There’s a new series on NBC: Parenthood, based on the 1989 movie of the same name. The movie has one of my favorite lines of all time, uttered by a then-barely known actor named Keanu Reeves:
You know, Mrs. Buckman, you need a license to buy a dog, to drive a car – hell, you even need a license to catch a fish. But they’ll let any butt-reaming asshole be a father.
Based on the strength of this line, the fact that Lauren Graham starred, and for another reason I’ll get to in a minute, I decided one day to watch the show. I’ve seen three episodes now and I think I’m done.
Now, the third reason that I decided to watch it: Because I don’t know what normal parents are like.
I’ve spent a lot of time and energy making a place for myself, as a person and as a parent, where I am surrounded by supportive and loving people who don’t tell me constantly that I’m a weird freak side-show who doesn’t think like everyone else. Mostly this is a personal bubble I’ve created, but partly it’s the community I’ve chosen. Cambridge, Mass., is NOT the median average for any damned thing in the country.
This is, for the most part, incredible and good, especially since I was lucky (smart?) enough to get people who will tell me if I’m being stupid. Constant and unthinking agreement is good for no one.
But it also means that I’m pretty well isolated from what I think of as “mainstream” American parenting. I honestly get baffled about things that clearly everyone else thinks are normal and usual. And, more importantly, I get blindsided by attacks form people — mostly my family — who think I’m being “weird” in some instance where I thought I was right in tune with normal practices. (Honestly, I didn’t think anyone thought of Teddy Grahams as a healthy snack on par with a piece of fruit. They are cookies, right?)
Since every preview seemed to make the show out to be the Greatest Hits of American Parenting Anxiety, it seemed like a good place to go to find out what other, normal, parents think.
And wow was I right. It lined up all the big issues in the first episode: single moms, deadbeat dads, money concerns, a child with Asperger’s/Autism, not becoming your father, teens acting out, parental competitiveness, the working mom dilemma, etc. etc. I was slightly irritated by the heavy handed script, but stuck to it for three episodes. It was an interesting view on what people thought about parenting — or at least, what Hollywood thought people thought about parenting.
For example, The Husband spent a lot of time yelling at Peter Krause for his crappy reaction to his son’s diagnosis with Aspergers. I thought, while he was jerky, he was actually less jerky than most dads seem to actually be in a similar situation. (I have had two moms recently tell me that when their kids got diagnosed with some problem, their husbands reacted with violent denial and refusal to admit the problem.)
Then, in the third episode, came something that made me want to scream. The Asperger’s kid gets kicked out of school, which is silly but a plot point so I’ll forgive it, and Peter Krause and his wife decide to get him into “the best private school” for Asperger’s kids. They pull strings and camp out in people’s offices and finally talk to the head of the school and she says that there are no spots this year, but come back in September.
The parents then spend four or five minutes demanding that this woman “just spend five minutes with Max! Just five minutes and you’ll see how special he is!” They badger and beg and bully until she agrees and spends five minutes with Max and calls in the final minutes of the episode to say that YES, Max gets in! It was the emotional high point of the episode, the triumphant end that had everyone in the family cheering, was supposed to make the audience cheer, too!
It made me so angry I wanted to spit.
What about all the people who followed the rules and waited on the waiting list so that they could get their kid in? What about all the parents who paid the ungodly tuition with the knowledge that the 3d grade class would have a 5-to-1 ration and now, because they squeezed Max in, it will be 6-to-1? Is Max really that special special special of a snowflake that they will bend the rules? Or is it just that these parents were bullies and jerks?
This is what’s wrong with Parenthood and parenthood. The rules don’t apply to MY kid. MY kid is special. MY kid deserves to have the rules bent, broken, ignored, just this once, just for MY kid. All the other kids need to conform, but you need to make an exception, just this once, for MY kid.
And I’ll bet you that at some point there will be an episode where Max’s parents go to the mat with the school to fight for small class sizes because too many kids are getting in.
I know that it’s vital for parents to advocate for their kids. But bullying your way into a school just because it’s the best school, the one with the best status and reputation, and not thinking of the larger issues, not thinking about other kids, not considering how a wider advocacy will actually help more kids and be better for your kid in the long run….. that’s what is wrong.
The Parking Lot group tried, very hard, to get into it this morning. Conversations would start with, “Are you going to the meeting?” (There’s apparently going to be a meeting today.) “No, I have to read a book at my older son’s school.”
