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Why I’m Afraid to See Wonder Woman

 

I should have been on line to buy one of the first tickets to see Wonder Woman. It’s a superhero movie, with a female star, who fights for the vulnerable, and the actress in the starring role is Jewish. But I couldn’t make myself go. The movie has become a smashing success, even without my help, and for that I’m grateful, because it means that female superheroes aren’t such a scary idea to (some) men anymore, and if the movie is good that’s really all that matters to an audience. But I still can’t make myself go to see it.

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The thing is, I can never live up to Wonder Woman. I could never be that strong or courageous. I’ve worked my whole life to build up to a level of strength that allows me to believe that I might be able to do some good in the world. If I have to compare myself to Wonder Woman, I’m afraid I will lose all hope. I know women who are fierce and strong and capable, and I feel like I always disappoint them with my vulnerabilities and doubts. Wonder Woman would find me pathetic.

I look at my dogs, both female, and I know that they are not superheroes. They have their strengths and their weaknesses, they can almost fly and they bark at every danger, but they are imperfect and I love them for it, because they make my imperfections seem acceptable. Wonder Woman, on the other hand, makes me think of all of my flaws. She is like the Golden Retriever of women: loyal, strong, up for anything, deceptively smart, and, of course, beautiful. That’s not me.

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Delilah doesn’t even need a special outfit to look like a superhero.

When I was little I loved the Wonder Woman TV show. Lynda Carter and her twirly skirts and golden lassos comforted me. I didn’t imagine that that could be me, no, I imagined that Wonder Woman could be one of my teachers, or a neighbor down the block, or the Torah reader at my synagogue. I thought, maybe there is a superhero hiding in plain sight and she will come to save me. I especially liked that she was in disguise, like Superman, with her glasses, and skirt suit, and a day job hiding her real identity. I wondered, every once in a while, if even Wonder Woman couldn’t manage to be Wonder Woman all the time.

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It’s possible that Cricket and Butterfly think I’m a little bit like Wonder Woman, actually, the way I pretend to be tired and achy and boring most of the time and then suddenly save the day with a walk or chicken treats or extra-long scratching sessions. I’d like to think they could see me that way, but I still refuse to wear the new Wonder Woman outfit, that armor looks painful.

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“Scratchies are wonderful!”

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“Playtime is wonderful!”

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“I wonder where my treats are!”

My Snow Day

 

Up until the middle of this week, I was working on a post about how little snow we’ve gotten on Long Island this winter. It is therefore possible that Thursday’s massive Thunder-snow-bomb-aggedon was my fault.

The thing is, I like snow. Even more than that, I like snow days, when the whole world seems to be at home watching the same news shows, and not a word of politics is spoken. Theoretically. I love zipping up my tall boots and taking the dogs out for picture time. I love watching Cricket hop through the snow searching for treasures (a leaf!!!!!). And I even like trying to console Butterfly about the weird texture of the ground under her paws.

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“I see something!!!!!!!”

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“Now I see it over there!”

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“Mommy, why can’t I feel my toes?”

We were having all of the negatives of winter: the severe cold, the biting wind, the gloomy lighting, and every kind of cold and flu imaginable, without the benefit of snowball fights and hot cocoa to lighten the load. Even Cricket and Butterfly had to suffer through the short daylight hours, and even shorter walks, and the plinking rain on their heads, with no reward.

We had one day, recently, when the air was full of snowflakes that blurred the world, but added up to almost nothing on the ground. I had to drive carefully, and wear a warm jacket, scarf, and gloves, but I still had to go to work. I felt cheated.

Summer will come along too soon, and it will be relentlessly hot and humid and full of smog and sweat and swarms of bugs. I just wanted a few snow days in my memory bank, to shore me up for those long months of heat, when I would barely be able to go outside and would have to sit with my head right up against the air conditioner just to be able to think.

It’s not that I’m thrilled with having to shovel my car out of the deep snow. I would actually like to have a magical shovel that removes the snow without any help from me. And I could do without the black ice on the roads, and the slippery walkways, and the bad headache that inevitably comes with extreme changes in air pressure. But the snowstorm was a relief just the same. I could turn on the TV and watch weather for as long as I wanted to, with only short breaks to hear about the national political dramas. Every local newsperson was out in the snow, wearing silly hats, and asking random snow-covered strangers some very silly questions. My local government officials were all too busy keeping people safe, and making sure the snow was getting removed from the roads, to cause trouble. One mayor was even driving the snow plow himself, with a reporter along for the ride to make sure the event was recorded for posterity.

