Mother’s Helper

Mother’s Helper

The boys and I have been involved in a film making project with several other families that has pretty much eaten up our lives for the past few weeks. The kids are learning a ton and having a great time, which makes it all worth it (I think), but the adults are not faring quite so well under the weight of twelve to fourteen hour days and some pretty rough working conditions. I’ll tell you more later, after time has worked it’s magic and I have regained my will to live.

But anyway…

It was my youngest son’s birthday a few days ago, during all this madness, and a twelve hour day was on the books. I got up early to heat up a store-bought coffee cake for breakfast, reminded him, with a big hug, that we’d be having a few friends over for a celebration next week, I love him very much, and could he feed the cat.

Somewhere during the long hot day, I mentioned that it was C’s birthday, and another one of the moms suggested I run out and get some cupcakes so we could celebrate together and he could blow out the candles, you know, the way you like to do when you are newly eleven.

“Oh, that’s so sweet,” I said. “No, it’s ok.”

“But it’s his birthday,” she told me, managing to make it sound kind, not accusing. She was in charge of the project and wanted me to know that it was alright to take a few minutes out, for C.

“Yeah, I know, but he’s fine, really,” I answered, sort of missing her point, now that I think of it. “He’s having a little party next week.” That was true, but the real reason I was brushing her off was that, with all the food allergies and aversions in this group, serving cupcakes, or anything other than an epi-pen, was simply a bigger hassle than I was up for. Plus, I knew we were on a tight schedule and that, by the end of the day, everyone would be more than ready to pack up and go home.

“You’re sure?” She asked.

My youngest son is pretty low maintenance, probably due to having me as a mother. I maintain that this will serve him well, even if it’s sort of a drag in the early years. Some may call that rationalization on my part (BINGO!), but I consider it a public service to raise a kid who does not think the world is his oyster. (Sorry, Louise Hay.)

“Yeah, thanks, I’m sure,” I answered, sucking down some more coffee.

And that was that.

At the very end of the day, we were all sweaty and bleary eyed, when a big tray of cupcakes birthday-cake-380178__180appeared, complete with shimmering candles for my boy to make one special sure-to-be-granted birthday wish. Kids and grown-ups gathered around, belting out the appropriate song to his shy smiling face.

He was so happy.

And so was everyone else. Forget the the loaves and fishes, coming up with vegan, gluten free, sugar-free, nut-free cupcakes at the last minute , now that’s a miracle. For a moment, I had forgotten that it feels really good to sing loud and cheer at the end, it just does, and it feels good to wish someone well.

Turns out, it was just the lift we all needed.

I found the mom, my friend Keren, who had made the moment happen, and hugged her. It was a little thing she had done, sure, but it was also big. Her kindness didn’t reflect poorly on me, far from it. Gestures like that make us all look good.

While men wage wars, we wage community.

We read a lot about mommy wars and alpha moms. The media paints a picture of women who are hell bent on raising the bar so high, the rest of us can only stare up at it, slack-jawed, downing a Redbull with one hand and giving her the finger with the other.200

Oh yeah, apparently, we have it out for each other.

By the way, I get that I’m part of the problem. I write about these very people on this blog.  I do it because it can be fun to laugh at the lengths to which we all go, or won’t go, to be good at momming. I write about it because the stakes are so high and because I am wildly insecure.

Plus, I can be an asshole, so there’s that.

But I just want to make a little space here for the truth. The truth is that, while there was absolutely that time the lady at the DMV gave me the stink-eye for breastfeeding in line, there was also that time when a friend took my son into the waves to play so I could sit my tired ass in the sand with my newborn, feeling that postpartum mix of wonderful and horrible.

Did this threaten me and make me resent her joie de vivre? Hell no! I wanted to give her a foot massage and a Margarita for doing the one thing I just couldn’t, at that moment, do.

Or like when I had the flu, and that mom I thought was sort of bitchy (ugh– how she always finds ways to remind me that “she has a very demanding career”), offered to pick up my fourth grader and keep him all Saturday so I could sleep, a favor my son repaid by barfing all over the back of her Escalade.

