Posts tagged ‘mama at the movies’

Recent Writing

I’ve been busy this December, with a good week’s vacation in snowy Connecticut with my entire family (some pictures here) followed by three days at the annual Modern Language Association convention, reporting on the proceedings for Inside Higher Ed. You can read those articles here:

MLA Realities: Then and Now

The Quest for Balance and Support

Caring for Children and Their Parents

In the midst of all that, I watched an incredible documentary about how a group of Muslim and Christian women worked together to end Liberia’s fourteen-year civil war. Here’s an excerpt:

Ben and his friend were in the bedroom playing war. Because they are the kinds of boys they are, the game involved Legos and negotiation of the rules but very little discernible war play. Still, because I am the kind of mom I am, I suggested some other more friendly narratives in which to involve their Legos. Then three year-old Eli, who had been listening attentively to all sides of the conversation, shouted out his peace plan:

“All war, go home! Have dinner! Go to sleep!”

We laughed (me a bit ruefully) at Eli’s naiveté, but when I saw the new documentary Pray the Devil Back to Hell (Gini Reticker, 2008) I reconsidered Eli’s approach.

You can read the rest of the column over at Literary Mama.

Mama at the Movies: Who Does She Think She Is?

My late father-in-law was an artist. After attending art school on the G. I. Bill, he and his wife moved to Italy for two years so that he could paint and study. When the couple returned to California, his career blossomed with several shows a year, including a solo exhibition at San Francisco’s M. H. de Young Memorial Museum. But then his public career quieted, his output slowed; he shifted to smaller, more saleable projects like jewelry and jigsaw puzzles. I never understood this sharp turn in a successful career – had there been a devastating review? – until my first child was born and it occurred to me one day to map Jim’s career against his children’s birthdates. And there it was: sons born in 1967 and 1969; a rush of shows in 1969 and then fewer and fewer until just two in 1972, one in ’76, and then nothing for twenty years. It wasn’t the critics, I realized, but the kids.


I hadn’t really thought about the constraints of space and materials that visual artists work with until I watched Pamela Tanner Boll’s moving new documentary Who Does She Think She Is? (2008), which introduces us to several mother-artists and asks why, when making art and raising children are both crucial for our culture, it is so hard to do both. The film wants us to know about these mothers making art, and it puts their stories in the larger context of all women artists. Like all women, women artists find their work less well-known and less well-compensated than the work of their male contemporaries. Like all mothers, mother artists endure isolation from their peers, sleep deprivation, and myriad claims on their time which make it difficult to continue their careers. But they do.

Read more at Literary Mama!

Mama at the Movies: Baby Mama

The first I heard about the movie Baby Mama was when our accountant emailed this poster over and said “They stole your cover design!” Well, I don’t think we had a monopoly on the use of alphabet blocks, but still it somehow triggered a teeny sense of totally unreasonable resentment toward the movie, and that, coupled with a busy summer, meant I never got out to see it.

And then Sarah Palin was nominated for VP, and Tina Fey made Saturday Night Live relevant again, and I thought it might be worth checking out her movie. I wrote about it this week for Literary Mama; here’s an excerpt:

I lost sleep over the election. Partly because of my investment in the outcome, certainly, but also because for the first time since I was in my 20s, I regularly stayed up past my bedtime watching Tina Fey’s sharp Sarah Palin on Saturday Night Live. So when my family planned a relaxing weekend away with another family, I thought Fey’s recent comedy Baby Mama would be a good rental to toss in the bag. After a busy day at the pumpkin patch, we settled the kids into their beds and settled ourselves in front of the TV, prepared to be entertained.

Click on over to Literary Mama to read the rest! and while you’re there, check out columnist Karen Murphy’s newest installment of Motherhood from Afar; Elrena Evan’s Stepping Stones; Ona Gritz on Getting to Yes; and finally, if your kids are anything like mine, you’re still answering dozens of questions about the election, so check out Libby Gruner’s thoughts on political picture books in Running for Office.

Start Your Christmas Shopping Now!

OK, I realize I’ve been ignoring the blog a bit lately, but it’s been a busy time spreading the news about Mama, PhD. So I’m delighted to stop talking about that book (just for a moment) to announce the publication of my essay, “Wonderful Life,” in the new anthology, The Ultimate Christmas (Health Communications, Inc). The book is one-stop Christmas shopping, with essays, stories, recipes, pictures and advice on how to get through what can be a stressful holiday without losing sight of the magic. I’ve never shared space in a book with a martini recipe before, and I am well pleased. My piece is based on my Literary Column on It’s A Wonderful Life; here’s an excerpt:

Christmas Eve, 2002

It’s my first Christmas as a mom, and I as sit rocking infant Ben to sleep in the darkened room, I realize that the ubiquitous Christmas telecast of It’s A Wonderful Life (Frank Capra, 1946) is flickering on the ancient television. The sound is muted, but I remember the dialogue. George Bailey (Jimmy Stewart) has just learned that Uncle Billy misplaced the day’s deposit, and despite sacrificing his whole life for the Building & Loan, George is ruined. He can’t listen to his wife Mary cheerfully prattle on about their daughter Zuzu’s cold. He rages about the money spent on the doctor, their money-pit of a drafty house: “I don’t know why we don’t all have pneumonia!”

