Friday, May 6, 2016

Dear Lamenters of 1970s Parenting:

I know.  We know.  WE GET IT.  The outdoors, drinking from hoses, sunshine, bike riding without helmets, outside from sunup to sundown, Mom smoking Kools at the kitchen table kicking you out of the house, no television, kids had consequences, Moms made dinner every night, WE GET IT.
There really is no way to over-emphasize how weary I am of seeing this complaint on Facebook.  MY DAD SPANKED ME AND I BECAME RESPECTFUL.  “In the 1970s, my mom barely knew I was alive!”  “I didn’t wear a helmet and I lived!” 

I mean, great for you.

Can we please stop romanticizing parenting of the past?  Parenting in the 1970s bears absolutely no resemblance to parenting today.  There is virtually no aspect of life that is the same, owing to technological advance and, you know, common sensical things like the benefits of wearing a seatbelt when driving 70 miles per hour down a highway.  Life as we know it is so drastically unlike life from my childhood that I sometimes wonder if I came from another planet.  A quaint, archaic planet carpeted in shag, with olive appliances.

Let’s break it down a little, shall we?


"My mother kicked us outdoors when the sun came up, and told us not to come back until dinnertime!”

I mean, great.  That would be excellent, and I would love to do that now, but for one weeeeeensy little change from the 1970s:  The 24-hour news cycle.  Every time a child goes missing (well, a blond/blue-eyed child, but that’s a whole OTHER kettle of fish), it’s instant, national news.  And the repetitive nature of the 24-hour news cycle means this story is shoved down our collective throats repeatedly over the course of several days.  Cameraphones and video improvements mean we see security footage of the child’s last known moments over and over again.  We’re haunted and fascinated by gruesome details that are parsed out between commercial breaks.

Once you've seen video footage of a child riding a bicycle into, apparently, oblivion, seventeen times in twenty-four hours, you tend to be a little gun-shy about letting your kid roam around outside alone.  If you can blithely let your kid walk out the door after seeing that image repeatedly, then you’re either a better person than I am or an utter sociopath.

The inevitable result of this?  Less kids go out to play, because as parents we’re increasingly frightened of predators and accidents alike.  When less kids go out to play, even less parents begin allowing their own kids out.  I don’t know about you, but when I allow my kid outside, it’s usually because there’s a roving pack of neighborhood boys about, and there remains a modicum of safety in numbers.

So stop telling me how you went outside for fourteen hours a day in 1984, and implying that I’m a lesser parent somehow for not attempting to shoehorn a thirty-year-old practice into a 2016 world.


“We spent our time in creative pursuits!  We didn’t spend all our time staring at iPads or on computers!  We played with Legos and built with blocks and LEARNED THINGS!”

Okay.  Have you seen the things you can do on an iPad?  Have you watched your kid interact with a video game, or a computer? 

I loved Legos as a kid.  I built houses with them, and my sister and I would make up little kiddie Peyton-Place-type soap operas.  Legos were an amazing creative outlet for me.

You know what my ten-year-old does?  Constructs his own houses in Minecraft.  These elaborate, gorgeous, detailed houses that blow me away.  He can use different texture packs to make the materials look any way he wants them; he can use mods to input works of art or different plants.  Minecraft in creative mode is like Legos on steroids.  If Minecraft had been around when I was ten years old, I would be as addicted to it as my son is.  It’s creative, it’s dynamic, it’s constantly evolving because of new modifications and packs and user contributors, and it is amazing

He also plays his fair share of banal, everyday video games -- shoot-em-up games, Call of Duty, that sort of thing.  But I really don’t see how the ever-changing worlds in those games are more detrimental to the child mind than replaying that perpetually mind-numbing twentieth board of Frogger I could never get past.


We were never really a spanking family, even in the 1980s.  If you don’t have the same talent as my mother for leveling one’s entire ego with one flat, disappointed gaze, then I don’t know what to tell you. 

