Friday, January 31, 2014

The Mischievous Mixologist: The Postpartum

The Post Partum

2 ounces Courvoisier Cognac
1 ounce Yahara Bay Premium Rum
1/2 cup apple juice (or cider)
1/8 cup honey
One cinnamon  stick
small handful whole cloves
Dash orange bitters
1 T lime juice, or to taste

Last week, we had a birthday party for our younger daughter.  Even though it was small and mellow and took place at not-my-house, it was still stressful.  You know what I mean, moms.  I'm sure there are some dads who understand the stressful nature of kid birthdays – because they’re either divorced, or gay --  but moms are typically the ones who do them.   Not coincidentally, they're also the ones who wish you a happy birthday on your kid’s birthdays.   And that is appropriate because in some ways, kid birthday parties are a lot like giving birth.   They require you to pay attention to a ton of details.  The day is all about them, even though you did all the shopping.  Even though he's sort of involved, it's like the husband isn't there at all.   And through it all, tragically, you can't even get drunk. 

I know this is a drink blog -- and not a mommy blog --  but before I proceed, I would like to get one thing off my chest.    Listen, Dr. Silverstein, I checked in at midnight.  They called you right away.  You weren’t my regular OB, but you were on call, and I knew you well, so it was cool.   But you live in Queens.  So an hour after they called you -- about the mom having her second baby and 6 cm dilated -- you got on the train.  I'm sorry, what? The train?  You took THE TRAIN?   You’re a doctor.  You work in a fancy upper east practice.   I gave birth three hours later, dude.   Did you consider the fact that the MTA might be doing track work?  Or that trains from Queens to Manhattan at night run roughly once every hour and a half, at best?   We seriously would have paid for the cab.

Well, it worked out.  I mean, he got there in time.  Mercifully, my second daughter came out a lot faster than the first one.  But then again, I didn’t use any pain medication either.  So she also came out a lot more painfully.   I used a doula the second time who -- I kid you not -- looked exactly like Zelda Rubinstein, that short lady from Poltergeist.  

I was glad Zelda was there too, because at one point – about twenty minutes before the baby came – I briefly worked myself into a kind of pain-induced panic, where I was convinced I couldn’t push any harder and the baby was going to get stuck. Stuck. Yeah, that's totally a thing.  Or it seems like it, when you're in a lot of pain.   Dr. Silverstein, who had done some light reading on his long train ride into Manhattan and so was otherwise quite relaxed, walked over to the face end of me, and screamed: You have to get your shit together!  He might have also slapped me, dramatically. Or maybe not.  I guess we'll never know.   Not like I would have felt it, or even noticed.  Anyway, then I got my shit together and pushed harder and the baby didn’t get stuck.  Though I may also have given birth to one of my kidneys.  I really can't remember.

Now that nobody wants to eat or drink like, ever again, back to the story of this cocktail.   This year’s party wasn't too stressful because it was the first time I did not bake and decorate the cake myself.  Between a swim meet during the day, and theater tickets at night, I just didn’t have the time.  I felt a little bit bad about that.  I feel a little bit bad about almost everything.  But my daughter didn’t seem to mind.   She didn’t interpret her lack of homemade cake as a sign of apathy or lack of motivation.   Also, I got a lovely aquatic-themed cake from Bloom Bakery with fishes and mermaids and a yummy chocolate buttercream. 

Still, after the party, later that night, I really wanted a drink.  Apple cider would have been nice, but all I had was a bunch of leftover apple juice.  So I put the apple juice, cinnamon stick, cloves, and honey in a pot and simmered it for a few minutes until it became a sweet infused thick blend.  (I suggested 1/8 cup honey but I might use even a touch more next time.)  After it cooled, I squeezed in some lime and put in a few dashes of orange bitters, then shook it all up with ice and the spirits.   Rocks glass.  Yum. 

I didn’t drink this cocktail warm, because I prefer cold cocktails.  But I assure that this would be a delicious hot drink.   Cheers to you especially, moms!

Monday, January 27, 2014

Did Disney’s Frozen Melt My Ice Cold Feminist Heart?

