Saturday, December 09, 2006

they say you have an eelness

Hamish has an ear infection. I am already slipping in the memory department and cannot remember if he's had one or two or none before. I only have hazy recollections of storing thick milky antibiotics in the fridge at various times in his short history. But yesterday he was more listless than I've ever seen him before, so that could be why I can't say for sure whether he's had this particular sickness. "They say you have an eelness." Quick! What's that from? I can't recall the name of the movie (my memory again!) but it was Julia Roberts to John Malkovich in her first and last period role (thank God), complete with "Scottish" accent and minimal glamazon smiles. Unless you count Erin Boobovich as a period film.

Okay here's something spooky coincidental--I just googled John Malkovich to verify the spelling of his last name and peek at the title of that flop I just mentioned (Mary Reilly) and guess what? His birthday is today. And so is Kim's ( Happy birthday you two! Is that not bizarre? Wowow. So Hamish is taking his medicine like a champ and is on the mend which means I'm gaining a pep in my step as well. It's all good. Of course Bryan and I are hocking all sorts of chartreuse clams but whatEVER. It's sort of fun. All the gooey gunk our bodies make...

I wanted to talk about something else, oh yeah, this book my mom gave me called, "The Blessing of a Skinned Knee: Using Jewish Teachings to Raise Self-Reliant Children," by Wendy Mogel, Ph.D. She read that article in the Times and got one for herself and one for me. I'm only a couple chapters in but am already a convert, and Shabbas dinners are taking on a glowy romantic allure even though I'm a Hebrew school drop-out and mostly shun organized religion.

But this book is really about parenting no matter what your religious background, and it makes a couple points that resonate with me. One is that parents allow their kids to make and participate in decision-making to a degree where the child feels anxious instead of empowered. Bryan and I fall into the trap of asking Hamish what he wants when it's not appropriate for him to decide, and Hamish illustrates our mistake by squirming and getting ornery. He's two and half years old. He doesn't always know what he wants, even if we think he does. So we work on this issue.

The other point is that our expectations of kids are unrealistic and cause even further anxiety. For instance, girls, says Mogel, are expected to excel in everything, and one high school girl is quoted as saying, "...I sometimes feel that if I don't personally solve the problem of hunger in Rwanda I will be a failure..." When I read this section, I thought of the anxiety I feel as a mom, to not only be the perfect mom who cooks nutritious and exciting meals and has an endless activity list lodged in my brain to stimulate my kids, but to be the perfect mom who also works. When well-meaning people ask me if I'm working on my next novel, for instance, I invariably find myself practically apologizing for not writing, instead of gently but firmly reminding them that my daughter hasn't even celebrated her first birthday. And I almost always feel resentful of the question, because I take it to mean that I am failing by not having a completed novel to show them. I honestly believe that I should bounce Frankie on my lap while I write, not blog, but write a novel that will make money. I don't even have an idea for my next novel.

I tell myself and others that I am gaining new subject matter now by just living my life, but I still fall into the "should" trap again and again, and think, what's wrong with me that I'm not signing another publishing contract by now? But when Wendy Mogel says that it's parents who place these unrealistic expectations on their kids, I can't honestly say that my parents did that to me. Other things, yes, but not that. I was never one of those over-scheduled kids. It wasn't my generation's identifying issue. I survived all sorts of other parenting gaffes, but high expectations wasn't one of them. So who did place such anxiety-provoking expectations on me? Well I would have to say it was Gwyneth Paltrow.

See, in my former life, I wanted to be an actress. More to the point, I wanted to be a movie star. And I took acting classes and memorized monologues, wrote a one-woman show, got my headshots done and acted in a bevy of forgettable and embarrassing student films (except yours Nara and Ben! Yours were GOOD). And I thought I had as much right to the movie star throne as anyone else who sat there did.

Well, we know I never got to sit on that throne, but the feeling of falling short clung to me like a toddler with an ear infection. And so I have this anxiety. And it all makes sense that last night, when I was talking on the phone with the very talented and ambitious producer/screenwriter/director who optioned my novel, I made an offhand remark that if I weren't so unambitious, lame, and steeped in motherhood, I would try my hand at writing the screenplay. Which is so maddeningly self-deprecating, not to mention the fact that, and I don't think I'm alone here, that since we don't get paid to parent, it somehow falls short as an impressive profession. It wins tons of accolaides from Oprah, who often says, "Parenting is the hardest job," but you don't see her doing it.

Anyway. The point is that when I'm just living my life, I don't feel that I'm lacking, and when I don't feel that I'm lacking, I don't get anxious. The healthy part of me knows that being a full-time mom (and blogger) is plenty, and plenty fulfilling. And that life is long, God willing, and there will be tons of time to work and write when the kids are in school, and that I'd better appreciate the present moment because it won't be long before Hamish and Stella want nothing to do with me, in that pimply, pube-sprouting way. And I know that even though she and her P.R. team say otherwise, Gwyneth's kids see a lot less of her than my kids see of me. Because it's been ages since I hit Sundance to tout my directorial debut, attended my husband's Coldplay concerts on any given continent, or got snapped on the red carpet dressed in finery that took a team of twelve two days to perfect. And that's fine in my book. Amen.


Cari said...

Allegedly Grace Paley wrote short stories rather than novels because, as a mother, that was what she could make time for. Amy Bloom told a friend of mine with two kids (before I was a mom) not to try to write when your kids are very young because who has the time and you can get back to it when they're in school. Mary Morris says that it's possible to be a mother and a working writer but the key is to have only one kid...
...from all of which I take away the fact that we each have to find what works for us. Putting the writing aside while the kids are young doesn't make someone any less of a writer. Needing to continue with the writing (or other art-making etc) in whatever small time one can eek out while the kids are young doesn't make someone less of a mom... Whatever each of us needs to do.

Also...I have such fond memories of Shabbat dinners when I was growing up. Though I consider myself Jewish by heritage but not religion, we will be having Shabbat dinner complete with candles and challah etc etc once the kid is a bit older. I think ritual and tradtion can be a really really good thing for a family.

(And feel better, Ry!)

Amelia Plum said...

But what about Britney Spears, now there's a hands on Mom ;) Obviously she doesn't thinking going out partying without panties for 2 weeks will hurt her chances in the custody battle. Oh Hollywood, it's like Peter Pan populated with a bunch of children who never grow up even if they do reproduce.

Not only do I share a birthday with John Malkovich but Donny Osmond & the late Redd Foxx... a few other people too, but these three are my favorites. I see absolutely no similiar traits with any of these people aside from being involved in the entertainment industry but can you imagine having a dinner with these 3?

That parenting book sounds great, I'll have to look into it.

I think I'm starting to see the differences in Ry and Frankie's baby pitctures. Frankie's got a fauxhawk and her lips and eyes/eyebrows look different. that picture of her with Carolyn is so cute