An initial feminist reaction to “Interstellar”

I saw Interstellar tonight. Still processing.

Anyone who knows me (either in person or via my writing) will know that I view life through the lens of a feminist, and that I am tired of stereotypical male hero journeys, of movies in which women are always, endlessly, less than, less admirable, less strong, less brave, less capable, less important. It is hard to explain the extent to which I would have more oxygen with which to breathe if movies split up the heroics, and/or gave them to women a good chunk of the time. Piloting, like orthopedic surgery, has been heavily male dominated for a long, long time. How amazing would it be if today’s generation of teenagers had seen the Endurance piloted by a woman? How amazing would it have been if the only female scientist on board hadn’t been the one in charge of all the babies?

I know. If you’re not on board with me on this already, it’s easy to dismiss what I’m writing as yada, yada, yada, feminist whining.

I wish there was some way to bring across the loneliness of being a female reader, movie-watcher, media-consumer and yearning for role models, for characters unchained from a value tied to how sexy they are.

Women aren’t given roles, generally, in which they get to be the hero. The movie, “Gravity” took some steps in this direction. But still, the woman in question was a medical engineer, not an astronaut. She was the person who had to be saved, first by the male hero in the movie, and then by her hallucination of him.

Doing things that we didn’t think we could do can form pivotal moments in our lives, times to which we continue to refer to help us reach other places and accomplishments. Strength builds on strength, and accomplishment can give us the courage to continue in the face of difficulty and defeat. And sometimes, seeing other people conquer challenges and break barriers can give us a measure of strength, a building block from which to climb higher. It is possible to learn from others’ experience. And what we see helps us build our imaginations.

Wouldn’t it be amazing if every person on earth could recognize himself/herself/zieself in books, movies, TV, and other media, and say, “Me too!”

Wouldn’t it be amazing if we could value and include all of us?

Wouldn’t it be amazing if we looked for what was possible in every human being, no matter their gender, race, size, sexual orientation, or anything else?

We’re not really so good at love, we humans. We tend to limit our love to people we’re comfortable with. But love is a conduit for compassion, and we really need to embiggen ours. And that starts, in part, with actually looking at each other, with letting go of our hierarchies in terms of which people and which human experiences we value.

Women’s rights are human rights.


Violence in America

It’s been a tough week. The racially biased result in the grand jury process in Missouri. The 12-year-old with a bb gun shot to death in Cleveland by a rookie cop. The piece in Rolling Stone about rape at U.V.A. and how intertwined it is in the university’s culture, enabled all the way to the top.

If I am tired of raging and crying, it’s nothing to the fatigue, despair, and desperation suffered by people who live every day with the hostility they encounter due to the color of their skin.

And I fear sending my daughters to college. I shudder, knowing that statistics indicate that some percentage of the people they grow up with will one day choose to harass or assault girls and/or women.

The world feels terribly dangerous and doomed right now. We can’t seem to find a way to respect each other’s humanity. We can’t seem to figure out that consent and understanding, compassion and integrity are far more important than money, than being on top, than control.

Why did Darren Wilson kill Michael Brown? In part, because, I think, he privileged his state of mind above the life of another human being. We’ve become a cowardly nation addicted to the “Stand Your Ground” philosophy perverted to mean that you have the right to hunt somebody down and kill them if you feel threatened. This week is tough. But they’re all tough. 96 black citizens are killed by police officers every year. That’s almost two a week. Those killings are not reported in the news, and a significant chunk of white America thinks that numbers like that one just prove that black men are dangerous. White America created white supremacy. White America is responsible for dismantling it.

As Tim Wise says in this excellent piece:

To white America, in the main, police are the folks who help get our cats out of the tree, or who take us on ride-arounds to show us how gosh-darned exciting it is to be a cop. We experience police most often as helpful, as protectors of our lives and property. But that is not the black experience by and large; and black people know this, however much we don’t. The history of law enforcement in America, with regard to black folks, has been one of unremitting oppression. That is neither hyperbole nor opinion, but incontrovertible fact.


… it is in these moments—moments like those provided by events in Ferguson—that the limits of our commitment to that aspirational America are laid bare. It is in moments like these when the chasm between our respective understandings of the world—itself opened up by the equally cavernous differences in the way we’ve experienced it—seems almost impossible to bridge. But bridge them we must, before the strain of our repetitive motion disorder does permanent and untreatable damage to our collective national body.

