Alpha Mom » Heather B. Armstrong parenting and pregnancy opinions and information Thu, 13 Aug 2015 17:13:27 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Discovering the joy of music videos all over again Tue, 14 Aug 2007 20:14:12 +0000

I might have to make the argument that the best thing to come out of the Internet, other than perhaps all the free goat porn, is the ability to watch loads of music videos again. Remember when MTV used to play music videos? Me neither, but it doesn’t matter now that there are an endless number of places that showcase music videos and just as many artists who are willing to put them together. It’s a fun and easy way to discover new music, and in the last month it has become the biggest way I spend my time online, although a close second would be Googling CLIVE OWEN NUDE.
This week I’ll be highlighting some of the videos I have found from British artists, starting with this animated one from Eugene McGuinness for his single “Monsters Under the Bed.” I don’t recommend you watch this with your kids around because there is a small scene featuring teddy bear carnage. Have them go in the other room and play with knives.

This next one is “The Magic Position” by Patrick Wolf. Several people recommended Patrick’s music to me, and I’m glad they did because if you were to take a look at my collection of music you’d see just how much I’m drawn to tall, lanky British boys who barely move their mouths when they sing. This is an incredibly catchy tune, so don’t say I didn’t warn you when tomorrow you accidentally start singing it out loud in a meeting.

Next is a video for Bloc Party’s “So Here We Are.” This song is off their album Silent Alarm, released in 2005, and I have been listening to the whole thing on repeat for several weeks now. This song in particular is one of my favorites because its sound is reminiscent of the British music I listened to in the very early nineties when I was in college, and there are certain chords in this song that make me feel like I’ve got a calculus exam tomorrow.

Speaking of the music I listened to in college, here’s the video for “Pearl” by Chapterhouse. Although the video is not nearly as cool as the song, I forgive them because when was this? 1991? They were working on computers with less hard drive space than an iPod Shuffle.

Finally, the video for “I Believe” by Simian Mobile Disco. This sound will take you straight back to the mid-eighties when we all thought cassette tapes were the pinnacle of technological innovation. It’s heavily littered with beats, yes, but it’s the melody paired with those beats that makes this song a stand out. I’m thinking that this will end up being one of my favorite songs of the year.

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The 79th Annual Academy Awards Tue, 27 Feb 2007 19:53:45 +0000

The 79th Annual Academy Awards aired Sunday night, and as usual it was longer than a typical Mormon church meeting. How long is a typical Mormon church meeting, you ask? Well, depending on whether or not your mother is the choir director, and your father is the person who is responsible for unlocking the building, an average Sunday afternoon for a Mormon teenager could last four years. And the Oscars this year were longer than that.
I’ll be honest with you, the only reason I watched this year’s show was to see what Nicole Kidman was going to wear, because I knew who was going to win in each category, and how different can an acceptance speech be if you’ve already given it to the same group of people five times? I cannot remember a single acceptance speech, except maybe the one given by Martin Scorsese, and then only because he didn’t say anything about how the Academy must be a bunch of idiots, it is about damn time. Didn’t you want even a tiny bit for him to drop a few colorful words and maybe break out a semi-automatic? Or maybe throw George Lucas head-first off the stage? Instead, he was very polite and humble and totally ready to be folded up and put in your purse so that you could take him home and snuggle with him later. And then maybe use his eyebrows to towel off after a hot bath.
I was happy to see Alan Arkin win for his supporting role in Little Miss Sunshine, a movie I loved more than anything else I saw this year, if only because I can’t remember the last time I laughed so hard out loud in a movie theater. Or the last time I had to physically put my hands over my husband’s mouth so that the rest of the audience wouldn’t be deafened by the sound of his hysterical laughter, a sound I would compare to the agonizing screams of a hippo that simultaneously has the hiccups and is throwing up the tree it ate for lunch. But Arkin’s win over front runner Eddie Murphy was the only real surprise of the night, and instead of giving a speech from the heart he read every word of his acceptance from a piece of paper. And there’s nothing wrong with being prepared, I understand why he did it, it was just so boring. I don’t know, I just wish there had been more blood.
I thought Nicole Kidman looked stunning, even with that monster bow on the back of her neck that looked like it might unhinge its jaw and swallow her head. She just has a hard time looking bad or flawed in any way, and I think the same thing about Jennifer Lopez, although I’m sure it helps to have a stylist and make-up artist and surgical professional on your staff. And here’s where I think the Oscars are at their most boring, especially this year, because almost no one is willing to take huge risks on this particular red carpet. Nicole Kidman’s risk was still just a bow. I longingly yearn for a more carefree time when a celebrity would step out of the limousine with a sick bird trying to seal off their trachea, or trying to balance large wicker patio furniture on their head, or counting on one hand the number of people who can keep a straight face when shaking their hand.