I need days like that. I need a few days each year when all of the pain and disorder are muted under Mother Nature’s snowy blanket. Now if only we could convince her to lift up the blanket of snow again once we’ve rested, and not leave it to me to remove pounds of wet snow with my non-magical shovel, then I wouldn’t need three days in bed to recover from my beautiful snow day.

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“We’re going back inside now, Cricket.”

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“I can’t go inside yet, Butterfly. There’s still a leaf under here. I’m sure of it!”

Christmas Movies, Again

 

Mom is getting VERY tired of Christmas movies. I try to tell her that it’s either a Christmas movie or another two hours of watching the news, or, we can watch repeats of Law & Order for the tenth time each. She acts like I’m purposely making her suffer through Twee Season (see what I did there? Twee for Tree?), and blocking all of the sensible shows from the TV.

This is not my fault. Actually, there have been more than a few Christmas movies this season that I had to stop watching early on. Usually I like the sugary sweet love stories, and the magical touches that make everything turn out alright, but sometimes the acting is too unbelievable, even for me.

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“Am I sugary sweet, Mommy?”

Poor Mom is stuck, because she doesn’t like the too sweet movies, and she doesn’t like the edge-of-your-seat-the-world-is-ending movies (or news), and there’s not much left in between right now.

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“The world is ending, Grandma!”

This is the time of year when I wish I could forget the plot lines of all of the shows I love, and then I could watch the repeats for hours on end, in pure bliss. But, damn it, my memory is too good. If I try to watch the reruns, I get impatient with my favorite characters for making the same mistakes they made the last time I watched this damn episode.

And I still haven’t given in and joined Netflix, or whatever it is you do with Netflix or Hulu or Amazon. I still borrow DVD’s from the library when I want to catch up on episodes of Miss Marple or Foyle’s War (not kidding).

It helps to have something relaxing on TV while I’m doing my schoolwork at the computer, because if I paid too much attention to the darkness and despair we read and write about in my social work classes, my head would explode. Instead, I listen to Christmas movie dialogue, and reach down to scratch Butterfly’s head, and look over at Cricket’s enigmatic face every once in a while, for reassurance that we haven’t all gone to hell in a handbasket.

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Ideally, all Christmas movies would star Jimmy Stewart, or Tom Hanks, and be directed by Frank Capra or Nora Ephron, and I could just relax my critical mind and let them take me on a floating journey. I could listen to Louis Armstrong singing about a wonderful world, and watch snow fall on the screen, while I sit in my warm, cozy living room, and believe, for a few hours, that everything will be okay.

 

Wouldn’t that be a wonderful thing?

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“Yeah!!!!!!!!!”

Children’s Television

When I was seven years old, I inherited my parents’ old black and white television set. I could never fall asleep as early as everyone else in the house, so I watched whatever was on until Johnny Carson at 11:30 PM, when I could relax. I felt like he could see me through the TV, and therefore I wasn’t alone. I’d leave the TV on as a night light, waking up at Three AM to the buzz of the target on the screen.

I had a philosophy teacher in college who told us that people who leave the TV on for company are fooling themselves, but I didn’t like him anyway.

Delilah, my childhood Doberman pinscher, used to sleep on my bed during the day, so she watched TV with me sometimes. I don’t think she cared much for it though. Maybe she liked the steady hum of the TV in the background of her dreams. She just liked being with me, especially if I had snacks in my room, or was up in the middle of the night. In a way, I was the TV show she watched.

My Delilah

My Delilah

From an early age, I would read through my TV guide with a highlighter and count up how many shows I could look forward to in the coming week. My favorite issues of the magazine were the ones at the end of the summer that previewed the new shows for the fall. It was just like getting my new school books in August and being able to preview all of the potentially exciting homework for the year ahead, and similarly disappointing by October and November when school and TV turned out not to be as wonderful as I’d hoped.

“Rachel, someone peed on these hastas! This is much more interesting than your TV shows.”

I never felt satisfied by children’s television. There were times, watching The Smurfs, where I saw glimpses of my real life, in the tininess of the smurfs compared to the enormous Gargamel, but most of the time, shows for children portrayed us as super powered beings, as if the average eight-year old could overcome abuse and war and neglect without any help. I needed Wonder Woman to come to my house and help me, not to always be helping the government. I needed the Bionic Woman to hear me with her super hearing, and run to scoop me up, and jump out of the window with me in her arms. And I needed some explanation of how these children on TV were able to survive, because it didn’t make sense to me.