Get this– when she told me about it, she was actually laughing. God bless her.

Or how about when I turned away, just for a second, and that mom with the PhD and yoga butt flipped my gasping toddler upside down, and out fell the windpipe-sized Lego guy, and I wanted to mouth kiss her there on the spot? Did I feel like an idiot? Yes. Did I wish she didn’t always have to be all show-offy and super-mommish? Lord no.

I think you catch my drift.

I am so grateful to the mothers who step in when my ass needs saving, and it happens all the time, with problems big and small.

We are so lucky to have each other.











The Rules for Moms Are Ridiculous. So I Broke One.

The Rules for Moms Are Ridiculous. So I Broke One.

Every once in a while, I over-share.

This might be one of those times.

Against the advice of counsel, I submit to you a recent conversation I had with my BFF JoDee, in which I make a confession, and she reassures me that I am not so special, after all.


Me: You know when you break an unwritten rule and suddenly you feel like anything could happen? Like all bets are off because you did the thing you’ve never done? That happened to me just now.

JD: What was the thing?

Me: Well, you know those little single servings of wine? The ones in the grocery store that come in little separate jars?

JD: Yeah.

Me: I bought one and I’m drinking it in the parking lot while C. is at basketball practice. (she laughs) It’s the driving that’s eating me alive, JoDee. I drove, like, 87 miles today and I’m not even done yet. I had two hours to kill here in suburbia, and I just wanted it.

JD: Maggie, that’s not a big deal.

Me: It’s not?

JD: No.

Me: I was worried the cashier at the store could smell my desperation. It was like when I bought condoms at eighteen, or tampons at thirteen. I had to fill my basket with all this other stuff: cheese, crackers, salami, so it would be like, “oh, look at the nice lady, she must be going on a romantic picnic or something.”

JD: Except that wine totally sucks. No one drinks that stuff on purpose.

Me: Yeah, that’s the giveaway.

JD: But it’s not like you were driving someplace anytime soon.

Me: No, I was parked. Plus, I only drank one. The other little serving I threw in the trash so I wouldn’t be tempted. That’s the new line, I guess— only one plastic cup of crap wine in my car.

JD: I really don’t think there’s anything wrong with that.

Me: Have you ever crossed the line?

JD: Sure. One time I was traveling for work and I got back to my hotel room and ordered a whole pizza and, since I didn’t want to drink an entire bottle of wine, I got a four pack of those little stackable wines. I tossed the pizza but I drank three of those bad boys and had to throw the fourth away just to save myself. That was sort of crossing a line, for me anyway.

Me: Maybe a cry for help but hardly a binge, by any standard. And you were in a hotel room, without your kids.

JD: I know, looking back I don’t know what my problem was. I should have just gotten the bottle. Why all the shame? Women need to give themselves a fucking break. If you want one tiny jar of bad wine, have it.

Me: And there must be a demand, right? I mean, some focus group got together and said, yes, people need those single serving wines. The mothers have spoken!

JD: I like how they have those tin foil tops, just like yogurt containers.

Me: Yeah, we moms are good at those. They should just get real and have a logo of a mini-van on the front. You know, marketing.

JD: Seriously.

Me: And why is having one of those any different than a Xanax, or whatever the fancy ladies are doing these days?

JD: It’s not.

Me: It’s totally not! But I can’t just go buy one Xanax at Ralph’s, even if I wanted to. So don’t judge me, you pilates taking, SUV driving mommy, with your socially acceptable pills.

JD: Well, you take pilates.

Me: Yeah, but I fucking hate it.

(Here there is a long but comfortable silence, as I watch the sun set over the San Gabriel mountains and settle in for another hour and a half of waiting. My little cup, empty now.)

JD: I’m sorry you had to buy your own tampons.

Me: It’s ok. Mostly I shoplifted them.


I listened to JoDee making dinner on the other end of the line and by the time we hung up, it was dark and I was better.