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The 2007 Golden Globes Thu, 18 Jan 2007 12:32:31 +0000

The 2007 Golden Globes was one of the least annoying award shows I have ever sat through from beginning to end, but then, they already had a head start. The Globes have a fighting chance at being fun because they never include a cloying musical number performed by an aging artist — usually Sting when they can’t book Phil Collins — from an animated show I haven’t even heard of. Plus, they do away with the unnecessary banter between presenters that plagues the Oscars, banter that is as painful as any scene from a Ben Stiller movie where everything is going wrong, and just when you think it couldn’t go more wrong, when it seems that is has finally reached the pinnacle of wrongness, a house falls out of the sky and lands directly on the already broken toe of the character who has just found out that the heart he received as a transplant was taken from a third-world dictator who killed orphans as a hobby.
By reviewing an awards show like this I run the risk of sounding like more of a gasbag than I already am, because shouldn’t I be doing more important things with my time? Who cares, right? I’ll go on record and say that I care, I care very deeply, because Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie are already doing enough important things to make up for all the time I spent rewinding the TiVo to see just how much of Jennifer Lopez’s boob was poking out of the side of her Marchesa gown. Oh, and Ali Larter? Did you see Ali Larter? I was taking notes so that I could come back here and say something important (see above: must do important things with my time), and at the top of my notes I scribbled this: Ali Larrrrrrrrrsssss……. and then there is a huge drop of drool and a fold in the shape of the side of my face from where I passed out and fell over from dehydration.
Can I be serious here for a second and talk seriously? I was being serious before, but I want to go a step further and lay bare my soul. And it is going to be very scary because of just how vulnerable an admission this is going to be, and I might need you to hold me. But America Ferrera? I cried. She made me cry. Large tears of crying. Because she was just, I don’t know, a real person, with real person feelings and real person hair, and all that silly screaming she did when her show Ugly Betty won Best TV Comedy? Totally ridiculous, and you just know her publicist was mortified, would have shaken her and told her to get a grip if it wasn’t live television. And that made me love her so much more, made me remember what it was like to be that age, that one time I twisted off the top to a Coke bottle to find out that I had won a two dollar gift certificate to 7-11. And oh my God, THAT WAS THE BEST DAY OF MY LIFE.
The show was also surprisingly hilarious due in no small part to Sacha Baron Cohen’s acceptance speech in which he gave thanks for the anus and testicles of his costar. That is certainly my kind of acceptance speech, one in which you’re not really sure just how far someone is going to go, and you find yourself relieved that he restrained himself enough to stop right after the description of what it was like to have his face lodged inside someone else’s butt. Every time the camera cut to the audience during his speech you saw all these serious actors losing it, laughing like they have probably not ever laughed before, others not sure if it was okay to laugh, others scared to crack a smile, and that tension combined with all the Moet champagne being guzzled at every table, well, you know that some very nervous executive at NBC was sitting at home in a puddle of his own waste.
And then Forest Whitaker got up there and started choking up, after Eddie Murphy had accepted his award with the most humble speech, after Jennifer Hudson had cried her way through thanking everyone for such an opportunity. It was the most beautiful television I have ever watched, aside from that one episode of Untold Stories of the E.R. where a patient complained of stomach pains and the doctors pulled a Perrier water bottle out of her lower intestine. These Globes were that touching, and the only thing that could have made it the most moving show that has ever aired was if Brad Pitt had accepted an award with his shirt off.

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As festive as I’ll ever be Wed, 13 Dec 2006 08:45:27 +0000

