Peterloo

As an American living in the UK, sometimes I feel like I have missed a lot of history lessons. In general, history classes in the US cover all of the important plot points of Medieval Europe (church, paintings, plague, poverty, general darkness, etc), eventually focusing on England with the Magna Carta, Tudors, Shakespeare, culminating in the eventual American Revolution. Then, our history books barely mention England until, you know, we save their butts in World War One and World War Two. There are a lot of problems with our perspective, but that is a post for another day!

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With this in mind, I went to see Peterloo, a film about the British government opening fire and sending the calvary to attack a group of peaceful demonstrators seeking better representation in Parliament on August 16, 1819. Written and directed by Mike Leigh, this was a very thoughtfully organised interpretation of the events leading up to the day. Having never heard of the Peterloo Massacre, or Mike Leigh, I was a bit of a blank slate.

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Movie diaries: First Man

Everyone’s favorite “Hey Girl” meme-dreamboat Ryan Gosling is transformed into the level-headed, anxiety resistant first human to step on the moon, Neil Armstrong, in the recently released film, First Man. 

Hey Girl

When I was about three years old, I told my mother that I was going to someday get into a space ship and go to the moon to wave back at her and then return home. Within the first minute of First Man I realized that this is a goal I will never accomplish. Why? Because going into space is probably one of the most stressful things a human can do and I think I would literally flip the eff out and explode into smithereens before catching a glimpse of the arc of the earth in the horizon! With the jostling, buzzing, beeping spacecraft and someone in my ear asking what was going on, I would totally lose it. That was the theme of the film – Armstrong’s ability to cope (or not cope) with stress. Apparently, there was so much literal shaking during filming that at one point Gosling received a minor concussion.

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Space exploration: Risky and stressful

First Man pairs Gosling agin with director Damien Chazelle who wrote and directed the Oscar-winning (and over-hyped) La La Land. To Chazelle’s credit, these are two very different films and I think First Man is the better of the two. Claire Foy was cast as Armstrong’s steady and supportive wife who had to frustratingly contend with raising children while her partner was extremely focused on his work getting into space.

There is a lot of a wonder and amazement concerning space travel, but what this film did extremely well is focus on some of the harsh realities involved in the mission to the moon. The experiments and simulations leading up to the journey often ended in repeated tragedy, which was perhaps exacerbated by the loss of Armstrong’s young daughter prior to his time at NASA. The film was shot beautifully and at times was jarring when the camera put you in the point of view of Armstrong.

Focus was a major theme of the film, the razor-like focus involved from not just Armstrong, but all of the scientists supporting the Gemini and Apollo missions in the backdrop of the late 1960s in the U.S. Usually, films from this era include a lot of popular music from the time, and I was pleasantly surprised with getting through a film about the sixties that did not include Creedence Clearwater Revival’s Fortunate Son. The only nod to current events outside the space race was the inclusion of a brief protest scene with Leon Bridges’ interpretation of Gil-Scott Heron’s Whitey on the MoonThe score of the film was composed by Justin Hurwitz was haunting and beautiful, crafting the anxiety, focus and splendor of what was one of humankind’s greatest accomplishments. The music is my favorite part about First Man, and when reflecting on similar films like Apollo 13 it is just such an artistic improvement.

Claire Foy gave a great performance as Janet, holding down the house back on earth and the reality of day to day life. Often, films about cultural or historic heroes paint the spouses as begrudging or nagging or albatrosses to the hero’s success; however, I think that Foy did a great job in portraying Janet Armstrong as the buttress to her husband’s work. Without her support and strength dealing with the emotionally unavailable Armstrong, perhaps a different person would have been the first human on the moon. She is not a victim; rather, she bears the same pressures and anxieties and the same strengths are required of her as they are the astronauts themselves. Arguably, being the wife of an astronaut during the age of space exploration was exceedingly difficult, and the film really hit home how emotionally detached Armstrong was, perhaps the key to handling the extreme stress of his work.

