Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Soup for the mama's soul?

So - I made soup for supper today.  Then, wanting to serve the soup, I discovered my ladle was nowhere to be found in my kitchen.  This would be because it was in my bathroom.  Naturally. 

Monday, April 26, 2010

Mama Movie Review: Motherhood

My partner and I sat down to watch the movie "Motherhood" last night, and I'll admit, I was a bit excited about it.  First of all - I'm usually too freaking tired to watch a movie!  And secondly, could it be that someone actually wrote a movie about my life and put it up there on the big screen? 

"Motherhood" is directed by Katherine Dieckmann and stars Uma Thurman as main character Eliza, Anthony Edwards as her somewhat dopey and preoccupied husband (who is so unpresent in the movie I can't even remember his character's name), and Minnie Driver as her pregnant, single mama best friend Sheila (who seems to have it all together). 

Eliza is a harried, stay-at-home mama of two, who copes with the loss of her pre-baby writing career by blogging about her life in between diaper changes, loads of dishes, runs to the park, and forgotten school lunch-box deliveries.   The movie follows Eliza through one particularly challenging day as she attempts to plan and carry out her daughter's 6th birthday party while also trying to finish an entry to a blogging contest that might jumpstart a new writing career, thus enacting the age old struggle of the love and needs of children vs. the love and needs of self.  These needs, as we all know too well, aren't always entirely compatible, and Eliza spends a good deal of airtime fighting with what she sees as duelling passions.

This movie bombed, and I do mean BOMBED at the box-office.  I think this is probably due to a few factors: 1.  this is a movie about motherhood, and not in the MILF way.    2. This is a movie about motherhood, and not in the "motherhood is most wonderful job in the world" way.   3.  This movie isn't actually, you know, particularly good.   

For the most part, the dialogue is totally contrived.   There are a few stellar monologues delivered by Eliza, but the rest of the time, you are left with the acute feeling that people don't actually talk like that in their day to day lives, even if they are former poetic fiction writers.   And then there is the fact that during this harried, whirlwind of day, neither of Eliza's children are particularly challenging.  In fact, her toddler is so self-occupying and sleepy that he's practically narcoleptic.  Never once is he pictured trying to grab Eliza's sleeves as she blogs, spill paint all over the kitchen table or whine for a snack.   There is nary a tantrum or kid shenanigan to be seen.   

There are other areas that seem incredibly disjointed as well.  The best friend character, who is a pregnant single mama of two, is portrayed as completely calm and distinctly unharried, save for her lack of sexual partners.   And Thurman's Eliza is played as over-the-top frumpy and dishevelled.  Funnily enough, Eliza makes a crack about refusing to resort to wearing "mom jeans".  As a dedicated wearer of jeans, I have to say that I take offense at a character that mocks my jeans-wearing self while wearing a nightie topped with an oversized wrinkly coat to drop her daughter off to school in the morning, with bedhead to boot.   And then there is the small matter of a fleeting romantic moment with a very young, (and super hot) bicycle courier/writer.  About this, all I can say is: I'm pretty sure that when I am all sweaty, out of breath and almost psychotically frenzied, I do not look attractive.  I'm now also quite certain that neither does Uma Thurman.  The family's precarious financial status is a theme throughout the movie (a common reality when one parent isn't in the paid workforce), but this too is disjointed, as Eliza head off to a designer sample sale to buy clothes in one scene, but scolds her husband for buying their daughter an IPOD shuffle for her birthday in another.   

Still - there are a few redeeming features of the movie.  The first is that this is a movie about motherhood.  It refuses to gloss over the gritty, un-fun, exhausting details, which is probably a huge factor in the lack of box-office success.  All of our days as mothers may not be a calamity-filled as Eliza's, but the film does make a sincere attempt to capture some of the conflicted feelings that motherhood can evoke: the urge to get on the freeway and flee one's children while simultaneously experiencing a deep and almost crushing sense of love for them; the difficulty in articulating precisely what it is that is so challenging and emotionally taxing about motherhood, and particularly in this case, stay-at-home motherhood; and the overriding sense of slippage of self.  In its refusal to shy away from these difficult and distinctly unpretty bits of motherhood, I think the film is quite radical.  (There is also a really funny tongue-in-cheeky quip about feminism and motherhood that was really quite surprising to find in a mainstream Hollywood type flick).

There is a wonderful monologue delivered by Eliza near the end of the movie, as she tries to explain to her husband why she feels so disconnected and cut-off from the larger world, and ultimately, from herself:

 It's just that every day from the second I wake up till the second I pass out cold, my day, like the day of almost every other mother I know, is made up of a series of concrete, specific actions.  And they're actions that kind of wear away at passion,  if you know what I mean.  The actions are petty and small like... Like refilling coffee cups or folding underwear.  But they accumulate in this really debilitating way that diminishes my ability to focus on almost anything else.  Bigger things like, you know, ideas or politics or dreams of a better life.