During the holiday season at my childhood home, my parents played Christmas music from the end of November through the new year, always the same albums in the same order on the record player that sat inside a ten-foot long black lacquer console underneath an orange shag carpet hung on the wall. Our tree was an artificial mess of blue and red lights, silver tinsel reflecting dark brown paneling that flanked a fireplace we rarely used. And underneath it were a hundred presents, or what seemed like that many, because at that age a hundred was the biggest number I could think of, as big as the number of stars in the sky, bigger even than the age of my grumpy Aunt Kay who had to be the oldest person alive. She was at least 42.
The most enduring memories I have of the season are those of music and the noisy static that exploded from the speakers when the needle touched the vinyl. My two siblings and I shared an Alvin and the Chipmunks Christmas collection that we played until it crumbled into pieces. Even now when I listen to a few of the songs on iTunes, classics you can find on any holiday compilation, their chipper, mischievous voices don’t send me crawling up the wall like they did my parents, like they would any sane person who can hear. The sound they make is what would come out of a pig if it were hung up by its toenails and poked repeatedly with a curling iron. Perfect for bringing lost souls to Baby Jesus.
After the chipmunk album broke we listened to a collection of Christmas songs by the Osmonds, songs I have never seen on any other compilation since. My favorite was a song called “Sleigh Ride,” and I remember thinking it had to have been sung by one of the cuter Osmonds, because only someone cute could rock that hard, or harder than any song I had ever been allowed to listen to. Not very hard at all. It was the only Christmas song I’d ever heard that featured an electric guitar, and it was fast and breathless and unforgiving, like a Sunday spent skipping church. When we played it we’d dance recklessly around the tree in our footed pajamas playing air guitar, hoping one day we would grow up to be as cool as the Osmonds. You could say that we had been taught to aim high in life.
Once we had outgrown Santa Claus and preferred to mope in our rooms over helping to decorate the tree, my mother joyfully reclaimed command of the holiday music selection and tried to kill us slowly with an album by Mannheim Steamroller. Hearing that name today makes me feel like I’m about to puke pea soup, and I’m probably being a little harsh because they aren’t that bad if you’re into music hitting you over the head with its preciousness. Steamroller music feels religious even though it isn’t, and maybe that’s because it is so majestic and full of booming, crashing, apocalyptic crescendos. And despite not having any words each song feels like it has been carefully crafted to make you consider your very insignificant mortality against a much higher, much more intelligent power, one who is ready to beat you over the head with a jazzy synthesizer if you continue to ignore him.
One constant soundtrack to our holidays was the Mormon Tabernacle Choir who ruined my favorite Christmas song, “O Holy Night,” because no one else could sing it as well as they did, could hit the final high note with as much authority. I always thought I’d try out to be a member of the choir when I grew up, and to practice I sang in my mother’s annual Christmas choir at church, one she has directed longer than I have been alive. That choir is by far my favorite memory of Christmas, one of my favorites from all of childhood, because it was one of the first instances that I understood what it meant to cry from something other than sadness. My mother always ended the program with an arrangement of “Silent Night” where the choir would sing a special harmony while the congregation sang a verse. The effect was what I thought heaven would sound like, all these angels talking sweetly over each other, not a raised, angry voice in the room, everything forgiven. And for me that song has come to represent the reason why I still celebrate this holiday.

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There is hope for television yet Thu, 19 Oct 2006 13:30:41 +0000

Every Fall when the new television season is rolled out, I invariably become emotionally involved in those series which are yanked by their networks after only a few episodes. I have an uncanny ability to pick the losers, probably due to the fact that I am drawn to bad television like a roving wolf to a rotting carcass, the smell of dead flesh too irresistible to ignore. Last season it was a show about a species of alien lizards poised to take over the world, our only hope being the intelligent, witty maneuvers of a large-breasted scientist who spent much of the series running around in a wet t-shirt. That one lasted 15 episodes, and although I didn’t see the ending I’m hoping that the buxom scientist saved the world with a computer hard drive as her dripping, tousled hair draped over her heaving, impenetrable chest. Up and down. Up and down.
This year most of the series I have checked out haven’t been very bad. In fact, several of them are quite good, and one even has changed my notion of television entirely. One is so brilliant that I’d be willing to offer up every bad television show I regularly watch just to keep the network from canceling it. I’d give up the reality shows that do nothing but create situations in which two 19-year-old girls try to extract flesh from each other’s heads, the cop dramas where suspects confess to murders within minutes because the attractive blonde investigator is just THAT GOOD, even the medical drama where the annoyingly whiny intern suffers a metaphysical crisis over which good-looking doctor to sleep with. I’m sorry, but you have got serious problems if you have to think twice about getting kinky with a man who has hair like that.
Friday Night Lights, this new brilliant series, is an aching portrait of a small town in Texas where high school football is religion. And while it is marginally about the game of football, it is much more about the boys who play it, the coach who has to lead and direct them, and the relationship between them and their community. Much like the movie that inspired it, the series is a sweeping canvas of electrifying music and moody images, and it chooses silence over noise to create its most stinging scenes of melodrama. It’s unlike any other television show in that it doesn’t feel like it has been art directed by a committee of humorless marketing executives who think that the louder they talk the more people will listen. It looks and sounds like it has been art directed by someone whose passion about life is so magnetic that you can’t help but hang on their every word.
I should come clean and admit that I am not a fan of football. I can appreciate the athleticism and intensity with which the players and coaches approach the sport, but the idea of spending a Sunday afternoon glued to a game for four hours is as appealing as clubbing my forehead with a rubber mallet. But somehow this show makes the game of football seem as nuanced and glorious as an Italian opera, and while there are scenes where the sound of helmets smashing into shoulder pads is almost deafening, the true beauty of this show is its quiet restraint, in the smoldering moments when the coach is faced with the pressures of an anxious community, with the raw adrenaline of his hot-headed teenage players, and he looks longingly over a plate of pork ribs into the eyes of his wife to gather strength. The story is just so human, so wonderfully human.
In the past week I have read several rumors that Friday Night Lights is on the verge of being canceled because it can’t seem to find an audience. And while that does frustrate me, I also feel a little guilty because I am exactly the type of person who keeps all those other awful shows on television, like the one where celebrities attempt to learn a new ballroom dance every week but instead look as if they are slaughtering infant goats when they get on stage. I am not proud of myself, and I’m even more embarrassed to admit that I didn’t know it would feel so refreshing to like a television show for all the right reasons, because it is well written and directed and leaves me on the edge of my seat, because it reflects humanity far better than any reality show.