It tells me something that resolution in this world is rarely achieved through might; and even when it is, you still have to hash out the peace after the fighting stops.  The pen truly is mightier than the sword, and frankly I think everyone would do better to realize that. 

In our family we have always preferred to destroy people emotionally anyway.


“My mother made us dinner every night!”

Hokay.  I mean, not to denigrate anyone’s mother’s cooking, but do you remember the stuff you ate as a kid?  I love my mother, and she’s an excellent cook; but even moms who are dedicated to this task end up shoveling out cream-of-crap tater-tot casseroles once in a while. 

(Note:  Oh, God, you have to read that recipe.)

In the 1970s and 1980s, I daresay there were also a whole hell of a lot more mothers staying home all day, who had more time to plan, prepare and implement a meal.  Rather than, say, me, who scrambles to get home with children before six pm, and can never attempt anything on a weeknight that requires more than twenty minutes.  Even twenty minutes is a stretch when you have a three-year-old charging like an enraged bull at the refrigerator screaming for CHEESE SNACKS YOGURT BERRIES MOMMY I WANT SOMETHING TO EAT CHIPS WANT CHIPS


“My parents never even asked if I had homework.  Kids today don’t take any responsibility for their own schoolwork because their parents do it for them.”

To whoever came up with that little gem:  Do you even have kids?  Because I cannot even tell you how many times my son has come home with school projects that explicitly require my assistance.  As in, LITERALLY TELL ME I HAVE TO DO PART OF IT.  And no, I do not want to have to help anyone create a solar system.  I don’t want to work on PowerPoints when I get home from work after creating PowerPoints all day.  I already went to school. 

If you really want any of this to change, you have to start with the teachers who are requiring me to sign ten agendas/behavior sheets/time-out slips/ouch reports every single day.  Start with the teachers whose project outlines blithely say, “Parents can help by constructing a scale model of the Sistine Chapel while students write a one-paragraph, syntactically irregular poem about trees.”
Don’t come to me with this stuff.


“In my day, keeping score was a way to lose gracefully!  Participation trophies are disgraceful!  You shouldn’t get anything just for showing up!”

Firstly, as someone whose utter lack of any kind of physical grace virtually guaranteed her a right-field spot for four years in the Vienna Ponytail Softball League, fuck you.  These kinds of things were very clearly written by sneering coaches’ daughters who played first base or pitcher, who were blessed with coordination and excellent eyesight, and who never failed to take advantage of those gifts by systematically destroying the self-esteem of every lesser player on the team. 

By virtue of putting up with the insults, the backhanded comments, the eyerolls every time I dropped a ball, and the suggestions that “she should sit out this inning, because the score is too close,” I EARNED THAT PARTICIPATION TROPHY.  

And so does every other kid who optimistically joins a sport, learns to work with people they might otherwise avoid like a pile of athletically-gifted snot, and spends a few months running up and down a field for, basically, no very good reason that I can see.

Secondly, as a parent whose kid has played soccer in youth leagues for a few years now, don’t kid yourselves.  No score is officially recorded, but everyone, from the parents to the kids on the teams, still keeps score.  We all know who’s winning and who’s losing.  Announcing it on a scoreboard doesn’t change that, and it doesn’t lessen the impact.

Being a parent is SO hard.  Sometimes because the kid is difficult, but mainly because other people’s expectations of you are insurmountable and their goals unreachable.  In the 1980s, nobody had mommy blogs.  Or Pinterest.  Or Facebook, or Instagram.  Our mothers weren’t constantly bombarded with friends’ glossy, filtered photos of perfect birthday parties, or effortless casual style.  Your mom smoking Kools wasn’t opening her door to find Maria fucking Kang with her abs of steel, yelling, “What’s YOUR excuse?”.  Nobody extolled to her the virtues of roasting kale leaves.  She didn’t know any better, and she didn’t know any worse, either. 

