Put on your oxygen mask first, then help your child

After my post Dear Pope, having kids can be selfish too I got several comments about how parents need to put children first. I disagree. I believe that it’s crucial for a parent to take care of her own needs including stuff like eating when you’re hungry, sleeping when you’re tired, and taking a break from your kids when you need it. Obviously, this isn’t always possible, but the idea of taking care of yourself first is a useful notion to keep in your head, something to strive for. Meeting your own needs directly instead of meeting them through your kids (or food, alcohol, and various other addictions) is better for everybody. Rather than being something to feel guilty or ashamed about, taking care of yourself is healthy.

At first, it can be kind of scary, admitting you need to take care of yourself. When I was in my twenties, I smoked a pack of Marlboros a day, and one of the hardest things about quitting was that I valued that five minutes, the break I used to take to smoke. It was easier to say, “I need a cigarette” than “I need 5 minutes of solitude.”

Sometimes, taking care of me just has to do with the narrative I tell myself. For example, if my kids want to go the park and I don’t, I’ll try to think of a way to make it appealing to me. “I’ll sit in the sun,” or “I’ll chase them and get some exercise.” If they want to see a movie, I think “I can blog about it.”

The idea of taking care of myself also helps me try to keep my kids healthy, driving them to various activities or staying calm when they have tantrums. The narrative I tell myself is something like, “I need to help my kids experience their emotions, because in the long run, that’s better for me. They’re less likely to have problems as they grow which would be difficult, time-consuming, and expensive for me to deal with. It’s better for me to try my best to keep my kids healthy.” It’s kind of a mind trick, but it works for me. Taking care of my marriage, spending time with my husband, is good for my kids because it’s easier for happy parents to help create happy kids.

Another example: I get up at 5AM so I can drink coffee, meditate, and write before my kids get up. If we all rise at the same time, I feel angry and impatient. I need to take care of my needs first in the morning. I don’t drink alcohol because that affects my sleeping, and when I don’t sleep well, I tend to yell at my kids. When I do feel angry at my children, I often try to separate myself, take a break to let the feeling pass through me, rather than shout at them. I always think of that phrase they tell you on airplanes, to put on your oxygen mask first, and then help your child. I believe that humans need a huge amount of self care, and it’s better, at least for me, to admit that and deal with it, rather than use my kids to take care of me. I don’t know if that makes sense to you, but it’s been helpful so far.

Dear Pope, having kids can be selfish too

Dear Pope Francis,

Today, you told the world that “the choice not to have children is selfish” referring to a “greedy generation” who is not reproducing enough. Since you don’t have any kids yourself, and I’m the mother of three, I thought it might be helpful to hear about my experience. Becoming a parent is probably the most selfish thing I ever did, and I’m far from unique.

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Before I had children, like lots of people, I was busy contributing to society. I created a non-profit organization to foster and train ethical women leaders, produced top-rated talk radio programs, and wrote about politics and culture for newspapers, magazines, and the internet. I also spoke on radio and TV programs about these issues. At that time, I dated, but had no interest in having children or getting married ever. But when I was 32, I fell in love. I was so into this guy that I started to wonder what it would be like to create another human with him. The idea that you could make a baby with someone you love seemed  crazy magical to me, so beautiful, like a miracle. I decided I wanted to have that experience. He felt the same way.

He wanted to get married, and I didn’t. For most of my life, I thought marriage was oppressive to women, taking his name, wearing virginal white, being given away by your father to another man etc. If you’re committed, you don’t need a piece of paper. But something happened to change my mind. I I live in San Francisco, and gay people were organizing and fighting hard for the right to get married. Witnessing people advocate for something I’d always taken for granted forced me to rethink the institution. I realized that since Biblical times (and even earlier) when women were property traded by men, marriage has been evolving and will continue to. Being a part of that movement felt inspiring, so we got married.

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Over the next six years, we had two more kids, mostly because making babies and raising humans is as selfishly magical as I expected. It’s really fun creating little people and watching them grow. I love my children and my husband deeply, but in no way were the choices I made generous to society. I mean, you’re reproducing yourself. And after having kids, in some ways, I struggle to keep my world from getting smaller and myopic. I long for more time to write, create, and contribute to the world at the rate that I used to.

Women are the world’s biggest untapped resource. The status and education of women is directly linked to how many babies they have. The more children they have, the poorer women are.  We all lose out. Deciding to have kids or not is a personal choice, but I have a lot of admiration for people who don’t. People like you, Pope Francis, who dedicate their lives to pursuing what they believe in to make the world a better place. Don’t you think women deserve to make that choice too?

Sincerely,

Margot Magowan

Margot Magowan is a writer and commentator. Her articles on politics and culture have been in Salon, Glamour, the San Jose Mercury News, and numerous other newspapers and online sites. She has appeared on “Good Morning America,” CNN, Fox News, and other TV and radio programs. For  many years, Margot worked as talk radio producer creating top-rated programs. In 1998, Margot co-founded the Woodhull Institute an organization that trains young women to be leaders and change agents. Margot’s short story “Light Me Up” is featured in the anthology Sugar In My Bowl (Ecco 2011) and she is currently writing a Middle Grade novel about the fairy world. Margot lives with her husband and their three daughters in San Francisco.

