When toddlers attack

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Mommmmmmy....? I'm commmming to geeeeeeeet you....

First off, CONGRATULATIONS to Michael and Derek on the birth of Aaron and Jeffrey, and to Avey and Vinay on the birth of Hari!  And I'm still sending good thoughts out to Bernadette and Duane, hoping that Hayden and Scarlett continue to get stronger and stronger.

Ultrasounds are funny things.  Unless we're trained technicians, on our own, most of us are only able to see recognizable body parts ... part of the time.  And when we do, it often appears that important parts are missing, or that others have sprouted where they shouldn't be. 

A lot of us have remarked that our babies look like aliens.  Could be worse; at least they won't suck the soul from your body.  Take a look at what I found with a quick search on the internet:

This lady is having twins.  One of them is Jesus.

Which is probably good, because this one is giving birth to the devil. 

And finally, if you really, really like your ultrasound, at one time there was an artist selling online who would turn your scary image into a wall-sized acrylic-on-canvas painting:

 Though personally, I'd avoid any room where that was hanging on the wall.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Five stages of auto shopping

1. Denial and Isolation

We don't need a minivan.  No siree.  Plenty of families exist without a minivan.  My friend's cousin's sister's friend in Berkeley put her twins' carseats in the back of her '69 VW bug and they, her husband and her great dane got along just fine.  In fact, maybe I.. I... I can buy back my old Jeep Wrangler, the one with the canvas top, the one I used to drive around shirtless in, with my scuba gear in back and dog Beau beside me, wearing a red bandana.  Okay, so I never had a Jeep Wrangler or a dog named Beau, but maybe it's not too late.

In fact... Why don't we make do with a little two-seat roadster.  For me.

2. Anger
If you squint, the salesman's head looks like another balloon
Why do they have to make these things so goddamned ugly?  And you, Mister "this is a hot model" Salesperson, do you have to act like a minivan is really an exciting piece of automotive design?  This is L.A., where you are what you drive... and... and... this means that I'm a middle-aged father of two.  Oh.  I am a middle-aged father of two.  That's kind of cool.  Well, at least the father of two part is cool.  I like that.  Oh wait, I'm angry.  Leave me alone.

3. Bargaining
Stop a second... no, stop!  We can work this out.  How about a Prius?  Minivans get rotten mileage, right?  How about a Prius?  A nice Prius station wagon.  Where do we put my mom?  Ummmm... at home?

4. Depression
Nooooooo.... I'm going to get fat.  I'll have to start wearing white socks with sandals.  I'll have to put  one of those stick family decals on the rear window.  Mine will be the only minivan in the gym parking lot.  Did I mention how fat I'm going to get?

5. Acceptance

Okay.  So we bought a somewhat-used Honda Odyssey.  It uses too much gas, it's impossible to park, and yes, it is decidedly un-cool, but there really was no other option now that we're about to become a family of six -- two babies, three adults, and a large flatulent dog. 

The Ford Flex has a sexier exterior, but the interior doesn't work for me -- if we keep the carseats fastened to the second-row captain's chairs, there's no access to the third row of seats, because the captain's chairs fold forward to let you in.  And once I had resigned myself to driving a frump-mobile, it was down to what Consumer Reports had to say -- they rated the Odyssey best in almost every category.  And safety, reliability and convenience trump cool.

 My spinning instructor announced to the class yesterday morning "This is Jason.  He woke up this morning with only half his manhood intact.  He's having twins in June with his husband and they went out last night to buy a minivan."


I'm not the only one grappling with the amazing, testosterone-quashing powers of a minivan.  Check out this 2007 review of the 2008 Chrysler Town and Country by Dan Neil of the L.A. Times:
Why ... do women -- moms -- rebel against minivans, when they are so evidently superior to SUVs and crossovers in function and capacity? Compared with sport-utes, minivans drive better and get better gas mileage. They are safer and easier to park. With their sliding doors and flexible seating, they are more convenient. If females are evolutionarily hard-wired to put their offspring first, why do so many choose a tippy SUV or a barely less impractical crossover? Why is the minivan market cratering?

Apparently, it all goes back to the savanna. According to evolutionary psychology, females' value as potential mates was signaled by their youth (fertility) and sexual availability. A minivan, however, sends out the opposite signal, that the driver is older (old enough to already have offspring) and spoken for -- off the reproductive market, so to speak. In a culture where women spend billions to create the illusion of youth, it's no wonder minivans have been fighting a market headwind.