And I could see two or three moms opening their mouths to jump in. And I would access my inner Jersey Girl and talk really fast to say, “Oh, really? What are you going to read?”
I did this six or seven times.
Occasionally, two moms would break off and their voices would get really low and they would dart glances at P. (L wasn’t there yet). And I’d drag them, rather suddenly, into our conversation about pancake breakfasts.
The meeting will happen while I’m here, pretending to work. There will be a policy statement and that will be it.
It bothers me that I spend this much time and energy on the group politics of a bunch of women whose names I sometimes forget. I mentally mock, just a little bit, the women who spend so much energy worrying that a pedophile might see their son’s picture online, but I just spent almost the same amount of energy worrying about the high-school politics of the situation. Who’s nuts here? I know they are… and I’m almost certain that I am, too.
And why are moms all attacking each other instead of… I don’t know? Attacking pedophiles? That doesn’t make any sense. But I feel like a whole lotta energy and effort — mine, L’s, P’s, everyone’s — just got expended upon something useless, pointless, and divisive, where upon it could have been spent on something constructive. Why is modern motherhood all about attacking women who do it differently than I do it? Do men do this — as parents or in any other field?
I’m developing a theory, slowly, about how society can no longer use fear of sex/getting pregnant to control women, so instead, its shifted to using fear about motherhood to control women. It’s hazy, still, but I’m thinking about it. Thoughts?
I’m not the first or even 10,001st person in the past four days to spend a little time ruminating on the way that various complex facets of the Mommy Wars, of feminism, of women’s issues, have all be thrust into the spotlight by the presidential election. If you can’t bear to hear any more, please feel free to click away.
My thoughts are rather jumbled which is why I’m going to sit down and write them out. They are all merging with some interesting thoughts on feminism and motherhood and the way that those two things both merge and clash. The fact that those thoughts have been jumbled for the past three years won’t help me make my thoughts on this mess any clearer.
One of the things I am finding most amusing is the way that people are reacting to the question, “Should a mother with a special needs baby be running a national campaign?” Many many very smart and savvy women get so angry at that question that they start to sputter and steam. (Female Science Professor, for instance.) The conservatives, who seem to be against women in the workforce at all, are being conspicuously quiet on this front.
Myself, I think it’s almost a valid question. “Almost” because the question should be “Should a parent with a ….” I don’t think the question is invalid — especially not when she’s running on a family values platform — but I think that any politician, male or female, should be asked it. I get the second-wave feminist knee-jerk anger but I’m a third-wave lady myself and I think dads should be held to equal culpability in parenting.
Then there’s the fact that her daughter is pregnant. I love Obama for shutting down the questions with no room in his voice or words for doubt. (Though I’ll admit that I’m anti-McCain enough to want some surrogates to go out there and beat that drum over and over again.) But the issue is out there and it’s not going away, especially as this girl approaches her third trimester just as the election is going to come to a head. It’s not really all that valid as a political football … except that her mom is violently pro-life and supports abstinence-only education.
And suddenly, once again, a woman is being defined by her uterus. And her daughter’s uterus. Sigh.
Worse, she’s being defined by her tight little ass, too. Watch this video of McCain taking sidelong glances at Palin’s rear during her speech. Watch him fiddle with his wedding ring. Watch him try to kiss her as she dodges, feints, and parries. Watch her pained smile when he finally connects. Contemplate this website: www.VPILF.com. (For those of you who haven’t seen American Pie, “ILF” is an acronym for “I’d like to F*ck.” Gotta give the guy credit — the site’s been up for two months already.) Check out the fact that every article mentions her stint in the Beauty Pageant world.
There’s also the blatant grab for the Hilary Holdouts. Sigh. Why is Senator Clinton always refered to as Hilary when her male counterparts are referred to by last name? Why are they being seens as vicious shrewish women who are holding out bitterly just because they thing they got shafted? Do the pundits and the campaign wonks really think that these women are so stupid as to vote for a woman, regardless of the fact that she’s ideologically 180 degrees from Hilary?
(And then, I admit sheepishly, there’s the lingering question in my mind: Are these women that stupid?)
There’s the fact that, when asked in 2000, what McCain would do if his teen daughter turned up pregnant, he basically said that they would make a choice together as a family. Uh… they would make a choice. Get it? He’s pro-choice as long as it’s for his daughter. Rich white girls get a choice. Poor girls, black girls, girls with abusive parents and or who live in rural areas…. he wants to decide for them.
