Boyhood

I saw this movie the other day and it unhinged me. The boy grows up too quickly. Right? That’s the reality around my house too.

One of my classmates said this movie changed her parenting. She no longer yells at her kids because she realizes that life goes by in a blink of an eye. And she is trying to savor her children while they are home.

The film was shot over 12 years with the same cast.

I was particularly moved by the mother’s plight, played by Patricia Arquette. She has to hustle so much to provide for the family. And yet, the kids idolize their father who only shows up occasionally. I relate. So many times I feel like a workhorse. In my quest to provide for the kids, emotionally and financially, I may miss out. I may not always make the best choices. I may not get all the fun.

My heart breaks that the sister, Lorelei Linklater, has to grow up. The most spirited child, she becomes a surly, monosyllabic teen. Ugh. I worry this will happen to my spirited children.

There are scenes of an alcoholic stepfather. As moviegoers, we want our preteens to rise up as heroes in their alcoholic families, defending one another or speaking out against injustice. But children cannot mount a mutiny over the tyranny of an alcoholic leader. Their helplessness’s heart-wrenching.

Families are going to be okay. Much as we worry, endlessly, about our kids’ possibly embarking on drunk driving or texting when driving or excessive Xbox use or getting pregnant. All that. There’s a message throughout the film of resilience. It’s going to be okay. Our family is good enough.

When I went into the movie theater, the ticket collector, an older gent, told me, “I love this movie. Everyone loves this movie.” I do, too.

I just wish boyhood would last.

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Smoothies

Smoothies
This is me, sans make up, enjoying my own smoothie.

When my kids became of school age, I made a rule:

No hot breakfasts on school days. Yes, you can have: cereal, toast, oatmeal, fruit, but no pancakes, French Toast, or omelettes. On weekends, okay.

Then they wanted smoothies. I hate the mess! I do not enjoy cleaning the blender.

“If you want smoothies, you can make them yourselves,” I told them.

But  this morning I was feeling generous. Chris and I had been out last night — at the screening of some awesome short films from the Screen Actors Guild Foundation.

A friend of Chris’s, Merav Elbaz Belschner, had directed this hilarious movie about writing, Suddenly.

So I was feeling guilty that they’d ordered in pizza last night and Chinese food the night before. Yes, I’m that mother. Hence, the smoothies. But did they thank me? Did they enjoy the special effort on my part?

Hell, no!

They complained. In fact, Hayden announced, “This is the worst smoothie I’ve ever tasted.”

When Chris, God bless him, tumbled out of bed, (getting out of bed is difficult for him — he’s not yet medicated first thing in the morning and it takes a long time), tasted the smoothie, he pronounced, “It’s good. But the kids like juice-based, not milk-based smoothies.” I don’t really know these people who I live with. Who are they? What do they like? My family is a mystery. They reveal exciting nuances every day.

I thought they’d like the smoothie because I made it with frozen grapes, frozen strawberries, milk, ice cream, Greek yogurt, ice. And, of course, a lot of love. But no.

So tomorrow, they get dry toast and orange juice.

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Meeting the Coach

Before we embarked on this college tour, I pestered Hayden mercilessly to contact the swim coaches of the schools we were about to visit. He would say, “I’m not good enough for a swim scholarship.” I thought it was worth a shot. And his high school coach thought he could swim at division 3 schools, (which don’t give athletic scholarships).

But I’d back off from the pestering, knowing the more I pushed, the less he’d do. He’s an excellent student and a great swimmer. He places in the top few spots against all of the other small private NYC high schools. Next year, he’ll be captain. But he tells me he does not register on the nation’s or even the east coast’s list of top-notch swimmers. He’s good but not great.

So after an infraction last Saturday night, (which I won’t go into here – but use your imagination, he’s 17) one of his seven punishments or consequences was to write to three college swim coaches. The whole list of consequences he deemed to be more “productive” than punishing.

He set up one interview at one of the small Midwest liberal arts schools last week. The interview went really well. He was a little nervous. I thought I’d wait out in the hall. But I was with the coach and Hayden the whole time.

The coach, who looked like a college student himself, was impressed by Hayden’s height and potential. He told H. about the practice hours for the college swim — 6:30 to 8 am and then like 4 to 6 pm. Grueling. He showed us around the pool and the weight room. He seemed interested in having H. come back for a visit with the team.

If Hayden’s swim ability gives him an edge when considered for admission into a fantastic school, bring it on. He could contribute well to a team. It would give him a ready group of friends. He is already a hard worker. Discipline and practice would make him even better.

The experience of visiting colleges with Hayden has vaulted me into my own college memories. How hard my classes were! How I learned the knack for sitting in the front row of my classes, knowing then, as now, I am prone to distraction. And I loved getting to know my teachers. You are more memorable when you sit in the front row.

