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Thursday, April 4, 2013

A Mother's Knowing Shake of the Head

Credit: Earl Wilson, NYT

So, I'd just like to take a moment to address Mr. Frank Bruni's post in the New York Times Opinion Column, "A Childless Bystander's Baffled Hymn".

Let's just start with the first sentence. "Modern parenting confuses me."

Here, let me fix that for you. "Modern parenting confuses me everyone."

There it is. Parenting confuses everyone. From the childless who have to deal with kids running and screaming in their coffee shops, to the moms like me who never really thought about what children actually mean in real life, to the mothers who have painstakingly prepared for every step of the journey. It's a confusing business. And it throws a lot of curve balls.

Before I go further in chronological order, I'd like to just say that the whole op-ed became invalid for me when Bruni used the word "flaccid" above the fold in a parenting piece.

Hahahaha. Now, I know. Not everyone is a 12-year-old boy. But a lot of us are. And while probably 50 percent of people are mature enough not to immediately picture penises when the word flaccid is used, the other half us us...aren't.

And if that was the point (which it could have been, nothing quite gets the message 'impotent' across as flaccid peen), then, still, what the hell? Can we not imagine genitalia while reading about parenting? Thanks for that small favor, from all the adults-who-are-still-really-tweens out there.

Okay, back to business. Let me address a few of the complaints: mainly the million last chances and the attempted diplomatic choice system.

We know these don't work. They are for you. They are for you, the childless person just trying to return that crappy novel to the library, or trying to buy just two items at the grocery store for your glorious childless dinner later one (trust me, it is glorious; if you can, try to appreciate for us while we fish eggshells out of the meatloaf and accidentally wipe raw ground beef on our jeans).

You see, we know we're bumping into you with our overflowing carts and whining brood. We know our decibel level is ten times over the library limit as we try to check out that Tarzan DVD. And we're sorry. The last chance system (while also implemented at home as a way to teach children that they have the power to better their behavior before they get in too deep) in public is for your benefit. Because we have to be there. Many many times, I leave the grocery store because my twins are just too much. Too much whining, too much fighting, too much irrationality, too much everything. But we need to eat, so I'll time us out, outside, then we have to go back in. I don't have the option of leaving all the food there and dragging them home. We need to eat. This is our only chance. It's like an action movie, really.

And even if that's not the case, sometimes, dragging them out and taking them home (which I do if we're at the pharmacy or a park or something) is even worse. Have you ever seen two four year olds weighing 40-pounds each being carried out of a place in a double football hold while they scream "I'm sorry, I'm sorry, mama! Please! Please! Last chance! Please, mama! Owwww! You're hurting me! Waaaaah!" Bet you haven't.

And, honestly, my kids are good. They're amazing actresses. I'm surprised no one has called the people on me when I do this. I look like the biggest asshole on the block. It's like, 'go home to your childless spouse and talk about this over lunch' bad. Seriously.

So, yes, I'd rather give four last chances than look like a sadistic lunatic if it is at all avoidable.

As for choice? That's implemented to stop tantrums. Whether or not it works is up in the air, but its purpose is to keep us quiet and out of your way. Would you rather a mom and kids in the corner discussing diplomatically the qualities of sugar cookies vs. chocolate chip cookies, or up in your face at the counter as the children scream their faces off that they don't want that cookie, they hate that fucking cookie, what is wrong with everyone, GAWD?!

You'd think this was because the kids are spoiled brats, but that's not the case either. You say it yourself: "they’re also not adults, so why this whole school of thought that they should be treated as if they are, long before they can perform such basic tasks of civilization as driving, say, or decanting?"

They're not adults. Therefore, they do mystifying, illogical things all the time. Their priorities are...skewed at best.

"While I have no kids of my own, I have many I can (and sometimes do) lease for the weekend: 11 actual nieces and nephews, whom I’ll be with this Easter Sunday, and perhaps twice that number of honorary ones. I have put in my time around tots and teens, and enjoy them. I have seen my share of parenting, and am not certain what to make of it."

This is because you are not a parent. It's different. Leasing children on the weekends doesn't even remotely count.

And did you ever stop to think that one of the reasons we're all so self-conscious about this parenting thing and whether or not we're doing it right because the internet brings us people like you who poop on our every move? I mean, in your world, we can't helicopter and we can't free-range. So, the only acceptable thing to do is be your parents thirty years ago? Times have changed, and the box society places parents in is small and looked at by magnifying glasses all over the globe and internet. Including apparently, by childless people who write for the New York Times.

Now, here comes my favorite part. You say this:

"I’M (sic) equally confounded by the all-encompassing praise . . . There’s a line between filling a kid with self-esteem and larding a kid with delusions."

You argue that the everybody-wins society is wrong.

Then you say this:

"So parents: cut yourselves some slack. Take a deep breath. No one false step or one missed call is going to consign your children to an entirely different future. Make sure that they know they’re loved. Make sure that they know their place. And make peace with the fact that you don’t hold all or even most of the cards. There may be a frustrating sense of helplessness in that realization. But there’s a mercy, too."

Dude, seriously?

You just spent a thousand words calling me a jerk, and now you want a hug?

Forget this. I don't need your false camaraderie  particular after you just showed what hides underneath, which is a complete lack of understanding of parenting in general.

All of this said, I really do like your second page. You are right, in my opinion, when you get off the naggy, whiny, individual-yet-falsely-generalized crap, and start with the actual generalizations that might be worth something.

So for this:

"I’m struck less by the genius or folly of diverse child-rearing techniques than by the way most of the children matured into who they seemed, from the get-go, destined to be."


Try to understand that it's both. People are going to grow up into the people they are, but those tracts are influenced and as parents we are the greatest influencers. And we are not perfect, and we are unsure of ourselves, and we bumble a lot. But we're trying. Tearing us all down, then trying to tell us we are only doing it to ourselves and let's all hug...well, that doesn't help.



  1. AMEN.

    The dude really--REALLY--needs a clue.

    Maybe he'll get lucky and find this piece--and then drink it over his childless cup of espresso and discuss it with his childless writer friends while his child-full siblings roll their eyes at him again.

  2. The weird thing is, some lines had me fuming with You Can't Possibly Know anger, and some had me nodding in agreement with him. The whole thing reeks of self-righteousness, though. And yeah, "leasing" kids for the weekend? Please.

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