Disney's incredible box office hit, Frozen, threw me into sort of a feminist conundrum.    Like Samuel L. Jackson in Pulp Fiction, I’m tryin’ real hard to be a shepherd -- in this case, of feminism.  But with respect to Frozen, I feel more like a weak consumer sheep, bowing down to the tyranny of sexism and gender stereotypes that pervade our culture.   

Feminism remains a very important word, and movement, for me.   I have two young daughters.  We are a smart, sarcastic, self-possessed crock pot full of Adam’s ribs.   We like math puzzles and Greek mythology and fart jokes.  We like Pokemon and Avatar and even Lord of the Rings -- because it has wizards and a few immortal girl elves.     When a boy in my daughter’s third grade class said women can't vote (he said that like, yesterday, not in 1960), she corrected him.  Then called him sexist, under her breath.  She thinks the fact that there hasn’t been a female President yet is stupid.  That’s an exact quote.  I agree.

But I could do a better job upholding my values.  We talk a lot about respect and equality. But we are also a Justice thneed--wearing, pretty pop star music listening, busty mermaid show watching clan of second-sex cave bears.  My kids like getting their nails painted.  Oh, so do I.  My older daughter tilts her head to the side when I take her picture, like she's already practicing her teen pose for Instagram.   My younger daughter, play with Barbies.  She has about 12 of them, in fact.   I would say they come in all shapes and sizes, except -- really -- they’re all the same shape and size.  Here is a recent picture of them, all dressed up.  With nowhere to go.

 I try to sneak my feminism in sideways, by expressing my disapproval when we play with the dolls.  Sometimes I'll talk for them in lame high pitched voices and say things like, “Seriously, Mindy, I think my design professor will totally worship my ensemble today: black satin mini shorts and fishnets and this totes awesome fur coat."  Then I dress them in six and a half inch black wedges, and make them fall on their faces when they try to walk.  

But who am I kidding?  I’m the one who bought the dolls.  And what good does it do to mock the pretty girls like they're dumb?  No good.  They can’t help it that they all have long legs and big baby eyes and silky hair.  Some women do look like that.   I saw two of them last week on Rich Kids of Beverly Hills.   They seemed like terrible human beings, but one can't generalize from a sensationalized reality show.  And let's be honest, that is the feminine ideal my kids see all the time, even in their cool role models.  Those Barbies look exactly like Taylor Swift and Selena Gomez and Beyonce.  

Which brings us to Disney.  I don’t think the Disney corporation is standing in the way of feminism any more than anyone else, but its products often bug me more.  In fact, we’ve had a ban on the Disney channel in our house for some time now.   There are too many Girl Wants To Be Pretty shows.   Too many Girl Wants to be Famous Pop Star shows.  Too many sassy rich kids who have everything except nice manners shows.   

And OMG, all those princess and fairy tale movies!  Why, in 2014, are they always the same?   Young girls locked up in a tower with their beauty and weird magical hair.  Or in a castle with a Beast.  Or in a house in the woods with moody dwarves.  Or in a secret room, safe from poison needles.   Talk about people who don't come in all shapes and sizes.   You can give them black skin or native American clothing or an Asian historical context.   But even with all their different cages and traps and curses, they are all -- still -- shaped like Barbie.

Gender stereotypes from ancient times drive these stories.  But why hasn't the narrative changed with feminism?  The old stepmother witches made sense in early modern Europe -- when mothers died young, and men remarried for economic reasons, and stepchildren might get favored -- but now these old gals just seem like they're having a bad time with menopause.  Or -- as is the case in our society with many older women -- they are sad and bitter because they've lost their beauty and can't afford plastic surgery.   And then, the princesses are usually helped or saved by... guys.  Guys who are brave and quirky and handsome.  And that is lucky for those young beauties because -- despite all their wealth and royal upbringing -- they somehow never picked up any useful skills.  Except maybe baking donuts.  And reading books.

And now, there’s Frozen.  Frozen does challenge some old narratives.    Love at first sight with the handsome prince?   That turns out to be a bad choice, because he’s a murderous lying swindler.   The act of true love that can melt the frozen heart?   It turns out a woman doesn’t have to wait for a guy to show up with his loyal animal sidekick, because she can do it for herself. Or more accurately, for her sister.   The competent male lead love interest?  Kristoff is characteristically brave and handsome.  But he’s also like real guys, in that he is socially awkward and cranky and acts like he was raised by rocks.  Which it turns out he was.  But that’s okay too, because they’re a magical and sort of ethnic big family of rocks, who will make really loving rocks-in-law. 