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Add to the list of things that make this mortal body worth the pain Mon, 09 Oct 2006 11:48:28 +0000

A few weeks ago my husband and I attended a live show for the first time in several months, that of singer/songwriter Andrew Bird whose performance nearly knocked us out of our shoes, our shoes that were bought on sale because we spent the rest of our money on a babysitter. And drinks at the bar that cost so much you would have thought we were buying a distillery. Now that we are parents the amount of work that goes into planning and saving up for a night out is so prohibitively complicated that sometimes I would rather stay home and yank my pinky finger out with a set of salad tongs.
I’m not sure what we expected Andrew to sound like live — we really didn’t care, as long as he produced sound we would be satisfied because we had made it out of the house and had to enjoy ourselves on principle alone. I had bought a couple of his CDs online, and they were a solid series of really great folk songs with an array of sound from violins and guitars. I anticipated a quiet evening, a show we would nod our heads along to, one that would demand polite, delicate clapping. And then we would go home and pay the babysitter so much money that she could buy that Porsche she always wanted.
The show began when Dosh, a drummer/keyboardist, took the stage and said that he’d be playing a bit before Andrew took the stage. I totally rolled my eyes, as did my husband, because this guy looked like a punk, like he took his drumming way too seriously. Within thirty seconds, though, we felt like the most judgmental idiots alive, because he was creating some of the most incredible, most profound music we had ever heard at a live show, loops and blips and fantastic labyrinthine rhythms. Before we could wrap our heads around the sound Andrew had taken the stage and had seamlessly started whistling and playing the violin to Dosh’s beats. And then Dosh sampled Andrew’s violin as he played it, looped it back, and the entire building shook as if 40 different musicians had taken the stage and were beating each other with their instruments.
The sound was indescribable, confounding. We stood there with our mouths open, unable to figure out how two humans could make that kind of noise, simultaneously wicked and angelic. Andrew’s voice was like no sound I have ever heard, haunting and piercing, and not once did he waver off key. The music somewhat resembled what I had heard at home on the CD, like a child might remind you of her mother, but it stunned me that they sounded like this, like they were the only people who should ever be allowed to play the drums and the violin, because after this performance anyone else would be a fraud. That show was undoubtedly the best babysitting money we have ever spent, which is the best review a parent has to offer.

