Guilt, Gratitude, and Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner

I missed the memo about guilt, gratitude, and  “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner.”


In case you missed it, too, it’s an Oscar-winning movie from 1967, starring Sidney Poitier, Katharine Hepburn, and Spencer Tracy.  It’s the story of what happens when a young white woman brings home her black fiancé, played by Poitier, to meet her parents, played Hepburn and Tracy.

Man, where to start.  I was born a few years after this movie came out, so it’s not a wonder that I didn’t see it until I was in college.  And from the opening scene I was agog at how amazing it was.  There’s an extraordinary tenderness between Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy that undoubtedly mirrored their real-life love.  But intermingled with that sweetness were little moments of exasperation, impatience, anger, and very real and serious disagreement. In my own life, I hadn’t seen many married couples disagree without being disagreeable, so the way these characters connected gave me hope that marriage really could be a transcendent, safe place where your spouse would love you and you would love your spouse, no matter what.

Beyond the glorious love of Hepburn and Tracy, there was the extraordinary dignity and shimmering intensity that was Sidney Poitier in 1967.  I was nearly weeping with admiration for him as I watched the movie, and this scene just about did me in:

Because, you see, my parents were both 19 years old when I was born, and I was unplanned, but by no means unloved. And despite some fairly humble beginnings, I was upwardly mobile from my earliest memory and consequently I put a lot of demands on my parents to give me the biggest boost they could to help me build a better life for myself.  I felt they owed it to me, and my sense of entitlement was the catalyst for some pretty bitter fights.   I was made to feel pretty guilty about my strivings, and I struggled with myself a lot, thinking that I was somehow terribly ungrateful or insufferably demanding for wanting…more.

When I saw Sidney Poitier let his father have it, there was a nearly audible click in my brain when the following point was hammered home:

Kids don’t owe their parents anything; parents owe their kids everything.


My parents didn’t always provide for me in the emotional and material ways that I wished they would have—whether they couldn’t or wouldn’t is something I no longer quibble about.  It was liberating just to know that maybe I wasn’t a bad kid for wanting to get my teeth fixed, or wanting a college education, or even for wanting a pair of designer jeans.  My parents weren’t bad people and they did what they could, but I could always feel the struggle.  It was good for me to appreciate that my parents worked hard to provide for me, but sometimes their sacrifices were made into a spectacle of sighs and eye rolling, and this made me feel like a monster.

Now that I am a parent, I am thinking about what it is that I owe my sons.  I’m not totally broke, but I’ll likely never be rich, so there will always be limits to what kind of toys, clothes, schools, etc. I can afford.  So it can’t just be about money.   I think what I owe my sons is a bit of cheerfulness.   I owe them the constant and unshakable knowledge that whatever I’m investing in him, it’s always worth it.  I owe them the reassurance that no matter the burdens I bear on their behalves, I delight in them, and that I revel in the good fortune I have in being their mom.   And just in case I ever misplace this memo, when they’re a bit older,  I owe them a ticket to a screening of “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner”.  Memo received.

Moods, Manners, and the High Price of Comedy

I missed the memo about moods, manners, and the high price of comedy.

The other night, on Valentine’s Day, no less,  my husband and I went out.  Without our children.  This kind of thing almost never happens, but we braved L.A. traffic and the high cost of babysitting to treat ourselves to a performance by one of our favorite comedians, Demetri Martin.

The show started a bit late, but we were totally psyched when the opening act, Levi MacDougall, finally took the stage to warm up the crowd.  We were up in the cheap seats, so I didn’t hear the whole exchange, but apparently some guy in the front heckled Levi, and they engaged in a little exchange.  It didn’t seem like any big deal.

Cut to….a few minutes later, Demetri Martin takes the stage and the first thing he did was to ask for security to toss the heckler out.  Since Demetri Martin is, after all, a comedian, the audience laughed.  But this was not a joke.  When security did not immediately toss the heckler out, Demetri Martin left the stage, then came back out, proclaiming that he “wasn’t in the mood” for the heckler’s antics.  After another moment or two, the heckler was dispatched, and the show, as shows must, went on.