Ben stirs in his sleep and cries out. I hold my breath as I adjust his IV, which has tangled around my arm and pulled taut. I touch my lips to his sweaty head and he relaxes back into sleep. I exhale, relieved to have avoided another cycle of the anguished cries that raise his fever and bring the nurses running with another round of invasions.

We have pneumonia.

Go pick up a copy of The Ultimate Christmas to read the rest!

Mama at the Movies: What’s Your Point, Honey?

My new column’s up at Literary Mama; here’s an excerpt:

Ben first became interested in politics last winter, when his kindergarten teacher organized a peace march to celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday. The kids painted posters and made a wandering parade down to the Fillmore district of San Francisco, singing “Happy Birthday” and chanting “What do we want? Peace! When do we want it? Now!”

Now, Ben divides politicians into two camps: those who uphold MLK’s principles, and those who don’t. He has decided Obama is his candidate, will argue his opinion with his classmates, and has dedicated his sidewalk lemonade stand to raise money for the campaign. I only wish he could vote.

Instead, we’ve been reading political picture books like Gloria for President, and I’m keeping my eye out for movies about elections that are appropriate for kids. I had high hopes for the documentary I saw recently, What’s Your Point, Honey? (Amy Sewell–writer of Mad Hot Ballroom–and Susan Toffler, 2008), but it’s too talky for my young kids. Still, I think it would make a good conversation-starter to watch with boys and girls about ten and up.

Read the rest over at Literary Mama, where you can also read Violeta Garcia-Mendoza’s new column about starting preschool, Multi-Culti Mami, and new fiction, creative nonfiction, and a terrific new reading list, too!

Mama at the Movies: The Red Balloon

I’m way behind on my “movie minutes” posts, and will update soon, since I’ve seen lots of good (Frozen River) and bad (The Women) lately. But in the meantime, it was nice to get back to writing my column this month with a reminiscence of our trip to Paris this summer. Here’s an excerpt:

When the chance came to spend a week in Paris this summer, my mind filled with visions of Nutella crepes, red wine at sidewalk bistros, and sunset walks along the Seine.

“What Paris, Mama?” three-year-old Eli asked, bringing me back down to earth and replacing my romantic thoughts with more prosaic concerns: getting two kids through a 10-hour flight; finding vegetarian food in the land of steak frites; navigating the Metro. We needed to prepare.

You can read the rest of my column, plus Stephanie Hunt’s gorgeous column, Core Matters, a swan song from 12-Step Mama, and lots of terrific fiction and creative nonfiction, over at Literary Mama.

New at Literary Mama…

My latest movie column, on Autism: The Musical, is up now, and I urge you — even if you think the movie has nothing to do with you — to take a look. It’s a terrific and eye-opening film. Here’s a blurb from my column:

Elaine, Hillary, Roseanne and Dianne are some of the mothers of autistic children we meet in the stunning new documentary, Autism: The Musical (Tricia Regan, 2007). Elaine brings them together at The Miracle Project, a theater and movement program she has founded to help her son Neal and other autistic kids learn to communicate their feelings and to control their impulses, but most of all, “to have a great time, [to] feel great.”

Also, check out “A Vinyl Batgirl Notebook” by Mama, PhD contributor Jessica Smartt Gullion; the essay offers a funny glimpse into the daily balancing act of being a writer and a mother (I don’t know a thing about that). Here’s a blurb:

“The kids are fighting again: ‘She keeps goin’ in my room!’ ‘He hitted me!’ ‘She push-ted me first!’ ‘Mama!’ ‘Mama!’ I wipe a Clorox-coated rag across the blue paint-splattered pattern of my kitchen counters and wonder for the thousandth time what kind of person would choose this design.”

A Plumm Summer

What do you think of when you think “family film?” For me, it’s the Herbie the Love Bug movies that my parents took us to in the early 70s. I confess I don’t remember a thing about the plot of these flicks, but I remember a late summer evening’s drive to a movie theater, all six of us piled into the car, and I remember being happy. When I was a little older, we all saw Star Wars together in Ogunquit, Maine; it was the opening weekend, and the six of us couldn’t all sit together (as I recall, my brothers sat on the stage directly in front of the screen, their heads tipped back to watch). I was more into the experience — the crowd, the excitement — than the story on the screen. And we all saw Airplane together, too (why, I wonder?), when I was old enough to be embarrassed to be seen at the movies with my parents.