I didn’t like the way the adult characters in kid’s shows talked so slowly and with such simple language, as if I were an idiot. That’s not how real people talked. I liked Cookie Monster, though, because he would start out counting and then just start shoving cookies in his mouth and losing control. This I could relate to.

My Dina, the peanut butter monster!

My Dina, the peanut butter monster!

I watched mostly shows meant for adults, instead. I felt like these were my teachers. In school we never talked about real life. There was no discussion of how often to take showers, or which clothes to wear, or how to earn money, or how to make friends. There was an endless list of rules that everyone else seemed to live by automatically, and I couldn’t find the list anywhere.

“Hygiene is overrated, Mommy.”

I loved The Love Boat. I didn’t understand that it was unrealistic. I thought the floating, fizzy feeling of the show was completely possible in real life. Even when dark things happened, the tone of the show was never dark. And a little girl got to live on the ship, and be doted on all the time, and her Dad was the captain, and there was a cruise director planning activities, and everyone was so happy to be there.

For some reason I really liked The Fall Guy with Lee Majors as a bounty hunter. I liked that his job was to catch bad guys, and that he worked so hard to do it. In my real life, the adults I knew would have given up as soon as it started to look difficult or dangerous. I loved his persistence.

My favorite shows were the ones that made better lives seem possible. Like on Kate and Allie, where these two divorced Moms, with three kids, shared a house. I loved the idea that friends could be your family, and that you could depend on them and not have to survive on your own. On One Day at a Time, a divorced woman moved out with her two teenage daughters to live in an apartment in the city, and it was not sugar coated at all. The point of the show seemed to be that women can do this; they can start over, even when it’s hard, even when things go wrong along the way. And I wanted to believe in that.

I still believe in the transformative power of TV shows, but I think we need a better idea of how to present it. Two dimensional images on a screen are not enough. Maybe the images could be projected, like holograms, into the room. Cricket and Butterfly would love that! We’d need a less furnished room to watch TV in, so that the characters wouldn’t be projected onto the coffee table or impaled by a lamp. And maybe there could be a device we’d wear, like a sensor on our foreheads that would see how we’re feeling and pick a show to fit our needs. Cricket would get a laser light show, so she could chase the lights around the room until she was exhausted, and then there’d be soothing music to help her take a nap. Butterfly would get bird songs, in stereo, all around the room. And she’d need some smell-o-vision, and a treat dispenser, and maybe an automatic scratchy hand she could go over to when she’s itchy.

Butterfly and her buddies are ready to watch TV.

Butterfly and her buddies are ready to watch TV.

Cricket's not so sure about this arrangement.

Cricket’s not so sure about this arrangement.

And for me, as a kid, I would have loved to have recognition that I was there in the room, and that I mattered; that the TV show only came to life because someone was watching it. Even better, a character on the TV could wave to me, and say, Rachel looks tired, maybe we shouldn’t have a smash ‘em up car chase right now, let me go get my acoustic guitar.

“I like acoustic guitar too, Mommy.”

Skating Lessons

 

The ground has been very icy lately. Even when the snow starts out powdery soft, we end up with ice rinks on the grass within a day, and the girls seem to enjoy it. I’ve always wanted to take them ice skating, but indoor rinks don’t seem to welcome dogs.

"This outdoor ice is too bumpy, Mommy."

“This outdoor ice is too bumpy, Mommy.”

Cricket would be a terrible figure skater. She would be gripping the ice with her toe nails and hopping like a bunny rabbit, but maybe Butterfly would like the glide, just flying for a few seconds, and glorying in the curve.

Butterfly, dreaming about the glide.

Butterfly, dreaming about the glide.

I took skating lessons as a kid at the local rink. We were separated by levels – alpha, beta, gamma, delta – and given one rectangle of ice for our group lessons. We wore snowsuits and white skates and gloves and hats. We learned snowplow stops, two foot turns and bunny hops, falling and standing up. But the rink was so cold, and I was uninspired. I never saw skating as something I could get better at.

But that changed when I was seventeen. I had gone to college, and run home screaming, and needed something therapeutic to do while I went to therapy. One day, in desperation, Mom suggested going ice skating, and we went, and I never wanted to leave. I spent the whole two hour session, in terrible blue plastic rental skates, loving it.

