Back when my husband M and I were expecting, we wrote up a “baby contract.” The contract was akin to premarital counseling efforts, in which a couple attempts to discuss potential parenting issues and come to some sort of advance understanding about topics of concern. M and I had waited a long time (approximately 8 years) to grow our family. We had grown accustomed to some of our habits and routines, and were trying to prepare ourselves for the many changes that come along with a new baby.
Our contract addressed many topics, among them: holidays, religion, discipline, division of labor, and alone/couple time. Part of the agreement stipulated that M and I would try to sustain our mental and emotional well-being by taking time for ourselves with regularly scheduled alone time. We started this practice sometime within the first year of V’s infancy, after I started really feeling the demands of postpartum life. It was tricky to manage at first, as I was nursing on demand and V would not take a bottle, even of expressed breast milk, but it was important enough that we made it happen, at first intermittently, then more regularly as she grew older. At age 2.5, we have managed to sustain the following practice for around a year and a half: both M and I take one weeknight off a week. It is only for a few hours, and we are almost always both home for V’s bedtime (with a very few exceptions), but this weekly time has been a haven of sorts. We each can look forward to a time where we are guaranteed the space to do whatever we choose to restore our spirit and energy.
I have often allotted my weekly night off for writing time; it is one of the few times I have just the right combination of mental focus and uninterrupted time to compose my blog entries, newspaper articles, and other writing projects. However, spending every waking free moment on writing began to make it feel like a job for me, so I have recently begun to shake things up by spending time on other neglected hobbies and interests in lieu of writing.
This week, I decided to take myself to a movie at the local cheap theatre. I haven’t been to a movie by myself since 2007, and it is something I really enjoy doing. I’m not sure exactly why, but it makes me feel connected to some part of myself to attend a movie independently. It is time I get to spend choosing what I want, doing something I enjoy, and relying on myself to keep myself good company.
Alternating between Dark Shadows (I used to watch the series with my mom and sister as a kid) and What to Expect While You’re Expecting, I decided to go with the “chick flick,” something I knew M has about zero interest to see. Settling into a 5:10 show, the lone person in the theatre, with my dollar bag of popcorn and a soda, I felt a great sense of relaxation and satisfaction with my choice for the evening.
The movie, as expected, was no great work of art. I got pretty much what I was looking for out of the evening: mindless entertainment. But I did have a few reflections about it that I thought I’d share for those considering a viewing. Please acknowledge the SPOILER ALERT here!
What To Expect While You’re Expecting couldn’t decide whether it wanted to be a drama or a comedy and as a result, did not fully achieve either. Parts of the drama succeeded: Wendy’s (Elizabeth Banks) dashed expectations of having “pregnancy glow” as she experiences the many physical and emotional challenges of pregnancy; the experience of miscarriage and its toll on an unstable, fledgling relationship; the potential risks of delivery; some of the feelings associated with fertility struggles. Though I do not have a personal understanding of the experience of adoption; aspects of some of the insensitivity and lack of social support and understanding that adoptive parents could potentially face seemed to resonate as honest depictions.
The comedy however, stopped just short of abysmal. In contrast to some of the dramatic moments of the movie, the comedic moments seemed forced, clichéd, and unnatural. For example, the dads’ group, which had appeared in the trailer, was another example of the “doofus dads” phenomenon, as my husband has aptly named this stereotypical depiction of fathers in the media. Though there were few moments of the dads “screwing up” in their fatherly roles, their attitudes were largely portrayed as wistful, nostalgic yearnings for their long abandoned, pre-kid, manhood. I found this to be particularly repugnant, as both my husband, and other involved dads I know, do not walk around spending their energies pining after a pre-kid persona. Nor is their manhood somehow reduced by their role as parents. In fact, the stay-at-home dads in our playgroup pretty much express the same experiences as stay-at-home moms, only without some of the social support systems inherent to motherhood. Dads are dealing with the same discipline issues, balance, sleep and feeding concerns, and philosophical questions about how to raise caring, thoughtful children. They aren’t slinging beer cans from the backseat of the mini-van or functioning in the half-aware state shown by Vic (Chris Rock) towards his toddler aged son. Though not a father, these portrayals irritated me.
The ridiculous go-cart race between Ramsey (Dennis Quaid) and his son was another example of over-the-top, as was the scene where Vic’s son gets beamed with a beer can and tumbles down a set of concrete stairs completely unscathed. And sneezing out a child? I can’t imagine any mother, even those with relatively uncomplicated labors, who have had that kind of delightfully easy experience. Overall, the humor was slapstick that fell flat and contrasted too strongly with the emotional intensity of many of the other scenes. More subtle and less stereotypical attempts may have made the film hold together a bit better.
Still, as my expectations were not fixed or high, I was entertained, and found moments that I could identify with in many of the characters’ experiences. And I think many parents can relate to the transcending message of the film, that you can’t ever fully anticipate the experience of pregnancy and parenthood until you are living through them.
While our “kid contract” helped M and I start discussions and have a tentative plan for dealing with some hot button parenting issues, we could never have imagined the joys, the challenges, and most of all, the love that accompanies the arrival of a child and parenthood in general. The most we can all do, after all, is to make the best choices for our children as we go, to seek out the support of friends and family to help us over the rough patches, and to love our little ones with all our hearts. Parenting will always challenge our expectations, and it’s up to us to adapt and open ourselves up to the reality that no movie, however intense or humorous can adequately capture.
Author’s Note: Hilariously, I was joined in the theatre right at the end of the movie, smack during the series of labor scenes, by a small, approximately eight year old boy. After several minutes had passed, with no parent yet in sight, I asked him if he was sure he was in the right spot. He didn’t answer. I feared he might be in shock. As the credits rolled, his mother walked in with refreshments for the next viewing of What to Expect. I can’t imagine taking my elementary aged son or daughter to see this movie, but I’m sure it was enlightening for him!