I watched the first episode of the Handmaid’s Tale the other day. If you haven’t seen it, it’s worth checking out. Based on Margaret Atwood’s novel of the same name, it tells the tale of a woman, who, under an oppressive religious regime, is separated from her daughter and forced to live in servitude as a surrogate for the ruling elite. The first episode, shown on Channel 4, is pretty good, though I did have one issue with it.
In the early part of the episode, the protagonist, Offred, is seen running through a forest carrying her silent daughter, trying to escape the ruthless, armed forces of the regime. Offred finds a small crag to hide under with her daughter, who says the word “Mummy!”. Offred hushes her daughter, who obliges, whilst the men stand overhead searching. They successfully remain hidden, at least until later.
I imagined how this scene would play out if myself and my four year old son were involved. Firstly, we wouldn’t get that far because he weighs an absolute tonne and I haven’t run since before my pelvic floor took a battering in pregnancy. Secondly, even if we did make to the crag, there is no way he would stay quiet. Instead, the men searching for us would hear “Mummy, where are we going? No, Mummy, don’t shush me, I need to talk to you. I want to talk to you. MUMMEEEEEEEEE. WHY WON’T YOU TALK TO ME!.” We wouldn’t last more than three-minutes.
Hollywood and television are packed with representations of family life. Some get things right, but others get it spectacularly wrong, often resulting in unrealistic expectations in new parents. Some of my favourites include:
The waters break with a huge gush, often in a public place like a department store. Then contractions start straight away and after just ten-minutes the screams of “this baby is coming now” can be heard. Three pushes later and out emerges an immaculately clean three-month-old.
If only it was that easy. In the early stages of labour you probably won’t even be sure if you’re in labour or not, your contractions won’t be regular and the chances are your waters won’t break until long after labour has started. Labour might take a few days, and include multiple examinations by a midwife who will repeatedly declare that it isn’t time yet. Then when it is finally time, you will still have several hours of pushing to go. Oh, and your new-born will be coated in a sticky gloop when he arrives.
Getting a Child to Sleep
In the movies, the parent puts the baby in the cot, says night night, and shuts the door. For older children, they read a nighttime story, say night night, and shut the door. Brilliant.
In reality, you spend about three-hours rocking your colicky new-born each night because every time you think he is asleep and you can safely transfer him to the cot, his innate ability to sense when he is no longer attached to you kicks in, and he starts to cry. Older children come out of their room at least seventy-billion times after you shut the door because they need to give you one more hug, tell you that they forgot to say goodnight to their favourite toy, ask you for a drink, ask you if it’s morning time yet, and tell you that they need the toilet.
As a kid, I often wondered why my parents didn’t prepare an elaborate feast every morning for breakfast with cereals, toast, muffins, bagels, fruit, and various spreads and juices. I’d seen such breakfasts on TV so I knew they must exist. Now I have my own kids I understand perfectly. I barely have enough time to wash myself in the morning, especially after I have washed two children, argued with the oldest about weather appropriate clothing, wrestled a nappy onto the wriggling toddler, packed the bag we need for the day, and retrieved a missing shoe from behind the sofa. Adding the preparation of a breakfast bonanza would probably break me. Weetabix all round is the best I can manage.
Toddlers in movies and television are almost always shown either sleeping, or smiling happily in a highchair or a pushchair. They are adorably cute and rarely the focus of attention. This is, presumably, because, as anyone who has ever had a toddler knows, they are incredibly uncooperative and unlikely to do as the director asks them.
As result, movies and television fail to prepare us for parenthood of toddlers. Think about it, you never see a toddler in the movies lying face down on the supermarket floor screaming and kicking because his Mum wouldn’t let him play with the cucumbers in the salad aisle.
Sometimes They Get It Right
Sometimes movies and television do get things right. Outnumbered and Malcolm in the Middle successfully depicted the chaos that comes with multiple children, for example. US drama Parenthood has received critical acclaim for the way it has handled a number of family life topics, including having a child on the autism spectrum. Meanwhile, I just hope that I will never find myself in the midst of a zombie apocalypse, running through the woods, lugging and desperately shushing my three-stone son, as he shouts out the theme tune to Blaze and the Monster Machines.