Saturday, January 24, 2004

mother-daughter writing

My mom finds my columns a little disconcerting--"Like catching sight of yourself in a mirror you didn't realize was there" she says. Fair enough.

SPOILER ALERT: I discuss the movie Limbo below and I give away a major plot point. You've been warned!

I just saw a movie (Limbo, by one of my favorite directors, John Sayles) in which a mother-daughter writing dynamic is dramatized. The daughter (Noelle) seems to be reading a diary she's found to her mother (Donna) and the mother's boyfriend (Joe), but at a critical point Donna discovers that Noelle is actually making up the story. She allows her to continue to "read" the diary, however, without revealing that she knows Noelle is making it up. The diary is ostensibly written by the daughter of pioneering parents, parents whose marriage goes sour (and worse) during the difficult winter they endure together. The mother in the "diary" ultimately kills herself. After hearing the story, Donna responds as only a mother would, I think. "How selfish," she says. "She left her child. I would never do that to you."

She sees Noelle's story, that is, as a comment on herself. It's the only way she can see it, I think. And yet it both is and isn't. Noelle's a writer, and this is her imaginative construct. It's true she and her mother have issues, and it's true that to some extent she works them out through the medium of the false diary. But I think it goes beyond that for her. She becomes involved in her characters' lives, crying as she "reads" particularly moving passages. They've become real to her, taken on a life beyond her own and her mother's.

I think my mother feels that my writing is always commenting on her, even when it isn't, and I know I feel the same way about my daughter's writing. How can it not be? The identification between mother and daughter is so deep, so difficult to step outside.

I think John Sayles is a genius for recognizing this. He's a rare male director who really seems to "get"--to like, to understand, and to respect--his female characters. Critics find his movies too "talky"--as a storyteller, I like that about them. "Talky" is good. And the talkiness of Limbo is terrific. It's really open-ended, though. I felt cheated for a few minutes at the end. Then I decided he was letting his viewers take over the story, as Noelle takes over the diary. Pretty gutsy.

Friday, January 23, 2004

I Do Know How She Does It - The real supermom message of the original Cheaper by the Dozen. By Ann Hulbert

I just adored the two books about the Gilbreths, Cheaper by the Dozen and Belles on their Toes when I was a kid. The new movie looks like a complete travesty. This article actually takes Lillian Moller Gilbreth seriously, and you should too! I Do Know How She Does It - The real supermom message of the original Cheaper by the Dozen. By Ann Hulbert

Monday, January 19, 2004

Midlife Mama: Help Me Hell

My new column is up! Here it is: Midlife Mama: Help Me Hell Much of it appeared here first, so don't be disappointed...

Monday, January 12, 2004

My So-Called Blog

I liked this article--My So-Called Blog--though it also made me a bit nervous. Mariah has a blog somewhere, and I worry (don't all parents) about her privacy with it. But I don't know where it is and I don't think I should read it--like some of the kids cited in the article, I feel as if it would be a violation of her privacy, like reading a journal. OTOH, she's on occasion mentioned poetry she posted and I've read it...though without an express invitation. What's enough privacy for kids? What's too much? What's not enough? These things worry me...

two from Nick

Yesterday we were watching football and two guys got up in each others' faces. Mark commented, "They're trying to kiss, but they can't reach through their facemasks."

Nick's response," That's silly, Daddy. Two boys can't..." Then he rethought it. "Well, actually, two boys can marry each other, but there's usually a girl involved."

Not touching that one. He certainly knows some gay couples, and I think he knows that they are couples. Hmm.

Today when I went to pick him up from school he was looking at his library book, a "fact book" (his term) about cars. The last page shows cars from the future. His friend came over to look and said, "I hate the future."

"Why do you hate the future?" I asked. "You'll be a grown-up in the future."

"That's why," he said. "I want to be a wild boy!" (No problem there, I might add.)

Nick chimes in. "The sad fact about being a grown-up," he says, "is that you die."

No arguing with you there.

Friday, January 09, 2004

DotMoms: The midlife question

Well, I was going to write about this, but Helene at dot-moms got there first. DotMoms: The midlife question

Both my parents are just so funny about me calling myself "middle-aged." I didn't like it myself at first but now it's fun to annoy them (just a little...). Like Helene says, though, really we're in the same age category for the first time, and that's pretty weird.

I want to think more about this but I don't have time now. More later.


Nick is worried about death. Six-year-olds worry about death. So do 14-year-olds and 40-something-year-olds, so what's new?