The rest of the show was…just OK.  I really wonder how much more I would have enjoyed Demetri Martin’s material had he not opened the show with the whole heckler ejection episode.  I presume the heckler, like my husband and me, had been hoping to have a great night out.  What he got was humiliated in front of hundreds of people.  It didn’t seem proportionate. It made Demetri Martin seem like kind of a dick.  And the thing about Demetri Martin that I had always really liked was that he seemed bookish and boyish and nice.  And not a dick.  But because we had come all the way Downtown and paid lots of money to be there, we stayed through the show.  I didn’t laugh that much, though.  Dick jokes can be funny, but I don’t find being a dick that funny, know what I mean?

The thing that really bugged me, I think, was that Demetri Martin justified giving the heckler the boot by stating, “I’m not in the mood for this.”  Oh dear Lord.  How often are any of us truly in the mood for anything?  But we’ve got frontal lobes and whatnot, and therefore get to exercise some discretion about when to act on our pissy moods and when to just suck it up.  In short….

This is my 2-year-old. He will tell you off and tell you like it is.

Although I enjoyed my husband’s company, and the $15 beer I had at the venue, I felt kind of cheated by the whole experience.  It was an expensive night out for us that was kind of cheapened and tarnished.  I wish I had had the courage to boo at the time, but I didn’t.  But I’ll do it now….Boooooo, Demetri Martin.  Boooooo!  It cost us a lot to come to your show, but it would have cost you nothing just to be a little nicer.  Trying to mind my manners and memo received.

Tempo, Bono, and Breaking Waves

I missed the memo about tempo, Bono, and breaking waves.


Like most Gen-Xers, I have a pretty deep and abiding love for U2.  I remember seeing this video back in the early 80s….hearing Bono’s voice for the first time made my heart race, and no one on the planet plays the guitar quite like The Edge.  It was love at first listen.

My love has remained true and unwavering over all these years.  I don’t do iTunes, so I wasn’t forced to listen to the latest U2 album against my will, I listened to it voluntarily. And it’s freakin’ amazing.  I had heard the single “Every Breaking Wave” on the radio and thought it was pretty good.  But then I heard the acoustic version….and I cried.  I cried because this slowed-down, stripped-down version lets Bono’s voice stand nearly alone. After all the years and all the cigarettes, man, he’s still got it.

After watching the acoustic performance, I cried some more.  Just looking at Bono’s face, with all the creases and crags that weren’t there in 1981, but still seeing him as gorgeous as ever, made me really mark the passage of time.  Bono is one of my cultural touchstones, I suppose.  Watching him age gives me a pang of something that’s hard to describe…it’s not nostalgia exactly, but maybe it’s some kind of growing pain that comes from realizing that as my idols have aged, so have I.  There’s a weird sort of comfort in knowing that we are growing older together.

And maybe it was something about the slower tempo of the song that really got my attention…I’ve written before about how slowing things down can make all the difference, and of my own need to just slow down.  And with that slowed down tempo, I could really hear the lyrics, and this one really got me…

Baby, every dog on the street knows that we’re in love with defeat.

Ouch.  Bono seems to know a thing or two about human folly. We’re in love with defeat, and we’re chasing every breaking wave…that pretty much sums up the silliness to which we often subject ourselves.   In all of life’s endeavors, it seems like we can just keep chasing, keep aspiring, never feeling satisfied.  I think that’s the “in love with defeat” part.  But I love the lyrical alternative that’s proposed…

Are we ready to be swept off our feet?  And stop chasing every breaking wave.

Swept off our feet…that works on so many levels.  It suggests a bit of resignation, of being overwhelmed by something powerful, but that there’s some sweetness in the surrender of control.  I think that’s what getting older is starting to feel like…I’m ready to be swept off my feet by the fullness of the life I have, so that means, at least most of the time, that I don’t need to pursue every little unsatisfied ambition. Instead of chasing every breaking wave, sometimes it’s nice just take a relaxing stroll on the beach.  Toes in the sand and memo received.

Tribes, Keyboard Courage, and Parenthood

I missed the memo about tribes, keyboards, and Parenthood.

