In Which Mom Gets To Choose the Movie

In Which Mom Gets To Choose the Movie

I love in a house full of guys, which is awesome, except for every once in a while when it’s not.

A while back I was complaining about something (shocking, I know) that had to do with being the only female under our roof, when my friend, who is also married to a guy and the mother of two boys, said in all seriousness and without judgement, “Don’t you know, Maggie? You’re their queen.”

Oh really?

I’m just going to leave you to muse on that little nugget for a while. Tell me, oh mothers of America, are you their queen? Why or why not? Discuss.

Mkay, I’ll go first:

Here’s just one small way I am not the queen of my house: We hardly ever watch the movies I want to watch.

This is due not only to the fact that my kids have the unfair advantage of knowing how the remotes work, but also because they like to watch stuff explode and I don’t. They are nice guys, but even when I do choose, my film choices can clear the room quicker than our gassy terrier. (I’m sorry to mention farts twice in one post. Occupational hazard of my job.)

The boys still reminisce about how I made them watch Little Lord Fauntleroy, bribing them with cookie dough and, I think, a dollar each.

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You might call this a fail on my part, but I disagree. While they may not have absorbed the film’s timeless message of perseverance and kindness in the face of adversity, they have one more thing to tease me about, and I say that sharing a laugh at your queen’s mom’s expense is one of the great joys of having a sibling.

So, see? It was on purpose, you guys.

But I love movies and believe they are some of the best conversation starters and kindling for empathy, so I’m not about to give up. Films can teach us so much, but not if we only ever watch the loudest, fastest and biggest.

And so,

I put the question out there to my  enlightened Facebook friends:

What are some suggestions for films with a social justice theme, appropriate for roughly 11-13 year olds?

I got a lot of great responses, and some kind of creepy ones. Like, I just can’t see snuggling up with my 11 year old for a family viewing of Beasts of No Nation, but maybe that’s just me.

Despite the occasional head-scratcher, I now have a long list of movies that I will draw from when it’s my turn to choose.

And this summer, since I’m queen, I will be choosing often.

So if you’re looking for some touchy-feely films with a good message, to balance out this:

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Look no further!

Here’s my list of family movies about how to do life:

  • Harvey–  Swoon– it’s Jimmy Stewart! It’s about compassion and the fact that one man’s crazy is another man’s not crazy.
  • Roots–  I think I was in 5th or 6th grade when this came on t.v. and we were all required to watch it for school. Man, have times changed. I didn’t see the new version, but the 1977 mini-series has stayed with me.
  • Being There– I love this movie and it’s message about politics, human nature and the media. Not sure if the kids will really get it, but I didn’t get Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones, so I guess we’re even.
  • Shorts– This sounds like something for the younger ones. Reviews say it’s pretty funny, even if the special affects are a little cheesy. Film explores bullying and how being tech-obsessed can impact relationships.
  • Nim’s Island– Another movie that might skew younger. Message about perseverance, courage,  and independence. Bonus: the main character is homeschooled, which may be just because she lives on a deserted island, but still– rad!
  • The Visitor– Given the proposed Muslim ban, this is pretty darn timely. Themes include cultural diversity, immigration, politics in post 9/11 US, friendship. Great acting, too.
  • Unstrung Heroes– This 1995 film, directed by Diane Keaton, deals with loss, family, and how even if your family’s weird they can still be cool. Sounds like it might be kind of sad, so I will serve with ice-cream.
  • Inherit the Wind– 1960 courtroom drama about creationism vs. evolution. (My money’s on evolution, y’all.)
  • A Room With A View– Glorious film adaptation of E.M. Forster’s novel has messages about love, intimacy (you know, the stuff all middle school boys dig), and being true to yourself. My boys will not watch this willingly, I’m sure. Best chosen for Mother’s Day viewing.
  • Forrest Gump– Here’s what you get: war, civil rights, history, drugs, sex, personal choice, loyalty, friendship and questionable southern accents.
  • March of the Penguins– A good choice for any age unless you don’t like penguins, in which case I don’t want to know you. It’s all about nature, the cycle of life, and birds that are actually fish, or maybe it’s the other way around.
  • The Boy In the Striped Pajamas-  A holocaust story told through the eyes of a young boy. I haven’t seen it yet, mainly because someone told me the ending and I just haven’t geared myself up for that. It’s on my short list for this summer.
  • Dances With Wolves– This may be better for the older middle schoolers and teens, depending on your kid and your tolerance for violence and scenes of people getting busy under animal skins. But there are also battles for survival and battles for power, Native American history, friendship, betrayal, on and on.
  • Rudy– A great movie, especially for football or sports types, but really anyone who loves an underdog story, which I totally do. Aim high and work hard, citizens!
  • Hidden Figures– You’ve probably seen this already, right? So good. Racial and gender equality, a bit of history of our space program.
  • Chocolat–  Let me translate for you: Chocolate! Oo-la-la— a sweet flick about love, acceptance, joie de vivre, with a side helping of domestic violence, but still.
  • The Secret of Roan Inish– A lovely slow film that will either bore your kids to pieces or get them talking about faith and miracles in a charming Irish accent.
  • Heidi–  My pals say it has to be the Shirley Temple version. I say, if you can get buy in for a Shirley Temple movie from your 12 and 14 year old boys, I fucking bow to you. Try it, and report back.
  • Searching For Bobby Fisher–  Who needs another viewing of Mission Impossible 3 when you can watch a whole movie about a kid playing chess? JK, it’s all good: hard work, mastery, good sportsmanship.
  • Whale Rider– I can’t wait to see this! Themes of equality, cultural diversity and staying true to yourself, sexual and age discrimination, perseverance.
  • Babies–  No plot, no story, just babies from all over everywhere doing baby things. A great window to the world. “Yes, Punkin’, I may have left you in your high chair to watch reruns of Blues Clues while I ate an entire bowl of chocolate pudding in my closet, but at least I didn’t tie you to the leg of the bed with a leash while I went out to milk the llamas.” Oh I kid. I’ve seen this and it’s lovely. My boys actually dig babies, and once they get over the fact that none of them are going to transform into venom spewing super villains, they might actually get into this movie.
  • The Power of One– Rated PG-13 (I haven’t seen it, so can’t say why), this is Morgan Freeman’s first movie and is based on a critically acclaimed book. Gives a lesson on the system of Apartheid and humanitarian values. I had never heard of this one, but it looks interesting.
  • Never Cry Wolf–  So, this guy goes off by himself to study wolves and he goes kind of crazy but in a good way and, you guys, he has to eat a ton of mice to survive! (That’s my way of saying your kids will like this movie.)
  • Rabbit-Proof Fence– This story centers around three Aboriginal children who’ve been living in an internment camp and leave in an attempt to reunite with their parents. it’s a safe bet that one of the major themes is race and cultural oppression, along with resilience and courage. I’m in.
  • Kes– Apparently, this film is long and grim, but some people are into that. I should add that reviews say this is a stunning coming of age story, a classic even, so proceed as you wish.
  • October Sky– Who doesn’t love a true story about following your dreams? Also, one of the many awesome messages in this film is that how people are evaluated in school says very little about their value and potential. Word.
  • Explorers–  I hear this movie is pretty dated, but I like how the aliens base their ideas aboot humans on what they’ve seen on television. Anything that reminds us that perspective matters is a-ok by me.
  • Off the Map– This film, set in northern New Mexico in 1974, is about a family living off the grid, old school hippie style. It has some great actors in it (Joan Allen, Sam Elliot) I haven’t seen it, but judging from reviews, it’s a good one all about unconditional love, acceptance of people, despite their imperfections. Some describe the film as “gentle and easygoing” which is not exactly a selling point with my boys, but hope springs eternal in my world.
  • Pay It Forward– Probably better for older teens because this film has it all: drugs, violence, racial slurs, sex, alcoholism and suicide. Good times! I may watch this one on my own while my kids are out crushing innocent strangers at laser tag.
  • Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill– Somehow, some way, I will get my boys to watch this with me. It just sounds so good. It’s a doc about a guy who takes care of and studies a flock of– you guessed it– wild parrots. Good for all ages, may need tissues. Be prepared with reasons why you can not adopt a parrot.
  • Freedom Writers–  Fair warning, reviews say this one’s a little hokey. But if you can’t get enough of the clueless-white-teacher-comes-to-save-the-at-risk-youth-and-they-don’t-like-her-but-then-they-do kind of story, then this movie may be for you. There are a few of those on this list though, and this might not be the best of the bunch. Fair warning.
  • Quiz Show– Love this movie based on a true story about a big ol’ cheater. Message: Don’t be a big ol’ cheater!
  • The Soloist– Another film based on a true story (love those) that takes place in my adopted home of LA. It looks at mental illness and homelessness which, sadly, we have plenty of in the City of Angels.
  • McFarland USA– This is one my boys and I have seen and we all loved it. Yes, the white guy (Kevin Costner) comes and saves the day, but not until he gets schooled but good. Great for your kids to see if they ever complain about their measly chores because the teens in this story work harder than anyone I’ve ever seen. Issues explored include privilege, prejudice, immigration and more.
  • Selma– Looks at Martin Luther King’s role in the events leading up to the civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery, a pivotal point in the ongoing battle for racial equality in our country. There is a lot of violence because, well, that’s what happened, kiddos.
  • Bridge Over the River Kwai– If my kids are jonsing for cinematic violence and high-tension, I might suggest this classic. Message: War is hell.
  • Bingo Long and the Traveling All-Stars–  A 70’s baseball film about the Negro national League. I hear tell women are objectified in this movie so if that’s a deal breaker, you’ve been warned. But hey, that was the 70’s and we all know that never happens anymore, right?? (Cue crickets.)
  • Glory–  Another one for the older teens. This is beautiful film is not for the squeamish: civil war, racism, bigotry, valor, courage, US history, plus buckets of blood.
  • Norma Rae– You want an ass-kicking superhero movie? Here you go, boys. Power to the worker!
  • Hoop Dreams– Critically acclaimed high school basketball doc. How hard to these kids have to work just to get to school in the morning? Hard. How hard do they have to work to get what many other (rich white) kids have handed to them? Super f-ing hard. This film sends a strong message about strength, hard work, perseverance, systematic racism, class, and basketball.
  • Wadja– The first Saudi movie to be directed by a woman. (Yeah, I know.) It’s about a girl who seriously wants to bust out– ride her bike, wear sneakers– the nerve! Seems like an interesting window into what it’s like to be female in Saudi Arabia. Critics love it. Heads up: It’s subtitled.
  • Stand and Deliver– 1988 film based on the true story of a math teacher who comes to work in an inner-city school. Reviews say it’s pretty free of saccharin Hollywood schmaltz, but I can’t vouch for that. Themes include hard work, courage, perseverance, and hope.
  • 12 Angry Men–  This 1957 classic explores the jury’s role in our US justice system and prejudice.
  • Mr. Smith Goes To Washington-  Jimmy Stewart brings it in this classic Capra movie in which we learn how our government works. (“Hear that kids? It used to actually work!”) It has the famous filibuster scene, and if that doesn’t move you then, well, I just don’t know what to say. If your kids are like mine, they are not always fans of the black and white films. Ask me if I care.
  • Lord of the Flies– There are at least two film versions of this classic novel. From what I’ve read, neither of them does the book justice, but you can try the 1963 or the 1990 version and let me know what you think. Creepy story explores the best and worst of human nature. Sensitive kids and lovers of pigs, proceed with caution.
  • To Kill a Mockingbird–  You’ve seen this classic film version of the glorious coming of age novel by Harper Lee, right? It is a masterpiece. If you haven’t seen it, go watch it right now. Please, thank you, you’re welcome.
  • Billy Elliot– Fuck gender stereotypes! Fuck homophobia! Fuck people who don’t think boys should be into dance! If you have a major problem with the word fuck, or cursing in general, you will probably want to pass on this beautiful movie. Also, you probably don’t like my blog 🙂
  • Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner– A classic, by any definition. Themes include Racism, age, loyalty, family, love, etc. Anyone who watches this movie in my house gets a cookie because that is probably the only way it’s going to happen. One day they will thank us.
  • The Gods Must Be Crazy–  It doesn’t all have to be so serious. This 1980’s classic comedy has a message about modern society and what it means to be civilized. I remember this being a funny movie which, we all know, doesn’t always translate into our kids feeling the same way. Still, I’ll give it a whirl.