It was communion, right there in my Honda.




And now, a very special PS, for those who think I’m one messed up matron:

First off, you could totally be right.

When I wrote this post, sitting around with a few other women at a kid thing (yes more waiting), I expressed my concern that it might not be the best judgment call to post about drinking in my car while technically on duty. After sharing a bit about the nature of what I’d written, they laughed knowingly, which I took as a good sign. One of them, a friend of mine who had blogged for a while and knew a thing or two about how things can be interpreted or misinterpreted, said she understood my hesitation.

But then it came to me:

I have happily given up a lot to be a mother, but I won’t give up my voice.

Shit happens in the trenches, my friends. Thanks for reading 🙂

In which I realize that I am more like a thirteen year old than I thought (plus a contest!)

In which I realize that I am more like a thirteen year old than I thought (plus a contest!)

My first born turns thirteen tomorrow! Holy cannoli, where did the time go??

Ok look, the truth is that I have never been that mom who asks “where did the time go?” It’s been thirteen years, and I am here to tell you that it seems like thirteen years, but that doesn’t mean that my heart isn’t being pulled apart at the thought of my baby growing up.


One thing being a mother has taught me is how possible it is to have two or more emotions flood you to the brim, at the same time. I have found the parenting journey (cringing as I type that. Parenting journey??? Geez. Who have I become?) to be more fulfilling, humbling and exhausting than I expected. With thirteen comes a break in the physical labor of parenting, and a sharp uptick in the mental toil.

I’m ready. (ish)

I know the next years will probably be a bit, shall we say, rocky. As my boy treads in the bracing water of adolescence, I belly flop into the river of peri-menopause, in my Target swim skirt. It’s new territory for both of us, so at least we have that in common. In fact, we are probably sharing more now than we have in a dozen years, back when I nursed him through the night, providing him with milk in exchange for those blessed calming hormones that got me through. I remember in the morning we would wake smiling at each other (no memories of the tense 3:00am cursing under my breath. Oh yes, we’ve all done it), and I’d have just a moment with him before the veil lifted.


Please pardon that little stroll down memory lane that leads,

as you can see,



A side affect of waning estrogen is that I occasionally lose my train of though or forget where I was going. Actually, it probably does lead somewhere, somewhere very profound, only my glasses are steamed up from a hot flash so I can’t see where the hell I’m headed! 

Oh, and that that rage thing? That’s hormonal too. My adolescent child deals with this temporary problem by playing his guitar cranked “to eleven” or doing backflips off the couch, while I head to my trusty key board and type into the void.

My apologies.

Not to change the subject, but hey, you guys! It’s World Poetry Day! And it just so happens that I have a poem to share here, by one of my all-time faves, Anne Sexton.


She was a troubled soul (understatement) but God, could she get to the heart of things. In keeping with this post’s theme, thus far, please enjoy:


A thousand doors ago

when I was a lonely kid

in a big house with four

garages and it was summer

as long as I could remember,

I lay on the lawn at night,

clover wrinkling under me,

the wise stars bedding over me,

my mother’s window a funnel

of yellow heat running out,

my father’s window, half shut,

an eye where sleepers pass,

and the boards of the house

were smooth and white as wax

and probably a million leaves

sailed on their strange stalks

as the crickets ticked together

and I, in my brand new body,

which was not a woman’s yet,

told the stars my questions

and thought God could really see

the heat and the painted light,

elbows, knees, dreams, goodnight.

Let’s just sit with that for a second. She’s so good.


Ok, next up, a contest…

One thing that real bloggers with lots of readers do is have contests. In the spirit of fake it ’til you make it, I am going to have my own Tiny Contest! Please email me directly, or leave in the comments below, or post on this blog’s FaceBook page, a piece of advice you really wish someone had given you when you were thirteen. The first person to do so will get their very own free copy of Anne Sexton: The Complete Poems, sent directly to you! You Can’t Win If You Don’t Enter, as they say, but let’s just face it, your odds are pretty good. (Hope you don’t mind that it’s gently used, since I just found it on my book shelf next to another one of the exact same book. I have an Amazon addiction. It’s a disease).

