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    Mothers attempting to balance parenthood and academics.

Long Distance Mom: Abandoned
July 1, 2010 - 7:54am

I’ve been traveling around the country lately talking about the B.P. oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, screening excerpts of my Louisiana documentary and seeking solutions with other concerned individuals. It’s clear that no group or individual — not BP, the federal government, Kevin Costner -- has enough answers to this environmental disaster. It should be no surprise that the communities along the Gulf Coast feel abandoned with this mess.

I just arrived back in Tampa Bay to see my teenagers this week, hoping they did not feel abandoned by Mom’s emergency media work. As many Gulf Coast parents must also feel, I am reading the oil spill news voraciously, concerned about water quality, air quality, seafood toxicity, and tropical storm maneuvers endangering my kids. If a hurricane heads Florida’s way any time soon, I will be removing my children to my Chicago home without hesitation.

I’ve tried to communicate to my teens some of the emotionalism of this devastating, environmental event, which may be difficult for children to comprehend fully. My daughter, who currently wants to be a veterinarian, started to understand more fully when I told her about other speakers at the Tedx Oil Spill conference in DC with me on Monday. Prominent ecologist Carl Safina broke down in tears describing a colleague's experience in the Gulf with a dolphin that had come up to the side of his boat, blowing oil out of his blowhole, and clearly dying. Safina said the dolphin came to the boat not once, but twice, rubbing close to the side, in distress and seeking help.

Last night my daughter took me to see “Toy Story 3,” saying she wanted to see me cry. (She’d already seen it.) I think she knows that I have an abundance of guilt for leaving her and her brother in Tampa, while I work in Chicago. She was certain that the latest story of Buzz Lightyear and cowboy Woody being abandoned by Andy, their teenage owner, would bring me to tears. (It did.) As Libby Gruner has vividly described, the emotional crux of the story for me was watching Andy’s mother bravely help her son empty his room to leave for college. The grief that the animated toys express is merely a substitute for what every middle-aged parent feels when their teenager graduates from high school and heads to college — abandoned.

After we walked out of the “Toy Story 3” theatre, we peeked into “Twilight Saga: Eclipse” to muse on Bella’s decision to marry Edward after her graduation and to become a vampire with him. But that’s a different kind of parental abandonment story…


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