There you go, for your summer viewing pleasure. This list is obviously a work in progress, so please feel free to add your own social-justice-ish family movie suggestions in the comments below. Maybe we need a whole separate list for family documentaries. Plenty of amazing films have been left off this list, mostly because my refrigerator broke today and is leaking all over my kitchen floor.

Duty calls, my friends 🙂

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It’s a Dirty Job and Somebody’s Got To Do It

It’s a Dirty Job and Somebody’s Got To Do It

 

Summer’s coming and I am glad.

HowEVER…

While I love the change in routine that summer brings, there are some very key ways that I would like this coming summer to NOT resemble last summer. I’m a big fan of free time for kids. You know, time to decompress, daydream, and grow. That sounds pretty good in theory but in reality, last summer, this was me:

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And this was them:

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And like a frog in a pot of hot water, I didn’t even realize it was happening.

Somehow it has come to pass that I am, in many ways, exactly the kind of mom I always swore I would never be.

It turns out that, despite all my big talk, I do way too many things that my kids could do for themselves. Recently I handed my 14 year old a can opener to use, and he looked at it like this:

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That was my ah-hah moment.

I’ll admit, I can get a little smug about homeschooling. I’ll tell anyone who will listen how kids can use the extra time to practice life skills and learn the kind of things that they will actually use in the real world, meanwhile my own fully capable and smart enough teenager is mystified by how to get to the refried beans.

(Note to my son, on the off off chance that he may one day read this: Dude, this is on me. Why, if you have someone removing from under your bed the cereal bowls that have grown fur, would you ever need to do it yourself? And, in fairness, it’s a lame can opener. But still.)

So I did a little research with the goal being to find someone better at all this than me, and just, you know, do what they do.

Here’s a chart I got from a blog called Modest Mom. Her world view and politics are pretty polar opposite to my own, but you know what? She’s got six– count ’em six kids and they all do shit!

According to her chart, my boys have been skating by like eight year olds when it comes to their domestic duties. So while I may not want to party with this gal, I say don’t be modest, sister, because– except for the part where you give a pass to those freeloading one year olds— you are killing it in the child labor department!

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My kids don’t have to do daily Bible study and they don’t do half this stuff.

For. Shame.

But today is the first day of the rest of my life, and as Modest Mom is my witness, here’s what my two little stinkers will have to be able to do before September, or else. (Do not ask me or else what. I don’t know what. Something tells me MM would have a few ideas.)

Make their own lunches. I can’t believe I’m outing myself here, but I’ll admit this has been a control thing for me. I want them to eat something healthy for lunch. When left to their own devices they will always (always) eat cereal which, I can hear you saying it, isn’t so bad, and I agree– it’s not. Still, I’m a little weird about the balanced meal thing. (Humble brag– learned it on Facebook.)

But here’s the thing– they don’t eat what I pack anyway. That’s why I am finally doing what I should have done years ago: giving up. I have a feeling Giving Up is the secret sauce to sane parenting, at least as it applies to cleanliness and feeding. So, I will clear my house of all crap “food”  that only sets them up to be judged by me, and they can have whatever is left, with no comment from me.

Late to the party, I know.

Wash their own dishes, like, ALL THE TIME. The days are gone where I will make chores a party. I know what Family Circle or whatever the fuck parenting-advising-confidence-crushing-Pinterest-posting-mommy-blogger says, but my kids are twelve and fourteen and I am done with trying to put lipstick on the pig of housework.

