Monday, November 24, 2014

How the New Annie Movie Inspired Me as a Parent

There’s a scene early in the upcoming reimagining of the classic musical Annie, where Annie (played by Quvenzhane Wallis) responds to a friend wishing her good luck with “luck is for suckers”. From that moment forward, this spunky electric-haired 10-year-old girl had my attention, for it’s obvious that this Annie was wise beyond her years.

The Junior Dudes and me checking out the "Annie" cast. 
Abandoned while very young by her desperate parents, Annie was forced into survival mode early on. Now living in foster care with a handful of other girls in the home of the bitter Miss Hannigan, Annie longs for a reunion with her birth family but in the interim she manages to create something potentially more valuable with her similarly parentless foster sisters: a family of choice.

When my wife and I were engaged we took a course on preparing for marriage. The one message from that class which still occupies space in my brain so many years later is the concept of “family of origin and family of choice”. In context, we learned that the family you choose (in our case, by marriage) should become your priority in life. Everyone’s familial situations are different and sometimes in life we gravitate toward people who become like family, even if not related by blood. Not to diminish the importance of family of origin (i.e. birth family, or whoever raised you), but the families we choose can become more meaningful on a deeper level because they derive from free will.

Lumped together circumstantially, Miss Hannigan’s girls realize they have a “Hard Knock Life”, and some are quite bitter about it. But while Annie attempts to change their way of thinking, she’s constantly working every angle to improve her own situation with the ultimate goal of finding her family.

Throughout the movie, Annie proves to be an eternal optimist in the face of adversity. She doesn’t get hung up on lingering obstacles, like the kind which trip up many adults (like Cameron Diaz’s Miss Hannigan does), and not only strives to make a better situation for herself, but it is part of her credo: “The sun’ll come out tomorrow”, meaning good things are just around the corner for those who think positively.  

Family is something that many people take for granted. It’s easy amid our hectic and exhausting daily lives to overlook the big picture of how important family really is.  As the father of two young boys, my primary objective is to ensure they are safe and secure while I’m with them and, maybe even more importantly, when I’m not. I also hope that they are not only willing, but eager, to help each other as they grow up. Though they are not family by choice, like Annie and her sisters, I hope they choose to make each other a priority.

Annie’s longing for her family of origin indirectly leads her literally from the poorhouse to the penthouse. When she’s temporarily taken in by gazillionaire Will Stacks (Jamie Foxx), this little girl whose own family history is fractured makes it her mission to teach the lonely Mr. Stacks what family truly means. The irony is she’s never really known a traditional family, yet seems to excel at the nuances involved with one.
The Littler Dude and Sandy. She won't bite. 

I didn’t know how my 2 and 5 year old sons, who had only seen animated features previously, would react to a movie like Annie. So when we were invited to an advance screening I was curious if amid the lively music and cute dog, the subtle messages conveyed in this film would stick with them. It’s obviously too early to tell, but I do know that they were literally dancing in the aisles to several of the songs during the film, none of which they’d ever heard before.

Annie presents an interesting take on today’s ever-increasing modern families, so I’m glad my boys were exposed to the positive messages of optimism, perseverance and family, which are all ideals I strive to teach them on a daily basis. Plus, as an added bonus, I still can’t get “Hard Knock Life” out of my head.

Annie will be in theaters on December 19th.

The Junior Dudes and the cast. 

I was compensated for this post and invited with my family to an advance screening of the film. All opinions and ideas expressed in this post are solely mine, for better or worse. 

All images contained in this post are the sole property of Dude of the House and may not be copied, used or reproduced without permission. 

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

The Surprise Ending to Our First Pregnancy

Expectant parents in the movies always experience some sort of unexpected twist shortly before the delivery. It’s usually a silly red herring which gets wrapped up beautifully just in time for the woman’s water to break on a sidewalk somewhere before she speeds to the hospital just in time for a perfect delivery.  My first child’s pre-delivery experience was the opposite.

The Little Fetus measured ahead of scale throughout his gestation, so coupled with the fact that he was breach and I weighed 11 lbs. at birth, Mrs. Dude’s OB/GYN suggested sometime during the third trimester that we schedule a C-Section to occur during the 39th week. That seemed like a good option because it also gave my parents who lived across the country fair warning on when the baby would arrive. We booked a delivery date and they booked airline tickets. What could go wrong?

My parents flew from Ohio to L.A., 2 days before the delivery date and seemed tired upon arrival, which was not too unusual. They wanted to rest that afternoon and Mrs. Dude and I still had a lot to do so we planned to meet for dinner. They called shortly before we were to pick them up and asked us to come up to their hotel room before we went out, which was unusual. We couldn’t help but speculate why.

In the movies, this is the scene where the couple joins their parents who sit them down in a serious manner (AKA the red herring) to have a roundabout discussion where they ultimately reveal that they bought the family a house next door to theirs and offer to babysit every night for the next 18 years. Unfortunately that’s not what happened to us.

I don’t remember much of what was said, but two words are still tattooed on my brain five years later: breast cancer. There would be no houses or babysitting or any of the joyous things we’d hoped for that night or in the future. At one of the most vulnerable moments of my life, 36 hours before our first child was born, as my brain rattled with thoughts of insecurity as to whether I would, or could, be a good parent, I was shaken like an old Christmas tree during an earthquake. Only my branches couldn’t shed everything they held. I had to hold strong with every fiber of my being for my wife, my child and my mother.
12 hours before we became parents
I don’t remember that dinner or most of the next day, our last child-free day forever. Mrs. Dude and I woke up before the sun on D-Day after not sleeping more than a few hours, which in retrospect was good foreshadowing. We drove silently toward the ocean as the sky transitioned from dark to light until we arrived at the hospital to meet our firstborn. 

The delivery went smoothly and I soon held our perfect son in my arms. Shortly thereafter my mother and father did the same. Joy drenched the sterile white recovery room while I anxiously tried to comprehend the circle of life my family was about to experience. 

Fourteen months later to the day, I held my son in my arms and we watched as my mother was lowered forever below the frozen Midwestern tundra in a wooden box.
My mother meeting the Little Dude