So, in my last post, I made a pretty unapologetic pronouncement of my own opinions about vaccinations…and over on my personal Facebook page, it created a little skirmish in what is tiresomely, but accurately described as, The Mommy Wars.
I wasn’t entirely surprised, but I was a little sad, by how it went down.

Given my own feelings about vaccinations, I’ll admit I felt a twinge of smug when I first read this headline:  Once A Vaccine Skeptic, This Mom Changed Her Mind.  But once I read the story, my heart broke for this mom.  By the cruelest of ironies, her unvaccinated child did have autism.  But to me, that wasn’t the sad part of her story.  The sad part was that this mom felt, that in ultimately choosing to vaccinate her kids, she would pretty much have to hand in her “crunchy mom” membership card.  (And “crunchy mom” is her term…I don’t use it either flatter or denigrate her.)

This reflects part of the experience of modern motherhood, which seems to be increasingly tribal.  Instead of just doing what we do as a matter of pragmatism and preference, everything is identity and ideology.  We encamp with parents who think like we do.  We strap on our baby carriers like body armor and wave our cloth diapers like battle flags.  The folly of this was illustrated hilariously and very effectively in this brilliant Similac commercial which showed the various factions getting ready to rumble, until they get a reminder of about what’s really important.

I suppose parents have been judging other parents since we came down from the trees.  Most parents I know would say that raising their kids is the most important thing they’re doing and thus it’s natural to get invested in believing that our own parenting choices are right, and if I’m right, then someone who’s doing things differently from me must be wrong.  But before the interwebs, all we could do was have coffee klatches and just occasionally gossip about that mom, the one who’s doing everything wrong.  But now, with social media in its many forms, parenting has become a 24-hour-news cycle with everything and everybody up for discussion.

Make no mistake, I’m no Luddite who wishes we could go back to the dark ages before the internet.  Having such easy access to so much information and communication is mostly a blessing.   Mostly.  The dark side, of course, is that emojis, though adorable, are no substitute for hearing the tone of someone’s voice, the look in their eyes, and the millions of other little cues that really help us understand each other when we’re talking face to face.  Things get lost in translation, and then worse, we tend to get emboldened by the experience of communicating online, and that’s when stuff can really get ugly.

To take a break from the noise and confusion of real parenthood, may I suggest….Parenthood.   I’m not sure if it was that outdoor dining room, or maybe it was my insane pencil skirt envy for Julia Braverman, but I really loved Parenthood and really mourned its recent finale. It was a weekly retreat into relationships that seemed very warm and very real.  And that’s not to say everything was always rosy in that world…far from it.   The show has a very high Kleenex quotient, that’s for sure. If you haven’t watched Parenthood it is definitely binge-watch worthy.

I want The Bravermans to adopt me.

And even if you’re not on Team Braverman, when it comes to this parenting thing, we’re all in the same tribe.  Memo received.

Mother’s Milk, Medicine, and *sigh* Measles.

I missed the memo about mother’s milk, medicine, and measles.

Recently, my family endured another wave of stomach flu.  It wasn’t as epic as the Great Flu of 2006, but it was pretty bad. We all had some symptoms, but my 2-year-old and I seemed especially hard hit.  My poor little guy…he started getting sick on his birthday of all days, which seemed especially cruel given he’d had Roseola last year on his 1st birthday.  The kid cannot catch a break.

The two of us in happier times, before we both rapidly lost alarming amounts of body fluid.

In the midst of trying to manage what was coming out of his orifices, I was also working on what was going in…since he’s now 2 and all, I’ve been trying to coax him in the direction of weaning.  This meant that Daddy has taken over the nighttime routine to try to break the bedtime boob habit.  And we’d been making some progress.  But as his flu symptoms persisted, I knew my son needed to be with me.  And I needed to be with him.  I needed to hear him breathe, to hear if his tummy gurgled, or if he made that weird popping sound that comes a split second before he barfs.

This experience with my son’s recent illness called to mind a really amazing moment on a great show, BBC’s Call The Midwife.  In the particular episode I’m thinking of, an immigrant mom of many has had a premature baby.  She’s sick and so is the baby.  As was customary for the show’s time and place (post-war, East End of London), the baby had been born at home, and as the characters worry over his health, they entreat the mom to go with him to the hospital.  Her response slayed me:

“I’m his hospital.”