That said, you know what I do have in common with my own mom from the 1980s?  Both of us are simply trying to get through this with a modicum of dignity and the hope that our kids don’t end up atop a clock tower somewhere with an automatic weapon.  Both of us just kinda want our kids to grow up and get nice jobs they like and have nice lives they’re happy with.  Both of us are desperately pretending we know what we’re doing.  We’re doing the best we can.

So stop pushing me.  And roasted kale tastes terrible.


Friday, March 11, 2016

Warm Weather Movies

I hate summer; let me just say that right from the start.  Summer as a kid was fantastic.  It meant no school and freedom and all that amazing stuff.  Summer as an adult just means my skirts are going to stick to me in unflattering ways and everyone in the office complains when I take vacation and emails me anyway.

Warm-weather movies, however, are my jam.  Even if they're sweaty, they're amazing looking.  Even if it's supposed to be a hundred million degrees, everyone's hair is perfectly windblown.  The heat is never too much, nobody ever seems to have to work when it's 95 degrees out, and everyone lunches outdoors.  The only possible exception to this theory was the movie "Jaws."  Everyone in that movie looks like six kinds of hammered shit, which, as I understand from the AMC "Behind the Movies" special, they were.

CAVEAT:  There are some spoilers here, so if you're the sort who will whine about that in the comments, just stop, man.  Nobody wants your kind here.

10.  A Time To Kill (1996).

Okay, this is kind of a brutal movie.  BUT, in its defense, it's also intensely interesting; and the season and location are as much of a character as anyone human in the cast.  An old-school Matthew McConaghey doesn't hurt much, either.

See?  GLOWING PERFECTLY.  Her hair isn't even falling.  What the FUCK?

9.  Dazed and Confused (1993)

This movie came out just after I graduated from high school.   And all I have to say is, in June in Northern Virginia, it was about 90 degrees with 90% humidity.  This movie is supposed to be in TEXAS, and these kids are all roaming around aimlessly and sweatlessly in jeans and long-sleeved shirts.
Texas kids in the 70s were born without sweat glands.
That said, it's the perfect early-summer movie.  We are all poor dumb Mitch, who stumbles into an entire universe of possibility.  Even if he DOES end up hooking up with the girl who literally looks like she's thirty years old, we all have that one night we remember from teenaged summers that sticks with us.

8.  Jaws 2 (1978)

Three years after the dark, better original, Jaws 2 came out.  It lacks the depth of the original, but includes all the fun of a really good slasher flick -- on catamarans and dingys.  (Seriously, it's evidence of how crazy shit was that the idea of allowing a teenager to just ... randomly sail off with his epically stunted friends into the Atlantic was a totes-okay thing back then).

So -- yeah.  The 1978 answer to Greg Brady, Chief Brody's son Mike, goes out with his goofball friends to randomly sail around for a while.  Through shark-infested waters.  And takes his little brother.  It's worth noting here that when I first saw this movie at age ten, in 1986, I had a crush on the character of Doug.  I still kind of do.
He seems DEEP!  He READS!  Shut up.
Naturally the great white shark zeroes in on this group of kids, because he knows a service to humanity when he sees it.  And even though they're being threatened by a massive shark with a serious grudge, everyone STILL LOOKS PRETTY FUCKING GOOD.  I'd have wet my pants and started tearing out my hair by this point, which may be why my husband has never taken me sailing.
Don't let death get in the way of good hair product, y'all.
7.  Now and Then (1995)

This movie sort of encapsulates pre-teen summer stuff for me.  Riding your bikes to get popsicles, swimming wherever the hell you felt like it, and, most particularly, that ONE SCENE where Gaby Hoffman goes home after fighting, and drops her bike in the yard and strides into the house like a badass.  We ALL had that kind of day once in a while, where you wander into the house for dinner like you fucking own it, reeking of dirt and that peculiar metal smell from chain-link fences and playground swings.

To say nothing of those pre-teen girl relationships that were so intense and all-consuming, it was like you were all nearly the same person.  It was only when you hit high school that you started to see the differences -- and hence, some of the cracks.