I approach this Thanksgiving with a heavy heart.

It is hard to know what and how to explain matters to my daughter. And again, as hard as that is for me to contemplate, I think about how much terribly worse it is for a mother of a son or daughter of color to explain how to try to avoid getting beaten or killed by a cop.


Concert-goer, outdoor clothes, daytime nap, cousin time

I went to a concert tonight! I didn’t play in it, but got to sit in the audience and listen. It was wonderful. It’s a new group, and some of the personnel are friends of mine. They’ve pulled together a fabulous set of repertoire, including the very wild Shostakovich Piano Concerto No. 1.

Today we had my niece for most of the day. We hired one of our babysitters to come help out so that Ted and I could split the day between us and each of us have some time off. With my chunk, I went shopping. I’ve been doing that a bunch lately, which is extremely out of character. But now that I’m on the bike, I need different clothes. A light jacket and the 20-year-old shell I had been wearing weren’t going to cut it. So now I have boots so that my legs won’t get soaked. I also haven’t bought a proper winter jacket in decades, given that I live in the Pacific Northwest, and haven’t needed one. But of course, that is a car driver talking. When one doesn’t have the steel box to retreat to, one gets more in touch with what the weather really is. I also got a down vest to wear under my new raincoat. It is amazing; light and warm, super comfortable.

There was a big sale going on today, so the store was mobbed. I wound up sitting next to another woman who was looking at boots, and we talked for a while as our salesperson came in and out with things for us to try. From Korea originally, she grew up in the Midwest, as did I, and we had good conversations about weather and cultural differences, about jobs, about how our city is changing, about family. And then, after much trying of options, we ended up with the same boots, though in different sizes. She waited to see what boots I’d choose, and we went through the checkout line together. What a wonderful, amicable, random connection.

When I got back it was the start of naptime and quiet time. After I convinced Ms. B, my niece, to go into the room we’d put her in, I chatted to our babysitter until tiredness overwhelmed me, and I decided to go upstairs for a nap. As I arrived at the top of the stairs I discovered that Hazel was about to come down them, having decided that 5 minutes in her room with the twins was plenty. We had a bit of a discussion about that, and compromised on her sleeping in my room. That turned out to be a win-win, because otherwise I might have succumbed to temptation to get out my computer. But since Hazel was in bed with me, I put on my headphones, relaxed, and fell asleep. And I slept for 45 minutes to an hour, a respite which my body, mind, and heart all appreciated.

Once we were all up, I took the older girls to a play space, where they got very red in the face from running around and getting heated up. I gave them dinner there, dropped by the house to leave Hazel, and then took my niece home. My sister and I had a half hour to sit and talk (about school, teaching, what’s happening to the profession with Common Core and NCLB), and then I headed off to the concert.

A well-rounded day!

Madsen rainy introductory trip

Ted had the car today. So, after I dropped Hazel off at school, I tucked the twins into the Madsen along with precautionary rain gear, a diaper bag, and assorted sundries, and rode off to a toddler playroom. It wasn’t open for another half hour.

So I went and sat under a tree on the incredibly practical tail of my new red raincoat with the twins on my lap, and we watched the birds – seagulls, cormorants, ducks, pigeons, and others.

Then I read and played with the twins, and read some more. When we came out it was not just misting, but pouring down pretty enthusiastically. Our waterproof blanket was getting soaked around the edges. But no worries; I had dressed them in their rains suits, and off we went again, with nary a protest from either twin. Joanna fell asleep on the way home, but I’d left early enough that I was able to wake her up for lunch and then get her down for nap again afterwards (Emily was another, 75-minute matter).

It was great! I did get damp pants, and I want to get a pair of knee-high boots to help offset the wet. I also may wind up getting a rain skirt, but I want to shop around a bit for that. I think we’ll also want to put together a dry-bag of essentials to keep with the Madsen so we don’t have to depend on last-minute organization.

I enjoyed the exercise. I even enjoyed sitting under the drippy tree looking at nature with my twins. I enjoyed getting somewhere not by car. And I enjoyed being able to get there faster than I could walking (though what with getting the twins in and out of their outerwear, it did take a little while). I am looking forward to further biking.