But what about men? Ah, this is where my analysis gets fascinating (as if the foregoing weren't fascinating enough). Out on the savanna, the reproductively desirable male was older (à la Connery), of higher rank and status within the tribe and commanding more of its wealth. A female's innate programming tends to favor males with the potential to invest in her offspring, to commit resources to the family.

And that is why the 2008 Chrysler Town & Country Limited just might be the sexiest vehicle a man could ever drive.
Let me draw a line under that: This 2 1/2 -ton pachyderm, with window shades and the Cartoon Network on Sirius satellite TV, is sexier than a Ferrari. After all, do mate-seeking females really care about two-seat, mid-engine sports cars that go 200 mph? Not in the slightest. If they are heeding their instincts at all, they are looking for a man with patriarchal bearing, one with the means and inclination to raise a family. So the next time you have a blind date, lay off the Sean John "Unforgivable" cologne. Roll up in the Town & Country minivan and just listen to the biological bells go off.
 Actually, Consumer Reports HATED the Town and Country.  And then there's this:

Like many American men, Hector Torres felt a pit of dread in his stomach the first time his wife mentioned the possibility of buying a minivan for their growing family. He wanted an SUV. 
But when Torres analyzed price and fuel efficiency and projected his maintenance costs, he reached the inescapable conclusion that a minivan was the sensible choice.

That was seven years ago. Now, Torres is a minivan convert. He and his wife are still driving their 2005 Honda Odyssey EX around their San Diego neighborhood.
So it's clear.  James Dean would have driven an Odyssey.

If they'd had Odysseys back then.  And if he had been a middle-aged father of two.
Oh well, at least I can still aspire to DILF-dom. 

I make this minivan SMOULDER

Monday, March 19, 2012

Brains and abdomens

That's about all I can make out in these images.  Anything after 4-D images is sort of anti-climactic, but we were still excited to get our latest scans on Saturday.  Dr. Shivani says everything is still looking good, though our little Toad and Alien (Adrián says "no los llames así, coño. ") have diverged pretty significantly in size since the last scan.  As of last Saturday, Toad weighed in at an estimated 984 grams.  Alien lagged at 688 grams. 

That translates to a two-week difference in gestational age -- Toad was a week ahead of their actual GA at 26 weeks three days, and Alien was a week behind at 24 weeks four days.  As always, it's possible to go into anxiety mode by consulting Dr. Google and finding studies like this one that says that discordant weights lead to premature birth, fetal death, global warming, plantar warts and war in the Middle East.   But both babies are still within the bounds of normal and Dr. Shivani is pleased, so I'm not worried.  Much.  At this very moment.

We're still thinking boy and girl. 

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Thus spake Nancy

Preparations, preparations...

We had planned to book American Airlines via Chicago to Delhi, using our frequent flier miles to upgrade to first class.  American, in the throes of bankruptcy, announced in January they were axing a number of less profitable routes -- among them Burbank, the closest airport to our house, and... wait for it... Delhi.

So, at the urging of a pair of other travel-obsessed friends, I've defected to United Airlines and Star Alliance.  As I said before, we booked on Singapore Airlines, flying out 30 May, arriving 01 June, flying back 02 July via Tokyo and Singapore.  As of now, the babies' due date is 24 June, so if they're punctual we'll likely have to extend our stay -- but Singapore offers a changeable "Flexisaver"fare that's not much more than its base.  We'll have to pay whatever difference in fare there might be, but at least there's no change fee.  We've already changed once free of charge.  In spite of my efforts to cajol them into booking two as-yet nameless children so we could get the coveted bulkheads with their bassinette seats, the reservations agent remained steadfast.  My diabolical solution:  on the return, I've reserved a window and aisle seat with one still-empty seat in between.  Naturally, anyone getting caught between two dads, each with a newborn in his lap, will ask to be moved as quickly as possible and we'll have a whole row to ourselves -- ha ha!  With our luck, though, our row-mate will be a sumo wrestler who just adores babies.  I'm obsessively checking the seatmap to make sure that seat is still empty.