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The brilliant Claire Foy as Janet, Armstrong’s iron-willed wife

Armstrong is a really interesting hero, considering that unlike other public figures he shied away from the spotlight and very rarely discussed the moon landing later in his life. He explicitly did not want to be a “human memorial” and the few comments he did make about space exploration reflected a resentment about the lack of support for continued missions, muttering about out commitment to a manned mission to Mars. In a time when the political climate is exceedingly charged and it feels like scientific research is under constant attack from the majority part in the U.S., I can’t say I blame him. The tragedy of First Man is that it tells the story of perhaps the United States’ greatest accomplishment, which would not have been possible without government funding and support for research, development and education. Now NASA operates with a fraction of the workforce and budget it had during the 1960s. Needless to say, although there have been amazing initiatives that have brought us back beautiful images of the furthest extents of our solar system, it has been a long time since any humans have visited the moon and feels like the days of such exploration have stalled.

On the Moon

Humanity is capable of amazing things.

So, if you are into space and American (or world) history, I highly recommend First Man. In addition, Lukas Haas is in it as Mike Collins, the man who stayed on the craft orbiting the moon while Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin took those first historic steps on the lunar surface.  I’m always pleased to see him, the kid from Witness, all grown up.

As an aside, the whole time I couldn’t help but think about John Glenn, the first American to orbit the Earth in 1962. There is a recording of him noticing what he described as “fireflies” following the Friendship 7 as he circumnavigated the planet – which many have interpreted as UFOs. I always found that story so fascinating and it’s a shame we don’t invest more. Glenn had more hope for our country than Armstrong, and died believing that future achievements like curing cancer and getting to Mars would unite us as a people.

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Pluto as recently photographed by the New Horizons probe.

 

 

 

 

 

 

An open letter to my iPad:

First, I am so grateful for your existence. You and your tablet/phone/device friends has received a great deal of criticism recently, especially concerning your public use by children. You and your screen-bearing comrades have caught the ire of some of upset mom-bloggers, overly concerned that the few moments they see you and my child are representative of all of his time in the world! Don’t worry,  I am here to say, iPad, don’t listen to the haters. We are so glad you are here.

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Srsly, iPad we ❤ u

When I had my son, I proudly and adamantly barred him from ANY screen time for the first two years of his life! Inspired by the recommendation of the American Academy of Pediatrics at the time, there would be NO SCREENS for the first 24 months of his life (although this recommendation has been updated recently)! Despite protestations from grandparents and eye-rolls from pediatricians, we pressed on with zero screens! My dad had a cute anecdote about how as a small child, I would always look at the television screen when commercials came on because they were broadcast at a different pitch than the other programs…

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My pumpkin, livin’ the screen-free life for 24 months

My partner and I are children of the ’90s, and our childhoods were dominated by screens. I could tell you what time of day it was by which Disney inspired cartoon was on television. I spent many long weekends and summer afternoons planted in front of my NES saving Princess Zelda and carrying the Mario brothers over hungry Venus fly traps. I distinctly the O.J. Simpson car chase and the Tonja Harding versus Nancy Kerrigan saga. We came of age alongside the twenty-four hour news cycle and the birth of reality TV. I watched the first ten seasons of The Real World and Road Rules repeatedly. I binge-watched before it was a thing with Kids in the Hall marathons on Comedy Central and old Lost in Space and Twilight Zone marathons on Sci Fi (I guess now it has another name, but whatever). One of the scariest parts of my early teens was when my dad threatened to save money buy chucking our cable subscription.

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Oh the halcyon days of unlimited screen time…

Our parents worked long hours, and at least in my neck of the woods ten was the cut-off age at most after school programs. I was a chunky kid and not into sports, what else was my mom going to do?

But of course,  I was (and still am) determined to do things differently when I had my son. Excessive screen time for children has been linked to obesity, brain damage, aggressive behavior, laziness, mental health problems, and sleep deprivation, among other nightmares no one wants for their children.  Even the revered huckster of Apple products, Steve Jobs, did not let his own children play with iPads.

Those ladies taking the moral high ground against iPads must be onto SOMETHING right?

So, a couple decades after the days of Kids in the Hall, Mario Brothers and The Real World, my partner and I began to emerge from our new parent haze. We dabbled in Disney, allowing our son to watch Frozen as his first screen experience. He already knew all of the words to most of the songs and it was a really magical moment. We had one television at the time, but it was not hooked up to broadcast TV or cable, so content was on-demand and usually streamed without advertisements. Now, we don’t even have television in our flat! The iPad negated the need or desire for one.

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The ubiquitous Elsa lets it go.

