January 4, 2010

Mastering the Art of Being a Woman

It all started when I did one of those silly online ten-question tests. This one asked "Which Jane Austen character are you?" After anwering the thinly veiled questions as honestly as I could the computer told me I was most like Eleanor Dashwood, the sensible, patiently long-suffering sister in Sense and Sensibility. I laughed. I'm forty and a mother of four. If I hadn't a shred of sense or a good amount of patience after this many years and experiences I might as well throw in the towel now. Twenty years ago my result would likely have been Emma Woodhouse of Emma, who believes she has nothing to learn (until true love teaches her otherwise). As lightly as I took this test result, it did give me cause to wonder if the real differences between women and how they handle their lives' events are merely a matter of where they are in their lives.

My kids rent a lot of movies - even more now that we have gone back to the most basic of cable. I may sit and catch a half hour of the latest comedy, Harry Potter movie, or music documentary with them. Often I even really enjoy the movies they choose, but holidays are the time to catch up on the last few months' releases that truly interest me.

This Christmas holiday I have watched three movies I have rented. One evening, propped up on pillows on my bed I watched The Proposal with Sandra Bullock and Ryan Reynolds. Besides the stunning 'Alaskan' scenery (not sure it really was Alaska), and a fairly funny scene with Betty White dancing and chanting around a fire in a First Nation button blanket and headress, I thought it was a somewhat forgettable movie about a career obsessed, narcissistic woman who learns there is more to life than her own wants. ( I enjoy Sandra Bullock's 1995 film, While You Were Sleeping, which is a similar getting-married-on-false-pretenses story, but much easier to take when the protagonist is thrown into a situation which originates from her goodness of heart and extends due to her chronic loneliness.)

Much more interesting was Julie & Julia. Meryl Streep was her usual amazing self, acting from the bottom of her soul, as chef Julia Child, and Amy Adams played Julie, the blogging 29 year old who decides to cook (and blog) her way through the entire Julia Child book Mastering the Art of French Cooking. What struck me about Julie & Julia was the striking contrast between the two main characters of the movie. Julia Child (in her forties in the film) comes across as a wonderful, warm, stable, steady, giving, kind, open and passionate woman, whereas Julie comes across as somewhat lost, entitled, desperate, emotionally volatile, and self-centered. Hmmmm. Both women are married to supportive men and are childless, so what gives?

The Julia Child story is set in the 1960's and the Julie story is set in the early 2000's. Could that, perhaps, have something to do with it? When we discussed the movie the other morning over the long-distance line, my mom said that many women of Julie's generation and the ones following have been given the impression by over-indulgent parents, that life owes them everything and they wait, and get restless and dissatisfied when it doesn't come, and women of her 'children are meant to be seen and rarely heard from' generation, had to go out and work hard for what mattered to them (my mother just retired from a wonderful, 25 year career as a museum director, curator, and archivist). My older sisters thought I was spoiled, and I think, in a way they were right. I was a child of the educationally experimental '70's, and the cute little youngest of six. It took a long time for me to truly grow up, face my responsibilities, and learn to give without counting the cost. I remember, as a young woman, reading John F. Kennedy's famous quote: "Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country." I was deeply affected by this quote, as if I had never considered such a concept.

It was encouraging to note that the Julie character does grow through her challenge of cooking her way through Mastering the Art of French Cooking. In fact, she says Julia Child saved her. Julie's own mother, appearing only as a voice on the phone or a comment on the blog, doesn't offer much support at all until the end when Julie's blog becomes famous. I'm not sure what Julia Child's parents were like, only that her family seemed close.

The third movie, The Visitor, was a quiet, thoughtful little film about a bored, lonely white man, whose life is changed for the better by three illegal immigrants. The mother in the film, who seems about 50, is a stunningly beautiful Syrian woman, gentle, caring, peaceful, and persevering. It did me good every time she came into the picture...like being with my own mother.

So where am I going with all this? I'm going forth into a new decade, both in time and in my own life. As my daughters, now eight and thirteen, come into their own over the next ten years, I hope they will have enough of an example in me as a mother and as a woman to handle whatever comes their way with sense and sensitivity. They certainly have it in their grandmother.