So did the movie live up to my initial excitement?   No, probably not.  The dialogue is mostly kinda lame.  The characters are all pretty one-dimensional.  The obstacles Eliza faces are completely over-the-top.  And her kids are weirdly cooperative and non-demanding. 

But still, Eliza's struggling, kinda bitter, wholly imperfect, cigarettes in the glove-box, swearing, and forgetting-to-buckle-her-kid-in-the-carseat, mom-self is actually a refreshing change from the typical Hollywood Stepford moms

Oh, and there are some really awesome kids tunes at the end of the film in the birthday party scene.  But my TV is too freaking small the actually read the credits - so if anyone else wants to watch the movie and let me know what they are, I'm all ears!





Production: Killer Films, John Wells Prods.
Cast: Uma Thurman, Anthony Edwards, Minnie Driver, Daisy Tahan, Alice Drummond, Arjun Gupta, Clea Lewis
Director-screenwriter: Katherine Dieckmann
Producers: Jana Edelbaum, Rachel Cohen, Pamela Koffler, Christine Vachon
Executive producer: John Wells
Director of photography: Nancy Schreiber
Production designer: Debbie De Villa
Music: Joe Henry
Costume designer: Susan Lyall
Editor: Michael R. Miller

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Mommy Bloggers on Trial

Recently, mommy bloggers have come under an increasing amount of fire for writing publicly about their lives and their children.  It's a discussion I've been keeping an eye on, what with being a mommy blogger of sorts.  Some of the more constructive discussions have given me some food for thought, and to this end, I've started using pseudonyms for my tots as well as for L. and I.   Of course, not all of the discussions about mommy blogging have been constructive, literally putting mommy-bloggers on trial for their actions.  Here is some of what the prosecution has to say on the matter:

First Witness for the Prosecution:
And when uninteresting people try to market themselves as interesting, it's almost painful.

Second witness:
Just because children can't walk, talk, reason and say, "Hey, Mom, cut it out already," doesn't mean that it's okay to write about the most personal details of their existence. I cannot tell you how creeped out I'd be if my own mom had mommy-blogged. I'd be horrified, offended, and I highly doubt that we'd have a good relationship with each other today.
 
Third Witness:
Could it potentially hurt someone's chances at a job promotion if it was discovered that he/she was treated for behavior problems as a child? Who knows? I'm wondering if there could be future lawsuits brought by kids against their mom for blogging about personal issues involving the child.
 
It's a pretty air-tight case already, but - the prosecution calls another witness:
And with increasingly technologically-savvy children around, its surely only a matter of times before kids start getting picked on at school because their peers found their mother's blog and now know every little problem you had growing up
 
And another:
It's interesting parents are so concerned about their RIGHTS to have children, but then treat their children like possessions and deny them their RIGHTS to privacy just because they gave birth to them. That's messed up...
 
Still more:
It really is like these mommy bloggers see their kids as accessories or pets vs. living, feeling, emotional human beings.
 
And just when you thought I couldn't possibly get MORE evil (though I'm sure that I probably can):
It would be interesting to see a mommy bloggers response when the kid starts blogging about what a bitch mom is.
 
And the piece de resistance:
It's bad enough that moms are embarrassing their children on the internet, but what about other safety concerns? It's not like predators aren't out there and where better to look than a mommy blog?


So to recap, then:  I am currently on trial for being uninteresting (but pretending otherwise), guaranteeing a horrible future relationship with my progeny, hurting my children's chances of a future career, making them vulnerable to both school bullies AND sexual predators, denying their rights to privacy, treating them like possessions or pets, and last, but certainly not least, being a total and complete bitch. 

The prosecution rests its case.

And what do I, being self-represented, have to say in my defense?

(Interestingly, all of the members of the prosecution come from a website called The Childfree Life, which is a venue for folks who belong to the childfree by choice movement.  And while I do not begrudge anyone's life choices,  and think our societal pressure on folks to have children is fairly ridiculous, I do feel it necessary to point out that some of these folks don't really seem all that keen on parents in general, never mind those that choose to blog (just to use one example - there is a thread on this site discussing whether child free people are more intelligent than parents, which doesn't, you know, make me feel all warm and fuzzy inside.  Just sayin')).  Nevertheless, these allegations of the badness of mommy bloggers are everywhere, not just on the aforementioned site (though that site does "discuss" the matter with a great deal more venom than any other I've come across while perusing the 'net and neglecting my children).

