On Parenting, Hopping Bullfrogs, and Dashed Dreams, Among Other Things

We parents are always among other things. The bills, the laundry, the noise. And we still can live in a world of ideas. We parents can have our dreams!

Last night, the kids and I watched a movie that challenged that dream:  Cheaper by the Dozen. It wasn't particularly good, but it did have Steve Martin in it, which gives it bonus points. The premise of the movie is that two sickeningly happy, perfect, and unstressed parents of 12 are simultaneously given the professional opportunities of their dreams, so they pack up the family, move to the city, pursue their passions, and ruin their family.

You might think it highly improbable that a simple little country mom should suddenly be given a book contract and a book tour (which happens to include an interview with Oprah), but that impossibility pales in comparison to the other suspension of disbelief we must endure: sweetie Dad Tom Baker, played by Steve Martin, is plucked from coaching a small college football team and given an NFL coaching contract. (Just imagine the sight of Steve Martin running: fit but not football player. That pretty much seals the deal of my inability to suspend disbelief.) Still, anything Steve Martin is in is ok by me, and there was no swearing, and my kids were mostly quiet. Another bonus! So we watched.

It was pretty hard to watch these parents have to decide between their dreams and their kids, as if they must be two separate things. And the movie only cemented the myth that there is no middle ground: You either have kids and focus all your attention on them and this leads to bliss, or you follow your dreams and your youngest kid's bullfrog dies and the boy runs away. The good part is, the chase for the frog brings you all together. You realize that having your own dreams is dragging you all to ruins, and you quit.

A quick Google search taught me that the book was originally written in 1948, there appears to be some controversy around its authorship, and the 2003 film was a modern remake of the original movie that came out in 1950. Ok, 1950. That helps make some sense of the family-first values, but truly this little missive is not intended as a film review. Still, my inner cultural critic cannot resist pointing out that it is no real surprise that this theme might have some luster in 2003. I think that was around the time we women were all questioning whether we really could bring home the bacon and fry it up in a pan. Sadly, seventeen years later, who cares? We aren't wondering about that as much anymore because we have been presented with MUCH BIGGER pigs to fry.

Can we have our dreams and also happy kids? A recent Boston Globe article titled "Happier Parents Do These 10 Things," suggested that we must.

Again: No answers forthcoming here. But a journey toward everyone's happiness will never do anyone wrong, and the never-ending search for balance is undoubtedly one possible route to bliss, for ourselves and our kids.

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