Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Girl's (and boy) Night Out

Since assuming the mantle of stay at home dad back in July, I've had ample time to contemplate the intertwined issues of gender and parenthood. Being the rare stay at home dad has meant countless situations where I'm the sole male in the room. Back in the summer, when I was desperately trying to find playmates for Liam and Kalian, I'd be sizing up all the nannies and moms on the playground for potential compatibility, but not in the usual way. The only attributes I cared about was age of kid, schedule, nap time, etc. Not the usual measurements.

Jen and I used to half-kid about me cruising the playgrounds "picking up" nannies and moms, with the goal of scoring a playdate. There is a movie out at the moment called "Little Children," that apparently revolves around the politics of moms on the playgrounds and stars Kate Winslet. Though it's supposed to be excellent, I also suspect that it hits a little too close to home (takes place in a nearby suburb, in fact), and so it may take awhile for me to get around to seeing it.

Here's a sample of the Boston Globe review:

Much of Todd Field's choice new comic drama ``Little Children " concerns an affair between two young married people languishing in a mostly white Massachusetts suburb. Sarah (Kate Winslet) is a harried stay-at-home mom. Brad (Patrick Wilson) is her extremely handsome paternal counterpart. (She's a failed academic. He can't pass the bar exam.) They meet on a playground, after a trio of Brad-brained mothers dares Sarah to get his phone number.

The timing is good since he's feeling increasingly worthless at home. His knockout wife (Jennifer Connelly) makes successful documentaries and favors their son over Brad.

What ``Little Children" understands so well, and so poignantly, is a kind of parental existentialism that hits 30- somethings with kids: How does having children make you such a less interesting adult?

Yikes. Wife makes documentaries? Less interesting adult? Uh, that's not likely to be on the list for date night anytime soon.

Of course, the whole past six months have found me often being the lone male in a sea of moms. Jen's grad program had a summer program of events for spouses, since their partners were likely to be grinding away16 hours a day, seven days a week. They would rent a Greyhound-type bus twice a week and takes us on various outings to places like the aquarium, the kids' museums, Boston Common, etc. Inevitably, it was a busload of moms --- and me, trying to wrangle a rowdy 3.5 year old and a 14-month-old, diaper-free terrorista. And there I was, complaining about all the cooking and cleaning I was doing, how my spouse didn't shoulder enough of the load with the kids. I felt so June Cleaver.

Even when I go to Music Together classes with Kalian and they sing the insidious "Hello, Everybody" song, they sing, "Hello to the mommies, so glad to see you..." and then "Hello, to the daddy..." (always singular), and the whole room turns, and looks right at me, and waves that goofy wave. And I grimace, weakly.

I bring this up now because I just started a new book club started by spouses of people in Jen's programs. And of course, when I say spouses, I mean wives. As one of the prospective remembers remarked to me, "It'll be interesting that one of spouses in the book club will be a man." Hmm. Are we really such a rare and curious species? (Yes, according to Census data. But more on that another time).

In any case, we read "Disgrace" by J.M. Coetzee, a slim novel that tries to be a metaphor for the anxieties facing whites in post-Apartheid South Africa. Though I've no doubt that white South Africans have had a difficult time adjusting, it's still hard to drum up much sympathy for their existential crisis. Even more troubling, in my mind, is that the second-half turns on a white lesbian living in the countryside who gets gang-raped by a roving gang of black marauders. Even if such things happen in that land, I couldn't help but see it as a vaguely racist fixation, especially considering the author is a recent Nobel Prize winner.

But such things are great fodder for a lively Book Club. So I trotted over for a rare night out. I should mention, actually, that it's a combo Book/Movie Club. The movie this time was "The Departed." Jen let me off the leash early and I went and saw it at a matinee, and then went straight to Book/Movie Club. Of the movie, I'll just say that it's gruesome, suspenseful, and astonishing. I highly recommend it.

So I arrived at the home of our host, Hilary, a British transplant, who was in the middle of whipping up a duck in the oven, chard, and potatoes for dinner. I immediately felt guilty for having been so slack in preparing a string of lame dinners lately, and vowed to get back to making such elaborate home cooked meals each night (which I did, for quite awhile.) There were Three other women in attendance, two who were journalists, and one a mystery novelist. And all at least several years older than me.

We had wonderful evening, and as I predicted, a lively discussion. We all disliked the book for different reasons. But since this was the first book I had read since coming to Cambridge, I would have talked about it for hours. All the folks were wonderful, even if I couldn't shake my continued self-consciousness about being guy.

It was a fun night, but since I got home late, no blog entry last night. Instead, I stayed up until 1:30 a.m. doing my weekly freelance piece for the Mercury News. When I get my act together, I'll post a links, but for now, here's the latest one:

Seagate insiders reap millions

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