9.30.2012

The Terrible Truths of Parenting

Parenting a human baby is a nightmare. A deer is spawned and, within minutes, is walking. But a human baby is born raw, a wad of cookie dough that can barely breathe on its own. It's all because of our freakishly enormous heads: they're so big, and ladies' hips so small, that we spit the kid out half baked, its head still mushy so it can squeeze down the birth canal. 

A newborn deer is walking within minutes. A newborn human is a helpless wad of cookie dough.
(My kid got stuck at the gate. So they vacuumed him out, suction seizing his yet-formed crown and, with a more or less gentle suck, cajoling him from the warm embrace of his mother's, uh, canal. When he finally made his grand entrée, his head was elongated, a bluish Modigliani, an azure Conehead. It was, needless to say, an odd moment. Fortunately, heads are more elastic than plastic.)

As a result, human spawn are needy little runts. They require relentless tending. And, as they're still so utterly helpless, everything — everything — is an issue. Which makes them screech and whine and cry with abandon and without end. Oh, yes, they are demanding. And not with the kinds of demands one can ignore. Their demands are often a matter of life and death, a gentle slap on the back reinvigorating a nascent respiratory system.

Which is why human child rearing was never meant to be done by an isolated individual. Our birthing requires a team, a pack. We are wolves, not mountain lions. The human mother is literally drained of her vitality — the child, a vampire at her teet. To survive, not to mention to flourish, she needs the assistance of her community. 

This is simply the inherent state of things: human child rearing is difficult, demanding a community of support. But the conditions of contemporary parenting, rather than seeking to alleviate these burdens — rather than working towards the vitalization of the parent — only exacerbate the issue. 

Somewhere along the line, the family became a discrete unit set up in their own house, separated from the support of extended family. When my kid was born, we were purposefully thousands of miles from our respective families. We're independent, dammit! This isolation is the birth of the Oedipal nightmare as mommy-daddy-baby enact — nay, create — the neurotic drama we know so well. 

As a culture, we are so sick such things have become the fodder of pop comedies. Isn't it hilarious that kids are spoiled? That, as parents, we have no lives? That we are desexualized? And are so tired we're almost dead?  Ha ha ha ha!



It's not funny.

When I was a kid, I loved the affect of adulthood. I loved the rare occasions when there were other adults in the house as food and booze and stories flowed. The horror of our familial politics and its perverse, all-too-familiar politics were temporarily put aside. The adults would drink and talk and laugh and discuss and argue — about politics, films, ideas, anything. And we kids could either sit there and listen or absent ourselves to play elsewhere.  In those days, neither parents nor children thought kids were the center of attention. 

Me, I sat there amongst the adult. And even when I did excuse myself, I relished the sounds and smells reverberating throughout the house — the rumbling resonance of men holding forth, the clank of glasses, the whiff of whiskey and wine. It never occurred to me, to any of the kids, to run into the middle of the grown ups and be cutesy or whine or beg or demand.

We were humbled by adult culture. We could participate, sure, but on their terms. I knew that if I was to say something, it better be something thoughtful. 

Today, a kid walks into the middle of an adult conversation and proclaims loudly to all, I'm bored. I don't care, you little fuck stick. Go play with any number of the ten thousand toys and gadgets in your room.

Just look at the lines of sight at any such gathering: the adults will be looking at the kids. And their voices will be in this this horrific, seemingly patient tone: You're bored, Jasper? Why don't you tell everyone about your soccer game. I'm sure they'd love to hear! No, no we wouldn't. Please, for god's sake, send that little runt away.   

Look at any gathering of families today. What sounds do you hear? What odors do you smell? It's all the whine and chatter of kids, the inane baby talking of parents, as the smell of over-priced organic mac & cheese wafts through the room. There is no adult conversation, no sustained discussions of books or life or love. There is no rumbling resonance of adult males holding forth. It's all been replaced with the cloying tones of child placation. Some little shit head kid wants something different to eat and three adults a) discuss the child's wants with exaggerated care; and b) jump from the table to prepare something else.

Somewhere along the line, we decided kids rule the roost. That the best way to parent is to negate our adulthood, hide our personal wants and needs. Kids, we believe, should be shielded from adulthood.

But then how are they supposed to learn to be adults?

And who says this is what they want, anyway? Sure, give the little beasts free reign and they'll take it. But I know as a kid I loved — loved — being humbled before adults, knowing that I was less interesting and longing and training and aspiring for the day when I would have interesting things to say, funny observations to make, when I could be a raconteur, whiskey in hand.

Because I knew at age 6, at age 8, at age 12, that I was a moron. That adults knew more, were funnier, sharper, had interests and needs, an intellect and a life, that exceeded mine. And this was welcomed, enjoyed, a pedagogy and a delight: it was as assuring as it was inspiring.

This is what I try to teach my son. That he is interesting and smart but that adults know more, have thought more, and that if he just shuts the fuck up and listens, he might learn something. After all, he's in third grade.

Alas, this is not the culture of parenting we, uh, enjoy today.  My friends with kids are intellectuals, artists, poets. They are not what we might imagine typical bourgeois, suburban parents. And yet family gatherings with them are awful. There are no parents getting lit while the kids play. That is a fantasy. In reality, there is relentless interruption and tending to these entitled jackasses (and I mean that most affectionately, of course). 

Sure, we all think we'll be different. When I'm a parent, we proclaim defiantly in our deluded 20s, I'm gonna be different. I'm gonna make my spouse as important as my child. We'll spend time with friends, drink, talk, fuck — and our kids will be the coolest! That's great. But the reality is you are up against a powerful culture, a discourse of parenting that is not only all encompassing but has a psycho-juridical apparatus as its disposal — the Law of Judge Oprah. 

You take your kid to the playground and every parent there starts talking about their kid. It is a truly ghastly experience:  Chloe still wets her bed. And I care....why? Maximillian still sleeps with us. Jesus! Really? When do you fuck?

Of course, in the absence of extended family, some of this is welcome. The playground is where and how we can learn to parent. But try to talk about anything else — say, a film or idea — and you will be shunned. Show a lack of "proper" attention to your kid, and you actually risk the intervention of Social Services (pace Wes Anderson's Moonrise Kingdom).  A friend of mine posted a picture of his six year old son, shot from behind, peeing at a urinal. A so-called friend of his wrote him to take it down due to the "sickos and pervs" out there. But who, I ask, is the sicko here?

With a certain irony, the human condition, with these big alien heads of ours, makes child rearing a life draining task. It sucks the vitality from us with merciless vigor, leaving mere husks in its wake. The much hallybooed zombie apocalypse is here. It's called parenting. 

Coda
I am insanely in love with my son. The fact that I feel any need to say that is exactly my point: as I question the ruling discourse of parenting, I feel a need to defend myself. The thing is, I don't want him to be like the spoiled little fucksticks I see everywhere. I want him to be thoughtful, passionate, humble, engaged, kind, polite, aware, articulate, generous. I want him to sense that there is a wider world out there filled with exquisite complexity, mystery, wonder — a world of ideas, art, films, books, relationships that he can't yet understand. But that, one day, he will. 

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