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My daughter’s first movie was not Bambi or Frozen or even Toy Story. Her first film was Transamerica – starring Felicity Huffman.
It’s a beautiful film about a transgender woman whose transition to womanhood coincides with her transition to parenthood. Like most things parental, I didn’t plan for my baby’s first experience with the silver screen to involve a transgender Desperate Housewife – – it just kinda happened.
When you have a newborn, life is ‘all baby’ all the time. When once you could focus on a topic and have an actual conversation with a beginning, middle and end – – post baby conversations suddenly resemble a disjointed Rubik’s Cube stream of consciousness that goes something like this:
“Did you hear that interview on NPR about the congressman, hold on, she’s not quite latching on. Let me just get the nipple in and ouch- – so this congressman is caught with his pants down around his – – dammit, I dropped her blankie, can you get that? So pants around his ankles, no honey, don’t bite mommy. Hey while you’re up, can you let the dog out? Maybe I should try the football hold, the lactation consultant said she should be on the entire areola, which, yep, she’s got it okay, so the congressman is caught, now the dog needs back in, he’s barking and my neighbors will call the landlord by bark #3. Thanks, he’s so neglected. Ouch, honey, do not bite mommy’s nipple. The whole areola! The whole areola! Come on sweetie. Bark #3! What were we talking about? Was I saying something important? The whole areola!”
When your baby is newborn, it’s like information is pushed through a sieve of importance and only the life or death bits remain. And even if you were an intelligent or capable human being pre-baby, your total existence becomes centered around theories of co-sleeping, the best breast pump and the grand and fascinating debate of whether playgrounds should implement rubber foam or just stick to sand.
On one hand the foam rubber could be toxic down the line, yet that sand mound under the swings, while protecting your baby’s noggin should they fall, also serves as a giant litter box for the neighborhood cats and cats have been linked to schizophrenia.
Tomato tomaaaaato. Toxicity and cancer or cat pee and mental illness. Ahhh mommyhood.
Mommyhood has camaraderie. But I missed the camaraderie of creative thought, of ideas flowing, theatre and politics. And I say that without a sense of loss for those years. I am proud to have had nothing matter but her. Because that is the way of things. As mamas, there is something that blocks out the clutter of life, even the fascinating clutter, some part that says, “The world will be here when you return, but for now, just keep that little critter breathing.”
When I was a nanny in my early 20s, I remember having a conversation with the baby’s mom that went something like this:
Me: Did you read that New Yorker article about….?
The mom laughs, stopping the conversation before I can continue, as does her friend.
Mom: I don’t read the New Yorker anymore!
Like duh, silly nanny.
Mom: The articles are too long.
Me: Yeah but it’s a magazine. It’s not like it’s Dostoevsky.
Mom: I don’t have time to read a 7 page article about anything. It doesn’t take me 7 pages to poop. A poop is 3 pages. Maybe. I get 3 pages a day. That’s it. 3!
She actually seemed angry that a writer had the audacity to write such a long article that could outlast a good poop. At 25, with all the time in the world, I could not fathom how a human being couldn’t find the time to read 7 pages a day.
This mama is a brilliant woman who pre-baby read the LA Times and NY Times cover to cover and was now only subscribing to US Weekly. I was judgmentally dumbfounded until my daughter was born and suddenly my New Yorkers gathered dust in the corner. And not being able to finish an article was just another guilt-infused reminder that I couldn’t do it all. I couldn’t even read 7 pages a day, let alone finish the laundry or grocery shopping.
Book reviews and Broadway show critiques were replaced with celeb divorces and reality star drama and I resented my intelligentsia mags in the corner silently mocking me with their lengthy pieces on films I didn’t have time to see and books I didn’t have time to read, and world crisis that I could not emotionally handle now that I had a little person who was going to inherit it all.
I was thrilled when the subscription ran out.
Take that 7 pages. Take that New Yorker! Bwaaa haaaa haaaa! I embraced my celeb mags like crack cocaine and never, ever judged another mommy again. Ever.
So as a new mom whose exposure to life outside of diapers and vaccines was slowly plummeting into isolation and binkie boredom, I heard that the movie theatre in town was hosting weekly mommy events every Tuesday morning. With lights turned up, and sound turned down, nursing babes and moms were invited to watch a non-kiddo movie that normal people went to see on the weekends – a movie without a single tap-dancing puppet or group of men dressed in color coordinated jumpsuits, dancing to ridiculous songs about how sharing is caring and potty time is also paaaarty time! No babysitter at $15 an hour, just babes on on boobs and no one calling a security guard for indecent exposure. Bliss!
I couldn’t wait to see my first movie post baby. And I didn’t care what it was – – a wacky British comedy, a PG13 stupid boy humor movie, a post-apocalyptic thriller, or sequel in a trilogy I’d never seen. I just wanted out, for two hours, to sit in a theatre and follow a story – – to get lost in a life that wasn’t mine. A film.
The movie theatre was packed with women, every other seat a mountain of diaper bags and snacks. Lights were just barrrrely dimmed as toddlers ran up and down the aisles. Diapers were changed right in front of the screen while the previews played, little bums aglow in the orchestra pit. It was like how I imagined the world would be run if women were actually in charge, if we had free reign over the film industry and theatres suddenly included seat-side changing tables, sippy cup holders and fresh fruit instead of milk duds.
A man who clearly had no idea this was a “mommy movie” kept shushing the babies as they gurgled and cooed and cried. We all stared incredulously. I mean who was this guy, and how the hell did he get in here without noticing the giant “Mommy’s Day Out!” marquee? Finally one mom turned to him, putting him out of his misery once and for all and said, “Look dude, I don’t think you understand the situation. This is a movie for babies,” pointing to the screen of Felicity Huffman who was sporting a major adams apple and pelvic bulge. Yes, clearly this was a movie for babies. The man cradled his popcorn like a swaddled infant and exited the theatre. The audience applauded.
The lights dimmed to a candlelight hue and the babes settled. The toddlers were corralled through popcorn bribery into the rows and the theatre was surprisingly quiet.
My daughter nursed and slept. At one point I had to escape to the back of the theatre as she fussed and I walked the rows, bouncing and humming but still following the story, never missing a moment.
Not only was it a beautiful film, but the theme of transition wasn’t lost on anyone. Here we were. We used to be people. And now we were mothers.
Life is a transition, a never ending transition. My journey from person to mom was not as dramatic as the lead character learning the language of womanhood, of parenthood, of leaving one person behind to become another. And yet, I was giving up my old self, old clothes, priorities, and even some friends along the way.
And no matter how hard you prepare for this transition, you can’t possibly predict what storm or landscape lies ahead. Much like the trip the main character embarks on, there is no way to ready yourself for something you’ve never lived – – a road you’ve never gone down before.
I am different now. I am transformed. I will never be who I was before. And that change, like my daughter’s first film, is a beautiful thing.