And where is the mean evil witch in this episode?   Well, in my view, the main heroine in Frozen is Anna, the pretty, sweet, surprisingly buxom younger sister with doe eyes and a silly but likeable personality.   But instead of being pure evil, the ice queen in this movie is likeable too.  It’s Elsa, I think, Anna’s fast-growing-into-a-vixon-in-her-sweet-ice-pad older sister, who can’t help that she’s icy, and anyway, it’s ok because her less intimidating sister knows she’s cool and sticks up for her and helps her return to her Caucasians-only kingdom, and banish the corporate lobbyists back to Holland forever.  This ice queen, moreover, is perfectly happy being a powerful spinster, because she can make an awesome ice skating rink whenever she wants.  Which is obviously better than getting married. 
We may never know why Frozen has been so popular, breaking box office records and depleting the merchandise chests at Disney.  I have my own opinion, based on why own my girls love Frozen.  Especially my daughter who is almost 10, and walks around the house singing her heart out.   I heard a great NPR story about how the ballad, Let It Go, speaks directly to this age group.   And in my view, the lyrics -- that perfect girl is gone -- really do add up to a modern feminist mantra Are they also a cheap Disney marketing ploy?  I guess so.  But the fact that so many real women were involved in the writing and producing of this story makes me think that it represents real change.  That Frozen is popular because Frozen is something new, for a new generation of feminists.  

Consider the sub-plot about sisters.   Sister drama, and bad parents who mishandle it, are familiar tropes to a lot of grown women.   Most sisters can also relate to their sweet love for each other, because there is nothing quite like the sister bond.   The fact of their alienation -- that Elsa felt so overly responsible and Anna felt so lonely -- made me cry.  Like real salt water tears, not just pretend crystal Disney tears.   Not only do I have a younger sister, whom I love, but my daughters really are best friends.  And if anything came between them -- like ice powers or a frozen head -- it would truly be the end of me.  I don't believe a man could've written that script as powerfully.    And that quality of female subjectivity marks a BIG change from the hackneyed old story about one princess, one tower, and her singular quest to find a handsome prince.  

I can't deny that in some respects, I was disappointed.  Frozen doesn’t go everywhere it could have gone.   Like, it still trades in princesses, who look too good when they shouldn't.   I know Hollywood doesn't do ugly in general, but that is particularly true when it comes to women.  Even a cartoon guy can be dumpy and stupid looking, but never a princess.  And as for skills -- what kind of Swedewegian princess would trudge around in five feet of snow, and set off to climb an ice mountain in a long dress?   The frozen dress on Anna bit is funny.   Like, woman comedian funny.   But how about throwing on a snow suit on her, made of bison leather?     How about taking a walking stick, or using an ice pick, or grabbing an old pair of your dad's snowshoes?   Would that kind of practical clothing challenge the popular social worship of the perfect female form?  

Also -- if I'm being perfectly honest -- the younger daughter is fairly single minded about getting married, even if the narrative is turned on its head by the end.   Her loyalty and bravery are matched only by the depths of her low-plunging neckline.  And, alas, there is still a castle, and troubled princesses.  Do they both take epic, Ulysses-like hero journeys alone?  In a sense.  But frankly, they ultimately would have failed if one of them hadn't bumped into a guy with a reindeer-donkey and a real job.    

Thank you, Frozen, for moving in the right direction.   But that direction is long overdue.   It succeeded beyond anyone's wildest dreams because it retells the old fairy tale differently and moves it -- at long last -- a little further into the 21st century.   My younger daughter's favorite character was Olaf, the kind-hearted snowman who yearns for summer, and keeps losing his nose and his butt.    One day, maybe the hilarious comic relief sidekick in a Disney movie will be a female.   I want to see more Disney cartoons about cool superhero women with ice powers who find their way through danger -- but without a red carpet gown, or the help of a more competent guy.   

Because little girls (and I think little boys) are growing up with a more progressive awareness that most women don't end up living in castles.  Real girls won’t get very far up a mountain of snow and ice wearing a ball gown.  And if they're going to set out to battle the elements alone, our little modern feminists can't count on running into some random guy with a heart of gold, a clever reindeer, and a sled.  

