Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Watching Local News with a Too Aware 8-Year-Old

I stopped watching local news years ago. It was Jeffrey Dahmer that did it. This was in 1991. One story of the bodies found in his apartment was enough. But 20 minutes of a 25-minute newscast, for days at a time, with each story giving more gruesome details, was more than I could take. Sometimes the headlines are all we need.

When I've glimpsed local news since then – mostly when my parents are in town – I see it hasn't gotten much better. It's occurred to me that during the 20 years since I stopped watching local news, Illinois has had two governors convicted of crimes, the country has witnessed the dismantling of any safeguards on our financial system, we've seen scores of kids killed while standing on the street corner, our education system has lowered dramatically compared with the rest of the world (we are now ranked 18 out of 36 industrialized nations) and we've been plunged into a recession. I wonder how much better our country would be if the broadcast media had focused on any of these things before they became out of control and did damage. Instead, we got cursory looks at the stock market, against the backdrop of incessant reporting on Jeffrey Dahmer or Casey Anthony or Balloon Boy or OJ.

But I digress.

Recently, a friend of mine has been touting WGN news in the morning as fun and entertaining, while still reporting about important things. So, since I was wide awake at 5:30 this morning, I headed downstairs to get in a quick workout – and thought I'd see what the show was all about.

Problem is, I wasn't alone. Ever since her other mom (her Uma) moved to Florida last month, Dixon has been my shadow. I can't pee without her following me – even at 3am. This morning, just as I tried to sneak downstairs, her head popped up. So off we trudged together.

Friday, August 26, 2011

The Consequences of Children

Delaney has been hard tonight. She threw a fit doing homework because I wouldn’t tell her the answers. She threw a fit during showers because she wanted to read after and I said to read while her sister was in the shower. Dixon just asked me if I would cuddle them for a little while after they got in bed. I said, “I don’t know. I need some time for myself.” And then I walked away. A few minutes later, I came back to see how Delaney was doing in the shower, and Dixon was sitting on her bed pensively. She simply looked up at me and said, “But mommy, that’s the consequences of having children. You have to love them and cuddle them and listen to them and do homework with them and spend time with them.”

I pretended I was mad at her. But really, I was appreciating the real consequences of having children.

Later, I was sitting in the kitchen and she came out and said, “See you think you spend too much time with us, and we think you don’t spend enough time with us. That’s the problem.”

I took her to her room and cuddled her. What choice did I have?

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The Wisdom of Women: Dead Mothers in Children’s Television and Film

Hannah Montana’s mother is dead.

Well, Hannah Montana is a fictional character who’s the alter ego of Miley Stewart, another fictional character played by Miley Cyrus, who’s a real person. Miley Cyrus’ mother is alive and well. Miley Stewart’s mother is dead. In the show, she would come back to her in dreams, played by Brooke Shields.

My daughters watched “Hannah Montana” until it went off the air last season. This means that I watched “Hannah Montana” until it went off the air last season. This is one of the sacrifices of motherhood. Believe me.

The show was about a very well-adjusted young woman who wants to keep herself well-adjusted by not being pulled into the trappings of fame. But she wants to be famous. So she creates an alter ego, who is fantastically famous, while she lives a “normal” life as a teenager.

In the show.

In real life, the character Hannah Montana also became fantastically famous. Unlike the show, in real life Miley Cyrus is fantastically famous, too.

There are a couple of things that always bothered me about the show. The first is that the ostensible premise is to look at the downside of fame, and the trade-offs that get made when one leaves the world of anonymity for the Hollywood star factory. But the show never explored that fascinating premise. Instead, it was a cookie cutter sit-com about being loyal to your friends, and following through, and not cheating, and being responsible—typical storylines for 7-12 year-olds (which, by the way, is younger than the demographic of the teenage characters).

Why set a show around such an interesting premise if you’re never going to use it?

The other issue I had with “Hannah Montana” is that at the start of the show, the 12-year-old Hannah had no mother – and didn’t seem to be bothered by that at all. The kid had no emotional or identity issues as she went through her teenage years – you know, the time when we often measure ourselves against and push away from our MOTHERS.

Name me a 12-year-old who has lost her mother who doesn’t think about her every day? Name me a well-adjusted teenager who, even as she insists her mother is ruining her life, really doesn’t go to her for help or advice, or to buy the prom dress or show her grades to?

This was a show about identity, and having a mother who dies when you’re a child certainly affects your view of who you are. Yet they completely ignored it.

At first I thought this was a good thing, an opportunity to teach my children about death, and impermanence, and living life to the fullest. At first I thought there was some depth to the choice. Then I started noticing that Miley Stewart is not the only motherless character in children’s television and film.

They’re everywhere. Or, should I say, nowhere at all.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Riots and Fires and Looting, Oh My

The girls and I were in the car Tuesday morning listening to the BBC news about the riots in London. They talked to a shopkeeper, whose store was completely looted. He said, in an accent that I registered as not native London, that the last 10 years of his life had been wiped out. He said he called the police but they didn’t come. He was crying.

“Last night, when I was upstairs watching the news with you, they showed all those fires in London.”

It was Delaney, directly behind me, putting context to the anguish she had just heard.

“Yes,” I said, “there was rioting in London. People were angry and they were setting fires and destroying things, and stealing what they could get.”

At that moment, the BBC aired a 30-second or so interview with a bunch of teenagers who had been part of the riots. The interviewer asked them why they were doing this. There was no deep introspection in their answers. First they said it was the government’s fault; kids in the background could actually be heard yelling that it was the Conservatives who were in power who made them do it.  I wondered if they even knew what Conservatives were, or the policies they embodied. Then they said it was because of the way the police had treated them, and that it felt great to overpower the police. Then they blamed it on the rich people, the business people who have all the money and whose stores they looted.

“That’s not very responsible.”

It was Dixon, who apparently was listening as closely to this interview as I was.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Sisters and the Traveling Condom

The girls and I watched “Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2” last night. They had already seen part 1 at their other mom’s – where they have a tendency to watch things that are a little beyond my comfort zone. But part 1 seemed like a harmless movie, even though the girls made a point of telling me there was kissing in it. And part 2 was largely harmless, too

Until the condom broke.

To be fair, the scene between a couple of college freshman – who were played by and looked like and had the maturity of people in their late 20s – was pretty innocent. And actually well-acted by Amber Tamblyn – a name that I have heard in the ether, but have never connected to a face or a talent. And it really was mostly just kissing.

This is where I love watching things through my children’s eyes. The characters kissed. She hesitated, then nodded to him. He got excited and tore off his shirt. And they kissed some more. End of scene. It was all subtext. And my 8-year-olds were going, “Why is he so excited? What’s going on? Are they having sex?”


“Yes. She just said she’d have sex with him and I think it might be their first time.”

This is my philosophy – answer questions honestly as they come up. The girls know how women get pregnant. They know that most people have sex in order for the sperm to get into the woman and fertilize the egg. They know that’s not how they, themselves, were made. And they know that Finn from “Glee” wasn’t very smart in believing that sperm can travel in a hot tub and get a girl pregnant.

They know to be smart.

Which is why it pissed me off when the condom broke.