Nick was worried about death last night and talking to his dad about it. He has decided that maybe after you die God lets you come back to earth as someone else. He thinks he knows people who have come back--his sister, for instance. He believes this because, as he says, she likes the color blue, and everyone knows girls don't like blue, so she must have been a boy when she was here before.

The breath-taking logic of the six-year-old.

Thursday, January 08, 2004

Being fourteen...

...was certainly not my favorite activity. Not being thirteen or fifteen, either. My daughter seems to be better at it than I am, for the most part. She's smart and funny, self-confident (mostly), talented, all good things. (OK, so I'm biased. Still, ask anyone!)

She's also overweight. When she was two her weight hit one of those unmentionable percentiles up over 95, while her height stayed at the 50th, and she's pretty much stayed that way ever since. Without wanting to cause any undue alarm (or an eating disorder), we've gently mentioned, from time to time, that she could use more exercise, that she might not want the second cookie, that fruit snacks are healthier than chips. Like most other "enlightened" parents these days, though, we didn't ever suggest that she should diet. In fact, the doctor told us not to, recommeding--at most--"portion control" and more exercise. She doesn't drink soda, or eat red meat. She pretty much eats what we all eat--which is to say, a relatively healthy diet, hardly any fast food, etc.--but she's pretty sedentary. As I was as a kid.

Yesterday she went to the doctor for her physical and asked about weight loss, and the doctor agreed that she should lose at least ten pounds. (She weighs ten pounds more than I do, though she's 3 inches shorter--and I could stand to lose a few myself.) She wants to do Atkins, and the doctor said she could.

Here's the thing. Two things. Maybe more.

Thing one: I hate the Atkins diet. I love carbohydrates and even more, I love to bake. And, even if I didn't, any diet that rules out whole food groups scares me. I know people lose on it, and the science seems to be changing every day, but that's my gut reaction.

Thing two: Why has the doctor been so careful to avoid talk of weight loss for all these years, only to bring it up now, at the very age when girls are most likely to develop eating disorders and poor body image issues? Does this seem like a contradiction? A problem? It does to me.

So anyway. We've been talking about it and we're going to try portion control, exercise, and modified Atkins principles--cutting way back on carbs, especially "empty" ones (you know, the yummy ones like pasta, white bread, white rice...) but not eliminating them totally. Will it work? I don't know. We're going to try to do it as a family, so she doesn't feel picked on or left out.

Sigh. I hate this stuff. I've never dieted successfully in my whole life, so I can't really advise her. On occasion I've lost weight but never when trying to (except post-baby). I guess the good news is that I survived adolescence feeling chunky and being teased for it (though I weighed considerably less than she does) and not developing an eating disorder despite being around anorexic girls. I know lots of people really think eating disorders aren't much about weight at all, they're about control, and maybe we can give her enough control over both her eating and her life that we all weather this crisis. But I'm sad and angry about it.

Sunday, January 04, 2004

back again

Whew! It's been weeks since I posted, weeks since I had time to sit down and even think about posting. Two weeks at the mother-in-law's with only slow internet (and, of course, the expectation that one is "present" most of the time, rather than hogging the computer) is the main reason, though probably holiday-stress would have slowed me down anyway. This is my favorite part of the holidays, in some ways. The kids go back to school tomorrow, we are about to celebrate Epiphany (no hype but lots of meaning), and we have one more week before Mark & I go back to school. Not that a week seems like enough time to construct a new syllabus and revise an old one, but there you have it.

Some random thoughts from the past few weeks:

*is it just me, or was the last LOTR segment incredibly tedious? I mean, I could look at Viggo Mortensen and Orlando Bloom all day, but it feels like that's all I did.

*we may say Christmas is about the kids but it's stressful on them too. Mine, for example, aren't used to having only each other to hang out with for two weeks at a time. And it showed. That's all I'm going to say about that.

*the toy of the moment is always worth giving, even though it will break in the first 24 hours of play. Luckily Nick got two remote-control cars. Only one is broken.

*Legoland is for kids younger than 14.

*Trader Joe's can solve nearly every holiday crisis. Southern California has a grocery strike going on and it was pretty much the only place we could shop--and that was just fine. (Just buy an extra bottle of wine with each load of groceries...) Now if there were only one closer than 100 miles away...

*Am I the only person in the world who really loves holiday letters? One from my oldest, dearest friend began, "Both kids peed on me today." I think this is genius--and a real break from the holiday letters of my past. But I have always loved them, always loved reading about the goings-on of people I might not even have known, or remembered. So much the better when they're about people I do know and love. But as a genre I think they are widely dissed, and I am out to restore their value. Send me your favorite holiday letters, or lines from them!