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.

200px-Little-Lord-Fauntleroy-1936

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:

maxresdefault

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 ūüôā
  • 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 ūüôā

giphy

 

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:

0b5ae0e122bad212e9bcef9075ceb6f0

And this was them:

Unknown-1

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:

200

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!

unnamed-4

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.

 

 

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‚Äôs just look at this:

‚ÄúHobbies are now necessarily productive. If you‚Äôre 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‚Äôre encouraged to be ‚Äúgoal-oriented‚ÄĚ and rewarded with outsize praise for everything we‚Äôve accomplished, and so we feel that we need to turn every creative pursuit into a professional one.‚ÄĚ

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‚ÄĒ who wouldn‚Äôt? 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‚Äôs 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‚Äôt 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‚Äôm 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‚Äôm 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 ‚Äúlook at me‚ÄĚ phase, she would watch and smile and say, ‚ÄúI‚Äôll watch once, then you need to do it for yourself.‚ÄĚ 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

Street Ball For The Win! (Ten Reasons I’m Glad My Son Quit the Team)

Street Ball For The Win! (Ten Reasons I’m Glad My Son Quit the Team)

 

My son, 11, has been playing in a basketball league for the past four years.

The poor kid comes from a family of theatre folk and bookish nerds, so when he begged to learn the game and play on the regular, what else were we to do?

Organized Sports are¬†important, right? I ¬†read it somewhere everywhere. As I’ve mentioned before, we’re a homeschooling family, and while this educational path has many advantages, team sport opportunities are not on the list.

So we put him in a league. He loved it. Life went on, (minus our free Saturdays, of course).

Late last Spring, when¬†11 announced that he didn’t feel like playing in a league anymore, I’ll admit I was sort of bummed. After all, basketball was his thing¬†and, even with the hoop in our driveway, ¬†I was worried that without scheduled practices and games, he’d never have an opportunity to play.¬†

As parents, my husband and I had a choice: make him play, because team sports have been so good for him and he’ll be glad he pushed through, or let him quit, and find something else that he loves. At times like these, I have this guy in my head, telling me what “the right thing to do” is:

unknown

But part of my problem is that I also have this guy knocking around up there, telling me to take a chill pill and stop with the fascist parenting:

5eb498b1bfa6e36709598cb5cc3eda66

Together my husband and I decided¬†that it’s basketball, not dental hygiene.¬†If he wants to skip it, fine. Finish out the last few games of the season, we told him, and that’ll be it.

Not long after he played his last league game, 11 asked me to take him to a park, a few miles from our house.

Not much was happening there, unless you count a soccer class for some pre-schoolers, suited up in safety gear like a liliputian S.W.A.T team, a few personal trainers barking orders and flinging kettle bells around, and a D-list celebrity, puffing his way around the track with an iPhone strapped to his arm.

(Oh, LA, how I love thee).

But for a boy with a basketball and an afternoon to kill, not exactly a happening place.

I asked if he wanted to stay, and he did.

I asked if he was ok if I walked a few laps, and he was.

As I made my way around the dirt path, he practiced layups on the blacktop, then free throws, and eventually sat down on his ball and kind of stared into space.

This sucks, I thought.

On my next lap around, I noticed that a couple of guys had shown up. They weren’t 11’s age, in fact, they looked to be in their early twenties. I caught 11’s eye, making sure he was¬†cool¬†and got a thumbs up, my signal from him to keep walking.

By the time I completed one more lap, a fierce game of three on two was on.

Two hours¬†later, 11 and I¬†were both exhausted and happy, and I was convinced.¬†After four years of being a basketball mom, schlepping my son to league practices, Saturday morning games, “shoot outs” (I know what those are now), and trophy ceremonies where “everyone is a winner!”, I became¬†a street ball zealot.

12140661_10208179303864998_5747168120602844827_n
11 in a typical game of pick-up ball at our park, photo taken on the sly ūüôā

The following is a list of  reasons why I love that my son has chosen to forgo league play for the unorganized, untamed, unprocessed pastime of street ball, which can be played at our local city park for exactly zero dollars:

  1. No fair? No problem. One-on-one is fair, unless one player is a seven year old with an eyepatch, and the other is a high school senior with a basketball scholarship and an hour to kill. Que sera sera!
  2. He¬†plays with people of all ages, races, economic backgrounds, and skill levels.¬†You want to play? You’re in.
  3. He¬†risks failure, and by failure,¬†I don’t mean losing.¬†Occasionally, my son¬†shows up with his big goofy grin and his sneakers double knotted and no one is there. When this happens, my son calls it “a fail.”¬†I call it a bonus! Whether asking someone out on a date, starting a business or writing a blog, the good stuff in life isn’t orchestrated for us, and all of it requires a certain amount of risk.
  4. No refs means he¬†works it¬†out, old school. Unlike what I’ve seen with league play, this¬†almost never involve screaming or the throwing of tantrums (and that’s just the coach¬†I’m talking about).
  5. He has¬†a second home. No matter where he¬†goes in the world, if he¬†can find a hoop,¬†a ball, he’ll be in familiar territory. If he’s lucky, he can make a friend. The world can be kinda shitty sometimes and, I say, the more places you can feel at home, the better.
  6. He has¬†to talk to strangers.¬†Again with the risk taking.¬†Here’s how he does it, near as I can tell: he shows up, lurks around, shoots a few layups all casual-like,¬†then asks if he¬†can get in on whatever game is in play. Can you imagine??? Me neither. So cool.
  7. He’s¬†unplugged. I’m always on the lookout for fun that doesn’t¬†include a glowing rectangle in front of my boy’s¬†face. Luckily,¬†we¬†need look no further than our local park.¬†Street ball is analog fun at it’s finest.
  8. No buzzer kills the mood. When things are hopping on the blacktop, games can last way longer than the hour that a usual league game is allowed to go. More play time means more fun, more exercise, more practice, and one more lap around the track for me.
  9. He does it for his own bad self. Not only am I not expected to watch his every move in a pick-up game, but he prefers that I ignore him completely. He probably waves me off because having your mom hang around and beam at you is a little dorky, but I prefer to think it’s because, at the park, he’s playing for his own enjoyment, not for cheers, gold stars, or the requisite post-game¬†snack of Go-gurt and Hi-C that some very together¬†mom always shoves at him. Also, no one has ever received a basketball scholarship for street ball. What a relief.
  10. No trophies! Those of you who have had your kids in organized sports will understand why this is a grand thing. You understand because you too have a box of crappy plastic trophies that your child has been given for just existing, and you are as sick of them as I am. Even my son knows they’re bullshit.¬†Anyway, no trophies will be coming at you for shooting hoops at the park, no sir. For his¬†time, commitment and skinned knees 11¬†will only receive a slight sunburn (bad mom), and some pretty useful life skills.

Of course it’s possible that 11¬†will turn around tomorrow and ask to join a league again (kids are weasels, after all). That’s ok.¬†But never again will I¬†buy into the idea that team sports need to be organized. We’ll continue to take back a corner of our park for play, with our own, tiny, everyday act of rebellion: showing up.

unknown-2

 

My Homeschooling Confessions

My Homeschooling Confessions

Back to school time, my friends!

Or not.

I haven’t talked about homeschooling on this blog yet, mainly because when I mention it to people at first, I often get a look like this:

images-2

I get it.

Even though it’s¬†becoming more and more common, it’s still sort of a fringe thing and a lot of people have yet to know any¬†of the thousands of self directed learners that are quietly kicking ass out there in the world.

Because I’m in a mood, I’m just straight up going to tell you a few things that might surprise you about how my family does it.

I’m coming clean, people!

If you’re a homeschooler, please feel free to make your own confession in the comments at the end. I think we could all afford to let our hair down a bit.

If your kids are attending a traditional school, my hope is that this post will entertain and enlighten you just enough to keep you from putting me in the weirdo box.

Here goes:

I don’t homeschool my kids.

Wait, what?

There¬†are those parents¬†who sit their kids at a table and “do school,”¬†with their state standards in one hand and an American flag/bible/green smoothie/Harvard brochure (take your pick–¬†I might as well offend everyone) in the other.

The best kept secret is that most kids are perfectly capable and completely driven to learn, once released from the system¬†of compulsory schooling. Homeschooling is not something that’s done to anyone.¬†As for me, I research, pay, drive, fiercely¬†defend free time, and help out when asked.

Also, I make a stupid number of grilled cheese sandwiches.

I don’t want to be with them¬†all the time.

“I’d go crazy if I were with my kids all day!” people say.

Although I do know people, nice people, not lunatics, who don’t seem to need a time-out¬†from their kids, I for one require frequent¬†¬†breaks from my boys and their scintillating conversations¬†around Minecraft, parkour, basketball and farting.

Of course, I’m always there for the wholesome family dinners and in depth discussions on the plight of global indigenous people (a mom can dream), I make sure to have occasional social plans that do not include my boys, and they have plenty of opportunities each week to get away from their ever-loving mother. Thus, we enjoy domestic bliss!

And also not killing each other.

I don’t have teaching credentials, or even a college degree.

And as if that’s not enough, I hardly¬†remember any math beyond the fifth grade level, and am pretty iffy¬†on the proper use of a semi-colon. I’m not proud of this, in fact, I spend a lot of time trying to fill in gaps in my own education.

But guess what?

