March 18, 2010

I Can Bring Up the Babies & Blog About Them, Too

On March 12, the New York Times ran an article by Jennifer Mendelsohn titled, "Honey, Don't Bother Mommy. I'm Too Busy Building My Brand." While the headline accuses blogging mothers of neglecting their children in order to write, I know that journalists don't often create their own headlines and decided to overlook it.

While the article was snarky and condescending, it wasn't evil. Writing about a blogging seminar she attended, Mendelsohn writes, "[Organizer Tiffany Romero] steered the proceedings with the good-natured sass of a sorority social chairwoman and the enthusiasm of a, well, summer-camp director. (She went barefoot for much of the day and said 'You guys!' a lot.)"

I can't say the same for the follow-up comments, however. For example, #21, Dee of Western New York, writes: "Nature abhors a vacuum, so these people fill up their lives with each other- telling each other how special their everyday thoughts and actions - and kids - are. And they are lonely at home with the kiddies? So rather than making actual flesh and blood friends and getting out of their cocoon they gravitate to an electronic network of others just like them. There is something pathetic about the clingy, needy plea for attention and affirmation. God help the teachers when the offspring of these bloggers get to school."

I wish I could say that was the only nasty comment, but there were many more.

I am always fascinated by the way people treat each other in online forums. Would people say these wretched things if they were sitting across a table from one another? Would Dee call me clingy and pathetic if she had to look me in the eye? Maybe. Obviously, I don't know her, so she may really be that dreadful, but I doubt it.

Online hostility is a little like road rage. People feel comfortable to scream at each other and make rude gestures as long as the other drivers aren't visible, but I know from experience how it feels when the other driver turns out to be a familiar face, one's 86-year-old grandmother, for example.

So, Dee from Western New York, and all of the others who wrote vile things about blogging mothers, I'd like you to know me a little better.

My name is Tricia, I have children, and I have a blog. Sometimes I blog about my children because I think they are very special. Wouldn't you be more concerned if I didn't? I hope so. I write because I enjoy writing, not because I have something to sell, and I've been doing it since I was nine years old. Should I have given up my passion because I gave birth? Perhaps gone on Prozac instead? Would you ask that my husband give up playing golf or watching football on Sunday afternoons?

My husband doesn't actually do those things, but I'm sure somebody's husband does, and it probably makes him happy, too.

I have a group of real-life mom friends, and I spend a lot of time with them in the real world. As it happens I met many of them online. I am thankful every day for their friendship. We go to music class together, to play trains at the bookstore, to storytime at the library, and nearly every sunny day, to the park.

My son goes to preschool once a week for two and a half hours, and every other week one of the moms I met online takes him home afterward for a playdate with her son, so every two weeks I have five hours of free writing time, and that happened to be today, so today I wrote a post for my blog, and it made me really happy.

When my son came home we went for a walk, and he splashed in the puddles. When my daughter came home from school and my husband finished work we walked up the road to feed carrots to the neighbor's horses. At dinner, which I made, we said what we were thankful for today. After dinner I read Mendelsohn's article while my husband cleaned up, my daughter did her homework, and my son watched an episode of Max and Ruby.

At bedtime, I sang my daughter a song, as I do most nights. Tonight was my rendition of "Happy Together" by The Turtles. (Did I mention my daughter is a beautiful, straight A student? Yeah, I'm really proud of her.) Next, my husband and I took turns reading to our son. I read Elizabeth Jane Gets Dressed with an English accent, and then I lay down with him, and he asked for a story about at pig with no name, so I made one up. I'll spare you that bit. When he fell asleep I came back to my computer to write, which is what I do most nights instead of watching TV.

Are my children neglected? No. Is my house a mess? Yes, but luckily I have a husband who helps with the children and the tidying. Anyway, don't worry, I won't invite you over any time soon.

March 16, 2010

The Not Good Enoughs

Have you met the Not Good Enoughs? They are a large family, and some of them live in my brain. I'm guessing they're camped in the back right curve of my skull where it always feels like I've slept on my ponytail. There's Not Good Enough Mother, Not Good Enough Writer, Not Good Enough Wife, Not Good Enough Daughter. I could go on.

Often their cousin Not Smart Enough visits for an undetermined amount of time. He's one of those slacker relatives who sits on the couch for weeks watching TV and not helping with the tidying up.

Ok, I don't really have a real-life relative like that, but I have an idea about how much that visit would make my head throb.

My friend Laura says that my thinking I'm not smart is a lot like a skinny person looking in the mirror and saying, "I'm so fat." I had a friend like that once, and that conversation went stale faster than a McDonald's Happy Meal, so I have to remember to thank Laura for putting up with my insecurities for the last fifteen years.

I could blame it on my dad, who used to sing to me, "Fish Head, Fish Head, dumber than most kids, the dumbest we know. . ." to the tune of "Flipper," but it's long since past time to get over that old hurt. Although, Fish Head Soup is my little way of reclaiming the epithet.