My dear husband is a great one for putting on loud classic rock during dinner clean up, and that’s fine. He likes it and that’s good enough for me, but I actually do not see this translating into my sons wiping down the stove with any more gusto than if AC/DC wasn’t blasting from the radio.

My plan includes a rotating schedule for dinner dishes where each of us does the whole shebang a few times a week, and then a clean-as-you-go kind of thing for the rest of the day. Loud music, timers, games and cheeriness optional.

Cook something that isn’t a quesadilla. I have friends who’s kids love to cook. Those people are not going to understand this. My boys have inherited their dad’s complete and total aversion to all things culinary. When they were little, we baked bread. We did– I have the pictures to prove it. Judging from the endless images of them in their little aprons, we had it all figured out, didn’t we?

HA!

To all the young moms out there who’s kids love gardening and grocery shopping and your favorite bands, I say enjoy it now because one day all those things you thought you knew about your little darlings will come crashing down around you and you will be face to face with someone who is probably totally awesome but who is maybe not awesome in the exact way you *planned* for them to be awesome, and this can be quite a blow.

Just saying.

My kids can’t cook and I, with the help of Blue Apron 2x a week, plan to change that. I’m hoping that all that practice assembling Lego sets will come in handy when I hand them the box. What could possibly go wrong??

Do hard work that is not pretend hard work. Guilty. I have given my kids faux chores for years to make myself feel better. I could sleep at night knowing that my kids were not some special snowflakes– no! My kids fed the dog, for god’s sake. They unloaded the dishwasher and made sure the toilet was flushed before company came over (keeping’ it classy). I was raising young men who would know the value of hard work; why just look at them sweep the front porch, would you???

You guys, those are the same jobs they’ve had since they were in booster seats, and while I give them props for never giving me grief about doing them, I think that might be because they just don’t want to call attention to the sweet gig that they’ve had for the past several years. The last time I sent my son out to weed the front yard, he lasted twenty minutes and then needed to convaless for the better part of the afternoon.

No more, my darling.

Time to get real. Our fridge needs cleaning, the garbage bins need scrubbing and the patio furniture needs scouring.

From here on out, I will perform the duties of my new job as my sons’ Uber, with a smile. This will, however, require that I resign, effective immediately, from any job that includes me sweating under my boobs while scraping melted fruit rollups off the backseat of our Honda.

Seems like a fair trade.

In closing, this summer will not be last summer. This summer we will disperse the load. This summer I will give up a little control and my boys will give up a little free time, and all of us will struggle with that, I’m sure. But I’m optimistic.

I’ll let you know how it goes.

 

 

What I Did For Love

What I Did For Love

This past weekend I had to deliver a testimonial at my fab UU church, to celebrate the conclusion of our pledge drive.  It went just fine, despite the fact that I clearly have shed my old actorly ways and am now TERRIFIED of speaking in public.

Good lord, the shaking.

The blushing.

Ours is not a large congregation and, for the most part, I think they harbor only good will toward me, so I kind of don’t get why the major case of nerves. Also, the thing I wrote was less than five minutes. (I know, get a grip, right?)

But how’s this for a confession:

I’m glad I was nervous because, in some private recess of my damaged heart, I believed that looking happy to be up there reading something I had worked hard to compose, would be like wearing slacks and suntan pantyhose with a reinforced toe.

Out of fashion.

Awkward.

Best to keep a low profile. Pretend I just threw something together at the last minute. “What, this old thing?”

It’s official. I may be all grown up, but a thin film of middle school still covers me like a second skin.

Maybe you can relate.

None of this is conscious, of course, and it’s really just now, as I sit typing, that it’s becoming clear. I can’t be the only one who struggles with the desire for approval and the deep flesh eating shame of wanting attention.

So wtf. Ima go there.

Yesterday I gave myself a present in the form of the audio version of Bruce Springsteen’s memoir, Born To Run, read by The Boss himself, and available on Audible. (By the way, my subscription to Audible is, by far, the best $15.00 I spend each month. Just sayin’.)

If you happen to see me walking the streets of the San Fernando Valley wearing a dopey smile and a gaze of distant longing, it’s because Bruce is in my ear, telling me all about his life, his hopes, his dreams. I may be holding my dog’s leash in one hand and a bag of steaming poo in the other, but in my mind he and I are reclined on a chase, before an open window, somewhere in Tuscany. “Tell me all about it,” I say, while sampling a variety of cheeses.

Wait, where was I?

Oh yeah. One of the first things Bruce offers up is an explanation of what has driven his career in rock and roll. His success, he says, was and is fueled by a list of things (and I’m working from my admittedly iffy memory here), that includes a desire for attention, approval, money, and love. 

Hold up, Bruce.

You mean you are looking for my approval? The stories you tell, the poetry you write, exists, at least in part, because you want to be… liked??

And get this, he wasn’t apologizing for it. Knowing that he cares what I think of him doesn’t diminish any of his work for me to know this. Obvs. Unknown

There’s a part of me that always assumed that artists, especially talented artists, didn’t give a shit what the rest of us thought. They worked in service of their vision and that’s what made the good ones good.

Or so I thought.