Go online and take a look at what is now available free, to those who want to learn. Boy howdy, things have changed in the past twenty years! Add to this the fact that there are classes, homeschool co-ops, the help of smart friends, etc., and I can sleep pretty well knowing my kids aren’t going to end up like this:

chest-hair-usa

I get bored sometimes.

This is a tough one, since whining about¬†boredom can get you an epic eye roll from stressed out moms with too much to do¬†and not enough time, money, or both. It’s not fair that our culture expects so much of women¬†and gives so little support, and¬†I know a few of you¬†would¬†probably give your right arm and last Ambien for a little boredom in your life.

Roll your eyes, sister, feel free!

But to the mothers who look at me and say, “I could never homeschool, I’d be so bored!” let me tell you that I do get bored. Because they are not quite old enough to go to the beach or run around town¬†on their own, I go with them. I wait while they are in a science class, or basketball practice.¬†There are days when¬†I’m completely swallowed in the mind numbing dullness of just waiting.

Oh well, big f’n deal. You can always piss away the hours working on your blog ūüôā

I had a career, and sometimes I miss it.

There is an assumption people sometimes make about parents who choose to quit their job to be at home with their kids, and that is that they must not have had much of a job to quit in the first place.

Once upon a time, I had a career and it was lucrative, rewarding and fun, but as we learned more about homeschooling, it became clear to my husband and me that we wanted to give it a shot. We loved the freedom of it and I was up for the challenge.

And¬†this is¬†a topic for another post, but it has to be said, so¬†I’m saying it:¬†I am aware that we were crazy fortunate to be able to make that decision.

Here’s the thing, it’s not¬†that you can’t work full-time and travel this educational path, you can, mainly because this path is one you make yourself. But it’s a trickier balance, and one I couldn’t quite figure out, even though I tried.

So,¬†while¬†I miss being offered coffee, hearing, “good job!”, and working for real live dollars that would come in very handy, it’s totally worth it.

My kids have never written a book report or done a science fair project.

9f33b84569139191fb1b95261afff296

The upside of this is that I’ve never had to force, bribe or bully them into doing a book report/science fair project, and p.s., we’ve saved major bucks on Mentos and Pepsi.

The downside is that they might never make it in The Real World without the experience of the book report/science fair project, and will probably live at home until their mid-thirties, playing video games in our garage.

Welp, hindsight is 20/20, people.

I consider homeschooling my job.

I take it seriously, and even if we spend some days¬†playing Battleship¬†in our jammies, most of the time we have shit to do, even if it doesn’t look like it to you. So, while I totally love the fact that we have the freedom in our schedule to help friends out when they need it, I don’t call you at your office and ask you to come wait for the cable guy for me, since “you don’t work”, because that would be obnoxious, right?

Right.

I am not any more patient than you.

Here’s something we homeschoolers hear a lot: “I gotta hand it to you. I wouldn’t have the patience.”

Newsflash– I don’t have the patience either! Holy shit– someone call the patience police!

Of course,¬†¬†I make it a little easier on myself by not forcing my kids to do book reports/science fair projects (sorry, I couldn’t resist), but my temper¬†flares up big-time when we’re running late. I lecture, I yell sometimes, I just pretty much lose it in general.¬†The only difference is that when I screw up,¬†I have the luxury of time during the¬†day to breathe, apologize, and move forward.¬†It’s true that since we’re together more, there’s more opportunity for conflict.

But there’s also¬†more time for the good stuff too, including practicing¬†the art of repair.

I sometimes worry about what my kids are missing.

It might surprise you to know that I’m not talking about social stuff. Homeschoolers are nothing if not social, and¬†I’m actually so bored by that worn out argument, circa 1970,¬†that I¬†can’t even bring myself to write about it.

No, instead I worry that they might not know all the words to the Star Spangled Banner, how to locate the spleen in a frog, make a spitball or work a combination lock.

I wonder if my youngest will have to teach himself cursive when the zombie apocalypse happens and the only people who survive are cursive-writing people, which might be unlikely, but this is where my mind goes at night, you guys.

For every hour¬†someone else spends worrying about whether their kid will get into the gifted and talented magnet, I spend an hour¬†wondering if my kids¬†will look at me one day and say, “WTF were you thinking, Mom???”

giphy

And maybe that’s our common ground.

We’re all doing our best, and it still might not be good enough, whether¬†we checked all the boxes, or¬†ignored the boxes completely. In reality, most of us fall somewhere in between. We all lose our patience, need a break, adore our kids and hope for the best.

Here’s to a great year ahead, whatever path you make ūüôā

Come On Get Happy! Road Trip 2016

Come On Get Happy! Road Trip 2016

Our family is about to embark on an epic road trip where we will explore as much of the western half of this country as can be done in two weeks.

