Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Feeling Like Elastagirl

Who, you may ask, is Elastagirl?

Well, she's a former superhero and the wife of Mr. Incredible, in the brand new, not-to-be-missed Pixar blockbuster, "The Incredibles."

That's who.

And she's a fascinating character voiced by the brilliant Holly Hunter, who personifies the quintessential multi-tasking women -- smart, sexy, and capable of doing it all. Deep down she knows she's a superhero. But the present just isn't the time or place for that role -- there's dinner to cook and three kids to care for. As John Lennon put it: "Life is what happens to you when you're busy making other plans. "

While Mr. Incredible is off having a real mid-life meltdown, Elastagirl deals with her suburbian scenario with savvy and grace. She doesn't come undone just because she can't be a superhero anymore. She's pragmatic and real -- just like Smartmom and many of her friends.

Is there really such a big difference between the way men and women face mid-life? "The Incredibles" may draw too facile a distinction between the sexes at this crossroads. But it seems that, for better or worse, women are more willing to throw themselves hook, line, and sinker into family life. It engages them deeply because, well, it is so deeply engaging.

Which isn't to say that women don't get depressed watching their career potential evaporate as they dive headfirst into family life. It isn't easy stepping off the professional ladder or putting aside meaningful careers. But few want to pass on the rewards of parenthood. Many choose to take a time-out or work part-time so that they can really be there for their offspring. Most plan to get back to their career goals gradually as the kids grow up.

And those who try to "do it all" -- work full time and come home for "the second shift" that begins after their long work day -- find that they are indeed DOING IT ALL. Stay-at-home and working-mothers are still expected to DO everything -- they shop, cook, pay bills, make playdates, do the laundry, keep track of everything, buy new shoes, clothing and underwear -- plus tell everyone what to do.

There truly is no rest for the weary mom (working or otherwise).

Sad to say, feminism barely made a dent in the way things are done in the American home (even here in the People's Republic of Park Slope). Women, for the most part, are working harder than ever. And god knows, no-one treats them like princesses anymore. While most men are definitely aware of what they should be doing at home -- more often than not they just don't do it as automatically or efficiently as women. And domestic conflicts arise...

Rest assured, women DO have mid-life crises. Big time. Sometimes two or three times in a day. But they don't buy motorcycles or electric guitars in order to feel vital again. Like Elastagirl, they handle mid-life angst with aplomb. Perhaps women are better at reinventing themselves -- from careerist to stay-at-home-mom to part-time employee to volunteer and back again. Women are used to wearing lots of different hats throughout their lives. Truth is, they are very lucky to have such dimensional identities -- able to be so many things at once

Toward the end of "The Incredibles," there is a touching scene where Elastagirl says to Violet, her teenage daughter: "You have more power than you know. Use it."


Perhaps Smartmom has unknown powers that she should be using too. That line really got Smartmom a-thinking about her own mid-life issues. Will she have a book published while she is still in her forties? Or at the very least an agent?

Will she have articles published in magazines or make another documentary? Will she ever earn enough money to buy the family a Brooklyn brownstone? Will she run the marathon in 2006?

Being Elastagirl doesn't mean letting go of one's ambitions. While you're a multi-tasking mama, don't forget to take the time to think about your goals and see if you're headed in the right direction.

As Elastagirl says: "You have more power than you know. Use it."


At 9:50 PM, Blogger brooklynfox said...

Amen, Elastagirl. I have no idea what my powers are. But you do and I've seen you become more elastic since I met you. But sometimes, don't you just want to be "Cementgirl"? Actually, I really like being "Slumbergirl". Right now I'm "Eating-Cereal-Right-Out-of-The-Box-Girl" and it feels damn good. You know what? Screw the "shop, cook, pay bills, make playdates, do the laundry, keep track of everything, buy new shoes, clothing and underwear" thing. I am now officially "Sitting-On-My-Fat-Ass-Girl". Yeah. That sounds just right. RFJ

At 9:50 PM, Blogger Udge said...

I think that men and women have different midlife crises for the same reason: the family and their involvement in it. Nestmaking and the care of family still devolve largely to women, and to succeed at that is surely satisfying. We poor men make do with office jobs, and instead of satisfaction we get laid off. No wonder that we suffer more existential doubt: women don't have time for that :-)

As for the second shift, doing all the housework after a day of office work because the men "just don't do it as well", I have (of course) a theory about that too. A few hundred thousand years ago, the men went off into the grasslands for days at a time to hunt down animals, while the women stayed home. Because they did stay in one place, women had an incentive to keep that place clean & safe for themselves and the kids. Men wandering down paths that they last used a season ago, don't have the same relationship to the ground: it's easier to throw things away if they will have rotted away (or been eaten) by the next time you pass by. This explains why women are nestbuilders, and men turn their cars into mobile garbage dumps.

At 10:06 PM, Blogger Third Street said...

I had something in there about women being natural multi-taskers stemming back to our days as hunters and gathers. The women did the gathering and a little bit of everything else needed for survival. While the men had a single minded focus on hunting.

Hey, what's everyone doing up? It's kinda late.

Get to bed.


At 12:01 AM, Blogger mamainwaiting said...

Sounds like you really related to Elastagirl - "The Incredibles" sounds well, incredible.

It sounds like the film deals with our sense of our own potential as a young person - our hopes, dreams, ambitions. And the way in which as we grow older, those things change, or we lose some of that drive.

Life gets in the way, or perhaps that is the point. Life is a series of interuptions, Whether it be having children, finding husbands, trying to have children, paying mortgages, dealing with one's fears, anxieties and neuroses.

But it seems that this is all the stuff that makes life interesting and complex, rich and full. But it is important, like Elastagirl to stay attuned to one's inner super hero. And as she says, you have more power than you know. After all so much of life is just showing up, winging it, saying, "yeah, i can do that".

Thanks for the pep talk, Elastagirl...

At 6:54 AM, Blogger Little Light said...

Smartmom is indeed smart, managing to engage even her single/childless readers and those of us who haven't quite reached midlife. But having experienced two life crises, early adulthood and mid young adulthood, (maybe I get one a decade) this piece truly resonates with me. Keep up the good work - I'm forwarding this to some of my favorite women - working and stay-at-home moms and also to women who are single and "free."


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