Maybe I’ll press a flower in it, seeing as how it’s now officially Spring, and all 🙂



Pi Day and Other Things I’m Supposed To Be Interested In


It’s Pi Day, but I’m sure you’ve heard that by now. It’s everywhere.

Suddenly, it’s a big thing to celebrate and if you don’t take your kids out for pie (get it??), or better yet, bake your own special Pi pie while wearing your ironically cool Pi t-shirt and humming this catchy little tune, then you’re fairly sucking at the whole parenting experience. But still, no matter how many people explain Pi to me, I don’t get it and I can’t care.

Days like this always remind me of a quality in myself I’d rather forget, but that I feel, for the sake of others in the closet, I need to cop to right here and right now: There are a lot of things I’m supposed to get all excited about that pretty much bore the shit out of me.

But first, because I haven’t quite conquered my approval seeking nature, I think I’ll share a list of things that, prior to having kids, used to bore the shit out of me, but that I now find super interesting:

  • Second hand smoke
  • BPAs
  • Newberry Awards
  • Cost of college tuition
  • Bullying/asshole kids
  • GMO labelling
  • Internet porn
  • Smoothies

So see? Parenting has indeed opened my eyes to the bigger world and, to the best of my ability, I’m on it, I promise.

But one thing about being a mother that I wasn’t expecting, is how many things we’re suddenly supposed to be interested in, even if we’re really not. I remember talking to my therapist when my son was about two years old, about how I just couldn’t play Little People with him anymore.


I know. I spent money to deal with this problem.

But at the time it felt like a life sentence. It felt like, if I had to get down on the floor for even one. More. Minute. And make the little yellow haired plastic guy talk to the little orange haired plastic girl, I was going to seriously lose my shit. I don’t know. I was really worked up about it at the time, go figure.

Here we are years later, and I’m still feeling the pressure to get super excited about things that leave me cold. Only this time, it’s not my kids who are sending the message, but some all-seeing parental force that has no name, but that I shall just call People Who Are Super Into It, Smarter, and Probably Younger. PWASISPY, for short.

Here’s a list of things the PWASISPY does that I don’t/ can’t/ have zero interest in:

  • Learn Minecraft.
  • Do shit like this
  • Dress up on Halloween
  • Read Harry Potter fan fiction
  • Stand in line for sixteen hours on the day the new Star Wars movie opens with thermoses of hot cocoa and Princess Leia braids
  • Understand and get very excited, VERY fucking turned on by the concept of Pi

God, they have so much fun! The PWASISPY go camping and love it. They build really complicated thingamajigs in the backyard and launch them.

Ok.Clearly this might warrant just one more trip to therapy. And if I went, what would I say?

That somewhere deep inside, I think, If Only.

If only I could do these things, my son would open up to me more. He’d feel so loved and understood that he would share with me when the girl he’s crushing on likes another boy, and how that makes him feel. I’d know what he’s really truly afraid of, if he secretly wishes that he were as tall as the other kids or (gulp), that he had a funner mom.

Ugh. That old chestnut.

Once again and as always, it’s no one else’s deal but mine. There’s no looming dark cloud of judging super-people out there, just my own craving for confirmation that I’m doing OK here, because when it comes to a job like raising kids, we just never know, do we?  I look Out There to tell me what to do, while simultaneously claiming not to care what anyone thinks.

As I ponder this flaw in my nature, I’ll make my kid’s favorite lunch and bask in the knowledge that, while I don’t know thing one about Pi, I do make a kick-ass grilled cheese.

Oh, and a very happy Pi Day, to those who celebrate it.