I found out that the baton thingy I was passed has a condition (of course). I am supposed to write the top 5 highlights of 2009. Thanks Tracey for pointing this out to me. Here goes (in no particular order):

1. My 40th birthday celebrations

2. Attending the U2 concert with my sons and husband in Vancouver after wanting to see the band in person since 1984 (I practically lived my teen years over again that night - well, the good parts, anyway)

3. The family reunion/celebration of my parents' 50th wedding anniversary - and all the music that went with it

4. Starting and managing to continue this blog

5. Hearing my sixteen year old son sing for the first time since he was little, and noting all the familiar tones of four generations of singers in his voice.


  1. Whew! Cate is only 1 but I have to get moving if I want to be a good example. I am more Julie, than Julia. It took marriage and kids for me to see how selfish I truly am, and I am afraid I have only scratched the surface. Eek!

    Well, I have linked to you in my most recent post. This may increase your traffic. I hope your server doesn't crash. :)

  2. I wonder about that spoilt thing. I've used it and it has been used against me. But in reality I do not for an instant think that it resonated in the round. And only had any connection in the very exception.
    A good tip for men though, never be with any woman where her father calls her princess. For women, never be with a man who walks through a door where he lets go on his pass.
    It is not the 'him first/her first' argument. No, it's the reaction to a fellow Human.
    There is a stretch in the evenings at our Lat'. Not much, granted. But it's better going this way than the other.

  3. I wish I was a better example to my kids. I found myself literally bellowing, 'stop shouting!!!!', to them yesterday. More Elinor Dashwood for me and less very shouty mummy I think. I read the Julie/Julia novel and enjoyed it. Haven't seen the film yet though.

  4. Well, I had a feeling the comments might be interesting to this post, and they are. I really wasn't sure how it would come across as it was one I worked on and worked on, and then kicked out of the nest...Kate, I wish I had a dollar for every time I have shouted that exact thing to my kids - I'd be quite rich by now.
    Tracey, don't be hard on yourself. I think you are a very real and wonderful mom if I can tell anything from your blog (which, selfishly is my very next stop after your comment!)
    Vince: Oh dear, my dad used to call me princess, but only until I was ten or so,then he was pretty sure he wanted to ship me off to a convent - will that do? Your first and third paragraphs are a bit mysterious to me - could you elaborate, please?

  5. My friend just lent me Julie/Julia. After your review...and others I am excited to watch it.

    Thanks for finding me. I love new bloggy friends!

  6. First -- great highlights! With those as part of 2009, it couldn't have been too bad.

    The only movie of the three you discuss that I have seen is The Visitor. I really liked it, too. Regarding J&J, I look forward to renting it. The young J is from Austin, apparently, and went to high school with a colleague of mine, who was not entirely complimentary of her. I'm not sure I buy the generational thing, as the colleague is also a woman in her early thirties, and is not self-centered or carrying a sense of entitlement. My own 26-year-old daughter and many of her friends have good jobs and are struggling to pay their own way. On the other hand, I think they do expect things for themselves that I did not. It is sometimes a little shocking, but on the other hand, my low expectations didn't serve me all that well either. I have heard that there have been some social science studies that show one can go overboard on the self-esteem building so that children have an inflated sense of self. But I think there have been individuals with inflates senses of ego throughout time. Anyway, it's interesting to ponder.

  7. Given that we are at near about the same Latitude, you 50 degrees, me 52. The length of the day is more or less the same. So that at 5pm it is just bright enough to tell colours. A week ago this would have been impossible.

    I've called girlfriends spoilt and girlfriends would nod sagely while mentioning that I am an only child, therefore spoilt rotten. Neither is true. Nor is it for you. But it was called out when someone drank the very last of the milk in the morning.

  8. Welcome Carolyn, and thank you for commenting!

    Barbara: Thanks for all your thoughts. I'll admit, my head feels a bit drunk with all the pondering on the subject. I remember having a deep philosophical discussion of the type with my sister-in-law in a pub, and an older woman from a nearby table came over to us and said, "Lighten up, ladies, the world isn't that bad." She was smiling, so we, too, laughed at ourselves!

    Vince, I get it now - about the latitude thing. You and your Google Earth are on top of that sort of thing, whereas I barely passed my geography course in college.

    Someone else using up my coffee milk in the morning makes me 'react' too - so I get that as well. Thanks for explaining. And you are right - I am no longer spoiled, nor am I allowed to spoil my children. My husband makes sure of that.

  9. Thanks for doing the Julia post. I was wondering about that movie but with a 3 1/2 year old tagging along have been waiting to pick up the dvd, maybe I'll see it on the plane.

  10. Have a good trip, MNM! And your house looks beautiful - orbs are always much more obvious in photos, btw.


I'd love to hear your thoughts. Thanks!