I’m no authority on showbiz in LA, since I had basically waved to that in my rearview mirror when I left Chicago, but I do remember when I first got here, sensing that, to get the job, one needed to not to need the job. Use words like “amazing”, “awesome” and “outstanding”, when asked how things are going, and as an agent once told me as she cocked her head and squinted across her desk at me, whatever you do, “Try not to care so much.”

That’s the catch.

When it comes to approval, you can want it, but you can’t ask for it.

I’ve bought into that forever. As for my own hunger, I blamed it on my mother, my school days, my gender. Anything to avoid pulling back the curtain.

But if I stop making it into a weakness, the desire to pin it on someone else disappears, and running around pinning shit on people is a total time suck. I think we can all agree on that.

The truth is, I care a whole bunch what you think.

Yep, me and Bruce Springsteen.

When I make a painting, I hang it on my wall. When I write something, I want someone to read it. To me, without sharing, the work isn’t complete.

I have a friend who told me she writes all the time and feels no need to share any of it. I haven’t decided if I believe her, but if it’s true, I envy her. If you’re an artist who doesn’t have any fucks left to give, then I guess you are lucky. It’s an advantage to feel free to take risks, to create for the sake of creating. But honestly, if I wasn’t in a lifelong search for love and approval, I probably wouldn’t do anything but down snacks and watch reruns of Sex and the City, so hey, there’s that.

At it’s worst, my desire for external validation can make me too careful, causing me to miss my mark and sometimes not even try. But at it’s best, it’s my editor, agent and cheerleader. My personal Mickey Goldmill.

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Back in Chicago, I remember I used to stare down the bar at the “real” actors who huddled at the other end. Usually a group of three or four guys in their 20’s and 30’s, and maybe one woman (hmm, interesting) would hang together, drinking cheap beer, dissing Los Angeles, while trading snark about their last Steppenwolf audition or the pilot they were shooting .

They were just So. Fucking. Cool.

They were talented, and their talent seemed all the more mysterious because they didn’t seem to care about it. Eventually I would make a good living on commercials, long running crowd-pleasing shows (decidedly un-cool) and voice-overs, but in my mind, those thoroughbreds at the end of the bar would always leave me in their dust.

I could never compete with them because I always, always, read my reviews.

And yet, here I am.

The same need that drove me to put myself out there in search of approval, was the same need that pounded on the floor for me to “Get up!” when I was knocked on my ass.

Now that I’ve named it, will I try to move beyond this, to a place where I float far above my blog stats, my inbox of rejections, my submissions, all my naked trying?

Will I pretend that I don’t desperately hope that you will like what I’ve made for you?

I don’t think so.

And I’m cool with that.

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Stealing Time

Stealing Time

I am not what you’d call a fast writer.

I’m also not great at fitting writing into little nooks and crannies. In order to get anything down that makes sense, I need decent chunks of time. In my next life I’ll be super productive (I’ll also play the banjo, have delicate ankles and a good sense of direction), but for now I  have to accommodate this weakness.

Because we homeschool, solitude is in short supply, so I schedule a few hours on the two days when both my kids are in class, and I try hard to keep that appointment with myself.

I haven’t told many people about my writing time until now.

It feels undeserved. I haven’t done anything to earn it, in fact it actually costs me five bucks every time, on account of the dirty chai latte my thirsty muse requires.

But my life is full of things I don’t deserve. I am privileged AF.

PS: This is weirdly hard to talk about.

Remember that Seinfeld episode where Jerry compared the two kinds of naked? There was the attractive naked, he said, e.i. naked while brushing your hair, and the unattractive naked, i.e. naked while opening a pickle jar?

Stay with me.

Right now, I feel like I am naked, opening the pickle jar.

I imagine you wondering why, if I have this time

  • Do I have so many typos and grammatical screw-ups on my blog?
  • Don’t I employ a fucking thesaurus instead of resorting to all the four letter words since they are (I’ve been told) just lazy writing.
  • Do I not donate those five hours to helping others, instead of contemplating every waking moment of my completely regular life.
  • And finally, with all that time, why don’t I get a job, or a degree, or at least a gym membership, for gods sake??

If you’re not wondering those things don’t worry, because I certainly am.

I told a friend on Facebook recently that when I hear that critical voice I try think of it as a man named, oddly enough, Donald, and I like to tell Donald to shut the fuck up.

Try it. It’s satisfying on many levels.

Donald thinks he knows what people should do. He thinks money is the same as value. He thinks the world has enough blogs, paintings, poems, popsicle trucks and hamster sanctuaries, so zip it already and just be happy driving the carpool.

Telling Donald to back off  keeps me writing, and keeps me holding on to the hours I need to do it, but it’s not easy.

This morning I was talking to my friend Jo Dee, and I told her about my weekly writing date and how I’ve kept it secret because it feels self indulgent. Like a great pal, she didn’t miss a beat.

“It’s not self-indulgent, it’s your job.”

“Jo Dee, it is so not my job.”

“Writing is absolutely part of your job.”

“Writing is how I keep from going insane.”

“Well maybe that is your job… no offense.”

Ouch. That left a mark, but I loved her for it.

Up till now, I’ve hid my secret by just saying “I have some errands to run” or “things to do,” stopping short of actually lying, but not by much.