My Son Laughed in My Face (and made my day)

On Facebook not long ago, I shared an exchange that happened between my twelve year old son and myself and it went like this:

T: What are you looking at?
Me: In this light, I can see just the tiniest beginning of a mustache on you.
T: Hmm. Really?
Me: Sure. It’s small, but yeah, I can see it.
T: (squinting at me) Like mother like son. (he breaks into hysterics)

I posted it because it made me laugh, but I was surprised to find that I thought about it a lot, after it happened. Not only did it make me laugh, the way kids often make us laugh, but it made me smile deeply. It warmed me.

If you’ve ever had a kid then you probably had at least a few of those moments where you breathed a sigh of relief. Maybe it was that they came into the world mostly healthy and ok. Or maybe it was when they looked you in the eye and smiled, or reached for a toy, or spoke their first word, held a pencil, ate peanuts without a reaction. It’s different for all of us, but there are those moments when you just say to yourself, “Thank goodness. Phew. They’re gonna be ok.”

The biggest one, of course, is kindness. When you start seeing your child think of someone else besides themselves, it’s a big relief. Clearly, kindness if life skill number one, but when the conversation above happened, I noticed I had a very similar reaction. It was a soft, inward sigh of relief. He’s got a sense of humor, I thought. Thank god, it will serve him well.

A sense of humor can get you out of a world of trouble and keep you afloat when things get really bad. You can be smart, beautiful and talented, but without a sense of humor, I wouldn’t want to trade places with you. If we were living in another time, a sense of humor would be like having the sharpest arrowheads, or a full set of teeth. Life is just going to be easier for you, and more fun for your tribe. A sense of humor without kindness is a recipe for disaster, but put them together, and I want to know you.

I can’t tell you how many times my husband and I will be having a disagreement and he will find a way to make me laugh. You know those moments when you’re so pissed, but then your beloved comes at you with a spot on Maggie Smith impression and gets you laughing?

No? Oh.

Well, anyway, it’s the best. Provided the timing is right (there’s a 8.6 degree of difficulty here, guys, proceed with caution), it never fails to reverse the direction of a downward spiral. Maybe it’s not a total reconciliation, where he admits I was completely right and he was completely wrong, but at least the tone has changed. After a good laugh our hearts a little softer. Things go better.

We all know that you don’t have to be funny to have a sense of humor, although I think the two usually go together, if you listen closely enough. All my friends have a sense of humor, they just do. All of them make me laugh, but I’m sure not all of them think they are funny, which of course makes me love them even more.

My son has been making me laugh since he was born. Kids are a hoot, after all. The malapropisms, goofy outfits and knock knock jokes. Hilarious! But now the laughs are different. They reveal more of how he sees life, and more and more often he makes me laugh at the exact moment that I need to lighten up. If we’re locked in one of those lose/lose battles fueled by menopause and puberty and he makes me laugh, I’m almost always incredibly grateful to him. It’s usually just what I need to get my head screwed on, if it’s come,  just ever so slightly, off.

I was at a funeral a while ago, where the adult child of the woman who had died said, with tears in his eyes and so much love, “When we were growing up, we all knew that if you could make Mom laugh, you could get away with almost anything. If you were in trouble, your best bet was to crack her up, which was easy to do.” Not a bad legacy, in my opinion. I’d be happy with that.

I hope I’m the kind of person who laughs easily, even when it’s at myself. I can’t imagine surviving motherhood (or childhood) any other way. So, just for today, I’m forgetting the math homework that hasn’t been finished, the dirty socks stuck in the couch, the twelve year old attitude, and remembering this: that, in addition to being a generally good egg, he can see the humor in life. He can see absurdity and irony and, apparently, he can see my mustache.

That’s ok, I’ll get him back. I’m his mom, I’ve got the baby pictures 🙂





Raising a glass, raising kids and raising a question…

glasses-919071__180I drank more than usual during the months of November and December.There was Thanksgiving, Christmas, a few parties, and my birthday thrown in there. Good friends wanted to get together, laugh, trade stories, and this always seemed to included a drink or two.

