Her Bad Mother

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Come, Armageddon, Come

I didn't realize, when Nena's '99 Red Balloons' first hit the radio, that it was about a nuclear accident. I thought that it was just about balloons. I was pretty young. But it wasn't long before the subject was something that my friends and I discussed at length, titillated and alarmed (it's about bombs? BOMBS!), as we huddled around the tetherball pole in the schoolyard (OMG THAT COULD HAPPEN, Y'KNOW!!!).

It was the same way that we discussed teen pregnancy and divorce (an eleventh-grader over at the high school was rumored to have gotten pregnant that summer, and Cheri Wilkinson's parents were separating and her dad was moving to a different house): with the kind of fevered, fearful urgency that bordered on excitement. The sky is falling over there! It could happen here! What would we do? We agreed that we would never get pregnant, that our parents would never get divorced, and that if a bomb fell, there would for sure be a bomb shelter to hide in. Our parents would build one, with stockpiles of Campbell's tomato soup and Chef Boyardee and pop. For sure. They would protect us. But the song said it all - it could happen, even if we didn't think would, even we were certain that it wouldn't, even if our parents told us a thousand times that it couldn't happen here. It could happen. You and I in a little toy shop/Buy a bag of balloons with the money we've got. We shuddered around the tetherball pole, each of us thinking privately that we might need to sleep on the floors of our parents' rooms that night.

After 'Red Balloons' came Ultravox's 'Dancing With Tears In My Eyes' (The man on the wireless cries again/It's over, it's over). Kate Bush's 'Breathing' (Last night in the sky/Such a bright light/My radar sends my danger/But my instincts tell me to keep/Breathing) had been released while I was still in grade school, but I discovered it in my mid-teens and played the '45 until it was badly scratched. I had nightmares. Bombs dropping, parents divorcing. It was never clear to me which were worse: the dreams where the landscape shattered into grey ash, or the ones where my Dad disappeared from the horizon. In both cases I would wake up in tears. Sometimes, even as a teenager, I would creep into my parents' bedroom in the middle of the night to curl up on the floor at the foot of their bed with my quilt and my headphones and fuel my angsty misery with sad, scary songs while clinging to the comfort of their presence. The possibility that some epic familial tragedy might someday occur in our household both tantalized and tortured me in the same way that the possibility of some Day After apocalypse - possibly but not necessarily set off by Matthew Broderick hacking computer games - tantalized and tortured. The child in me craved the security of a world without threats. The gothy teenager relished, in some predictably twisted way, the drama and the excitement of a life less ordinary. The Catholic in me squirmed with guilt at this tortured but stubborn ambivalence.

My parents were struggling. It never seemed to me, in the full light of day, that they were approaching meltdown - a disaster on that scale was the stuff of my nightmares and of the dark, derivative poetry that I wrote, late at night, in my room, the soundtrack of my nuclear-scale angst running at full volume (come, bombs). We were a close family, a very close family, and I regarded the possibility of my parents really splitting up as about as likely as the Soviets bombing the suburbs of Vancouver, Canada - not outside the realm of an angst-ridden imagination, but also not realistically within the realm of my lived future. But that very possibility - of meltdown, of accident, of angry finger hitting deadly red button - kept my anxieties alive, and I nurtured those anxieties by holding onto that possibility as something that distinguished my adolescent experience from the white-bread normalcy of my peers. Something that permitted me to identify, authentically, with the anthems of fear that we all wanted to claim as our own, with t-shirts and concert bills and LP covers taped inside our lockers. (Oh, what a heaven what a hell/Y'know there's nothing can be done/In this whole wide world)

Those anthems of fear remained the soundtrack to my self-important postures of doom until those postures collapsed under the weight of reality. I had believed, deep down, that it couldn't happen here. But some time between Alphaville's 'Forever Young' (Hoping for the best but expecting the worst/Are you going to drop the bomb or not?) and Morrissey's 'Every Day Is Like Sunday' (How I dearly wish I was not here) the bomb dropped and my parents' marriage shattered and in the fallout the angst that I had so relished became an insufferable, toxic disease. Radioactive. Every day is silent and gray.

'Every Day Is Like Sunday' wasn't explicitly about nuclear holocaust in the same way that 'Red Balloons' was. Nor was 'Forever Young.' But my teenage angst - the deep angst, the stuff that ran beneath the surface of the superficial, black-eyelinered pop-angst that justified the brooding that hid that deeper angst so well - was never really about that kind of holocaust. It wasn't even about the possibility of that other, figurative holocaust, the annihilation of my family unit, the possibility that had loomed like a bogeyman for so many of my formative years. It was about a deeper fear: the fear that what couldn't happen here could indeed happen here. What that 'what' might be - divorce, unexpected pregnancy, nuclear holocaust - didn't matter. That the stuff of nightmares could - really could, as the songs insisted - happen was a fear that matched or exceeded the universal childhood fear that there might really be a monster in the closet. The moment of discovering that there were such monsters, that such bombs could and would fall, that the angsty-teenage postures that claimed such fears as real were not magic bullets against the actual realization of those fears - as I believed, somewhere deep down - was the moment of my coming of age.

