Saturday, January 19, 2013

Guilty As Charged

So it seems that this blog has become the anti-blog, the place where I rally against other random points of view. The other day my target was Mayim Biyalik and her tirade against TV and today I am stuck on another fascinating piece that ran in The Atlantic a few days ago. The title: “The Ethical Implications of Parents Writing about Their Kids.[1]” The author, Phoebe Maltz Bovy, argues that a new genre has arisen of women and men who over share about their children’s lives, subsequently humiliating them and violating their privacy at the same time. As you can imagine, the essay hit home with me. In more ways than one I suppose I am complicit in Bovy’s argument and at first I had a rather strong knee-jerk “this is crap!” type reaction to it. And then I thought more on it. And you know what? Her point really is crap and I’m going to tell you why.

Folks like Erma Bombeck and Bill Keane and countless others have used their children and family as fodder for their work and columns and cartoons for decades. These private anecdotes were put out there for mass consumption and the only thing that is different between now and then is the speed at which these pieces can be shared. The idea of mass consumption of private family experiences that make us laugh and cry and learn and grow is hardly a new one. The reality is that these and other great writers and artists wrote about what they knew and when you are in the trenches of full-time motherhood or parenthood the bulk of those experiences can be about your children and your family. How you manage life with them, because of them, in spite of them?  Realistically about 93% of my day is spent with my children or doing things to help my children or my family. I do not expect it will always be that way. But that is my current reality. If I wrote exclusively about the fraction of time leftover that is solely about my own time and travails, this is roughly what it would look like:
7:00AM: open eyelids

7:32-7:39AM: shower/shave legs

12:00-12:15PM: eat lunch

8:40PM: floss

9-10PM: read, watch DVRd Parenthood and Shahs of Sunset, blackout
So juicy right! The bulk of the interesting stuff in my life right now involves my kids. This is a full-time job unlike any I’ve ever had. And it’s not like I can swivel around at my desk, turn to another mom in her cube and say, “Man, I really got my ass handed to me in that potty training session!” And she would laugh and we would laugh together and I would feel better knowing she understood what I was going through. Nope. It just doesn’t work that way. I am in my house and my friend is in her apartment with her twin babies and someone else is in their log cabin – whatever! We all need each other and these words and blogs help to connect us and make us feel that we are not alone.

In this way I am grateful to those who have come before and continue still to bare testament to the brutal truth that is parenthood. It is my modern day water cooler. I pull up a chair, sit down and type, “Jesus, you will not believe what I found in Ruby’s nose today!” And somewhere across the universe another mother will hear and answer and we will laugh and share and learn, using the power of our words to share experiences, and even find some humor while doing the hardest damn job we’ve ever done.  Sometimes, a mother or parent will share something funny. Sometimes it will be raw. Either way, it will be real and the importance of sharing it will both in part free her from the burden of carrying it alone and maybe even inform or help hers or someone’s kids. It is a legacy of honesty – when it’s funny and even when it hurts. This is a legacy I want my children to inherit.



Wednesday, January 16, 2013

In Defense of TV

Recently, a friend re-posted a piece written several months ago by Mayim Bialik entitled, “Taking a Stand Against TV.” The piece describes a list of exhaustive reasons as to why Mayim, mother and television star, does not let her kids watch TV because they are just not ready to be exposed to the “hypnotic” and potentially developmentally inappropriate messages that children may receive through television[1]. In and of itself, the title alone of this post infuriates me. She is an actress! She makes a living on television! She is a self-hating tv star. It is as tragic as the self-hating Jew, berating himself as he sits alone at the Chinese restaurant on Christmas, and then purging that last egg roll. Tragic. And so I rise, one non-famous mother, in defense of her TV.

I am a child of the 80s. The wonderful, pure 80s where all we knew were neon and John Hughes and the Electric Company and I was sheltered and ignorant. G-d was I sheltered. In some way, I think I thought high school really would be some weird combination of Square Pegs and Saved by the Bell. In a world where there really were scary things going on like AIDS and Cold Wars, TV was one (but be clear – not the only) way that my parents and I sheltered me from the outside world. Inside my TV bubble all was well. We were a nation of Huxtables and Keatons, Olympic medalists and fancy royal weddings. It reflected, at least from the sliver that they showed me, the best vision of what we wanted to be as a country, as a family, as a world. It wasn’t always true, but it was nice.
And so it is again for my own kids. The world is seemingly so much more chaotic and cold and terrifying and sometimes, all of us want to escape into a world of fantasy because it feels magical and safe and isn’t that what we really want childhood to feel like? Movies and television – entertainment as a whole, are a form of escapism and children just as much and sometimes even more than adults I believe benefit and in fact need this. With imaginations larger than their little pea-sized heads, they can slip into Cinderella and I can go there with them and for a moment we all believe in the fairytale and the happy ending. How I want that for them. How I desperately want them to believe in that for as long as possible.