I think for all parents, but maybe moms especially, this is just gut-true.  Kids come from our bodies, and we heal our kids, with milk, with the comfort of our softness, with everything we’ve got.

Now in the case of a garden variety stomach flu, I’m probably all the medicine my son would need.  In point of fact, the only things a child with stomach flu really needs are someone to do his disgusting laundry, bring him beverages, and offer gentle assurances that, despite all outward appearances, death is not imminent.  These are things I am well-qualified to do.

And this brings me to the current state of affairs involving measles.   I think most parents are equipped with an instinct for survival and nurturing that they channel in a mostly constructive way to protect their kids.  I think this is why that “I’m his hospital”  line resonates so much.  But I also think that instinct can get morphed into a pretty dysfunctional sort of arrogance. Yeah, no one knows my kids better than I do, but no one knows about vaccines better than, um, scientists.  And scientists are fallible and sometimes disagree among themselves, I get it.  But I believe in vaccines.  And not the way my kids believe in Santa Claus.  I believe in vaccines the way I believe in seat belts. Because just like seat belts, the overwhelming truth of the matter is that vaccines are safe and they work.

If my kids were not vaccinated, no amount of breast milk or wishful thinking would offer them any protection from the measles outbreak.  Sometime’s a mother’s love is all a child needs, but sometimes what they really need are routine immunizations. Shots administered and memo received.

Toe Picks, Dough Hooks, and Perfect French Bread

I missed the memo about toe picks, dough hooks, and perfect French bread.

Because of our collective inability to check the pantry before making a shopping trip, my husband and I managed to purchase approximately 20 pounds of flour over the last few months.   To work through this ridiculous surplus, I’ve resolved to bake.  A lot.  And since my oldest son is obsessed with “the long bread from the grocery store”, I recently embarked on a quest for the perfect French bread recipe.

I can attest that this recipe lives up to its name…it is the perfect loaf of French Bread.  It’s simple and reasonably easy, but you’ll note that it involves the use of a dough hook.  Now, when I got married nearly two decades ago, my mom gifted me a really nice stand mixer, with all the bells and whistles, which I barely used.  It just seemed kind of big and unwieldy, and I didn’t really know what all the tools did, so I mostly left my stand mixer to languish in a dark corner of a cabinet.

But this new venture into baking had me rummaging through my kitchen to set up my stand mixer.  I took a deep breath and attached the dough hooks, and literally gave it a whirl.  After seeing the labor saved and the good results, I had to ask myself, why the hell hadn’t I ever used these things before???

And that called to mind this awesome montage from The Cutting Edge...remember that movie?  It’s basically “Taming of the Shrew” on ice, pairing Moira Kelly and D.B. Sweeney as an odd-couple who are thrown together to compete in a figure skating competition.  What makes it extra cute is D.B. Sweeney’s character is a former hockey player, so he is unaccustomed to skating in actual figure skates, and thus he resists the use of one of their essential features, the toe pick.

I profess to know exactly nothing about figure skating, but the toe pick is supposed to really help with all those amazing gravity-defying jumps that elite skaters are able to do.  But D.B. Sweeney’s character refuses to use them…he’s a crazy good hockey player, so he thinks he knows everything he needs to know about ice skating.  But as he falls again and again, Moira Kelly’s character takes great pleasure in quipping, “Toe pick!”  It becomes a perfect shorthand for reminding him he has a lot to learn.

Likewise, I thought I knew all I needed to know about making bread.  I had made a fair amount of bread in my life, mostly kneading it by hand.  I figured the use of a dough hook couldn’t really make that much of a difference.  I now admit my folly. Like that stubborn hockey player-turned-figure skater, I resisted using a tool just because I didn’t really know how to use it. Admitting you don’t know something can be a hard sort of vulnerability…you expose your ignorance, you risk failure.  But the reward can be sweet.  Or a little salty, and chewy, with a perfect crust.

French Bread
My technique still needs a little work, but this was gooooood.

Bon appetit and memo received.