Mama at the Movies
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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.