 

A story is not a life condensed, but a moment expanded

A story is not a life condensed, but a moment expanded.

That is my theory, having written a novel for children. I have learned so many things writing this book with my husband that I feel like no matter what happens, if no one else reads it, or if I’m the next J.K. Rowling, I am forever changed. And just that, by the way, is something I’ve learned. Art is about process, not the result. It’s so strange to take a round-about route and end up at all the cliches. But here’s what I’ve leaned about cliches, you’ve got to get there your own way, to feel it, and that’s the only way they’re true for you.

I’ve written a fantasy/ adventure starring two female protagonists, with male and female supporting characters, but probably more females than males. My book is a book about girls for all kids.

I wrote this book because I’m sick of seeing so many stories for kids where girls are on the sidelines, sexualized, and stuck in supporting roles; where if you read a story where a girl is the main character, she is often surrounded by males; because while “buddy” narratives starring males abound, there are few stories where two girls come together to save the world. I wrote it because I wanted my children to see more girls taking risks, having adventures, changing, and growing. I wrote this story because four years ago, my husband suggested I stop complaining about what’s not out there and write. I wrote it because I wanted to walk my talk. I wrote it because I’m a writer. I wrote it because I’m madly in love with my husband, and this is a story he started to tell our daughters. I wrote it because I wanted to create something with him.

Here are just some of the things I’ve learned from the writing of it: Contrary to popular belief, to be a writer, at least for me, at least for me to write fiction, I’ve got to be an optimist. I’ve run into so many plot problems, I wanted to throw up my hands and say: there’s no way out of this! But there is always a way. I’ve learned how to find creative solutions in my work, and from this repetitive experience, I’ve learned how to find creative solutions in my real life. I’ve had to learn to be resilient. I need grit. The reason I started Reel Girl is because fantasy creates reality in an endless loop. If we can’t imagine equality, we can’t create it. Creating your own story not only creates your own reality in the book, but also teaches you the possibility of creating your own realities in life. This is liberating on so many levels. So many of us have grown up with family narratives with the good guys and the bad guys, the heroes and the villains, repeated and repeated and repeated. Now, I think part of really growing up is telling your own story, being the narrator of your own life.

I didn’t understand the purpose drama in stories. Bad things have to happen to your protagonist. Does that mean we want bad things to happen in life? We need excitement, trauma blah blah blah (and this goes back to “writers/ artists are depressed, unhappy, sick” etc) Now I believe that the adventure is an emotional metaphor. For me, cleaning out my closet is a huge Sisyphean task, but I can’t write a story about that, it would be boring. So I pick a metaphor everyone can relate to. In real life, just for a moment, I feel like my world is falling apart from something small, like I lose my keys. I feel like I’ve been abandoned. It’s a mini-panic attack, a second. If I were to write a story about the feeling, it would involve losing something major and important, a magical golden locket. I’ve come to believe that health is experiencing your emotions, fully and openly, and then releasing them. I don’t mean openly as in catharsis, telling everyone how you feel. That’s often inappropriate. I mean being open to your own emotions, how they feel for you. Getting out of a shower or getting out of bed can feel like a huge transition. A story is all about transition, that moment, something we experience countless times, every day but we block it out, because it’s too scary to be present, to be in our bodies, to be alive. Writing this story has taught be how to be alive in every moment or at least aspire to be.

Finally, I’ve learned, contrary to popular belief, that happiness is insightful.

2 kids home sick, get ready for a stream of blogs

Hi all,

I’m desperately trying to complete the middle grade fantasy-adventure I’m writing with my husband, thus I’ve hardly blogged for the past month. I think that’s a record of apathy for me, given my blogging addiction. There’s so much I wanted to post about including the new releases I saw with my kids: Annie, Selma, and Into the Woods; we streamed Wild Hearts Can’t Be Broken; I read and loved Brooke Shields excellent memoir There Was A Little Girl about growing up with an alcoholic parent. At this point, I’ll have to skip my annual frustration about gendered Christmas and sexist specials (This year my kids and I all cracked up watching Rudolph when the dad tells the mom she can’t go look for her lost kid because “it’s man’s work.” I do feel grateful my children are at least aware of this bullshit, that I’ve done my best to help them get that even if its normal to see sexism, it shouldn’t be.) Right now, I’m reading Watership Down, I talked my 11 year old into getting the book because she just got a rabbit, but I stole it from her. I’m on Chapter 7 and not one– NOT ONE– female rabbit has had a speaking part, and that includes legends of rabbit mythology the rabbits tell each other. The author, Richard Adams, writes in his introduction that Watership Down started as a story he told his two daughters. Two daughters! And no female characters. WTF? Please don’t tell me the rabbit world is “naturally” a patriarchy. These rabbits can speak English but we can’t imagine gender equality for them? And they worship male gods? ARGH. But wait– all I wanted to write in this blog is I have 2 kids home sick. We are stationed in front of the TV watching “Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood” on PBS (after just watching Curious George. Next will be “Cat in the Hat” all shows starring males with male characters in the title.) So that’s my excuse for blogging today. I’m going to try and catch up.

