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« Churchill's Secret War - An Appreciation of Madhusree Mukerjee (Narayan) | Main | Pope compares atheists to Nazis »

September 14, 2010


Yuk! Is this what parenthood has come to?

Cut the poor guy some slack, Dean. He's still addled by too many sleepless nights. Give him another couple of months (the kid still wakes up about 4 times at night, and they haven't considered cosleeping to make nursing any easier, or have switched to bottles which require more complicated logistics.)
He will wander into the sunlight of pukeless prose then.

"The Bay Area is famous for its assortment of self-centered, self-righteous, self-pitying, well-educated, enlightened boorish parents, but Simon is special."

Is it? I guess there's Ayelet Waldmann, who got flack for saying she loved her husband Michael Chabon more than her kids. I found Santa Cruz (just south of SF) to be a great place to be a new parent, but it's more hippy, less yuppy.

I'd heard about the Waldmann remark, but that's tangential to what I had in mind. I was thinking of, for example, the endless talk about getting one's children into "the right" daycare center or preschool, the waiting lines, the feeder schools, and such. Of course, one engages in this nonsense purely out of selfless concern for one's kids. I'll never forget attending an open house for prospective preschool parents at an apparently excellent bilingual immersion school at which one of the parents genuinely asked how the school would help his little Timmy or darling Chlorine get into the right college. Then there is the question of stroller style, a purely utilitarian enterprise, I'm sure. And of course the freely dispensed if unsolicited advice about whatever seems most important to the self-appointed expert can be welcome, or not.

I'd cut Simon some slack if he hadn't written the article so desperately seeking both admiration and forgiveness for his bland honesty.

I have poodles, not kids, so what do I know? I know that it's bad trouble already to be married to someone whose given name is Fitzsimmons. And, if my poodle EVER interfered with my enjoyment of a foggy morning on Russian Hill, I'd have some hard choices to make.

Gotcha Dean, but I think those kinds of parents tend to cluster wherever $4 coffee beverages are sold. Actually the essay reminds me of how my husband describes the experience of getting a younger brother when he was four years old: he was very excited before actually meeting said brother, but after a few days, when he realized how boring and high-maintenance baby brother was, he wanted to send him back.

It is funny that despite the profusion of purple prose that Dean points out, "Fitzsimmons" seems to have captured everyone's imagination.

Coincidentally, the cover story on this week's East Bay Express, the regional throw-away, is about pregnancy and drinking. The author is EBE's wine critic. Its relevance here is twofold. First, she discusses the phenomenon of the sanctimommy, a sexist derivation of the know-it-all parent. Of course, this phenomenon is ubiquitous, not exclusive to the Bay Area. But second, the critic's account of her own pregnancy mirrors Simon's traumatic experience as a new father in many ways. Like any sensible wired and connected parent, she conducts online research to learn the known risks of drinking while pregnant, and she talks to doctors, her own and friends. Yet the information she gleans leaves her befuddled and anxious and aghast that the state of the world could have been so different from what her assumptions had led her to expect. Simon can't process cognitively the emotional and physical burdens of parenting, and our wine critic can't fathom how the question now so urgently important to her, now so concrete, can't be given an authoritative answer. She and he resort to banality and folksy rules of thumb. Take this conclusion to her report:

A couple of weeks ago, I told a close friend that I don't just love [healthy daughter] Willa — I really like her, too. The friend smiled politely but looked a little confused. Love, I get, said the look. But she's one. What's to like? I didn't know how to explain it without sounding like an annoying cliché. Still don't, in fact. So I'll skip the recounting of my goofy, heart-swelling devotion to this tiny willful person, except to say that of course — of course! — if I had to go nine months, or nine years, or the rest of my life without a glass of wine to ensure her well-being, I would.

