Musings & Observations / Barry Halpin
Soviet Union and United States summits were held from 1943 to 1991. The topics discussed between the president of the United States and either the general secretary or the premier of the Soviet Union ranged from fighting the Axis Powers during World War II to arms control between the two superpowers during the Cold War.
The Geneva Summit was held on Nov. 19 and 20, 1985, between President Ronald Reagan and Soviet General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev. It was their first meeting, and the focus was on international diplomatic relations and the arms race. Unbeknownst to them, another summit, between my mother and mother-in-law, was taking place in Geneva, at the Hotel Edelweiss, to discuss the future of my twin daughters -- born three months premature on Dec. 7 -- and peace in our extended family.
My mother's entourage consisted of her chiropractor, Zen meditation teacher and her advisors: 10 tough talking, cigar chomping Bronx cabbies who had delivered 70 children. The cabbies, students of human behavior, were considered to be experts on child rearing. She also brought along her personal Bible, a dog-eared copy of Dr. Benjamin Spock's "Baby and Child Care," complete with numerous underlined passages and the word "HELP" scrawled across the section on toilet training.
My mother-in-law, who is from Ireland, brought along an interpreter, knowing that the language spoken in the Bronx is unlike any other in the world; words come rapid fire and are often incomprehensible. For good luck, she brought twin leprechauns. Before leaving home, she kissed the Blarney Stone and a played a round of golf to settle her nerves.
Both women arrived two days early so they could get in some heavy-duty shopping before the negotiations were to begin. Right off the bat, there was a minor confrontation in a local department store when they both tried to purchase the last two pairs of "Sound of Music" pink pajamas. Cooler heads prevailed, and begrudgingly they agreed to buy one pair each and a possible international incident was averted.
Finally, it was time to get down to diplomacy and the issues at hand. Proposals and counterproposals regarding the names of the girls, color of the nursery, strictness of upbringing, vacations with grandmothers and the age they would be allowed to start dating were on the table for the two days of the summit. The two superpowers negotiated throughout the two days, breaking only for lunch -- quiche and salad -- and dinner -- Irish stew and Bronx beef brisket.
My mother had consulted some of the top nursery designers in the business and took a hard line when it came to the color for the nursery: Off-white, and for the wallpaper motif, seals and giraffes.
My mother-in-law was outraged at such a suggestion, and banged her black pump repeatedly on the conference table. After calming down, she said it had been proven that a pink room with penguin wallpaper would add a serene quality to the babies' lives. An acceptable alternative would be rainbows and pots of gold.
My mother felt it important that my wife play Mozart, Bach and Chopin on the stereo and rub her stomach up against the speakers so the babies would be born with an appreciation of classical music. She also cautioned that my wife should stay away from the speakers while hard rock was being played or else the girls might be born with a predisposition for black leather and chains.
My mother-in-law wholeheartedly agreed, with the added stipulation that Irish music, especially The Clancy Brothers and The Chieftains, be included with the classical.
Both grandmothers secretly hoped the girls would be given their names, Ivy and Sylvia, but agreed to let the parents name the girls. However, there was a provision for suggestions to be made.
Protesters were seen outside the hotel during the summit, carrying signs that read: "Spare the rod and spoil the child" and "Unconditional love is the answer." Looking out her hotel window, my mother remarked, "It's always something. You can't please everyone."
My mother-in-law felt that she should have more of a say, having already had three grandchildren to my mother's none. My mother countered that she could bring a fresh approach to the role of grandmother, and wouldn't be content to just fulfill her babysitting duties and slip her granddaughters a few bucks every so often.
They issued a joint Bronx-Ireland statement on the summit, noting how agreement was reached on a number of specific issues. As they were leaving Geneva, both parties hugged, complimented each other on their outfits and the willingness to compromise during the negotiations.
Barry Halpin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.