"What we do in this life, echoes in eternity."
Maximus, Gladiator
"Our creator would never have made such lovely days, and given us the deep hearts to enjoy them, above all thought, unless we were meant to be immortal."
Nathaniel Hawthorne

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Making Sense of the Nonsense


The other day, during lunch, El Cangri was unusually quiet. 
“What are you thinking?” I asked him.
He didn’t answer right away. After several seconds, he asked, “What happened with the parents in Madagascar?”
Madagascar? My train of thought snaked through the archives in my mind as I tried to figure out what he was talking about. It was the movie, Madagascar 3, which we watched months ago.
“Oh, Alex’s parents?” I asked.
He chewed his sandwich and said, “How come in the second movie they’re so happy to be together and then in the next one they’re not even there. And then, Alex wants to go back to the zoo? It just doesn’t make any sense.”
Keep in mind that we were talking about a cartoon about zoo animals--talking zoo animals I should add--that miss New York so bad they make their way from Africa to their beloved city as members of a traveling circus, all the while a vicious French detective woman with more animal traits than the animals themselves tries to capture them.
And he said the fact that the parents aren’t even in the story doesn’t make any sense? What about the whole traveling circus thing, or the part in which the giraffe is in love with the hippo?
Still, the thing that stood out the most to him was the inconsistencies in the story and the characters’ motivations. 
Where am I going with all of this? 
That even if we’re writing the most outlandish fantasy, there has to be a connection to reality for the reader to empathize with the characters and their goals. 
I’ve never been a gigantic blue alien, but I could totally identify with Avatar’s character as they tried to save their civilization from greedy people.
I’ve never been to Neverland, but in my happiest moments as a child, I wished I could stay little forever.
My father wasn’t a soldier for the Union army during the Civil War, but how I wished I had three sisters and a best friend, just like in Little Women.
You get the point. In fiction, the writer creates a world where the reader can lose track of time and space for as long as the story lasts. Character traits, dialog, plot, and voice are all tools to give credibility to the story.
If I’m reading a YA book and the main character doesn’t sound like a teenager at all, the spell of the story is broken and the reader is pulled away from it. The same thing if the characters’ actions aren’t congruent with their motivations. 
What are some things that pull you out of the story as a reader? As a writer, how do you keep reality in your story?

Monday, August 20, 2012

The Stupid Parents on Kids' TV Shows

The other day I was changing channels (probably looking for the Barcelona game), when I stumbled upon an old episode of Dora the Explorer. I never thought I would say this, but I have missed little Dora, her cousin Diego, abuelo and the baby twins. Dora's mother was always a benevolent, smiling figure, sending her strong daughter out into the world.

My kids have outgrown Dora and the other Nick Jr shows with the only exception of The Backyardigans, who by the way, absolutely rock! Literally. Their music is awesome.

Even though my two older children are tweens are the other two are in early elementary school, they have moved from fun, educational shows (did I just type fun and educational together? Yes, because I'm a nerd) to the other "trademark" Disney Channel shows. I'm talking about Good Luck Charlie, A.N.T. Farm, Austin and Ally and Shake it Up, to name just the more popular ones.

I never payed a ton of attention to them. The kids would watch TV in the family room while I did whatever I was doing. When I was a kid, I loved Blossom (who didn't?), and I have watched high School Musical and Lemonade Mouth (my favorite Disney movie for TV. Awesome writing).

It wasn't until my mom said something about Good Luck Charlie being a fun, cute show that I started watching it with the kids. And watching opened my ears, my eyes and my understanding.

Good luck Charlie is a fun, cute show.

Teddy, the older sister, is absolutely adorable, as is little Charlie. My kids are fascinated with the show because they have the same boy-girl-boy-girl-boy pattern as our family. Hey! They even just had a baby boy, Toby, exactly like us! The show is actually pretty funny.

What's not funny is how the parents act. They're absolute idiots. I was a kid once. I know that most times, kids reach an age when they think parents ARE idiots. I remember thinking my parents didn't know anything. Years, experience, and motherhood taught me that I knew nothing, and boy do I worship the ground my sainted mother walks on! But that is now.

As a parent, I know I'm not always right. I make mistakes every day! But the decisions I make are out of love and concern. My kids are, after all, my life, the reason I wake up every morning and for which I do all I do. They're my everything!

That's why it bothered me so much to see Teddy's mother acting like a teenager and getting into stupid situations to which the kids usually have to rescue her from. Teddy is the one who imparts the advice and sets limits on the mother! They usually compete over who's better than who. The mother is constantly talking about how beautiful she is, how clever and funny and amazing.

The dad is a funny, blabbering idiot. He's forever avoiding anything that would antagonize the wife, and being okay with everything as long as the family leaves him alone.