I used to haul a massive bag full of activities for our son around to restaurants or meetings and the like. I would put all the educational toys, crayons, activity books, story books, soft toys, blocks, anything that I could shove into the diaper bag that would entertain him. The reality was, as a two to three year old, you are lucky if most things hold his attention for 15 minutes. It’s also a lot of crap to carry around, and then you become that hot mess mom chasing crayons along the floor of the restaurant while your spawn makes a bunch of noise about being bored or overstimulated or whatever. Not a fun look, not a relaxing evening out, and increasing the potential to get frustrated at your child and everyone around you. Enter the iPad.

I still do carry around non-screen activities, but honestly sometimes using that iPad as a carrot for an evening out a few times a month is the best bet. As we transitioned from harried new baby parents to somewhat more with it toddler parents, we wanted to go out more and get back to life. Our super energetic, amazing, charming, but still extremely energetic boy could sometimes be a challenge when we were out and about. We were probably eating tacos, and I must have brought along the iPad for some reason and we had an epiphany, just let him watch something. It started, like our foray into screen time, probably with Frozen. He happily watched his program, we happily ate our tacos, no one ran around, no one shouted, and I did not have to pick up any stray toys or crayons from the floor. It was glorious.

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Happy kid, this time with an iPhone, easy Friday night dinner out for mom and dad!

In regards to the spate of “open letters” upset that some parents give their children iPads for dinners out, y’all don’t know us, don’t tell us what we know. Listen ladies, my kid only gets the iPad a few times a week, never at family dinners at home outside the purview of your judgmental glare,  says please and thank you (most of the time), generally performs well at school, is active and involved in his community and plays soccer/football and swims like a fish, and has pretty much memorised the deep sea creatures episode of David Attenborough’s Blue Planet by the age of five. Did you know what a cephalopod was at five? Didn’t think so. He’s fine, and so are we! Maybe your children weren’t properly stimulated, seeing as you are so bored at your bistro you take interest in what other diners are doing?

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My five year old son and I are cephalopod enthusiasts.

What else is the iPad fantastic for? Traveling. In some ways, we have lived a charmed life of traveling, and so far my son has made seven Trans-Atlantic flights, two Trans-Asian flights and as he told dancing partners at my best friend’s wedding this summer, a journey on a train that goes underwater. Wow. So, a lot of people ask me what is my secret. Oh dear, I wish I had some kind of dynamo mom pack I could whip out and wow y’all with, but my secret is being extremely lax about screens during travel. That and being willing to purchase over-priced airport garbage food, my son is quite keen and easily satisfied by croissants so look for the Pret A Manger (they also have good preflight salads if you are nutty about food like me and want to make sure you eat something fresh and green before flying).

In flight entertainment

Screens are the secret to flying the friendly skies.

Seriously, when you are managing passports, tickets, other passengers (you’d be surprised how just visual contact with your child gets some people very upset!), security, baggage claim, sometimes it’s just easier to put your kid in front of the one eyed babysitter. He’s quiet, subdued, engaged in something allow you, the one in charge, of controlling the shit show. The last trans-Atlantic flight we were on we were seated in front of a couple with two children about our son’s age. The mom valiantly forbade her children from watching the in-flight entertainment, bless her heart. Although my philosophy toward other parents is mostly “let mom be mom” I couldn’t help but wonder why she would make things so much more difficult for herself? It’s an airplane! Most children don’t experience long-haul flights as part of their weekly or monthly routine, it’s not going to fry their brains or end in years of therapy and medical intervention if you just let them watch whatever flavor of the month movie is on the screen.

So, iPad, I am ever so grateful that you have been there for us for our occasional eat-outs and somewhat nomadic lifestyle.

However, there are some drawbacks. If your kid has loads of energy like mine, the iPad can a real problem, because it does not allow him to actually use that energy. We don’t use it daily. Also, it is tricky because he is learning faster and faster to get ahead of us, even at the age of five. He can get onto WiFi, scroll, search for new programs on Netflix, and is quite keen to determine the iPad’s passcode. We do our best, he gets on average about ten hours a week, which is more than plenty. We still don’t have a TV, and I like not having one. So maybe the people at your bistro with the kid on the iPad are just non-TV owning weirdos and this is Junior’s only chance to catch up on Paw Patrol* so mind your business?

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*Seriously though, Paw Patrol is the absolute worst.