In Elizabeth Gilbert’s book Big Magic, she suggests treating your creative time like you would an affair. If you had a hot lover on the side, she says, you would steal any time you could to be with them. You would lie, you would sneak, anything would be worth just a few hours. She suggested we treat our creative time like that.

I love her analogy because that is exactly how I feel!

mark-ruffalo
Here’s Mark Ruffalo giving me a writing prompt. “Twenty minutes on your best meal ever– go, baby, go.”
As Emily Dickinson wrote, “The heart wants what it wants.” Time is a luxury I can’t pay for, but I want it all the same.

So I steal it.

I steal it from my from my family, my community, the causes I support, and all the other things I tell myself a good person does.

When I was a teenager, my father once said to me, “You’re no bargain, Mag.”

That explains a lot, I thought.

Who knows what he was talking about. It might have had something to do with me being a pain in the ass, because I totally was. He didn’t know that I would drag those words behind me for the rest of my life like a corpse, forever trying to be what I thought he wanted: a bargain.

But I would never feel like one.

So when I was saying good-bye to Jo Dee this morning, she told me to enjoy my writing  time. “Don’t lie about it,” she said. “Own it!”

But is it possible to own something you’ve stolen?

Maybe I should stop shaming on it and just say it. “I’m going to be writing from 9-12 today at the cafe across from the Indian grocery. I’ll be home after that.”

Bam. Just like that.

I am aware that it is not fair.

I am aware that I am not bringing in a dime with my writing. Not a dime. Probably ever.

I am aware that there are some things that don’t get done because I am here, from 9-12, at the cafe, across from the Indian grocery.

I am aware that Daddy may have been right. I am not a bargain.

But I am

free.

 

 

Kids, I’m Done Faking It

Kids, I’m Done Faking It

“Change is the only constant in life.” — Heraclitus

Even though I think this is true,  I have never been a big fan of change. That’s just my way.

Still, the thing about universal truths is that they are, well, universal, so I work hard at being ok with the shifting sands beneath my feet.

Take now, for instance.

My husband and I have two adolescent boys under our roof. That, plus my own estrogen “situation”, has made me feel a little disoriented lately. Be the change, you say?

My family is on it.

One of the biggest areas where I’m feeling a shift, is my approach to parenting. Specifically, I am finding that there are certain tricks and strategies that, like my yoga pants from 2010, just don’t seem to fit anymore.

Take, Faking It, for example.

As in (cough, cough) other situations, Faking It in parenting is something that most of us have done, but few of us want to cop to.

Well, I am here to represent!

Whether it was faking that I wasn’t terrified of flying in order to get my then five year old  to board a plane, or faking that I thought the toddler classes at My Gym were fun, and not actually the tenth fucking ring of hell, IMAGE_My_Gym_Children-s_Fitness_Center_4_mediumFaking It has always been a useful strategy in my mommy tool box.

People say little kids can tell when your lying, but I’m happy to call bullshit on this  myth because my boys fell for all of it.

Thank god.

Faking It allowed me to be a better version of myself, and I wanted that for my boys.

The truth is that before having kids, I was the kind of person who didn’t recycle. I blew off voting if it was in any way inconvenient, and I always left my empty popcorn container on the floor of the movie theatre.

I was kind of an asshole, you guys.

But when I became a mom, like, the second the cord was cut, I knew I wanted to be different. I wanted my boys to at least think they had a sane mommy, not some half-baked undereducated woman-child with a boatload of anxiety. Personally, I think it worked, with the bonus of eventually making me a better citizen.

But things have changed. We’ve all grown up a little and for some reason, Faking It has started to feel… fake.

Last weekend, for example, I drop my kid off at his sex-ed class, you know, like you do.

(I’ll for sure be writing more about the whole sex-ed thing, but for now you just need to know that I enrolled my fourteen year old in this class hosted by my awesome UU church because, oddly enough, he isn’t too keen on chatting with his mom about masturbation, genital warts and dental dams. Go figure. It’s a great program you can learn about here.)

Anyhoo…

After dropping him off, I’m in the car with my eleven year old, who’s using my phone to find an age appropriate educational podcast we can listen to on the way to the park, when a text comes in. It’s from the teacher of the class, a friend of mine. From the back seat, 11 reads it to me. “We need fifty condoms, asap”.

Apparently there was some kind of game planned for class that day and they were short a few supplies.

Taking advantage of the teachable moment, I tell 11 all about condoms. I tell him what they are for, how they are used, and that we needed to go buy some for his brother’s class

Unknown-3So far, so good.

But as we search for a parking place at our local Rite Aid, I start to feel a little funny.

(Time out— You guys, I am totally not usually hung up about sex. Seriously. It’s probably one of the few hang-ups I don’t have, but I haven’t bought condoms since, like, Clinton’s first term, and apparently it is now super embarrassing for me to do so. I know, totally dumb.)

After panting through the store like a mad woman, attracting the attention of all the normal mothers who were buying sunscreen and Claritin, we finally find aisle seven, or what I like to call, the Sex Aisle.

“What are those?” My son asks.

“Condoms,” I answer, “like we were talking about in the car.” No biggie, I think, perusing the vast array of choices available.

“Why are there so many kinds?”

“Because each is a little different,” I tell him, somewhat distracted. I just need the cheapest, biggest box, and I need to get it before anyone comes and judges me for being all sexed up and desperate for rubbers at two in the afternoon.