To be clear, I’m not talking about binging, beer pong (what is that, anyway?), slurred words or hungover mornings. I’m not sure whether this is a good thing or not, but I’m kind of a pro at drinking. I know how much is enough and I always stop there. I learned this through years of diligent study during my 20’s. Thank god I lived through that decade without Instagram or Facebook, although I’m sure there are more than a few incriminating polaroids floating around junk drawers on the east coast. Anyway, I learned my lessons and now I’m a very responsible social drinker, IMHO.

Which would be fine, except that eventually kids came into the picture, staring at me with their giant eyeballs that say “teach me how to live,” and made me take a good hard look at one of my life’s simple pleasures.

Having grown up the child of an alcoholic, I am aware of how a parent’s heavy drinking can erode a kid’s sense of reality. You feel scared but you’re not sure why. Other adults say they love you and yet no one protects you. You have to be the parent of your parent— wtf? Or, you pretend everything is normal, only, since you have no idea what normal is, you get it from The Partridge Family and Love American Style. Except for the go-go boots and tambourine playing, I wouldn’t recommend it as a blueprint for happiness.

So when I had kids, I was going to do different. (Can I hear an amen!?) And I have succeeded in many ways, including the fact that, unlike my mother, I am not an alcoholic. I’m not even what I would consider a heavy drinker, but I am a drinker*.

Which brings me back to the kids. Those little people who, all too soon, will be offered a drink (or several) at a party and will or won’t say yes. They will or won’t have the genetic predisposition to alcoholism that seems to run in my family. They will or won’t down a few and get behind the wheel of a car. They will or won’t make the kind of stupid choices that are scattered, like mines, through the trippy land of adolescence. I dodged a hundred of them as a teen and young adult, so I know they are there, but I can’t for the life of me (or my kids) say where.

Maybe, instead of looking down the road for trouble, I should take a peek at my own cozy little life.

At Christmas, we had some people over to our house. There were kids and adults, a good mix. It was a fun night. Over the course of several hours I had some wine, not too much, but more than I would have if I was out at dinner or a bar, since I didn’t have to go anywhere. Late in the evening a few friends left with their kids, to drive home. I had heard a conversation between a couple, in which they confirmed who was driving, and vaguely noticed that the designated driver stopped drinking quite a while before they left. Looking back, I really do believe that everyone holding car keys was sober, but at the time it didn’t occur to me to ask.

It didn’t even occur to me to ask.

I don’t remember the last time I asked a friend if they were ok to drive. It just never comes up. Maybe, with our partying days in the distant past, a big night out now consisting of dinner, a couple of drinks and home by nine-thirty, we assume we’ve  crossed some imaginary finish line and can avoid those awkward conversations. Now it’s civilized, fun, and we’re grown-ups, for god’s sake. In other word, we got this.

Which is exactly what happened that night at my house. But it turns out that there was one person there, a twelve year old kid I love and have known since he entered the world, who, I learned only later, wasn’t so cool with it. He wondered about riding in a car with adults who he knew had had a drink, but hadn’t said anything at the time.

It took that, my friends, to get me thinking.

I remembered how often I felt afraid, riding home from a party with my mother, after she’d been drinking all evening. I remember grown-ups who professed to love me, bundling me up with a kiss and instructions to “keep her talking,” as she weaved her way down the driveway.

That night at our house, I didn’t see anyone drinking like that. But that doesn’t mean my young guest’s worries  weren’t valid. Who knows if the person driving him home  was in some small way impaired? Not me, I was eating leftover chicken wings in the kitchen, by the time they said goodnight. And even though I know it’s not unusual for kids of that age to be pretty judgy about things like drinking and smoking, I hate that it happened on what should have been my watch.

Even though this experience was a wake-up call regarding my responsibility as a host and, most importantly, a friend, I’ve thought before about how alcohol always seems to be present anytime the adults are socializing. Dinner party? Definitely. Friends over to hang out? Yep. Out for a meal? Sure. Drinking is everywhere the fun is, and I wonder about this message. I asked my friend and reality-checker JoDee what she thought:

“Do we always have to drink at every gathering?”

“Yes.” she laughs.

“Even when the kids are around?”

“Especially when the kids are around!” (She’s kidding, you guys.)