Also, once again -- hot enough to swim naked in a stream, not hot enough to sweat.

6.  Live From Baghdad (2002)

You probably haven't seen this one; it's kind of obscure.  But it's absolutely worth a watch, because it's about the growth of the 24-hour news cycle, and it's kind of captivating.  Still -- Baghdad in August?  I give you perfectly imperfect hair.

5.  Stealing Beauty (1996)

Italy, presumably during the summer; perfect hair for everyone.  That said, this movie gets it right in ways I'd never seen until then.  This, I think, is considered one of Bernardo Bertolucci's lightweight films; but it is so beautiful.  You can nearly feel the dust from the roads and the sun on your arms -- but, naturally, no sweating.

4.  Shag (1989)

YOU GUYS.  If you haven't seen this movie, you must.  Phoebe Cates, Bridget Fonda, Annabeth Gish, and a seriously hot Robert Rusler.  Just graduated from high school, four Southern girls run away to Myrtle Beach in 1963, before one of them is set to get married, as a last hurrah.  I envied Phoebe Cates's effortless tan here as a kid; and true to life at the beach, most of it takes place with the various cast members in bathing suits.  But -- perfect bubble flip, man.

"You ever see The Hustler?"
That first time alone at the beach without your parents is ... pretty much like this.  Totally disorienting, and sometimes life-changing.  And generally full of questionable alcoholic concoctions of one type or another.

3.  Before Sunrise (1995)

This one hits home for me, because nearly all of my trips to the European continent have been in the summertime.  And there is nothing like the smell of a large European city in the summer.  Like bus fumes and cigarette smoke and oranges, baked bread and heated pavement.  There's a sort of recklessness inspired by a city about which you know nothing, in which you do not know the language.  There's a freedom from fear that should, in and of itself, be frightening; but isn't.  And very much like Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy, you wander, aimlessly, fearlessly, sure that even if you don't quite know your place in the world, you can sure as fuck articulate it.  

"Night in the park?  No problem.  Dew is Nature's hair serum."
I also found this movie so believable, mainly because when you're in a new place by yourself, anyone speaking your language becomes, immediately and without question, someone who speaks your language.  The sweet, flooding relief of finding someone who can understand you, literally, very often leads to those kinds of conversations in which you try to make them understand you, figuratively.  I've had a night sort of like this, on Bastille Day in Paris one summer, and the near-desperation for connection lends everything a kind of hallucinatory air.  The next morning you really can't believe you did or said those things, or that they were accepted or encouraged with such ease and aplomb. 

And because of that otherwordliness, I fucking hated the sequels.  These people should never have met again; because meeting again sucks all the magic right out of nights like this.  How do you ruin a perfect, magical night when you're 22?  Re-set it twenty years later when you're 40, when you remember all the perfectly cringeworthy things you said that seemed totally deep at the time.

2.  Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958)

NOBODY makes summer in Mississippi look as good as Elizabeth Taylor and Paul Newman.  This movie is all drama, all the time; but all those slamming screen doors and glasses clinking with ice make this one of my favorite summer movies of all time.  Some movies are more about atmosphere than plot, and this is one of them for me.  I honestly (and maybe flamefully) could not give less of a damn about Brick and Maggie the Cat; I just want to look at them as they move through that room, spitting at one another.

1.  Romancing the Stone (1984)

Jungles.  Sailboats.  Crashed airplanes full of marijuana.  Danny DeVito.  A giant emerald.  And a romance novelist hermit who ends up in the middle of a kidnapping.  This movie kind of has everything, including Kathleen Turner's perfect 80s perm.

What I love the most about this movie is the transformation of Joan Wilder.  She starts out looking like this:

And ends up, after several days kicking around a jungle being chased by bad guys, looking like this:

I mean... must be nice.


I'm sure I'm leaving a lot off this list -- Wet Hot American Summer, obvs; Meatballs, Friday the Thirteenth, all the camp stuff.  You don't like it?  Go make your own list.