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Katie Couric, now 80% less awkward Fri, 22 Sep 2006 11:25:51 +0000

Katie Couric debuted as the anchor of CBS Evening News almost three weeks ago, and immediately critics decried her work as perky, bubbly, and too sweet for such a formidable position. The Washington Post even gave her suit a bad review, saying that it made her look chubby, which, let’s face it, is not at all a hypocritical way of accusing someone of not delivering the news seriously enough.
There is no question that the words people are using to describe Katie’s performance indicate a general unease about a woman anchoring such a major news show. Did anyone mention Brian WIlliams’ tie on the night he took over for Tom Brokaw? Did anyone even notice? I have never read a review of a male news anchor with half as many emotionally-charged descriptions as the ones used to dissect Katie, although isn’t that Charles Gibson such a cute little grumple-puss?
I didn’t catch her inaugural show, but have seen almost every episode since then. I will admit, she initially did not deliver the news like most of the men who have done this job before her, and the differences were jarring. During the first few shows she tilted her head to the side when delivering a headline as if trying to break the bad news of the day as gently as possible. When interviewing guests she leaned in like a close friend, and acted as if she were on the verge of putting her hand on someone’s leg and saying, “I know this is hard, but I am here for you.”
I was worried because as a fan of the Today show I had witnessed her compulsion to flirt with the most unsuspecting guests. My husband liked to call them Awkward Katie Couric Moments™, those special occasions when she would say something completely suggestive to a married man — Tom Hanks, Al Gore, even Matt Lauer — who would then turn an undeniable shade of red because he knew his wife was at home watching. Was America ready for a news anchor to flirt with the president of Iran when discussing nuclear bombs? Maybe that’s what that dialogue needs.
But even in the last week she’s settled into her new position as if she has been doing this as long as any of her colleagues. She has slowly shed the manic energy that worked for a morning show and developed something much more authoritative. I like her delivery now almost as much as I liked that of Elizabeth Vargas whose resignation from ABC’s World News Tonight was a true loss. She obviously just needed to get her footing, not unlike anyone else who starts a new job, although unique in the sense that those first few steps played out in front of 13 million critics.

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The 2006 Video Music Yawnfest Fri, 08 Sep 2006 10:43:22 +0000

I do not know how to sit down and write this without sounding like a grumpy 80-year-old woman who hasn’t done any cuddling in the last twenty years, so I’ll just go ahead and get it out of the way: MTV is total crap. I’m well aware that I do not fit its target demographic — teen, can text message with one hand while the other hand enters Google searches for plagiarized term papers, wears underwear with “FEISTY” silk-screened across the crotch — but just because I’m not the one it is catering to doesn’t mean that I am not capable of appreciating it. I want to love it because it raised me like a doting adoptive parent, but now it is an old and distant convalescent relative who smells like his own urine and walks around with his hairy, pocked buttocks hanging out the back of his hospital gown.
I knew that I was going to write about the most recent Video Music Awards, and that is the only reason I sat through those awful three hours without shooting the television. I will never be able to get those three hours back, three hours I could have better spent drooling into a cup. I took notes throughout the show so that I could go back afterward and figure out which parts to highlight, but even my notes bored me. A more irrelevant show does not exist, and if given the choice in the future I would rather sit through a three-hour video of Angela Lansbury plucking her underarm hair.
Why am I so surly about this? I’ve been trying to figure this out, and I think it goes directly to the fact that as I have gotten older I haven’t stopped buying new music. I regularly give money to the music industry, and none of my purchases are influenced by MTV. And I don’t think I’m alone. Nothing illustrates this disconnect so brilliantly than the fact that the highlight of the VMA’s was OK Go’s flawless performance of their “Here It Goes Again” treadmill dance made famous on the Internet, not by MTV. By the last tally on the video’s YouTube page, it has been viewed over five and a half MILLION times. That’s almost more than the number of people who tuned in to watch the VMA’s on television. It’s clear in this equation that MTV needed OK Go more than OK Go needed MTV.
There are a countless number of reasons the VMA’s fell flat on its face, and if someone who has been living under a rock for the last 25 years suddenly emerged and was forced to watch it they would probably guess that it was produced by a high school theater class. There was no podium to ground the presenters and winners, and every transition between award and musical number seemed confused and hurried, as if everyone was feeling their way around in the dark. Host Jack Black couldn’t pull a laugh from the audience the whole night, and I felt embarrassed for him like I would if my nephew were singing at a talent show and the entire front row were plugging their ears. None of the musical numbers had any memorable qualities, nothing that I will remember even a month from now, nothing like Madonna’s “Like A Virgin” stage crawl that I can describe in detail from having watched it 22 years ago.
There is only one significant thing that I took away from the show, and that is how profoundly scared I am of the dramatic and tragic turn fashion has suddenly taken. From Kanye West’s white tapered pants to Paris Hilton’s black Grandpa ankle boots, fashion is trying to pull the 80’s out of its very deep grave. I’d recently been to a local clothing store and noticed the skinny pants and leggings and cropped fishnet sweaters, and I had chosen not to believe that it was happening. But you can’t ignore it when it is trotted out on a New York stage and flaunted as if it were perfectly okay (it isn’t! it isn’t okay!). What’s so sad is that MTV couldn’t instead bring back the spark and relevance that it had during that decade, that period of my life when I couldn’t change the channel because I always wanted to see the next video. Now I’d much rather watch re-runs of Quincy while massaging my bunions.