And while we’re on the subject, let’s think about the call that Bristol Palin “has made the right decision.” Of course, if you’re the daughter of a politically powerful woman and have the love and support of a big and wealthy family, then yeah, keeping the kid might be a right decision. But what if you’re alone? What if your family is sqeaking by on $30K a year for five people? What if your father calls you a slut and kicks you out of the house? What if the father of the baby doesn’t want to marry you? It’s not the right decision for everyone.
Finally, there’s the fact that Gov. Palin has recharged the fundy base fo the GOP because she’s so violently and unimpeachably pro-life. Not even in the case of rape or incest, she says.
I have miscarried a child. I needed Misoprostal to avoid a D&C. That would probably not be available if Roe v. Wade was reversed. (And make no mistake — with three SCOTUS justices getting ready to retire, that’s what would likely happen if the GOP take the White House.)
I had a friend who conceived a child with osteogenesis imperfecta. She aborted, even though, technically, a late-term miscarriage wouldn’t have been qualified as dangerous to her, medically. Never mind the mental anguish of carrying a child for months that you know can’t live. (I had a cousin born with o.i. who lived an awful and agony-filled three weeks before she died…. I can’t imagine bringing a child into this world to suffer that way.)
I’m not clarifing my thoughts much, I’m afraid. Just cataloging the inane idiocies of this past week. I’m sorry. I’ll stop.
So, I just saw Shrek the Third. If you haven’t, and you care, the following is spoilery.
It terrifies me that I have a daughter in this day and age, in this country, in this place, in this culture. Because there are so many … misogynistic assumptions built into so much of our popular culture that it makes me want to throw things across the room.
What’s this got to do with Shrek? (Which I mildly enjoyed, btw.) Well, the whole premise of the movie is that Fiona’s dad (a frog) is dying. He names Fiona and Shrek heirs. The only other heir is this spindly kid named Arthur who goes to school elsewhere. He dies. Shrek journeys to find Arthur (voiced by Justin Timberlake and drawn like… well, Justin Timberlake ten years ago) because he doesn’t want to be king.
Does no one notice that Fiona’s mom — The Queen — Julie friggin Andrews — is standing right there? This kingdom would rather have a snorting, burping, green monster who doesn’t want the job than a woman. Would rather have a punk 16-year-old loser that a woman. Had a frog, for the love of little green apples, rather than Julie Andrews!
Then there’s the “empowerment” scene where all the fairy-tale princesses decide they are tired of waiting around to be rescued and they burn their bras and get into ass-kicking mode. Except, they don’t… They maybe prod a little buttock and there’s a great scene with Snow White, the trilling birds, and the opening chords from “The Immigrants Song,” but the rest of it is…. lame. Fiona, who has Trinity-like bullet-time moves in the first two movies, doesn’t do a damned thing. When the castle gets invaded, they made good their escape (yay) but then get caught right away.
I just keep thinking about a scene in one of Tamora Pierce‘s novels when someone is complaining that women have always fought, especially while the men were away. Says one character: “My aunt lit barrels of lard and had them catapulted on to Scanran ships this summer.” Replies another: “As would any lady of breeding.”
But Fiona just… fails.
(More on the inestimable Ms. Pierce in a minute.)
And she’s not the only one. Summer movies are pretty down on girls this summer. Nancy Drew — an ur girl=power character — gets mocked mercilessly in a new film this summer. Bee Power features an almost entirely male cast … when all worker bees are females. There isn’t one female Transformer. (Okay, they are robots, but you see my point.)
I know there’s a “boy movement,” saying that our culture really does damage to little boys. I have to say that I’m not sure I buy that. I mean, it’s a toxic culture and tends to be bad for everyone, but this move to make more books/movies/tv shows “for boys” isn’t good for boys or for girls. And I know there isn’t enough out there for girls — or what is out there is just what I call “pink ghetto” stuff. You ever see the “girls’ products” at Lego? It sucks. Check out a popular Amazon list for “Teen Books for Every Girl“. The collected Pepto-pink of the covers, seen en masse, look like Tinkerbell barfed all over your screen. And, please Goddess, don‘t look at the American Girl website.
The amazing and wonderful Ms. Pierce (she’s a children’s author who writes female characters that really kick ass. Her Alanna books got me through the years between 13 and 15) once said at a lecture I saw her give: “The movement in young adult books is to write more books for boys, because there’s a feeling they are getting shorted. But I looked through the whole sci-fi and fantasy book catalog for the upcoming season and there wasn’t one book with a female protagonist.”