All this is discussed in the way of contextualization, not as a defense.  My defense is simple. * I don't have one.*  I am a Bad Mother.  Period.  This is not self-denigration.  This is simple fact.

We live in a culture where mothering has never been more difficult.  Mothering is a full-contact, spectator sport in our culture.  There is an increasingly persistent cultural discourse of what a "good mother" is - but it is an ever-shifting, amorphous, impossible to attain ideal.  Consequently, we are in an equally constant state of cultural bombardment by "bad mother" fingerpointing.  I do not believe it is an exaggeration to say that a mother cannot do anything, make any parenting choice without hearing somewhere that what she is doing to, for, or about her children is wrong.  The threat of being called a Bad Mother always looms heavy over our heads.  We have reached a point in time in which the judgements are handed down in fevered pitch - in workplaces, in coffee clatches, in living rooms, in the media, across the internet. Everyone wants to play a round of "bad mother" here and there.  Hell, even the folks on the childfree by choice website mentioned above want to engage in armchair parenting; proving that just because you don't want to BE a parent, doesn't mean you can't judge them. ***    

And so you see, I am guilty.  It is not enough to plead that this blog is how I choose to exert some control in how I am watched and judged as a mother.  It is not enough to protest that this blog, my writing, is how I am able to continue to struggle to hang on to the pieces of myself in my slippery, clutching hands.  It is not enough to explain that this blog is what makes my existence as a queer, feminist, stay-at-home mama visible.   It is not enough to point out that as a stay-at-home mama, my children are both the greatest loves of my life and my JOB.  It is not enough to swear on my life that this sharing is meant as a way to build community, to commiserate, to celebrate the trials and tribulations of our lives; that is it written for my sanity and thus with my children's best interests at heart.

Because to be a mother in our culture is to accept the plea of guilty.  And I feel a certain amount of empowerment in accepting that plea.  I may very well never be enough.  I may very well be a Bad Mother.  But if this is indeed the case, I am a Bad Mother who loves her children more than herself.  I am a Bad Mother who very often(but not always) puts herself aside to care for her children's wants and needs and growth.  But mostly, I am a Bad Mother who isn't going to be bullied into giving up her blog, her thoughts, and her voice in the world just because someone wants to put her on trial. 

Because we live in a culture where motherhood is put on trial for one reason or another daily.  So I guess I need the practice.




*** For a particularly interesting discussion of the Bad Mother predicament, check out the essay on the subject in Ayelet Waldeman's recent book, aptly titled Bad Mother.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Three - The Sunny Side

I'm feeling like I've been a bit on the whiney side lately.  I have this perspective, likely, because my Boy-o has been at his grandparents for an overnight, and I am missing him horrendously.  Such is the stuff of life - they drive you bonkers when they're around and you can hardly stand it when they're not.   That, and L. and I were checking out schools for Boy-o yesterday, and I was struck with the sudden, crushing realization that my baby is getting growed up.  It is not entirely a welcome realization, though I get that it's an inevitable one.    Kids' growing up, going on sleep-overs, going to pre-Kindergarten...the little bugger is going to leave me.   And so this little blog is dedicated to the beautifulness, the wonderfulness, and the cheeky-little-bugger-ness of my Boy-o, right in the here and now of the tricky age of three.

Here are some of the 3 year old things that are all the rage at my house:

"Mama, Mama-mama-mama-mama!  I have the most WONDERFUL idea.  Let's use our imaginations!"  (Seriously - how can you not just die of loving him right then?)

"Hmmmmmm - I fink this is kind of boring."  Heard anytime I am occupied with something other than him. 

"I KNOW - how 'bout we co-operate?"  (He says this to mollify me when I am getting frustrated and he is about to be in some trouble.  Boy-o is a smart little sucker!  It works every freaking time.

He is also developing some serious empathy skills right now, and can often be heard trying to figure out what is pissing his sister off.  He can often be heard surmising: "I fink Ducy needs some milk." or something of the like.  Funnily, he will say "I fink Ducy got a bonk" with astonishing innocence, even when I have just seen and know very well that he is the one that gave "Ducy" said bonk.  Cheeky little bugger.

Though you all know how hard the current tantruming business is, there are these moments post-tantrum, when my Boy-o looks terribly small and exhausted and teary, where he will turn to me and say "Mama - can I have a snoogle?" and crawl into my arms.  These moments are almost indescribable - they are unbelieveably raw and sad and sweet and every single time, I can feel my beat-up-little heart just about crack open with love for this small little creature.    

He is so into learning and playing and repetition right now, intensely focussed on devouring the world around him, practicing his new-found skills over and over and over.   He takes in the world head-on, at full-tilt, full-time.  His energy is boundless. 