I still dearly wish it had not come.


OK, so I didn't mean for this post to come out as dark as it did. It was written as part of a little koffee klatsch blog discussion that was kicked off amongst a small group of us - let's write some flashbacks! on Friday! how 'bout something about the songs or musicians that like totally changed your life? - and was gonna be all light and reminiscent, but somewhere along the way I got sidetracked. Probably because, as a teenager, I pretended that I loathed anything light and sweet, so. There you have it. Other participants today (more to be added later, with full post links, so check back) include:

Oh The Joys: www.othejoys.blogspot.com
(full post: Since You're Gone)
Mamalogues: www.mamalogues.com
Mrs. Flinger: www.mrs.flinger.us
IzzyMom: www.izzymom.com
Mom-101: Mom-101.blogspot.com

Feel free to join in (the topic is, 'OMG - The Smiths/NKOTB/Debbie Gibson/Insert Preferred Musical Act From Your Youth HERE - Like Totally Changed My Life OMG'). If you do write a post, be sure to link back and list the participants so that we can all find each other and not feel, like, totally self-conscious.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Pass The Smelling Salts

The thing about pregnancy? It is comparative, as a physical and emotional experience, to being drunk, 24-7. But it veers, sometimes dramatically, between different varieties of drunk: the kind of drunk that is just barely-buzzed-but-a-little-off-kilter drunk, the full-on-happy-buzz drunk, the ever-amusing wobbly-and-weepy-drunk, the inevitable crouched-over-the-toilet drunk, and - in its worst incarnations - the collapsed-on-the-floor-while-world-spins drunk.

I had thought that I was well past the floor-kissing-spinny drunks, but apparently not. For the past week I have been having bad dizzy spells of increasing intensity, which culminated yesterday in multiple spells which ended with me crumpling to the floor, unable to get up. Which, when reported to doctor, resulted in the always encouraging immediate summons to hospital.

I'm fine, sort of. I am, apparently, pretty seriously anemic - and that's even while being on iron supplements - and have very low blood pressure (low enough that they didn't want to do blood tests, which is good, but also bad, because I have to go back and do them anyway when I'm not all faint-y), but the baby's fine, which is, to my mind, all that matters. That said, it seems to me that maybe this baby is just a little bit, you know, too strong. Iron-sucking-strong.

My diet's okay. I'm not big on the meats - hence the supplements - so it's a bit heavy on the carbs and the dairy and the chocolate, but it's really pretty decent, especially compared to the starved-out-wasteland of barfiness that was my first trimester. So how is it that I've become this pale, wan limp life-form, prone to buckling at the knees and slumping to the floor? (This would all be so much more compelling if I looked like Keira Knightley and wore filmy, lacy nightgowns and had a raspberry-velvet chaise-longue to fall upon backwards in a graceful faint. Sadly, I look nothing like Miss Knightley and do not own a chaise-longue and am much more likely to be wearing milk-stained yoga pants than filmy Victorian nighties as I crumple inelegantly to the floor, so. My spells are not so aesthetically compelling as they could be, I suppose.)

Assuming that I don't have some sort of malignant brain tumor (*knocks wood furiously*), it must be that this alien life-form, this adorable-but-nonetheless-parasitic superbeing, is sucking every nutrient from my body and turning these to his own nefarious supergrowth purposes. I mean, I can feel him in there. He does not rest, he does not stop moving (that this is fully reminiscent of Wonderbaby's fetal tenure is both wonderful and entirely disconcerting) and I'm guessing that all of those fetal gymnastics and marathon kick-sessions require high-level doses of mommy-juice. Sumo-level doses, that are sucking me dry.

How long this can continue before I waste away to a pale, bulbous shell, a dessicated old tulip petal, fallen and forgotten on the floor, of no use to anyone but the adorable little life-sucking vampiro-fetus growing inside me? Not that I wouldn't give my life to him many times over, but still. I'd much rather remain conscious and upright, the better to enjoy the little WonderSprout and his equally energy-draining sister.

So what do I do? Embark upon an all-steak diet? Hunt down some iron-fortified chocolate and binge? Or maybe just invest in some Victorian nightgowns, a chaise-longue and a bucket of smelling salts?


Monday, February 25, 2008

Juno's Choice

I'll say this right up front: I haven't seen the movie Juno. (I haven't seen any other Oscar-nominated flick either, because big-screen movies are no longer a central part of my life experience, now that I am a mother and hiring a nanny for a night out costs a gajillion dollars that I would much rather spend on handbags and chocolate and DVDs.) (Which, you know, really should be enjoyed together. Lounging in bed with a box of chocolates, watching the last season of Buffy while you fondle your brand new cherry-red leather bag with the multiple pockets and the extra-long strap? Bliss. But I digress.)

