Last week, Smartmom’s good friend Divorce Diva called to express her sympathy.
“About what?” Smartmom asked.
“About those nasty comments you’re getting online,” she said.
“What nasty comments online?”
“Haven’t you seen them?” Divorce Diva asked ominously.
Smartmom could only imagine what kind of response her last two columns — which focused on her obsession about writing about her children — had elicited.
So one day last week, Smartmom poured herself a large tumbler of Oban, a really terrific single malt Scotch that her dad bought for Hepcat, and braced herself for the barrage of less than enthusiastic public opinion.
Holy Mcgeegee, Smartmom said aloud to no one. She almost fell off her chair. “There’s some major venom out there towards me,” she thought.
Usually, she has a thick skin to ward off this kind of sniping.
But this time it felt different. This time it really got to her. Probably because these people were insulting her right (as a mother) to write (about her kids). And they were saying some pretty nasty things about her as a mom.
“These kids will need years of therapy,” one reader wrote in.
“You’re taking out your frustration with your children — your daughter’s discarded UGGS and your son’s inability to clean up the kitchen — by writing about it in The Brooklyn Paper. That’s terrible, terrible parenting. When your kids move out for college and never talk to you again, at least you’ll know why.”
Whoa. Smartmom felt faint. She tried to summon up her mantra, but it didn’t work. People were accusing her of exploiting her children for the sake of her column and that made her mad, unhappy and a little bit defensive.
Where is all this hate coming from, she thought? In Park Slope, everybody talks about his or her children. Incessantly. You can’t have face time with anyone without the conversation veering into stories about college applications, SAT scores, dirty bedrooms.
Practically every conversation begins, “You won’t believe what my kid did this week…”
Kidtalk is the language of the Slope. What conversation doesn’t include some variation on these themes:
• How’s your kid?
• How does your kid like school?
• How are his teachers?
• What extra-curricular activities is she doing?
• Who are his or her friends?
How would people feel if there was a gag order on all kidtalk? What if there was a huge flashing sign on every corner: “No Kidtalk Allowed”?
Why, there would be silence from Flatbush Avenue to Green-Wood Cemetery — and it’s already pretty quiet over at the cemetery. For instance:
• Park Slope Parents would be blank. Parents would have to go back to reading “Brown Bear, Brown Bear” and crawling on the floor in imaginary play rather than itemizing their every child-rearing dilemma.
• Couples wouldn’t have anything to talk about on their date nights at local restaurants.
• Friends would sit in stony silence over coffee at Sweet Melissa.
• Book groups would actually have to discuss “Great Expectations” or “Bolano’s 2666,” rather than long soliloquies about the latest kid travails.
• Parents on the sidelines of soccer games would actually have to cheer for the kids rather than chit chat about children.
You get the idea. You might as well put a muzzle on every parent around if kidtalk is verboten.
OK, OK. Writing a column, a book, or a magazine article about one’s kid is different from talking about them to friends, acquaintances, teachers, psychologists, learning specialists, doctors, lawyers or anyone else you come into contact with.
Even when she’s not writing, Smartmom knows she spills the beans about her kids to friends and neighbors. And they spill their kid beans, too. And those conversations are impromptu and probably instantly forgotten.
When she writes it for her column or her blog, it does lose the patina of privacy as it makes its way out into the world. But she also has more time to think about it and craft her sentences. She gets to go into a little more detail maybe. She even gets to think aloud and share what she’s learned and what she still needs to know.
It’s not all that different from what goes on at Sweet Melissa, Bar Reis, the backyard at PS 321, on Park Slope Parents, and blogs like Hip Slope Mama, A Child Grows in Brooklyn, and Brooklynometry.
Without kidtalk, parents wouldn’t get to share their stories and hear from others. They wouldn’t be able to kvell or whine. They wouldn’t be able compare, contrast, and contextualize their children’s experience. They wouldn’t be able to measure their own parenting; they wouldn’t be able to act like experts or learn something new from time to time.
They wouldn’t get to laugh with neighbors and friends about their trials and triumphs. They wouldn’t get to cry on a trusted friend’s shoulders or unload their stress and parental agita.
In other words, the oral history of childhood would be lost to silence.
Parents might implode with the sum total of their ingested experience aching to come out.
Smartmom bravely read all the comments in The Brooklyn Paper. She found herself hyperventilating. She found herself feeling a combination of guilt, angst, anger, and exasperation — and then she came to this comment:
“Writing about how you are not writing about us is still writing about us!!!!!!!!!!!!! And I didn’t turn the house upside down looking for my pink wig. It was on my bookshelf and I didn’t ask you for any help!!!!”
It was from the Oh So Feisty One. She was back online letting her opinions be known using words and exclamation points. Smartmom felt the pride well up in her. She had done one thing right. She’d modeled to her daughter that it was OK to express her opinion and let the world know what you think about things.
When done in an honest and fair way, it’s the most powerful thing in the world.
She had done her mother proud.
Sure, Smartmom has had her moments of wondering if she’s doing the right thing. Thick skin or not, she’s human, porous, and open to criticism. And like everyone else she wants to do the right thing. Speaking of the right thing, Smartmom thinks Dumb Editor should offer OSFO a column. The girl sure has a lot to say.