In the show, the parents are buddies with the kids, who are such brats, by the way.

I know that TV shows are for entertaining not educating. But, as I've heard a million times and experienced myself, kids are sponges. It doesn't take long for them to start imitating the behavior they see on TV.

When a character makes fun of the mom, the fake audience laughs and we all laugh. Right?

When my five year-old uses the same phrases on me, it's not funny at all. Not even a fake laugh over here to cue me in.

We're not huge TV watchers in this family, and by the time school starts in a few days, we won't watch it at all. With school and soccer and dance, there won't be any time left. I know the solution to avoid these shows' influence on my kids is simple: stop watching them.

The point is, why can't Disney portray family's in a funny way without denigrating parents? We talk about girl power, and I am glad about the strong female characters in movies and books that are coming out. What about family power? What is so wrong about supporting the family unit and the parents' role in educating the children?

The movie Brave, about Merida and her relationship with her mother is a good example too. The father is one more kid for the mother to discipline and control. He's in charge, but one look from his darling daughter is all it takes for him to melt into a puddle of goo. I loved the movie, but there is that tiny detail about the dad that portrayed parents as intellectual inferiors to clever, strong teenagers that bugged me to no end.

One of the reasons I love the movie Soul Surfer so much is because of the strong family that raised and supported such a strong girl, Bethany Hamilton.

I say, give us more like Soul Surfer. Give us funny and flawed, but not idiotic parents.

I used to complain (and I know I'm not the only one) that in Disney movies parents were always dead. But worse than a dead parent is an absent parent. A dis-empowered parent.

Can there be a balance between the authoritative parental figure and the idiotic one? How do we reach that point?

Good luck finding it, parents.

Monday, August 13, 2012

World Breasfeeding Week

Memories are tricky things. Our minds distil events, and we're left with the essence.

When I was little, my three younger siblings and I never ventured far from our mom's side. She cleaned, sewed, knitted, cooked with a baby in her arms. One of my very first memories is of my dad driving my mom and all of us kids to answer a request he had heard on the radio. A newborn baby at a local hospital needed "maternal milk" (that's how they called it), and my mom, who at the time was nursing my little brother, had a plentiful milk supply.

To me, the fact that my mom would donate milk to a baby in need was the most natural thing in the world. When I was a baby, she would walk several blocks every three hours to nurse my baby cousin whose mom couldn't feed him. I have dozens of "milk brothers and sisters" all over the country.

So when I became a new mother, the thought of not breastfeeding my child never crossed my mind. I was very sick after my son was born, and I was depressed for a whole year post-partum. Knowing that I was able to nurse my son and that he was so healthy and beautiful was sometimes the only thing that gave me enough incentive to get out of bed every morning. Every month the scale showed how much my Gorgeous Boy was growing. I know numbers don't mean anything when it comes to babies and children--my Swan Princess is twenty pounds underweight according to the charts, but she's my healthiest kid. The numbers on the scale, however, were a source of pride for me that helped me out of the depression.

All of my kids were champion nursers. I know that some people will be horrified of knowing that Princess Peach was three and a half when she stopped nursing, but we both loved every moment of it. It's not true that if babies nurse into toddlerhood they will be clingy or insecure. My Princess Peach is so independent and full of confidence!

When Baby Hulk had to stay in the NICU after birth, I was terrified that I wouldn't be able to nurse him, even though I had done it four times before. During the first days, the only thing I could do for him was pumping every two or three hours. It was emotionally and physically taxing. But the first day he was fed my milk though the feeding tube, he looked so content all the efforts were worth it--for him.

Little by little, the nurses allowed me to nurse him. At first, he'd fall asleep, but he caught on really well. Each time he tried he did better and better, until he didn't need the feeding tube anymore and eventually he came home with me. We're both pros now. I don't count the minutes he nurses or how many times he swallows.

I don't take it for granted though.

I know many mothers aren't able to nurse their babies for one reason or another, and I love that I can choose how I want to nurture my baby. I'm grateful that I come from a culture that holds nursing mothers in such high esteem. There are no special nursing covers or rooms in Argentina (or there weren't when I lived there), but mothers and their babies were welcomed and respected everywhere.

During the years, many times I've seen my kids pretend-nurse their "babies" (from teddy bears to action figures). I hope their minds can also distill the essence from the memories: breastfeeding is not only natural, but also sacred. It saves lives.

In Princess Peach's room I have a painting of an angel holding a nursing mother. I've felt the embrace of angels many a night when comforting a baby.

Happy International Breastfeeding Week! Maybe one day we won't even need such a celebration. After all, how many "International Breathing Weeks" do we have?

Statue of Mary nuring Jesus