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The 2006 Emmy Awards Tue, 29 Aug 2006 12:59:08 +0000

Usually when I sit down to watch television with my husband I have my fingers positioned on the TiVo remote, not only to fast forward through the commercials, but also to rewind the parts of a show I can’t hear because he is too busy yelling in outrage at the actors. We’ve had endless arguments about his habit of doing this — and also about my habit of forcing him to watch really terrible television — but he’s finally reached a point of self-control where he will ask me politely to pause a show so that he can verbally berate a script writer without inhibiting my ability to keep up with the dialogue. That is our compromise: he gives a heads-up that he is going to interrupt a show and I don’t break his kneecaps with the remote.
Awards shows are the hardest for him because there is always so much material to be upset about, so many awkward moments that are harder to sit through than an unmedicated birth. Last night we had only watched three minutes of the Emmy pre-show when he looked at me from across the couch and said, “If I am not allowed to comment at will then I will be dead before the host gives his opening monologue.” I couldn’t argue with that prediction because even I was so uncomfortable during the red-carpet interviews that the muscles in my face were involuntarily recoiling. At one point Billy Bush was asking Jeremy Piven about which celebrity babies he had seen — Baby Violet? Baby Shiloh? what about mythical Baby Suri? — when Piven whipped around and said directly into the microphone, “You need another job. I mean, you have potential as a human being. This may not be right for you. Seriously. Can you focus on other things?” Before the show had even started we’d witnessed that eagerly anticipated NASCAR moment: the one where four cars crash into a ball of fire, and we cannot help but stare as they pull out the mangled, headless bodies.
I understand Piven’s point, although it came across with less oomph because his bulging ascot got in the way, and it must be frustrating for people in show business to show up to an awards show and be asked not about their work but about the cheeseburger they had for lunch, was it good? Did it come with fries? But without those thorny moments awards shows are nearly unbearable to watch, and with the exception of Piven’s moral outrage, last night’s Emmy show was one of the most forgettable things I have ever watched on television, more forgettable than every episode of Real World: Paris when no one slept with anyone else.
Even the fashion was disappointingly boring, and not a single outrageous outfit scarred the red carpet, not a ballerina outfit or a bird costume to be found and lovingly discussed for years to come. Only two women stood out to me, the first being Heidi Klum dressed in a flowing, full-length red gown. She is four or five months pregnant, and the precision with which she pieced everything together — the hair pulled high on her head, the glow in her face, the perfectly long flash of leg through the slit in the front of her dress — the woman looked as if she was presiding over the entire universe, as if she were the standard by which all beauty on Earth is measured. I think if women were guaranteed to look like that during their third pregnancies that we’d hear a lot more men complaining that all they ever do anymore is have sex.
The other stand-out was Katherine Heigl of Grey’s Anatomy whose dress was the only thing during the entire evening that made me pause the television. Both my husband and I went from lying down on the couch to sitting up straight and leaning toward the television to get a closer look. “Her hair looks nice,” he said dryly in a very poor attempt to convince me that it wasn’t her gigantic, glistening chest that had sent a shiver up his back. I told him that this was one of those instances when he was allowed to look below the woman’s chin because something that stunning shouldn’t go unappreciated. Her dress was the color of liquid gold, and it hugged her body like the hand of God. “If it makes you feel any better,” my husband said reassuringly, “I bet the only reason her chest looks that amazing is because right before she walked on stage a thousand tiny fairies appeared and licked an ocean of cocaine off her breasts.” Yes. That makes me feel so much better. Not only is her chest flawless, but it is also magical.
Most of the major awards were won by people and shows that I’ve never watched, some I’d never even heard of. Alan Alda won for the West Wing which I’ve never seen; Blythe Danner won for Huff which I thought was just a verb from a nursery rhyme. The Amazing Race won its second straight Emmy for Outstanding Reality Program, which is sort of frustrating because it’s the only reality show I haven’t studied like I was facing a final exam. 24 won the Emmy for Outstanding Drama, and this only makes my life harder because now, since everyone seems to love it, I have no choice but to go back to the beginning of season one, hour one, and work my way up chronologically to the present. It would be so much easier if 24 were a reality show because then I could just jump in at any time and know without having seen anything before that everyone is mad at everyone else, and the only reason that the annoying man with flesh-eating chest hair who keeps stealing everyone else’s food hasn’t yet been voted off is because the producers know he’s great for ratings.
The show did have the opportunity for a spectacular explosion in a couple different places, the first one when Farrah Fawcett walked on stage with her Charlie’s Angels costars during the tribute to Aaron Spelling. I know I’m not alone when I say that I was totally hoping she was drunk. But she wasn’t, and sadly, everything that came out of her mouth made sense. The other instance was when host Conan O’Brien joked that Bob Newhart was being held in an air-tight container with only three hours of oxygen inside, and that if the show went long as it usually does that Bob would inevitably die. Newhart was the perfect choice for a gag like this, his long face excruciatingly sad as if he were taking it seriously. But they let him out of the container well before the show was even over, and a potentially hilarious moment was ripped right out from underneath us. Why not leave him in the container to the side of the stage and let him react as one winner after another gives an acceptance speech as long as a Victorian novel? Or better, why not slowly fill the container with water and see if he ever learned how to swim? Because if he hadn’t, wouldn’t you rewind that part?