I am beginning to think that his love of airplanes and all things airborne (like skydiving!) is not just a passing phase.  He is as devout about it now as he was a year ago - and becoming more so every day.  (I can barely begin to describe the bizarreness of being deathly afraid of flying (and falling) and having a child whose destiny may very well be to fly (and/or possibly jump out of perfectly good airplanes).  I am in awe of his fearlessness.

Boy-o, as you know from my previous blog, is going through some issues with bossiness. So the other morning when I got out of bed and he began to yell, "No Mama!  No!  Go back to bed!" I almost snarked at him about being bossy.  I didn't though, and blearily headed back down the hallway and snuck back under the covers, wishing I could let my sleep-deprived body succomb to the sleepiness.  Seconds later, I was covered in gangly three year old limbs, as he jumped on me, zipped under the covers, wrapped his little nody into mine and whispered in my ear: "Good morning Mama - I duv you." 

Holy shit - I am here to tell you - life couldn't possibly get any better than that moment right there.   

Monday, April 5, 2010

three

Whoever coined the term "the terrible twos" clearly was not yet the owner of a three year old. I'm here to tell ya that three is kicking my ass. All the way to next Tuesday. It smarts. A lot. My sweet, clever, mild-ish mannered Boy-o has been stolen away and in his place is a vehemently oppositional child (though admittedly still clever and sometimes, if he really wants to be, still sweet).

Everything is a battle of wills. Toothbrushing. Who gets to go up/down the stairs first, or in/out the door first. Whose job it is to empty the potty. Getting in the bath. Getting out of the bath. Getting dressed. Getting undressed. Coming to the table. Staying at the table. Not throwing food at the table. Getting in the carseat. Getting out of the carseat. You get the picture. Aside from being oh-so-super-fun-to-deal-with, after a particularly bad day, a girl can get to worrying that her child is a bit more combatative than, you know, normal. (As in, maybe I am raising an angry-oppositional-teenage-runaway-high-school-drop-out-drug-dealing-serial- killer-who-BLAMES-ME-FOR-EVERYTHING).

So, I did what everyone does when they have major, unsettling, life questions. I turned to Google. And this is what I discovered. My wildly oppositional child is normal. Totally, oppositionally, exhaustingly, maddeningly, completely fucking normal. He's just, like, growing up is all.

The smart peeps who study smalls call this super-fun phase oppositional or negativistic behaviour. It generally reaches its height at 3.5 - 4 years and can (but usually doesn''t) last until age 6 (SWEET JESUS!). Said period is characterized by refusal of even the most reasonable parental requests (this sounds about right). This stems from the differentiation of self from other, and a growing realization that they have a will of their own with which they can refuse the will of others (even very sage others like their normally reasonable parents). This stage is all about assertion of their growing independence. And "it is a normal and crucial aspect of child development." * BUGGER. BUGGER. BUGGER. BUGGERBUGGERBUGGER. (I mean, it's nice that my kids' normal and asserting his independence and growing up and all. But does it REALLY have to be in a manner that makes me want to take up the questionable hobby of noon-hour drinking?)

Okay then. Deep cleansing breath.  I also learned that I am doing the things I am supposed to be doing to optimize positive behaviours, like giving lots of warning about impending requests, presenting him with choices (but not too many!), giving him time and space to chill out (without punishing) when he gets overwhelmed or really emotional. Check. Check. And Check.  And lest you think I'm a parent with super-powers, I should also let you know that I'm also losing my shit with alarming frequency, because none of the aforementioned loveliness seems to be working. (And then, naturally, feeling like a crap, crap parent. Because my little dude who was previously staunchly defying, grumping, bossing or otherwise terrorizing me, will have eyes welling with tears and be reaching up into my arms for a hug like the sweetest little bub ever.)

I guess the overview of the situation comes down to this - I'm doing most of the right things (and some of the wrong things). Boy-o is also apparently also doing most of the right things (and some of the wrong things). Somehow, we both just need to chill the bleep out. Easier said than done, I know. But nobody ever said this shit was gonna be easy.

So for now, I'll just have to hang on tight to the perfect moments in between the tough spots; when everything fits, when he laughs easily, when his smile lights up the room, his joy is infectious, and cuddles come freely. And try to content myself with the knowledge that apparently defiance is healthy for both of us (even though, like wheatgerm, this is the teensiest bit hard to swallow).   That, and I love the little booger, even in all his oppositional-negativistic-glory (and let me tell you folks - it is some glory)... so I guess I'd better keep him. 





*Haswell, Hock and Wenar. "Oppositional Bahviour of Preschool Children: Theory and Interventions." Family Relations: Interdisciplinary Journal of Applied family Studies, July 1981.