This is personally revolutionary for me. I’ve felt so intimidated by the whole thing for so long. It really feels great to do something you thought you couldn’t.

Swimming through the river of life

I am in the middle of a transition right now, moving away from nursing the twins (most likely). In most of the world, toddlerhood and the end of breastfeeding are not tied like they are here, and so what a USA audience might take as a totally natural progression isn’t necessarily that simple. But the twins, undeniably, along with their reduced interest in nursing, are growing up, and signs of that, both large and small, abound.

I had been really having a hard time with the idea of the end of breastfeeding, and I’d gotten into a polarized place with it, feeling that I had to choose between deciding to end it myself, or letting the twins end it, which made me feel out of control and sad. Naptimes were hard because I was trying to figure out whether/when/how to offer nursing, and how to respond. Emily doesn’t like going down for naps. For two years I nursed her to sleep and then transferred her to her bed. Sometimes she’d wake up and then often I’d wind up giving up on her nap and taking her downstairs with me. I’d decided earlier this week to stop giving into her desire to go downstairs, because that was going to lead to only one place, which was the end of naps for Emily. She still needs them, and honestly, I need the quiet time. So I spent a long time each day for a few days trying to convince her to go to sleep. That’s often not a whole lot of fun, and I was feeling pretty stressed.

Then, a day or two ago I had a tremendously helpful conversation with my friend J, in which all the various big topics that are in my heart and on my mind came up, and I was able to cry in the presence of a sympathetic, loving person. That made such a huge difference.

I am now middle-aged. I am 46 years old. It is overwhelmingly likely that I have already lived more than half of my life, that less remains to me than has already passed. I have been thinking about this in terms of what my kids and I might miss in their lives. I will be 73 when my twins are 30. There’s a reasonable chance that, if they ever choose to have children of their own, I won’t be alive to know them.

I have also been thinking about age in terms of my parents, and feeling touches of the grief that will come when I lose my mother.

I have been thinking about the other end of the life cycle, too. I will never have another baby. The power of the intimacy and connection I’ve felt with my children in their very early lives is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. But my memory of that feeling, my ability to access it with Hazel, for example, is fragile. I am with her in her current stage of development, her current personhood. That is what is real for me in my heart. That idea that you read and hear about all the time, that a mother can always look at her child and remember them as a baby, that hasn’t been true for me as I expected it would be. And me being me, I have felt shame because of it. I have felt like a lesser mother, a lesser human being.

And so when I was crying and talking to J, it came to me that I was struggling with the end of nursing, in part, because I am grieving not only the end of a particular kind of experience with the twins, but feeling a loss because I won’t remember or be in touch with this current reality as they grow and challenge me in new ways, as their personhood shifts more and more away from babyhood.

And then it occurred to me that of course, this is a totally natural process. This is life. Life is a river, a current. Sometimes things or people find eddy pools and stick around for a while. But everyone and everything changes. If you try to stay in a moment in time because you feel its loss will hurt you too much, things stagnate and become unhealthy. If I choose to move along with the current, to be present with my kids where and how and who they are, then I must choose to accept that I flow further and further away from earlier stages. I cannot live there, live in the past.

And actually, I am proud of myself, now that I take another look at it. I have intentionally challenged myself to see Hazel for who she is, and to assume that she’s always capable of more than I realize. If I tried to stay in the moment of her babyhood, emotionally, it would hurt both of us.

So I am deeply grateful for the pictures I took of her in her first 3 years, so many photos. I am grateful for the blog I’ve been writing in the twins’ early life. And I am grateful for Facebook, for all the firsts and moments of all sorts I’ve recorded there. There will be a record for me and for them that is precious, that helps undergird my memory, to amplify theirs, and to make a long-lasting connection between us that they will understand again and in new ways as they grow.

And this afternoon when I put the twins down for their nap, I was able to approach it a bit differently. Lately, they’ve only said they wanted to nurse as a delaying tactic, after I said it was time for lights out. I decided that wasn’t working for me. So I offered nursing before the last book. They said no. I said ok. I read the last book. I put them in their sleep sacks. Joanna crawled into her bed and went to sleep. Emily asked to snuggle. I snuggled her for a couple of minutes and then put her in bed. She took a tad more soothing, and then she too went to sleep.

