Stepping into grand-parenthood: I’m gonna be a WHAT?

Maybe tonight, maybe tomorrow, Andy will be born.

Andy is the first child of my stepdaughter, Kayla. So he’s my…

Well, wait, what is he? I mean, to me? And what am I to him?

Biologically, nothing. But in reality, quite a bit. Andy will be living with me and my family (at least for the time being). He will be like a little brother to my sons (his uncles). My wife is his biological grand… I don’t know if we’re allowed to use that word. I think we’re going with “Mee-ma.” Or is it “Mimaw”? I don’t know. How do you spell a word that doesn’t really exist? However you want, I guess.

Memaw.

So my wife is going to be a Memaw. And my sons are going to be uncles. And Kayla’s father is going to be a Grampa (or whatever he wants to be called. We haven’t actually discussed it).

Kayla, age 16, holding her little brother Leo. This photo is from February 2009. The next baby Kayla holds will be her own.

Kayla, age 16, holding her little brother Leo. This photo is from February 2009. The next baby Kayla holds will be her own.

And Kayla is going to be a mom. Holy cow. That little girl who called me “Homie G” when we first met and who was just 14 years old when she and her kid sister walked their mom down the aisle at our wedding — she’s going to be a mom.

Wow.

Okay, so what does that make me? Honestly, it makes me not important (in the sense that it’s not about me) and important (in the sense that I am expected to, and intend to, play a positive and constructive role in this little boy’s life). At the same time.

Personally, I think it is a bit presumptuous for me to be called “Grampa” or any variation of that. My stepdaughter has a father who loves her and has been supporting her. He is Andy’s Grampa, and I do not intend to take that away from him.

So what name do I get?

My wife suggests “Lito.” It’s short for “Abuelito,” which is what Spanish speaking people call their grandfathers. I like it. It’s affectionate and personal without intruding on Grampa’s turf.

I’m gonna be a Lito!

Congratulations Kayla and Andrew. You’re going to make great parents. We’re all proud of how strong you have been, and we know Andy is going to be lucky to have you as parents. Just as soon as he gets here. Which is, when, again? Tonight? Tomorrow? Soon. Any day now.

I can’t wait to meet him.

Flowers are red, fingernails are pink

My son Angelo, who’s 3, insisted this weekend that his mom and his sisters paint his nails. It was a lovely shade of pinkish, on the darker side. Not quite red. I don’t know what to call it and didn’t think to ask. All I know is, it was on my son’s fingernails, and I groaned a little.

It’s not the first time Angelo has blurred the gender line. Earlier this summer, he insisted his mom buy him a “Frozen” cap with Elsa’s hair sewn into it. And a T-shirt with Elsa’s image on it. My wife found a blue one.

He wore that thing at Disney World. And he loved it. And so did we.

Now don’t get me wrong. Angelo typically wears boy stuff. Ninja Turtle shirts. Batman raincoat. Iron man shoes. Mickey Mouse shirts (no interest in wearing Minnie or Daisy items). But every now and then, Elsa.

I see a little boy wearing a shirt and hat honoring the hero of a movie he loves. Why? What do you see?

I see a little boy wearing a shirt and hat honoring the hero of a movie he loves. Why? What do you see?

But something happened Monday night my wife and I were not prepared for. Angelo was lying down next to my wife, and he said to her, “I don’t wanna wear nail polish.”

“Why not?” my wife asked.

“Nail polish is for girls.”

“Who told you that?”

Angelo said his preschool teacher told him nail polish is for girls. He repeated the accusation to me. And I have to admit, I was pretty upset about it. So was my wife.

Now, let me get this out of the way: the teacher denies this, and I have no reason to disbelieve her. We know Angelo’s teacher to be a wonderful, dedicated and compassionate person. We have no idea why Angelo said what he said, but 3-year-olds have been known to misinterpret what they hear from adults. Whatever. It’s not the point, and we love Angelo’s teacher and school.

But whatever the source was, Angelo felt criticized for showing up at school with painted nails. And that makes me uncomfortable.

If my son wants to wear nail polish, that is his business. He’s 3. He’s not declaring his sexuality. He is not rebelling against gender politics. You know what he’s doing? He’s looking at painted nails and saying “Cool! Can I try that?” And we’re saying yes. Because if my son wants to go to school with dark pink, light red nails, he is going to school with dark pink, light red nails.

And an Elsa hat with a wig attached. We want our son to feel free to express himself, to let us know who he is, not to mold him into what he “shalt” be. We are not going to change who he is by suppressing his self-expression, but we will be able to love and support him more completely if we allow him to be himself.

We removed the nail polish Tuesday morning, and that made me a little sad. Not because I want him to wear it. I don’t, to be honest. But I want him to decide on his own that he doesn’t want to wear it. Otherwise, he’s being less than who and what he wants to be. “If you want to put it back on or pick another color, just tell us,” I said to him as we finished.

Maybe he’ll go with green next time.

One of the saddest songs I ever heard is called “Flowers are Red,” by Harry Chapin. It’s about a little boy who colors flowers using every crayon in the box, and the teacher who successfully “straightens him out” by instructing him that flowers are red and leaves are green.

In case that description is too subtle, here’s a spoiler: The teacher is the villain in this song, and the child is the victim.  There’s nothing subtle about it. There is a correct answer to “what are the letters of the alphabet?” and “what is two plus two?” There is, however, no correct answer to “what colors do you want to use for your art?”

Or your fingernails.