I went three days a week, took group lessons and then individual lessons, got my own white skates, and started to improve. But really I loved just skating around the rink. I loved the whoosh of the air, and the speed, and I loved that feeling of attachment to the ice – like a trolley car must feel. With walking and running, your goal is to push off of the ground, to get away from it, but skating is all about the ice and the blade coming together. You fly best when you are attached to the ice (unless you’re a female pair’s skater, in which case, God help you).

No!!!!!!!!!

No!!!!!!!!!

Eventually I had to go back to school and be responsible, and I couldn’t figure out what place skating had in my life. But I was still obsessed with watching skating on TV. For a few years there, the televised skating world was filled with wonderful, creative, emotional performances. Torvill and Dean did a program called Encounter, or January Stars, and it was extraordinary. Everything they did was wonderful, but that one haunts me. Scott Hamilton makes me laugh, Kurt browning makes me want to skate or dance or just watch him on an endless loop. Katya Gordeeva, either back in her pair days with Sergei Grinkov or in the aftermath, is exquisite and soul deep. Michelle Kwan made me cry and made my heart beat in sync with hers. They all have this ability to be inside of the music, wearing it like clothes.

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Katya and Sergei, way back when.

Mostly now we get repetitive Olympic eligible competitions, and packaged professional shows that all look the same, but every once in a while something wonderful happens: Meryl Davis blossoms into a beautiful and evocative ice dancer, Kurt Browning skates with his sons, Jeremy Abbot creates whole new styles of movement on the ice. Even if there are only one or two minutes of blissful skating in a whole two hour program, I can’t risk missing those two minutes.

I wish my girls could take figure skating lessons. I can picture them, bundled up in pink snowsuits, wearing four skates each, learning to glide and stop and turn, and hopefully not pee on the ice. Cricket would love to be able to jump, but she’d also be at risk for severely hurting herself, and others. Butterfly would follow her teacher and then sniff after the Zamboni as it cleaned the ice.

I found this picture of a dog in a snowsuit on line, because if I tried to do this to Cricket, I would be in the hospital.

I found this picture of a dog in a snowsuit on line, because if I tried to do this to Cricket, I would be in the hospital.

Ditto.

Ditto.

They’d probably have to have the ice to themselves, because putting up orange traffic cones wouldn’t really stop Cricket from busting out into the crowd and going in the wrong direction and kicking her blades around. Maybe she’d do better with hockey skates, because they don’t have a toe pick on the front. Figure skates are serious weapons.

Those toepicks are vicious!

Those toepicks are vicious!

But, then, Cricket is pretty dangerous herself.

But, then, Cricket is pretty dangerous herself.

 

Murdoch Mysteries


 

            Over winter break, when the TV shows were all on hiatus and replaced with football and hallmark movies, I fell into a DVD palooza of Murdoch Mysteries. I’d seen the first season of the show on PBS a few years ago, but then it disappeared and I assumed the show had stopped being made. When I went to the library to find something, anything, to fill the empty TV space, I saw six seasons of Murdoch just sitting on the shelves.

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            The show is Canadian and stars Yannick Bisson, who I recognized from a little movie I fell in love with as a teenager called “Hockey Night.” He was the classic long-lashed pretty teenage boy, and I was into that sort of thing.

Hockey Night

Hockey Night

            Murdoch Mysteries is set in turn of the twentieth century Toronto. Murdoch is a catholic detective in a largely protestant town, but his real uniqueness is that he’s scientific and inventive in his detecting techniques. He comes up with all kinds of borderline-anachronistic devices to solve his cases.

            His muse is the female coroner, one of the first generation of female doctors, and she is fascinated by his ideas and appreciative of his respect for her work. There’s a goofy constable, who proves himself to be kind and intelligent, despite some off the wall ideas, and a gruff inspector who recognizes Murdoch’s genius, and supports it, and only occasionally gets competitive and restless in his leadership role.

            These are good people, nice people. They travel through different aspects of Toronto society and do CSI type stuff and meet important figures, like Alexander Graham Bell and Henry Ford and Arthur Conan Doyle and prime ministers and so on. There’s something chaste about the show, because of the Catholicism of Murdoch and the time period. Murdoch lives in a boarding house and rides a bicycle, despite being somewhere in his thirties.

The slow burn of the romance between the doctor and the detective, the chaste way they court each other, the family feeling among the police officers, and maybe the Canadian-ness of the show, all called out to me.

When I was three or four years old, I think, we took family camping trips to Prince Edward Island, in Canada. I remember the ferry across to the island, and I remember the cliffs, because my brother threatened to push me over the side, but more must have seeped in, because when I eventually watched the miniseries of Anne of Green Gables, set in Prince Edward Island, the place seemed very familiar. I could almost smell it.