Beyond evaluating my own college experience, taking Hayden on this college tour has reminded me that parenting is a dance of push me/pull you/back off/stay on it.

After the interview with the swim coach, Hayden told me, “Mom, I should have been interviewing with swim coaches this whole time.” I bit my tongue. I did not tell him, “I told you so.” Though I felt like it (and I’m telling you!)

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Campus at Colgate University
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Another amazing guide. Tour of Hamilton College (we thought this looked like Harry Potter-land).

Saving Mr. Banks

I felt unhinged by Saving Mr. Banks.

Respect for Writers

First of all, it is always amazing to see respect lauded on a writer.

Respect is not why I write. But I have to admit that reverence for a writer – in this case, P.L Travers, the author of Mary Poppins, a children’s book, is a rare and beautiful thing.

Women as Creative Team Leaders

From a feminist perspective, I loved that the men, even the studio head, the great Walt Disney himself, deferred to Travers. Of course we all know men who defer to their female bosses or wives or business partners. It should not be an oddity. But somehow, the world has turned and I rarely see men respecting women in mainstream movies.

Maybe because I have teenagers I am overexposed to hyper-sexualized women in the media on awards shows – too many women rock stars wearing lingerie while the men wear black tee shirts and jeans.

But seeing Travers run the show? Well, that was just amazing. She is occasionally arbitrary – but what genius is not? Emma Thompson is brilliant at creating this very real, flawed, lovable, cold writer.

Explaining Mary Poppins

I loved, too, that Saving Mr. Banks explained why Mary Poppins does not change as a character. Like everyone, I love the Julie Andrews movie. But it’s always bothered me that Mary Poppins does not change – she does not become more loving or more interesting as the film progresses.

Her character does not go through the fires of some great conflict and come out the better for it. This movie explains why. She is the agent for other’s transformation, not her own. Change is reserved for Mr. Banks, the father, an idealized version of Travers’ father.

Becoming More Loving

Our Travers gently returns to being an imaginative and playful person. This transformation into a loving human being happens in small ways. Our hero here does not suddenly turn around and become a fabulous new person.

This is a subgenre of movie I happen to love — watching characters return to love — like the movie based on C.S. Lewis’ Shadowlands.

English: Screenshot of Julie Andrews from the ...
English: Screenshot of Julie Andrews from the trailer for the film Mary Poppins (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What About Mrs. Banks?

Now, you know, I have to find something not to love. I did not love that Travers seemed to be seeking to come to terms with only her father. What about her mother? She certainly was equally complex. Is the mother not as curious and exciting and crazy a character to explore? Or are men more enigmatic? Why must it be the father we need to heal?

The Treasure Trove of Childhood

I, like Travers, have a treasure trove in my past – a childhood of great love, adventure, and benign neglect. But it is in from this personal history that so much creativity can spring from.

This book reminded me of Alice Miller’s Drama of the Gifted Child, a psychological text that explains why overly sensitive children do not have a full childhood as they are always in tune to their parents’ struggles. Then, as adults, they are adrift. They are less inclined or able to explore their own lives. I think about this from my own story and from my children’s reality.

There are times that I, perhaps due to Chris’s Parkinson’s, as a parent, turn to the children for more support than maybe they need or want to give. And then there are times, too, I just let them off the hook — but that’s another story. Or maybe it’s the same story. It’s the story of excessive attachment and then, benign neglect. I console myself with the certainty that great creativity can come from a troubled childhood.

You should see — or read — this story. Think about it, talk about it — about respect for writers, women as creative leaders, the importance of childhood, and what makes for creative genius.

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Halloween Begins the Holiday Madness

Happy Halloween! Wait! I’m not ready. Did I celebrate my daughters’ birthday, or even, 4th of July or Easter, well enough?

This is the first of the marching holidays and I’ve hardly finished my last holidays. But they march on, whether I am ready or not. I have to comfort myself that I do them well enough.

I am a do-er and I do the holidays well enough. But sometimes I want to celebrate Easter in November and Thanksgiving in March.

I am a do-er but also an iconoclast or an anarchist (or some big word that means rule-breaker.)

I can change some things, but I can’t change big things like the seasons. Christmas is good in the winter. Maybe it’d be better at the beginning of December? Maybe I should start a campaign to change the date of Christmas. I could start small.

Here’s my idea: Let’s pump up the less celebrated holidays, like Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Let’s make it a big peace and love day — bigger than Christmas. Same with International Women’s Day. Let’s really love on our international sisters that day.

And I can use the money I save buying shit nobody needs at Christmas to throw some really big Pace and Love parties.

I’m not a Scrooge. While I like, and even love, Christmas and other holidays, I reject the disgusting materialism and commercialism that pervades our culture. I don’t want new things. (I want new experiences.) I don’t want my kids — or anyone for that matter — to think the acquisition of goods leads to the acquisition of happiness.

I have been happiest traveling light. The less stuff I have, the happier I am.

