Three Little Words

I tend to read the “Modern Love” column in every Sunday’s New York Times the way one slows going past a car crash: with equal parts disgust with myself and prurient interest. It’s never one’s better self who taps the brakes driving past someone else’s tragedy; it’s certainly not my better self that immediately after scanning the Book Review (I admit, there are vestiges enough of my writer self left that I still read the Book Review first) immediately flips to the Modern Love column in the Style section.

No offense to any of the writers published there (I’d certainly be one if I could), but I had no idea that navel-gazing could be elevated to such an extraordinarily high art within the pages of a daily newspaper. In a blog, yes. But in the New York Times?Does the world (or New York, or those small portions of the country that actually read the New York Times) _really_ need to know what it’s like to… be a egg donor… an abused woman… at the losing end of a bad breakup… or, as was the case this past Sunday, what it’s like to be a mother who doesn’t particularly like to say “I love you” to her two-and-a-half-year-old?

(Don’t get her wrong… it’s not that she doesn’t actually _love_ her child; she just doesn’t care to say it much, a realization that dawns on her after she hears a woman sing the following verse of The Wheels on the Bus — “The mommies on the bus say ‘I love you,’ ‘I love you,’ ‘I love you…’ — to her stroller-strapped offspring.

First things first. I’ve NEVER heard this verse of the Wheels on the Bus. And I’ve been singing the Wheels on the Bus, a song I was lucky enough to never even have heard of until I had children, until I’m blue in the face for the past five years, particularly at Mommy and Me Swimming classes, a scam foisted upon well-meaning middle-class parents who, being led to believe that you can actually teach a toddler something that resembles swimming, pay good money to stand waist-high in a swimming pool singing the Wheels on the Bus and This is the Way We Splash Our Hands while their child, and every other in a two-mile radius, screams its head off. I mean, how stupid do we think children actually are? The Wheels on the Bus is no way interesting enough to distract anyone from the fact that they’re being dunked in water, which, in case you didn’t realize it, Mom, you can drown in.

All that aside, there are a couple of ways one could react to this essay:

1. When the song The Wheels of the Bus leads you to start parsing out your relationship with your kids, it’s time to reevaluate your life

2. Maybe this was published in the Times so that all of the rest of us parents — whether bad, run-of-the-mill or stellar — can feel good about something. We may forget to pick up our kids at school, may exchange store-bought cookies for homemade ones when it’s our turn to bring snack to preschool (provided one’s preschool allows cookies), may buy our kids Barbie outfits at Target so that we will have five minutes to stand in the dressing room to try on t-shirts that make us look pregnant (having, as we move through our child-bearing years, travelled the ignominious road from wearing Exhilaration! to Mossimo to Cherokee Woman) without having to contend with a child who is either screaming or trying to squirm under the dressing room stall door into the adjoining stall where a 65 year old woman who does not like children is trying on brassieres. We may do all that, but at least we are ok about telling our children that we love them.

Of course, like every other parent, this woman makes herself feel better about her disinterest in saying those three little words by making the whole act of doing so seem vaguely suspect, as if it were akin to

1. Letting your child watch too much t.v.
2. taking them to MacDonald’s
3. Bribing them with sugar

What a pretty pass things have come to. The other day I was in the check-out line in the grocery store and against my better judgement picked up Real Simple’s Family issue. Did you know that letting your child eat something that’s dropped on the floor gives you two stars in a one to five scale of bad parenting? Likewise, sending your child off to school without a scarf or mittens? Don’t even ask how many stars neglecting to make them brush their teeth one single night can give you.

Forgive me, for I have sinned. My youngest daughter trolls around on the dining room floor after dinner occasionally popping that morning’s dropped cereal into her mouth. My children are congenitally incapable of wearing mittens, and more power to you if you can get them crammed on their recalcitrant hands. Sometimes when the Husband has been away on business for four nights running, we … forget… to brush our teeth.

I guess the title of this post should really be: I Just …Don’t… Want… to …Know.

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