“I mean, are we saying that anytime adults are together and having a good time, alcohol has to be there?”

“I think we are. But I don’t really want to hang out at a party without having a glass of wine.”

“I know, but why is that?”

“I don’t know. It’s boring.”

Would we ever want our children to hear us have this conversation? Never. Is it the truth? Well, kinda, a little bit. Yeah. So the question is, do we reign it in for the sake of The Big Eyed Ones, or do we make like our neighbors across the pond and live la dolce vita?

My friend Sophie Venable, who is full of sage advice and, by the way, no stranger to a cocktail, says she makes an effort to only drink around her young teenage daughters if it’s a special occasion. So, for example, she wouldn’t just have a beer with dinner on a Tuesday. But, if you really enjoy a good glass of wine with dinner, and you’re of legal age, what’s the big deal? I always thought that showing my kids that one can drink responsibly and demystifying the whole thing was a positive approach.

Once again, I’m stumped. What would Shirley Jones do? I wonder…

Until further notice, I’ve decided to just be more mindful of when I crack open the Malbec. I’ll learn to use Uber, or carpool more, and I’ll tell my kids why.  If you come over to hang out at my house and have a few drinks (and I hope you do!) I might have one, two, none. Either way, I bet we’ll have a great time. I will meet you for a beer, or a coffee, or a hike, because our friendship is what I’m here for, and that, dear one, is never boring.


* I can’t help myself. I have to tell you that I’m a little worried that writing a blog post about drinking will make some people worried. My in-laws, my sister. What happens if I apply for a job as a school bus driver? Hey, it could happen. You’re all just going to have to take my word for it that I like to write about things I’m trying to figure out. That’s why I’m writing about drinking and how I sometimes wonder what my kids learn about it by watching me. I’ve talked about this stuff with my mom friends, so I know I’m not the only one. All I’m saying is, don’t look at me funny when I order a margarita-rocks-no salt, ok? Good. Glad we cleared that up:)