“How are they different?” He asks, peering over my shoulder.

Reader, I’m totally down with this conversation. I read Meg Hickling’s book and at the right time I am capable of answering all these questions and more. But at this moment, I am feeling fifteen years old and I just want to get the goods and get the hell out of there.

I unlatch and lifted the plastic door of what is, I guess, a little condom safe, to grab some Trojans.

DIIIIINNNGGG! An alarm sounds, making us both jump.

“What’s that?” 11 asks, but I’m busy reading the box I’ve nabbed. Twenty-six, not nearly enough. Shit. I go in again.

DIIIIIINNGGG!!

“Are you stealing?” My son asks, as I frantically search for a bigger box, knocking something called a Pleasure Pack to the floor. I’m intrigued, but need to stay on task.

I quickly try to put it back—-DIIINNNGGGG!!

Flashing on all the times I shoplifted tampons just to avoid the teenage boy at the cash register, I giggle and say a little too loudly, “I’m not stealing.” God, I’ve got issues.

With sweaty palms, I open the cabinet fast, and grab a different box.

DIIIINNGGG!!!

For the love of all that is holy,  can a person not just buy fifty condoms without the world knowing??? 

“Security check on aisle seven!” blasts over the store intercom.

“Let’s get out of here,” I hiss. As we made our way to the registers, I grab a few other things— index cards, pencils, Us Magazine, just to round out my haul, so to speak.

“You dropped these,” 11 says, handing me a big box of Trojan Stimulations Ultra-Ribbed. My eyes dart around as I put them in my basket, trying to decide which line to stand in. The woman on register 1 looks a little judgey to me, but register 2 is some poor high school kid. I opt for the zoned out cashier on the end.

The whole time, 11 is watching me with a smile that says, “who are you trying to fool?  

I have to laughI’m trying to fake being cool, but he is almost twelve, and sees right through me. It’s kind of a relief.

When my boys were younger, faking helped me hide. We could argue whether they needed that or not, but the fact was that I needed it. I wasn’t sure I was good enough for them. Actually, I was sure I wasn’t good enough for them.

But now I want my sons to see me.

They see that I am not a rock, and I have no interest in pretending to be. We are all human, the sands shifting beneath each us. Being human is being embarrassed and awkward and falling short sometimes and none of those things are fatal.

When I pick 14 up after class, I share the story of my shopping trip with him, the real story, no filter.

“Poor Mom,” he laughs, and pats me on the shoulder.

Things are changing, for real. I’m trying to roll with it.

Unknown-2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Do It For Yourself

Do It For Yourself

There is an article I read recently about  how this generation that has grown up on the internet has a real problem creating art for art’s sake. You can read the entire thing here but for now let’s just look at this:

“Hobbies are now necessarily productive. If you’re learning piano, you must try to record the jingle for that commercial your friend directed. If you develop a curiosity about a niche topic, you must start an online newsletter dedicated to it, work to build your audience, and then try to monetize the newsletter. If you have a nice speaking voice, you must start a podcast. We’re encouraged to be “goal-oriented” and rewarded with outsize praise for everything we’ve accomplished, and so we feel that we need to turn every creative pursuit into a professional one.”

When I read that, I not only recognized a creativity trap I’d fallen into, but one I’d set for my kids as well. Not a proud moment, but a true one.

When my son was about nine, he got into making things out of duct tape. He sat forever watching YouTube videos on how to make wallets, belts, book covers, etc. At the time, lots of kids were doing this.

I thought he was brilliant.

And I wanted him to know I thought he was brilliant. I thought that was part of my job.

I bought a bag full of duct tape and shared pictures I’d found online of cool duct tape stuff. I swooned over every new object that rolled off his assembly line and commissioned a cell-phone case in colors that matched my purse.

Now he was an entrepreneur and it was totally his idea! (Kind of.)

He was proud when he made his first sale and, of course, he was having fun. He loved my praise I mean, my attention I mean, making stuff out of duct tape.

A few years later,  he attended a week long day camp where a little rock band was formed. The kids, middle schoolers at the time, had a blast playing Joan Jet covers and writing their own songs. When they shared their music with us, the other parents and I could hardly contain ourselves. They were The Beatles and The Stones rolled into one. We clapped and cheered like groupies for our little musicians.

Then their teacher set them up with a free gig at a pre-school fundraiser. The band loved it— who wouldn’t? Lots of applause and free snow-cones, after all.

Next, their fan base (read: parents) made t-shirts and they played at a local Mexican joint, opening for their band teacher, a talented guy who’s devotion to music was total and who, by the way, had worked his ass off for decades as a musician.

The kids were so proud of themselves. We could see it in their faces. Well, we would have seen it, if we weren’t so busy schlepping their shit, selling their merch and buying them burritos.

One night after playing a few sets at a bowling alley, the band broke up in a blaze of hormonally driven pre-teen glory.

WTF?

I stood over a box of now worthless t-shirts and stickers feeling, I’ll admit, just a little bit pissed.

My son said he just wasn’t into it anymore, but I couldn’t help but think he was making a mistake. Maybe after years of having me as his personal concierge, he took it all for granted.

Didn’t he get how lucky he was?

Later, driving home, I got to thinking about the summer of 1980. I was fourteen and wanted, with a red hot passion that fueled all kinds of shenanigans, to be an actor.