But it’s more than that. Sometimes, and I stress sometimes, they actually learn something which is awesome – an added bonus! Ruby’s excessive Dora viewing has clearly paid off because she can count in Spanish and even say some strange catch phrases which probably won’t serve her that well in the long run, like “Jump pony!” but still, I’m impressed. Today before I’d even had my first cup of coffee Super Grover had taught them what a lever is, and the other day Little Bill was a fabulous little example of how to manage your feelings when you don’t get that toy you really want. These are not the big rocks I’m focused on like numbers and shoe-tying and tooth-brushing and please and thank you but its good stuff and I’ll take it because you know what people, it takes a village and in my village, there is a television.
And sometimes they do get that glazed over, zoned out look in their eyes. They aren’t there for the fairytale or to learn – they are there to veg out. And you know what? I get that feeling. I understand that. Don’t you? My children move seemingly 24 hours a day. If you know them you know this is true. Literally. Ruby actually fell asleep the other night in her bed sitting up. I had to tip her over just to get her body horizontal during the evening hours. They constantly go – with school and swim and dance and playdates and lessons and doctors and they are still in preschool! They are little bodies and I get tired from their daily schedules and lives. I can only imagine how they feel.

And maybe we read a book or play a game or have a dance party, but just sometimes we need to chill.  I actually legitimately feel like it is the right thing for them to do. And the only critique I offer here is that if the medium of television is a broader reflection of our modern day culture, it moves very fast. Like many Americans growing up in the world of instant tweets and likes and apps and flash mobs, the shows themselves seem designed for short attention spans, perhaps even shorter than the ones we seemed to have at these very same ages all those years ago. Little plot, lots of music, flashing colors, lights –not  the greatest stuff to wind down to.
And so when were Brobee-d out the other day, I put in a 1976 episode of the Muppet Show starring Lena Horne. They seemed transfixed by her beauty. But then she opened her mouth to sing and my little constantly moving and talking bodies fell silent as that once in a lifetime voice washed over their ears for the very first time. It was jazz and beauty and diversity and silliness and generally speaking, with the help of my television, the very sweetest antidote to our long preschool day. Every one of their little senses was tuned in, not out. As a parent, I was pleased.



Saturday, January 12, 2013

New Year's Resolution

“WALK!” I yell, but my words fall on deaf ears as they literally seem to erupt out of the school doors. Did you tiny people never hear of Johnny Cash? Walk the Line! What, no toddler geometry today?! The shortest distance between two points is a straight line! My words are pointless. My children literally just seem incapable of doing this. The best way I can describe them is like two inebriated octopuses – a gaggle of arms and legs moving in every direction at all times, never at any one time moving in a straight line. This used to and often continues to frustrate me to no end. I mean, how long do you think it takes to get from the front door of a preschool to your parking spot? One minute, maybe two? Let’s say five if you are really taking your time.

Now, let’s put on your Dylan and Ruby world-view goggles. As you exit there is a relatively innocuous storage box that I swear no other human ever notices or touches but that Ruby feels compelled to climb up on so that she can take in the world from the top of it. That takes about three minutes – one minute up and down and one minute of reflection on top of her private mountain. There is a moment to identify and point out every piece of litter left in the parking lot and discuss what it is, why it’s there, and the possible motivation behind the alleged litterer. This takes approximately five to ten minutes while we review the fork in the snow, the blue gum, and the used tissue.
There is the pointing out and touching of the alleged rose bushes outside the preschool as we approach the parking lot which Dylan claims are poisonous thorns but I suspect are just shriveled buds of a much more innocuous flower biding its time for an early spring. And last but certainly not least, there is the fastidious rock collection. We must spend at least five minutes collecting rocks of various shapes and sizes because…. actually, I don’t know why we collect the rocks. Sometimes they claim they are precious jewels. Or perhaps they are trying to create a mini Stonehenge in my Ford. What are we up to here? Twenty minutes? But wait – we still have to shimmy up the base of the lampposts because my children appear to be part-monkey. That’s at least another five. I’d walk to the playground at the other end of the lot, but that would take so long that Dylan would age out of the experience before we get there.
Thirty minutes later, we reach my car. I’m sweating. I’m holding 2 backpacks and 20 rocks, imploring Ruby to get off the lamppost while I promise Dylan that he will survive his brush with the poison thorns. Finally, we head home. It makes me nuts. It makes me frazzled. I feel the eyes and judgment of other parents who calmly walk their children to their cars, staring at my kids like crazed Von Trapp children swinging from the trees in clothes made from drapes.
But this year, I resolve to be different. I  resolve to step outside of myself, outside of my own personal and mommy comfort zone and realize – what am I rushing us toward? Maybe they are actually right (please never tell them this). It’s about the journey, not the destination. It’s about finding beauty and perspective and imagining greatness among the plainest of paths.  And so – my new year’s resolution is to be more like them: to move more slowly, ask more questions, and look for roses and mountains and possibilities around every corner, storage box and lamppost. So here’s to you my two little inebriated octopuses – happy new year you curious little nuts! Let’s tackle this next crooked path together…