So I have this new friendly neighborhood therapist. Actually, she's not in my neighborhood at all, but that's neither here nor there. She wants me to evict the Not Good Enoughs and their relatives, and insists that if I write argumentative responses to my negative thoughts, in Stewart-Smalleyesque fashion, these thoughts will run away.

I haven't been able to do it. Partly I haven't taken the time, and partly I am unable to come up with a response, which just perpetuates the cycle of ugliness. So now I'm wondering why I'm so reluctant to give up these thoughts. They must be doing something for me. I haven't quite figured out what that is, but I think it might have something to do with giving up, or with not taking risks, or trying at all. If I'm not going to succeed because I'm not good enough, I shouldn't even bother, right? I should just be slothful, sit on the couch, watch TV.

Since I've been thinking about writing this blog I've had Shel Silverstein's "Listen to the Mustn'ts" stuck in my head, but I could only remember the first five lines.

Listen to the MUSN'TS, child,
Listen to the DONT'S
Listen to the SHOULDN'TS
Listen to the NEVER HAVES. . .

Just now I cracked open my ancient copy of Where the Sidewalk Ends and found the last lines:

Then listen close to me--
Anything can happen child,
ANYTHING can be.

Enough said.

March 15, 2010

Movie Chatter

When Sparkle Mama and I agreed to meet for a Friday night showing of Alice in Wonderland, it didn't occur to me that the theater would be sardine-packed with teenie boppers. It's probably wrong of me, but I tend to be nervous about viewing a movie with young people because they are, at times, noisy and texty.

I don't mind sitting through a cartoon with a bunch of chattering children. I expect that. It does bother me when young adults and sometimes even seemingly mature adults yak it up with each other, on their cell phones, or even in texts. I know texting isn't talking, but that little rectangular square of cell phone light is like a flitting mosquito distracting me from my enjoyment so that I'm no longer able to suspend my disbelief. I want to crush it.

Before Buckaroo, R and I had every other weekend free as Sweet P spent them with her dad, so he and I would see one or two movies in a weekend, but at some point we realized that we came away from the movie angrier with the audience than pleased with the show.

In fact the last movie I saw before popping out the Buckaroo was Music and Lyrics. Was it one of the best movies of all time? No. Was it going to win any Academy Awards? No. But I knew it was the last movie I was going to see in the theater for years, possibly, and I wanted to hear what the actors were saying.

The people behind me had other ideas and clearly wanted me to hear their critique of the movie, which they thought was wretched. Why didn't they just leave? I considered asking them. I finally shushed them, and when the lights came on I stood up and flung by whale of a belly in their faces. Well, I wish I had.

Here's what NPR movie reviewer Linda Holmes has to say about it:
"Here's the thing: If I'm at the movies, I'm not there to think about you. You are there to think about you (apparently), and the difference in our level of absorption in the film is a little like the difference between deep sleep and light sleep -- by the time you talk, you've already pulled away from the movie; you're prepared to hear yourself talk; only your light sleep is disturbed. But for me, you talk out of nowhere; you yank on my attention like you've suddenly got a fishhook in my mouth. And once you do it, I know you might do it again, and in reality, I can never get back into that deep sleep again."

Somehow I had forgotten about my audience frustration until Sparkle Mama and I were walking out of the theater, and I realized that we were discussing the movie instead of the audience. In fact, I haven't been annoyed by an audience once since moving to Massachusetts.

I don't know if the difference is a city/small town thing or an east coast/west coast thing, but whatever it is, I like it! So there's one reason for staying here. That and the Marshmallow Fluff.

Fiction for Dessert

I re-worked an excerpt from my long/short story for Fiction for Dessert's flash fiction contest. It was a really good exercise in cutting out the fat.

Don't fret, more on that story coming soon-- or maybe you're all hoping that was the end? In any case, I'm working on it.

Check it out!

March 14, 2010

Alice in Underland

Did you know that Helena Bonham Carter and Tim Burton are domestic partners? You probably did. But did you know that they live in adjoining houses with an attached door because they don't think they could live in the same house (according to Wiki)? I guess that makes them neighbors more than domestic partners. They do have two children together, though. Sometimes that happens with neighbors. Just kidding, of course. I don't know much about them as people, but as far as the roles she chooses and the films he directs, it appears they have much in common.

Here's a photo of their oldest little guy, Billy Ray Burton. His little sister, Nell, is just a wee bit younger than Buckaroo.

I wonder how it would be to see your mother perform as Bellatrix Lestrange.

Strangely, none of that is what I came here to say. Many of my mama friends have been wondering if Alice in Wonderland is appropriate for their little ones. I usually go to The Movie Mom for questions like this, but I didn't see a review of this one.

The movie is rated PG, and while all kids are different, Sweet P wouldn't have enjoyed Alice until around age nine. There are battle scenes, bloody dismembered fingers, slobbery, toothy chases, and a few eye-pluckings. We definitely won't be taking Buckaroo.