And I’m guessing in the other genres, all the female protagonists were too-cool fashionistas like the Beacon Street Girls or reading Love Letters from too-cute boys or viciously stabbing each other in the back with other Gossip Girls. Perhaps she’s hoping that I really am a royal in exile and she’ll turn out to be a princess. (Though, wasn’t Julie Frigging Andrews the queen in that, too?) This is the crap they market to my daughter?
I firmly believe that you fight bad information with more information. I’ve always said that if she wants to read those horrible pink books, I’ll just flood her with good role models. But where the hell am I going to find those? Tammy Pierce only writes so many books!
Okay, that was ranty. I’ll stop. But I’m really exhausted that no one even thought to ask the Queen to stay on.
I was going to title this “Shit that pisses me off,” when I realized that most of my posts will probably subscribe to that particular title. So instead I’m going be specific and say that smug moms piss me off.
For instance, over Easter weekend, The Husband, The Child, and I were on a marathon family visit. We’d spent the better part of two weeks juggling this and that to make sure that The Child kept to her usual schedule for her nap and her bedtime. This took much much more wrangling than it should have. All of these people had kids. They profess to understand that, yes, napping is important and an overloaded 15 month old toddler is no fun for Grandma or for Mom. And yet they remain unwilling to make dinner at 3 instead of 2.
But that’s not the point of this rant. The point is that when we pulled into venue No. 5, The Child was still asleep. So we left the car idling in the driveway and I pulled out a book (“It Must Have Been Something I Ate,” go, read it now) and read while she slept. The Husband went in to schmooze with his family. I was out there at least an hour while she finished her all important nap.
Now, it’s my understanding that this is fairly common. Babies like to sleep in moving cars. They made a terrible “Mad About You” ep about it, for the love of little green apples. And if you turn the car off, it usually wakes them up. Certainly it always wakes her up.
As I explained this to my … my husband’s father’s brother’s wife. My aunt-in-law? … to Sh., I added that I felt awful doing it because idling is so bad for the environment and all that gas I’m burning. And she turns to me with this slap-inducing smirk on her face and says in a tremendously sing-song voice, “Isn’t it amazing how your politics change once you have kids?”
“No,” says I. “Actually I’ve become more eco-centric since The Child was born. I want to leave a better world to her. I was just saying that I was going to upgrade my http://www.terrapass.com/ because of it.”
“Oh,” says she, and turns away, with this look like, “reality will soon intrude on your ridiculous idealism.” In fact, she said almost those very words to me later about something else. (“The Overachievers.” Go, read it.)
It was an annoying episode, but Sh. is an annoying person, so it wasn’t surprising. But I got to thinking about how often I hear smug and snide satisfaction in the voices of people — usually older moms — when I admit that one of my ideals has fallen to expediency.
When I wound up using disposable diapers instead of cloth, my mother’s best friend made some pointed comments. When my mother-in-law saw me feeding The Child jarred baby food instead of homemade, she launched into a spiel about how great it was that I finally “came down to earth” about child rearing. (Imagine her face when I explained that the only reason I was using jarred was because the homemade stuff had gotten left behind accidentally.)
Moms keep getting told that we need to do this, that, and the other thing. We need to make sure that baby has enough carbs (but complex only), proteins (lean only), and fats (good only), as well as enough fruits and vegetables (a whole rainbow each day!). We need to teach them conflict resolution and good exercise habits by our own behavior. We need to respond to them positively when they cry to foster attachment but not dote on them to create spoiled kids. Books, television, pediatricians, grandparents, other moms, everyone tells us what to do — ideally.
And then we mock the Mom who tries to adhere to that. We portray her as an uptight neurotic control freak (a al Charlotte from Sex and the City or Bree from Desperate Housewives) — an object of comedic ridicule. Or we spend entire plot-lines (in books, tv, movies) knocking those ideals out from under her and jeering at how hard she clings to the “unrealistic” goals that we’ve shoved down her throat. When she finally knuckles under the pile of outrageous, comflicting, impossible demans that we’ve shackeled moms with, we cheer with venom at how she finally became a normal person.
Well, fuck all those smug moms. I get that I can’t do everything — I get that my ideals are not feasible for the real world. But I’m going to try, damn-it. I’m going to try to make sure The Child eats organic and wears natural fibers and learns about charity and conflict avoidance.
And when I fail — which I know I will — I won’t bother asking for your sympathy. But I’ll thank you not to celebrate.