We watched movies together at home more often. I loved staying home from school when I was little (before my mom returned to work) because we’d watch Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers movies together. We watched James Bond movies, which when I think back on it were entirely inappropriate — but probably most of the R content was over my head, anyway. We watched nutty 40s capers, like Kind Hearts and Coronets. We watched Spencer Tracy/Katherine Hepburn movies. And of course we watched The Wizard of Oz and The Sound of Music every year on television, too.

Of course when I was a kid, I didn’t think much about the difficulty of “family movies.” We watched movies together. With four kids 8 years apart, probably one of us was always a little bored and someone else probably didn’t entirely get it, but no one complained because it was still nice to all be doing the same thing. Well, I should amend that: I didn’t complain, because as the youngest, I was always just grateful when my older siblings were doing something with me! That’s more accurate.

It’s a little easier with my guys today. The “family movie” options are greater, and the boys are close enough in age that they can watch the same things, so we’ve watched The Sound of Music together (once in the ER) — a good family film despite (for now; someday because of) the Nazi plot (they don’t ask about the war themes , and I don’t volunteer.) We’ve watched Toy Story a lot, which is probably the household favorite right now; we’ve watched Enchanted once. But even most of these films have elements the boys don’t get, or I don’t want them to get. It’s hard to get a family movie right for everyone in the family.

A Plumm Summer is a new family movie opening this weekend, and MotherTalk and Mom Central are trying to spread the word. I’m all in favor of helping out a little independent film, and this one’s got a great cast (Henry Winkler and Peter Scolari were my favorites) with a sweetly nostalgic voice-over by Jeff Daniels. The film’s set in 1968, and based on the true story of what happened in a small Montana town when the beloved Froggy Doo, a “Superstar puppet,” in David Brinkley’s words, was stolen. It’s a story of brothers, which of course interests me a lot these days, and about how their parents are managing their difficult path from sweethearts to partners. It’s got a bit of Scooby Doo feel to it, as the kids run circles around the FBI trying to solve the mystery of who stole Froggy Doo. Some of the themes and scenes are too heavy for my boys, but I’ll save it till they’re older. If you have kids in the 8-12 range, it might well make a good family outing for you.

Mama at the Movies: Enchanted

This month, in search of something light, I decided to watch a fairy tale with my boys:

“Mama, what’s a magical kingdom? Why is the queen evil? Why will she lose her power if her stepson gets married? What’s true love’s kiss?” We were barely through the opening credits of Enchanted (Kevin Lima, 2007) and I had to pause for a quick fairy tale run-down. Of course, neither of my boys has any problem with some of the common elements of the filmed fairy tale, the richly animated world in which animals talk and plants participate in human life, and they are beginning to hear stories with good guys and bad guys. But the particular spin of a fairy tale, in which children are generally motherless, struggling to protect themselves against a new family member (the evil stepmother) was new to them, and troubling.

Read the rest over at Literary Mama. And while you’re there, check out the other new columns, new fiction, creative nonfiction, and a great reading list to take to your local bookstore!

Mama at the Movies: 4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days

This month’s movie is no feel-good date night escape, but it is one of most moving and intelligent films I’ve seen in ages. Here’s an excerpt from my new column:

Washing my hands in the theater bathroom after watching the new film 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days (Cristian Mungiu, 2007), I noticed I have a lot of gray hair. Maybe I should be grateful that the dim lighting in my house has been keeping this revelation from me. Somehow without my noticing, the blonde that has always lightened the brown has gone several shades lighter. The movie made me realize another subtle way that I’ve aged: it used to be, I’d watch a movie like this, about two women in their twenties, and identify with them. Now I wonder what I’d do if I were their mom.

4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days is set in Romania, 1987, and follows a pair of friends over the course of a single day. It opens in their dorm room as they’re preparing for a trip; they don’t seem happy about it, but it’s easy at first to chalk their mood up to their living conditions: the dingy and crowded room; the talk of using Palmolive for shampoo; the hunt for cigarettes in black market shops operated out of other dorm rooms, where the girls can buy half-packets of birth control pills and nail polish, too. Gabriela frets about whether to bring her notes so that she can study while they’re away; Otilia tells her brusquely that there’ll be no time. Gabriela complains of a toothache, moans that her stomach feels weird; Otilia, tense and losing patience with her friend’s fretful inactivity, snaps at her. She goes over the plan for Gabriela: the money, the possibility of bribes, the meeting place, and it gradually becomes clear that the pair isn’t going on vacation, but arranging an abortion for Gabriela.

Click on over to Literary Mama to read the rest.