Before you think this post involves actual sex I will put you out of your misery at once and tell you that it does not. So you can stop making that face.
Sometime in the mid 1980’s the New Year’s Eve ritual of eating cheese fondue and watching movies on the Betamax began. Being from a family with very few traditions this was something that started, I believe, as a party that Mother threw the year after she graduated law school. And since we weren’t living in the basement of my Grandparents house at the time I had to have been in the 4th grade for that first party.
(don’t you love how memory is curvy like that?)
I was allowed to help prepare for the party and I remember the fridge being filled with bowls and bowls of cheese and cheap screw top wine. The apartment soon filled with the perfect smell of fresh bread, melting cheese and what I would later learn was the heavenly scent of cooking Chardonnay.
Several movies were shown at that first party (including, gasp, Deliverance, something one should never watch in the tween years…or, you know, EVER.). But it is highly unlikely that I absorbed most of the plot of the movies that the party goers watched as they waited for the midnight countdown.
And so I have to wonder, was it as early as 4th grade, when I first watched The Big Chill, that the idea of my being a single mother by choice landed into my brain? Surely the notion of single parenting wasn’t new. I had my own Mother to look to for that trail blazing, as well as the single parents of several friends. Everyone’s parents that were single, however, started out as married, then had kids, and divorce happened on a sliding plane some time from my friends’ infancy to present day. The idea that a grown woman could decide to become a Mother and then set out to make that happen- because she wanted to- it was something that stuck with me.
[Quick sub-plot of applicable single mama wanabe, er, plot: Mary Kay Place reunites with her old college friends with the awareness that she wants to become a Mother and she wants one of her male friends to be the donor to help make this happen. She ends up asking and being rejected by Tom Berrenger. (I always forget about this scene and it makes me so sad to watch it happen.) Glen Close then gets involved and decides that her husband, Kevin Kline, should be Mary’s donor and so she arranges for that to happen.]
For 27 years I have watched this movie every New Years Eve. It was the 2nd DVD I ever purchased when personal DVD players were available (after Run Lola Run and before The Matrix) and I can sing every song on the soundtrack by heart. I can also tell you where the film continuity mistakes are and each year my eye goes to them like a familiar patch on a beloved quilt. Every couple of years or so I make myself watch the extended and deleted scenes- but this is only done to make me appreciate the final cut that much more.
The film is ingrained in me as if it is my own story.
Which is why, surprise, surprise, it really shouldn’t BE a surprise that I didn’t have to make a huge mental leap to know how I would begin my family. It’s also probably why when I told my Mother that I was interested in becoming a Mother via donor sperm she didn’t even flinch.
A few weeks ago I turned 35. This makes me roughly the age of the characters of this movie that reunite 15 years after college to bury a friend. This was also one of the first years, ever, that I didn’t watch The Big Chill to ring in the New Year. Instead I watched a new movie about donor conception: The Kids Are All Right.
I have been doing a lot of pretty generic thinking about W’s donor siblings. I know that there are several. Thinking about them invariably makes me think about the donor and I realize that at some point W may want to meet him. This, thankfully, is an option for him.
The Kids Are All Right begins with a younger brother begging his recently turned 18 year old sister to make contact with the sperm donor that their Mothers used to conceive them. I 100% personalized pretty much the entire first twenty minutes of this film. I imagined W making the phone call, I imagined what it would be like for him and Churchill (the name I have given our donor) to meet, I imagined how I would feel to suddenly have to make space for someone that wanted to be in my child’s life.
It was an incredibly thought provoking film that I think is a great (& hopefully) honest portrayal of a child’s curiosity about their genetic father. There is no “EEEEW!! SPERM!!!” moment. There is no, “why did you make me this way???!!” argument. This was nice to see after so many talk shows have made sure to showcase the sad stories of donor conceived children – the ones that carry a lot of anger about their creation stories. I have a feeling that most of the anger comes from not being aware of the full story of their beginnings- at least this is what I tell myself as I start to mentally rehearse the story that I will share with W.
The movie takes a turn, plot wise, that I found to be about 20% offensive. If I was not single I would probably have been more offended, but if the same story line had featured a single woman and not a married lesbian couple it would have been REALLY weird for me. (which makes me wonder how married couples with donor assisted conceived children felt watching this film) And I can’t imagine anything more confusing for W. But these are the things that Hollywood movies are made of.
And now more and more movies have plots that feature a single woman trying to have a child on her own. Just since I started trying to be a Mom the following movies made it to the big screen: Baby Mama, The Back-Up Plan, The Switch, Miss Conception… Interesting to note- all comedies, because trying to get knocked up while single is HI-Larious- but oh what a long, long way from The Big Chill we’ve come!