Even though we'll be flying in steerage (though even steerage on Singapore is pretty nice), there is an upside to not using our miles for the upgraded flight to Delhi.  It dawned on me that we could use them for a hotel -- so it turns out our miles are paying for our entire month at Svelte Hotel, with breakfast buffet and pool, where we can... uh, enjoy the sticky heat and monsoonal downpours.

We got our visas in record time... well, record for us, anyway.  When we went last year, we sent our visas together to Travisa in San Francisco, which processes Indian Visas for U.S. citizens.  Mine was done in about four days, but I didn't get it back until Adrián's was ready, some three weeks later.  I think they may have even sent his passport to the Indian Embassy in Madrid.  This time, he was biting his fingernails, worried he wouldn't have it back in his hands in time for a trip back to Alicante to visit his family at the end of this month.  Once again, he got an email from Travisa after about four days that mine was ready... and two days later both our passports arrived in the mail.   Not sure if the quick turnaround was due to his having gotten permanent residency last year, or just to the fact that we were already in the system.

And, after word from Bernadette of RastaLessTraveled that the U.S. Embassy is once again requiring DNA tests for SCI clients, I contacted Nancy Hamilton with the embassy's American Citizens Services unit.  She didn't quite go into what lead to the change in policy -- my guess is that there was a problem with one of the other clinics and that, therefore, that's making it more difficult for everyone.  She sent back some very helpful information:
The important thing to be aware of right now are the citizenship transmission requirements. In order to transmit U.S. citizenship to your babies at birth, you, the genetically related parent, must be a U.S. citizen at the time of the babies’ birth and must have lived in the U.S. for at least five years prior to the birth of the babies. When you come to the Embassy to complete the passport and Consular Report of Birth Abroad (CRBA) paperwork, you will need to show evidence of that five years physical presence. This can be done through current and old passports, tax records, bank statements, educational documents, social security statements, etc. If you are a born U.S. citizen you shouldn’t have any trouble with this requirement. When filling out the passport, CRBA and Social Security applications, only provide information for the genetically related parent and leave the other places blank.

In general, you should allow yourself about 3 weeks from the time the baby is discharged from the hospital to complete everything. Factors that influence how long it takes are the availability of appointments, waiting for DNA results to come back and the time it takes to obtain an Indian exit visa.

Right now surrogacy in India is an unregulated commercial business that is going through a major growth spurt and although there are many very good, reputable clinics, unfortunately there are just as many not so good, disreputable ones. Our experience and the collective experience of other foreign Embassies in India is that, because of the nature of surrogacy in India right now, no clinic or lab is totally above the possibility of making a mistake and the only way we can be absolutely certain of a genetic relationship between a baby and a parent, a legal requirement that we are obligated to confirm, is to do DNA. Unfortunately there continue to be cases occasionally where children born through surrogacy are found not to be genetically related to the parent they were supposed to be related to. And because the transmission of citizenship is based on a genetic relationship, not a legal relationship, these children do not acquire citizenship at birth and sometimes find themselves stateless.

The language on our website is meant to reflect the changing circumstances of surrogacy in India and encourage parents to contact the Embassy for current, relevant information rather than depend on outside sources or posted information that may be outdated. I don’t mean to paint a bad picture of surrogacy in India, because by far the majority of parents who leave India with new babies are very happy (more like ecstatic) and are completely satisfied with the services they received. But there is a dark side that has to be acknowledged and taken into consideration when handling these cases and adjudicating citizenship. I hope this background helps you understand why we do DNA testing.

When you are ready to order the DNA kits (no need to do it too far in advance, 2-4 weeks prior to the delivery date is fine) remember to order one kit for each person to be tested, in your case that would be three. We will try to schedule your passport and CRBA appointment on the same day as the DNA collection to save you a trip to the Embassy. Below are some links to our website where you will find more information and the necessary forms.

Your husband is welcome to accompany you to all of your appointments here at the Embassy. He just needs to be sure to bring a photo ID with him to get past security. With twins you’ll need the extra pair of hands! (I was worried he'd have to stay outside like I did once when he had a visa renewal appointment at the U.S. Embassy in Madrid).

http://newdelhi.usembassy.gov/service/reporting-births-and-citizenship-questions.html (CRBA and passport instructions)

http://newdelhi.usembassy.gov/service/reporting-births-and-citizenship-questions/surrogacy-a.r.t.-and-dna-testing (surrogacy information)

http://newdelhi.usembassy.gov/service/reporting-births-and-citizenship-questions/surrogacy-a/dna-testing-procedures.html (DNA kit ordering instructions)

Word has it she's leaving soon, which is a pity -- seems like she's eased the way for generations of American IPs.

