybe. But true.

And then the world felt normal again.

 

Omitting a Natural Disaster

11.6.12

One of my readers contacted me and was disappointed that I hadn’t mentioned Superstorm Sandy. First of all he’s one of my favorite readers and when I get an email from him or a comment my heart soars and I believe that my little corner of the web is bringing people pleasure. His few words might be more important than mine, they keep me in check, they guide me.

There are a few of you like him, voices I’ve come to trust as we’ve journeyed together these last few years. Thank you for that.

I didn’t talk about the devastation of Superstorm Sandy because I didn’t know a respectful way to make it happen. I wrote a couple of articles about the need for FEMA for iVillage but they either got killed or my editors were without power. Those articles were never published. I wish they had been

We have family in the affected areas. They’re okay and they’re together but I don’t like to tell their stories. I didn’t want to go the tragiblogging route and post some bullshit about how we have to tell our kids we love them because people are having a terrible day/week/month/year. If I did that I’d have to rewrite the same post daily because in addition New York there’s Rwanda, Columbia and the Smoky Mountains that seem to be in semi-permanant states of catastrophe. I don’t break news, I react to it. I’m not sure that my reaction mattered those first few days.

My sense was also that no one in the affected areas would be on my blog. I was wrong.

I’ve given money to the Red Cross and later this week I’ll be giving blood. Giving blood is a monumental nightmare for me. No matter how well I prepare (no exercise for 24 hours ahead of time and plenty of fluids) I always get dehydrated and land in bed with a debilitating headache but I always give and I give fairly often. You see I’m a universal donor because I’m type O-Negative and a few years ago I rolled up my sleeves for Children’s Hospital and found that I’m CMV negative so I try to trek down there every so often as I know that kids with compromised immune systems really need that CMV negative blood.

I didn’t write about Superstorm Sandy because I didn’t know what to say. I still don’t know what to say. It seems that the folks from Occupy Wall Street have set up an Occupy Sandy relief center in Brooklyn. I’ve sent coolers and flashlights via their Amazon Gift Registry and feel confident that they will be distributed to folks who really need them. I’ve also orded tee shirts for our family. I know it does less than sending product directly to affected areas but it does something, including supporting a local artist.

I’m not comfortable with identifying a problem and not seeing solutions. Please, let me know what you’re doing in the comments.