Mama at the Movies Archives
- Cassie Premo Steele
I met my husband Tony on a blind date during which we mostly talked about our dads. It didn’t strike me as strange, how quickly we found common ground via our wine-making, garden-tending, hands-on fathers whom we both liked so well. The big difference was that Tony’s father was in the hospital — Tony visited him the morning of our date — and he died just a couple months later. I never met him, but I catch glimpses sometimes of the man he must have been, when I watch Tony with our boys, cooking and cleaning, helping with homework, soothing hurt feelings and negotiating sibling squabbles — all the things I do — with the extra added bonus of creating unique silly voices for each of our sons’ stuffed animals, knowing how to complete an electric circuit, and quietly demonstrating how to be caring, thoughtful young men. Like their father before them, Ben and Eli have an excellent roadmap for fatherhood, if they decide to be fathers, unlike the hapless and inadvertent adoptive father in our current favorite family movie, Despicable Me.
I took myself off to see Rabbit Hole alone, tissues at hand, ready to handle the weepy. Nicole Kidman plays Becca, whose four-year-old son Danny was struck by a car and killed eight months before the film’s action. Becca is the center of the action, in practically every scene, and she’s not necessarily an easy object of sympathy. She’s brusque with her sister, rude to her mom, detached and eye-rolling at a grief group. When another of the parents suggests that God must have taken her child because he needed another angel, Becca can’t keep quiet any longer: “Why didn’t he just make another angel? He’s God, after all.”
My boys, as I tell them regularly, are incredibly lucky with their school lunch program. It wasn’t always this way. My husband went to the same school, in a time when on hot dog day one lucky kid was served a rubber hot dog, which meant free seconds and a bag of chips. I always wonder how many kids bit into that rubber hot dog (and how many of them took two bites before realizing their mistake). The school, like most schools, used to house vending machines full of sodas and candy. But then gradually — and not without difficulty or complaint — things changed.
A boy from my sons’ school moved to Moscow this year to dance with the Bolshoi. When I heard this, I felt that familiar parental stew of conflicting emotions: selfish relief that my sons aren’t involved in such a demanding activity, mixed with a tinge of useless regret that I’ve already missed the boat on turning them into professional dancers.
About halfway through watching Casa de los Babys, I put down my pen and stopped taking notes, mesmerized. John Sayles’ 2003 film tells the story of six women living in a hotel while waiting for their adoptions to be finalized. Like many of Sayles’ movies, it keeps closely to one location — in this case, the hotel and the unnamed Latin American city in which it’s located — and mines deeply for interconnecting storylines.
That Race to Nowhere (2009) became a kind of homework project for me is appropriate, because Vicki Abeles’ powerful movie documents the mad pressures of homework on American children. And although Tony’s and my kids are only eight and five, it spoke to us compellingly.
They say “Little kids, little problems; big kids, big problems.” The expression really bugged me when I was the weary mother of little kids; who’s to say my sleepless nights and my clamorous kids aren’t a big problem to me?! But the tunnel vision of those baby days has broadened and I’ve gained some useful perspective. As my own children turn too-quickly into big kids and I catch a glimpse of what’s to come I try neither to sentimentalize the past nor fret about the future; three recent documentaries — My Toxic Baby; Latching On; and Motherland — remind us just to live these days with our children the best we can.
Recently a couple mom-friends joined me to see the beautifully-filmed new documentary, Babies (Thomas Balmès, 2010) and because of the company, I found myself thinking more about the film’s moms than the babies, even though it’s those babies that sweetly fill the screen. The film’s focus is on the first year in the life of four kids: Hattie in San Francisco; Bayar in Mongolia; Mari in Tokyo; and Ponijao in Namibia. Spliced together from over 400 hours of film shot by a few fixed cameras in each location, without any commentary or dialogue beyond whatever conversation was picked up by those cameras (and without subtitles or dubbing for the three non-English speaking families), the film offers an interesting portrait of how kids in different parts of the world get their start in life.
Faced with his child about to go college, Doug Block decided to make a movie. In fact, he has been filming his daughter, Lucy, her whole life; as he puts it, “she had the great misfortune to be born right at the dawn of the consumer camcorder, and the double misfortune to have a documentary filmmaker for a father. . . I’ve long thought my footage might be part of a film someday, a film that somehow encapsulates the parenting experience.” But now with Lucy entering her final year of high school, the idea for a film takes on urgency, and Block edits all his footage of Lucy’s childhood, her last year at home, and his own father’s home movies of Block’s childhood into a bittersweet and intimate exploration of fathering and coming of age, The Kids Grow Up (2010).
My son Eli’s stuffed doggie got married last month. Out of the blue, Eli announced the engagement, and then looked through the pile of stuffies to find Doggie a suitable wife. He rejected the kangaroo, the otter, and the two frogs before finally coming to a dachshund about half Doggie’s size. Right under her was a smaller dachshund. “Perfect!” Eli crowed, “A bride and a baby!”
I must have been in second grade when I first thought about how old I would be in the year 2000 — 32 — and what my life would be like by then. Basing my vision entirely on my mom’s life, I assumed I’d be married with four kids.