Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Koyaanisqatsi: when trashy magazines make you think

I don't know if it was the bliss of being on vacation--the blinding white sandy shores of Lake Take beaches, the lack of concern about time of day or day of week, the endless array of high calorie foods at my fingertips--but the trashy magazines I read last week were particularly good. Okay, so InStyle and Glamour were as mindlessly entertaining as usual, but I dogeared several pages of Domino (homemade tortillas! assembling a low-key picnic basket! exposed plywood and Formica countertops!) and got completely engrossed in Esquire's "Portrait of a School Shooter as a Young Man" and Stephen Marche's "A Thousand Words About Our Culture" column in which he posits that violence is innate to human existence and that "purification through violence" is a "necessary inheritance, perhaps, of a revolutionary nation's birth in blood."

Not exactly beach reading, nor was it very surprising that Esquire would publish such good stuff since the magazine's been eminently readable and thoughtful for years--especially if you skip the sillier bits about the world record for kicking oneself in the head (FYI: 77 times in one minute). So, instead, the award for most surprisingly satisfying beach reading goes to ... the August issue of Cookie magazine.

The thing is I started getting a free subscription to Cookie as a thank you gift for something that I don't even remember right now. And I've always treated the magazine like InStyle or my public broadcasting member's magazine: something to flip through while waiting for the dentist or as something to look at while eating breakfast at the kitchen counter. So I was surprised to find the magazine addressing the following "hot" topics in the parenting world:

1. No gift parties ("Party Police"): SB has had three birthday parties and all of them have been "no gifts, please" events. Though part of my motivation was so our friends wouldn't feel pressured to run out and buy a gift but could just come and celebrate with us, I sheepishly have to admit that writer Sally Schultheiss called a spade a spade when she writes that these parties are really "control masquerading as consideration." Personally, I love attending no gift parties because I am one of the most disorganized and indecisive moms on the planet. But on the birthday home front, would I mind so much if SB received only books and cute clothes made by indie designers? Of course, not. But I also get that the jig (i.e., controlling every aspect of my kid's life) will soon be up. The girl's getting savvy to the ways of the world, including the tradition of receiving loot wrapped in shiny paper a couple of times a year.

2. Gender disappointment ("Girl Crazy"): Okay, this piece about a woman who wanted a daughter but got sons wasn't particularly fresh or revelatory, but it made me wonder if it's not merely the fact of having children that changes people--what changes us most profoundly is that we have the children that we have.

When I was twenty weeks pregnant, Alex and I stood beside our car in the parking lot of my doctor's office discussing whether we should find out our baby's sex. We both felt sure it would be a boy and were stunned to hear an hour later that we were wrong. There was no lasting disappointment, but in that moment, I felt my imagined future shift along assumed gender lines: instead of having a son who would adore and champion me for all time, I'd have a daughter who would hate me in fourteen years but, if I was lucky, would then find her way back to me in twenty years. I became a mother of a daughter that day--my posture more protective and watchful, my efforts geared toward preparing her for future challenges. I don't think that I would have been more carefree as the mother of a son, but because parent-child relationships are intuitive and responsive--not only to children as people but also to the way they are positioned in the world--I'm certain that I would be a different person today in ways that I can't fully imagine.

3. How many children to have ("More or Less"): Four writers explain the number of children that they have. This one resonates with me on so many levels, so much so that I have to save it for another post. . . .

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