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

So What, Who Cares?: Funny Girl Wants Boy, Lonely Girl Wants Dog.

Dear Erin:

My therapist says my sarcasm is a shield that I can't turn off, and that I turn to humor when in doubt.  She says men can be very intimidated by this, as I can be seen as a "tough" chick.  How do I soften myself around the edges in dating, while ensuring I don't lose that part of myself which I really love (the good sense of humor)?


Dear Sarcastic:

This is a good example of the pot calling the kettle, uh, for advice.   Given my sense of humor, which is dry and often brash, I might just be the best person to answer this question.  Either that, or the absolute worst.   I suppose we’ll never really know.

But did you ever see The Dick Cavett Show?  It had a comedic talk format, kind of like Carson, but more PBS-y, with intellectual conversations, and a lot of wit and sarcasm.  It was one of my favorite shows.  I watched it all the time in the late ‘70’s.  I also watched a lot of The Paper Chase with John Houseman, which is relevant information.  Because I was only 11 or 12 years old.  So basically, I’ve always been… like this.

I saw Dick Cavett once, in the audience, at the outdoor amphitheater in Central Park. We may have been there to watch Patrick Stewart in The Tempest.  Or maybe it was Kevin Klein in Measure for Measure I’m so damn literary, I just can’t keep it all straight.  I do remember, however, that it was like 104 degrees.  Talk about climate change!  Except we didn’t know about climate change yet. So we just called it, mother fucking hot.  Anyway, I saw Dick Cavett, and my friend urged me to talk to him. After a momentary flash of self-doubt (or was it heat stroke?) I walked down to his row, pushed past like five people and said: Excuse me, but aren’t you Dick Cavett?   

Dick Cavett turned around slowly, raised up one eyebrow, and said, Aren’t you my date?   Why yes, I replied, I am your hot, and incredibly sweaty, date.   At which point he took out his handkerchief, mopped up the dripping sweat on my forehead, and said, You know, in some cultures, this means we’re married now.   We talked for several minutes more, then I left.  It was perfect. 

Dick Cavett did not become my husband in real life.   But he is a good metaphor for many of my significant love interests.   I have to think there’s a reason why, in my younger years, I dated mostly comedians, tortured novelists, and mean sarcastic douchebags.   For better or worse, they humored me.  They got my sarcasm.  They enjoyed my ribald ways.  And I enjoyed theirs.  My real-life husband is neither a comedian nor mean, but he shares my sense of humor.   Sometimes he thinks I go too far, and then he gets upset, because I make a wisecrack about his shirt and he thinks I’m calling him fat or something.  But he likes me this way.   Either that, or he’s suffering from Stockholm Syndrome and just can’t figure out how to leave.

My point is, we are generally the people we are.  Still, I understand where your shrink is coming from. If any personality trait is used as an emotional shield, it needs to be adjusted.  If your sense of humor is preventing you from being sincere when the occasion calls for it, it’s a problem.  If you find yourself joking around with a guy when he’s trying to have a serious conversation, you might be scary.  If you feel compelled to make a sarcastic remark about your date’s terrible eyebrows -- when he’s staring into your eyes on a starry night, professing his love– well, then, you are using your humor defensively.   You’re using it to avoid intimacy.

It’s fine to cut tension with a joke, or make light of an awkward moment.  I do it all the time, often around members of my family.  But as I learned over many years in therapy, relationships require us to bring all of it. They demand that we express ourselves authentically to our partner, and listen with a sturdy, reliable, and open heart.  They insist that we keep trying to do this better, even after years and years together, and even though we sometimes forget.  Because life is funny.  But it's also crazy and sad and painful and intense and completely fucking serious.  To be there for each other, we need to take emotional risks.  Be emotionally vulnerable.  Be all of it.  

A good sense of humor is one of the best things in the world.  But it shouldn’t be worn like armor.  It should be worn like a plume -- a big, showy feather that rises ornamentally out of your helmet and announces your high-ranking coolness.   To me, it's not about “softening” your wit, so much as honing -- and fluffing up -- your other traits and skills.  So you can be the harmoniously happy, cool funny chick you want to be. 