"What smell?"

“What smell?”

            I like binge watching TV shows. I did that long before the latest Netflix trend. I watched most of JAG and Buffy, the Vampire Slayer and Murder, She Wrote in two and three episode bursts, day after day, when they replayed on basic cable. It was such a relief to not have to wait for the next episode for a whole week. It allowed me to see patterns in the show, but more importantly, it let me bond with the characters more fully. It’s like when you talk to a friend for six hours at a shot instead of just a few minutes here and there.

Cricket, during a long night.

Cricket, during a long night.

            The dogs seemed to like Murdoch too, though maybe not for the same reasons as I did. My dogs are happiest when we are all together in the living room and focused on one thing. They’re not huge fans of one human at each computer, or humans wandering from room to room, separately. They prefer to be stretched out on the floor with the comfort of knowing that no one is leaving the room and this is where we all belong.

            I tend to prefer that too.

TV time

TV time

            In the midst of the snow, and the freakishly cold weather, and holidays that we don’t celebrate, we created this oasis of friends on the TV to keep us company. The only important breaks, to the dogs, were pee breaks out into the cold, and snacks. Otherwise, we were all happily snuggled into the warm living room, with Murdoch and his mysteries.

Cozy.

Cozy.

While You Were Barking

Dear Cricket,

This is an accounting of all of the things I have missed while you were barking.

You bark whenever someone opens a door: to the building, the basement, their apartment, a passing car, or a building across the street. Often this happens while I am watching TV. Inevitably the characters will be in the middle of revealing the heinous secret at the center of the plot when you start to bark. Thank God for the pause button. There never used to be a pause button on my TV remote. Clearly someone else has a dog like you.

Butterfly to Cricket - "Shh, I'm watching TV."

“Shh, I’m watching TV.”

You especially like to bark when I am on the telephone. I know that you do not like the idea that I could choose to pay attention to anything but you and that this is, in fact, truly painful.

"I am Cricket, hear me bark!"

“I am Cricket, hear me bark!”

I have noticed that recently you have been teaching your sister how to bark with you. Together you are a formidable Greek chorus, lamenting murder and mayhem, warning of death and destruction. Every once in a while, I wish you would sing a few sweet lullabies, but I don’t expect this to take place.

Butterfly - "I think I can bark, I think I can bark..."

“I think I can bark, I think I can bark…”

You bark over conversations your humans are trying to have, and successfully end them with your demands for attention. We do try to wait until you are resting quietly on the floor before having any kind of in depth conversation, but not all conversations are in depth, or planned. Sometimes I just think of something I want to say while I’m at the computer, or eating dinner, and you inevitably have something louder to say at exactly the same time.

You have been very successful at using your bark as a device to train your people. Just like we might use a pull on your collar, or a clicker, you use a bark. These are the lessons you have taught me:

“Mommy, you can’t eat all of that dinner yourself.”

“You must check the window to see if someone is racing towards us with an ax.”

“You can’t clean the poop off my butt!”

“You will not make friends with that neighbor, or walk towards that corner of the lawn to meet that dog.”

“You cannot put your feet on the floor without my permission. How dare you!”

Cricket, you rule with an iron fist. You are not a person whisperer. You are a person barker.

There are so many places that say, of course your dog can come in, if she is well behaved, which counts us out.

You make it very difficult to have conversations with our new neighbors, because as soon as they walk up the path, you see them, and start to bark and lunge and I have to pull you away and focus your attention elsewhere. I try to make sure I smile at the human to let them know that I am not rejecting them or agreeing with your assessment of them, but I’m not sure how much of that comes across.

You need to be watched around children who don’t understand that you have boundaries. There are certain dogs (Golden and Labs come to mind) who can tolerate being poked and teased, but you cannot, and I understand this. I try to teach children how to be polite with you and recognize when you are warning them away, but they, inevitably, ignore everything I say. I’m sure you can relate to that. This is why I have to intervene and pick you up when things get knotty. This is not an invitation for you to bite me.

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You are fully present in every moment, hyper-aware, and hyper vigilant, which makes you very entertaining, but it also means that you can get over stimulated. I am not suggesting that you become someone else, or that you stop expressing yourself. I just wish that, sometimes, you could hold back on the barking, and communicate your feelings in a less car-alarm, the-world-is-about-to-end, sort of way.

Love,

Mommy