I am grateful for my partnership with my children, and for the opportunity to learn and to love.

Cooking, Whole30, Hazel’s piano and homework, sisters

The cooking tally tonight is as follows: roasted cauliflower, roasted baby turnips, baked potatoes, baked sweet potatoes, steamed kale, steamed broccoli, roasted acorn squash, boiled beets, and a roasted spaghetti squash. Earlier, Ted baked some chicken with our favorite paprika topping. We are getting back in the game.

We made an agreement last night that if either of us falls off the Whole30 wagon this month, both of us have to start over from Day 1. That adds a bit more weight to individual commitments to no sugar and no grains. And we’re both pretty good at being honest about it.

Our monthly house cleaner came today, so though the house is still a colossal mess, it is clean. That is very, very nice.

We are digging out, getting back on track.

Hazel furiously protested piano practice tonight (not sure if this is a stage, or what), but then wanted to do her homework with me. “Please, can we do more, pleeeeeeease, Mommy??!! I like homework!” hahahahahahahahahahaha. I don’t believe in homework in kindergarten (or in elementary school, for that matter), but Hazel’s job is to cook my goose, repeatedly and with fervor. I sat with her, and it was fun, as I tried to figure out what the Spanish directions said. And I did make her practice two measures with me before that, and managed to make it fun enough that it was a decent experience. Ah, parenting.

Earlier tonight Hazel sat in my lap; Joanna sat in hers; Emily sat in Joanna’s lap. Silly and sweet. I love how much those three love each other.

Sweet parenting moments while being under the weather

The cold I have was bad enough on Friday and Saturday when I was performing, but it really nailed me Sunday and Monday. So therefore, the whole thing could have been worse, I must admit.

I cancelled my lessons yesterday, and once the afternoon nanny arrived (she is usually here for a couple hours so I can teach before Ted comes home) I went straight back to bed. Hazel came up when they were doing dinner to ask if she could have a protein bar for her protein. After we’d talked about that, I asked her if she’d be willing to bring some food up for me.

“Sure, Mommy!”

She went back downstairs, and after a bit she came up with a bowl of food and three colored spoons.

“I brought you three spoons to choose from. Which color would you like? And I brought you three meatballs, because they’re not very big.”

The meatballs weren’t warmed up, so I asked if she could take them downstairs – I intended to ask her if she could ask our babysitter to warm them up.

“How much time would that be?” she asked.
“90 seconds,” I said.
“What are the numbers for that?”
“A 9 and a 0.”
“Ok, sure Mommy!”

She clattered back down the stairs, but not before she’d asked me if I wanted more tea. I told her thanks very much, but I’d had enough, figuring that carrying hot tea upstairs was probably going a bit too far.

And then she brought me nice yummy pesto meatballs, one of our family’s favorites, that she had heated in the microwave herself. The whole exchange was so sweet and loving. I thanked her every step of the way, and she was so happy to be able to help. That warmed my heart as much as the food filled up my tummy.


Last night the coughing phase of this cold began, and I didn’t get a ton of sleep. Around 4 am Ted had gone into the kids’ room because one of the twins was crying. This escalated into screaming/crying from both twins, so I went in to help. Ted said he thinks they are missing me, and I think he’s probably right; I was in full-on concert prep mode for a while and not around very much, and then I promptly got sick and have continued not being available. I took Joanna, who immediately relaxed into me, and I held her and swayed for a while, feeling her head resting on my shoulder and her warm body on my chest, heart to heart. Meantime, Ted had Emily, who asked for me over and over again. They’re so big now, I can’t hold them together any more. But after I’d gotten Joanna down, Ted and I swapped off. It took about 40 minutes to get them both back to sleep, and after about 30 minutes I was in desperate need of a tissue, so I snuck out quietly (Joanna was asleep by then).

Despite being tired, and sick, I was grateful for the chance to hold Joanna and to soothe Emily. I am glad that my presence and touch and voice can help them. And in moments like that, both the feeling and practice of love rise up to my conscious level of awareness, and I can live in my heart then, feeling the joy of attachment, connection.