Don’t Pimp Your Kid
“My kids are funny when they fart.”
A s I began to consider not just the Project but writing about it, a number of media savvy friends shared this advice: don’t pimp your kid. There were warranted concerns (I take them all seriously) expressed about privacy, the uncontrollable nature of public information, and the potential for priority confusion.
There’s a long history of this type of sharing. See also: Sally Mann, Adam Gopnik, reality TV, and, some would argue, most loving parents in America. There’s nothing inherently wrong with sharing but, as with most things, there’s a line that should not be crossed. Like Justice Potter Stewart and pornography, we all know it when we see it (or should).
We are addicted to the accomplishments, real and created, of our children. We live vicariously through them, we fetishize, we make a cult of their personalities. We need not be pride-less; nachas makes the world go ’round. But we must not forget humility; and beware as well the uber pride of false humility.
Let me tell you what my kid did. Let me tell you what my kid said. So cute, so clever, so reflective of me. So self-congratulatory, so narcissistic, so same old. I chafe at the daily barrage of celebrations. Kid cuteness, kid cleverness, has become a competitive sport, a form of seemingly civil trash talk.
Now, if your kids are not particularly cute or clever, you have nothing to worry about. But if they are—and believe me, mine are—then, Brooklyn, we have a problem.
SchoolLess used to call the Statue of Liberty the Statue Delivery. SmallerMan referred to his basketball team as the Running Pebbles (AKA Rebels). We have a picture of a young SchoolLess, his curly hair wild and levitating a la Einstein, “experimenting” with milk and cookies, have you seen it? Watch (it’s really funny) a naked, smiling SmallerMan, his butt cheeks bouncing as he waddles along the shore, startle in response to an unexpected wave. Check out SchoolLess in his Julia Child costume. Should I go on? I can, I will. . . .
My kids make their own peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. My kids say the darndest things. My kids are funny when they fart.
How can I write about my smart and beautiful boys without being a hypocrite?
And then there’s the flip side, the underbelly: kids can be a pain in the tuchus, a drain on a marriage and a bank account, a source of disappointment and unwanted self-reflection. There are issues in writing about those things too.
I want my writing to be honest, but what if it’s too honest? Might I be putting an established relationship, personal or institutional, at risk? Some moderating or redacting of content will be necessary. I won’t lie to you, but I won’t tell you the whole truth either.
As one of my brothers-in-law said to me the other night, “Yeah, but the first priority is a good education for A.” The “yeah, but” suggestive, perhaps, of some undue focus on the blog— the narrative about the experience over the experience itself.
As with the momentary breakdown in my moral reasoning upon discovering a few weeks back that SchoolLess had been detained by the law, what happens when what’s good for the blog (or a barstool regaling) isn’t necessarily good for my bleed-when-pricked family?
It does sometimes feels as if SchoolLess is competing against the blog for my time. If I a stay up late writing, will I lack energy and patience in the morning? All parents face these dilemmas: work versus family, Monday Night Football versus Curious George, dinner with friends at Fatty ’Cue versus Annie’s Macaroni and Cheese at home with the kids. For me, the stakes feel as if they have been raised, perhaps a natural consequence of taking the road less traveled by. Parents— I’m talking first and foremost about privileged New York City parents, but not only— tend to delegate (changed this from abdicate) responsibility— hire a good babysitter, choose the right school or camp or tutor, buy the toy everybody else is buying. And for some people this is a reasonable, best-practices approach to child rearing.
Allow we to indulge in cliché for a moment: at the end of the day, what’s the take away?
Will it be the blessing of time spent with my son? Will it be his sense— if not now, some day— of a paradigmatic shift in his thinking about who he is, who he wants to be, how he understands himself in relation to his surrounding world? Will it be a disinterring of my writing career? Will it be a change for the better in how the four us relate to and understand each other individually and as a family unit?
Cui bono? as the lawyers say. Can’t we all? Are our various interests necessarily in conflict with one another?
As a literary-agent friend said to me—I was talking narrative arc before I’d learned SchoolLess a goddamn thing—“you don’t even know yet what the story is.” And what makes for a good story—conflict, misfortune, complications, disappointment—only makes for a good life in retrospect.
What’s the effect of constant assessment—where are we going, how are getting there? What’s the effect of making things public? Clarity? Distortion?
I implore my writing students to distinguish between what is good for them in life and what makes for good writing. You and your high school sweetheart happily ever after? Great, happy for you, don’t write about it. You ex strangled your cat, hacked into your Facebook, and is now hooking up with your best friend? So sorry to hear it, get writing. Your mom is an angel? Tell her, not me. Your dad was a neglectful alcoholic with a second family in Parsippany? That’s what I’m talking about. I want to hear about the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad days .
I want to live the other kinds of days. If that leaves me without a story to tell, so be it.
I will not sell out my kid for the sake of my story.
I have faith that the telling is a good thing—all augurs well—the truth will make itself known.
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