Vanities of the Ear

Dear Carla Fran,

This morning I went to my favorite doughnut shop to try to read “Vanities of the Eye” (fantastic book, by the way) without the distractions of the internet. Didn’t work. The doughnut shop filled up, I was taking up a table for four, and a mother and daughter sat down next to me.

The daughter was six. Hair in a bunch of braids, wearing a fashionable beret and cool leggings. She couldn’t take her eyes off the group of four kids at the other table. While mom was buying doughnuts she kept dancing in her seat and singing at the group of kids, playing an elaborate game of Look At Me. Sometimes they did. Occasionally she would poke at the white paper bag containing my plain croissant (with which she was singularly unimpressed).

I enjoyed her total absorption with the kid-table and her total oblivion to me; this is the beauty of having a book when you’re out (and the beauty of being a grown-up to kids). When the mom came back I had to stare at my page, but I overheard the following conversation, which I’m reproducing (in abbreviated form) just because it was so bizarrely complete in its portrayal of what I imagine to be the spectrum of mom-kid conversations:

Kid (eating doughnut hole): Thank you, Momma. That was delicious! Thank you, Momma.

Mom (young, low voice): You’re welcome.

Kid: Can I have another one? Thank you, Momma. That was delicious!

M: You can have another one if you’re ready to run around the schoolyard five times.

K: Why?

M: You have to burn through all that sugar in your system. You’re going to have too much energy after eating another one. So you can have another one if you want, but you’ll have to run around the schoolyard five times.

K: What if I just hold it?

M: I’ve seen what happens when you just hold one. A bunch of them are gone from the bag already. I know. You know how I know?

K: How?

M: Because you’re just like me. And Uncle Cormac used to make me run around the schoolyard when I ate extra doughnuts too. Sometimes you have to do things like that. You have to do your homework, and go to school, and work hard so you can go to college.

K (straining dimples): Just one more, Momma? Please?

M: That’s an adorable face, but it’s not going to work. Those faces don’t work on mommies. Do you know why?

K: No.

M: Because we made you, that’s why.

K: John doesn’t have to run around the schoolyard when he gets doughnuts. I’m going to marry him.

M: Well, first you have to go to school, and study hard, and do all your homework, and go to college. I know you like John, and that’s okay, but he’s too old for you. He’s almost 8.

K (delighted): And then he’ll be nine, and then he’ll be ten, and then he’ll be eleven!

M: Exactly. That’s right. Now, what did Uncle Cormac tell you about John?

K: Uncle Cormac says hugging is okay.

M: That’s right. What else did he say?

K: Hugging is okay, but no kissing.

M: That’s right. You can hug John if you want to, but that’s all.

K: Can I please have another doughnut, Momma? Please?

Fondly,

M

2 Responses to Vanities of the Ear

  1. Carla Fran says:

    What gets me about this is how the mom is smashing an entire childhood of facts and beliefs into one donut interlude. Is parenthood not the succession of timely and meditative talks in the car or bedroom about all the big things (what happens when things die, where babies come from, being a teenager is hard, safe sex, etc.) and instead a daily pounding of information in hope that some of it sticks (exercise, don’t fool around with older boys, go to college, go to college, go to college). Or do you think the mama was performing to the other adults in the donut shop at all? Was there any part of the “look-at-me-be-a-fun-witty-mom” twinkle?

    On the topic of kids, had talk to day with a friend about narratives in worlds without children, and how everybody dies cuz there’s no future. In summing up another theorist, she said ultimately “fuck kids,” as in not care about them in an existential they are the future way, rather than the obscene and criminal other meaning.

    Which brings us to Madonna. When she was pregnant with Lourdes, very much a planned pregnancy, very much a chosen presentation of motherhood, she often played concerts wearing a shirt that said “mother” on the front, and “fucker” on the back. To me, this has become one of the most unblinking and inspiring images of what a mama is.

  2. Millicent says:

    “What gets me about this is how the mom is smashing an entire childhood of facts and beliefs into one donut interlude.”

    Yup–it was parental MadLibs: [insert moral lesson here]. It wasn’t show-offy. Her voice was low; I was sitting next to them and could barely hear her, and if anything, the mom seemed slightly antisocial. She never looked at me, even when I needed her to get up so I could get by when I left. I was sort of amazed at the extent to which this mom had thought about how to turn everything into a lesson, and found myself wishing someone had taught me that food gives you extra energy that you have to run off. I was genuinely surprised by that move. Wish someone had taught it to me. All in all, though, they felt like they were in their own tightly manufactured world. I wasn’t in it.

    Re: Madonna, what if the internet had been around when she started? What would the mommy-blogger look like now with her as the, erm, founding mother?

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