I have been happy with friends, having — and going to — parties, being with my kids, my family. Happy Halloween! March on holiday madness!

So,  “If bloggers had their own Halloween and could go from blog to blog collecting “treats,” what would your blog hand out?” asked the Daily Prompt today. And I answer: more fun, more love, more peace, and more parties. 

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At the church retreat at Shelter Island last weekend, some of the teens carved awesome pumpkins. This is one.
beach scene in October
Leaves blew on to the beach on Shelter Island.

A Little More

Last night we saw A Little More Than You Wanted To Spend, a funny, sad one-man show with and by Chris Clavelli about the death of his 6-year old son Jess.

clavelliThis sucks. I mean the play is awesome, but the show reminds you that life sucks.

Life is a total crap shoot. You get shit. You get joy. You live. You die. Other people live and die too.

You have to talk about it. You have to write about it. You have to tell about it. You have to live it. You have to make something, maybe theater, out of it.

The sucky part, sometimes, is living on and getting up when you feel like curling up in bed and not getting up.

***

Taking the garbage out last night with my daughter Charlotte, one of our neighbors, a former Hollywood starlet from the 1950s (and this is not even giving her away because we have several senior actresses in our building), asked me, “How’s your boyfriend?” or something like that.

Charlotte looked at me quizzically.

“He’s doing good,” I said, about my husband. “He’s got a great creative spirit. Is directing a show upstate this summer.

The former starlet said, “He’s wonderful. He’s got a twinkle in his eye and great artistry despite the tragedy of his life.”

We said good bye at the recycling bin.

“What did she say?” Charlotte asked. “The what of his life?”

“The tragedy. I suppose, she meant the tragedy of his Parkinson’s diagnosis,” I told my daughter.

I don’t think of my husband Chris’s life as a tragedy.

This is not the first time a neighbor has used stark terms to refer to my husband’s disease in front of my kids. I guess, in the dailiness of life, the reality of Chris’s illness is not a tragedy, it’s normal.

It is not always a comedy, but tragedy? I don’t know.  Chris feels he is lucky. He feels there are worse diagnoses.

***

This is the second time I’ve seen Clavelli’s play. It’s blown me away. Made me laugh and cry.

I am friends with Clavelli, and his girlfriend Leonisa, who funnily enough, was my work out buddy at my former workplace, before she and Clavelli got together.

The play reminded me to hug my darlings, to love the people in my life, to laugh and cry with them, to talk about truths, to listen to other people’s truths, to make art.

When someone tells their truth, I can’t argue or judge. Hearing someone’s truth makes me want to tell my truth. Because, I know, making art is a way of healing.

Life is a tragic-comedy.

***

Any way, go see Clavelli’s show. It’s really good. It’s only running in June in NYC.

Related stories

Chris Clavelli

A Little More Than You Wanted To Spend

Beauty in Tragedy, The Poem (writingsofamrs.wordpress.com)

Iron Man Ignored the Kid

The iron man and us
The iron man and us (Photo credit: Bev Goodwin)

I love summer blockbusters. I also love French films and independent films and basically any kind of films (though, true fact: I have never seen an X-rated movie, unless flipping around and catching Robin Byrd on cable counts!)

I just love losing myself to the dark of any movie theater.

But something kept rattling in my brain after seeing Iron Man 3. I was disturbed by the way Iron Man treated the kid who had rescued him. He totally ignored the kid.

Iron Man seemed to think a dark roomful of toys/tech equipment could replace the presence of a loving adult.

See, the kid in the movie had been abandoned by his dad, and no surprise, when Iron Man showed up, the kid assumed he was a dad figure. And when the superhero needed help, the kid was helpful. (This is not a spoiler. I think it’s fairly obvious that the kid will be useful to Iron Man.)

iron man 3But then the kid was not rewarded for being there for this father figure. In the end, the only thing the boy received was all kinds of digital devices for him to tinker with. This is his reward?!? The kid needed a frozen yogurt with the dad figure, or a picnic in the park, or, yes, the proverbial, game of catch.

In this room of tech equipment, the product placement of FiOS plastered all over the huge flatscreen TV was jarring and obscene. I was totally taken out of the movie and felt I’d landed in a stupid commercial.

So the message on this Father’s Day weekend seems to be: you want to be a good father? Buy your kid off, get them tons of tech stuff so they can play alone in a dark room. And then you can retire, alone yourself, in your own dank and dark digital kingdom. That’s Hollywood.

This is relevant to my life right now because my son is being punished (I won’t go into the details). And his tech equipment is taken away. He is clueless as to how to survive. I’ve suggested fro yo, a picnic, or a game of catch. But like Iron Man, our superhero, he’d rather be alone with his devices than outdoors with his friends or dad or sports or, even, ice cream.

I find this choice sad — not nearly as thrilling or active as an action film or life could be.