Friday, February 20, 2009

There's no good reason not to buckle up

I bought my first truck about a year ago. Up until then, I'd owned just about every kind of vehicle except a truck. And a Hummer.

I'd had a couple of convertibles, a sedan and a station wagon. Once, I'd even owned a Jaguar. Granted it was 10 years old with an electrical system that defied repair but still, it was a Jaguar.

When the girls came along, I switched to minivans. There were three vans in succession. The last one, I drove for 11 years. It was the Tupperware of minivans.

You know how Tupperware is. It gets old and ugly. Those tomato sauce stains never come off completely. You're ashamed of it, but the lid still snaps on and burps out the air like the day you bought it so you don't have a good reason to get rid of it. Except that it's so darned ugly. I think that's why you see so much Tupperware at yard sales.

That's how my van was. The only reason it had a relatively decent paint job was because someone had decided to scratch the alphabet (through the letter "D") down both sides in 2006. Insurance covered the bill for fresh paint. It was much like putting lipstick on a pig.

There were dents and dings. I had worn a hole in the carpet below the brake pedal. Even though my youngest child was in middle school, you could still see where the infant seat had once sat, outlined as it was by grape juice stains and mystery sticky stuff.

Finally, I decided it was time to trade in the Tupper-van. I cleaned it out, feeling a lot like an anthropologist as I dug Sesame Street tapes out from under the seat (did I mention my youngest was 13 by then?) and found two CDs that I had accused my husband of borrowing and losing years before. Sorry, Arthur.

I had no idea what kind of vehicle I wanted, just something different. That's when I spotted the truck at a used car lot on Cleveland Highway. It was shiny red with a five-speed transmission and a killer after-market CD player. The price was right and the folks at the lot even sold my van for me, getting far more than I ever imagined it would command.

I figure some guy bought it and took it home, explaining to his irate wife, "See, honey, it's like Tupperware ..."

So, a year later, I still have my little red truck and I love it as much as the day I bought it. Each and every time I've driven it, I've worn my seat belt. Yet just recently, I discovered there was no legal reason for me to buckle up. Seems Georgia is the only state that does not require adult drivers and passengers in pick-ups to wear seat belts. It has something to do with ... agriculture?

Apparently Georgia farmers have been dead-set against any legislation requiring seat belt usage in their trucks. And they must have some mighty powerful friends under the big Gold Dome. Despite standing to lose about $4.6 million in federal highway funds because of failure to comply with seat belt use guidelines, the bill can't even get a hearing in the House of Representatives.

Hey, wait a minute. I have to send copy paper to school with my child because the school has run out and can't afford to buy more, all while yahoos in Atlanta are turning away millions because they don't want to require a simple action that will save countless lives and millions more in medical and rehab expenses. If I were circumspect, I'd say they were being shortsighted. But circumspect I'm not, and I say they're being a special kind of stupid.

There's been an attempt to mollify the farmers by exempting trucks being used "in connection with agricultural pursuits." I'm not quite sure what that means. Am I exempt if I toss a bag of fertilizer in the bed? Puh-leeze.

Passing this legislation would achieve several objectives. The first would be to save lives and minimize injuries. Then there would be the additional federal funds that would come from the state being in compliance with federal guidelines. It would also make our elected officials appear to be working to benefit of all of the people of Georgia and not just special interests with deep pockets.

How refreshing that would be.

Originally published in the Gainesville Times February 20, 2009

Saturday, February 7, 2009

If 8 is enough, then 14 is way over the top

For seven years I was a single parent. I had one sweet, healthy, bright child. I had a job and a home and some savings. It was still one of the most difficult things I've ever done.

My memories from that time consist of a mish-mash of exhaustion and self-doubt, always wondering if my decisions, no matter how small or inconsequential, were the right ones. There are no decisive manuals for mothering. I could only do my best and hope it was good enough.

Now, more than two decades later, I realize that whether you're a single parent or part of a traditional two-parent household, you have your first child for practice. Probably as much in spite of me rather than because of any efforts on my part, Molly has remained that same sweet, healthy, bright child, just in a taller package.

Please understand, I love my children more than my life. I cannot for one instant imagine an existence without my two girls being a central part of it. That being said, there's no way I would ever want another 12 of them.

Horror is the only word that describes my reaction to the California woman, an unemployed single parent who, through in vitro fertilization, recently gave birth to octuplets. As the story unfolded, it was revealed that she already had six children under the age of seven, all conceived through in vitro. So that means she'll be coming home to as many as 12 children in diapers at one time.

This lady strikes me as being a few ounces short of a full sippy cup. I can't help but hear the ka-ching of a cash register. I'm sure People magazine will have a heart-warming cover in the near future with the smiling mother (and a couple of helpers) holding her mega-brood. There'll be a photo spread for which the magazine will no doubt pay a hefty six-figure fee. The mom has already hired a publicist to make sure she gets top dollar for her photos and story.

Raising even one child is an expensive proposition. A healthy child born without complications costs more that $187,000 to rear to adulthood. And that's here in the South. In southern California, I suspect that rate would almost double. If you have a calculator handy, multiply that amount by 14. Ouch.

I love cats. We have four. Every now and then I start agitating for a kitten. Each time I get voted down. First there are the veterinary bills. Then there's my asthma. And how will the other cats feel about this interloper? They are all valid concerns and I always demur to the more practical minds in the family.

But deep down I know if I lived alone it would be easy to add a kitten here and a rescue cat there until I suddenly became the crazy cat lady of North Hall.

At that point I'd stop being a cat lover and become a cat hoarder. It's an obsessive compulsive condition that even has it's own category in the DSM-IV, the manual that provides diagnostic criteria for mental disorders.

Do they have diagnosis criteria for child hoarding? This California woman's case seems to certainly warrant consideration for a new section when the DSM-V comes out.

This situation makes a mockery of all of women who deal with infertility issues. I remember the heartbreak before my first child was born. I had several early term miscarriages and even now, 20-years later, I can tell you the date of each one of them. I don't have birthdays to celebrate, just sorrowful days to remember. We were considering seeing a fertility specialist when the miracle that is Molly came along.

In vitro fertilization has become big business. One of Molly's college friends is considering becoming an egg donor to off-set the cost of law school. Apparently the going price for a healthy egg is around $6,000. This technology is a godsend for people who so desperately want a child. It's time for the ethics to catch up with the technology.

As more of this saga is revealed, I doubt we'll learn anything redeeming about this woman or the clinic that so irresponsibly participated in this maternity train wreck. I shudder when I try to imagine what the lives of these children will be like, even if they manage to dodge the bullet of serious health complications common to multiple and premature births.

I can't help be reminded of the Dionne quintuplets, five Canadian babies born in 1934. They were treated as a sideshow and were made part of a tourist attraction known as "Quintland" where tourists paid to watch from an observation gallery as the girls played. Subsequent chapters of their lives weren't much better.

Call me cynical, but a 2010 grand opening of "Octuplet World" wouldn't surprise me, not one little bit.

Originally published in the Gainesville Times, Feb. 5, 2009