Neal Pollack’s book on keeping his cool while parenting, along with other trendy parenting outlets, gets worked over, mostly body shots to the kidneys and ribs, by Andre Mayer at the CBC.
These folks come across as wisecracking test subjects in mankind’s first experiment with procreation.
People used to raise kids with a sort of quiet stoicism; the fact that humans have been reproducing for millions of years was enough to humble any new breeder. But in this era of unfettered narcissism, child rearing has become a spectacle. The tabloids stalk famous females in search of a “bump” to monopolize the news cycle; Tom Cruise buys his pregnant wife a $200,000 US ultrasound machine for home use; and Oprah exalts celebrity mothers as though having a child is as novel and courageous as space travel. And non-celebs? They bloviate in blogs.
It’s the age of full disclosure, but also the age of prolonged childhood. Due to societal changes — particularly greater permissiveness in the workplace — people are no longer obliged to grow up. They show up at the office in the sort of garb they wore in middle school: sneakers and a hoodie. An astute cover story in New York magazine termed this generation “grups.” (The word was cadged from a classic Star Trek episode in which the Enterprise crew discover a planet run by children.) Procreative grups don’t let parenthood thwart their cool; in fact, they feel compelled to fashion their offspring into equally cool individuals.
Interesting subject here. Thanks to my cool, urban-Dad pal Angus, I read Canadian David Eddie’s book Housebroken and found it amusing and charming. It was mostly anecdotal pieces about muddling through rather than any particular parenting philosophy (other than “schedule your time” — advice I’ll definitely take if there’s a next time). And that’s what it really is, I suspect, for everyone who doesn’t have a million relatives nearby and who can’t afford a nanny. Just a bunch of events that make a life.
Angus and I could both have been candidates to write a book like Pollack’s, but if you sat down to work out how you do it, I suspect most people would think, my kid fell on his head from a swing last week, who -the-fuck-am-I to tell others how to do it?
Yes, my kid prefers They Might Be Giants, Elvis Costello and The Ramones to Raffi. Yes, my kid walks around the house pretending to be Yo Yo Ma instead of Barney the Phallic Dinosaur. Yes, my child wore a onesie that read “Bored Marxist”. Yes, I walked around in parade boots, ironic t-shirts and long hair with him strapped to my chest in a harness. But does any of this make me a better parent? Even in the eyes of my peers? These things are incidental products of the life I’m creating, the bargain of existence between my son and wife and I, not some prescription for success that allows me to keep my “cool” (of which I have always been sadly in short supply) as though it were some kind of inheritance I could pass on to the boy.
And what’s the point of teaching a kid what’s cool right now, anyway? It won’t be cool by the time he “needs” it. And he won’t want your cool because you’ve already used it. Cool can’t become a hand-me-down, like a knitted sweater with reindeer on it.
Let him be a kid. Kids are geeks. They’re nerdy, smelly little annoyances who can astonish with insight and melt you with love. If you’re not looking at your kid sometimes wondering whether he’s going to get the snot pummelled out of him by the kinds of kids who did it to you, I suggest you’re doing something wrong. (Ever seen that picture of Kurt Cobain from gradeschool? He was getting his face shoved in the snow by the cool kids, guaranteed.
Teach your kid how to think for himself and remain independent from the pack while navigating within it, and “cool” will follow (though they’ll call it something else by then — maybe “skrack” or something). Teach him how to follow trends and all he’ll end up with is a bunch of hip t-shirts and magazine subscriptions.