“Now’s the time,” friends have told me. “Once they’re teenagers, it will be a much harder sell.”

Old Faithful!

The Grand Canyon!

Quality Time and free continental breakfasts for all!

It’s going to be great.

Except, you know how some horror movies will begin with, oh, say, a nice family packing for a summer vacation, and it all looks so fun but¬†you KNOW¬†it’s all about to get very scary?

I’m kind of flashing on that, y’all.

First of all, I’ve got two boys, each of whom get carsick on the elevator to their 5th floor orthodontist’s office. Because of this, a¬†road trip feels just a tiny bit risky.

And of course, there’s the fact that they are eleven and thirteen, the age when kiddos really turn on the charm.

(You feel me, moms?)

Then there’s my husband and I.

We have been married fifteen years which he always points out, in Los Angeles, is “a pretty good run.”

Such a romantic.

And while Chris and I are all good with¬†the daily routine,¬†exploring the road less traveled (especially if it’s crammed with tourists in socks and sandals) with all it’s novelty, can sometimes bring out the worst in us.

You know, just a little.

One thing about C. is that he truly wants to make his family happy. (Side note: I am proud to say that, while very tempting, I have never used this to my advantage, as evidenced by the fact that we have neither a chicken coop, nor a manny.)

manny-240x176

I also have a thing about making my family happy, albeit with slightly more of an edge than my husband. Oh yes, I want to make them happy and keep them happy, by god, or die trying!!

In that way (and a few others), we are all batshit crazy.

So a family road trip with us could look something like this:

Four hours into a seven hour drive, one child might whimper,¬†“I don’t feel so good.”

I hand him a plastic Subway bag, to which he responds, “Don’t Mom, you’re making¬†it worse!

They ask how many more miles, and does the motel have a pool.

Four hundred ninety-seven and no, it does not.

T. asks for more room in the backseat, prompting C. to poke his older brother with a fruit roll-up, which inspires T. to fart, then blame the fart on C., forcing C. to retaliate with, what else?

More farting. (Did I mention he is eleven?)

I unroll the windows.

“Look over there!” My husband says then, pointing to an awesome rock formation which looks, you gotta kind of admit, a lot like the last awesome rock formation. “See that??”

Busy licking orange dust out of an empty Doritos bag from three states ago, the little darlings don’t¬†respond to their father, which leads¬†to a¬†very slight¬†tensing of his¬†lower jaw, invisible to to the naked eye unless, of course, the naked eye is my super-human-bionic -mother-eye.

It is then that¬†some very ancient neuron in my brain, buzzing from too many pecan logs and Snapples, fires,¬†and I, for reasons I am not wholly conscious of, set about “lightening the mood”¬†with a friendly¬†game of License Plate Bingo.¬†I¬†crank the audio version One Hundred and One Native American Folk Tales (educational and fun!) and take another family selfie.

#Blessed!

images-2

When both my boys were preschool age, I went to an amazing therapist. (If you read this blog then you know I’m no stranger to the couch.)

I went to her because I was feeling anxious during the long hours I¬†spent alone with my son and newborn baby, and I couldn’t figure out why. Like many new moms, I thought that all I wanted was for my kids to be happy. (This was before Facebook and articles like this that, like a good freinemy, are both helpful and shaming. Now we know better—then, we were totally fucked up.)

No matter what I tried, C. would still have long crying jags in the middle of the night and T. flipped out when riding in his carseat. Everyone else always seemed to be enjoying themselves. What was wrong with us??

“It just feels like someone is always upset,” I said. “I don’t know what to do.”

“So,” she¬†began, all casual-like, “What would a good day look like, for you and the boys?”

I tried to figure out what the right answer was. I knew I¬†needed therapy, but I desperately wanted her to think I didn’t. “Well, I guess if everyone’s happy, then it’s been a good day.”

Nailed it, I thought.

A single mother with two grown kids of her own, she¬†smiled and said, “You might need to rethink your definition of¬†a good day.”

She told me that when you’ve got two kids under five, a day that ends with everyone in one piece might just be as good as it gets.

One kid crying in my arms with a fever while the other watches yet another episode of What Not To Wear in his bouncy seat? Good day.

Honey Bunches of Oats for dinner while wearing our pajamas. (From yesterday?) Good day.

Staying at the fancy Children’s Museum in Beverly Hills for thirty¬†minutes before having to leave with two sobbing kids because C. pooped in his rain boots? Good Day.

My feeling ok¬†had been dependent on their smiling faces and let me tell you, that shit can drive you nuts.¬†Realizing that I do not operate the on/off switch for anyone’s happiness, and changing my whacked idea of what a good day looks like was, ironically, the key to happiness.

My own, anyway.

And it’s probably also the key to

a totally awesome road trip

a super fun road trip

our road trip ūüôā

images-5