The ice bucket challenge: a fad that stands apart

An edited version of this article appeared in the Sun Sentinel on Aug. 31, 2014. I’m restoring some of the thoughts that were trimmed for space considerations. The original article can be found here: http://www.sun-sentinel.com/news/opinion/fl-oped-als-ro-20140831,0,3681510.story

She died two years ago today, August 31, 2012.

Diane Riportella was my sister, and Lou Gehrig’s disease stole her from our family and her community. She was the most sinful of saints, a fundraiser for numerous charitable causes, a fitness instructor, a marathon runner, a “Woman of the Year” with a vocabulary that would embarrass a drunken sailor.

She was 51 when she was diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, a degenerative disease that affects the body’s motor neurons and leads to a loss of the ability to control muscle movement. The muscles atrophy. Paralysis ensues. Death usually occurs within two to five years. There is no known cause or cure.

Diane told me the worst thing about getting Lou Gehrig’s disease was that she never slept with him. That was her sense of humor. She was 56 when she died.

She would have loved the “ice bucket challenge,” in which people dump buckets of ice water over their heads “or” donate to ALS research and treatment, calling on their friends to do the same. Now down to its last cubes, its results have been impressive, an indication that many of the people who splashed themselves also flouted the so-called rules of the challenge by donating anyway.

The ALS Association collected more than $101 million in donations in the past five weeks. Last year, in the same time frame, it collected $3 million. [Note: The association’s three-pronged mission includes research, patient services and education/advocacy. You may earmark your donation if you want to insure it goes to a specific use].

Another charity, Augie’s Quest, raised more than $3 million through the challenge, compared to $400,000 last year. [Note: Money donated to Augie’s Quest and the ALS Therapy Development Institute goes exclusively to research].

Yet for reasons that baffle me, there are those who treat the ice bucket challenge as a problem that needs to be solved. Refusing to take part in conspicuous giving, some choose to be conspicuous about not giving, making a spectacle of the fact that they refuse to make a spectacle of themselves for charity.

Then you have Orlando Sentinel columnist Beth Kassab, who wrote: “The solution is simple. Just give the money, if you choose, and forget the water.”

What kind of solution raises $3 million to solve a problem that raised $100 million?

Kassab joins other critics of the challenge who decry it as “just another” flash-in-the-pan Internet fad. This would be a valid observation if the ubiquitous Harlem Shake videos from 2013 raised a dime for any cause. They didn’t.

The ice bucket challenge is a fad, to be sure, and it’s going away. But “just another fad?” No. It stands apart.

William MacAskill, vice president of Giving What We Can, raises money for global poverty charities. In an argument that smacks of petty jealousy, MacAskill believes some of the donations finding their way to ALS are coming at the expense of other charitable causes. Diane Riportella would have had two words for such an argument. I can’t repeat them here.

MacAskill makes no case for why other charities are any more deserving of or entitled to contributions than the ALS Association. If ALS is “cannibalizing” donations from other charities, as MacAskill asserts, then an equal case can be made that other charities have cannibalized from the cause of ALS in the past. Neither argument is philosophically valid.

Here’s the cold, hard truth MacAskill ignores — no charity is entitled to freewill donations. Every non-profit bears the responsibility of fundraising, of getting its message out to the public in a way that causes the rest of us to respond by opening our hearts and our wallets. 

Not all criticism of the ice bucket challenge is unfounded. The waste of water is irrefutable. I used pool water when I took the challenge, but the ice came from the fridge, so guilty as charged. If you’re in California, where there’s a serious drought, I suggest you skip the water entirely. If you must use water, do it at the beach — fully dressed, of course. After all, it’s a challenge. Make it fun.

Or do what actor Charlie Sheen and my Sun Sentinel colleague Doreen Christensen did — put cash in the bucket instead. You need not waste a drop of water.

My point is, while inconspicuous giving is laudable, conspicuous giving is more effective. Supporters of this cause tried to give quietly last year. But we’ll take this year’s $100 million “problem” over last year’s $3 million “solution” any day.

Thank you all for talking about ALS and giving to a worthy cause.

If you didn’t play along, that’s OK too. Giving is a personal decision. No one who declines to participate should be criticized for that private decision. I sympathize with many causes, but I can’t donate to all of them. Who can? And who can find fault with another person’s charitable priorities?

We now yield to the next Internet fad.

Fundraiser for Diane Riportella, ALS fighter

Diane Riportella (my sister) was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease (ALS) almost three years ago. She has fought bravely, but if you know anything about ALS, you know that it is relentless and merciless.

Needless to say, the cost of treatment is astronomical.

Our family has raised money for ALS research, but at this time the need is much more personal.

Friends of Diane are holding a fundraiser for her at the Flying Cloud Cafe in Atlantic City on Sept. 25. 2 p.m. to 6 p.m.

Tickets are $20 and there will be big prizes available, including:

1st place prize: a trip to Puerto Rico or Orlando plus $300.00 cash!
2nd place prize: $200.00 cash
3rd place prize: $100.00

This will be a party and a celebration.

To all my friends in the New York/New Jersey area, I urge you to attend. Laugh a little. Dance a little. Tell people I sent you.

BUT YOU DON’T HAVE TO PHYSICALLY BE THERE TO HELP.

For specific details, please call (609) 703-9433 or (609) 965-6187: ask for Amelia. Or you can contact organizers by e-mail at gifts-for-diane@comcast.net.

ALS remains an invincible opponent, but Diane Riportella is not going down without a fight.

Please help her fight.

Thank you.