Reel Girl going on vacation!

I’m going on vacation with my family. You may have noticed I haven’t been blogging that much lately because I’ve been using all my free time to try and get ready to go. My goal is to stay off the internet while I’m gone and just hang with my husband and kids, but we’ll see how that goes. Have a great summer. See you in August.

Margot

Continue the conversation and ‘like’ Reel Girl on Facebook

Hey Reel Girl readers,

Reel Girl is at 1,599 likes and that number is killing me, like an itch I need to scratch. Please help my OCD and “like” Reel Girl. There are many posts up on Facebook and conversations there that don’t happen here on the blog. I’d love you to be a part of all that.

If you’ve already liked Reel Girl and would like to recommend it to someone, please share the link.

Thank you!

Margot

Reel Girl summer slowdown to write book

You may have noticed that I haven’t been quite as obsessive about blogging as usual. Though it kills me to do it at 997 Facebook Likes (because I really would like to get a nice, even, lovely 1,000) I’ve gone deep into Fairyworld.

Most of you know that I’m writing a Middle Grade fantasy book. I’ve been working on this story for about two years and I’m about 2/3 done with the draft. Though I write everyday, when I blog, its hard for my mental energy not get stuck in the news. I don’t know if you’ve found this is true, but since becoming a mom, I need to be choose carefully where I focus my brain cells. Never have I been more aware that the space in my head is so limited. Between work and drama, schedules and crises, I have no extra bandwith (is there a better tech term? That one kept coming up when my blog was crashing and crashing, which is how I feel.)

In a way, it’s nice to be aware of limits, like the good feeling you get when you clean out the garage. I have no space for junk. Frankly, I don’t even have a garage, just tiny, flat closets in this rickety 1911 Victorian.

I don’t think blogging is junk by the way. I think it’s changing the world. I honestly don’t even know how I personally managed to sane before blogging (not to mention using the internet to connect with people who understood what I was saying and didn’t argue with me before I could complete a sentence.) It’s just I have to finish this book. For the summer, every hour is scheduled, all brain cells are committed, and this damn thing is going to get done.

I will be blogging now and then, and I do have scheduled in MG reading time, so I hope to get reviews to you. I’ll also be seeing movies with my kids that I’ll blog about. Please use this blog, Reel Girl’s FB page and Twitter feed to connect, post, and speak about issues.

Have a great summer!

Margot

Reel Girl gets brown eyes

The image of Reel Girl was created by the artist Cynthia Rodgers AKA Theamat who I discovered after seeing her Wonder Woman with no pants comic. Reel Girl’s face is a composite of these photos of my 3 daughters. She has my oldest daughters angry eyes shown here:

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my second daughter’s spec of a smile

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and my third daughters wild curls.

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So here’s the banner.

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But after a month or so with that blue-eyed image, I’ve decided to go with the the brown eye color of my second daughter and me. If you read Reel Girl, you know that as a brown-haired, brown-eyed child, I was endlessly annoyed by the ubiquity of blond, blue-eyed heroines. I still am. Here is me.

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I hate reading a book I otherwise adore, Ramona, where the protagonist complains about her “boring” brown hair and brown eyes. I especially hate reading this part to my brown-haired, brown-eyed daughter. So fuck that. This is my blog, after all, and so Reel Girl gets brown eyes.

I also like brown eyes on Reel Girl because though her look is based on images of my three Caucasian daughters, brown-eyes make her a little more ethnically ambiguous. So here’s the new Reel Girl and feel free to name your favorite brown-eyed heroines here. I’m collecting.

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Reel Girl and typos

Just wanted to say sorry for all the typos on Reel Girl. This is the deal. I have little time to blog, and so I blog very fast. Usually, I’ve been thinking about what I want to write when I’m driving my car, up in the middle of the night, or pushing my kid on the swing. By the time I get to the keyboard, my ideas are clear but time is fleeting. Mostly, I work on my book when I’m alone in the house but I sneak off to blog by stealing minutes when my kids and my husband are around. Invariably, while I’m writing, someone is screaming for me or there is something else I need to be doing.

I’ve tried to save drafts for later when I can proofread them, but I’ve learned that those posts never go up. For me, blogging seems to be a combination of obsessively thought out ideas that are finally shared compulsively and impulsively. Once the blog has been posted, unlike one that hasn’t been, I do go back and proofread because it’s out there for everyone to see. My pride won’t let me leave up “higher” when I meant to write “hire.”

Sometimes I give myself a hard time about this fast and sloppy style of writing. No matter how important what you’re saying is, if you spell it wrong, it can look stupid. But, as I wrote, the fast posting in fits and spurts is the only way I am able to blog in way that is fulfilling and useful. Also, that’s what kind of cool about blogging, especially if in other areas of your life, including writing, you’ve got to be exact and fastidious.

I’m posting this without re-reading and will probably be revisiting when I find a minute or two again in the day to check all the typos.

Thanks for reading and your patience.

Margot