Sound familiar? Early morning mist? Pinkening sun? I believe I have morning sickness. And it gets worse. After the wine critic fills paragraphs recounting her experience of information overload and the uncertainty it breeds, she dispenses her own advice. Cautiously qualified so as not to "green-light" drinking excessively while pregnant, she confesses, "But I'm just not convinced that the prohibitive nature of pregnancy in the modern age ... is always necessary or healthful."

I'll count this as exhibit number two demonstrating my hypothesis that certain breeds of Bay Area parents can be insufferable. And now I shall uncork and let breathe a bottle of Chateau Fitzimmons before I share it with my four-year-old.

I'm with Sujatha on this. Easy to be hard, walk a mile in his shoes, [other cliche of choice]. To the details Sujatha's drawn from the essay (my guess is the bottles were related to the wife going back to work), I'd add the cornucopia of meds he describes administering, which suggest, if nothing else, a very colicky baby, and very concerned parents. The essay seemed an effort, however flawed, to explain the subjective experience that makes parents of older children tell parents of newborns to "hang in there, it gets better." One aspect of that experience is the lack of positive feedback from the newborn baby, who for at least the first month, is only developmentally wired to tell the father, in the most strident way possible, when something is wrong. With a colicky baby, which seems to be the case here, the month of crying when awake might stretch several months longer, rendering the relationship between parent and child somewhat fraught. I don't think it takes anything away from my love for my own two-month old-- or suggests that I couldn't love my son were he unable to reciprocate-- to say that it's easier to love him since he started smiling back at me. While he frames his essay in a more provocative way, when all's said and done, that seemed to be this guy's point.

The purple prose describes the writer's mornings alone with the son while the wife slept, prior to her leaving for work-- I took it as meant to convey a special moment together, not just the beauty of the scene. The global message seemed tobe that, early on, he'd thought that the genetic connections were what bound him to his son, but had grown to understand his role as father differently, and enjoy the process of caring for his son as that process became more enjoyable. The intended theme seems to be: Growing With My Son's Growth. It would be one thing if he'd concluded, "I ultimately learned to get over not loving my son and enjoy the beautiful scenery as I escaped the house to the local bar." The guy may or may not be a twit, but I suspect his child will be loved and cared for. There are worse parents out there.

I also didn't mind the East Bay Express article, which I saw in print. I took that writer's response to be less an uncertainty bread by information overload, and more a distrust of the rationality of risk averse advice that happened to conflict with her profession. And the point of her anecdote about her feelings for her child seems to be that she understands the emotional underpinnings of that risk aversion, notwithstanding her reservations about its clinical validity.

I think we all agree that pregnancy and parenthood are not easy. Unless someone's getting hurt, I'm inclined to be charitable toward even the weirder responses it engenders.

If only you were their ghostwriter, Anna. Don't get me wrong: I'm not uncharitable toward these writers' emotional and intellectual responses. What bothers me is their translation of those responses into text. Are these pieces confessional? Advice? I get the point, but criticize the execution. The point, it seems to me, goes without saying. Let me emphasize "without saying."

Of course one conceit of the wine critic's piece was the clash of pregnancy and profession, which makes for an amusing anecdote. But as a professional wine taster, she consumes very little. The problem may be moot. What disturbs her and drives the piece is what she cleverly phrases "the prohibitive nature of pregnancy," and to the end she can't or won't draw the line for herself. It's easy to be skeptical about absolute prohibition, her conclusion. But the point of the story was to identify an authority for establishing the right balance.

I think that as parents, we try in general to do the best we can for our children, as well as our current understanding of what is good and what isn't for their health and well-being. What 'good' is, of course, changes with every new study out proclaiming that 'this is good' and 'that is bad'. There's no point in beating ourselves or other parents up over the choices we or they make, nor is there any point in assigning more value than needed to purple prose celebrating or bemoaning the state of parenthood. We all have tales to tell, or articles to write, deadlines to meet, rents to pay...
Unless of course, Simon's solution to the angst of parenthood was to take a baseball bat to his baby. Then everyone would have jumped in to condemn him. Or would they? Maybe they would see a way to blame it on post-partum depression in fathers.

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