Where was I? Right. Juno. Haven't seen it. But I've heard all about it and I plan to see it the minute I can get it on DVD and that qualifies me to comment upon it. Also? I am currently and have been in the past pregnant, and had a baby, and it's a movie about being pregnant and having babies. So.

That's the crux of it, actually: it's a movie about having the baby. And, more to the point, about being young and being caught in some maternal web that you didn't expect to stumble into and that you don't know how to get out of and making the choice to just make yourself at home there until such time as you can extricate yourself in some straightforward manner. I've been there too. I didn't handle it the same way, but I've been there, in that web, wondering how to get out.

There's been a lot of critical commentary since the movie's release about how the movie a) treats teen pregnancy too blithely, what with the snappy dialogue and the laissez-faire attitude of the heroine and all, and b) marginalizes abortion as the go-to solution for an unwanted pregnancy. In a recent article, a Vancouver writer (a man; is his sex is relevant to this discussion? you tell me) asked - discussing Juno and Judd Apatow's Knocked Up as a piece - how it is "that neither (character) really considers abortion as a viable alternative to carrying a fetus to term? In the contexts of both films, all roads for our pregnant women (should) lead to the abortion clinic. This is not an ideological analysis, it is rational one, it is what both of these characters, as they have been written, would do. Instead, for the sake of the stories in question and the messages inherent in them, the writers have perverted their characters' actions, giving these women no coherent rational (sic) for their actions, or lack thereof.

Whoa. Abortion is the only thing that either of these characters would do, the only road that they would take, full stop? And the fact that their stories centered upon them making other choices is a perversion of what would have been more rational actions? The writer goes on to say that what the monumental success of films like Juno - films that about unplanned pregnancies that evade the subject of abortion as the only real alternative for young, smart single women - reveal "is that behind the Indie soundtracks, hip, animated graphics, weed-smoking slackers and Mohawk hair cuts, we remain as a society utterly conservative in our views on what women should do with their bodies."

It may be entirely true - in fact, I suspect that it is entirely true - that we remain, as a society, utterly conservative in our attitudes toward women's rights v.v. their bodies. But that does not mean that the rejection of certain choices - or the pop cultural representation of the rejection of certain choices - represents a social step backward in women's struggle for more control over the right to choose. Ensuring that women have choice - that they are able to control their maternal destinies - does not require that the so-called alternative choice be presented as the social norm. In fact, I'd argue that any socio-cultural pressure toward that end - making abortion the norm for dealing with unwanted pregnancies - actually militates against meaningful choice. The idea that 'the right thing' - or in the above-quoted writer's words, the rational thing - for any bright young woman with a bright future who is facing an unexpected pregnancy to do is to have an abortion is a kind of anti-choice position, isn't it? The idea that is there is only one rational choice for women - or, worse, for certain kinds of women - is oppressive regardless of what that 'choice' is, precisely because the idea that there is only one such choice makes that choice, well, no longer a choice.

I was pretty young when I had to make that choice. I was no longer in high school, but I wasn't quite yet an adult (especially when I look back on it now, from the vantage point of old age), and I was fully vulnerable to the suggestion - the unspoken but nonetheless culturally pervasive suggestion - that nice girls (smart girls, girls with futures, girls like me) did not have babies before they'd gotten themselves properly established on some appropriate life path. This suggestion did not come from my parents - my mother held back from trying to influence my decision, but her pain over my ultimate decision was obvious - but from the culture. I was an older version of Juno, and a younger version of the character from Knocked Up, and amongst my peers, abortion was just what one did when faced with this situation. It was the only rational choice, the only option, understood within the context of my lifeworld. And to that extent, it wasn't really a choice. Not a meaningful one.

To be clear, I don't regret having taken the road that I did. I really don't. I don't not regret it, either - it's complicated, but I will always be haunted in some difficult-to-articulate way by the choice that I was and am glad to have been able to make - but from the standpoint of my life as it is now, I wouldn't alter a single footstep from the pathways of my past. But I do wonder, sometimes, sometimes more often than is comfortable, whether I might have made a different decision in a different life - in a life where I maybe knew a little more of what I know now about life and love and babies, in a life where I might have viewed the alternatives to abortion as more meaningfully possible alternatives. I might very well have ended up making exactly the same choice. But had I done so, under those different cultural circumstances, I might have done so without viewing the alternatives as completely unfathomable. And mightn't that have been more empowering than just doing what everyone else was doing because that was just what one was expected to do? Mightn't that have been a more meaningful choice?

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Sunday, February 24, 2008

Pop Culture Is Good For You. DRINK UP.

If you are watching the Oscars - or even if you are not, and just feel like bitching about Cameron Diaz's complete inability to construct a sentence that does not contain the words like, totally - then you should be checking in here. Some fun shiz, for reals.