After reading about an open call for the sitcom The Facts of Life in the Sunday paper, I called Unknown-2Alex, a friend from school and the only guy I knew who had his own camera. In exchange for a pack of clove cigarettes, he set up a makeshift studio in his basement and took a picture of me wearing my best peasant skirt and tube top. I heard somewhere that you needed a resume, so I pounded one out on my typewriter that consisted of summer camp drama classes, baton twirling and, knowing me, a bunch of made up shit. I stapled that sucker to my picture and caught the bus to meet my destiny.

The producers were in Nashville looking for a southern teenager to add to the regular cast, and the waiting room at Talent and Model Land was packed with girls like me. Not knowing the drill, I did what they did: signed in, looked at my script, and checked out the competition. Most of the girls were dressed a little better, some had professional photos and hair done up with hot rollers. When my name was called I teetered into the room on my sister’s hand-me-down Candie’s, said my lines to the camera while blushing scarlet, and caught the bus home.

I waited by the phone for days, but they never called. I was crushed.

And I couldn’t wait to do it again.

A snapshot of that day might have shown a girl who needed a grownup’s help (maybe rethink the  three inch heels, Mag), but pan out and it’s a different story.

I’m as proud of that Facts of Life audition as I am of anything I accomplished in my twenty years as a working actor and it happened without an enterage. It marked the beginning of a long rocky road and even though I’m no longer interested in acting, I still call on that sovereign girl with her yellow highlighter and harebrained schemes whenever I want to try something new. (She’s the one who started this blog.)

I’m not saying I’m done supporting my kids when they’re going for something. I’m just done doing it without being asked. And I’m definitely done being the one who does the most work.

I shared my (better late than never) epiphany with a good friend who has raised a couple of  kids of her own. She told me that when her daughters were growing up and in that “look at me” phase, she would watch and smile and say, “I’ll watch once, then you need to do it for yourself.” Wow.

Do it for yourself.

That actually used to be a thing.

The other night I was walking by my son’s bedroom and from behind the door that is so often closed these days came the sound of him playing a song on his guitar that I’d never heard.

It was so beautiful. Did he make it up himself? Were there lyrics? Wait, let me get your Dad…

And that was my cue

to keep on walking.

IMG_2073

Stuck. I Had My Reasons.

Stuck. I Had My Reasons.

Hi.

What’s up?

Let me just get something off my chest so I can move on, ok? Here is a list, in no particular order, of reasons I haven’t been writing here for a while:

  1. Trump got elected and, overnight, my blog seemed so dumb and pointless that all I wanted to do was stuff it deep in the trash, like way down under the coffee grounds, Valpak coupons and empty containers of Nosa blackberry serrano yogurt .
  2. Trump got elected, which was not normal, and I felt I should be using every bit of time I could to fight racism, fascism and willful ignorance, not blogging about our family’s road trip or my period. You know, priorities.
  3. I’ve always had the feeling that there is something wrong with a person who feels the need to share her private thoughts publicly. Desperate plea for attention, right? If the shoe fits…
  4. I pretty much ran out of ideas.
  5. I found myself so happy when people responded well to a post that it scared me. I knew I was way too attached to getting a positive reaction and that I would start bending over six ways from Sunday to get more. Of course this could only result in shit writing, which made me want to quit.
  6. I have a sister who I don’t talk to. (Long story). She found my blog and it made me feel exposed, vulnerable, and like I didn’t want to write here anymore.
  7. I thought I should stop spending so much time writing and spend more time on…well, I wasn’t exactly sure what, but something that either brought in a paycheck, or was, like, a “good mom” thing. For example, I could learn to play Dungeons and Dragons, or that game my kids call “Awesome Possum,” which I’m not sure is even a real game but wouldn’t a good mother at least know those things???
  8. “First world problems.” This phrase is fucking poison. Thanks to self-righteous Facebook posts it got in my head and I’ve let it stop every idea or creative impulse I’ve had for months. I believe it is the mother of all censors because it goes for the jugular and tells us that what we have to say is meaningless. Translated, it’s “sit down, shut up, and let the grownups talk.” 
  9. I followed the rules. Second to listening to the voice of #8, this was my biggest mistake. The rules I followed were: you post every week, you post on the same day every week, you use lots of visuals, your posts should be 800-1200 words, you have a searchable title, you deliver the same kind of content every time. All the rules were a major buzzkill and pointless too, since my goal has never been to rule the world through blogging. My goal is to make you like me! (Oh, I’m kidding. My actual goal is to have my ex-boyfriend find me through a Google search and see how successful I am, which is why it would be really awesome if you could just say something  in the comments like, “hey, Maggie, congrats on the book deal!” TIA)
  10. I was scared of becoming obnoxious.

So those are the reasons I stopped, and imbedded in each of them are the reasons I’m starting again. Creative blocks are intense, and first world problem or not, I’m committed to pushing through.

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PS- I’m sorry that my blog probably won’t do a damn thing to fight Pussy-Grabbing-Anti-Intellectual-Environment-Destroying-Nationalist-Batshit-Crazy Trump. I wish I was that kind of writer. But for now, I’m just me, and I’ve really missed showing up here.

PPS- I might write less and shorter blog posts these days because it is a new ballgame, thanks to Agent Orange. This site helps me prioritize action items.