I don’t need to tell you or your she-therapist that being a funny chick may limit your options.  If we lived in a society where the dominant gender put a premium on great female personalities, there’d be as many successful female comics as there are Sports Illustrated cover models.  There aren't.  By a long shot.  That doesn’t mean your fave guy won’t read Sports Illustrated, in front of you sometimes.  But when you mock him for it, he might understand that he's a tool, and put it down. 

Here's what my smart husband said when I told him you were worried about scaring men away.  Well, she doesn’t need to find men  She just needs to find one man.   So don’t lose faith, Sarcastic.  Stay in therapy, and work on becoming the best version of yourself that you can be.  And meanwhile, keep your eyes open – and your eyebrow raised -- for that one, right man.

Dear Erin:

I am a 27-year old, single, professional female living in downtown Chicago in a high rise building.  I am contemplating adopting a dog. Everyone's first reaction is NO -- so much responsibility, it will change your life, and not for the better, and it’s so EXPENSIVE.   Bear in mind, I'm great with pets, I’ve been a dog lover all my life, and I have nothing but time outside of my job.  I feel like I need an excuse to get out of bed early, and to go outside, because there are days I could literally work from home and just be agoraphobic all day.   Is a dog a temporary bandaid to my obvious loneliness, and once mentally healed, a burden?   Or is it a potential companion who could do great things for me?

Dog’s Best Friend

Dear Dog’s Best Friend:

I used to be really lonely, too.  When I was in graduate school – and was broke, jobless, and SOMEWHERE between passing my qualifying exams and finishing my dissertation – I was stone cold lonely.  I mean, I dated off and on.  But I lived in Park Slope Brooklyn, in a group apartment with a bunch of other women, and none of us were lesbians.  So I get it.

One day, this woman I knew went running in Prospect Park and came upon a stray dog.  A young, rambunctious Chow Chow.   Undoubtedly, some turdsack had gotten the dog – like at a pet store, when the dog was a puppy and still looked like an ear muff --  but never bothered to research the breed, or get the dog trained, or anything.  So when it became rambunctious and independent and stopped acting like an ear muff, he took Chow to the park, and left him there. 

Although this woman had a bleeding heart, she wasn’t terribly dependable either.   She kind of started looking for someone to adopt Chow, but then went out of town on vacation.   Guess who she asked to dog sit?  Yup, the lonely girl.  And the first weekend I stayed over, I was awoken in the middle of the night by the dog: Barking, barking, barking.  I tried to quiet him down, to no avail.  Then the police showed up.   

Standing outside the apartment door, the cops asked me a bunch of questions.   Is this your apartment?  Is this your dog?   What the hell are you doing here, if this isn’t your apartment or your dog?  I’m sure my story sounded lame and fishy and lonely girl crazy.  But in the end, I wasn't the crazy person they wanted.   It turned out, some guy in the building had just tried to commit suicide, by throwing himself off the roof.  By the time the cops got done talking to everyone, and the EMT's got the depressed guy to the hospital (alive. thanks a lot, hedges.), it was almost morning.  I was so freaked out, I was ready to throw myself off the roof.   
But I couldn’t.  
I had to walk the dog. 

Look, I don’t have a dog.  Mostly because I would want to adopt a stray, which I did once before, and I’m not ready to take that on again.  It ended badly.  Besides, I already have two kids and two cats -- including an impossibly handsome male cat who's ruined me for other pets.  I am not lonely at the moment.   But for people who are, I think dogs can be excellent company.  And single people can be ideal dog owners! 

The only thing I would caution – as per the Chow story – is that people are so often unprepared for how much work a dog requires.   Even a happy, well-trained, emotionally-stable dog -- who you raise from a puppy -- is a lot of work.   So learn about it.  Make use of the internet, or whatever “bookstores” still exist around you, to find material about the breed, and how to raise it.   Really adopt the dog, like he’s become your family.  Too many people buy animals like property and then -- when they find the dogs need too much company and exercise -- toss them out like old ear muffs.   Get a dog walker if you can’t be there.  Find a fun kennel for when you travel.  Line up friends to dog sit when work is busy.  (Just be sure to warn them if your upstairs neighbor is suicidal, so they can close the shades).

If you feel ready for a dog, then get one.  He will make you happy!  And keep you company!   And you, Dog's Best Friend, will do the same for him.