Why Ricki and the Flash Bugged This Midlife Mom

Why Ricki and the Flash Bugged This Midlife Mom

Looking around my home, I see a lot of my mother’s artwork. She didn’t give it to me, I stole it. By the time I made it there to pack up her things, she was past the point of noticing and the pieces only collected dust. Most of her work is signed and dated and tells a story that many women know to be true: it’s an uphill battle to raise kids and make art. By reading the dates, I can see that all of it was made either before she had my sisters and I or after she abandoned us. I do remember her doing some work while we were little, but it’s nothing compared to the stacks of paintings, drawings, prints, sculptures, tiles, ceramics, textiles and more that I found in her tiny one bedroom apartment.
When my husband and I met yesterday for a drink after I saw the latest Meryl Streep movie, “Rickie and the Flash,” I expressed my frustration at some of the more cliche elements of the film.
“I have to believe that it was the work of the suits that ruined that script,” I said, imagining Diablo Cody’s story being punched up and dumbed down by executives, rendering what might have been a thought provoking story about a motherhood, work, responsibility and passion into a shallow stab at a summer hit for mid-lifers.
“The big feel good family dance number? Are you kidding??? And are we to believe that Rickie pulls her daughter out of the pit of depression with the power of a mani/pedi and a cute haircut?” I really asked this, because judging from the Facebook posts I’d already seen, a lot of people believed just that.
“But that’s what people want to see.That’s Hollywood. How do you not make a movie like that here?” my husband asked, as we sat in an outdoor cafe on LaBrea.
“You tell the truth,” I answered.
There’s a line Rick Springfield’s character says in the movie, “It’s not your kids’ job to love you, it’s your job to love them.” I’m sure I’m not alone when I say that that line makes me feel pretty damn good. Sweet relief! It reminds me to stop worrying whether or not my kids will one day want to come home for Thanksgiving. The line, a passionate plea for Rickie to chill out about the fact that she wasn’t there to raise her kids, refers to the fact that children grow up and have their own lives, which may or may not include frequent phone calls or visits and, to a great extent, that is out of your control. But it was delivered by a character who, though foxy, admitted to not being around for his own kids. And it was meant to comfort a mother who very much loved her children, but left them when they were young in order to fulfill her dream of being a musician.
What was his point when he said that? Was he saying you can do whatever you want as long as you love your kids? As long as you love your kids, you are a good enough parent? Newsflash: almost all parents love their kids. That does not make you special.
The fact that our culture has long given men a free pass to do this kind of damage (Rickie gives a pretty good speech about this, citing Mick Jagger’s choice to make kids and leave them) is worthy of discussion, but the film doesn’t really go there. They are not saying we should now even the score and give the same pass to mothers, but they come dangerously close to saying the equivalent of, “no biggie.”
Put down the popcorn everyone, and let’s think this through.
Leaving your family is very different from taking time out to finish your novel, leaving them with friends every Saturday night so you can record your new EP, or having the father take over while you are workshopping a new play in another state for a month or two. I was never the woman who could make art while my toddler played in the tupperware drawer at my feet and, although I’m sure these women exist, I now put them in the category of the Giant Squid, so rare as to be almost mythological.
But it is those decisions, the everyday Sophie’s Choice (shout out to Meryl fans everywhere) moments that tear most mothers apart. We wonder if our five year old knows how desperately we wish she had not just walked in the room and asked for dinner. When a tsunami of rage, similar to the more culturally acceptable rage of a mother bear protecting her young, hits us when our partner brings the kids home early from a trip to the park, a trip meant to give us quiet in which to work, we send them out again, locking the door behind them. We guard those precious hours with tooth and claw, often hating ourselves for it, and sometimes our children.
Life is more complicated than can be sussed out in an hour and forty-two minutes. Film as conversation starter is great, as long as it actually starts the conversation, a real conversation with room for the truth.
The inconvenient truth is that people who make kids should know that those kids need them. Not 24/7, but for a good chunk of the time.
To me, the most touching moment in the movie, which also happened to be a heaping helping of Hollywood bullshit, was when Rickie thanked the stepmother of her children, the woman who stepped up and did all the things that one simply can’t do from a distance, i.e. the doctor appointments, graduations and lunch making. Make no mistake, when a parent leaves, they do so on the back of other parents who come in to pick up the slack. That is, if you’re lucky. If you’re unlucky, no one steps in and you walk around like a stray, tending your own wounds as best you can.
In my life, help came in the form of other people’s mothers. I’ve never actually thought about this, but it’s interesting that it was the women who came to my rescue. I knew a few really wonderful men who did no harm and might have actually helped, but it was the women who I needed and the women who showed up again and again with rides, advice, loans, hugs, books and fierce protection when the chips were down. We might shout from the rooftops that this is unfair or that it’s only because it’s what is expected of women and not of men, but I’d challenge us to just sit with this for a minute. I don’t know what it means, I only know that it is so.
To the parents who say that their kids were better off because they left to pursue their dream, you may be right. I most certainly was better off because my mother packed up her things and disappeared. While my sisters had to live through her tantrums and cruelty through their teenage years, she gave me a gift when she left me on my own.
But still.
But still.
I will always be the child that wasn’t worth sticking around for. Who carries forever the shame that I was so uninteresting, uncompelling, that my own mother, who had an artist’s eye for beauty, would rather leave than be in my presence. Of course it’s also true that my mother loved me, so hey, she did her job, right?
When my mother died a few weeks ago, I was with her. It was one of only a handful of times I had seen her since I was thirteen. At her bedside, with her impossibly small hand, bird bones strung together and curled around mine, I couldn’t help but think, “this is it? THIS is IT???” I simply could not get my head around the fact that our mother/daughter story would end this way. Where’s the arc? Where’s the Big Finish? When will she sing at my wedding and thank the women who filled in for her while she did her thing? Never. That’s when.
Come to think of it, she left me one more gift; she left me with a story to tell. As a mother, it’s my job to stick around and tell it.