So, bah!  An extra five or so days and 700 odd dollars for me, two babies and expedited service.  But as Adrián says, más se perdió en Cuba (which is a reference to 1898, when the U.S. swallowed what was left of the Spanish Empire -- fortunately for me, he bears no grudge).
The good news is that SCI is no longer recommending hiring an attorney to untangle the complications of getting the baby out:

Once you get the Baby Passports from your embassy you directly go to the FRRO Office (which is 30 mins away from our office), fill out their forms, pay fees which is generally few thousand3-4000/- INR and submit the form with the documents we will give you. The FRRO is giving the exit visa in a day.
Along with the passport of your bab/ies you need the following documents which SCI provide:
1. Surrogacy agreement.
          2. Undertaking from surrogate mother.
3. Birth certificate of child.

4. Copy of passport of child.

5. Copy of passport of foreign parents.

Rahul or one of the drivers know where to go and can walk you through it.

So the preparations for our return trip to India are laid.

But is anything else even remotely ready? 


Has construction begun on the house?  Nope.  No photos of a beautifully materializing nursery HERE.

Am I worried? 


Thursday, March 8, 2012

Mortgaging the manor

You bought WHERE?!
I just got off the phone with the title company -- they're sending a notary by tomorrow night with the loan paperwork so we can mortgage the house my grandmother bought the year I was born for less than we paid for our used Ford Escape a few years back. 

My grandparents married in 1926.  My grandfather was doing well -- he started in vaudeville doing an act called "Nathan's Country Store" that supposedly was the first game show ever -- and by the time they married was working for the studios.  They had architects draw up an old-California style house, with tile floors and a courtyard in the middle, and were ready to buy six acres at the corner of Beverly Glen and Sunset Boulevard. 
Every family has a story about an opportunity, either taken or squandered.  Ours was thus:  even if you're not familiar with Los Angeles, you know the area of Beverly Glen and Sunset -- today, it's Bel Air, home to obscenely huge mansions, and 80-year-old dowagers with faces as tight and shiny as the skin on an eggplant.  Back then, there were no 215-bedroom Spelling mansions, no Nancy Reagan (wait, or was she around then?), just beanfields and speculation.  And that was where my grandparents considered building their home.
Family legend says that my great-grandmother, born in Lithuania and driven out by pogroms, famine, or god-knows-what,  talked my grandfather out of it: "No, Manny, don't do it... the cossacks will come riding down Sunset and you'll be forced off your land and THEN where will you be?"  Okay, I made that last part up.  But they didn't buy and they didn't build and by 1933, my grandfather's foul temper had gotten him blackballed from working on any movie of consequence.  My grandmother went behind his back and over the hills to the still-rural San Fernando Valley, bought half a city block, and that's where they moved.  That's where my mom grew up and that's where my grandparents stayed.  So today, instead of being REALLY *#)@*(  RICH, I'm mortgaging the dinky two-bedroom house on the corner of that block in a valley now famous for being the porn capital of the world, smack next to the Ventura Freeway, the one my grandmother bought in the mid-sixties to add to her not-so-extensive holdings.  My parents sold off the original house in the 1980s.

I don't much like home additions -- houses are houses, with their own personality, and adding a master suite and an extra bedroom to this one seems sort of like suddenly giving triple-D implants to a 4'11" woman (does triple-D even exist? I don't know. I have no experience with such things.).  There's been a rash of enormous houses built on teeny-tiny lots in our neighborhood, hulking things that swallow every inch of available space on their lots and loom over the street, menacing surrounding houses and passers-by.  Even with the addition of two bedrooms and one and a half baths, ours won't be that bad -- we're sticking to one storey and will still have enough room in back for a large patio and a vegetable garden. 
As nervous as mortgaging ye olde family manor makes me, I can't help thinking how grateful I am at my grandmother's stubborness... and deviousness.  Thanks, Nana.

Oh, and we still have the plans for that old-California rancho in the garage:

The plan...

The reality.  I really should roll up that hose...