I am embarrassed to admit I haven't read either of the books on which the movie is based, but according to other reviews it doesn't much stick to the storyline. There's no dragon in the real deal, for instance.

If you do go, notice that Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp) occasionally breaks into a Scottish brogue. I didn't believe that Depp was incapable of maintaining his accent throughout the movie and figured it was intended. Sure enough, Depp says in an interview that he was trying to highlight Hatter's schizophrenia.

While I did enjoy his recitation of some "Jabberwocky," I don't know if the accent did its job. The visuals were stunning, though, and Sweet P would have been especially enthralled with Alice's costume changes. I love the voice of Alan Rickman as the caterpillar, so deep, wise, and kind of creepy. Mia Wasikowska's performance is meh, but she's supposed to be stand-offish. She does add to the film's beauty, but in the end I just didn't really care if Alice survived her trip through Wonderland.

March 10, 2010

Spies, Blue Bloods, and Japanese Kittens

We now interrupt our regularly scheduled program to bring you this announcement:

Sweet P just finished the third in a series of teen spy books by Ally Carter. The first is titled, I'd Tell You I Love You but then I'd Have to Kill You. When I asked if they were anything like Harriet the Spy, Sweet P tried to conceal her eye-rolling.

"I like how she describes, like, spy gadgets and stuff," Sweet P says of Carter. "There's a bunch of cool stuff that's interesting."

Did I mention Sweet P is thirteen?

After a quick Googling, I was unable to ascertain whether these books are written by committee, (sigh), but not too long ago Sweet P announced that she had no interest in reading -- partly, we now understand, because her English teacher makes her read story after story about sports (not a hot topic in our house)-- so I'm happy if she picks up anything resembling pages of words.

While waiting for the fourth spy book to arrive from the library she's re-reading the Harry Potter series for what might actually be the 500th time. I need to re-read them so I can keep up with her in-depth HP discussion topics (including, "Why did Dumbledore smile when Harry said that Voldemort took his blood?" Feel free to respond!) but we did have a rousing conversation about plagiarism vs. fair use at the dinner table, and went on to tackle the differences between writing a novel and a screen play or reading a novel and watching the film, because:

Today I finished listening to Edith Wharton's The Age of Innocence
on cd. I watched the movie years ago with my mother (the Daniel Day-Lewis version), and all I could remember of it was one big moment-- which I won't describe for those who haven't experienced it-- that came as such a surprise to me. When I was listening, though, I was able to pick up on the foreshadowing I'd missed in the movie, and I wondered if I'd missed the foreshadowing because I'm not really a visual person, or because it wasn't there. I need to see the movie again, I guess. It's been nearly 20 years. R says he picks up on foreshadowing in movies much better than he does in books, and I wonder if that says something about our different learning styles. He's all visual.

I admit that I have tried to read The Age of Innocence, but I get a little antsy with it. I love how there's so much brewing, nearly erupting, underneath the nothing that's happening in Wharton's stories, but it takes a patient soul to wait out the nothingness, and I am short on patience. Maybe that's the result of too much TV. In any case, listening to the book in the car was a perfect solution because I couldn't be distracted by, oh, say, Facebook. Also, I'm really an auditory learner, it turns out, so I may even attempt to listen to Moby Dick one day-- don't hold me to it. Buckaroo doesn't even mind listening to my books most of the time, but I'm sure he'd rather we'd listen to Max and Ruby if he thought it a possibility, which brings me to his picks:

He loves all of the Max and Ruby books by Rosemary Wells, but he particularly likes Max Cleans Up, in which Max's bossy big sister Ruby helps Max clean his room, and when she's not looking (where is their mother, by the way?) Max stuffs his favorite treasures-- sand, ants, gooey goop, and a popsicle-- into his pocket.

I find Ruby rather annoying, but Buckaroo said to R the other day, "I like Ruby. She's bossy." He then went on to point out that I am also bossy, and it just occurred to me that Buckaroo may have been trying to tell R that they are attracted to the same sort of woman.

Buckaroo and I both really enjoy Wells's Yoko books. Yoko is a Japanese kitten who is teased in kindergarten because she doesn't know the English alphabet and brings sushi for lunch. It's hard to know if Buckaroo is learning the lesson of kindness offered at the end of the book or if he's taking away from it that teasing is fun. Time will tell, but we have many conversations about kindness during story time. My favorite of these books is Yoko's Paper Cranes because it's about Yoko moving away from her grandparents and finding a way to show them she loves them-- a subject near to my heart. I thought about teaching Buckaroo to make paper cranes, and then I found a whole lesson plan. The letter writing piece might be a bit advanced, but maybe he could dictate.

And Poor R is not reading anything interesting because he's studying for a big test. Well, maybe he thinks the techie stuff is fun, but it's no Harry Potter, that's for sure. I'd try to explain it, but it's beyond me. He may have his own bloggity blog one day, though, so I'll keep ya posted-- if you're so inclined.