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Book Tour: The Ghost in the House Mon, 14 Aug 2006 21:48:49 +0000

Two years ago this month I checked myself into the psyche ward at a local hospital due to a debilitating bout of postpartum depression. My daughter was six months old, and I had been fighting feelings of hopelessness and anxiety since her birth. I had battled depression in college, and in the years leading up to my marriage, but during my pregnancy I went off my medication. After the birth I stayed off my meds because I was afraid they would be passed to my daughter through my breastmilk. But I was also, as award-winning journalist Tracy Thompson describes in her new book, The Ghost in the House, “the victim of a delusion common to people with mental illness, the idea that some major life change will magically transform your body, make all things well and whole and new.”
I look back at what I wrote during that period of my life and am surprised that I was able to write a single coherent sentence. I don’t remember being lucid enough to type out a word, and when I ask my husband what he remembers most about those months he’s always quick to mention the daily phone calls I made to his office wherein I would scream three or four incomprehensible paragraphs of nonsense and then abruptly hang up, sometimes three times in one hour. I kept a somewhat detailed journal about my experiences during that depressive episode, and when I read it now I realize that I was trying to appear as the most reasonable insane person I could possibly be. If I was going to be insane, I would do it as perfectly and neatly as I could.
I have received a lot of email about the things I wrote during that time, email that thanks me for sharing a glimpse into that darkness because it has made some other mothers feel as if they are not alone. But just as important as those notes are the ones from people who have thanked me for giving them insight into an illness they know nothing about, into the mind of their wives, or their sisters, or their best friends. Because of some of the things I shared, they say, they are now less quick to judge someone in their lives. It is this reason that I recommend Thompson’s book, because it is a compelling look into and analysis of what causes maternal depression, into why someone might, without cause, pick up a phone and scream obscenities at the most important person in her life.
The Ghost in the House looks at how mothers today struggle to live up to unreasonable expectations, and suggests that “the bar has been raised in imperceptible increments, for such a long time, that much of the time we don’t even realize that we are holding ourselves to standards our mothers never had to meet.” Thompson surveyed nearly 400 mothers who have suffered depression, and combines those results with scientific studies to describe in exact terms what maternal depression is, how we can prevent it from harming the relationships we have with our children, and how we can cope with it through the “very specific stress” we face as mothers: “the ongoing demands of children.”
Thompson describes maternal depression as “a Bad Day that comes for a visit and refuses to leave,” as a mother’s tendency to withdraw both emotionally and physically from her child, as chronic irritability. As important as her definition, though, is the weight she gives it with quotes taken directly from mothers who are living with it day in and out:
“I just yell all day at them when I’m depressed.”
“I have absolutely no patience whatsoever. It’s like I have no coping skills as a parent. That just vanishes.”
“When I’m cranky I don’t address a lot of my son’s misbehavior until I get to the point where everything he does bothers me. Then…I overreact and yell at him for something as small as not getting his cup for me.”
“Just the relentless nature of parenting is a monumental effort when you are depressed. Putting up the Christmas tree might as well be climbing Mount Everest. ‘Play with me, Mommy’ become words you dread — and then the guilt!”
A large portion of the book is dedicated to the discussion of breaking the cycle of depression, to showing that even though the tendency toward depression is genetic, that a child who has inherited a parent’s gene is not doomed to suffer. A lot of how that gene manifests itself depends on how a parent learns to cope with her own depression: “this is poker, remember, not chess — and much depends on how we play the hand we are dealt.” My own depression revealed itself in standard ways, in exhaustion and irritability, but I also experienced what Thompson refers to as “anger attacks,” and I threw heavy objects at walls and tore the front door off its hinge. I don’t know yet what effect that behavior has had on my daughter, but it’s safe to assume that if she grows up and figures out world peace that she won’t cite that one time I threw a 32-ounce water bottle at her father as one of those moments when she saw the beauty in humankind.
I do hope that the fact that I chose to get help will have had some positive effect on my daughter, will at least show her that there is no shame in admitting to a problem and asking someone to give a hand. Thompson discusses the options available to depressed mothers — meditation, prayer, journaling, exercise, sleep, support groups, counseling, and medication — and stresses that it is important to get help not only for ourselves but for our children, for the sake of our children’s adulthood. I asked Thompson if pressure from other mothers, the way they choose to parent and how they judge others harshly for choosing something different, is making things worse, and how can we prevent what could be our biggest support system from becoming our worst enemy. She said:

I think of mothers as being kind of like a religious community–and, as in any religious community, you want to steer away from the wild-eyed fanatics, the Fundamentalists and the proselytizers. But, as in a genuine religious community, you can also find immense strength, comfort and healing. The problem too many moms have today–and I think it’s primarily a problem of a tiny core of extremely affluent moms–is this sense of “how do I make sure my darling child gets the best of everything.” I pity a child who gets the best of everything–but, aside from that, these moms are creating insane expectations for themselves and for their kids. And yet, this is a form of fear, and fear is the most highly contagious of emotions. I have a good friend–Sarah in the book–who lives in Chevy Chase and she occasionally gets w/ me for a reality check; in her neighborhood, it’s not unusual for the mother of a four-year-old to be hiring a reading tutor for her child, because the kid is obviously so “late” to read. Sarah has to e-mail me and say, “Is this sick?” and, because I live in a much less affluent neighborhood–bordering between middle-class and working class–I don’t get this crap loaded on me so much, so I can say, “Yes, it is sick.”

How do you get support? I think you have to choose your peer group carefully. and you just have to steer clear [of those who are] victims of our culture, and they are carriers of the virus–the virus of materialism and me-first and consumer lust and all that. You just have to be really clear about what your values are and stay grounded. There are plenty of other moms out there who want very similar things for their kids, and you just have to find them.

Ultimately, I found that the coping mechanism that works best for me is a continuing regimen of medication and occasional counseling. But, like almost all of the survey respondents in her book, I live in relatively privileged circumstances, and what frightens me is the thought that if I had not been able to afford medical care that I may not be sitting here today. Isn’t it insensitive to assume that poorer women would have access to the same coping mechanisms as their more affluent counterparts? Thompson says:

Depression and poverty and motherhood are practically synonymous, in my opinion, and I based this purely on anecdotal evidence from reporting on welfare reform for the Washington Post and seeing a lot of dire poverty up close. These women just deal, and many of them deserve the Nobel Prize just for getting through the day. It is no surprise to me that many of them self medicate (lots of affluent women self-medicate–the only difference tends to be the choice of drugs).

Some of the coping mechanisms will work, no matter what demographic you’re talking about. Meditations/prayer or whatever you want to call it is do-able no matter what your income level. Exercise is problematical if you live in a dicey area and don’t have money for a gym membership, and that is tragic (and let’s not even talk about the kids who never get outside because it’s just too dangerous). Decent medical care? Very, very hard to find for anybody; in some ways, if you qualify for a sliding fee counseling arrangement, you might end up better off than somebody with standard health insurance, but that’s by no means a given. IF they can get themselves to a shrink, they often can find that drug companies have programs (little publicized) that offer free or vastly reduced medications to people who can’t afford to buy them and/or who don’t have health insurance. Of course, you have to have enough savvy to ask and enough self-confidence to keep on asking for this stuff, but it can be done. On the plus side, people in poorer circumstances often have support networks equal to or superior to those of their middle-class sisters in spacious suburbia, if only because poverty forces you to depend on other people (and vice versa). And of course reading and educating yourself about depression–that’s available in public libraries.

So it’s possible for some things to work. But, this is a book that remains to be written.

One that if written by Thompson I will surely read cover to cover.

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